- Bicycle Garage Indy's Connie Szabo Schmucker and Randall Clark. Photo by Mark Lee
Randall Clark, the founder and president of Bicycle Garage Indy (BGI), says he got into cycling on a dare. Clark was in his 30s, pursuing a career at Lilly, when a friend suggested they should both quit smoking and ride bikes to the World's Fair in Knoxville, Tenn.
"Once I got off the floor from laughing, I realized he was serious," he says.
Clark and three friends, along with two of their sons, trained for the trip and then covered a total of 600 miles in six days. "It was strenuous," says Clark, "but I never had more fun."
The experience hooked Clark on cycling. A year later, he was turning his love of riding into a business. The seed was planted by a visit to Bicycle Garage, Inc. in Bloomington. A cross-licensing agreement was struck and, almost 30 years later, BGI is flourishing, with stores on the city's north and south sides, and the Indy Bike Hub, a combination shop and bike commuter center with showers and bike parking facilities, scheduled to open downtown at City Market this summer.
Clark also uses his business as a base for the advocacy of bicycle-friendly public policies, including the creation of bike lanes on city streets. BGI has had a fulltime advocacy director, longtime cycling activist Connie Szabo Schmucker, on staff for the past four years.
"My mantra has been that this is really about the economy," says Clark. "I think health is good. Being green is good. But this is really about having a city and a state where employees want to be, and where new people want to come." Clark argues that if Indianapolis wants to attract young professional talent, it has to be able to provide "quality outdoor recreational activities."
Clark and Schmucker credit Mayor Greg Ballard for recognizing the potential of cycling as an economic development tool. Schmucker says, "I've seen more progress in the last three years than I have in the previous 25."
Schmucker says she used to go to national cycling conferences, where she was inspired but frustrated -- nothing was happening in Indy. "That has totally changed," she says. The city was recently awarded a national Bronze designation for being bicycle-friendly, plans for new bike lanes continue and work has now begun to codify bike policies so that they carry on regardless of mayoral administration.
"Our biggest challenge," says Randall Clark, "is to destroy the myth that you can't get safely anywhere on your bike." Riders, he says, can usually find safe and effective alternate routes to those they might take by car. After all, Indianapolis is an ideal cycling environment. "People always complain about flat old Indiana," he says. "But isn't that a wonderful advantage for us? Almost any citizen can ride a bike in Indiana. So let's take that supposed lemon and make some lemonade."