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2007 National Bike Summit

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Trek President shares bike industry's "Inconvenient Truths"

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on March 14th, 2007 at 5:56 pm

President of Trek at National Bike Summit
Trek President John Burke

Trek Bicycles President John Burke just gave a presentation about the challenges and opportunities faced by the bicycle industry.

Burke addressed the League of American Bicyclists' annual meeting which was held here are the Summit.

Burke gave us a preview of a presentation he'll give at the Taipei Bike Show in Taiwan next month. Like Al Gore in his heralded, Inconvenient Truth movie, Burke laid out a compelling case with slides and facts to make his point.

First he stated what the bike industry already excels at; creating products and marketing them.

Then he addressed four global trends; obesity, congestion, urbanization, and environment.

He then said, "What kind of product can we develop to address these trends?" The answer was of course the bicycle.

He implored members of the industry to get more involved with bicycle advocacy and to increase the amount of money they spend on it compared to what they spend on marketing and product development.

Some people in the crowd said Burke should give his presentation to members of Congress.

John Burke...the Al Gore of the bike industry?

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  • ed March 14, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Al Gore would not consistently move more and more production overseas... Or attempt to push smaller companies out of business.

    Though I guess if he paid enough money to some group to offset the carbon emissions he might.

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  • Ethan March 14, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Pretty amazing coming from a company that has for so many years really marketed bikes as recreational items (Co-marketing with Volkswagon, etc) It is my understanding (from the lips of the founder) that employee frustration with Trek's lack of commitment that led to the creation of Planet Bike.

    Is this guy new to the helm? Some change in philosophy over there, what gives?

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  • Todd B March 14, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    Imagine ANY other industry … that has such an underutilized non-safety related product. Its marketing, design focus and level of advocacy have doomed the [US] bike to a garage dwelling dust magnet since the automotive industry took over the Good Roads movement. (Perhaps only the exercise equipment industry is as successful as the bike industry in this regard…but then again many of the same players build both devices.)

    Let us ask them to set an action oriented benchmark…say spending 10% of their annual industry marketing budgets on advocacy, as a first step. Bikes Belong is just down the street and is taking checks.

    And while you are at it…how about some fenders or a light on that bike before it leaves the showroom – make it a true vehicle vs. slapping a sticker on it that reads ‘bikes are dangerous do not ride them at night’, as some vendors have started of late to do.

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  • Todd B March 14, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    My full comments go cut off...

    I applaud John’s (and hopefully Trek’s) comments on this topic…I hope it is the helm of the supertanker beginning to turn around and proceed ahead.

    Imagine ANY other industry … that has such an underutilized non-safety related product. Its marketing, design focus and level of advocacy have doomed the [US] bike to a garage dwelling dust magnet since the automotive industry took over the Good Roads movement. (Perhaps only the exercise equipment industry is as successful as the bike industry in this regard…but then again many of the same players build both devices.)

    Let us ask them to set an action oriented benchmark…say spending 10% of their annual industry marketing budgets on advocacy, as a first step. Bikes Belong is just down the street and is taking checks.

    And while you are at it…how about some fenders or a light on that bike before it leaves the showroom – make it a true vehicle vs. slapping a sticker on it that reads ‘bikes are dangerous do not ride them at night’, as some vendors have started of late to do.

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  • ed March 15, 2007 at 11:19 am

    They don't put fenders on bicycles, because most markets in the country do not want them.

    They do not put lights on bikes as most people do not ride at night.

    They do not put accessories on bikes as it will increase the already high purchase price. Most people will either not want the accessories at all, or will have a preference for some different product. Now the consumer has to by the bike with unwanted or unneeded parts, then buy new parts to replace the ones they did not want. Why pay twice? Or even once if it is not the exact part you want?

    I agree with everything else you said! Though, I don't think it will happen. These people are only after money. The only reason they would step into advocacy is to increase their share of the market and to possibly increase the overall size of the market.

    John Burke and Trek are very late to the advocacy party. I am not really sure who invited them...

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  • Jonathan Maus March 15, 2007 at 11:56 am

    ed says,

    "John Burke and Trek are very late to the advocacy party. I am not really sure who invited them…

    I had a conversation today with Andy Clarke about the history of Bikes Belong and industry advocacy.

    He recalls just the opposite Ed.

    As I wrote in my Oberstar story, Burke was the first person in the bike industry to step up and pledge $100,000 in 1997 at Interbike in Anaheim to help the League of Amer. Bicyclists fight to save bike funding in the ICE-TEA transportation bill.

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  • JeffH March 15, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    John Burke…the Al Gore of the bike industry?

    Hardly. He's just a guy making an observation. Presidents of corporations are supposed to help their companies look for trends in the marketplace, and this is simply what he has done.

    Just because he works for a company that produces products that we're passionate about (bicycles) doesn't make him a messianic figure.

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  • Andrew March 15, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    I agree Jeff.

    I think that the bike industry is finally seeing the writing on the wall, as far as bicycles have a very bright future outside of being the weekend toys for bourgeoisie when they find out golfing is going out of style. While I still think Burke's advocacy will be beneficial. Let's call a spade and spade and capitulate that the bike industry is seeing a new market open up. One, they should have been pushing a lot harder for in the past.

