Investment in Biking Infrastructure Fuels Small Business Growth

Central Ohioans, like many people across the country, have rediscovered bicycling in recent years. Predictably, the trend has kept owners of existing bike shops in demand, but it also has created new opportunities for enterprising entrepreneurs and could even impact companies outside the biking industry, resulting in even greater regional economic growth.

Locally, it’s not hard to find “young” bike shop success stories. Paradise Garage is moving three doors down from its current location to a space with 2,700 additional square feet, B1 Bicycles celebrated its third anniversary the last week of July, and roll: just opened a third location −in Upper Arlington− in May.

Dan Monnig, owner of Paradise Garage, is modest about the response to his shop, though.

“It’s really just a matter of filling a demand that existed at the time of startup and successfully meeting the needs of customers,” he says. “We didn’t really realize that the demand would be as great as it turned out to be after we opened the doors [in 2008].”

Paradise Garage, scheduled to open at 921  N. High St. in the Short North in October, is a customer-centered, full-service shop with a focus on promoting the bicycle as a fun and sustainable means of transportation, he says.

Not only does Paradise Garage offer maintenance and repair services, it also carries a range of bicycles, parts, and clothing and accessories for men and women.

“We also do a lot of special orders and will work to help people build up a new bike or rebuild an old bike,” he adds.

B1 Bicycles was established in 2007 because its owner and founder, Casey Karnes, “saw a lack of high-quality bicycle shops in the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.”

Karnes calls B1 Bicycles, located at 124 E. Long St., an “athletic-oriented bicycle and multisport shop.” In fact, the shop has been expanded to include gear for triathlons alongside bicycles and cycling clothing. It also offers bicycle fitting services.

Obviously, both shop owners advocate bicycle riding in the region.

“I think our role is to make it accessible, easy, and enjoyable,” Monnig says. “If people have a good experience, they’re more likely to continue with riding. We provide lifetime free tune-ups on all the bikes we sell for that reason.”

Meanwhile, Karnes says he tries to educate new riders about safe riding habits.

Clearly, bike shop owners have, perhaps, a self-serving reason for pushing bicycle riding: more behinds on bikes likely boosts their bottom lines.  However, more riders on the road also can benefit companies outside the biking industry, according to a bicycle advocacy organization based here in Columbus.

In fact, that notion partly explains why the organization, Consider Biking, launched the “2 by 2012” campaign in May.

For those who are unaware, the campaign is an effort to get as many Central Ohioans as possible to bicycle to work two days per month by 2012.

Not only would such an achievement make Columbus the greenest city in the United States, the companies that facilitate riding would be positively impacted and, ultimately, further stabilize the local economy, says Jeff Stephens, executive director of Consider Biking.

In fact, employers who offer bicycle education programs, financial incentives for riding, and adequate end-of-ride facilities, like bike storage and changing accommodations, typically experience decreased employee health care costs, which also leads to increased productivity, Stephens says.

They also tend to have better employee attraction and retention rates than companies who don’t encourage biking, especially among younger generation workers, as candidates tend to consider biking policies the sign of a progressive company.

In the past year, Stephens says Consider Biking has consulted with roughly 30 local employers about bicycle-friendly policies; early adopters include Battelle, Nationwide Insurance, and Ohio Health.

Unsurprisingly, the city of Columbus also is aware of the benefits associated with increased bicycle ridership.

“Biking is great for the city on several levels,” says Dan Williamson, spokesman for Mayor Michael Coleman.

“Along with walking, it’s the greenest form of transportation for people getting around the city for work or recreation,” he adds. “It’s one of the healthiest forms of exercise people can engage in, which helps combat childhood obesity and diabetes. A great biking city attracts young professionals, which is good for the city’s economy and quality of life.”

To facilitate biking, the mayor has added off-street trails as well as bike lanes where cyclists can travel separately from automobiles, Williamson says.

“We have also installed sharrows, which remind cyclists and motorists to share the road safely, along with bike stations and bike racks,” he adds. “[Coleman’s] also done a public education campaign reminding cyclists and motorists to share the road safely and be aware of their individual rights and responsibilities on the road.”

The city has advanced the Bicentennial Bikeways Plan, which updates the existing inventory of bicycle facilities and identifies, evaluates, prioritizes and recommends future connecting links to create a system of bikeways within −and connecting to− Columbus, by “investing in our 170-mile network of regional bikeways and trails,” he says.

This year, the city set aside $6 million of its capital budget to connect the Alum Creek Trail and build signage, striping and an additional 24 miles of bike paths and bike lanes on city streets, he adds.

But is the city doing enough to support riders? Depends on who you ask.

Karnes says the city is “doing a fair job,” adding that it needs to educated the public “much, much more about right to the road. They also need to treat the automobile as a dangerous weapon when dealing with car versus cyclist incidents.”

Monnig is a bit more forgiving.

“It’s always easy to look at other cities and see more that could be done, but the local support is growing at a fairly fast rate, which leads me to believe that we’ll eventually be closer to having the atmosphere we’d all prefer− where drivers are accepting and aware of cyclists on the road,” he says.

Not to mention an atmosphere where at least 2 percent of Columbus’s residents will be riding bicycles to work− if Consider Biking gets its way.