Bike Advocates and Businesses Share a Common Goal
Bike advocates and bike businesses both want the same thing — more people on bikes. Here's a look at how that's happening in Arlington.
I had a chance last week to attend Interbike, the big annual bike industry meeting in Las Vegas. I'm not really in the business of bikes, but I do share a common goal with those who are — to get more people on bikes. So I thought it would be interesting to go see how bike business and bike advocacy fit together.
The answer, of course, is that they fit together in many ways. John Burke, the head of Trek Bicycles, delivered the keynote at the opening breakfast. He was urging everyone to get more involved with advocacy. For a company the size of Trek, it's easy to simply write checks to fund both grassroots and professional advocacy efforts. But there are other ways for bike businesses — especially local shops — to make a difference.
In Arlington, there are a few local shops making a difference, each in their own way. Revolution Cycles, with locations in Clarendon and Crystal City, has put some real time and effort into participating in Arlington advocacy in the past few years. Not only did they do the usual shop sponsorship of local rides, but they regularly send staff members to advocacy meetings. They've even tried to figure out a way to devote a significant portion of a regular staff position to advocacy.
This is all good for Revolution's business, too. When people new to cycling start looking around for a place to buy a bike in Arlington, chances are good that Revolution will be the first place that comes to mind.
Bringing casual riders into cycling isn't the only approach, however. Freshbikes (formerly Conte's), which generally caters to the performance-oriented crowd, helps develop the community by sponsoring weekly group rides. For some, these rides provide an introduction to fast group rides. For others, they're a good way to meet and socialize with like-minded athletes.
This building of community is — once again — good for business. When a rider wants to one-up her friends with the sweetest new Pinarello, where is she going to look first? Probably at the shop that hosts her weekly ride.
Some of the most important work, however, isn't done by the big shops. Papillon Cycles, on Columbia Pike, is a tiny operation in comparison to any other shop in Arlington. It doesn't have a lot of extra staff time to spare for meetings, and I suspect its margins don't really allow for many sponsorship checks.
But what Papillon does provide is invaluable — very affordable bikes and service for basic transportation cyclists, with zero chance of that shop attitude that is such a turn-off. Shops like Papillon help ensure that cycling is accessible to everyone, which is one of cycling advocacy's central goals.
The bike industry, as a whole, definitely has some challenges in front of it, when it comes to figuring out how advocacy fits into their collective business model. Lucky for Arlingtonians, our shops have some good lessons and models for the industry to learn from.
Mark Blacknell is a member of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.