People have turned out in their millions to watch the first three days of the Tour de France, which started in Yorkshire on Saturday and will finish on the Mall in London later today. The scenes of cheering masses broadcast to the nation, and to the world, have been spectacular, showing a genuine and substantial enthusiasm for cycle racing in this country. Could this positive TV and newspaper coverage lead to a change in perception for “normal” cycling? It’s a point much debated by cycle advocates, some of whom feel the sporting image of cycling – helmets, Lycra, speed – is detrimental to everyday transport cycling and that no amount of pro cycling has the potential to transform roads into friendlier places for cyclists. Others – such as British Cycling's infrastructure specialist Adrian Lord – believe road racing can, indeed, lead to more transport cycling.
Interestingly, PeopleForBikes, an American bicycle advocacy group is taking on these arguments and is aiming to shift perceptions not just in Britain but across Europe and the world. In a PeopleForBikes promotional video, riders on the Trek Factory Racing team say “Let’s ride as one.” In other words, a cyclist is a cyclist no matter what clothes they wear.
The Trek Factory Team is supporting PeopleForBikes. The team’s principal sponsor is Trek Bicycle, the American bicycle manufacturer. Family-owned, Trek has long been strong on bicycle advocacy. In 2007, at the Taipei Cycle trade show, Trek president John Burke gave a talk about why the bicycle industry should divert cash from marketing and R&D to help advocates and politicians create a “bicycle friendly world.” Burke puts his money where his mouth is – he’s a generous backer of industry initiatives to get more people on bikes. An American advocacy group with this ethos at its core is PeopleForBikes, run by Tim Blumenthal. Launched in 1999 as Bikes Belong, PeopleForBikes is an industry coalition of bicycle suppliers and retailers.
(Above) John Burke with Fabian Cancellara in Harrogate on Saturday.
The tie-up with Trek Factory Racing came via Burke. The team wears jerseys emblazoned with the PeopleForBikes logo and it’s also on the team bus and is on the hundreds of thousands items of promotional materials that will be handed to spectators for the rest of the 2014 international race season. The goal is to “make riding better for everyone, everywhere.”
PeopleForBikes to deliver its messages to a global audience.
In the US, 826,000 people have pledged their support for the organisation’s goals and the international roll-out is seeking to ramp up this total.
“The goal for 2014 is to grow to one million or more people who have given their name and email in support of better riding,” says a statement from PeopleForBikes. Blumenthal is currently embedded with the team at the Tour de France. Those who pledge support will be directed to their national advocacy groups, said Bluementhal.
“While the challenges and opportunities for bicycling vary around the globe, the benefits are universal,” he said. “A strong, united group of people for bikes can effectively influence government policies and spending, and help assure bike riding conditions that are safer and better for everyone.”
In a joint statement, PeopleForBikes and Trek said that they “believe that people — wherever they live — should be able to cycle safely and comfortably and enjoy the many benefits of cycling — for health, recreation, the economy, the environment, community and sustainability.” As the organisation’s video says, “when people ride bikes, great things happen.”
The Tour de France is not exactly a paragon of virtue when it comes to sustainability – the race organisation involves a small town moving to a new location every day for a month, and there are hundreds of vehicles in the tour “caravan” not to mention the team support vehicles – but the world’s largest annual sporting event reaches into the homes of billions of people. Those who take up cycling as a sport may also start using bicycles for transport. This need not be in Lycra – cycling is a broad church, a message that Blumenthal is eager to publicise.
The tie-up with a Lycra-wearing pro team is not an indication that cycling can only be done in such kit, said Blumenthal. “We just want to see more people on bikes,” he told BikeBiz, while standing in front of the Trek Factory Racing team bus. “It doesn’t matter what they wear or what they ride, so long as they’re riding. Of course, conditions on the roads can be brutal, raising awareness of cycling can go some way to changing the minds of those who have the power to change these things.”