Wherever we travel, we always stop at local bike shops and play tourist. It gives us a little snapshot into the local cycling scene and also how different shops operate. We’ve visited great shops with beautiful displays and friendly staff, and others that grudgingly answer questions. Bike shops and their employees are the frontline of bicycle tourism. Who else is more qualified to be the local authority on great riding in the area than a bike shop? However, at the same time, many shops don’t see themselves as part of their local tourism industry and are ill-equipped to answer the question: “I’m from out of town, where should I ride?”
After visiting bike shops around the country over the last half dozen years, this got us thinking about how we’ve experienced bike shops as end users. For us, bike shops either function as convenience stores or outfitters. There are shops that only focus on retail and don’t bother with creating an experience for customers and visitors – these are the convenience stores. It is a wham bam thank you ma’am affair with little follow up after the sale. Then, there are shops that focus on retail, and also go the extra step to create an experience for customers and cyclists – these are the “outfitter” type shops. These shops have group rides, host events, or employees that are always eager to share their latest bike touring route or perhaps they even lead a tour themselves. These outfitter style shops also function as a third space, maybe they serve coffee, beer or have monthly gatherings and presentations. Their focus is not only on selling new product, but educating and inspiring you to use the new product. They are your guides, gurus (sometimes a therapist) and ride leaders, as well as your salesperson and mechanic.
We know that this is often a big ask for small shops with little capacity, and there are also some shops that do enough volume through online sales that they are immune to having to develop the community piece. However, with more brands offering direct to consumer, we feel that bike shops will have to offer something of value that will compete with the ease of clicking a button with your pajamas on. We think many shops can benefit by adding “outfitter” style elements from a bike tourism perspective. Any shop can curate a short list of rides that people can do in the area. It could be as simple as printed cue sheets and maps at the front counter or downloadable GPS routes from the shop website. We’ve seen a few shops go that extra step and lead actual bikepacking and bike touring trips like Topanga Creek Outpost (notice how it’s an “outpost” and not a bike shop!), River City Bicycles and their new River City Touring Club, and Good Bike Co and their guided agritourism tours.
From a bike tourism perspective, shops with an “outfitter” mentality are essential because they offer a hospitality and guiding component that is necessary for successful bike destinations. From a customer perspective, the “outfitter” mentality creates an opportunity for people to be educated/inspired on how to use the gear they just bought (“where can I play with my new bikepacking gear?”) as well as provide a support group around the Cycling Experience. This you can’t buy on the internet.
What do you guys think? What shops do you feel have the “outfitter” mentality? We’d love to know!
Eastern Oregon is beautiful and rough country. It will steal your heart with its sublime landscape and make short work of your derailleur and tires at the same time. We learned that lesson last year when we went out to Treo Ranches with a group of friends. This year, we were determined to complete our trip out to Treo with our bikes intact.
For those that aren’t familiar, Treo Bike Tours is the brainchild of Phil Carlson, a former wheat and cattle farmer turned birding hunting lodge operator turned bike tour operator. In the country, everyone wears different hats to make a living. Phil’s philosophy of business is that if you’re going to get into an industry, you go whole hog. That is how someone that doesn’t even ride a bike ends up taking a week long bike mechanic class at the United Bicycle Institute in Portland (pretty easy work for someone who has worked on farm equipment), buys a shuttle and trailer to carry 20 bikes and even does a tofu taste test (you’ll have to talk to him yourself to see how that turned out).
Our trip started, quite conveniently, at a parking lot in Portland across the street from our apartment. If you have a large enough group, one of Phil’s services includes a shuttle from Portland out to Eastern, Oregon. This is perfect for people that are car free like us or for large groups where driving multiple cars just don’t make sense. On this trip there, were no less than 4 tandems and 8 single bikes in the trailer as well as coolers full of beer and food for the next few days. Aside from the convenience of not having to drive, one of the great benefits is that you can just relax, socialize, go over the routes or just stare out the window as the scenery changes from city to high desert.
After a quick lunch at Cottonwood State Park in the John Day River canyon we shuttled to Condon, Oregon and began our day’s riding from there. The first day was a great appetizer of what was to come in the days ahead: quiet paved and gravel roads. We descended down to Rock Creek on HWY 206 and climbed an exquisite switch-back climb, then left the pavement and took gravel roads to the lodge.
