The news is out that the three major American bike advocacy groups — the League of American Bicyclists, the Alliance for Biking and Walking, and Bikes Belong — plan to merge.
The planned merger is widely hailed as a good move that makes sense. A unified voice and consolidated resources will strengthen the bike promotion message.
What do you think?
Maybe they’re nits, maybe not, but a couple of things that strike me right away about this merger.
- Competition. When the founders of The Alliance for Biking and Walking (“The Alliance”) met at Thunderhead, Wyoming in 2002, the League of American Bicyclists was a moribund group of graybeards plagued with infighting and politics. These Thunderhead upstarts, in my opinion, gave the LAB the kick in the seat they needed to inspire them to action. Perhaps this proposed merger is an acknowledgement that their work is done, and it’s time for another phase of advocacy.
- Will this be a cyclist or industry organization? Bikes Belong is an industry group. Personally, I think it’s wonderful that the bike industry has funded political action and advocacy through Bikes Belong, but there’s still a big suspicion in the back of my mind about what might happen if Trek’s goals conflict with those of Specialized in some way, or if the overall industry’s interests might conflict with those of the bike riding population in general. Tim Blumenthal is an excellent choice as acting CEO of the merged group, but is it a wise move to have an industry person serve as a mouthpiece of cycling in the United States?
- Member vs Board. The Alliance has done good work, but it’s important to remember that this group is controlled by a fairly small group of people, with a board selected only by the Alliance leadership. The League of American Bicyclists is (still) a membership organization, with a portion of the governing board elected by the general membership.
Bikes Belong board is composed entirely of executive staff from the bike companies that provide funding for them, who all have a financial interest in selling more bikes, more expensive bikes, and all of the various pricey accessories that go along with “go fast” riding.
- Disparate purposes. The Thunderhead Alliance exists to empower people and bike clubs to advocacy primarily at the local, regional and state level. Bikes Belong promotes bike use by advocating for Federal policy changes. The League of American Bicyclists runs programs for cyclists — they’re the primary driver behind “Bike To Work” events, they support Safe Routes programs, they provide training and licensing for bike safety education, and the LAB administers the Bike Friendly programs. LAB also still supports things like local road riding clubs.
There’s also some potential concern that an advocacy group that advocates for walking (such as the Alliance does) may not effectively advocate for cyclists.
Just a few things to think about regarding this merger. I’m not necessarily saying these things are bad, just saying that’s what they are. Bikes Belong has kept the LAB on life support the past couple of years, and it appears Bikes Belong also provides a lot of funding for the Alliance, so perhaps this merger just formalizes the de facto reality? Or, a little more perniciously, perhaps Bikes Belong and their industry sponsors told their beneficiaries that they would pull funding?
I’m interested in your thoughts about this too.