“If advocacy wants to leverage the racing community, you’ve got to figure out how to reach us,” advised Tim Johnson, former national cyclocross champion and member of Team Cannondale. He was part of the National Bike Summit’s “Finally, the Racing and Advocacy Worlds Collide,” workshop in Washington, DC.
Johnson rode his bicycle to the Summit along with about 25 other riders, in the 5-day, 500-mile ride from Boston to Washington, D.C., in Tim Johnson’s Ride on Washington. The event raised over $80,000 for the Bikes Belong Foundation and included other pros like Specialized racer Rebecca Rusch and professional bike race announcer Richard Fries. In the workshop audience, notable bike enthusiasts included ex-pro and current advocate Gary Fisher and El Tour de Tucson promoter Richard DeBernardis.
“Racers spend only a small part of their time actually racing,” explained Moderator Elysa Walk from Giant Bicycles. “They spend so much time out training on our roads and streets, they are natural advocates for more and better bike lanes.” Johnson agreed saying, “You’re not always going to be a racer, it’s just a short part of your life. But you can always be a bike advocate.”
Johnson suggested to specific ways that the USA Cycling race clubs could be involved in advocacy and promoting bicycling. First, he suggested that each USAC club adopt a school, “and it doesn’t have to be an underprivileged school,” to go and talk to kids about bike safety and show them the fun side of bike riding. He said,”When you’re a kid, your not riding a bike to train or commute, you’re riding because it’s fun!”
Second, he suggested that amateur cyclists talk to other parents informally about advocating for bike lanes and Safe Routes to School, “just talk to people on the sidelines of your kid’s soccer game,” he suggests.
Self-described Bicycle Evangelist and Bikes Belong member Richard Fries noted that the President of the League of American Bicyclists, Andy Clarke was in the audience, then bombastically asked, “Where are all the other bike advocates, why aren’t they here?” He gave examples of advocates not wanting to talk to him about racing.
Gary Fisher stood up, removed his hat, and interrupted Fries: “Advocates are the ones working hard the ground, the pros are WHOOSH, just flying overhead. We racers need to RESPECT the advocates.” The audience erupted into spontaneous cheers for Fisher. Fries hadn’t realized how many grassroots advocates sat in the audience from places like Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, California, and many other states.
Johnson gave an example of how the city of Wilmington, Delaware, hosted the Tour DuPont 15 years ago, and now hosts the Wilmington Grand Prix . “The Grand Prix is a huge event weekend for the city,” bringing in over $1,000,000 in revenue. The race created an atmosphere that made it easier to get funds for bike lanes, trails and other facilities throughout the state of Delaware.
He encouraged other cities and towns to find ways that racing events can lead to better bike lanes for everyone. He concluded, “Just this week, I rode on Delaware’s amazing network of bike lanes and paths.”
“I used to be a pro, and I don’t miss all that training and working hard to stay in shape to race,” Gary Fisher commented after the workshop. Ever the dapper dresser, he said, “Now I just ride my bike so I can still fit into my suits!”