Editor's note: Adeline Bash is a public relations associate at Product Architects, Inc., the manufacturer of the Polar Bottle insulated water bottles.
For the sake of full disclosure I think I should admit something before I get too far into this: I am not and have never been a “biker.”
Unlike my siblings, friends and apparently every other kid in the world, I did not live by the motto: “It’s like riding a bike, once you learn you never forget it.” I did manage to forget how to ride a bike — every summer until I was about 11. And even then I crashed almost every ride.
Since then, I’ve never really been very comfortable with the sport. I do own a bike and ride fairly regularly as a mode of alternative transportation. However, I am painfully slow (I can literally count the number of times I have passed fellow bikers and more than once they have been drunk), curse (sometimes out loud) almost the entire time and past riding the few miles to and from work, I avoid biking as much as possible.
Attending the League of American Bicyclists National Bike Summit this week, however, made me want to be a biker. Or, at the very least, a better advocate so that the rest of the members of my community have the opportunity to be one.
The four-day summit included various speeches, workshops and parties, concluding in a day of meetings with representatives on Capitol Hill.
Polar Bottle President, Judy Amabile, and I attended only a few speeches and workshops before we were forced to leave the conference early to avoid a pending snow storm stalling flights out of the city. The little I did see of the Summit, however, was enough to confirm for me the pivotal role bikes play in not only reducing traffic gridlock and preserving the environment but — more importantly — in improving the economic, physical and social well-being of our communities and rescuing our nation from years of economic struggle.
Hearing from summit speakers — like city representatives from Indianapolis who have literally transformed the city with a few well-placed bike paths — convinced me that making your community more bike-friendly attracts an educated, talented workforce and encourages economic growth by better connecting businesses with their customers. After almost every speaker focused on the health benefits of cycling, some in the context of the ensuing healthcare debate, I realized that promoting transportation by bike is such a simple solution to reducing obesity rates and lowering healthcare costs — arguably, the two biggest issues facing our nation.
The most important idea I left the Summit with, however, and what made me want to rethink my relationship to the bike, came from one of the first speeches of the conference on opening night by Bruce Katz — vice president of non-profit think tank, The Brookings Institute.
Analyzing data on cycling statistics, housing demographics and consumer trends, Katz explained that several factors have contributed to the growth in the cycling industry. Bike advocates — whether they are politicians, leaders of non-profits or active retailers, distributors or suppliers — are an important component in making communities more bike friendly. There are several seemingly unrelated social factors, however, that have had perhaps the most profound impact on getting more people on bikes and as an industry we should use these to our advantage.
The shrinking of the nuclear family, for example, has given people the freedom to be pickier about where they live. Smaller households mean people can migrate back from the suburbs to more urban, populated areas closer to their workplaces. 40 percent of people who live within a mile of their work, Katz said, either bike or walk.
Living in more populated areas where people are connected easily through things like bike paths also yields more opportunities for innovation.
“When you have that kind of density and when you have that kind of proximity, synergies happen,” he explained. “We begin to mix ideas and innovate.”
The key, according to Katz, is how we use this innovation to recover from the recession that has crippled our economy. We must take this innovation, he suggested, and funnel it into returning to what made this nation prosper — our heritage of manufacturing.
“We forgot that what makes an economy great is to innovate, yes, but produce as well,” he said.
By promoting manufacturing stateside, several members of the cycling industry, he says, are already helping lead the transition to reviving manufacturing in the United States. Manufacturing is being brought back to brutally economically depressed Detroit, for example, thanks to companies like Shinola, a bike manufacturer located in the heart of the city.
“That is the future of America,” Katz said. “We are going back to the future of the way we design our communities and we are going back to the future of understanding this fundamental interplay of production and innovation”
How, as an industry, we adjust to this transition period in our country’s history could have a profound impact on our success as a nation. If Katz is onto something and bikes and strong bike infrastructures really do help unite people, foster innovative thinking and bring the manufacturing back to United States necessary to mend our economy then we must all do our part to become better advocates —myself included.