The Path to Bicycle Tourism

November 5, 2014

Since 2009, the Path Less Pedaled's Russ Roca and Laura Crawford have explored bike travel through an advocacy lens, championing the ways in which cycling can positively impact small communities. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, Russ and Laura are working with communities and tourism organizations nationwide to help develop and market strong bicycle tourism destinations.

As bicycle tourism grows in popularity around the U.S., we’re hearing from more and more communities who want to know: “How do we get there from here?” In our experience, no matter how simple or complicated your initiatives, there are two key components to successful bicycle tourism: Community Development and Destination Marketing.

Community Development

At the very heart of bicycle tourism is a community who supports the idea of visitors riding bicycles in their area. At its most basic, bicycle tourism means offering good riding opportunities alongside welcoming customer service. Take the time to consider not only where folks will ride their bikes (i.e. Do you have quiet country roads? Miles of mountain biking trails?); also think about how to greet them in a way that they will have an enjoyable experience and want to return and tell their friends (i.e. Allow bicycle visitors to bring their bikes into their hotel rooms).

One of the reasons why bicycle tourism works so well in a rural setting is because small communities can start where they are and maintain their unique identity. Becoming a good bicycle tourism destination doesn’t mean becoming Portland, it means recognizing that there’s something unique about your area that an out-of-town visitor might like to explore via bicycle. Can bicycle visitors eat at the local diner and get to know the owners and hear all the local tales? Can bicycle visitors stop along the rail-trail to learn the history of the area or fish for trout in the adjacent river? How can bicycle visitors enjoy their time on their bicycle and also experience the heart of your community?

As part of Travel Oregon’s award-winning Bicycle Tourism Studio, communities identify their
unique assets and think about how they can tie them to bicycling.

Carrying fly rods via bicycle along the John Wayne Trail in Washington is just
one way to combine bicycling with another activity.

Destination Marketing

Once you have the road riding mapped, the mountain biking trails finished, or the rail-trail open, the question shifts from building a destination to enticing people to visit. We encourage communities to keep everything as simple as possible, not only for your own sake, but so that potential visitors can find everything they’re looking for as quickly as possible (and not have to dig).  We’re all busy these days, so do the thinking and planning for your potential visitors. Take the time to write out some trip ideas, to inspire potential visitors to choose your destination.

One thing that’s important to remember about bicycle tourism is that bicycle visitors aren’t riding their bike 100% of the time. They will absolutely enjoy your riding opportunities, and they’ll also enjoy your local restaurants, sample a glass of wine, explore your history museum, etc. Once your bicycle visitors finish their ride for the day, what else can they do? And what activities can they do during their ride? It’s important for the images of your destination to show people riding bikes, and it’s also important to show all of the other things that bicycle visitors can experience while in your area.

Imagery for the Oregon Scenic Bikeways also features the off-the-bike experiences that visitors
can enjoy, such as fruit stands along the Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway.

Sampling wine along the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway.

At the end of the day, bicycle tourism is like any other tourism: visitors may choose a destination based on one particular activity (in this case, bicycling), but it doesn’t exclude them from enjoying the other attractions that your community offers. In fact, it’s precisely those little things that makes your community unique that will entice visitors to linger a bit longer.

Post and photos by Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of the Path Less Pedaled.

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 USBRS project is a collaborative effort, spearheaded by a task force under the auspices of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Members of the task force include officials and staff from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, and nonprofits like the East Coast Greenway Alliance and Mississippi River Trail, Inc


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