2012 saw the bicycle industry and advocacy organisations working together more than ever to get more people cycling and buying bicycles. Why? The answer lies as much in the built-environment as it does in product marketing. Make a city cycle friendly and people are more likely to head to their local bicycle store. But making cities friendly for cyclists worldwide takes joined up advocacy efforts.
At 2012’s Eurobike trade fair leading figures from cycling held an Advocacy Summit to send this clear message to the rest of the European trade. Stronger advocacy is the engine of sales. At the Summit Tony Lo, CEO of Giant Bicycle, announced that his company would join industry leaders who are supporting the Cycling Industry Club, a cycling advocacy movement for Europe launched by founders such as Accell, SRAM, Trek and Schwalbe the previous year. This European fund enables the European Cyclists’ Federation to strengthen civil advocacy for cycling at the EU and through its national affiliates.
Lo told a panel: “It’s our obligation to join forces with all of you to see how we can make cycling more popular in Europe. We want to have more people cycling.” Giant has already funded US body Bikes Belong and advocacy in its home market of Taiwan so Europe was a natural next step.
The following month a similar message was heard from John Burke, CEO of Trek Bicycles at a business breakfast for US bike show Interbike in Las Vegas attended by over 500 delegates.
So why is industry getting closer to civil advocacy? The answers are both tactical and strategic.Article continues below
The tactical answer is that the civil advocacy route opens up channels of influence and investment that are difficult for industry. The necessity of market forces means that industry bodies have to focus on issues of trade, taxation, competition and branding which don’t always lend themselves to the work of transport, health and environment policy makers. By contrast cycling advocacy groups specialise in political influence and have relationships with cities, governments and the EU.
Governments and businesses are keen to promote cycling. It is unique in recessionary times because cycling investments can yield results in health, transport and carbon reduction which benefit public policy and corporate social responsibility. ECF believes the EU could be convinced to invest up to €6 billion from its 2014-2020 budgets if approached by a united movement with a clear business plan. When such funding is being handed out it is often restricted to public and not for profit bodies so supporting them makes tactical sense for industry.
The same story can be seen in the US with Federal investments in cycling and walking rising as high as $1.4 billion per year after sustained advocacy by industry and civil groups. This is bigger than any comparable investment in physical activity except mega events such as the Olympics and has a much wider impact on society.
The strategic imperative is long term alliances for growth. Historically cycling’s civil advocacy movement struggled to extend localised successes such as the Netherlands and Denmark worldwide. But the combined forces of industry, civil advocacy and supportive governments have the potential to change this. The advocates bring passion, credibility and contacts. The industry brings financial leverage, professional skills and innovation. Successful cities like Copenhagen, Portland and Vienna complete the team by demonstrating their success. With ECF in Europe and a new advocacy strategy in the US with industry funded Bikes Belong in the vanguard, the potential is huge.
ECF released new analysis prior to Eurobike that showed just how huge. Daily cycling is the key determinant of market size and pricing for bikes even in countries with a strong sports cycling heritage. Danes for example buy nearly five times as many bikes per capita as Italians and spend almost three times as much per bike despite Italy being the home of some of the great sports cycling brands and heritage. The difference? More Danes ride every day, four times more in fact. As well as bikes they buy the outdoor clothing and accessories needed to ride year round even in a Scandinavian winter. Repeat this across Europe and we can sell 30 million more bikes.
Business corporate social responsibility (CSR) managers are also recognising that getting their employees cycling to work reduces the company footprint and brings healthier, more productive employees. Working with local advocates and governments improves cycling conditions around the workplace while advocates can be employed to pass on cycling knowhow and inspiration. CTC provides Cycle to Work Challenges that have reached over 1000 companies while Germany’s national Bike to Work campaign is a partnership between national cyclists’ group ADFC and a leading health insurer.
The panellists at the Advocacy Summit spoke with one voice: working together is the only way forward. Each sector can bring its competences and its resources but with so much growth potential, working together will be essential. If we fail to unite, movements such as the global car industry will continue to dominate the attention of politicians despite the huge potential we bring to society. And this is a battle we can win. Despite billions of investment by governments and industry just 11,000 electric cars sold in Western Europe in 2011. In the same year the bike industry sold 1 million bikes with electrical assistance, bringing health and congestion benefits because they get the population pedalling.
The Advocacy Summit was just the beginning. All the parties are now committed to working together in coming years to ensure that cycling realises the many benefits it can bring to society and business. Frank Bohle, CEO of Schwalbe summed it up for all of us at the end of the Advocacy Summit “This is important for all of us. Advocacy is more than marketing or product development; it is the way we work together to build markets. Schwalbe believes our support for ECF’s Cycling Industry Club and the Advocacy Summit is an investment in the future of cycling.”
Kevin Mayne is the Development Director of the European Cyclists' Federation (ECF). ECF is the European federation of cyclists’ member associations and associates with over 60 members in over 40 countries worldwide. This article first appeared in the 2013 edition of the annual magazine from the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry.