As tree-huggy as bicyclists appear, political constituency-minded thinking speaks volumes to the power brokers in Washington DC. I was reminded of this during my second National Bike Summit last week.
In 1999, thirteen Lycra-clad bicyclists thought it would be smart to lobby about their two-wheeled passion on Capitol Hill. In 2000, a slightly larger group convened.
By 2001, when I was executive director of Bike Miami Valley in Dayton, Ohio, 150 stalwart bike advocates from national, regional, state and local agencies gathered in Washington. New Environmental Protection Agency director Christine Todd Whitman was a keynote speaker. After two days of advocacy training, we bombarded senators and congressmen on Capitol Hill.
Now, in 2008, more than 500 bike advocates from nearly every state in the union gather. Organizations like the League of American Bicyclists, Bikes Belong, International Mountain Bicycling Association, Thunderhead Alliance, National Bicycle Dealers Association, America Bikes, Rails to Trails and Adventure Cycling joined efforts with folks from Trek, Specialized, Shimano, Giant, Fuji, Quality Bicycle Products (Salsa, Surly), Raleigh America, Chris King, Pedro's, Schwinn, GT, Mongoose, Planet Bike, Cat Eye, Scott USA, and Clif Bar. Dozens of quality bicycle shop owners and managers were able to share valuable feedback about what goes on on the front lines in retail, where the customer is king, and several government officials and community leaders took copious mental notes.
It was a veritable love-fest of "let's unify and represent the needs of the bicycling public to Capitol Hill".
And for an industry somewhat notorious for over-competitive tactics and secrecy, the resource sharing and cooperation was a nice change of pace, frankly.
I've seen all facets of this bike industry, from design, retail, sponsorship, manufacturing, marketing. The most effective gathering of the minds hasn't been Interbike, in my opinion. The real work to get more Americans on bikes is done in Washington DC. Congress and Senate listen when they hear that obesity costs our nation US$117 billion annual in medical costs and loss of productivity, while studies prove that bicycling improves our health.
True two-wheeled fellowship requires effort from everyone. Remember: the best advocates for bicycling are those spending time on their saddles, so get out there and be seen!