A Bike Tourism Riddle: What does it mean when the car-free weekend at Crater Lake National Park gets hit by an icy storm that, at best, makes the cycling highly unpleasant and, at worst, makes it downright treacherous – and, yet, hundreds of people still flock to the park with their bikes?
When we arrived at Crater Lake on Saturday afternoon, the ranger at the entrance gate asked if we were there to bicycle around the rim. She looked nervous for us, so I jokingly asked if it had snowed yet. Yes, she said, they had gotten some snow that morning. But the forecast is supposed to be a lot better on Sunday, she added hopefully. We paid our entry fee and she wished us luck.
For years, there have been high-level conversations between bike advocates and park management about closing the rim road to cars for a short period of time and opening it only to people on foot or bike. In June, park management finally agreed, and it turned out to be one of their highest grossing weekends ever. That paved the way to make it an annual event – the third weekend of September – and we instantly made travel plans when we heard the news!
The trouble with the third weekend in September is that, at 7200 feet, the weather can be just about anything. This past weekend, the weather decided to be stunningly cold and craptacular. At noon on Sunday, the rim was socked in with a freezing fog so thick that you couldn’t see the water from the edge. Visibility was maybe 15 feet and plants on the hillside were covered in ice. Suffice it to say that we never actually rode our bikes.
Instead, we hung out with the 15 or so friends who had also made the 5-hour trek from Portland. We camped out, despite the awful weather, and ate at one of the restaurants in the park. And we marveled at the incredible number of bikes we saw strapped to incoming cars.
To be honest, we were worried that the weather would scare everyone away and that, if nobody showed up with bikes, an incredible opportunity would be lost. Without a doubt, the weather did scare some people away, but it was also quite clear how eager folks are to experience riding a bike at Crater Lake without the noise or stress of sharing the road with cars. Put another way, even if nobody actually rode a bicycle through the wintry weather on the rim road, hundreds of people showed up (and spent money) at Crater Lake over the weekend simply because the park promised the opportunity to ride without cars.
Despite the weather, we think this weekend was a bike tourism success, and we encourage Crater Lake National Park to continue their commitment to an annual car-free weekend.
Beyond just Crater Lake, though, this weekend has important applications to bike tourism efforts worldwide. Bike tourism doesn’t need to be complicated and it doesn’t necessarily need to be all about the bike. Oftentimes, people on bikes feel like they’re inserting themselves someplace where they’re not particularly wanted. As soon as you create a space where people on bikes feel welcome, they’ll be there, even if they can’t actually ride their bikes, and they’ll be loyal. Bike tourism is also one of the few real-world instances where, if you build it, they will come. In the case of Crater Lake, building ‘it’ was as simple as closing a few gates and keeping an existing road open to bikes only.
Our first National Bike Summit is a wrap and, while we’re still digesting everything that we learned, we’re exceedingly glad that we attended. Beyond just our interest in what the League meant by this year’s theme of “Bikes Mean Business,” the Bike Summit provided us with the invaluable opportunity to connect with folks from around the US and Canada, and engage in many powerful conversations about the link between cycling and tourism.
The more we told our story to fellow attendees, the more we came to understand that cycling (and cycling infrastructure) is mostly still thought of as just a quality-of-life benefit for residents. It is a huge benefit for residents, and it can also be a powerful tourism asset. The more we discussed this concept with folks, we started to better see and understand our professional role in the bike tourism movement (hint: we’re really good at connecting the dots, helping people think about cycling in a new way, and marketing). This is exciting, and we’re really looking forward to following up on the conversations that were started over the last few days.
In the meantime, we wanted to share our (other) favorite parts of the Bike Summit. For us, what emerged throughout the event were two big themes: connecting cycling to a larger picture and telling the success stories. We wholeheartedly agree with both ideas and were excited to hear someone else state their importance. Speakers talked about the need for bike advocates to frame the issue of cycling in terms of its benefit to businesses or its connection to a thriving multi-modal transit system, instead of simply focusing on bike lanes as good for cyclists. We also heard about the need for advocates to step back from the wonky details and statistics, and start telling powerful stories (particularly what we like to call “conversion stories”) about how cycling is leading to positive changes.
