There was a shift in focus at this year’s National Bike Summit and the bike industry stands poised to play an even larger advocacy role.
For ten years, the Summit has made the case to the Federal government that cyclists are deserving of more transportation infrastructure funding and other bicycle friendly legislation. The bicycle is an efficient mode of transportation, we say, and it can have a positive impact on many of the greatest challenges that we face: our health, the environment and energy usage among them. But with the economy recently joining this unfortunate list, some in government see investment in cycling infrastructure as frivolous or a spend we can’t afford right now. Add to this the fact that most of the recently elected officials would more readily describe cycling as purely recreational and would not consider cycling a legitimate form of transportation, a change in tactics was in order for this edition of the Summit.
This reality was not lost on Summit organizers, the League of American Bicyclists. There was an enlightening moment at this year’s Summit during one of the final sessions prior to unleashing us all on Capitol Hill. With all of the nearly 800 delegates gathered, League executive director, Andy Clarke, asked members of the bike industry to begin speaking and pure advocates to remain quiet. To me it seemed as if nearly half the audience was talking. While an impressive display of industry support for advocacy, Andy’s next statement made his point. He suggested that this was exactly how the meetings with Congress should go: let the delegates in the business of bicycles lead the conversation to describe the economic impact of cycling in their district. Let the bike industry make the economic case for cycling.
The League provided us with reports with the number of bicycle related retail businesses, jobs and sales in each district. While a powerful resource, I believe they fell short by leaving out the impact from other economic sources such as bicycle manufacturers, events, tourism and reduced health care costs. I was proud to tell my congressman of the importance of the bicycle industry in his district, home to brands like Electra, Haro, Canari Cyclewear, RavX and some 48 retailers. As an industry, we can do a better job making our importance felt by our elected officials.
USA Triathlon recently reported that the annual impact of their sport on the US economy was $2.4 billion. That’s an impressive number, yet cycling could dwarf that. Sales of bicycles and related gear through specialty retailers, alone, is nearly $6 billion. The Wisconsin Bicycle Federation made news last year by reporting that the bicycle adds $1.5 billion to their state’s economy each year. Congressmen are famous for doggedly supporting the military, tourism, corn, steel industry or other interests in their districts. We can do a better job convincing our government officials that the business of bicycles is worthy of the same support and have the numbers to prove it.