In with the new: how to attract newcomers to bike riding

April 23, 2015

Sarah Braker, communications manager

The mission of PeopleForBikes is pretty straightforward. We want more people riding bikes, and we want more places to ride them. The people are the political power and the places are the infrastructure. With more than a million individual supporters, we know we are on our way, but to grow the movement we need to connect with all the potential riders who aren’t yet getting on bikes–or riding very often. That’s easier said than done, but lucky for us we know some pretty smart people. Based on a panel discussion at last week’s Bicycle Leadership Conference, here are four ideas for how to get newcomers riding, from some of the best in the business.

Thomas Dimitroff, General Manager of the Atlanta Falcons

Thomas Dimitroff (right) on a ride with cyclist George Hincapie (Image: Thomas Dimitroff)

Thomas Dimitroff’s love for bicycling is well documented, and now he wants to spread that love across the National Football League. Partially this is due to his own outlook on life which is to soar, savor and share. “Soar, go as high as you can go, savor, take it all in, share, share with the community,” he explains. Dimitroff says the NFL’s Play60 program is the place to start, by introducing bicycling to kids as a way to get active for at least an hour a day. But he wants to take it further. Some of his ideas include getting head coaches on board with biking, building places where players and kids can interact and branding bike helmets with team logos. He would also like to see other teams adopt the Green Bay Packers’ tradition of riding bikes with kids to their first day of practice. Dimitroff wants to lead the way for other teams and leagues to encourage bicycling to all their fans.

Hansi Johnson, Minnesota Land Trust

Image: Hansi Johnson

Hansi Johnson, of the Minnesota Land Trust, sees Duluth, Minnesota as a prime example of how to get newcomers into mountain biking. Before the city’s investment in biking, Duluth was, as Johnson says, “seen as cold, old, and frozen.” Now it’s known for being young and vibrant, a place that is attracting entrepreneurs. The efforts have been so successful that in 2014 Duluth was named the best place to live by Outside Magazine. “Mountain biking,” Johnson says, “has become a metaphor for Duluth’s reinvention.” By designing trails that people can ride to, connecting them to underserved communities and making them accessible to beginners, Duluth’s mountain biking system is ideal for newcomers. Now, Johnson says, companies in Duluth are using the trail system to entice and retain employees, which means even more newcomers are on their way.

Jim Sayer, Adventure Cycling Association

Image: Flickr

Jim Sayer of the Adventure Cycling Association only needs two works to explain how to get more newcomers biking: bicycle tourism. “Bike tourism has been going strong and getting stronger,” he says. Riding this boom are companies that also contribute to local economies, making bike tourism good for everyone. Sayer says that walking tour companies are now adding bike components to what they offer and more bike shops are offering rentals in addition to sales and service. Sayer says that it’s important to realize that bike trips don’t have to be epic, week-long adventures for experienced riders only. Simple overnight or weekend trips are the perfect way to introduce beginners to the magic of bike touring, and as more companies catch on, he expects the boom to continue.

Bill Dossett, Nice Ride Minnesota

Image: Flickr

According to Bill Dossett of Nice Ride Minnesota, “Bike share is exploding.” There are 23,000 bike share bikes in the U.S. and it is estimated that this number will double in the next year in cities that are already operating such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco. New cities adding bike share programs such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh prove that bike share is, “not an experiment, it’s an expectation,” Dossett says. Bike share is an ideal way to attract newcomers by giving them a way to explore cities they live in or are visiting and Dossett says its benefits don’t end there. Mayors want to be known as the ones who launched programs in their cities, and bike share programs help compel infrastructure and investment. According to Dossett, 31% of bike share users say they haven?t ridden a bicycle in the last year, solid proof that if you build it the newcomers will use it.

More people on bikes and more places for bikes aren’t just good for the newcomers; they’re good for everyone. New and frequent riders alike can use a bike share bike, ride on a new bike trail or sign up for a weekend bike trip. The larger our base of bicyclists, the more noise we can make. What else do you think we can do to get more people, especially newcomers, on bikes?

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