Revenge on Lone Rock and Impromptu Happy Hour
Last year, we had planned an ambitious ride to the Painted Hills all on gravel roads, but were thwarted by rain and derailleur-destroying mud. We made it a total of 16 miles that day. We ended the ride at Lone Rock that year to repair our bikes and lick our wounds. I had to hitch into town with a passing rancher because between the mud that had built up on my wheels and my mangled derailleur meant my bicycle wasn’t pushable, much less rideable.
This year, the ride started more auspiciously. The sun was out and the clay dirt roads were firm and rideable. As we pedaled, I remembered exactly where my bike destroyed itself and where I fortunately hitched a ride. Laura and I both breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the first summit. From there, it was a gravel descent into the town of Lone Rock, so named for the large lone rock by the church. Thankfully, there was a little community center building with some shade and a spigot with potable water.
After relishing in having actually ridden into Lone Rock this year, we ate some granola bars and began to tackle the long climb OUT of Lone Rock. From the valley floor you can see the trace of the road rise relentlessly to some hidden summit. The road itself was nearly free from traffic and gave good views as you ascended out of the valley. It is one of those climbs that is longer than it looks. Just as you think you are going to summit, it breaks your heart and reveals another pair of switchbacks. We were glad when we finally reached the top and saw Phil’s shuttle which had our sandwiches and more water.
From there we rambled along a paved road along a ridge and turned off to a gravel road that headed towards another canyon. The road conditions were getting a little worse and with the heat of the day, most of the people in the group were ready for an early happy hour. We stopped at the entrance of a big ranch when we saw an ATV speeding towards us from the ranch house. Just as the ATV reached us so did Phil’s shuttle. It turns out they were cousins and he was adamant at having us over for a visit. The group unanimously accepted and we called the riding done for the day to enjoy some beer drinking and listening about the early homesteads in this nearly forgotten valley.
Our third and fourth day included more back roads riding. Perhaps one of my favorite rides from the lodge was a varied 42 mile loop. I rode it last year as a singlespeed since my derailleur broke and it was much more pleasant to revisit the ride with all the gears. After a gravel climb and a paved descent into a wooded valley with a creek, we turned on to Sunflower Flats road which (surprise!) began to climb again. This time we were climbing beneath the shade of some pine trees which was a welcome change from the exposed grasslands.
At a certain point near the summit, the trees distinctly gave way again to more open country and we found ourselves riding an undulating ridge line with spectacular views. Just when we thought the scenery couldn’t get any better, we descended on a rough gravel road through another canyon. This time of year, the hills were still green and it gave the impression of riding through some unreal painting.
In this country, the only thing bigger than the hills are the steaks. I would be completely remiss if I didn’t make some mention of the food. It is no lie when I say half the reason I look forward to going to Treo is the steak. We got a special treat when Brian, the son of our ride leader, brought a big slab of cow from EatOregonFirst, a small business that provides meat to some of the most well known restaurants in Portland. Brian and Phil cut up the meat into 12 “cowboy steaks” which contain the extra bits and trimmings that are usually removed when steaks are served at a restaurant. Brian then cooked them up sublimely on a flotilla of grills outside. Meals were family style and without pretension and it was a good way to share experiences from the day’s ride.
The Canyon of Sorrows
The final day’s ride was fairly tame compared to the previous rides. Although it did start with a somewhat technical downhill on double track where the terrain verged on XC mountain bike territory. The trick was to just go slow and pick your way through the ruts and rocks. After that, we ended up on Dale Brown Road, which was flat and fast and the tandems took off in the distance. We regrouped at Barlow Canyon Road and pedaled slowly by the remains of old homesteads. It was like riding through a museum exhibit as we passed the buildings of many people that had tried to make a life out in this rough country.
At the end of the Canyon of Sorrows section, we packed all the gear in the trailer and Phil drove us back to Portland. Instead of having to drive through the Memorial Day traffic, we were able to snack, have one last celebratory beer, and take a nap. This year’s riding out in Treo was far more successful than last year. There was no peanut-butter mud and no serious mechanicals. Although we didn’t quite make it all the way to the Painted Hills this year, there are already plans to tackle it again next year as a two day gravel road ride. The terrain by Treo is simply challenging. The climbing, varying road conditions and heat can make any ride a slog unless you are in peak form. That is one of the reasons Phil’s services are so awesome, because you can explore areas by bike and actually enjoy them without having that constant dread of managing water and food. We know from doing a lot of self-supported touring that some of the most inhospitable terrain is also the most beautiful and often that beauty was lost on us because we were trying to boogie to our next resupply point. Riding this part of Oregon with Phil, for us, has allowed us to truly enjoy the riding and the scenery without the constant worry of our water bottles going dry.
