Does bike advocacy get enough industry time and cash?

Carlton Reid
Does bike advocacy get enough industry time and cash?

Eurobike and Interbike take cycle campaigners seriously. Advocates get booth space at the well over-subscribed Eurobike and there's an 'advocacy valley' at the Las Vegas show.

Such exhibition space is no doubt gifted to advocacy orgs and I presume the Cycle Show in Birmingham has the same policy.
It's good for cycle advocates to mix with the industry. We want the same thing: more people cycling, more often.

Do you visit the advocacy orgs when you're at bike shows? It can be tough. Shows such as Eurobike are now so big it's hard to get time to see even a fraction of the show. Bike shops have to visit their main brands, and pick up on any trends. Companies have to make sure they book time with their biggest accounts.

This is where proxies come in: high level members of the industry who can float a bit. It's their job to seek out the advocates at bike shows. I know some did. I saw them doing so at both Eurobike and Interbike.

Long-term floater Hans Van Vliet of Shimano is often the sole representative of the bike industry at advocacy events such as VeloCity. I met with him at Eurobike and he said companies could do more to help cycle advocates.

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OK, so the bike industry may not have a lot of time to spare, so how about cash instead? In 2007, John Burke, president of Trek USA, kick-started a debate on why bike companies should increase their financial support of bicycle advocates and political lobbying groups.

He first aired the talk at the National Bike Summit in Washington DC. Two weeks later he gave roughly the same presentation to Taiwan’s A-Team of industry leaders in a conference room at the Taipei trade show.

He called the bicycle “the perfect product at the perfect time.” And bike companies would sell more of them if there were more places for folks to ride them.

“The number one way to grow the business and to have an impact on society, health, environment and congestion is to create a bicycle-friendly world,” said Burke.

He revealed that for every $100 of sales, bike companies typically spend $3.90 on marketing, $1.60 on R&D but just 10 cents on advocacy.

“That doesn’t make sense. As an industry we need to look at how we spend money. Why do we spend the amount of money on marketing and product and little on advocacy?”

Since 2007 he has given his talk many times, expanding on some of the points. Thanks in part to the work of Burke - and execs from SRAM, Shimano and other companies - cycle advocacy orgs are better funded now. But not by much. (American orgs get more support than similar orgs in Europe).

The American organisation Bikes Belong (founded in 1999) is funded by industry contributions and has full-time staff. In the UK, the Bike Hub levy is spent on childrens' programmes led by Sustrans, Bike Week, the Bike Hub smartphone cycle navigation app and other projects.

In Europe, the Brussels-based European Cyclists' Federation has launched the Cycle Industry Club. CIC was rolled out at Eurobike and has the aim of raising 1 million Euros in 2012.  SRAM, Trek and Schwalbe have pledged funds. Other companies need to join in. The goal of the CIC is to triple the number of cyclists in Europe by 2020. More cyclists equals more customers. It's very much in the bike industry's interests to see cycle advocacy flourishing.

Yes, cash is needed on a national and international level but grass-roots campaigning is important, too. Bike shops need to reach out to their local cycle campaign groups. Genuinely, we're all in this together.

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Video of John Burke's 2007 advocacy presentation:




Tags: campaigns , European Cyclists Federation , bicycle advocacy

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