Bike Culture at Levis: Built to Last

Levi Strauss & Co. volunteers and CEO Chip Bergh assemble bicycles for the San Francisco Bay Area YMCA's YBike program.

By Jason McBriarty, Levi Strauss & Co.

Biking to work does more than offer a more sustainable way to commute and good daily exercise – it can directly contribute to business innovation and a thriving culture.

A bit of perspective: I’m a lifelong biker. My dad gave me my first commuter bike in 1987. I was quickly hooked by the rush I got sailing down the winding New Hampshire hills and how the early-morning air felt pumping through my lungs.

Through the years I’ve kept up that same bike with repairs and tune-ups. And to this day, it’s my most prized possession.

Biking, for me, has become more than my primary form of transportation – it’s a lifestyle. Most days, I bike to work. When I don’t, I usually walk or take public transportation. My wife and I share one car, though she’s the main driver. I’ve even planned my career around employers I could cycle to.

Now, I bike to work at Levi Strauss & Co., where I’ve joined a community of bike enthusiasts. For me it’s a fun way to connect with colleagues sharing a similar passion. There’s a camaraderie that naturally develops when you’re locking up your bikes together or swapping repair tips.

In fact, it was through everyday bike-room conversation that a few members of our Levi’s brand team dreamed up design changes they’d love to make to their jeans.  Before long, the same bikers were road-testing prototypes with higher backs, reflective tape, U-lock waistbands and odor-resistant fabric. Eventually, these jeans became part of the Levi’s 511 Commuter collection.

From there, biking culture evolved through our company and became a way to engage employees and the local community. Last June, we held our annual retail sales conference for retail managers around the country in Palm Springs. Traditionally, we incorporate a volunteering opportunity, and so last year we built bicycles for disadvantaged youth in Riverside County.

Employees are challenged to commute by bike during Bike to Work month.

This month, as part of May’s Bike to Work month activities, we’re give our San Francisco bike room a makeover. Due to increased interest, we’ve already had to expand the room by taking over several existing parking spaces in our garage. Now, we’re adding new racks, a repair station, a changing station, benches and hooks.

To introduce the new bike room to employees and encourage bike commuting, we’ve partnered with the San Francisco Bike Coalition. On May 10, Bike to Work Day, we sponsored rest stations throughout the city, hosting a bicycle valet at our Levi’s Plaza headquarters, and extending employee invitations to the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Annual Bike from Work Party in the city’s Mission District. We’re also raffling prizes throughout the month.

And, as part of our company’s annual, global day of volunteering on May 3, we built bicycles at Levi’s Plaza for the YMCA’s YBike program, complete with hand-made recycled-denim bike bags (see the video below).

So, my advice for building a business case for cycling to work? Give your bikers some space to park their bikes, and your business case will build itself.



Jason McBriarty is the director of Global Community Affairs and the Levi Strauss Foundation at Levi Strauss & Co. He’s also a lifelong biker.

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