Let’s be honest, when most of us think about Mississippi, we don’t immediately think ‘Hey, that sounds like a good cycling destination.’ Truth or not, perception is powerful – which is why we jumped at the chance to consult with the town of Ridgeland, one of only two Bicycle-Friendly Communities in all of Mississippi.
We first met Mina at last year’s National Bicycle Tourism Conference. We were so surprised and impressed to see a small-town tourism professional from Mississippi that we couldn’t not find out all about Ridgeland and why they were thinking about bike tourism.
It turns out that the Mayor of Ridgeland, Gene McGee, is an avid cyclist. We’ve seen our fair share of politicians who dig out their dusty bikes whenever the press cameras show up – but this is not Mayor McGee, who hits the pavement for his daily rides whether or not anyone’s watching. The joke, we were told, is that any new ideas for the city had better include bikes.
Ridgeland is also conveniently located along the Natchez Trace, which is one of those great bucket list routes. Every year, Ridgeland sees hundreds of people ride by without stopping, pedaling as fast as possible because there’s too much traffic and everyone says to just get out of Dodge. If only those touring cyclists knew about the nearly-parallel, off-road, multi-use path that local cyclists credit with an increasing interest in biking.
In short, Ridgeland has all the makings of a perfect bike tourism storm. So we flew out for a whirlwind weekend in early May – and came back excited to see what they create.
The anchor for the weekend was the Natchez Trace Century Ride. The good folks at Indian Cycles set us up on a pair of zippy road bikes, and we rode a portion of the century route. The ride may be named for the Trace, but the majority of the ride ventures away from the parkway, following small country roads through equally small towns and beside the Ross Barnett Reservoir (populated, we hear, with its fair share of gators).
Four years ago, we crossed the Mississippi River into Vicksburg, pedaled into the Jackson area, and rode the Natchez Trace into Nashville. We may have spent two weeks in Mississippi, but most of it was either in urban Jackson or along the Trace. The century ride gave us the opportunity to ride into the country and really experience the area. The century ride also gave us the opportunity to enjoy the tree-lined streets and wave at the kids who were watching the riders go by – with the help and support of dozens of volunteers running rest stops and local police stopping traffic at busy intersections.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, though, the best part of the century ride was the hospitality. The century ride treats all riders to a kick-off party the night before the ride, lunch after the ride, and a catered event that evening. This is not a ‘come, ride, get out’ sort of event, this is an invitation to linger and learn more.
Oh, and there were the delightful women in Pelahatchie who could hardly believe that we don’t say “y’all” on the West Coast.
The rest of our weekend in Ridgeland was spent exploring possible day ride routes, touring the mountain bike park, riding the multi-use trail with the Mayor, talking with local cyclists, brainstorming new ideas, presenting about bike tourism, and eating way too much good food.
Granted, we also heard from folks who ride at 4am to avoid the traffic, or who always go out in a big group because ‘you never know what can happen’ – so there is still a lot of work to do. But, bicycling is on the rise in Ridgeland, and there’s a lot of genuine interest in embracing cycling as both a quality of life benefit and a tourism asset – and that’s where good things start.
Four years ago, when we rode through the South, we never thought these places would prick up their ears to the benefits of bicycling – and, yet, that’s exactly what’s starting to happen. One of the things that we tell small towns is that bike tourism allows them to embrace who they are, rather than needing to become “like Portland.” In the South, this makes even more sense, because just being “the South” is enough of an intrigue for those of us who don’t live there. Don’t believe me? Just imagine how good fried chicken and boiled shrimp will taste after a long bike ride.
After a great weekend in Ridgeland, seeing first-hand the growing momentum around bikes, we’re excited to see what they create, and how they help lead the rest of the South.
Over the past two years, as we’ve worked on bike tourism initiatives with Travel Oregon, we’ve been able to ground-truth our ideas about bicycle travel as an economic development vehicle. We’ve also taken every opportunity to learn more about the tourism world – and how to talk to tourism professionals about bikes.
At the end of April, we had the great fortune to immerse ourselves a little deeper into Oregon tourism. First up was the Rural Tourism Gathering, which was a sort of 2.0 program for community members who had previously participated in one of Travel Oregon’s award-winning Rural Tourism (or Bike Tourism) Studios. A few days later, we attended the Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism. In both instances, our main goal was simply to learn and absorb.