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  • Just another Wrench March 15, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    I agree Jeff.

    I think that the bike industry is finally seeing the writing on the wall, as far as bicycles have a very bright future outside of being the weekend toys for bourgeoisie when they find out golfing is going out of style. While I still think Burke's advocacy will be beneficial. Let's call a spade and spade and capitulate that the bike industry is seeing a new market open up. One, they should have been pushing a lot harder for in the past in my opinion. I think that if Trek could ride their "Lance wave" and produce largely useless (low utilitarian value)recreational bikes out of carbon fiber, and that was more profitable than promoting a market that is more bicycle transportation oriented, none of us would be see this kind of advocacy. Regardless I think that it is good someone of the bigger names in the industry are FINALLY doing this. Who knows maybe Steel will comeback into dominance and I'll never have to explain the "benefits" of carbon fiber or aluminum ever again. Ha, I really stepped out on my soap box their.

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  • ed March 15, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    So he pledged $100,000 a deacade ago? What have they done since? A hundred grand sounds like a lot of money until you realize how large Trek is. That is a drop in the bucket to them.

    Is that enough to blind you to their way of doing business? If so, sounds like a bargain to me!

    How many jobs have they pushed overseas? How many smaller US companies have they gobbled up to then destroy and ship those jobs overseas as well?

    How many large chain retailers do they prop up and help to undermine small local stores? And if you do not think this has happened and is still happening, you have no idea how this industry works.

    Again, I do not think Trek is the most irresponsible company out there. Though I certainly do not hold them up to be stewards of progressive and sustainable commerce.

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  • John March 15, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    I think the most impressive part of it is seeing that the commuter bike industry is a viable market. 10 years ago if you were looking for a commuter bike you had to buy hybrid or a touring bike. Now trek has a whole line on "Urban" bikes.

    And no shock that the bike industry should spend money advocating for greater bike use. The shocking part is that this is a "new idea".

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  • ed March 15, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Yep this year they gave us a $1400 commuter bike. Named after our very own city.

    Urban bikes, are hybrid bikes. Their marketing dept has a tight grip on ya, look out!

    I agree that it is shocking that this is a new idea. Certainly makes me pause to consider their motives before handing out praise.

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  • jimmy March 15, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    I agree, Mr. Burke's not my hero either, but he can be a very good ally that we should encourage right now rather than crucify. I'm not particularly concerned about his rather obvious motives. They help us get where we want to go.

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  • Brad March 16, 2007 at 8:14 am

    Damn that Burke for running a successful company that employs hundreds of people building zero emission transportation products!

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  • beth March 16, 2007 at 8:26 am

    The bike industry needs to work on sustainability.

    There's lots of waste in manufacturing, and still more in wholesaling and retailing. Stuff that doesn't work gets boxed up and shipped back for warranty. How much oil is used to ship broken bike parts that could instead be cobbled together and made to work "well enough" right here at home, either by a shop mechanic or by a low-income cyclist who finds the part in a "free" box out back?

    How much petroleum is used to make bike parts that are mostly plastic, and not designed to be overhauled again and again, but instead are tossed into the trash when they've worn out one time?

    And can we PLEASE find a way to really recycle bicycle tires rather than throwing them into a dumpster? (This one needs to be on a large, industrial scale; some guy working in his basement can convert only so many into "fenders".)

    Then there's all the dead frames we ask the metal recycler to haul away (again, using oil to fuel the truck and then to ship the gathered metal to a recycler -- lots of energy is used in that process). Let's invite local folks who are handy with a torch to instead fashion the dead frames into furniture, sculpture, or window security grates (like the ones we have at Citybikes, for example).

    My inconvenient truth is that, for all the green living the bicycle lifestyle promotes, the bike industry has a long way to go before it can be considered a truly green industry.

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  • AC March 16, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Johnathon,

    Thank you for your comprehensive coverage in DC!

    The Inconvenient Truth analogy is a good one. That film got the attention of many otherwise oblivious people. Its sad that it took so long. Hopefully the tide is turning in the bike industry too. Many bike dealers and suppliers are still way off the back.

    Those cynics who doubt John Burkes cyncerity should check their facts. Or, perhaps get a little more involved themselves. If they were very involved with bike advocacy at the national level, they would know John Burke and Trek have long been contributing. You may not have seen it in the products Trek sells because Trek makes bikes to supply a demand. Thats necessary for the success of Trek and Trek dealers. Advocacy helps to create and shape that demand.

    I think our energy might be more productively spent helping Beth find a use for used tires than bashing someone who is deffinitely trying to help. I propose an entirely new thread committed to that problem.

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  • ed March 16, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    So long as Trek is producing the bulk of their bicycles in china, they are part of the problem.

    No environmental regulations over there. Little to no workers rights. Jobs not in our own country, instead workers living in a borderline slave state producing our "emission free" bikes.

    Shipping all of that stuff from China to here is not zero emission by the way.

    The day Trek starts to bring jobs back to the states and stops continuing to ship more and more jobs overseas, is the day I will give them some credit.

