The Bicycle Leadership Conference 2011

Bicycle Leadership Conference

The Bicycle Leadership Conference is an industry bigwig event held just before the Sea Otter bike festival in Monterey, California. I got to attend this year thanks to Cyclocross announcer Richard Fries asking me to moderate a panel on Social Media. Overall, it’s kind of a weird conference, these aren’t bike shop owners but major manufacturers and large bike accessory and advocacy companies. They talk mostly about trends in the industry and where things are headed but there is always a lawyer or two present to make sure there is no collusion or talk of pricing or anything. A common theme at the event was talking about challenges to the industry status quo, but not a lot of talk of people seeing them as opportunities, mostly, it was talking about what historically worked.

What follows are my notes from the sessions from the two day event, and some of it is just regurgitating the stats from the speaker podium but I found the whole event fascinating and gave me lots of ideas of how I’d attack the challenges if I were a shop owner or industry bigwig. There was also a bit of the event on Twitter, using the hashtag #BLC2011.


Federal Investment in Cycling: How Has it Paid Off?

It was all about tales of life on the margins. Being scapegoated by Tea Party and the GOP, cuts coming as bike lanes are “hitchhiking” on transportation bills. Bike issues champion and former US Representative Jim Oberstar spoke about the past twenty years of history, of how they fought to get bikes into the transportation discussion and went from 50 bike projects with a total budget of $20mil in 1992 to over 3,500 bike projects with a budget just over $1bil in 2010 alone.

Bike budgets are essentially “rounding errors” compared to big transportation funding, but still get much notoriety as “gov’t waste” and are under heavy threat with budget cutbacks. Bike groups are asking all transportation to scale back their spending equally instead of completely cutting certain programs (like bikes).

$ per mile of bike paths is in the realm of tens of thousands of dollars per mile, roads for cars are in the realm of tens of millions per mile. Safe routes to schools has turned the massive decline in walking/riding to school around to slight gains for the first time in decades.

Senate bill 800 was introduced today to support continued funding of safe routes to schools. Link to lend your support.


Our Customer Now and Then: A Five-Year Forecast

This was mostly a tour of demographics through recent studies of avid cyclists (people who identified as enthusiasts and mostly shopped at Independent Bike Shops).

7 Billion people on the planet: 82% literacy worldwide, 51% urban. 19% of all humans are in China, 17% are in India.

USA: only developed nation that will see population growth (due to immigration)

Baby Boomers are hitting 65 @ 7,000 per day.

There are 308.7 million people in the US now

South and Western US – 84% of population increase

83.7% of US population lives in a city

Overwhelmingly white. Survey of road bike enthusiasts in 2000 found about 91% white riders. In 2010, this actually went up to over 95% despite the US population getting less white.

New/Used bikes. In year 2000 survey, not a single responding road bike enthusiast rode a used bike. In 2010, anywhere from 20-40% of riders are on used bikes (it skewed higher the younger you got). Even affluent riders were riding used road bikes 20-25% of the time.

Bike industry seemed terrified of used bikes. Craigslist and eBay are really making used markets work in a way they never did in 2000.

88% of buyers walking into a bike store that had a specific brand in mind ended up buying something by that company (marketing works apparently)

MapMyRide: 24% of users are on mobile.

97% of users shopping for bikes and parts research their purchases on the internet first.

43% of riders get most of their information from Social Networks

50,000 rides were recorded on MapMyRide last Sunday.

48% of MapMyRide users have a BMI above 25 (overweight or obese)

5 Billion phones in the world right now, only about 1 billion personal computers

Projected that smartphone use will hit 80% of the mobile handset market by 2020


It’s All About the Kids: Getting Youth Back on Bikes

Moderator is raising a grom, letting him build ramps in the backyard, taking him to dirt jump spots, and helping him enjoy cycling. Even though it’s dangerous, it gives kids a sense of fun and freedom, setting them up for a lifetime of movement. “you never see moms like me at dirt jumps.”

3x less kids riding/walking to school than 20 years ago.

Pro MTB racer Lea Davidson’s project Little Bellas is a group to teach girls to ride mt bikes. Weeklong camps in Vermont, one day camps at large bike events (like Sea Otter).

Project Bike Trip (Katie DeClercq) – Santa Cruz-based to help middle school kids riding bikes, bike tech at school to teach HS students to learn bike mechanics. Basically “Bike Shop” like “Auto Shop”. I talked to Katie afterwards asking why the United Bike Institute (UBI) in Oregon wasn’t all over this trying to get bike shop classes going in Oregon school (can you imagine the uptake in Portland area schools and how this could funnel the best HS students into UBI afterwards?!) but she said that they reached out to the UBI folks who seemed cold to the idea. This boggled my mind. If anyone from UBI reads this, do everything you can to get behind similar programs.

