December 13, 2012
In his October/November 2012 Adventure Cyclist "Letter from the Editor" (PDF), Mike Deme responded to correspondence he had received from Gillian Hoggard (see same PDF), our 2006 Trail Angel Award winner (PDF). Gillian was writing to withdraw her name as a "Cyclists Only Lodging" on the TransAmerica Trail due to a string of bad experiences.
Up until recently, I considered instances of this sort to be a rarity. And while they aren't commonplace, Gillian isn't the only one having these experiences. In the past year, we've also had a church ask to be removed from our maps after a series of cyclists treated their property with disrespect. A longstanding cyclist-only hostel has likewise reported an observed shift in the attitudes of the traveling cyclists they've been seeing.
Based on my observations in general — so, not scientifically speaking — over the last couple of years, to varying degrees, we have had an increase in the number of complaints about rude cyclists. I find this incredibly disheartening. Especially since, when I ask traveling cyclists about the highlights of their trip, "the people I have met" almost never fails to show up in the top ten. This is something I always assumed went both ways and that those people that were "met" found the exchanges positive, too.
In some ways, I suppose it's a simple math equation: more numbers in the traveling cyclist population = greater visibility of bad apples. I'd like to think this doesn't have to be the cost of the rising popularity of bicycle travel. I hope it's simply a lack of understanding and not a permanent trend that can't be stemmed with a little effort.
What we've seen in reaction to Gillian's letter is that there is still a large pool of goodwill out there for traveling cyclists as well as the reminder that hosts need to be clear about their expectations in this exchange. (See the "Letters from our Readers" (PDF) in the December/January issue of Adventure Cyclist for some of these responses.)
We have begun a conversation with the Warm Showers organization -- the leading group facilitating hospitality for touring cyclists worldwide -- and will collaborate with them and their participants along with you, our readers and members, on a friendly guide to bicycle-travel etiquette. Our intention is to end up with a set of best practices and tips for traveling cyclists and hosts to consider when planning to utilize, or become, a "Cyclists Only Lodging" or "Camping" option.
In this spirit, we will be writing a series of blog posts over the course of the spring on different facets of bicycle-travel etiquette addressing issues from how to arrange an overnight stay to managing assumptions of both parties, and a lot in between.
If you have suggestions for topics we should cover, situations you'd like to see addressed, or "rules" you advise, please leave a comment below or tweet it to @acaroutes. Thank you!
Photo 1: Host Teri in Stevens Point, Wisconsin with traveling cyclist Steve from brotherM's Flickr photostream.
Photo 2: Coco, a frequent host in the Baja Desert, with Scott and Emily of wegoslow.com from their Flickr photostream.
Photo 3: Camping in a New Jersey hosts backyard from neilfein's Flickr photostream.
Photo 4: Cyclists and their hosts enjoying a sunset together on Puget Sound in Washington state from gabriel amadeus's Flickr photostream.
GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer 'Jenn' Milyko, an Adventure Cycling cartographer, and appears weekly, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.
What a great idea, Bernard! I'm sure the cyclists you encounter appreciate your thoughtfulness.
I think it says volumes that as a person in your position you host traveling cyclists. Good for you and what a neat gift of experience for your kids.
I love that you are connected to other WS hosts and can share information about the guests you've had and might expect, too.
Thanks for chiming in with your experience!
I've known about WarmShowers since around 2000, but only signed up to host this summer.
I wasn't able to host all who requested, but I did host six cyclists and connected with three others via WS who needed some help. For the most part, experiences were good. But, for me - as a single mom with two young kids - I am more careful and have to trust my gut. I also have to trust the WS network of hosts in my state and beyond. Thankfully, I know a few other hosts and recently connected with another so we can share experiences in leapfrogging cyclists. That's been a comfort for me.
I haven't done a great deal of touring but when I have I have been struck by the friendliness and willingness to help of other cyclists - even commuters find the time to help you with a puncture or other difficulty.
However, with the rise in the number of touring cyclists out there, what was a vanishingly small proportion of 'bad attitudes' becomes more noticeable because even if the proportion stays the same that percentage represents a higher actual number.
I also think that the rise in bad attitude cyclists is probably in direct proportion to the decline in manners, increase in thoughtlessness and general change in the way people regard others. It isn't that cyclists are getting worse - mankind is getting worse!
By starting this conversation, you have taken a huge step in halting, and hopefully reversing, the slow erosion of man's respect for his fellow man.
I wish you all the best with it, and will watch with interest while trying to avoid the odd bad apple I come across.
Hi Mike, Thanks for sharing your experience. I think there is something to be said for the increase of incidents being related to the increased number of bicycle travelers in general.
You might also be interested in reading my latest post on the topic, too:
I hope all of this is a step in the right direction.
Thank you all for the constructive comments on this topic. I look forward to continuing the conversation over the course of the spring. If you have stories or situations you'd like to share that would be helpful to the building of this resource, please let me know either here or through email (jhmilykoATadventurecyclingDOTorg).
Thanks and happy holidays, too!
Thanks so much for pursuing this Jenn - This is great for the entire community of touring cyclists, and for Warmshowers hosts and guests as well. While we don't see a lot of complaints and we don't see a lot of negative feedback, one negative experience is really too many. When hosts give their hospitality so kindly, and when guests entrust themselves to hosts, both deserve to end up with a good experience.
Coco! He is such a great host that maps of Baja have named that location "Coco's Corner". There is nothing else for miles, and Coco offers respite to passing cyclists and motorists, including many enthusiasts of off-road riding and racing in the vein of the Baja 1000.
Coco also sells cheap sodas and beers, and his roof is the only shade for miles (also covered with old hats and panties). When part of his truck was stolen from his property, some visiting German motorcyclists offered to buy him a new one. Some people still know how to share.
Aside, creating some discussion about hosting and being hosted will surely help the situation.
I suspect that this unfortunate development is a symptom of our success in promoting bicycle travel, as you suggest. As bicycle travel gains more awareness, there will be more people who see it as an opportunity to take advantage of others' hospitality.
I used Warm Showers to find places to stay on a cross-country ride in 2008, and I now host cyclists. However, I always check for feedback before hosting someone, and I am diligent about leaving feedback. The feedback system can be very effective at identifying and weeding out the "bad apples" and your etiquette guide should encourage everyone--cyclists and hosts alike--to provide honest feedback for every stay.
Thanks, Flamingbike! Good advice. - Alison
What a great conversation to start. Thank you.
To chime in about bike (and general) travel etiquette:
My first thought was, let's reduce our impact by taking the road less ridden! That however, does not change how every cyclist, whether they're on the beaten path or bushwhacking their own, leaves an impression for travelers after them.
Give back to the communities you encounter, from a simple thanks, to a postcard from abroad, or in the case of a friend of mine, starting a non-profit to donate bicycles to South Africa.
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ALTHOUGH I AM UNABLE TO BECOME A WARMSHOWERS/COUCHSURFER HOST AS YET, WHEN TRAVELING, I CARRY COLD GALLON BOTTLES OF WATER, GATORADE BOTH LIQUID AND MEASURED OUT POWDER FOR 24 OUNCE BOTTLES, ENERGY TYPE BARS, FRUIT SALAD FROM THE BIG BOX STORES AND A FEW SIZES OF TUBES/TIRES. ALWAYS APPRECIATED BY TRAVELING CYCLISTS!