Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Defying Poverty with Bicycles – The Book

I’ve been receiving encouraging responses to our book, Defying Poverty with Bicycles, the inspiration for this blog. Readers are taking the trouble to contact me and describe how they have used the book to build their own social bike business program. Many of these readers were helping to lead small, volunteer-run programs before they got their copy. Now they are doing the work needed to create an infrastructure that can handle growth. This growth will allow them to serve many more disadvantaged people with bicycles than they did before.

This book is for anyone considering building a program and eventually a whole organization around the goal of helping people with bicycles. This excerpt from the preface will help you decide if it would be a useful tool for you:

“Because people who live in or even near poverty are so consumed by the daily stress of survival they cannot engage in society. This often means isolation from community activities and even well-meaning programs designed to serve them. Unfortunately, such charitable service programs neglect to actually engage the people they are meant to serve, the very people who understand the struggle and language of their neighbors.

The Social Bike Business program is designed to bridge all of these gaps by guiding struggling people toward their own entrepreneurial success. Advantaged people are well served by bike shops, collectives and co-ops. Now it’s time to create the places that invite our most disadvantaged neighbors to purchase their own bike—refurbished or manufactured locally through the program—and engage in a new career that will enable them to lift themselves out of poverty. Even obtaining a quality transportation bicycle can save a person several hours each day if they had been walking and save them thousands of hard-earned dollars each year. Bicycles shrink cities at no charge. But this program does far more than that. It establishes bicycle community centers where struggling people can learn from each other about transportation bicycling and careers in bicycle business and beyond.

In the following chapters, you will learn how to plan for and launch your own Social Bike Business program, adapted to the needs and specialties of your particular community to ensure you reach your most disadvantaged neighbors. Your program can be as small as needed to succeed or as immense and complex as you believe you and your team can achieve. Think of this book as a menu to pick from rather than a prepared meal. Start where it makes sense for you and your team and go as far as you need to go. You might already have a small shop that would suffice as the main center for your program, so keep this in mind as you read about large centers designed for larger programs than yours needs to be. You and your team might want to focus on job training and refurbished used bikes. Then skip the chapter on bicycle manufacturing. This book is yours to do with what you like. Pull out the pieces that sing to you and shut the volume off on all the rest.

As you read, you will learn how to place the most disadvantaged people first and how to help them purchase their own bike through micro credit and subsidy qualification so they will value their bike. You will learn how to spot talents in people and offer a variety of career paths all based on bicycles, but designed to help them find work in many different fields, from business management to customer service to mechanics to owning their own business. You will learn proven business practices that ensure all employees of your program are paid a market rate salary. You will find ways to overcome the relentless stress and fear of poverty. And from this insight, you will learn how to choose the most effective means of reaching and engaging your community’s most disadvantaged residents—their preferred way of communicating, the locations most inviting to them, what they need in order to attend a meeting or workshop including food and childcare, and many more vital details that are commonly forgotten in today’s bicycle businesses and programs.  

Be sure to study Chapter 1 because that is where you will have to be honest with yourself and your local leadership team. Are you envisioning a more casual and fun volunteer program that gives bikes away? A co-op or collective might be a better fit. Such programs can build the bike culture. You might also be a budding for-profit business owner. For-profit bike shops are necessary elements of every bicycling community and a very honorable path to take.

If you choose Social Bike Business, one important requirement is that you must live in the community and be prepared to help lead the organization that takes on the program. I have encountered several well-meaning people who are enthusiastic about the program but expect others to take it on without their assistance. They see its potential in another community or believe that an organization they do not lead should take it on. In fact, the only way for you to succeed with the program is to step into a leadership position and inspire others to join you in building this program so it serves the community where all of you live. No program can thrive if it is started or run by outsiders.

We understand that Social Bike Business is not for everyone and, in order to succeed, each local program must compliment rather than compete with existing for-profit bike shops and co-ops/collectives. Each Social Bike Business program must fill an unfilled niche. That niche is service to and full engagement of the most disadvantaged people in each community. By filling that niche, Social Bike Business is designed to enable people to find their own path out of poverty through bicycles. Eighty percent of the world’s population is living in poverty (World Bank 2008). The Social Bike Business program opens a world of opportunities to them through bicycling. For this, they will continue to ride and perhaps even take up sport cycling. This will grow the whole bicycle movement and boost the bike industry as these formerly-poor join the advantaged bicycle enthusiasts of their community.