First Gear program at Specialized – goal of getting every kid to ride a bike.

National Interscholastic Cycling Association – high school mt. bike teams. NorCal, SoCal, Colorado, Washington. Oregon has an OBRA Highschool cyclocross series that should be part of this, no?

Why kids don’t bike: access, safety, and lack of desire.

“Large High Def Television are a window to nature instead of nature.”

How to make bikes cool for kids? Create cycling programs that keep the desire to play alive.

“Social” Media: Little Bellas grew by grassroots word of mouth mom network mainly. After one camp, girls spent over $8700 on new bikes (got a 20% discount at a participating shop).

Facebook likes for bikes = 1,000 likes equals 1 bike for Cycle Kids.

6x as many little boys ride bikes as girls. Jeez.

Make social spaces for girls to connect, like most team sports.

Specialized Join-in page has tons of things you can do to help.


The 90 Percent We DON’T Reach: What Keeps Them Away?

About 38 million cyclists in the US, barely 10%, presently on the decline slightly. Bike retail sales are generally level to down per store. Cycling is more popular than running, golf, aerobics. It’s close to gym workouts and less than swimming and is only half as important as exercise walking.

Interested but concerned = 60% of non-riders (33% are no way, no how ever going to ride).

10k people will be turning 65 each day. 50% of consumer spending in the US is baby boomers.

high gas prices = more bike sales (electric bikes). 82% of Americans live in a city, using a car for errands can be a hassle.

“Cycling (tourism/sales) is a bigger industry in Vermont than maple syrup production”

Rails to Trails goal – by 2020 90% of Americans will live within 3mi of a trail. – 19k miles of trails mapped in a couple years, became basis for Google Bike Maps. Growing rapidly, hoping to beat bicycling magazine’s traffic and they’re actually close.

Concern for personal safety is principal concern among non-cyclists. Everyone seems to agree that a need for increased bike infrastructure is key to making this better. Every city spending more on bike infrastructure sees increases in bike use and bike sales.


Maintaining Confidence In A Bi-Polar Economy

Retail indicators are down. Gas prices going up, does this always mean an increase in cycling or a decrease in disposable income? What about bike-friendly cities vs. non-bike friendly cities with regards to gas price increases?

The industry should circle around one or two big pushes to get national attention for bikes. Possibly funded through a small tax?

“Adopt a congressman, not a bike lane”

“Make decisions that put butts on bikes” (free bikes, training classes, etc)

Too much emphasis on the enthusiast market, not many ideas for emerging lower end markets and changing demographics.

“We need to hire younger and browner for the good of the industry in the future”

The internet is price disruptive and scares most of the industry, we have to figure out how to accommodate them in a constructive manner. Bricks and Mortar will never go away, but how to make the internet a positive.

1/3 of sales in a new shop were from in-store kiosks, ordering other sizes/colors online within the actual store. Internet is where 70% of people do research before coming into a store. Curate content to help people make purchase decisions at your store.


The Internet: A S.W.O.T. Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)

Supply chain panelists since they are the start of the industry. People spend 6-7hrs per month on average just viewing facebook (2nd most popular US site).

“I’d give the industry about a C+ on using the internet to its benefit”

“Special landing pages should be mandatory for links from a manufacturer’s website”


After that last panel, I moderated a panel teaching the bike industry how Social Media could connect companies with customers, how to do it well, what to watch out for, and gave examples of companies doing it right. I headed to Sea Otter here are my photos and missed the last couple panels (one was on the industry response to doping, which I heard was pretty good). Overall, I felt like I heard too many people in the room claim the internet wasn’t a problem or that they couldn’t figure out how to make it work for them. I heard a lot of people become dismayed at everyone starting to buy used bikes, instead of seeing that as an opportunity to sell many more repairs and parts/accessories. The panels focused on reaching non-riders weren’t met with much enthusiasm by the crowd.

I feel like every challenge we heard facing the industry could have been turned around into a positive but that most of the industry seemed reluctant to change. I got increasingly frustrated by some of the responses of company presidents from major manufacturers that I swear one of these days I’ll publish a manifesto on Bike Shop 2.0, how to build a bike shop that uses the internet to its advantage, adopts used bikes, and caters to non-riders.

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