A Nation of Bike Riders
8 August 2016 at 10:52 am
Craig Richards is the chief executive officer of the Bicycle Network, one of the largest cycling membership organisations in the world, whose mission is to have “more people cycling more often”. He is this week’s Changemaker.
Richards, who started life as a lawyer but left to find something he loved, hopes to see Australia transformed into a nation of bike riders.
Bicycle Network, a self-funded community organisation, believes physical activity is vital for a happy, healthy life and their strategy is to make bike riding easy for everyone.
The hope is for the majority of Australians to become physically active.
In this week’s Changemaker, Richards talks about Bicycle Network’s “cool financial model”, why Not for Profits should be trying to do themselves out of a job, why it is important to enjoy what you do, and his love for The Bachelorette.
What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?
Well I started life as a lawyer because I liked the notion of justice. But I didn’t really find a way to right the wrongs of the world and wasn’t loving it. So I went into sport because I wanted to love going to work each day.
Then I had a real think about why I liked seeing who was best at chasing or whacking balls around. I liked that sport gave people a sense of belonging, but thought there must be something bigger I could do.
I’m guessing that the world isn’t just an accident and the whole point of us being here is to make things better for others, so Not for Profit seemed the best way to do it.
Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?
All Not for Profits should be trying to do themselves out of a job. To fix the problem. To slay the dragon, then move on to the next one – goodness knows there’s so many flying around out there!
We call our end game a nation of bike riders. We’ll have succeeded when we’ve transformed Australia into a place where it’s part of everyone’s everyday to move around by bicycle. We’ll have succeeded because instead of two-thirds of us not getting enough physical activity, the majority of Australians will be physically active. Which means tens of thousands fewer Australians every year will die early from heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
The people. They’re just so passionate, respectful and resilient. You owe it to them to give it your best everyday. We’re such a diverse bunch of people but we share common values and that’s what binds us.
It sounds a bit odd but I really notice how special Bicycle Network is when a team member leaves us. So often I can feel it was more than a workplace. It’s like they’re leaving home. They know they need to spread their wings but a huge piece of their heart will always stay behind.
Do you have a favourite saying?
“It’s fun to have fun but you have to know how” – Dr Suess.
I thought this was from the Cat in the Hat and was about Thing 1 and Thing 2 but I just read the book again and it wasn’t in there. So I’m not sure when Dr Suess said this. I’ll have to go and check whether it was Green Eggs and Ham because I like Sam I am. Anyway, it’s very wise.
I really think you need to enjoy what you do. Sure there’s times when we all need to grind something out and that’s ok. But fundamentality if you don’t like what you do there’s a real problem: you won’t do a great job and you’ll prevent others from doing a great job. We spend half of our life awake at work so if you’re fortunate enough to have some employment mobility, find something you love! We can learn a lot from Dr Suess.
What are you always being asked?
Do you work for a government department? Many people think we’re a sporting body that’s reliant on government grants. It used to annoy me, now I really enjoy seeing the look on people’s faces when they realise Bicycle Network has a cool financial model.
Our founding fathers had the foresight to start a “social business enterprise” many years before that phrase was coined let alone popular. About half our revenue comes from our events. Our team runs incredible events like the RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride, Around the Bay in a Day, Peaks Challenge and Ride the Night. On these events we modify the road conditions to show riders what they should enjoy everyday.
I’ll never forget the many times our team has worked together, often in mud, rain or heat, to do something that seemed impossible. At the end of it, our reward is knowing riders have had a day on the bike they’ll talk about for the rest of their lives.
Who or what inspires you?
Professor Jerry Morris, who discovered in 1949 that the sedentary drivers of London’s double-decker buses had higher rates of cardiovascular disease than the conductors who climbed the stairs. He then found that postmen who delivered the mail by bike had fewer heart attacks than sedentary postal workers who sat behind counters and desks.
It’s terrible that 65 years later our physical activity levels are getting worse, not better. Well at least Professor Morris made it to a Bradmanesque number: 99 years of age.
What are you reading / watching / listening to at the moment?
The only show we’re watching together as a family at the moment is The Bachelorette. I feel for JoJo. After having her heart broken in Ben’s season it’s a big move to be open to love again. I’m pleased that the guys are definitely there for the right reasons and can’t wait for hometowns.
Don’t judge me, not everyone is an ABC watcher who loves to stimulate their mind 24/7! Some of us just like to slip into the mainstream and chill out for two hours every week.
What does a typical day for you involve?
Well I have two typical days: event days and office days.
Event days involve getting up when it’s pitch black. Unloading and setting up heaps of gear with mysterious names like gantry, scrim and gennie. Speaking to the key stakeholders and riders. Marvelling at what thousands of bikes look like as they set off. Monitoring what’s happening on the road in the ops centre. Getting out on course and seeing the riders power through the challenges and help each other. Hopefully getting to help some riders who are struggling. Cheering riders across the finish. Packing up the same gear into the eight tonner and grumbling about moving CCBs (crowd control barriers). Celebrating with a team photo with the amazing folks.
Office days involve arriving on the bike. Internal chats with team members about how to move forward. Preparing reports about what’s happened and how to get better next time. Trying unsuccessfully to keep my email inbox below 100 – currently 147. Talking to the team about their lives and footy at lunch. Trying to goad stakeholders into acting faster. Writing something or preparing a talk to inspire people to get moving. Pedalling home to see the family… and if it’s Tuesday watching the Bachelorette.
I really like the variety.
What is your greatest challenge?
Getting the government to act. They know the tragic health outcomes from people not moving. They know the costs of crippling congestion. They know that bikes are the cheapest and easiest way to make huge inroads into these problems. But they’re worried the haters will come after them and it will cost them votes. So instead of building bike lanes they add another lane to the freeway. We certainly saw this with the federal election where neither Liberal or Labor made any significant commitment to preventative health or livability.
Through our 52,000 loyal and passionate members we’ve got amazing support. But it’s still too easy for politicians not to act. So we’re currently on a quest to up our game. To build our membership to a level where the politicians know there’s more votes in turning us into a nation of bike riders instead of a nation of drivers. So if you believe what we believe, that Australia will be better when people are pedalling, come and join us!