Social Bike Business is not about profits or charity. It is about helping people stand up against and defy poverty. Social Bike Business is about giving impoverished people the tools they need to leave poverty behind forever.”

Does that sound intriguing? You can buy your copy at any book vendor – local book store or online – or buy it through our website at .

Do you already have a copy? Please leave a comment about how you have used the book to build your program.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Bicycle Industry Stagnation

Tomorrow I’ll go to Las Vegas to attend the annual Interbike trade show for the bicycle industry where One Street will have a booth once again. I’m looking forward to talking with attendees about our Bike Shift Levers and books. I may even be lucky enough to connect with unusual attendees who are interested in our Social Bike Business program and ways of serving disadvantaged people with bicycles.

This will be my 25th Interbike in 26 years. More than half of those visits were as a bike shop owner having founded and operated Ironclad Bicycles here in Prescott for 13 years. Now my husband Jim owns the shop. He’ll go with me tomorrow and on Wednesday accept an award for Ironclad as one of America’s Best Bike Shops. That’s mighty cool.

But I’ll be at the show for One Street and I’m already feeling the dull thud of disappointment. I know I’ll walk onto the showroom floor only to see the same high tech, high priced bicycles that litter the glitzy floor each year. Of course the booth personnel will tout them as new and improved, but from One Street’s perspective, all I will likely see will be more ways to entice money from the same, aging, hardcore bicycle enthusiasts the industry has been selling to for all those 26 years. If I’m lucky, I’ll come upon a far off corner, perhaps in the basement where few attendees go, where visionary bike builders of affordable basic bikes will be sequestered.

This is why the American bike industry has stagnated, even regressed, since my first Interbike in 1990. This year in America, about the same number of bikes were sold as in 1990, but our population has grown. The bicycle organizations we work with through our Social Bike Business program all work with used bikes because the bike industry no longer makes basic, durable, affordable bikes. Read more about this problem in my previous post, Planned Obsolescence in the Bike Industry.

In my dreams I’d enter the Interbike show floor to find booth after booth filled with basic bikes that come equipped with racks, fenders, baskets, and lights, all for retail prices under $300. Their frames and forks would be simple steel tubing, no shocks or space-age materials. None of them would have a model year and all their parts would be interchangeable and repairable. The booth personnel would show photos of the American factories where their bikes were welded and assembled. If they were from another country, their bikes would be made in their country. They’d tout the appeal of their bikes for the majority of people. They’d talk about their programs for training and hiring disadvantaged people. They’d boast about their bike-design focus groups comprised of people who ride daily for their living.

If I bothered to take the time in such a dream, I might allow for a far off corner, perhaps in the basement, for specialty, bouncy bikes that cater to aging bicycle enthusiasts who might like to buy another bike.

Instead, I am bracing myself for the same old *&^% because our bike industry seems happy to wallow in its stagnation, sell to the same customers, and watch sales numbers drop along with those customers.

I did come upon a flicker of hope recently when I read a staff editorial in Bicycle Retailer & Industry News called “The real problem is stagnation – no matter how suppliers sell bikes.” Unfortunately, they don’t post staff editorials online or I’d link to it. The author responds to a recent buzz about bicycle manufacturers selling directly online, but points out the stagnated number of sales I just mentioned.

They grabbed my attention with this line: “There appears to be a fundamental disconnect between the bicycle industry and 99 percent of Americans.” Then they captured my heart with this one: “Our general message to consumers is one of aggressive athleticism – a message that for most is a turnoff.” This was printed in our main bike industry publication!

The editorial wraps up by repeating that online sales in not the problem. It leaves the stagnation issue unresolved. But to read such self-incriminating statements in the main publication for the American bicycle industry was a welcome breath of fresh air I’ll take with me onto the fusty showroom floor tomorrow. 

Are you just as frustrated with our bicycle industry as I am? Please leave a comment.