Speakers also talked about how cycling is part of a much larger trend that is currently playing out in cities across the US. And there was a huge recognition of the fact that young people are choosing to drive less and are looking for walk-able/bike-able neighborhoods. In both cases, these are ideas we wondered if we would ever hear – that bike advocacy has actually been achieving great things and is now part of a powerful groundswell movement, and that people in positions of power are actually aware of and paying attention to the millennial generation – and it was gratifying to know that there is forward movement.
We also attended part of the Women’s Forum the day before the full summit, and were both extremely pleased by the way the discussion about “women on bikes” has matured beyond just cycle chic. The opening conversation between Georgina Terry and Natalie Ramsland was easily my favorite part of the entire conference, because it felt like a rare opportunity to sit in on a relaxed, information-sharing chat between these two amazing women, and I felt like I learned more about what-women-need-to-focus-on in that conversation than I might have in any other format.
Beyond the keynotes, breakout sessions, and networking, the Bike Summit meant a unique opportunity to simply socialize with people we hope to work with (or work more with) over the next few years. Everything from a bike tourism happy hour (organized by the incredible Ellee Thalheimer) to dinners out with folks from around the US to an absolutely crazy last-night dance party (yes, it’s pretty funny to see bike advocates take over a dance floor). And, in the end, it was this social time that was really what drew us in the first place, because this is when the real work gets done. When you can sit down with someone over coffee or a meal and hammer out ideas, or when you show up at a crazy dance party and demonstrate that you can look just as goofy as everyone else, this is when you become a part of the tribe.
The Bike Summit was exhausting in many ways, but we are surprisingly energized as we leave DC, and we’re looking forward to the (no doubt) enormous leaps forward in bike tourism over the next few years.
The theme for this year’s National Bike Summit is “Bikes Mean Business.” Considering that we’ve been banging that drum for the past few years, talking about how bicycle travel can bring economic benefit and save small towns, how could we not go?
To be perfectly honest, we have no idea what to expect. We’ve never attended the Summit before, and we’re really not policy sort of people, but we’re looking forward to seeing who all attends this wonky event. We had hoped that the League would build more bike tourism into this year’s program, but we’re hopeful that we can chat with other attendees about what we’ve learned on the road.
So, today we’re on a plane to DC (why do we not have high-speed rail yet?), to be a part of this important conversation. If you’ll be at the Summit, come find us and say hi. We’ll report back in a couple days and, until then, watch our Facebook and Twitter streams for our impressions throughout the Summit.
As we rounded the top of the climb on See Canyon Road and inhaled the spectacular views of the hills and valleys surrounding San Luis Obispo, it became clear that we had no idea how good we had it when we lived down here.
Six years ago, we cut our teeth on cycle touring in the San Luis Obispo area. A short bus/train ride out of Long Beach and we were on open country roads, chatting with the cows, picnicking under the oak trees. We knew it was lovely, but we didn’t have anything to compare it to. Now, after all of our travels, we have been honestly surprised by the incredible cycling that’s tucked away in the Central California hills. The riding here isn’t just good, it’s a cyclist playground – and you should get here before the tourism folks realize that they’re sitting on a gold mine.
Our intention in rambling through Central California was three-fold: to see the sun again (it’s been miserably grey in Oregon), to see how the riding stacks up to our memories (it’s better), and to swap notes about what it takes for a ‘great place for cycling’ to become a cycling destination (and what that means for small communities nation-wide). The Central California area (Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Solvang, and surrounding communities) is quietly home to some of the most challenging and rewarding cycling, but the only people who really know it are the locals and the teams who train here. So, we’re going to let the cat out of the bag…
When you land in Paso Robles with a bicycle, your choices are wide and varied. Do you ramble along the rolling hills to the east, winding past the wineries on Linne Road, or do you tackle the steeper climbs to the west, conquering the steep grades on Peachy Canyon Road. For us, the answer was yes and yes. And we were rewarded with swooping curves, oak- and vineyard-lined hillsides, wine tasting, and very few cars.