Check out the rest of the photos in this Flickr album.
Just posted another video review on our Bicycle Travel Channel (you’d know if you were a subscriber…hint, hint :), this time looking at two popular titanium pot supports for bike touring and bikepacking. Watch the vid below, or scroll down for the executive summary.
+ Lightweight at 2.5oz
+ Very stable base, good for larger pots and pans
+ Compact when folded down
+ Works with alcohol stoves and solid fuel tablets
Vargo Titanium Hexagon Stove
+ Light at 5oz
+ Compact, one piece design
+ Very heat efficient
+ Works with alcohol stoves, fuel tablets and twig fires
– Warps over time and doesn’t fit together as snugly
– A little dodgy to move once lit because of loose fit
Both filters have a place in our touring gear, but they each work optimally for certain situations. Here are some pros and cons of each.
+ Large opening on bladder makes it easy to fill
+ Great basecamp water filter
+ Best option for filtering for 3-4 people
– At 12.5oz, twice the weight and pack size of the Sawyer Squeeze
+ At 5oz, half the weight and volume of the MSR Autoflow
+ Small and convenient enough to take even on long day rides
+ Filters for 1 to 2 people
+ Comes with syringe to backflush the filter
– Stock bladder is too small, must immediately upgrade to a larger one like the Platypus Platy bottle.
– Small mouth on bladder makes it tricky to fill in low water situations
As always, shop local. But if you want to support site click through and purchase them at the Amazon links above and helps us buy a cup of coffee
We’re going to start a new weekly feature on PLP with a roundup of bicycle tourism related news. We always have our ears to the ground with interesting developments with how communities and destinations are embracing cycling. To be featured in the roundup or to send us tips, email us here.
Pedal the Oregon Coast on Rails
Kicking off this week’s Biketourism Roundup is one of the most shared stories on our Facebook page. You will soon be able to pedal from Bay City, Oregon to Tillamook via pedal rail car. Started by Kim and Anita Metlin from La Grande, Oregon, it is an extension of a similar pedal rail concept that they operate from Joseph to Enterprise, Oregon called the Joseph Branch Rail Riders. We had a chance to ride their rail riders a few years ago when they opened and it is a blast.
Bikes and Agritourism in Central Oregon
Our friends at Good Bike Co are putting Prineville, OR on the map for adventure biking! They are perfectly situated along both the Adventure Cycling TransAM and Oregon Outback route and see an influx of touring cyclists every year. As well as functioning as a full service bike shop and hang out spot (craft beer on tap, anyone?), they have also started to work with local farms and ranches to offer unique guided bike tours. We chatted with them a few weeks ago and learned that their farm tours were written up in Sunset Magazine! The also have plans to offer some cool van supported gravel tours in the future.
Trending: Bike Destination Sites
Another strong trend we are seeing is destination sites adding bicycle specific content or creating a new bike specific websites. As cyclists and biketourism advocates this is great news. It means destinations are seeing the potential benefit to their area as well as investing in promoting cycling. Here area some standouts that we’ve seen.
Visit Lodi – Lodi has been busy with bikes. They have hosted their own Bicycle Tourism Summit, a stage of Tour of California the last two years and have added bike routes to their general visitor’s page. Also telling is their tourism advocate of the year is a big proponent of biketourism.
Visit Mammoth – has a great bicycle landing page with bike specific trip ideas. The list everything from iconic road rides to even “Fall Color Mountain Bike Rides” (great way to frame the experience!). Each ride has a mini editorial write-up, how to ride it and related businesses. The only thing missing are links to downloadable RideWithGPS tracks!
Explore La Crosse – La Crosse, Wisconsin also has an excellent page dedicated to biking with some pretty evocatively named rides like “Driftless Region’s Most Scenic Ride“, “Cheddarman” and “Baristas Epic Coffee Ride.” Each route has an accompanying description and downloadable links so all you have to do is pedal and enjoy the ride without worrying about cue sheets.
The big takeaway with this new trend in bike destination sites is that you don’t have to be Oregon to do it! While Oregon has led the way with biketourism marketing and campaigns, it is no longer the only state doing so and many new destinations are developing their own biking products.
Got a bicycle tourism related tip or news story? Email us here.