What did we take away?
First, and foremost, was the reminder that successful destination development is all about relationship-building: making those connections with the people in your community and neighboring communities, so that it’s a group effort. In small towns and rural regions, this becomes even more important, because it creates a larger talent pool to draw from, and helps lift the entire region.
Which leads into the idea of “coopetition.” By promoting the region rather than just your own small hamlet, you pool resources, and draw a larger number of visitors to spend a larger amount of time/money in the region. Work together to bring folks to the region first, then distinguish yourself from other establishments.
We also learned about the way that tourism promotion is changing. Whereas travel marketing has traditionally been confined to travel-specific publications and focused on selling flights and hotels, it is increasingly focused on lifestyle and the experiences someone can have related to that lifestyle. In other words: “visitors want to travel to where their people are,” and it’s increasingly important to facilitate that connection. Travel Oregon sees articles about the culture of Oregon mountain biking as potentially just as influential as articles about specific restaurants.
And, lastly, we were delighted to hear discussion of the importance of video. In the opening morning remarks of the Governor’s Conference, we learned that 64% of visitors said their travel decisions were influenced by online video content.
What does this mean for bike tourism?
In terms of building and promoting bike tourism, we’re realizing more and more that the tourism aspect is just as important (if not more so) than the bicycling aspect – because simply offering good roads or trails does not secure a positive travel experience. The most successful bike tourism initiatives are collaborative efforts between tourism, business owners, community members, and bike advocates. Bike tourism is about the biking, but it’s also about being a tourist and having a positive travel experience. Or, as Phil Carlson from TREO Ranch put it: “It’s just hospitality, the bicycle is the draw.”
To everyone who joined us for the Oregon Scenic Bikeway Video Release Party… THANK YOU! We packed the house at Chris King HQ and celebrated not only the videos but the whole of the Scenic Bikeway program.
For us, it was incredible to watch the videos on a big screen with a few hundred people, and be able to step back and appreciate all that we accomplished. What a different experience from scrutinizing them on the computer screen in our apartment!
Our hope for the event was to bring the Scenic Bikeways to Portland for an evening and spread the word about the great riding across the state. Our guess is that 200-300 people joined us on Thursday evening, which hopefully means that 200-300 people are now ready to ride the routes and tell others.
One of the biggest highlights was that so many of the proponents traveled out for the event and shared stories and insights about what makes their routes so great. We leaned heavily on these folks when we filmed each route, because we wanted to accurately capture the uniqueness of their area; so we were excited to have them at the event and introduce them to potential new visitors.
Our heartfelt THANK YOU goes out to each of these proponents, for working with us throughout the length of the project; to Travel Oregon, for jumping in to such an immense project with us; to Chris King, for hosting the event and providing delicious food; to Base Camp Brewing, for donating beer to the event; to all of the talent, for spending a few days filming with us and being oh-so-patient; and to each of the businesses that we worked with along the routes.
For more information on the Oregon Scenic Bikeways, visit RideOregonRide.com.
It’s going to be a crazy week. On Tuesday, we’re off on a whirlwind trip to conduct a series of interviews for a video project with PeopleforBikes. The goal? To document how protected bike lanes are changing cities. We’ll be interviewing elected officials, business owners and everyday riders. This is where you come in!
We have several interviews already scheduled, but we also have gaps of time where we will be shooting b-roll and trying to capture man on the street interviews. So, if you’re interested in talking to us about the experience of riding in a protected bike lane, we would love to hear from you. Contact us in advance or simply drop by while we’re filming b-roll.
Chicago: On Wednesday, February 19, we will be filming on Milwaukee Ave, near the Paramount Room, roughly between 4-6pm.
Austin: On Friday, February 21, we will be filming on Guadalupe, near the bike share station at 21st, roughly between 4-6pm. On Saturday, February 22, we will be filming along the Bluebonnet and Barton Springs protected bike lanes, roughly between 12noon-3pm.
Memphis: We have nothing concrete planned yet, so suggest something! On Monday, February 24, we can meet you in the Broad Avenue district, roughly between 9-11am. On Tuesday, February 25, we can meet you downtown or elsewhere, roughly between 10am-12noon.
If you are on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter we’ll be posting updates with the hashtag #PLPGLP (short for PathLessPedaledGreenLaneProject). So don’t be shy and send us an email us so we can set something up.
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).