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Obama Pledges Funding for Cycling

Published June 12, 2008

CHICAGO, IL (BRAIN)—Barack Obama, in a private 20-minute meeting with members of the Bikes Belong board of directors, told them if he were elected president he would increase funding for cycling and pedestrian projects. And the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee also said he would support Safe Routes to Schools programs.

He also told them he seldom makes promises on what he would do if elected president, but that this was a promise he would keep. Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong, laid out the industry’s position on boosting funding for cycling-related projects and for Safe Routes to Schools at the meeting.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) called the opportunity for industry leaders—both suppliers and retailers—to meet privately with a presidential candidate so early in a campaign for the White House was historic. “It’s important for this industry to understand that it is a force,” said Blumenauer, shortly after Obama left the event.

Stan Day, SRAM’s president, said that Obama “gets it.” He pointed out that Obama understands that bicycles can be part of a solution to issues as diverse as health care, obesity, energy and environmental policy. “He does his homework and he can connect the dots,” he said.

Of the estimated 160 guests who turned out for the event, Day estimated close to 60 represented the bicycle industry ranging from suppliers, retailers and advocates. Among the guests were Greg LeMond and his wife, Kathryn. Obama, in his remarks to the guests, thanked the LeMonds for attending.

Chris Kegel, owner of Wheel & Sprocket, a six-store chain of stores in the greater Milwaukee area, drove to Chicago early Thursday evening to attend the fundraiser at the home of F.K. Day and his wife, Leah. Day is vice-president of SRAM.

“I think it’s very important that we (the bicycle industry) were involved with this type of event,” Kegel said. Kegel added that he personally supports Obama and believes that Obama can help end the partisanship that divides the country.

Chicago retailer, JoAnne McSweeny, owner of Trek Bicycles on Michigan Avenue, said she has followed Obama’s career for years and supports Obama’s run for president. She, like many others, said Obama’s support for cycling is important for the nation’s future.

During a conversational 15-minute speech, Obama poked fun at himself telling the crowd that when he was photographed last weekend riding a bike with his children, he looked like Urkel. For those unfamiliar with Steve Urkel, he was the nerdy, bespectacled semi-hero on the long running sitcom “Family Matters.” The show was centered on an African-American middle class family living in Chicago.

Obama said he had no idea at the time he was riding with his children that he would soon meet with so many members from the industry. However, he pointed out, he knew photographers would be snapping photos of him on his bike, and that he wore his helmet to set an example for the kids.

Tom Petrie, president of Velimpex, who flew to Chicago Thursday afternoon, said he didn’t expect to hear Obama lay out a specific agenda for the bicycle industry. “However, it was refreshing to see somebody trying to unite the country instead of trying to divide it with wedge issues. I find it refreshing and, frankly, necessary,” Petrie said

For a complete report on the event, read the July 1 issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.
—Marc Sani

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