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Advocacy movement gains steam in Europe

Published August 31, 2012

FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, Germany (BRAIN)—Business and advocacy leaders gathered at the first Advocacy Summit held at Eurobike Thursday to discuss how to unlock 6 billion euros of government funding for new cycling infrastructure to stimulate bicycle sales in a stagnant market.

The European Cyclists’ Federation, formed in 1983, is the umbrella group for national advocacy organizations and has been leading the charge to unify grassroots advocacy and the industry. At last year’s show, it took a step in that direction with the formation of the Cycling Industry Club. The heads of Accell Group, SRAM, Trek, Schwalbe, Selle Royal, DT Swiss and Trelock invested an initial 500,000 euros to jumpstart the club and ECF’s lobbying efforts.

Now it’s seeking more members and taking its cues from Bikes Belong, the U.S.-based nonprofit that has been successful in leveraging funding from the industry and from foundations and nonendemic corporations to lobby for better infrastructure. Bikes Belong president Tim Blumenthal said federal investment in cycling has increased from roughly $20 million in 1992 to $1.4 billion in 2009. And bike trips have gone up from 1.7 billion in 2001 to 5 billion this year. Bicycle commuting has increased 63 percent in the largest U.S. cities—all tangible results of its work.

“Fifteen years ago the cycling industry decided we could either fight over bigger individual company pieces of the same-size pie or we could try to grow the pie,” Blumenthal said. “Seems pretty simple but when you’re in a competitive business, the act of coming together isn’t easy. But the leaders had the vision, saw the power of the bicycle and the potential of working together to improve the conditions of cycling and now there are tangible ways that pie is growing.”

Advocacy is the way to grow bicycle sales but it requires the participation—and financial support—of industry companies big and small, said the ECF’s director of development Kevin Mayne. Interest in cycling is at an all-time high in many European countries and the EU is eager to fund programs that promote growth in many of the continent’s struggling economies, “but we have whole countries and whole sectors where we don’t have an organized movement,” he said.

The EU has literally billions it can spend on cycling infrastructure, but individual countries must approach it with plans on how to spend that money. “We all need to be in this,” Mayne said. “Our message to you is, we are in, are you?"

Giant stepped up the plate with CEO Tony Lo pledging 100,000 euros per year. Lo, who also leads the Taiwan Bicycle Exporters Association, said the group will also contribute 50,000 euros per year over the next three years to propel the advocacy movement in Europe.

Lo said he’s seen advocacy efforts pay off in Taiwan and China where recent government investment in bike paths has helped grow interest in cycling and in turn lifted the domestic bike market. “It’s our obligation, our responsibility to see how we can grow cycling in Europe, the U.S. and worldwide,” he said.

Founding Cycling Industry Club members are asking companies to join them.

“As an industry we have to make investments for the future. Joining this club is important if we want to get more people on bicycles,” said René Takens, CEO of Accell Group.

Topics associated with this article: Advocacy/Non-profits, Eurobike

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