Three Very Full Days at the National Bike Summit
Our first National Bike Summit is a wrap and, while we’re still digesting everything that we learned, we’re exceedingly glad that we attended. Beyond just our interest in what the League meant by this year’s theme of “Bikes Mean Business,” the Bike Summit provided us with the invaluable opportunity to connect with folks from around the US and Canada, and engage in many powerful conversations about the link between cycling and tourism.
The more we told our story to fellow attendees, the more we came to understand that cycling (and cycling infrastructure) is mostly still thought of as just a quality-of-life benefit for residents. It is a huge benefit for residents, and it can also be a powerful tourism asset. The more we discussed this concept with folks, we started to better see and understand our professional role in the bike tourism movement (hint: we’re really good at connecting the dots, helping people think about cycling in a new way, and marketing). This is exciting, and we’re really looking forward to following up on the conversations that were started over the last few days.
In the meantime, we wanted to share our (other) favorite parts of the Bike Summit. For us, what emerged throughout the event were two big themes: connecting cycling to a larger picture and telling the success stories. We wholeheartedly agree with both ideas and were excited to hear someone else state their importance. Speakers talked about the need for bike advocates to frame the issue of cycling in terms of its benefit to businesses or its connection to a thriving multi-modal transit system, instead of simply focusing on bike lanes as good for cyclists. We also heard about the need for advocates to step back from the wonky details and statistics, and start telling powerful stories (particularly what we like to call “conversion stories”) about how cycling is leading to positive changes.
Speakers also talked about how cycling is part of a much larger trend that is currently playing out in cities across the US. And there was a huge recognition of the fact that young people are choosing to drive less and are looking for walk-able/bike-able neighborhoods. In both cases, these are ideas we wondered if we would ever hear – that bike advocacy has actually been achieving great things and is now part of a powerful groundswell movement, and that people in positions of power are actually aware of and paying attention to the millennial generation – and it was gratifying to know that there is forward movement.
We also attended part of the Women’s Forum the day before the full summit, and were both extremely pleased by the way the discussion about “women on bikes” has matured beyond just cycle chic. The opening conversation between Georgina Terry and Natalie Ramsland was easily my favorite part of the entire conference, because it felt like a rare opportunity to sit in on a relaxed, information-sharing chat between these two amazing women, and I felt like I learned more about what-women-need-to-focus-on in that conversation than I might have in any other format.
Beyond the keynotes, breakout sessions, and networking, the Bike Summit meant a unique opportunity to simply socialize with people we hope to work with (or work more with) over the next few years. Everything from a bike tourism happy hour (organized by the incredible Ellee Thalheimer) to dinners out with folks from around the US to an absolutely crazy last-night dance party (yes, it’s pretty funny to see bike advocates take over a dance floor). And, in the end, it was this social time that was really what drew us in the first place, because this is when the real work gets done. When you can sit down with someone over coffee or a meal and hammer out ideas, or when you show up at a crazy dance party and demonstrate that you can look just as goofy as everyone else, this is when you become a part of the tribe.
The Bike Summit was exhausting in many ways, but we are surprisingly energized as we leave DC, and we’re looking forward to the (no doubt) enormous leaps forward in bike tourism over the next few years.