Interbike Blog

The Bike Racing Community and Advocacy

I’ve had a feeling for some time now that there is a very large wasted resource in the cycling family when it comes to bike advocacy issues. Maybe “wasted” is too harsh a word, but the fact is, though, that there is a huge group of cyclists that are as passionate about cycling as the most fervent and active advocate, but that don’t appreciate how important – and relevant to them – advocacy efforts are.

I count myself as a part of that group who has seen the light. My entry into cycling was just about riding my college roommate’s bike for fitness, but quickly evolved into cycling competitively. Cycling was a sport – a recreational activity. A very serious one, though, that I devoted an insane percentage of my waking hours thinking – no, obsessing – about, and invested too many dollars in. You may know the feeling…

Racers complain about unsafe drivers, or poor road conditions, but for the most part, our contribution to advocacy has been limited to complaining to the police officer who has pulled us over for not riding single file. Riding, most of the time, involved loading up the roof rack with your bike and driving to a training ride or race. Commuting to work on your bike was a way of getting a few more training miles in.

I’ve given passing thought on how the industry could harness the racing community or at least open their eyes to how impactful and important advocacy is to all cyclists. I remember getting mail from the League of American Wheelmen (the old name of the League of American Bicyclists) back in the day and actually thinking that it had nothing to do with me. That was for those wacky bike nuts. It just never clicked until much later. Advocacy was for those wacky bike nuts. There was and still is a big disconnect between the passion of the typical racer and that of the advocate for cycling rights, access issues and cycling friendly legislation.

So about a week ago, a friend of mine at LeMond Fitness, Eric Stobin, forwarded me a link to an interesting article on VeloNews.com that struck a chord. Rick Crawford, who wrote the article (Circles: Wasting energy in an energy challenged world), expressed a similar train of thought in his piece.

With gas prices so high, I’m looking at the bike quite differently these days. For 32 years now, I have viewed the bike as my sporting medium; my racing tool and speed fix. Rarely have I viewed it as the extremely viable form of transportation that it really is. Now that regular unleaded is more than four bucks a gallon, I don’t take the car for granted. From sheer necessity, the bike has become my primary form of transportation.

Rick goes off on a different tangent from me at this point here about harnessing the power generated by cyclists on exercise bikes and trainers as a new source of renewable energy (sort of like Lance Armstrong in that old ESPN Sports Center ad), but his initial comment on how a bike racer views the purpose of his bike is spot on. So, too, his description of the epiphany that has happened with so many casual or sport cyclists recently. I have to say that many of the new commuters that I notice on the roads are cyclists on road bikes wearing racing outfits. I guess that’s somewhat logical as a cyclist would be more naturally inclined to switch to his bike as a mode of transportation before a non-biker. He also already owns a bike – an important detail if you plan on riding one to work.

I’m not sure of the latest membership numbers for USACycling (the governing boady of racing in the US), but I’m sure that it’s in the multiple tens of thousands. Wouldn’t it be great to get them all involved?

Posted In: Advocacy, Interbike

3 Comments

  1. Hi Rich, I had this same discussion this morning during a breakfast meeting with Jonathan Morrison of the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective. We both are starting to use our bikes more for transportation, as well as sport, and we are seeing a lot more other similar riders on the roads here in SLC (i.e. in various types of riding kits, casual and race, with backpacks on various types of bikes road, mountain, hybrid, etc.). We also talked about the disconnect between cycling as sport vs. mode of transportation.

    When I got into riding I too thought the League of American Bicyclist was for Third Eye mirror wearing middle-agers and above. Now that I’m one of those middle agers, sans a Third Eye, I think I understand the difference between the sport rider and the transportation rider and their interest in advocacy. It’s age.

    Younger riders tend to look for the excitement of pushing themselves, riding fast, and testing their bike handling skills. I still want to do that as well, but at a slightly slower pace and without killing myself or being killed by a motorist.

    When I was younger and first into cycling, I thought I owned the road. Now that I’m a little older, and maybe wiser, I still think I own the road – a little – but I realize I need to share it with others. I think it’s possible to get younger riders interested in cycling and some of the discussion you had with your post titled, “Is More Bike Culture the Answer?” has to do with that mindset change.

    As always, your posts are fun to read and they make me think.

  2. It’s Chip again. In the last paragraph I left out a word out. To clarify, “I think its possible to get younger riders interested in cycling ADVOCACY…” I left out the word advocacy.