November 16, 2016 - Ginny Sullivan is Adventure Cycling's Director of Travel Initiatives.
In October, Ginny Sullivan traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark; Vienna, Austria; and Berlin, Germany to meet with EuroVelo Coordinators and present at the EuroVelo Greenways and Cycle Tourism Conference. These are the lessons learned from the immersion in European bicycle tourism.
For those of you who have traveled to Copenhagen, you know it is more than bicycle friendly, but did you know that bicycle tourism is a relatively new concept for this city? The city took advantage of an area that is under redevelopment. From industrial blight to gorgeous harbor boardwalks and bicycle bridges, the Harbor Circle Tour was created with tourists in mind. Cycling a loop route of 13 km, visitors can explore the heart of the city, expansive greenways, and fine eateries, and it also incorporates a section of EuroVelo 7. We loved the idea of creating a bike route in a city for tourists that also links directly to the long distance touring route. Could American cities do the same?
Fresh off our flight from Seattle, my husband and I took a train just north of Copenhagen to the Hareskoven station and met Birger Kjaerbye of MTB-Tours. Birger is a mountain bike tour guide, bike shop owner, and bike rental agent. He is also an avid advocate for mountain bike tourism in Denmark, helping piece together and market the Green Belt Route for the enjoyment of the Danish countryside (be sure to check out the video on his website!). Using transit and bike shops to link the route on both ends, this innovative bike tourism promotion is bringing tourists from Copenhagen to the small surrounding villages.
Later in the week, trains, transit, and ferries were incorporated into tours of EuroVelo 6 and 9. It was easy and gave peace of mind as the fall season meant fewer daylight hours for travel.
Birger at MTB-Tours also provides one-way bike rentals for one of the most popular new bicycle tourism routes — Berlin to Copenhagen. After learning of all his endeavors, we went with him on a night roll on the trails. This was the perfect way to kick off a trip. The major take-away was how innovative Birger is with his vision, he is not just a bike shop, not just a tour guide — he is also an advocate and a marketing agent. Birger is successful because he has developed many avenues for success through bicycle tourism.
Hotels with bike fleets are great for tourists (and it’s a good business!) Many of the hotels in Copenhagen provide rental or guest bikes to get around. It wasn’t always like this. When Yael Bassan’s father came up with the concept of bicycle fleets at hotels it was initially scoffed, but is now widely accepted and expected. Today, Copenhagen Bicycles is conveniently located in the Nyhavn district at the base of one of the most popular bicycle bridges in the city. Yael and her crew deal with managing hotel bikes as well as offering daily and weekly bike rentals of all shapes, sizes, and capacity. A sure sign of a thriving business, Yael says her shop has plenty of competition, including hotels that think they can run their own fleets. “It’s not as easy as it appears and the hoteliers soon come back and sign up with us due to the expertise needed to maintain the fleets.” With the growing friendliness of American cities and the need for bike shops to find new ways of doing business, I think the U.S. is more than ready for this kind of service.
There are several EuroVelo routes that pair wine country with bicycle tourism. In Austria, I rode small sections of both the EuroVelo 6 (Danube) and EuroVelo 9, Baltic to Adriatic. The section we cycled, known as the Breclav to Vienna Route is in the Weinviertel region. Stopping in Wolkersdorf, we had lunch with a local bicycle tourism advocate and discussed the trail we’d just ridden, the Prague-Vienna Greenway. It took many years of effort to convert the rail line to a trail that eventually became EV9. Later, we took a tour of the wine cellars before settling in at one that was open for business. Eventually we caught the evening train back to Vienna.
The combination of a paved scenic trail, beautiful country landscapes, quaint villages, wineries, and easy to access transit demonstrated once again that we must create these same kinds of seamless experiences in the U.S.
In addition to presenting and participating in the EuroVelo Greenways and Cycle Tourism Conference, I spent time with individual EuroVelo Coordinators in order to gain specific insight in their work. My hope was to find best practices transferable to the U.S. with the specific goal of creating our own coordinator-type system that could develop, maintain, and promote each state’s U.S. Bicycle Routes.
In Denmark, three separate organizations promote cycling. They collaborate and share space, but have separate missions. I spent the majority of my time with Jesper Poerksen from Danish Cycle Tourism. He is helping Denmark not only capitalize on the bicycle friendliness of the country, but to develop opportunities to grow the market, including developing tourism promotions and safety practices for biking on rural country roads.
In Vienna, I stayed with Christian Weinberger, the EuroVelo Coordinator for Austria. Just one of Christian’s projects is to oversee the installation and maintenance of EuroVelo 6 signs placed along the Danube Cycle Path as well as all the other EuroVelo Routes that pass through Austria (7, 9 and 13). To be effective, he now collaborates with the Vienna cycle nonprofit, Radlobby to link EuroVelo routes to high tourism destinations in the city.
Though I wasn’t able to travel to Czech Republic, I did spend a great deal of time with the EuroVelo Coordinator, Daniel Mourek, while at the EuroVelo Greenways and Cycle Tourism Conference. We biked together to the conference every day, and toured the city of Vienna (by bicycle of course). During these moments, we discussed building support for trails, mapping and signing routes, working with various government and non-government partners, and the many challenges and opportunities our work entails.
Peer to peer sharing helps bring greater perspective to the development of the U.S. Bicycle Route System. There are just as many challenges in Europe, if not more when you consider language and cultural norms, but benefits are becoming more widely quantified and accepted. We are experiencing that same phenomenon in the U.S. and we intend to capitalize on it.
Top photos by Ginny Sullivan, bottom photo by Christian Schefel.
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