Down in San Luis Obispo, we were tipped off to two very different routes to nearby Avila Beach, which we pieced together into a loop. We followed the mild-mannered Bob Jones off-road path to the beach, stopping along the waterfront for lunch and wine tasting at Peloton Cellars. We returned via See Canyon/Prefumo Canyon Roads, which included a 1-mile-long stretch of gravel, roaming cows, that pleasant sound of nothing-but-your-wheels-whirring-beneath-you, and a surprisingly steep climb that resulted in quite possibly the most rewarding summit ever.
From SLO, we wound through grassy hills and quiet canyons into Morro Bay and Pismo Beach. We navigated our way onto as many small roads as we could find, rambling around the hills behind Solvang and Buellton (where we passed dozens of training cyclists); and we returned to several of the routes we rode years ago, piecing together a sort of ‘greatest hits’ tour. (Maps of SLO-Morro Bay, Morro Bay-Ventura.)
What we discovered is an area ripe for bicycle tourism. Just a few miles east of the well-known Pacific Coast route, we found the kind of riding that made us fall in love with cycling in the first place. For folks in LA and the Bay Area who are looking for a great cycling vacation, Central California is easy to reach via Amtrak (San Luis Obispo is a baggage stop for folks traveling south with a boxed bike, and folks traveling north can take advantage of the new bicycle cars on the Surfliner). For folks who are currently buried under snow and grey clouds, winter is a perfect time to cycle around Central California, because the temps are mild and the prices are low. And the cherry on top is the fact that the burgeoning wine industry has brought good food, lots of tasting rooms, and an increase in hotels.
It’s only been a few days since we dropped out of the region and we’re already dreaming about going back…
(Keep our adventures going and the site growing! If you’ve enjoyed our stories, videos and photos over the years, consider buying our ebook Panniers and Peanut Butter, or our new Brompton Touring Book, or some of the fun bike-themed t-shirts we’re designing, or buying your gear through our Amazon store.)
Looking back at 2012, it feels immensely odd to think that, one short year ago, we were celebrating the holidays at the other end of the world. When we flew to New Zealand, we were so sure it would be the gateway drug to a year or more of international rambling that we traveled on a one-way ticket. Instead, our Kiwi adventure pointed us back to the US, and a new trajectory that has turned us from active bicycle travelers to advocates for bicycle travel.
Far from being a sad twist of fate, for us, this change means a chance to build something bigger – to take all of our vast experiences of the last three years and put them to use in a way that increases opportunities for others to travel by bike.
We welcomed 2012 in a small backpackers in Turangi, drinking beers with three other international travelers. It was raining outside and we almost missed the stroke of midnight because there was no Dick Clark-esque TV special with a countdown. The international incident hadn’t happened yet and we were still in the honeymoon period of understanding this foreign place. Two months later, we would ride the Otago Central Rail Trail, and find ourselves in the middle of a complex theory that had sprung to reality. Several months more, we would dig deep into the memories and emotions of our New Zealand tour, and synthesize it all into a very-hard-to-write article for Bicycle Times.
We still grapple with everything that happened while we were in New Zealand, and what it all meant. But we still smile when we think about all the incredible people we met, and we still laugh when we think about all the pickled beets on all the hamburgers we ate, and we know that we learned something immensely powerful about the economics of cycling that has opened so many opportunities for us.
