Doing business on bikes in Silicon Valley

February 20, 2014

by Rachel Walker

This is the how most of us see Silicon Valley, California: a tech entrepreneur’s utopia where fortunes can be made with a mere computer in a garage, and a person’s most recent innovation is far more significant than his alma mater. This is how many of the entrepreneurs living in the valley see things: a bicyclist’s paradise.

“People who are ambitious in business and innovation are very likely to also want to climb up a steep hill on a bike as fast as they can,” says Corinne Winter, president and executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. “There’s a correlation between being physically driven as well as professionally successful.”

Perhaps that’s why bicycling in Silicon Valley has been dubbed “the new golf,” or the California-iteration of the Connecticut country club. Winter says the comparisons confirm what her group has observed and benefitted from since its inception: powerful and wealthy people with bicycles that cost upwards of $10,000 are using the sport to network, recruit talent and promote their passions.

The competitive bicycling trend in the region likely started with venture capitalists, says Winter. They found time to discuss business deals between wind sprints with fellow bicyclists. (There’s a common refrain in Silicon Valley: If you’re not in the peloton, you’re not in the deal.) And the collaboration makes sense. Determination, a tolerance (or even affinity) for suffering and commitment are attributes that make for successful bicycling, as well as successful tactics in business. What followed was a natural progression: funded entrepreneurs (who happened to be cyclists) used venture capital money to launch a business, and within their business, they promoted a bicycling culture.

Some even saw a business opportunity within the sport. Strava, the San Francisco-based company that allows people to track their (and others’) speeds and distances, is hugely popular in Silicon Valley. Last year, Strava raised $16.1 million last year in two rounds of funding from Menlo Park-based Sigma Partners and Madrone Capital Partners.

Even Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple, paid homage to the bicycle, albeit indirectly. In 1990, Jobs praised the invention of computers as equally significant as the invention of the bike: “The computer is the most remarkable tool that we've ever come up with. It's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” Sure, he was talking about technology, but in those 22 words, Jobs elevated the simple machine—two wheels, a chain, and a metal frame—to iconic status. Given his inventive imagination, perhaps he knew then that the bicycle would someday become almost as emblematic of Silicon Valley as his company’s logo, the apple with a bite taken out of it.


Apple offers a sleek, grey bike to their employees, with a pannier to carry materials. (Image: Wired.com)

But bicycling is more than a modern-day deal room. Unlike golf, cycling originated as a mode of transportation, and in Silicon Valley commuting by bicycle has experienced exponential growth. Companies try to lure new employees with promises of covered bike storage and hotel-like shower facilities.

“Tech companies want young, top talent and those employees want bike-friendly amenities,” Winter says. “They want an urban environment where they can ride their bike and walk places.”

Google, Apple, and others provide bikes throughout their sprawling campuses. There are bike commuter groups, such as SF2G that band together and commute from San Francisco to Palo Alto, Mountain View and others. And the cities that comprise Silicon Valley are investing in more bicycling infrastructure.

“It’s obviously expensive to retrofit roads and to build new cycling infrastructure [like highway crossings],” says Winter. “But having so many people committed to competitive and recreational cycling really encourages more ridership.”

And, it doesn’t hurt to have successful Silicon Valley professionals championing the cause.

“A lot of these people make up a huge power base,” says Winter. “It’s difficult for politicians not to pay attention when they raise cycling-related issues.”


One of the free Google bikes at the Palo Alto campus.

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