Bike Virginia – Past and Future
State of the Union
November 15, 2012
By Dr. Kim Perry, Executive Director and Thomas Bowden, JD, MBA, Board Chairman
Bike Virginia has supported bicycling activities in the Commonwealth of Virginia for 25 years. During that time we have undergone many changes, from the size and format of our tour to many variations of education and advocacy work. We have shared many wonderful memories with people from not just Virginia, but from around the world.
In mid 2012, during our 25th year, we began an intensive period of reflection, analysis, and discovery. For many years we had struggled to answer challenging questions about our traditions and our trajectory for both our event and our advocacy work as a state-wide non-profit organization.
This is our effort to tell you where we are in this process and to foster an unprecedented openness for the future.
Bike Virginia began as a bike tour and later formed into a non-profit organization. For 25 years the tour has always been our primary and nearly all consuming focus. Like many non-profits, for many of those years the organization struggled financially. The costs of operations repeatedly exceeded the annual revenue from our primary and sometimes only revenue source, bike event registrations. Over and over the company relied on credit line loans to continue operation.
The organization struggled also to define, and then fulfill, an aggressive advocacy mission on a shoestring budget with a stretched-thin-staff. Initially focusing on bicycling education, we later expanded to include walking advocacy. Then we added trails, equestrian concerns, and even paddling issues. Our website reflected a lack of focus, and our board was fragmented. Recently, after much consideration and earnest discussion, in 2012 we refocused our mission on biking.
The finances of the company ebbed and flowed for years as event registration fees were kept low to stimulate attendance. However, even with growing attendance, we lurched from year to year on borrowed funds. Prices were rarely raised and did not keep pace with growing expenses.
In 2008 we had a peak staff level of 9. Grant funding supported some of those positions for advocacy, but when that funding suddenly ended in 2009 we retrenched and reduced our staff to 2. We were at an all time financial low then and survival was our every consuming thought.
At this point, there was nowhere to go but up. Under new leadership and staff the organization reduced unnecessary expenses on all fronts from our overhead to our operational budget. We worked to build efficiencies so we could manage the work on a skeleton crew, all the while keeping pace with ever increasing planning and operational costs.
Things improved some in 2010 and since then we’ve had varying numbers of staff from 3-4 depending on finances.
In 2011 we faced rising costs once again, and lower attendance at the bike tour, and as a result our bottom line was a mere $7.00 net gain for the organization at the end of the fiscal year.
2012 – Year of Decisions
The cycle of financial uncertainty continued on into 2012. Our board and staff had talked about making deep changes for several years. We have implemented some change, but delayed others. Finally, during 2012 we reached the decision to spend some of our modest reserves on strategic assessment and planning by engaging a leading consulting company.
Our main goals were
(a) to refocus our energy to ensure sustainability and
(b) to design a mission for our organization that would create lasting and positive change for bicycling in Virginia.
The strategy process was very involved. Over a period of several months we considered ourselves from all angles. Survey research, focus groups, outside assessment, internal retreats, board and staff development were all employed. The activities were thorough, enlightening, and extremely beneficial. We’ve emerged on the other side with a fresh perspective on the possibilities and the realities.
Your Experience in 2013 and Ahead
So what does this mean to you, the Bike Virginia rider?
We’ve listened carefully to your ideas, suggestions, and concerns which came forth from the assessment process. Those ideas are being combined with strategic decisions. As a result the 2013 Bike Virginia Tour will be a fresh, widely updated event.
Here are some of the changes you’ll find:
Bike Virginia will be a smaller and more social. We plan to limit registration to 1,600, down from our previous high of 2,000. More opportunities for casual, relaxed socializing will be offered at headquarters.
Your daily planning will be simplified and you’ll have more time to relax with friends and family. Some additional routes will be offered in the 30-40 mile range, giving you a chance for a leisurely pace.
