What's Your Elevator Speech When Promoting Bicycling in Your Community?

January 12, 2012

Several years ago, the local regional manager for the U.S. Forest Service asked me if I could do a presentation to about 30 regional Forest Service employees about the economic impact of trails (specifically, our new singletrack systems). I said I’d give it a try.

Bicycle industry elevator speechGreat, except, now what? Instead of doing an Internet search on "Economic Impact of Singletrack," I decided to do my own local analysis. It was a crude presentation, at best. I spoke about how my neighborhood has changed since trails have been built. I compared the number of homes that were there in 1994 vs. 2007. I analyzed why people had moved to this (very) rural area. The common theme: Trails, Trails, Trails.

I also referenced a second homeowner study that I helped co-author and used these analytics to show how much the trails have affected the local economy impact through property tax revenue, etc. I also mined some local data on average incomes and average home values.

The staff was amazed. I could see them whispering to each other and, obviously, I was telling them things they could hardly believe. Since then, I have refined my presentation, put it in a PowerPoint, and have several versions. I have done this presentation 27 times in five states.

Speaking at the Wisconsin Bike Summit, Wisconsin Governor Doyle's Northern Wisconsin Economic Summit, several International Mountain Bicycling (IMBA) events, local non-profits, and for a lot of elected officials has, imho, made a huge difference in fostering support for trail building and for promoting bicycling in general.

Last spring I spoke at the Great Lakes Bike Summit in Copper Harbor, MI (awesome singletrack riding, by the way) and Michael Mercuri, president of marketing at SRAM, approached me and said, "That was the greatest presentation of its kind I have ever seen." He shared that he is on several bicycle advocacy boards and felt they all struggled with their "Elevator Speech."

In business and sales, the term "elevator speech" is used to describe the scenario where you want to sell something, but only have a short amount of time: What point or points do you want to quickly make?

Land managers, politicians and business owners often ask tough questions when asked to support building a bicycle trail and its infrastructure. Imagine your local officials asking the following:

  • "If we allow you to build trails, how will this help our local economy?"
  • "I heard bicyclists are cheap. Why should we spend all this money on a trail, when they won't spend any money?"
  • "What do cyclists buy?" 
  • "If we allow a race (and shut the roads off), will this bring money to town?" 
  • "Do you have any examples of other communities that have seen economic impact of trails and events?"

I hear the same questions over and over. The presentation I give addresses these, and usually there is little push back for a project after I'm done with them! If you have any plans for developing new trails or events, you would be well served to formulate your responses with facts in advance.

There are a lot of statistics you can gather online about cycling. Many people use my PowerPoint presentations to gather useful data for their unique situation. You can also help create your own study.

I am co-authoring a study on the economic impact of silent sports on an annualized basis with the help of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We have been working on this for 12 months (so far, just the process and questionnaire). It launches in two weeks and will take 12 months to complete. I will make this template available for others to use, as our study is just for a two-county area. Each area is different, but using this template will allow local/regional groups to know exact numbers for their area. I think this is important.

So, when someone asks, "Why should we support bike trail building?" what will your answer be? Better prepare your elevator speech.