The cycling community in Northern Illinois is surprisingly strong. When I started riding “seriously”, I initially rode with several different cycling clubs in the Fox Valley area. I’ve previously blogged about how I started going to North Central Cyclery after a chance encounter with a Big Dummy in their store window. For the past two years, I’ve participated extensively in their shop rides and special events, and have gotten to know the staff and owners very well.
North Central has done something that I think is incredibly important for the cycling community: it has supported the creation of Axletree, Inc., NFP, a Not For Profit Corporation. That’s what today’s blog is about. I’m proud to say that I’ve helped with the creation and organization of Axletree, and that I support its mission and goals. (In no way am I fully or even primarily responsible for all of the cool things that it has done, or will soon do. There’s some seriously talented people involved. As a general rule of thumb, if it’s cool, it probably didn’t come from me. If it involves a multi-page waiver of liability, it probably did come from me).
Axletree is a synonym for linchpin—you know, the part that holds everything together. That metaphor is the underlying motivation for the creation of Axletree, and the driving force behind its operation.
What is the significance of a not for profit corporation, and why does it matter? It matters for a number of reasons:
1. Liability: From a professional perspective, it has to be acknowledged that we live in a litigious society. As unfortunate as that reality is, any business has to identify potential risks and determine reasonable means of mitigating them. North Central has, in the past, put on events like the Gravel Metric…amazingly fun, challenging, creative pursuits. As a rider, I look at the Gravel Metric as something I really want to ride and enjoy. As a professional, I look at the potential liability associated with running such an event, and shake my head. Utilizing a NFP to organize and operate events such as this just makes sense. Anyone is free to sponsor the event, and many organizations, such as Salsa (and North Central itself) have stepped up to do so. For those companies, they have assurances that the proceeds from the event will be used for non-profit purposes, and they have the assurance that there is an organization out there responsible for the event and responsible for handling the liabilities associated therewith. When a NFP organizes and runs an event, it removes one potential barrier to the event that companies would otherwise have to give strong consideration to.
2. Advocacy: Bicyclists need advocates. We need people to go out and support the need to create bike lanes, bike paths, mountain bike trails, terrain parks and other cycling related areas. We need organizations that can do things as simple as remind public bodies to install bike racks that we can lock our bikes to, and as complicated as lobbying the state or federal government to pass laws that protect cyclists, or repeal laws that inhibit cycling. Advocacy can be a dangerous place for a for-profit corporation to go. If Ford came into your community and started advocating for the need for more car parking spots, a profit motivation would be clear. Similarly, no matter how well-intentioned a bike shop might be, when a for-profit bike shop advocates for cycling amenities, they can be subject to the same criticism. Bike shops may also be concerned about the potential for political or social fallout related to cycling advocacy. Forming or sponsoring a NFP creates an entity that can be vocal about cyclists’ rights and needs, without necessarily reflecting upon any single supporter. It gives local cyclists a group through which they can join their voices to create a (hopefully) cohesive platform to advocate from. It can be used to make clear to local or state governments that there are many people concerned about bike-related legislation…and not merely those who stand to potentially profit from greater bike use. (Historical note: I use the Ford example above tongue-in-cheek…because that’s exactly what automakers do. Remember “See the USA in a Chevrolet”? Automakers used to run ads encouraging post-war Americans to do their patriotic duty by contacting their senators and congressmen, and encouraging them to build more roads, so they could drive more and burn more fuel. Really. It gets kind of creepy when you start looking into it.)
3. Culture: Fostering a culture of cycling acceptance is incredibly important. When I started riding, just a few years ago, I remember going on rides wearing bike shorts under running shorts, and wearing a t-shirt on top. I remember seeing guys in spandex and lycra, and thinking that they were some sort of extremists. It was only through repeated exposure to those ‘extremists’, through group rides and group events, that I came to see myself in them, and came to understand them better. It is my hope that Axletree can serve that same kind of role—as a group of mentors for new riders of all ages. Part of the Axletree culture will be riding, and racing, in events together. As a team. As a part of something bigger than us as individuals.
4. Events: The Axletree slogan is: “Events. Advocacy. Awesome.” That first point, events, is a key reason for an NFP. As I discussed above, having an independent organization run events is a major help from a liability perspective. Perhaps more importantly, when you have an NFP, you have a group of people gathering around a core mission, who are excited and enthusiastic about organizing and hosting events. Creating the group provides a seed for growing fun events. Being responsible for the Gravel Metric is one example…hosting weekly group rides in DeKalb is another…and there are many more examples around the bend. (I’d love to try to organize a group-based gentlemen’s race similar to some of the Rapha events…we’ll see). There’s BLBBRBK, the Northern Illinois Fatbike Snow race. There’s the “Night Bison Gravel Nocturne”, coming this fall…details to be announced, but it’s going to be amazing. There are a number of “Get Off The Road” mountain bike excursions in the planning…hopefully including an overnighter or two. There are tons of things coming. Axletree isn’t a one-trick pony.
5. Awesome: Creating a new organization, with new, creative and energetic people, unleashes the Awesome. It’s just that simple. The Awesome is on the way.
In the coming months, readers are going to have an opportunity to see the great things that Axletree does. I’m hopeful that many in the area, and in the cycling community at large, see its mission and support it…and mirror its efforts across the country.
To find out more about Axletree, visit its Facebook page, or leave a comment for me or contact North Central Cyclery. There will also be a forthcoming website…and when it’s up and running, you’ll hear about it here. If you’re interested in supporting Axletree, either as a volunteer, participant or sponsor, drop me a line. Truth in advertising: Events. Advocacy. Awesome.