In May, we did something we never saw coming: we signed a lease on an apartment in Portland, Oregon. After nearly three years of living as nomads, we knew it was time to take a break from continual travel, put down some roots, and give ourselves the space to focus on bigger projects. We chose Portland for many reasons; chief among them is the simple fact that Oregon is leading the US in recognizing the power of cycling, particularly in terms of rural economic development, and we dearly want a seat at that table. Being in Portland has enabled us to work with Travel Oregon and Cycle Oregon, creating video content that captures the stories behind the Scenic Bikeways and the iconic Cycle Oregon ride. The more we sit in on bike tourism meetings and meet with proponents in small towns, the more deeply we understand how Bicycles Can Save Small-Town America.
This year also saw us take on larger speaking gigs, blending real-world findings with storytelling, to inspire a variety of people and communities to embrace cycling and bike travel. From the Oregon Active Transportation Summit to a targeted meeting of Haywood County officials in North Carolina, we’re helping people think about bike travel in an entirely new way. Believe it or not, both of us hated public speaking until we started traveling; now, we get geekily excited at the prospect of standing up in front of more and more audiences and building more and more support for bike travel.
So what about the actual travel part? Do we miss being on the road? Yes and no. The road is exhilarating and full of incredible new and spontaneous adventures. It’s also deeply introspective and free of the hustle-bustle-multitasking of “regular” life. We miss it enough that, in a few weeks, we’re hopping an Amtrak train to bike tour around some of our favorite parts of California. But after all of the time we’ve spent on the road, we also know that we want more than just the simplicity of the road. We’ve built up an incredible karmic debt over the past three years, and it’s time to start paying it down, all the while channeling energy into building a movement behind bike travel. We may not be vagabonding around at present, but we still live and breath bike travel – and we can only hope that 2013 turns out to be as awesome as it looks.
In our apartment in Portland, we are still sleeping on our camping pads. Our furniture ownership is limited to a borrowed folding table, a cheap folding chair, a donated dresser, and a bunch of cardboard boxes. It looks completely ridiculous, as if we were still broke college kids. But after all of our experiences of the past three and a half years, we are wary of accumulating stuff again. We have learned, deeply, that we are perfectly happy with just a few possessions, and what matters most is the people we meet and the experiences we enjoy.
At it’s heart, this is the message of Tammy Strobel’s new book, You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap). Simplifying our possessions, Tammy posits, creates the space to cultivate rich friendships and pursue meaningful experiences. And it’s through these actions that we are able to actually find the happiness we crave in our lives.
“Humans are notoriously bad at predicting what will make them happy. We guess, ponder, and try to plot our lives. … One major reason for simplifying my life the way I have has been to reverse this equation: to emphasize right now over what may or may not be tomorrow.”
We met Tammy and her husband Logan nearly three years ago, when we tumbled into Sacramento, California. We were tired from the previous two months of traveling by bike, we were coming down with the flu, and Russ had just burnt his hand in a cold-induced lapse of judgement. Tammy and Logan were our saviors, opening up their small apartment to us and giving us the space and support to get healthy. We have been friends ever since.
Over the years, we have watched their progress from small apartment to smaller apartment to tiny house. We have laughed and shared stories and gone bike camping together. And, now, we get to celebrate with them as Tammy’s book finally hits shelves.
What’s great about Tammy’s book is that it’s a collection of stories. From her and Logan’s experiences in simplifying possessions to the experiences of friends and family who are making decisions based on what they want their lives to be, You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) is a demonstration of simple living rather than a cozy hypothesis. Tammy’s writing allows you to connect with each of the people she profiles, gently encouraging you to think about how your lifestyle supports your values.
“Simplifying and downsizing your life doesn’t necessarily mean living in a tiny house. It’s the philosophy of prioritizing happiness and actively shaping your life and circumstances so that you can focus on what truly matters.”
