Industry lobby represents “consumers”?

Here’s a little article which appeared in the November 1, 2013 issue of the bicycle trade journal, Bicycle Industry and Retailer News.

Can you say “Astroturf”?

Article from November 1, 2013 Bicycle Retailer and Insudtry News

Article from November 1, 2013 Bicycle Retailer and industry News

I wouldn’t claim to represent the interests of the bicycle industry — but PeopleforBikes, a bicycle industry lobby — claims to represent my interests and those of other individual citizens, er, “consumers”.

For a while last summer it wasn’t possible to go to major bicycle or parts manufacturers’ Web sites without having a PeopleforBikes sign-up-and support popup blot out the start screen. Or as the article puts it,

[s]tarting in 2010 as a Bikes Belong campaign to gain 1 million pledges in support of bicycling, PeopleforBikes will now be the brand that represents all cycling interests — those of the industry as well as consumers.

— not that interests are even the same across the industry. There’s another article in the same issue of Bicycle Industry and Retailer News describing retail bicycle shops’ long-drawn-out problems with one brake manufacturer’s products. I might have concerns too if I bought a bicycle with those brakes, and not to speak of the thrust and scope of industry lobbying which, as you might imagine, is targeted almost entirely at getting government to spend your and my tax dollars on infrastructure projects which PeopleforBikes has decided will get more people to buy bicycles and related products. This has a very decided slant toward separated paths and barrier-separated bikeways on streets, because that is what non-bicyclists and infrequent bicyclists — the great majority of the American population — think they need.

I spend much more than the average person does on bicycle stuff, but I hold to my own opinions about what I buy, and about how to improve bicycling, thank you very much. You may read my opinions on bicycling politics on this blog, and about reliability, safety and good purchasing choices on sheldonbrown.com.

This isn’t the first post on this blog about these issues. It’s just that the one-big-happy-family claim has become more blatant with the rebranding.

13 Responses to Industry lobby represents “consumers”?

  1. I’m beginning to think all populist cycling advocacy groups get invented by a bunch of tinpot dictators who simply like to hear the sound of their own voices. Claiming to represent all cyclists is par for the course, and those who choose to criticize their form of pseudo-hippie cycling advocacy get labeled as motorist collaborators, because “The Cycling Manifesto” requires all “True Cyclists” to hate all motorists (even though most of these populist cycling advocates spend more time driving cars than riding bikes).

    I’m sure People for Bikes will gain a lot of support. After all, most people are a lot like sheep – they like to be led.

  2. I share John’s view that People for Bikes is basically a case of “Astroturf”, i.e., like the fake grass in the stadium, this is an industry organization trying to round up signatures to provide a human face to support an agenda designed by and for the bike industry. A couple problems with that:

    1. I am more than a “consumer” to have my pockets picked. I am a human being. I buy what I need. Like Mr. Allen, I probably spend a lot more than your average American on bicycling stuff, as my wife reminds me when she fights her way past bicycles and bike bits in the garage. That doesn’t mean I buy stuff frivolously. When I buy something, its generally something I expect to last indefinitely, such as the Campy stuff on my Six-Thirteen that has parts dating back to about 1996 (a front brake/shifter) or the Long Haul Trucker that I suspect I could ride off a cliff and have it survive, even if I don’t.

    2. As John said, bike companies survive by selling stuff. Their interests therefore involve selling stuff. My interests involve riding my bicycle when and where I want, NOT having to buy anything I don’t need, NOT buying into planned obsolescence, and NOT being told I need bike paths. I share John’s concerns that putting more “butts on bikes” serves the industry but may not serve me, since what non-cyclists think they want is not usually what I want, based on riding 1,000′s of miles per year since 1979.

    3. Although I initially signed the P-f-B web page a few years ago, I have yet to be contacted by P-f-B or asked my detailed opinions on anything whatsoever. As some of you know, I’ve been a serious commuter, racer, and rider since state of the art was five speed friction shifting, have authored or contributed to two bicycling master plans (Los Alamos and Honolulu), am an LCI, and have served for almost a decade on my county’s transportation commission. If I ever do get a personal letter from Tim Blumenthal asking my opinions, I’d be glad to answer in detail.

    Although the LAB and I sometimes fight tooth and nail, it is still to a great degree member based and has good people in leadership positions. I put my efforts there.

  3. Khal said “putting more ‘butts on bikes’ serves the industry but may not serve me”

    I’d argue that “butts on bikes” does NOT serve the bike industry. As you said “Like Mr. Allen, I probably spend a lot more than your average American on bicycling stuff”.

    The bike industry would be a lot better off with more of us, don’t you think?

  4. One would have to run the numbers, Mike. A small number of us aficionados spending lots vs. millions spending a lot less? I suspect someone has run the numbers and advised the bike biz that this is a good idea. I’d love to see those numbers.

    • Khal, I meant if proportionally more cyclists were the “above average” kind. Same number of cyclists (or more, since we tend to stick to it).

  5. “…those of the industry as well as consumers. ”

    I’m sure other astute readers noted that the BRAIN blurb does not use “bicyclists” but instead “consumers”

  6. I didn’t comment on the industry side of this because… well, isn’t pretending to align itself with the “consumer” what industry marketing is there for? I’m not a fan of it either, but that’s just what these folks do, because it works.

  7. This kind of initiative also lobbies for more funding for cycling as a sport or recreation rather than cycling for transportation. No one needs a crazy carbon or titanium bike and lycra suits to commute to work (though some people choose it).

    Over-promoting the sports-and-rec aspect of cycling might get people to buy fancier bikes and more gear, but it also turns off a lot of potential cyclists who don’t see themselves ever doing that. I think that’s a bigger detriment than their lobbying for certain kinds of infrastructure.

  8. I rarely see purpose-built commuter bikes in the local bike shop. Most of the time, the shop is filled with road and mountain bikes. Sure, one can set many of these up as commuters, but they are rarely optimized for same.

    Paths to nowhere, or which require a drive to the trailhead to get there, are another story.

  9. P-f-B snookered me into signing their pledge some years ago, as well. The pledge I made to myself, though, is more important to me: Ride mindfully, whether it be for transportation or leisure or exercise.

    When I buy stuff for my bikes, it’s with a long-time shop guy’s eye for what works reliably at good value–most of the time.

    I was saddened when I worked in bike shops that more folks didn’t buy purpose-built utility bicycles, as it’s part of the general American sense that bikes are toys (one of the big problems with the bike lane fanatics, P-f-B, and most of the marques is that they are then required to focus on the toy aspect instead of the usefulness aspect). Chicken or the egg? Vicious circle.

    To be honest, though, I often tell folks I ride instead of using a car because I enjoy it more. Even when I have to dress differently to do so.

  10. By telling people they need separated paths and barricaded bike lanes to ride, that is essentially putting yet another roadblock in the way of their using their bicycles. It also makes them dependent on yet another government program. I don’t have anything against government programs per se, just that in this case, one does not need one.

    When I started riding lots as an adult, I was not a lycra-clad athlete, just a 25 year old somewhat overweight graduate student in cutoff jeans, riding a Motobecane Mirage (hi tensile steel, steel rims, etc) to a SUNY campus, which is not exactly stuff of Tour de France fame. My present infatuation with cycling grew out of just riding to work, not vice versa. I wonder how many others got a similar start.

  11. I did my 10,000 mile Europe trip using a Motobecane Super Mirage! I had only one flat tire and one broken spoke in 10,000 miles. Those old Motobecane bikes were really good, and so were those European roads – I doubt my inner tubes would last that long here in the USA.

  12. Ian, I have a story about that Mirage on my web page…speaking of tough bikes.

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