Our new style of camping venue will offer us more flexible entertainment options and lets us celebrate the essence of what BVA is, a festival bike tour. Beer and wine will be offered for sale on site at headquarters, and of course, you can bring your own favorite vintage or brew.
We’ll make food more accessible and better than ever. Your registration will include 15 catered meals over 6 days. You will be provided, breakfast, lunch and dinner. We’ve listened to your preferences and will offer lighter more refreshing lunches, and the meal will be waiting back at camp each day so you can refuel after your ride. Century route riders will for the first time be able to purchase an additional on route food to supplement their longer day.
Saturday through Tuesday evening we’ll have an “Eat and Greet” meal at camp. Get a route rap for the day, a preview of the next day and connect with the faces of Bike Va at this fun evening meal. It will be a convenient on site evening where you can unwind and enjoy entertainment and good company.
Each day we will offer a premium rest stop for our primary route where you’ll get a special refreshment or a unique regional treat provided by a BVA caterer. This will be offered in addition to our traditional well stocked fuel-you-up rest stops that will be at the other locations.
Entertainment will be offered at camp each evening starting on Friday. Have a leisurely night at camp after your ride, hang out with your friends. Outing shuttles will be available on some days so you can visit an interesting location for some site seeing or dining.
Steps are being made at every level of planning to reduce waiting. We will also have more shower trucks and more portable facilities. We’re working with transportation consultants to revise hotel shuttle services.
From the Organization Side
What we learned:
We must make the ride smaller. This will allow us to consider a wider choice of rural communities across the state. The number of communities where we could find 400 hotel rooms and safe roads was growing smaller with every inch of sprawl. With a smaller tour, will we not only have more places to go, but we’ll be easier on roadways and townships. Plus, we will be able to offer improved services during the event and riders will get the attention they deserve. Supporting nearly 2,000 riders in past tours caused many, many challenges, from securing caterers, to locating camps and rest stops, to creating traffic jams. Smaller equals better on so many facets of the event.
Adding staff is critical. We need more staffing to complete planning on time and to adapt to the challenges that arise as the event approaches and unfolds. For the last 3 years, the organization has operated with a lean staff of 3-4, balancing planning and advocacy efforts this helped ensure financial success even though the task was extremely daunting. Now, however planning processes are getting more intense with new regulations from the health departments and with growing layers of permits and access approvals. In order to ensure all the details are completed to host the tour, this number of staff must increase.
In redesigning the Bike Virginia experience, every decision we make will be centered on creating the best experience possible for our riders, our host communities and our volunteers. We’ve listened to your concerns, ideas, and suggestions and taken them to heart. The tour is the essence of our organization. It gives people from all over the world opportunities to ride, to explore Virginia, to be active in the beautiful outdoors. It is a tool for driving change in communities, creating an understanding of the value of bicycle tourism and biking lifestyles.
We will concentrate our advocacy efforts on creating a fund that will be offered to communities and organizations for bicycling initiatives. This fund would expand our grant program to a much larger and more powerful level. We are inspired by the Cycle Oregon fund which now holds $1.5M and gives over $100,000 each year for a variety of projects to the communities that host their tour.
Raising our event prices is our first step and most direct step to ensure that the event is viable. The increase will permit us to enlarge our staff to support the basic planning needs of the tour and improve the level of service offered to riders at the event. If our promise of a new and better Bike Virginia Tour attracts the ridership we plan for, the price increase will also help offset the increase in staffing expense, while also adding to the Bike Virginia Fund.
We are very excited about future of Bike Virginia. By improving and strengthening the Bike Virginia Tour we can improve cycling for everyone in Virginia.
We ask for your support and participation in this time of change and improvement. We want to offer our riders, our host communities, and our volunteers the best experience possible. Our goal is to use the Bike Virginia Tour to do good, to create lasting change in Virginia bicycling through experience, information, and giving.
With your help and support we can continue on toward a bright future filled with many happy miles of riding, and a legacy that you will be able to see and touch and experience across the state.