While I appreciate all of the stories within the book, what stands out most to me is the openness with which Tammy shares her and Logan’s journey over the past several years and their struggles to simplify. Knowing who they are now, I never would have believed that Logan was once a TV lover, or that Tammy used to commute over an hour by car. And it’s important to know this, because change happens slowly and deliberately; all it takes is a shift in awareness and attitude.
“My morning coffee date and daily cycling trips with Logan don’t appear in any GDP metric, but I guarantee our time together has helped me become a productive writer, a more engaged community member, and a better friend and daughter.”
I also appreciate that Tammy isn’t focused on some “right” way to simplify your life. Rather, she wants to inspire us to turn off the autopilot. The stories throughout the book, alongside a lot of impressive research and a variety of “micro-actions,” are designed to create a conversation about what we really want to build in our lives. That can be a hard question to ask and answer, but it’s also an enormous opportunity and an idea that Russ and I can really get behind – because, as you all know, in March 2009, we asked ourselves what we really wanted to do with our lives, and it has led us down an incredible path that just gets more awesome by the minute.
If you’re thinking about simplifying your lifestyle or making some shifts in the way you interact with the world around you, we highly recommend picking up your own copy of You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap).
After 70 long miles, we rounded the final corner into the tiny town of Silver Lake, wrapping up our first day of riding on Cycle Oregon, and I nearly burst into tears. Cycle Oregon riders, volunteers, and staff outnumbered residents by twelve-to-one – but it didn’t stop the town from embracing us all. The high school cheerleaders were jumping up and down and cheering for us on the corner, the local pastor was standing in the hot sun to high-five riders and welcome us to town, and a street full of residents and volunteers clapped and cheered and handed out chocolate milk. In that moment, and countless times throughout the rest of the week, I was humbled and amazed by the kindness and generosity of community members, and reminded that people are simply incredible.
One of the Cycle Oregon board members told us that one of the event’s greatest successes is the way it connects people. City folk and rural residents, cyclists and ranchers – we all come together for an intense moment and, in the words of the native welcome song shared with us in Bly, “now that we’ve met, we both have changed.”
We joined Cycle Oregon this year, the 25th anniversary, to capture the experience on film. What does it mean to the small communities that host Cycle Oregon? Why do people give up a week’s vacation to volunteer for the event? What is the magic of this ride that is so very much more than just a bike ride?
For me, it could all be summed up in that one moment of riding into Silver Lake, and feeling the energy and optimism. Or in talking to volunteers in Fort Klamath, who told us that funds raised from Cycle Oregon will allow them to insulate their small church (built circa 1920), which they currently have to start heating on Saturday in order for it to be warm enough for Sunday services during the winter.
Ever since we learned about Cycle Oregon, we have been impressed by the rural economic development component of its mission to transform individuals and communities through cycling. But simply hearing, third-hand, about the impact on small-town Oregon does not do it justice. The experience of being a part of the impact is overwhelming and breath-taking.
Without a doubt, Cycle Oregon was one of the most physically-demanding trips. In six days, we rode 400 miles and climbed roughly 25,000 feet of elevation. We camped out each night and woke up at 5am each morning (enduring two mornings of sub-freezing temperatures). We checked the Crater Lake rim road off our bucket lists, tested out the new disc brakes on the steep and fast descents, and were told by some roadies that we were putting them to shame by riding so fast on our fat tires. And, throughout it all, we lugged camera gear and shot over 15 hours of footage, including interviews with community members, volunteers, riders, board members, and vendors.
Long-time readers know that large event rides are not usually our cup of tea; but Cycle Oregon isn’t just a ride, it’s an ambassador for cycling and a community builder and a benevolent economic force. In town after town, we heard about how mindsets were shifting, residents were coming together, civic groups were raising money to improve their communities, kids were learning about the wider world – and we heard from riders who traveled from far-away states and countries, because they knew that their rider fee would be used to build something long-lasting and worthwhile.
Over the next many weeks, we’ll be re-visiting all of the footage we shot and compiling a short film about the Cycle Oregon experience. We can’t wait to share it, because it’s a story we can’t wait for everyone to know.
