Speaking Truth (and Bikes) to Power

Meet your politicians—and make a difference—on the PFB Dealer Fly-In

Words by Peter Koch

While the whitewashed, neoclassical buildings of Washington, D.C—and the political intrigues that occur within their walls—may feel far away from your bike shop, you don’t have to look further than trade war-fueled wholesale price increases to see how national politics can impact your community and, as such, your bottom line. That’s why, for the past five years, the bicycle advocates at PeopleForBikes have been hosting annual Congressional meet-and-greets to showcase the power of the $88 billion bike industry and advance a pro-bike platform. With this year’s PeopleForBikes Dealer Fly-In happening next month, March 26 and 27, they’re on the lookout for independent bike dealers eager to step up their advocacy efforts, and make a difference on a national stage.

There’s more to the trip than simply glad-handing Senators and members of Congress. Last year, for example, they lobbied for Congress to, at a minimum, maintain at-risk federal transportation grants via TIGER (Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery) at $500 million. “The day after our meetings,” says PFB Government Relations Coordinator Jordan Trout, “TIGER was funded at $1.5 billion.” While Trout admits that the extra $1 billion can’t be directly attributed to dealer efforts, “It was a great opportunity for the bike industry to show up, and talk about issues that affect us—we were there, we were talking about it, and we got extra money that we weren’t expecting.”

The Ask
This year, Trout says, they have a robust plan to continue lobbying to maintain or grow TIGER funding—now called BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) transportation grants. “Seven out of the 20 grants awarded in 2018 included bike projects,” she says, adding that growing the financial pot will likely lead to more of that grant money going towards improving bike infrastructure nationwide.

PFB is also focused on reauthorizing the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act—a massive federal transportation bill set to expire in 2020—and further increasing funding eligibility for bike-related projects. “Again, this is a case of trying to increase that financial contribution from the federal government to states,” says Trout, noting studies that show improved bike infrastructure has a direct positive sales impact at nearby bicycle retailers. “Slowing down people on the street benefits all retail, and bicycle lanes and infrastructure slow street traffic while increasing pedestrian traffic.”

Retailers are critical to these lobbying efforts, Trout says, because they’re the “boots on the ground” who get an up-close look at how government policies directly impact the bike business. Plus, she adds, “bike shops are constituents of the community, and their words will hold more weight than ours, as a national organization.” 

What’s In It For You?
The Fly-In is part of PFB’s larger effort to develop the $88 billion bike industry into a louder, more unified voice than can more readily bend Congress’s ear. “We’re hoping to position ourselves so that, when important issues come before members of Congress, they’ll say to themselves, ‘I wonder how this might impact this bike shop or manufacturer in my district’ and, in turn, call them up,” Trout says. Through past efforts, they’ve already established that kind of relationship with several members, including Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). 

On a more local, immediate level, Trout says that this kind of advocacy makes for great marketing. “So much of retail is the relationship-building between retailer and customer, and being able to say, ‘We don’t just want to sell you bike or sell you kit; we want to create a community around cycling, and we care enough about it to work with Congress to make it better for everyone.’ That’s a great storytelling aspect for retailers to present over social media, or even by hanging photos of member visits on their shop walls.”

The Fly-In Plan
A Week or Two Prior
• Homework: PFB sends dealers a packet with background on this year’s lobbying efforts, talking points, and related information.

Tuesday, March 26
• Arrival: Retailers fly in.
• Dinner: PFB hosts a dinner, where it prepares retailers for meetings with their members of Congress with role playing (touching on introductions and personalizing your story, as well as reviewing talking points and this year’s specific ask). “We want to ensure feel comfortable selling their story to their members,” Trout says. 

Wednesday, March 27
• Breakfast
• Member Meetings: On Capitol Hill, the group breaks off into two teams for meetings with members of Congress and their staffers, based on where participating shops are located. PFB staff handle introductions, and then hand meetings off to the retailers. “This is, after all, your story to tell about how this can benefit your business.”
• Lunch: Lunch at the Senate’s Southside Buffet, where you can play “Name That Big-Deal Senator” with other retailers. 
• Member Meetings: Wrap up any remaining meetings
• Debrief Over Drinks: If there’s time ahead of flights, grab a drink or bite to eat with PFB staffers, and discuss meeting substance.
• Departure: Retailers fly home. 

Thursday, March 28 (Optional)
• Sightseeing: Take an extra day for sightseeing around the Capital. 

Get Involved
If you’re interested in joining this year’s PeopleForBikes Dealer Fly-In, click here to fill out the Request for More Information form by mid-February. It doesn’t require a full commitment to attend, and PFB will follow up with you to get confirmation of participation, and to send more information as details become available. PFB is currently working on securing funding from manufacturers, so there may be subsidies available to some retailers to help defray the costs of attending.

If it’s not possible for you to make the trip to Washington, DC, but you’re still interested in being engaged by hosting a Congressional visit to your shop, you can email Jordan Trout at jordan@peopleforbikes.org. “We can help accommodate that—set it up, schedule it, and give you talking points,” says Trout. “All you have to do is give a great tour, talk about your individual business, and tie those talking points into your operation. It’s a great opportuny to engage members of Congress, and get them working on bike industry issues.”

Peter KochComment