The Big Ask

The Big Ask

Almost twenty years ago, 1997, and I'm at the podium in a Las Vegas ballroom at the Interbike trade show. The bike industry’s 200 senior leaders have packed this room to hear our pitch.  I’ve summarized our campaign and now this is my big finish. “You’ve heard the threats from Washington and our proposed response. If we don’t start this Bikes Belong Campaign now and win it, federal funding for bicycling will completely disappear. So, are you ready to join us now, and get this campaign started?”

I stopped talking, allowing space for a response. Silence echoes back at me. The highway lobby was targeting our share of federal funding for bike infrastructure. Andy Clarke of Rails to Trails, Cosi Simon of League of American Bicyclists and I representing Bicycle Federation of America, had just risked our reputations on this first ever big ask of the bike industry to fight back.

Our plan mobilized bicyclists and bike dealers in key congressional districts while working an overall capital hill strategy. We needed to raise $300,000 from them to launch this campaign, now.

Time in the ballroom slows. My body tenses and sweats, my heart pounds in my ears. I scan the audience; they’re squirming, clearing their throats, looking around nervously.

I wonder if I'm going to need to do some kind of impromptu face-saving, soft-shoe act to gloss over their non-response. After all, this was an audacious ask from advocates to the bike industry. But we had never before fought as big a battle as this one and we couldn’t do it without their help.

Like many good ideas this one had come together fast. Andy scribbled it on a notepad while flying to Wyoming to pitch me in July. We honed it into a plausible proposal for this group of business leaders in September. Mike Sinyard of Specialized organized the meeting and invited his peers.

But our doubts lurked just below the surface. Maybe we hadn't given ourselves enough time to put together a compelling enough case for this audacious, first time ask. Maybe asking for money in public like this was just too awkward. Maybe...

Then on my right side, leaning against the wall a young man raised his hand. I recognized him as John Burke, the new CEO of Trek Bikes, and point at him to speak.

John says, “I like what I am hearing from you and the team. On behalf of Trek Bikes I pledge $100,000 for the Bikes Belong Campaign with one condition. The condition is that the rest of the bike industry must match this amount two to one by the end of Interbike, three days from now, so we can this campaign started.”

It took a moment for that to sink in on me, and the audience. Our doubt had just died and our dream was on. I said “wow” as the audience exploded in unbridled revelry. Applause, yelps and standing ovations you’d expect from a joyous family whose young patriarch just stood up and signaled to his peers, “Success is this way friends, follow me.”

I use the revelry time to take a deep breath, wipe the sweat off my hands, and bask in the emotional relief of Burke’s pledge and challenge. Leaning over to Andy and Cosi, I ask them to help keep track of pledges I'm about to ask for.

“Thank you John, for that generous leadership pledge and ambitious challenge." With all the confidence I can muster, I repeated his challenge and asked the audience, "So who here will join John and help us get this campaign started?” Hands go up around the room simultaneously so I start on the right and work left.

“I’m inspired!” shouts a multi-store owner from Portland, “put me down for $10,000.” Spontaneously another dealer responds, “Well, I’m not that inspired but I will pledge $5,000!” Cheers fill the room.

One of Burke’s business rivals congratulates him and makes his own of $25,000 pledge. The audience applauds. Each pledge inspires bursts of enthusiasm, which triggers more pledges. The momentum is real, and the joy in the room is contagious.

Andy and Cosi are keeping up with the staccato pace of pledges as I recognize another man with his hand in the air. He stands and says, “On behalf of the Chicagoland Bicycle Dealers Association, who just held a board meeting at this table, we pledge $25,000 to the Campaign.”

After a few more pledges I ask Andy for an accounting. After some addition, Andy reports that of the $300,000 goal, the campaign has just secured pledges totaling $210,000.

Not a bad start for a 20 minute-old campaign.

Two days later we met our fundraising goal and the Bikes Belong Campaign was real, and ultimately successful. Since 1998 we can trace two big outcomes back to the Big Ask.

We are currently benefitting from literally billions of public dollars invested in new bicycling infrastructure across the country because bike advocates and the bike industry joined forces, worked hard and were fearless.

And today, Bikes Belong has evolved into People for Bikes and we bike advocates have more respect and wheal more power in city halls and state capitals than ever before. I’m proud of our political movement’s accomplishments to date.

However, signals from Washington indicate new battles for bike infrastructure are on the horizon. The question for us today is whether or not bicyclists will be heard and respected in this conversation.

Maybe it’s time for a new Big Ask?

