May 14, 2015
We’ve seen an increasing number of communities calling us up and asking, “How can our town serve adventure cyclists? What can we do to make them feel welcome enough to hang around and maybe even stay the night?” Some of this interest is due the increasing knowledge of the economic benefits bicycle tourists bring and some of it has to do with the fact that cyclists are just about the perfect visitors for small to medium-sized communities that don’t otherwise see many tourists. Whatever the reason, we’re glad to see this rising interest and are happy to provide some ideas for how towns can transition from being just another refueling stop to a becoming a true bike travel destination.
We’d also like to invite you to weigh in. What are we missing from the list? What have you experienced on one of your trips that really made a certain community memorable? Tell us what and why in the comment section below and you’ll have the chance to win a goodie bag of U.S. Bicycle Route products.
Becoming bicycle-friendly is a growing national movement instituted at the local level. Since January, we have spoken to tourism and economic development officials and community members from Joplin, Missouri; Mobile Bay, Alabama; and Klamath, California. We've also seen a huge boom of interest in many small, rural towns in Montana, several of which have hosted local or regional bicycle forums and trail conferences. In each place, we've seen that a little can go a long way.
Here are the top 10 things you can offer cyclists to make your community or business bicycle travel friendly:
Not everything on this list needs to be in place. As a town, visitor center, hotel or business, think about what makes the most sense and what is easy to implement. For the more expensive items, such as the pavilion or building, you might need to write a grant, ask for sponsorship, partner with a state or city parks department, or develop a donation fund. Creativity is always welcome. In Hamilton, Montana, the fairgrounds are looking to develop bike camping in the unused section of the horse stables. They are hoping to fund it with a grant from the state tourism office.
A message board in Ovando, MT informs cyclists of available services.
USBR 20 signs help cyclists find their way through town and across Michigan.
Towns providing special services to bicycle tourists isn’t a new concept. Adventure Cycling maps provides insider knowledge to traveling cyclists, such as where to find the closest bike shops, bicycle-friendly lodging, etc. A town park might allow bicycle travelers to stay overnight (with a quick call to the city offices), and sometimes local pools, or at a fire stations provide showers. There are several churches and community centers that offer their yards, spare rooms or basements for cyclists to camp. A growing number of places are developing hostel-style accommodations, such as a farmer’s barn in Washington, a garage turned into a bike hostel in Oregon, and bike camps in Twin Bridges and Ovando, Montana. Many of these services are free or ask only for donations. In other cases, small businesses have emerged, such as Oregon Hotel in Mitchell, OR that turned one of their larger rooms into a hostel for cyclists, Al’s Place in Farmington, Missouri and the increasing popular Whitefish Bike Retreat in Whitefish, MT. These are just a few examples of how communities and businesses are developing around bicycle tourism. For more examples, visit Cyclists Only Camping.
We also encourage nearby communities to work together. There are often grants, transportation projects, and tourism opportunities that benefit from a regional approach. By partnering, funding requests can be more competitive. Take Fayetteville and Bentonville Arkansas for example. The Razorback Greenway connects these towns and many others along its 36.9-mile stretch and was planned and funded by several partners. The trail also serves to get mountain bikers to trails and accesses countless businesses. While the trail is considered a local amenity, planners also see the trail as destination and an economic development opportunity.
Communities working across jurisdictional lines will have better marketing opportunities to attract bicycle tourists. In our travels across the U.S., we see many county-based bike maps. Unfortunately, bike travelers do not really think about visiting counties, per se. They think about visiting a "destination" — for example Texas Hill Country or the NC Outer Banks. What will your destination be called? How will your region be remembered? How are you branding your area? Travelers will remember the brand and speak positively of the experience if connections between communities/counties are seamless.
The U.S. Bicycle Route System can play a role in this. By designating a route through a community, the system helps build collaboration and buy-in. Stakeholders from multiple jurisdictions learn about the benefits of bicycle tourism, agree on routing and can put local initiatives, such as trails, on a national map.
Another way you can market to bicycle travelers is through social media. There are many touring cyclists that use Twitter to track route information and post updates about their travels. Each of the Adventure Cycling routes has a hashtag (@ACARoutes) and the U.S. Bicycle Route System (@USBicycleRoutes) hashtags are even simpler, for example: #USBR76. You can connect with cyclists and create an online buzz about your destination through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites by using photos, hashtags, and testimonials to let cyclists know what you have to offer.
So what did we miss? Help us gather more ideas and you could win this U.S. Bicycle Route System goodie bag. We are looking for easy to implement tips that we can pass along to communities. We also welcome examples that show long term planning, investment, and coordination (provide a link). All you have to do is comment on this blog and we will randomly pick a winner on June 1.
We know the capacity for hospitality in America has no boundaries and that there are countless examples of meaningful things that can benefit traveling cyclists and also build bicycle tourism opportunities for the communities.
Help us grow bicycle travel friendly communities and businesses.
Photo 1 by Barn Bicycle Camping; photos 2, 3, 5 and 6 by Melinda Barnes; and photo 4 by Scott Anderson. Thumbnail photo by Susan Overson.
BUILDING THE U.S. BICYCLE ROUTE SYSTEM is posted by Ginny Sullivan and Saara Snow of the Travel Initiatives Department and focuses on news related to the emerging U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS).
The 2015 Build It. Bike It. Be a Part of It. Campaign runs through May 31, 2015. All donations are tax deductible and support Adventure Cycling's organizing efforts and technical assistance for the U.S. Bicycle Route System. The campaign is supported by Adventure Cycling members, bicycle industry partners, bicycle clubs, and cyclists across North America.
Build It. Bike It. Be a Part of It. is generously sponsored by Exodus Travels, Planet Bike, Ortieb USA, SKS USA, Town Pump Hotel Group, and the Knickerbikers Bicycle Touring Club of San Diego. In-kind sponsors include Bar Mitts, Bike2Power, BikeFlights.com, Bike Touring News, Club Ride, Cygolite, Ortlieb USA, Osprey Packs, Planet Bike, Revelate Designs, Road Holland Cycling Apparel, Rudy Project, Sierra Trading Post, and TiGr Locks.
Over the years, the U.S. Bicycle Route System has been supported in part by grants from the Tawani Foundation, Lazar Foundation, the SRAM Cycling Fund, and Climate Ride.
Learn more about the campaign and make a donation at adventurecycling.org/beapartofit.