Cunnane (left) with soon-to-be President Obama during a fundraiser in 2008.
Pat Cunnane entered the bicycle industry as a 12-year-old kid doing odd jobs at a local bike shop. Now he’s the President and CEO of Advanced Sports International (ASI), which operates various bicycle brands including Fuji, Kestrel and Breezer. He’s also a six-time winner of the Philadelphia Commuter Race. He has been on the PeopleForBikes Board of Directors for nearly 10 years, most recently as Vice Chairman and is no novice when it comes to advocacy, receiving multiple awards for his efforts, including the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association’s National Advocacy Award.
Recently, we spoke with Cunnane about the bike industry, bike advocacy, and where the two meet.
Since 2001, ASI has grown from one brand to five and from 20 employees to more than 100 worldwide. Are there parallels between growing a company and growing the bicycle community?
PAT CUNNANE: Not really. In the bike industry, we grow our business by taking over existing market share. But with advocacy, we’re really growing the number of users and trying to create a movement.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity to expand the bicycle community?
PC: Not too long ago, the Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Transportation sent out a notice talking about how there’s been a shift in what this generation wants — they want more public transportation, to ride their bikes and walk more, and to drive less. The desire to ride is there, so the safer it is and the more secure people feel, the more they’ll ride.
What is bike advocacy’s biggest obstacle?
PC: I think bike infrastructure’s biggest obstacle is money. There’s just not enough money at the federal or state level for the investment required to make cycling better.
If you had a magic bike advocacy wand, what would you change?
PC: I’d have a serious conversation about revenue. We’d talk about how to sustainably fund the expansion of the transportation grid to add good cycling infrastructure. That requires looking at how transportation infrastructure is currently funded, how it’s done in other countries, and the revenue that bicycling generates both directly and indirectly.
Why is this conversation about revenue so important?
PC: I had the opportunity to meet with former Senator Alan Simpson when he was working on Simpson-Bowles. His son-in-law is an avid mountain biker and he said that if you don’t talk revenue, you’re not going to get anywhere. Don’t come to Washington unless you’re willing and able to have a revenue discussion. It doesn’t matter whether members of congress agree with you or disagree with you — unless you have a revenue solution, you’re never going to get enough votes. That’s just the reality.
What is the total revenue generated by bicycling?
PC: We generally talk about the bike industry as a six billion dollar industry, but we’re not adding in any other economic benefits — from recreation, travel and things like that. If you look at the Outdoor Industry Association’s (OIA) discussion about the size of the bike industry, they describe it as a 81 billion dollar industry. I think we need to redefine the way we talk about ourselves and the economic impact we have.
Who would be at this magic advocacy table talking about sustainable transportation funding and bicycle infrastructure?
PC: There would need to be discussions at every level of government, from federal conversations about revenue to local discussions making sure that cities and states are requesting funding and executing projects. We’d need a lot of tables.
What is the bike industry’s role when it comes to supporting bike advocacy?
PC: We always need to find ways to support local advocacy better — in some ways, it’s much easier for an industry to get together and lobby congress. But, we have to understand what our bandwidth is, what message we have, and then find support groups that are so passionate will fight no matter how long it takes to succeed. Being able to let go and offer support is something that will be important for the industry.
Cunnane and Tim Blumenthal, President of PeopleForBikes. Cunnane has served on the PeopleForBikes Board for nearly 10 years.
Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.