Over a year ago, we began a whole new style of bike travel, when we put our sturdy Long Haul Truckers in storage and started touring on the unlikeliest of bikes – the Brompton folding bike. Almost immediately, we knew that these funny little folding bikes would be capable of great adventures, and the seed was planted to write a sort of “how to” guide for other folks interested in self-supported travel on the Brompton.
We rode our Bromptons from Central Oregon across Montana to Glacier National Park. We traveled with our Bromptons via train, plane, and car across the West Coast to various bikey events. We flew across the planet with our Bromptons to explore New Zealand. All told, we pedaled these little guys approximately 5,000 miles, fully-loaded with all of our camping gear and other necessary travel accessories (such as cameras, computer, metalsmithing kit, etc.).
And we know now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Brompton is an amazing little machine that can take you places that it was probably never intended to see. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can treat a Brompton like a Long Haul Trucker, and we are always extremely vigilant of the amount of weight that we carry and how we attach it. While we fully trust that the Brompton can handle a responsible touring load, we recognize that we have pushed our Bromptons beyond their stated purpose, so we have always traveled this way at our own risk… which is why our how-to book is “Unauthorized.”
Introducing… The Unauthorized Brompton Touring Guide
The Unauthorized Brompton Touring Guide is 41 pages of in-depth information about how to set up your Brompton for touring, how to pack, how to maintain your new touring machine and troubleshoot any issues you might have on the road. You’ll also find links to videos we made while traveling on our Bromptons and external links to helpful resources.Read More»
Three years ago, almost to the day, we left our then-home of Long Beach, CA, on what would turn out to be a fateful bike trip to Joshua Tree. By the time we had returned home, we knew that we would soon be selling everything we owned and leaving on an incredible adventure. Never would we have dreamt that such a decision would lead us down this amazing path – or that it would open so many opportunities to show the inherent joys of bicycle travel.
A blast from the past. Having a picnic on one of our early tours.
Our time in New Zealand disappeared astoundingly fast, and now we are back in Southern California, figuring out our plans for the rest of this year. While we are still wrapping our heads around everything that happened and all that we learned (particularly in terms of bike economics), we are more convinced than ever of the benefits of bicycle travel.
In another couple weeks, we’ll be heading up to Portland, Oregon, which will be our home base this summer. It may sound counter-intuitive, but we’ve decided to step back from the continuous movement of the past year(s), so that we can promote bicycle travel in new ways and to more people. As we’ve been traveling, we’ve been making hundreds of mental notes about projects we want to work on that would help inspire other people to travel by bike and support bike travel. The time to act on these ideas, we’ve realized, is now.
While we won’t be actively traveling, we’ll still be here on this site, sharing many of the stories that haven’t yet made it online. We’ll also be taking our enthusiasm for bicycle travel off the website and to various events around the US. A lot of the details are still in the works, but you can expect a number of opportunities to meet up and hear us speak.
After 4,000 loaded touring miles on our Bromptons, we also want to share all that we’ve learned about adventure travel on these sturdy little bikes. We’ve been hinting about this book for some time, but we’re committed to finishing it over the next short while. (If there’s something you want to know, email us!)
And don’t forget the videos! The Kiwi Chronicles will certainly not be the last series of short videos we make about bicycle travel. We had an incredible experience filming and creating each of these videos, and we’re looking forward to taking the camera out on a variety of shorter-length trips to show the accessibility of bicycle travel.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we’ve taken some time to think about why bicycle travel is such an incredible way of exploring a place and why someone should consider it. What is bicycle travel? Watch and see.
(Keep our adventures going and the site growing! If you’ve enjoyed our stories, videos and photos over the years, consider buying our ebook Panniers and Peanut Butter, or our 2012 2012 calendar or some of the fun bike-themed t-shirts we’re designing.)