Modern social media and technology is a mixed blessing. Overall it is an advantage for an advocacy organization like the Wisconsin Bike Fed. It allows us to communicate quickly and much more widely. It is easier for people to share their concerns and we can respond more quickly. We can now have virtual conversations with “friends” we have never met, but know a lot about because our lives are on public display.
There is a downside to the transparency of our virtual social network. I think people feel like that are supporting us just by “liking” us or joining in on one of our digital conversations. Don’t get me wrong, I love lots of comments from a wide ranging audience of people who care about our mission to make bicycling better in Wisconsin. It helps me believe that if I continue tilting at windmills, we can win small battles (like plowing the Hank Aaron State Trail) and move Wisconsin cycling forward.
It used to be that if someone wanted to support the Bike Fed’s efforts to move cycling forward in Wisconsin, one of the first things they would do is join our organization. Now many people just “like” us on Facebook and consider themselves to have joined the movement. The problem is, while I don’t do what I do for the money, I couldn’t afford to do it if I didn’t get paid. Certainly the Bike Fed gets financial support from a lot of different sources: contracts for services, fees at events, donations from individuals and support from the bicycle industry, but at the core we are a membership-based organization. We can’t continue to expand our work unless we grow our membership.
While some memberships expire and other renew constantly, as of about 30 seconds ago, and we had 3,916 active members and 5,636 likes. Two years ago at this time, we had about the same number of members, but only 3,360 “liked” our Facebook page. I understand the two things are different, but I do struggle to understand why some of our “friends” who genuinely seem to care about what we do don’t join. When I look at the photos of bikes some of our non-member friends ride (I know because they share that info on their Facebook), I know it isn’t the $35 annual membership fee.
I’ve read studies about Millenials not being “joiners,” but some of the people I am talking about are in the Generation X or even Baby Boomer age brackets. I ask myself, why would a guy who is a doctor who commutes to work by bike all year, races in the spring, takes part in the Wisconsin Bike Challenge we help organize not take the time to actually become a member? Why would a woman who bikes to work even when it is -9, races mountain bikes during the summer, and comes to our Bike Fed events at our Milwaukee office, not join? Perhaps they feels like by writing regular supportive comments under our posts and showing up at events, they are supporting us.
I’m not going to name names, but these examples are based on real people, and I could cite a lot more. Certainly, the most important thing is that these are enjoying wide range of what Wisconsin has to offer people who ride bikes. If lots more people did that, maybe we could close up shop at the Bike Fed. But while Wisconsin is a great place to ride a bike, I hardly think many people would say we don’t have a lot of room for improvement. We have been cutting what we spend on cycling while other states invest more. For instance our neighbors in Minnesota and Michigan are making huge strides in new facilities to make it easier to ride for transportation and recreation and they are getting a lot of national attention for it. From Cuyuna to Copper Harbor are attracting tens of thousands of new visitors, even in the winter, because they made relatively small investments in professionally built next-generation mountain bike trails. Duluth is building a new 100 mile trail system. The Minneapolis Off-Road Cyclists were able to hire away one of the Bike Fed’s talented staff because they have almost 140 miles of mountain bike trails right around the Twin Cities.
Again, I like it here in Wisconsin. I am fiercely proud of our state and love our diverse communities, but we are falling behind. In order to stop the fall and restore Wisconsin to our place near the top, we will need to work very hard. My fellow staff members and I love what we do and don’t mind hard work. Help us keep doing that work and join the Bike Fed. If you have friends who ride a lot, ask them if they are members. If they are not, ask them why, then suggest they join. There is strength in numbers, and we need you all if we are going to make Wisconsin America’s Best Ride.
Please note, if your membership has been expired for over a year, you will need to click “Join Today” instead of “Renew.”