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POW Bike wants to turn bicyclists, brands and retailers into climate activists

Published September 14, 2022


A version of this article ran in the September issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

By Paul Tolmé

Asked why he joined the new climate action group POW Bike, Dillon Osleger offered a statistic: 1,038 miles.

POW Bike is an initiative that seeks to get the bicycling community to vote for pro-climate candidates and the bike industry to use its economic leverage to push for a transition to renewable energies.

And 1,038 is the mileage of motorized and non-motorized trails destroyed on U.S. Forest Service lands in California in 2020 due to wildfires, according to a yet-to-be-published study Osleger conducted in collaboration with the Forest Service.

A sponsored mountain bike racer and professional trail steward, Osleger used GIS tools and satellite imagery to determine the impact of 2020’s disastrous wildfire season on California trails. He said the figure is a conservative estimate that does not include trails that burned on state and private lands.

Like skiers who are seeing shorter winters and outdoor recreationalists who are losing days outside due to hotter temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events, people who ride bikes are witnessing firsthand the impacts of climate change.

“If you own a bike shop, you are seeing distinct changes in the ability of your customers to ride,” said Osleger, a sponsored racer for Specialized and executive director of the Sage Trail Alliance. “If you live on the West Coast, you are seeing more forest fires and smoke and heat that is decreasing the number of days people can ride.”

Osleger continued: “If you are in Kentucky or the Southeast, you have seen the destructive flooding recently. Flagstaff lost trails this year due to fires, and so did Durango and Moab. The heat and droughts and extreme weather are all combining to decrease our ability to ride.”

From protecting winter to protecting bicycling

Osleger is among the more than 20 pro cyclists, world champions, Olympians, brand ambassadors, and bike influencers who have partnered with the nonprofit Protect Our Winters, known as POW, to launch POW Bike.

Founded in 2007 by pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones, Protect Our Winters has become the de-facto outdoor industry climate action organization, with more than 130,000 members and brand partners including Patagonia, The North Face, Clif, REI and more. 

Re-branded as POW in recent years to reach beyond snowsports to include climbers, trail runners, fly fishers and other outdoor recreationalists, the 501c3 nonprofit launched POW Bike in July.

POW Bike fills a hole in the bike industry and wider bicycling community, which until now has lacked an umbrella organization devoted solely to climate activism, education, and advocacy. POW Bike’s target is the estimated 50-million-plus Americans who ride bikes in the United States.

The goal is to get this large potential voting bloc to support pro-climate candidates and to put pressure on elected officials at all levels of government to implement policies that reduce fossil fuel consumption and speed the transition to renewables.

POW trains its member athletes and influencers to become climate change communicators and activists who can speak to both the public and elected officials, and to push their corporate sponsors to push for climate action at scale.

In addition to Osleger, the initial POW Bike Alliance is composed of world champion racers, Olympians and bike legends including: Rebecca Rusch, Kait Boyle, Kurt Refsnider, Christopher Blevins, Sarah Sturm, Barry Wicks, Matthew Lieto, Chris Cosentino, Serena Gordon, Alyssa Gonzalez, William Cadham, Mark Taylor, Lea Davison, Peter Stetina, Evelyn Dong, Lael Wilcox, Kathy Pruitt, Kate Courtney, Ted King, Sam Schultz, Caitlin Bernstein and Hannah Bergemann.

Cannondale is the first bike brand to formally partner with POW Bike. Hydration pack maker Camelbak has also joined POW Bike, along with bike apparel maker Wild Rye.

“We need to use our voices and to show up, speak out and vote, particularly at the local and state level,” said Mario Molina, executive director of POW. 

Bicycling and the outdoor state — a powerful voting bloc

Until now, the bike industry as a whole has not been a player in the effort to solve the climate crisis in the political arena. Brand efforts have focused on individual “corporate greening,” which critics say is not a solution. Industry group PeopleForBikes and other organizations also have lobbied for government actions that recongnize bikes as a climate solution. 

“Bikes can be a huge part of the transportation solution, and we need more bike infrastructure and bike lanes,” Molina said, “but the real power of the bike community comes from its huge size and its ability to use its power to change government policy and prioritize clean energy solutions.”

While the Inflation Reduction Act, expected to be signed into law in late August, includes $369 billion for climate initiatives, that legislation was watered down due to the large number of pro-fossil fuel members of Congress.

“Snowsports and outdoor brands are way ahead of the running and bike brands when it comes to climate action,” said Massimo Alpian, head of global communications at Cannondale.

Alpian, who began supporting POW while working for a ski brand in 2015, joined a delegation of POW athletes for a congressional outreach trip in Washington, D.C., in June.

“Climate change is a threat to every industry, not just bicycling,” Alpian said. “More extreme weather makes it harder to ship bikes from around the world. We have dealers in the Southeast whose shops were flooded, and their inventory ruined.”

“As an American heritage brand,” Alpian adds, “we need to have a voice in this conversation.” He encourages other bike brands large and small to join POW Bike. “It would be a dream to be at a roundtable with Specialized and Trek to put pressure on policymakers.”

Bicycle retailers, due to their ubiquity in nearly every town and city, have a big front-line role to play in climate activism, Molina said. 

“I would love to see bike shops telling their customers about climate advocacy and educating people who visit their shops,” Molina said.

POW calls the voting bloc of people who regularly participate in outdoor recreation “the Outdoor State.” These are people who regularly hike, bike, climb, fish, run, ski, and snowboard. POW said the size of that voting bloc is more than 100 million people with the inclusion of the bicycling community. “If we can get a lot of them to vote, we can make a difference,” Osleger said.

Osleger spends a lot of time working with bike shops, and he encourages bike retailers to get involved with climate activism.

“Having an organization like POW explaining and demonstrating to the bicycling community what you can do and how you can get involved is important,” said Kris Auer, events manager for Conte’s Bike Shop, which has retail outlets in five East Coast states plus the District of Columbia. 

Auer said the changing climate is impacting bicycling everywhere in the world. The village where he used to live in southern France suffered two catastrophic 100-year flooding events within 10 months. 

“The bicycling community needs this,” Auer said. “It’s great to have an organization and athletes to bring us all together on this issue.”

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