It’s been a little quiet on the site, but we’ve been busy! In the last few weeks we’ve been diving deep into all the mysteries of video production. We even got a great crash course from another film duo up in Seattle called Visual Contact. They were kind enough to come down on short notice with all their gear and spend hours asking ALL our questions. One of the insights we came away with from the National Bike Summit this past year is that bike advocates have to be better storytellers. So we’ve been honing our video storytelling skills with some some web videos for clients, but also a lot of fun self-assigned projects like this year’s Portland Tweed Ride.
Although it was wet and threatened rain all day, a healthy number of dapper looking folks came out and fun was had by all. I packed light and actually shot the entire video with one lens and a monopod for support! It was a great exercise in simplicity and seeing instead of relying on too much equipment.
The great irony of our current lives is that for all the advocacy of bike travel and tourism we’re doing, we’ve had very little chance to do any travel or touring ourselves. Sigh. It’s gotten to the point where we actually have to schedule in some bike adventure time. We are hoping to do some bike camping this weekend if the weather holds up (fingers crossed). Enjoy the video and if you’re interested in hiring us for some video work, send us an email!
Spring is (slowly) coming to Portland. With more sun means more bikes. I’ve been shooting some B-roll of bike footage for a few upcoming video projects. It’s always hard to just sit on footage, so I cut a few clips together to some music. No narrative. Just two videos from footage caught riding around the city capturing the fun of riding bikes.
Three full days of countless conversations with fellow advocates at the National Bike Summit has made us realize the importance of bicycle tourism to the larger bike movement. One of the most interesting presentations we saw was by Douglas Meyer of Bernuth & Williamson Consulting, called “Perceptions and Possibilities.” It dealt largely with how bicycling issues, and advocacy itself, are perceived by both bike advocates and politicians. There was sometimes a fascinating disparity about what would make an effective argument for cycling. Some of the themes that surfaced were having good success stories, broadening the coalition of people that support cycling, and demonstrating how cycling can help more than just cyclists. Of course, for us, it seemed obvious that promoting Bicycle Tourism addressed many of these issues. Here are five reasons we feel that bike advocates and tourism professionals have to pay attention to bicycle tourism in the coming years.
#1 Bicycle Tourism is Good for Business
Dovetailing neatly with the theme of this year’s National Bike Summit is one of the most obvious benefits of bicycle tourism – it’s good for business. Cyclists, like other forms of travelers, require lodging. But, in addition, because bicycling is a physical activity, cycle tourists require food and drink. Lots of it. There are many studies that have shown that bicyclists also tend to spend more nights in an area compared to non-cycling visitors. This is a very appealing detail to destination marketing organizations and convention and visitor’s bureau. It translates to “heads in beds” for a longer duration. Check out some preliminary numbers on bicycle tourism spending in Oregon.
#2 Bicycle Tourism Bridges the Urban-Rural Divide
Bicycling has typically been discussed from an urban perspective as relieving congestion and increasing mobility. There is no problem with these arguments, except that they only resonate with people who live in cities. There is a vast America that does not live in cities, who are still represented by congressmen and senators who vote on policies that affect all of bicycling. One could argue that they may even have a tendency to vote against cycling, not because they may have anything against bicycling but because it hasn’t been made relevant to them or their constituents. Bicycle tourism can bridge that gap. We’ve sat in on bicycle tourism meetings in Central and Eastern Oregon where, amazingly, business owners from these small communities were heavily invested in attracting cyclists – precisely because cycling had been made relevant to them.
#3 Bicycle Tourism Revitalizes Communities
The humble bicycle has the ability to bring communities back to life. This is no exaggeration. We traveled to New Zealand and rode the Central Otago Rail Trail and were completely amazed at the power of a 100-mile gravel trail in the middle of nowhere. What was once a dying area of New Zealand has found a new identity through the rail trail. We have also witnessed US equivalents, along Adventure Cycling Routes and rail-trails and mountain bike destinations. Many of these communities are rural and have experienced a collapse of an industry (timber, mining, farming) and are looking for a way to reinvent themselves. Bicycle tourism is a good fit for areas with country roads and basic hospitality services.
#4 Bicycle Tourism Makes Bicycling Relevant to More Than Just Bicyclists
Bicycle tourism is multi-disciplinary by nature. It means involving not just bicycle advocates, but a wide variety of businesses that are invested in creating the identity of a region (destination marketing organizations, chambers of commerce, business improvement districts). This creates a powerful, broad coalition. One of the lessons we learned in Meyer’s presentation at the National Bike Summit is how important it is to find supportive voices who are NOT cyclists. Bicycle tourism can help find and unite these voices. When a farmer in New Zealand, who used to be skeptical about bicycling, now calls it the most important development in his region “since the gold rush.,” this is powerful testimony! Bicycle tourism allows people to benefit even though they may not be cyclists themselves, and, with the successes, comes a greater empathy and support for bicycling.
#5 Bicycle Tourism Makes Bicycle Advocacy Easier
Ultimately, bicycle tourism is bicycle advocacy. It is coalition-building, with new partners. It is about harnessing the economic engine of bicycling and adding yet another powerful tool to the bike advocacy toolbox. The Central Otago Rail Trail was such an outstanding tourism success that the New Zealand government wanted to replicate it across the country and devoted $50 million to new trail development. Announced under a conservative government, the decision came as a complete surprise to bicycle advocates around the country, who likened it to “winning the lottery.” Interestingly, many of the cycling assets that were developed for tourism could and were being used by locals, making it a win-win.
The National Bike Summit was an interesting experience for us, since it was our first time attending and we didn’t quite know what to expect. We more or less tried to bend every willing ear we encountered to talk to about bicycle tourism. We couldn’t help but feel a bit like Cassandra from Greek mythology when we found ourselves constantly explaining our case. But, we also had some great conversations with colleagues from Virginia, Oregon, Iowa, Missouri, Indianapolis and even Arkansas. By the end of the summit, our throats were hoarse from talking, but it was worth it to get some minds thinking about the next evolutionary step of “bikes mean business.”
(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.)
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.