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.
I 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.