The Future of Travel: Bicycles

The Future of Travel: Bicycles
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Travelers--the future is on bicycles! Don't believe it? Consider the following trends, all of which show a dramatic increase in vacationers traveling by bike.

This list comes courtesy of Adventure Cycling, the largest (and as they are quick to note, growing) cycling membership group in North America. For full disclosure, I will say that I am very biased: I spent two years traveling by bicycle, and I think bike travel is the best way to see a state, country, or continent. It appears that an increasing number of people agree.

  1. Major Cycling Events Continue to Grow: David Harrenstein, executive director of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association (NBTDA), told us that attendance at major recreational cycling events has been going up. According to a recent study by Bikes Belong, these events (such as Ride the Rockies or RAGBRAI) are a huge economic boon: in 2008, 1,700 road riding events in the U.S. drew more than one million participants, raised more than 200 million for charities, and generated an estimated 572 million in direct economic impact.
  2. Commercial Tours Surge: Despite the downturn, bike tour operators are doing great. "Our business has seen a 20 percent increase from 2009 to 2010 and we are off to a good start for the 2011 season," said Tania Worgull, president of Trek Travel, which operates tours in North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa. "We continue to add new destinations each year to accommodate the growing interest in bike tours."
  3. The Economy is Noticing Bike Tourists: According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin, in 2010, out-of-state visitors traveling to Wisconsin for cycling opportunities generated half a billion dollars in economic activity.
  4. Accommodations are Being Offered Specifically for Cyclists: In the last couple of years, a number of smaller communities have created bike-only camp and hostel sites to attract riders and spur economic development. They include Twin Bridges, MT, Farmington, MO, Dalbo, MN, and Ordway, CO. These lodgings and their community impacts can be found in the GeoPoints Bulletin.
  5. Mountain Bike-Related Travel Expands: According to Ryan Schultz, director of field programs for the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), "2010 has been a banner year for mountain biking. We've seen growth in the IMBA Ride Center program, increased interest in destination quality trails, and the opening of several innovative new trail systems that cater to casual first-timers, experts, and everything in-between."
  6. New Bicycle-Travel Websites are Everywhere: Look no further than the information superhighway for signs that more people are riding and sharing their bike knowledge. Consider the Ride Oregon website, where thousands of users share tips on riding in the state.
  7. The Possibility of a U.S. Bicycle Route System: The U.S. is beginning to develop an official U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS) connecting states and cities from city to countryside. A plan was adopted in October 2008 and in the last year, 27 states and the District of Columbia have begun to implement routes to improve cycling transportation, travel, and economic development. In July, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the USBRS "a win for states, a win for local communities, and a win for America."
  8. States Highlight Bicycle Travel: In tandem with a potential bike route system, states are promoting cycling in their tourism strategies. For example, in April 2010, the State of Minnesota hosted its first conference on bicycle tourism.

Adventure Cycling also noted that with the addition of their new Sierra Cascades Route, they have now mapped bike routes for more than 40,000 miles of road--a distance equal to one and a half times around the earth.

As I said earlier, my bias for bicycle travel is acute. I've biked across the U.S. twice (once using Adventure Cycling's maps, and once charting my own routes), and also across the entirety of Latin America. Not only are landscapes more vivid without a windshield, but it is easier to meet people if you are exposed and approachable on a bike. Bicycle travel is ecological, healthy, and most importantly, fun.

The increase in bicycle tourists does not surprise me. What would surprise me is if the popularity didn't continue to grow.

First photo is of riders on the Brita Climate Ride, and comes courtesy of photographer Kip Pierson. Second photo is of the author riding down the eastern side of California's Sierra Nevada.