Mad Man: Alex Bogusky's Life in Advertising and Bicycling

“Anyone who's gone to school for advertising in the last decade has heard of Alex Bogusky.” This is what my 30-something copywriter friend tells me when I ask her about the visionary behind some of the most deviant ad campaigns in recent history.

Bogusky is the guy who reimagined Virgin Atlantic as late night porn, flung body bags outside an alleged tobacco company as part of the provocative truth anti-smoking TV commercials, and scoured remote lands for [Burger King] “Whopper virgins” to conduct truly unbiased taste tests.

Bogusky was named Adweek’s “Creative Director of the Decade” in 2010, and he brought global prestige to Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the award-winning, culture-tweaking, rule-breaking, outsider ad agency he helmed until that same year.

Then something shifted for Bogusky. The “Steve Jobs of Advertising,” who once elevated brands like Coca Cola, Burger King, and Volkswagen decided he’d had enough. Bogusky quit CP + B and is now focused on social responsibility projects, even working to obliterate the brands he helped propagate (like Coke).

One thing he hasn’t reversed course on is biking, a love sparked by competitive BMX biking in his youth. Today he might be found thrashing mountain bike trails where he lives in Boulder, Colo. or commuting by bike to a meeting for one of his many post -CP + B ventures, like mentoring start-ups with BoomTown Accelerators.

Read on for why Bogusky thinks bike geekery should take a back (tandem) seat to overall design, why biking in Miami is treacherous, and why he skips the helmet.

Alex laughing on the street

Can you tell us something about yourself that we can’t Google?

I'm a dirtbag– a Florida dirtbag. I was an introverted, weird kid. I was never very sporty, didn’t have a lot of friends, and lacked self-confidence. I always grew up thinking of myself as an outsider and CP + B were outsiders in the industry.

"I like upsetting things. I like being part of something new."― Alex Bogusky

Eventually, CP + B became very mainstream and boring. I like upsetting things. I like being part of something new. It wasn't fun trying to help Microsoft or help big companies keep the status quo. It was fun for some people, but it didn't really get me going. I loved it when CP + B was smaller and scrappier.

What was your first experience with bicycling and what kind of rider are you now?

I started off as a BMX racer when I was a kid and I was the state champion and ranked number two nationally. That was the first time cycling saved my life. Multiple times I feel like bikes saved my life. I would always go back to the bike. I've always been surprised that there aren't more commuters in Boulder where I live now. It's a great place and it's safe. Winter's a different story, I understand why people don't and I applaud those that do.

MORE: Meet Dave Kingsbury, the Most Extreme Commuter Cyclist in America

How did you go from Miami, Florida to Boulder, Colorado?

I grew up in Miami and naturally started working there. Later, when CP+B was bigger, I knew I still had enough control to move the agency. I said to my partner, "we’re moving this summer." I knew I didn’t want to start a family in Miami, and I always figured I would move somewhere out west. We wound up taking 25 people, established a CP + B office in Boulder, and then grew it to over 700 people.

Is there a bike commuter culture in Miami or has there become one?

You take your life in your own hands commuting in Miami. I got hit by cars, sometimes I hit cars, and a lot of the time, I couldn’t tell the difference whether I was hitting them or they were hitting me. I'd get to work and one side of my handlebar would be broken off.

"I got hit by cars, sometimes I hit cars, and a lot of the time, I couldn’t tell the difference whether I was hitting them or they were hitting me."― Alex Bogusky

In Miami, the only place to ride is also where people drive, meaning, there isn’t much protection for bicyclists. It’s like riding alongside a highway. There is a shoulder with just barely enough room to keep you from being killed.

Why do you bike commute?

Ecological reasons were at the front of my mind when I first started riding, but now it's more of a lifestyle and a matter of not wanting to get in a car and try to park. As a culture we do this thing where we put ourselves in a steel box each morning and it sets your day on the wrong course, instantly.

Alex on his bike

"I'm more nimble because of bike transportation."― Alex Bogusky

It's easy to say, hey, I'll meet you and I'll beat you getting there on my bike because I'm not going to have to park. I'm going to coast right to the door, lock it up, and be done – that’s really nice. I'm more nimble because of bike transportation.

What do you think prevents people from riding their bikes to work everyday?

If you go to the house of a bike owner who isn’t a bike rider, and you go into their garage, there's going to be something wrong with their bike and you can guess what it is… a flat tire.

If my wife had to pump up the tires of her car every time she had to go somewhere, she would not drive. The technology exists [to completely prevent flat tires] and we don't have to invent anything, we just have to do it. In the auto industry, you can't even get a flat if you want one. They don't allow it. This has to be brought to the bike industry, too.

interview situation

What are some things you have to have on your ride? Do you wear a helmet? Do you have fenders on your bike all the time?

I did put fenders on recently because I like to commute by bike in the winter. Otherwise, I don't like to wear anything special and I don't wear a helmet. I don't feel like I'm being anymore irresponsible riding my bike than driving my car without a helmet. If you're going to wear a helmet on a bike, then statistically you should wear it in a car.

A basket on a bike is a really big deal if you are a person that rides a bike for transportation. Not enough people understand what the basket does for a bike. A removable basket is even better. The founder of PUBLIC Bikes, Rob Forbes, created a bike where the basket mounts on the bike and is easily removable, so it doubles as a bag you bring in the grocery store. It's epic.

Alex' ride

How can big, corporate brands in bike retail get back to their roots or change what they're doing in order to be more effective?

The industry is so geeked out on the tech side of things that they don't really address what's going wrong with consumers.

I’ll use my wife as an example. If you have her look at a bike, she looks at it as one lump, like it's made of one lump of clay, and she declares it either beautiful or not. Often that's about how homogeneous the design is, whereas if I look at a bike, I ask “does it have this fit and that component and those hubs?” and it's beautiful. I think the industry's been driven by bike geeks too much, and bikes don’t sell themselves the way cars sell themselves as a whole. If you're my wife you can look at a navy blue BMW and say, "I love the whole.” The bike industry needs to get people to love the whole of the bike as opposed to zooming in on components.

What do you think the future holds for biking?

Really the space is electric bikes. That's where it will happen. I'm pretty confident that someone will take up that space and say, "We're going to be the Tesla of electric bikes." No one's built the Apple of bikes. No one's built the right system yet. That needs to happen.