Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies concluded in a recent study that the annual impact of recreational cycling on the state’s economy is $1.5 billion. For a state that is the home to influential bike industry companies such as Trek Bicycles, Pacific Bicycle, Saris and Planet Bike, this shouldn’t be surprising.
Aside from the impressive number reached, I believe that the importance of this research is that it is a rare analysis of the role that cycling plays in a region’s economy. If we can’t win the argument for cycling with some skeptics based on all the well known benefits of the activity itself, then maybe we can win on its economic significance. And with the state of unemployment, currently, in the US, the figure below from the report has particular value:
In all, bicycling supports an estimated 13,193 jobs in the state.
I married into a family with strong ties to Wisconsin and am very familiar with “God’s Country,” as they lovingly refer to it. It truly is a beautiful place to ride a bike, and non-residents who spend over 6.4 million days a year cycling in WI seem to agree. I bring this point up to emphasize that this report focuses on the impact from recreational cycling, though it does seem to touch on the benefits of replacing short car trips with the bicycle. The report also includes some recommendations to increase bicycle use.
Another interesting figure from the report that will appeal to industry members is that the report quotes the “economic impact of manufacturing, sales, & services” to equal just under $594 million. Considering that that amount includes Trek’s, Pacific’s and all other manufacturers’ business plus the sales of all of the state’s bicycle retailers, does that sound small to anyone or is it about right? I’m curious because the only real reference I have for Trek’s sales would be to compare them to Specialized’s. Back in 2008, an article and video interview with Specialized’s Mike Sinyard on the CNN Money website mentioned that he had grown the company he began in an eight foot wide trailer into a $500 million a year business. I would assume Trek to be very similar in size if not a bit larger in sales than them. And Pacific is no slouch themselves in the sales department, so I would arrive at a noticeably larger total figure guesstimate. Am I wrong?
And in closing, lest you think that all is rosy for cyclists in Wisconsin, if you read the comments section of any of the articles written about the study in the state’s newspaper sites, you’ll see the typical anti-bike attitude we all seem to encounter, unfortunately, whenever bikes are described in a positive way.
You can read the full report here on the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin website in PDF format.