Rapha NA Comms Director, Chris DiStefano, recently took a trip to the White House.
You’re looking good out there. What is this new bike that you’re riding? Is this your first carbon road bike?
Thank you. My new bike is an Ibis Silk SL, but no, it’s not my first carbon road bike. You’d have to go back to 1993 to report on that bike. This is, however, my first Ibis which is still sort of shocking for me to consider. I always wanted an Ibis but each season something else new and fantastic crept to the front of the line. I’m a little bit embarrassed about this because some of the bikes that I chose were pretty lacklustre. The Silk, however, is far from lacklustre. It’s a great bike and I’ve had some great days on it lately.
This photo was taken right before you were about to head off on an adventure to the White House in Washington DC. What was that about?
Yes, this was the day before my trip to Washington D.C.with my friend and former employer Chris King (founder of Chris King Precision Components as part of an ongoing advocacy discussion with the Department of Commerce. Not so much bicycle advocacy but more about manufacturing. We met with the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Commerce and The White House Business Council regarding improvements to US manufacturing, export competitiveness, and workforce education. The meeting came the week in between Eurobike and Interbike. Can’t you just feel the anxiety?
You have a definite concern for the state of cycling advocacy in the US. What are some of the positive things that are happening right now?
There are so many fantastic components to the growth of bicycling in the United States at present. I could go on about bike share, transportation infrastructure, or even education but what excites me the most is what we’ve been calling “Bikes Mean Business”. Working with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance of Oregon, we’ve been out to change the conversation from what bicycles are asking for from government and directing the attention to all that bicycles give to the public. In Portland alone we have over $100 million in bicycle related business. That also translates to well over one-thousand jobs. Take a look at Rapha North America – we’ve gone from two employees just a few years ago to 17 people on payroll. We have a Portland sales and marketing office, a San Francisco Cycle Club, a travelling Mobile Cycle Club and a Portland-based distribution center. The bicycle business is doing well and leads to numerous related industries that are expanding. I said it a moment ago and will revisit it once more, I am a huge fan of bike share and the impact it has on the economy of a city.
You know what is really exciting about bicycles? No matter where I go and no matter the importance of the people with whom I meet, everyone takes time to tell me their bicycle story. Sometimes it’s about the riding they do or the desire they have to do more. Other times it’s about “that guy” at the office who “rides every day”. For many it’s just a fond memory of a favorite moment on a bicycle. The thing is, no one ever tells stories to these captains of industry about the products they manufacture. Bicycles unify every one of us with experiences of joy and freedom. What we’re doing is adding the value of bicycling to these stories and in doing so we are establishing the need for greater bicycling opportunity for everyone. And we’re a cheap date. Again, I look to my home city of Portland, widely recognized as a leading bicycle friendly city. It’s taken $50 million over the years to create a transportation mode share of 6.3%. That same $50 million buys just one mile of Federal Highway. We hope to be at 10% soon. Ten percent! That number amazes and inspires me.
What is the city of Washington D.C. like to ride in?
Washington D.C. gets better and better with each visit. Capital Bike Share has brought so much of the city within an easy reach and the bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue are exhilarating to ride. It’s a city at work, though, so you’ve got to be sharp eyed and in tune with traffic and pedestrians. Riding the National Mall or along Embassy Row offers so much to discover. This past year we had the peak of cherry blossom season timed with the national bike summit and I will admit to playing hooky with a few other advocates, putting our suit jackets in the bike basket of our bike share bikes, rolling up our sleeves, and riding around town.
I know you took the Lapelled Jacket with you on this trip. How did that work out for you?
We received a sample of the Lapelled Jacket just days before my trip and, wouldn’t you know it, it was my size! I flew a full day wearing the jacket and put it through its paces. It was stuffed through security scanning, into my backpack now and then, and even served as a pillow for my late night flight into D.C. It’s a comfortable jacket and travels well. I chose to wear a proper suit for my day at The White House but did put the Lapelled Jacket into service the following day as I visited members of Congress on Capitol Hill. It was a hot late summer day in D.C with it’s famous humidity. Even still, I could leave the jacket on while in the back of a slow moving cab or out on a bikeshare bicycle.
Did you meet any other cool people along the way? The president of the United States of America perhaps?
Chris King and I met all sorts of fantastic people as part of our meetings. We joined 10 other business leaders from around the country and across all ranges of business. Four members of our panel hailed from Detroit and I can report that there is some fantastic energy coming from the Motor City. It took decades to decline but it will bounce back very quickly. I very much enjoyed the conversation Chris King and I had with the Deputy Secretary of Education. In the United States, the Federal Government has very little say in education as those matters are left to individual states. But the government does have to see the strategic trends, report, and provide the resources to make improvements at the state level. There’s a lot of talk about manufacturing in the United States but I often say we never talk about who is doing it. We no longer have the programs to identify, develop and support students such as Chris King had in his formative years. I have two young sons, one of whom is a maker of all things. I hope he has the opportunity to pursue a career in the way that Chris has if he so chooses. Chris went from making a better headset for a friend on a dare to now employing 100 people. We must ensure the educational opportunities that reveal entrepreneurship to our children.
Despite sitting just a few feet from the door to the Oval Office for much of the afternoon we did not meet President Obama. Our meeting was the day of the US embassy attacks and the President was returning to The White House from Colorado. As we left the West Wing we saw Marine One lift off to transfer him from Air Force One. We missed him by about 30 minutes. Not to worry, I’ll be heading back soon.
On my final day in D.C. I met with Chris Huller of Cycleboredom. We met for coffee and to look at the new Autumn / Winter collection but mostly talked about pro cycling. Go figure.