Public relations once helped the cycle industry double the size of the market. Could it do so again?

Iconic. Made in Britain. Queen's Award for Export Achievement. Of all the companies you'd think wouldn't need any external PR help Brompton Bicycle is the number one suspect. Yet the firm-that's-never-off-the-bloomin-beeb employs a PR company (Fusion Media, since you ask). If the brand that has a story that sells itself has a PR agency that says a lot about the need for such expertise. Not every bike shop needs a PR agency, but cycling as a whole could certainly do with a coordinated, national campaign or three.

It had one throughout the 1970s, and it was paid for by a levy jointly raised by the Bicycle Association and the Association of Cycle Traders.

The British Cycling Bureau had been created in 1965 in an attempt to lift flagging sales. The Bureau was, in fact, a front for Planned Public Relations of London. In 1972, this PR firm launched a “National Plan for Cycling.” ACT director George Shallcross said that this plan would “make the authorities, national and local, recognise the bicycle as an asset to the environment, as it is noiseless and fumeless, and takes up so much less room in parking and riding than motorcars.” Cycle Trader editor Harold Briercliffe said the plan was “the most hopeful outline of what we must all do that has been seen in Britain for many a long day.”

The National Plan was promoted to national and local government via a handbook, Before the Traffic Grinds to a Halt. A launch press release said the Bureau had sent a copy of this pamphlet to MPs and every local authority in the UK, and wanted . . .

. . . to see Local Authorities:–

1. Create separate cycleways in towns and cities.

2. Provide safe crossing for cyclists at road junctions.

3. Extend and improve cycling facilities in recreational areas.

As part of the plan, the Bureau approached the Friends of the Earth “suggesting that its campaign was in line with the Friends’ own objectives.” This approach was “enthusiastically received” and the organisations agreed to work on a “manual for action groups around the country with advice on how to pressurise local councils to institute a cycleway system.”

In 1975, Friends of the Earth fronted “All Change to Bikes,” a multi-agency national campaign to push for cycleways. The partners included the Cyclists’ Touring Club, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Civic Trust, and the British Cycling Federation. The aims of the campaign included the desire to “reallocate existing road space to create priority routes by local authorities for cyclists and pedestrians” and to establish a “network of priority routes linking all destinations (e.g., schools, shops, offices, factories, and places of entertainment) and access to the countryside.” All Change to Bikes was bankrolled by the British Cycling Bureau.

A transport Green Paper in 1976 dismissed “suggestions . . . that special roads should be constructed . . . for pedal bicycles” because providing for this form of personal mobility “could hardly be justified unless large numbers of people, who would otherwise have used the general road system, could be attracted to use the cycleway system. . . .”

The British Cycling Bureau responded to the Green Paper by insisting that “cyclists are not such a small section of the community as often supposed” and that the number of cyclists “are increasing rapidly.” 550,000 bicycles had been sold in 1970, but this had more than doubled to 1 million by 1975. The reasons for this doubling of market size are complex, and include environmental awakening , health concerns and an oil crisis, but you can also add public relations to that mix.

In effect, the cycle industry used PR to put more money in the tills. You thinking what I'm thinking?

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