Tag Archives: Bikes Belong Coalition

Gary Sjoquist remembers Leslie Bohm

I had dinner Wed. night with Gary Sjoquist, QBP’s Advocacy Director.  When the subject turned to bike advocacy and related issues at the federal level, he told me that his friend and colleague Leslie Bohm died of cancer on Monday. Gary and Leslie were both founding members of the Bikes Belong Coalition, a cycling advocacy group.

Gary said he was writing up a remembrance for various industry publications, so I asked him to send it to me for posting here.   Mountain bikers should know how our sport has benefited from Leslie’s legacy.

Leslie BohmI met Leslie for the first time in Washington, DC in 1998.  Several of us industry people were invited to take part in a celebration reception for the passage of TEA-21, the federal transportation bill that had just been signed into law.  It was worth celebrating, because it extended the bicycle funding and programs begun with ISTEA in 1991.

In DC, it was John Burke (CEO of Trek), Mike Greehan (Publisher of Bicycling Magazine), Chris Kegel (owner of Wheel and Sprocket, a Milwaukee-based multi-store retailer), Leslie, (who was building Catalyst Communications into a marketing machine for the bike industry), and myself (a longtime bike advocate, mostly in mountain biking,but new to the industry). 

It was the first time I had met Leslie, and I liked him right away.  He was a really smart guy, and so personable.  You couldn’t help like the guy with his goofy charm and great smile. And as someone who had put thousands of miles on BMWs across the U.S. in the 80s and 90s, once I learned that he had run Eclipse (really high quality tank bag manufacturer), he had my instant respect.

Anyway, the following morning us industry folks got together for breakfast and talked about launching Bikes Belong 2.0.  Not many will remember, but the original Bikes Belong came from an earlier industry/advocacy community effort in1996/97/98. 

In 1996, in Dubois, Wyoming at the Gerry Speiss Trial Lawyers College, a group of bike advocates from across the U.S. met for the first time to discuss national advocacy stratgies.  LAB, RTC, and IMBA were represented, along with BR&IN (the industry journal) and various advocates from around the country.  We met and discussed the national state of bicycle advocacy and what our individual organizations (both national and statewide) needed to succeed.  

After three days of meetings, we basically came to the conclusion that rather than spend a lot of time trying to improve our individual organizations, nothing was more valuable than trying to ensure that federal funding would continue for bike projects in the upcoming federal transportation bill (later called TEA-21). 

We asked representatives from LAB, RTC, and IMBA to form an organization that could help influence TEA-21.  In 1997 and 1998, this meant asking the bike industry to provide $400,000 in funding to form a loose lobbying effort, which was called Bikes Belong.  Leadership was provided mostly by RTC, and an industry perspective was provided by Leslie Bohm.

Leslie was involved with this first Bikes Belong, and so was the “bridge” guy to help establish the “new” Bikes Belong Coalition run by the industry and founded the following year in 1999.  

Another important Leslie accomplishment was the Bikes Belong grants program.  When we launched Bikes Belong, the question was “what can the industry do to ensure that bike facilities actually get built?”  Leslie had the answer – an industry-funded grants program that leveraged federal funding to get more places built for our industry’s products to be used.  He led the development of the grants program, and since he was all about accountability, he developed the matrix used to rate grant applications.  By 2003, the Bikes Belong grants program was leveraging one industry dollar into $550+ of federal funding to build bike trails, bike lanes, mountain bike trails, etc.

But perhaps Leslie’s biggest contribution to Bikes Belong came from his unique ability to “defuse” volatile situations at Bikes Belong board meetings.  With high powered CEOs on the board, personalities and biases were occasionally displayed.  Often during these tense times, it was Leslie who would say just the right thing to defuse the situation with a poignant or downright funny remark. 

Since many of the CEOs on the board depended on his marketing expertise, Leslie was the one person in the room who had gained their respect, and who they didn’t need to match egos with.  He was virtually without ego, but incredibly productive, and a great asset both to Bikes Belong and the bike industry.

Godspeed, Leslie.  You were among the very best and brightest we ever had.

Gary Sjoquist, a man on a bicycle mission, with a company where you’d like to work

Gary Sjoquist, Hans Rey, John Gaddo, Jeff Verink QBP HQ in Bloomington, MN Gary Sjoquist, Griff Wigley
If you care about bicycling for yourself, your kids or your town, you should know what Gary Sjoquist is up to.

QBPI met Gary over beers in Crosby, MN a month ago (left photo, blog post here). He’s the Director of Advocacy for Bloomington, MN-based QBP (Quality Bicycle Products), one of the largest bicycle parts distributors in the world.  He invited me to take a tour of QBP’s headquarters and yesterday I took him up on his offer. (Photo album below.)

MORC MN Mtn Bike Series 2011 Trips for KidsMinnesota High School Cycling League
Among his Minnesota-related activities, Gary co-founded Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC) “a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to safeguarding the future of mountain biking in Minnesota… ” One of MORC’s projects, which Gary has worked on for over ten years, is the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System that opened a month ago in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. The Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival is what got me hooked on mountain biking and spending more money than I’d ever imagined at Milltown Cycles.

Gary’s the director of the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series, a non-profit organization that, besides hosting the races, uses the entry fees to fund:

  • Trips for Kids, “which provides inner city kids the opportunity to experience mountain biking on our Minnesota trail system.”
  • The new Minnesota High School Cycling League, “a newly formed Minnesota State High School League-sanctioned sport that begins competition in September of 2012.”

Nationally, Gary’s the Director of Government Relations for the Bikes Belong Coalition:

Bikes Belong CoalitionBikes Belong Coalition was formed in 1999 as the national coalition of bicycle retailers and suppliers working to put more people on bikes more often. U.S. bicycle companies recognized that they could accomplish more for bicycling by working together than by working independently. From helping create safe places to ride to promoting bicycling, we carefully select projects and partnerships that have the capacity to make a difference… Additionally, we operate the Bikes Belong Foundation to focus on children’s programs and bicycle safety.

For more on his work, see the 2008 Bike Radar article, Interview: Gary Sjoquist, advocate.

As you’ll see in my photo album, QBP’s headquarters and distribution center is not only huge, but spectacular. And it’s got a reputation as a great place to work. Their Career and benefits page has the details on why.

See my album of 30+ photos, the large slideshow (recommended), or SLOW CLICK this small slideshow: