The last of the Scenic Bikeway videos we filmed last year has been released! The Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway is unique in that it is in Portland’s backyard and is probably the most easily accessible among the bikeways. One of the aspects we are most proud of about the video is incorporating transit into the tourism experience! Long time readers know that we are huge fans of mixing modes on bike trips. In fact our first ever bike tour involved using Amtrak to get out to Central California and ride out through wine country around Solvang.
Transit is an often overlooked asset when it comes to tourism and especially bike tourism. It is one of those things that gets lumped into the “quality of life” silo of residents and is not viewed as something that would be appealing to outside visitors. Personally, when we are on a bike vacation we want to be riding a bike and not driving a car. For us, a successful bike destination allows the visitor to travel to, from and around the region with a bike without having to drive. This means a system of regional buses or trains that accommodate bikes without hesitation. When we’ve brought up the importance of transit in a tourism context at conferences in the US we get some odd looks. However, if you think about the prototypical romantic post-college European travel experience of hopping trains, subways and buses that all occurs on…you guessed it transit!
Or in more simpler terms: one person’s transit system is another persons tourism experience.
If you live in Portland or are visiting town, the Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway is transit accessible with a bike. We loved working on this video because it highlights some great assets in the region like the Banks-Vernonia Trail (one of the best in Oregon) and the relatively new Stub Stewart State Park (which incidentally also has some single track for mountain biking!). However, we are most excited because it shows what we think could be a successful model for bike tourism in the future – a fluid incorporation of travel modes. On a macro scale, imagine if Amtrak got its act together and allowed more roll-on service to identified biking and outdoor destinations; or if all regional bus carriers had bike racks and more sensible bike policies? The beauty of this is that would not only benefit local residents but make travel by outside visitors with bikes easier and more enjoyable! One can dream and this is our small contribution to that bigger vision.
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.”
The Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway video is finally out! This is a great ride for someone that wants to explore the rugged country of Eastern, Oregon but wants a good craft beer at the end of your ride. It is unique to other Scenic Bikeways because it is a figure 8 route so you can slice the pie any number of ways depending on how much mileage you want to do. Baker City, one of the ride’s anchors also happens to be on the Adventure Cycling TransAm Route. If you are riding across the country and want to dig a little deeper into the area this is a great route.
Some great bike friendly businesses in Baker City are Barley Browns (awesome brew pub!), Paizzano’s Pizza and the Geiser Grand. Catherine Creek State Park was a gem of a campground on route that is about as idyllic as it gets. The small town of Union has a great hardware store and serves espresso and coffee drinks as well! If you want to experience Eastern Oregon on bike, but don’t quite want to carry all your camping gear this Scenic Bikeway is a great option.
May is known nationally as Bike Month, when cities and communities host bike commute challenges, bike safety rodeos, and various other events to show they support cycling. A lot of the great changes that are happening in our cities is because of the work of passionate advocates – but they do not operate in a vacuum. Supportive businesses and business improvement districts are also helping accelerate change, and this month we’d love to flip the script a little.
Let’s give thanks to the businesses that support biking this month! Let’s frequent the restaurants, pubs, hotels, and retail shops that are supportive of bicycling. I had a creative writing professor tell me that “it’s always better to show than tell,” so in that vein draw a little bicycle icon or thank them for supporting bicycling on their receipts this month and take a photo of it and share it. If you are on Instagram or Twitter, tag it with #bikenomics. If you are on neither, you can email us the photo and we can post it for you.
Our goal is that, by the end of the month, we’ll be able to illustrate to businesses that bikes (and the people who ride them) do generate business in very real and tangible ways! So start drawing bikes and snapping photos!