    For now, I wish they would simply stop destroying the Lemond, Klein and Gary Fisher companies...

    Oh and driving small businesses out of the market, which they actively do.

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  • Carlton Reid March 16, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    There's some (audio) history on the US bike industry's support of cycle advocacy here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ssVIwygh30

    It features Elizabeth Train of Bike Belong and Andy Clarke, mentioned above.

    And, hey, Jonathan, great work with the Summit coverage.

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  • Brad March 16, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Ed - are you willing to weld frames all day for minimum wage? Do you want your kids to train for a career stitching saddles or machining components for $8.00 and hour?

    Until you find a way to make Giant, Schwinn-Mongoose, Shimano (Taiwanese and Japanese owned FYI) and generic framebuilders relocate to the the USA and pay our wage scale, what choice does Trek have if they wish to stay in business? Globalism is here - deal with it or joust at windmills. It's your choice.

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  • ed March 16, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    Brad, how sad.

    Trek and all the other businesses fleeing our shores are not doing it from fear of going out of business. They are doing it in the name of higher profits.

    Greed. Pure and simple.

    I have welded frames for $8 dollars an hour and I highly recommend you try it out.

    Do you want your kids to have a job outside of the service sector? Are you happy with the trade deficit and national debt we are accruing in our dash to globalism? Spent anytime in the parts of our country that used to make things?

    Globalsim is here, yer right about that one! The question is whether or not that is a good thing for us? Is it a good thing for the workers in China?

    It might be of interest to you that labor is not the primary source of savings for them. Transportation of raw materials and the incurred shipping costs negate that savings anyway. It is the lax environmental and occupational oversight that saves them the big bucks. I have reasearched this as well as heard it straight from the mouth of a Trek executive.

    If you think globalization is good, well there will be no changing your mind. Just be aware that lots and lots of people disagree with you!

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  • Mark B. March 17, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    Sorry, ed, I have to disagree with you.

    You seem to have confused Trek with Pacific Cycle, as the latter is the "biggest retail bicycle company in the industry." PC sells to big-box stores, not Trek. I'm in the biz, and monitor bicycle websites almost obsessively -- major bike shop corporations don't sell Trek; there is ONE store in my hometown where you can buy a Trek.
    Cynicism has its place, but it's not a brush to broadly paint every large company out there, sir.

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  • ed March 18, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    Sorry, Mark you did not comprehend what I read.

    No comment on Trek continuing to shift jobs overseas huh?

    I too am in the industry and Trek is the big gorilla in the room. Pacific sells bike shaped objects to mass merchants. It is a different industry entirely.

    In my hometown there are about 20 places to buy a Trek. Trek supports the largest of these businesses in their efforts to eliminate the smaller ones. Even the ones that carry Trek!

    This says nothing about their other efforts to run companies aground that do not carry their products.

    If you are in the industry, you are employed at a very low level.

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  • Jim March 20, 2007 at 10:19 am

    All,
    As a very new cycling enthusiast, I would like to add a couple comments to this discussion. First, I own a Trek and love it. I bought it at The Bike Gallery in Beaverton who have been very supportive and helpful (I am a 5'9", 260 lb. man... one of the reasons I am biking now). Bike Gallery is a locally owned small business, though I am sure some of you will argue that. Their employees have encouraged my cycling (I know this benefits them, but they seem genuine) and they have been very helpful in educating me in all things cycling related. Additionally if you live on the west side your only other choice is Performance Bicycle which is a national chain store, or the big boxes (Target, Freddy's).
    As for the President of Trek wanting to bring more attention and focus to biking, I am 100% for it. You and I are not typically going to have the opportunity to have an audience before Congress, or perhaps the President, and even if we do our voice will not carry the same weight as the president of a major corporation. We may disagree with some of the business practices of particular companies, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't use, and even exploit, their influence to advance what is truly a good and necessary cause. Get cycling on the news, get it on Good Morning America and Today, get people talking about. What got me back into it was watching my kids enjoyment of cycling, and remembering how much I loved it at their age, and I still love it, it's fun.
    I would also like to add that many people are intimidated by the "militant" cycling community. I am talking about the people who make fun of and laugh at the casual cyclist. Not everyone wants to ride their bike to work in the rain (I know...we're wussies) but if we can get people to start riding to work in the summer, imagine the impact on the environment! It doesn't have to start as all or nothing. Bring us novices along slowly, encourage us, and help us. As long as it is viewed as all or nothing the general public will continue to view cycling as a rogue or fringe group of antisocial fanatics, which as I am beginning to see is really not the case. Let's show them the truth.

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  • mykle March 20, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    hey, were there any leave-behinds from this talk? a slideshow or a printed version? i'd like more details, since it seems like it was a bit hit and said a lot about the future as the industry sees it ...

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  • Carlton Reid March 28, 2007 at 4:30 am

    John didn't produce any documentation at the same talk given at the Taipei trade show (although other speakers gave loads) but there's a video of the talk here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfRiFylmiS0

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  • JM April 3, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    So, what constitutes a commuter bike in Portland? Or, any other city for that matter...I'm sincerely interested.

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