Bikes & Bucks
February 2, 2010 3:14 PM
A new study says that the bicycling industry rivals deer hunting as an economic engine in Wisconsin: http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/article_526f2c44-0fb0-11df-8c95-001cc4c002e0.html. Each produces about $1.5 billion in economic activity and both bring dollars into our state. In fact, about a third of the biking impact comes from outside of our state as people visit Wisconsin to ride our roads and trails.
We owe this success to some accidents of history and topography, to some far-sighted government planning, and to a few great Wisconsin entrepreneurs. The history has to do with the dairy industry. Wisconsin has more paved rural roads than just about any other state because milk trucks needed to get to dairy farms every day in all kinds of weather, even during March and April when gravel roads might be impassable. And thanks to a glacier or two, our gently rolling topography makes biking interesting and just challenging enough.
The government planning comes in with Wisconsin's extensive rails to trails program. In fact, the very first conversion of a rail line to a bike trail in the nation was the famous Elroy-Sparta Trail. The State now has 33 trails covering about 730 miles. You can learn more about them at http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/parks/trails/tbike.html.
And the entrepreneurs begin with Richard Burke who started Trek in a Wisconsin barn. Now, his son John is building Trek into a dynamic, worldwide business centered in Madison and Waterloo. Lance Armstrong rides a Trek (somewhat faster than the rest of us). And another local entrepreneur named Chris Fortune heads the Saris Cycling Group, which makes bike racks and other bike accessories. Planet Bike, headed by Bob Downs, makes bike lights, bike bags, pumps and other equipment.
In Madison, we have a Platinum Bike Report (http://www.cityofmadison.com/trafficEngineering/documents/PlatinumAdopted040808sm.pdf) designed to move us from being just one of the best places in the country for cycling to THE best place in the nation for cycling. That's because biking is good for mobility, good for our health, and now we know better than ever, very, very good for jobs and our economy. And as a Wisconsin guy who enjoys both deer hunting and biking I couldn't be happier to make my small contributions to both industries.