When I spoke with Sophie Bartho, the communications director of Bicycle New South Wales last year, she promoted the advantage of relying on ‘specialists’ to lead each of the Bicycle NSW departments, rather than a CEO. In the field of cycling advocacy you can argue that New South Wales is the toughest market in Australia, which is all the more reason for a hardy CEO to rally support and challenge the hostile political landscape.
Fast forward into 2015 and it is time to renew my bicycle insurance cover. My cycling club membership and race license (via Cycling Australia) no longer suits my requirements, a personal family membership with my state cycling advocacy organisation makes sense and means that I have insurance cover and am adding another voice for positive cycling action. Unknown to me, when I signed up, Bicycle NSW were also in the final stages of appointing the new CEO, Ray Rice who took office in February.
I was informed of the new CEO appointment when I spoke with Bicycle NSW in the lead-up to the Australian Bicycle Summit which was taking place in Canberra in early March. All of the peak Australian advocacy organisations were attending. The Board of Bicycle NSW suggested that we meet in Canberra where I was able to spend time with Ray Rice along with president Jon Leighton, new board members Sara Stace and Peter Lee and communications director, Sophie Bartho.
John Leighton, Sophie Bartho, Ray Rice and Sara Stace
Ray Rice has a professional engineering background and his cycling interest was reborn when his son began competitive mountain biking. The whole family become involved in the club and in due time Ray became involved with the MTBA (Mountain Bike Australia) as the NSW representative. His connection with Bicycle NSW however was established through his involvement with his Rotary Club who organise the annual Bobbin Head Cycle Classic in Sydney.
Overlooking Lake Burley Griffen with Parliament House in the distance, I asked Ray about his understanding of the role of Bicycle NSW, “The organisation has a very strong base, we have nearly 14,000 members now. We have very competent staff and it is a very opportune time to move forward,” said Ray Rice. “I think bike riders in New South Wales are looking for a strong voice in cycling advocacy. Bicycle NSW is perfect for that, being the peak body. I think it is a great opportunity to increase our membership, to increase our presence with more advocacy for safer cycling.”
Widely acknowledged, and criticised as being the ‘worst place to ride a bike in Australia’ (with regard to cycling infrastructure and government support of bicycle riding), Bicycle NSW is faced with a political challenge. Ray addresses this, “The political challenge is to let politicians know that cycling is not just a recreational activity. It’s a very valid transport option. [We need to] to start investing appropriate amounts of money on bicycling infrastructure.
“The other challenge is on the safety side. We are very much in support of ‘a metre matters’ campaign. But there is more behind that than just one metre, it is a whole range of road safety messages that we need. From training learners to education campaigns for riders and motorists.”
Pedestrians and Bike Riders in Sydney waiting to cross in Darling Habour Sydney
Without being privy to the commercial arrangements of the Bicycle NSW, strong financial support from commercial entities is crucial for modern organisations and I asked about the position on this, “We can only do cycling advocacy and provide services for our members with a strong financial backing,” says Ray. “We have to, not only seek membership, but also seek partnerships with commercial organisations and they have to be appropriate organisations to suit the ideals of creating a better environment for cycling.
“We have done this in the past with Spring Cycle and Gear Up Girl, we want to strengthen these partnerships and have more of them. We can offer the commercial partners a good presence in the cycling environment. Commercial organisations don’t do things for free and nor can Bicycle NSW. Our commercial partners need return on investment when they work with us and we can offer that in various ways.”
One of the public criticisms which has been directed at Bicycle NSW in the past is the level of activity beyond Sydney, I quizzed Ray on how Bicycle NSW plans to represent bike riders across the entire state.
“There are two ways of doing this,” suggests Ray, “one is working with our fantastic Bicycle User Groups, the BUGs. We have over 30 BUGs affiliated with Bicycle NSW and we have to communicate with them and work with them as they work with us on regional plans.
“We also work with the state government on regional development and tourism development. Yes, we have to be careful that we are not seen as Sydney-centric or city-centric. We have to get out there and be active New South Wales wide.”
Bicycle NSW office in Bicentenial Park, Homebush
Much of cycling advocacy is behind closed doors, understanding laws and meeting key decision-makers and influencers which can make a difference. This is important, but a strong media presence is also crucial, I asked Ray about the media presence of Bicycle NSW.
“In the last 10 months, our Communication Director Sophie Bartho has been doing a fantastic job and I will be working with Sophie to increase our media presence; speaking to journalists, putting out more press releases and get our name out there so that we are recognised as the peak cycling advocacy organisation in New South Wales that we are.”
“This is all possible because the Bicycle NSW board has created and nourished key relationships with the State Government and Transport Partners”
At the Australian Bicycle Summit, Ray met with his counterparts, the leaders of peak cycling organisations from Canberra, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland to unite in bicycling advocacy on a national level. For Bicycle NSW, the summit cumulated with meetings with nine Parliamentary ministers.
Days later, Rays next major engagement was hand-on, helping out at the Gear Up Girl women’s bicycling event. Ray Rice is well spoken and his responses suggest that he understands his responsibility as the CEO to raise the profile of Bicycle NSW so that it is more effective and vocal in cycling advocacy.
Find out more about Bicycle NSW online: bicyclensw.org.au
Disclosure: I (Christopher Jones) became a private member of Bicycle NSW in January 2015. Bicycles Network Australia is independent of cycling advocacy organisations and does support their events and cycling advocacy efforts.