Charlie Finds His Tempo

On the Continental Divide, Colorado

On the Continental Divide, Colorado

There is a place at 11,500’ elevation, deep in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, that I want to tell you about. This place requires some mountaineering chutzpah to get to, and some high altitude attitude to thrive in. So this time I got there, and back, on Tempo’s Carmel electric hybrid bike, and am inspired to share this story.

Mile 1

Frankly I didn’t know what to expect. Worst-case scenario – bike fails and I walk back. It’s a full-blown jeep trail on the Continental Divide at 11,500’. And it’s downhill the whole 6 miles back. So I wore a helmet, just in case. 

I have been up and down this valley passage since I was 10 years old, living in Denver in 1968. By pickup truck stuffed with a big family sized cotton tent and 5 sleeping bags when we first went up to scout out an amazing opportunity. In 1968, Chaffee County, high up in the middle of Colorado’s most majestic mountains, was still giving away free land to homesteaders. So our family started homesteading 120 acres up this valley, making several intrepid trips each summer to camp and make improvements on our land.

Today with my Tempo Carmel I think I get to make a little history by being the first person to ride up the South Fork of Lake Creek Road on an electric bike. Starting from Hwy 82 the route crosses Lake Creek, which is running high and fast, like all the creeks in the area now due to snow melt runoff. After featuring large mud puddles of mysterious depth, the jeep trail starts to climb. It is dry and rocky but most of the rocks were fixed and so traction is pretty good.

I didn’t really know what to expect out of this Carmel. Almost all of my experience on it has been on paved, level ground, framing the testing as a commuter. So as I dove into the task of climbing this hundred-foot hill - increase cadence, breath, pick the right route, keep spinning, out of saddle if need be, keep the momentum forward – I could feel the NuVenci hub doing its magic in finding a nice climbing gear as the MVF motor suck up power from that 36 volt battery and provided the angel like wings under my pedals as I confidently conquered that hill.

Mile 2-3

How sweet is was to come up into the South Fork Valley and see the long view up to Middle Mountain and ride along the creek that forms just up valley. In winter this valley fills with snow and the mountains provide avalanche drama starting in January, ending in April. 

By mid-June when I did this ride the trail was mostly dry accented with spring runoff in one track or the other, muddy puddles, stream crossings and wildflowers. Imagine my pleasure as I got to meander up the valley on a civilized incline at an almost effortless pace. My Carmel read the conditions and responded nicely.

The relative ease of these two miles gave me an opportunity to simply look around. If you look closely at the this photo, you’ll see two mule deer posing across the creek with the bike.

Mile 4

To get to the cabin pictured below you have to cross this creek. It was running too high and fast to ride any bike through, so I picked it up and carried the Carmel across and stopped at my favorite cabin for a break and the memories. This cabin was built around 1900 and is owned by our neighbors. We stayed in it once when I was about 12 years old and it was here I learned a very valuable lesson about heat. It hurts and is invisible. That stove pipe on the right side of the cabin is connected to the wood burning stove that burned my hand SO bad when I was reaching for something in a cabinet above it. I can still feel it burn, can you?

Mile 5 

We, my bike, and me made it to our promise land, our homestead. On a 72-degree summertime day at 11,500' altitude, deep into a special valley off Independence Pass, we made it back to my childhood playground and adventure land. Yes for me getting back here almost every summer is a sojourn. I get to reset, think out loud, remember and take account, and look ahead and dream.

Mile 6

A mile beyond our homestead at about tree line is the end of the road and the start of the Collegiate Wilderness. Our homestead is happily a part of this wilderness area now and open to you and me for free, forever. 

This last mile is steeper and rougher than the others. The Carmel performed beyond my expectations. In fact by the time I got here I had stopped coddling the bike and was putting it thru its paces. It took everything I threw at it admirably. I took a break here and contemplated the payoff for this just completed six-mile climb - six miles back down fast.

I like risk taking. Calculated and considered risks. So today after a timid start to test the disk brakes and handling this 53cc Carmel in the gravel on steeper runs, I gradually let go. In a couple of the longer stretches of less steep I was reaching speeds that guaranteed problems should I go down, therefore focusing my attention on the immediate issues ahead. And in the steeps, even the wet ones, the bike stayed the line, the brakes stayed dry and tight. Even the tires surprised me with their grip in wet and dry gravel.

Overall this Carmel performed closer to a traditional mountain bike than I expected. Uphill at full power gives the ebike rider a power boost that would exceed that of a normally geared traditional mountain bike. And the power can be adjusted down to achieve longer range or more of a workout for the rider.

On the downhill the Tempo Carmel was a sweet ride that had the feel of a traditional mountain bike. It was agile on the steeps and sure footed at speed.

So what an adventure day - at altitude, in paradise, and finding my Tempo.