Our first full day in Alabama, we borrowed some bikes and joined a small group of folks on a 20-mile loop through the farmland outside of Montgomery. The overcast sky threatened rain and thunderstorms at any minute, and we passed old, crumbling farmsteads and small pre-Civil War cemeteries.
The traffic was nonexistent. I asked Jeff if it was because it was Sunday or if that was the normal traffic volume – and he smiled and said it’s normal to not see any cars out there. So far, so good.
We were in Alabama to speak at the first statewide bicycle summit, and to meet with a few communities interested in bicycle tourism. We were excited (after all, the South is the frontier for bike advocacy), but we truly had no idea what to expect from our week-long visit. Would it be a living stereotype? Would there be more to eat than fried chicken? Was it a joke to think that anyone might ride a bicycle there?
On our second day in Alabama, we drove to Selma. It turned out that we happened to be there on the same week as the voter rights march from Selma to Montgomery, 50 years ago. A large group was walking the route in honor of that historic event, and the visitor’s center was buzzing with activity. For me, it was surprising and humbling to find ourselves in the middle of something so significant.
In Selma, the blocks of empty downtown buildings met us with sadness and resignation. The tall brick buildings date back to the early 1800s, and you can almost envision what it must have been like when there was enough commerce to support them all.
The Montgomery Bicycle Club put on a ride to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the march. They expected only a handful of people – and had to cut off registration when it reached 350. They estimate an economic impact of $300,000. But they had to bus participants to the beginning in Selma, because there’s no lodging.
Could this really be a bicycle tourism destination? The history and culture are incredibly strong draws, but is that enough?
At Redemptive Cycles in Birmingham, a large and diverse group turned out for pizza and beer and talk about cycling. Here, there is a burgeoning bike culture, with tall bike jousting and an independent coffee roaster and a new bike share system which is slated to open in the fall.
Several hours to the South, we visited the town of Fairhope, along the Mobile Bay. Fairhope is a small community, literally built around utopian ideals. The downtown is exceedingly walkable, they’re starting to stripe bike lanes, and the whole town shows up along the beach each evening to watch the sun sink into the bay. It couldn’t have been more different from Selma.
In Fairhope, we were treated to a round-town bicycle tour so we could see the “castle” built by a local artist and a segment of the Eastern Shore Trail. We ate gumbo and jambalaya and far too many beignets.
And we learned about a new mountain bike park in the nearby community of Foley. One day, someone noticed that people were biking on the hiking trails through a nature area. Rather than kick them out, they worked with the local bike shop to design purpose-built mountain biking trails.
Back in Montgomery, there was an interview on Alabama Live, followed by a short bike ride with staff from the Mayor’s office and a pre-Summit happy hour. The manager at the restaurant suggested the First White House of the Confederacy, just around the corner, as the one thing we should see before leaving town.
Alabama is a surprisingly beautiful state, and a bit of a conundrum. Rolling hills in the North, the Gulf and Mobile Bay in the South. Trees and farms and the most biologically diverse waterways in the US. And, yet, outdoor recreation hasn’t really caught on.
The Summit, which initially drew us to Alabama, was the finale of our trip. After five days spent in various parts of the state, talking with folks about bikes and tourism, reading visitor brochures and trying to grasp the various experiences on offer, we joined 30 or so folks to talk about bicycling in Alabama. From DOT to tourism to Forest Service to advocates across the state, the most striking thing about the Summit was that it brought together people who had never before been in the same room. Maybe that’s what all Summits are about, but it felt remarkable in a place like Alabama, which seems like one of the last places to consider adopting cycling as a part of its culture.
Our week was spent digging in and questioning the possibility of cycling in Alabama. In many ways, bike tourism is already happening. There are pockets of opportunity for cycling and there are energetic, enthusiastic people who are working for safer, more comfortable riding experiences. And, yet, there’s no denying the incredible uphill battle that advocates are facing. What happens next is anyone’s guess. But we’ll definitely be watching, with our fingers crossed.
We’re thrilled to announce that we’ll be presenting about bike tourism at this year’s Alabama Statewide Bicycle Summit. At first blush, Alabama might not seem like an obvious bike tourism destination – and that’s exciting for us, because bike tourism brings new people to the bicycling conversation.
We’re also excited because we have the opportunity to visit a few parts of the state before the Summit. We’ve never been to Alabama, so we’re looking forward to exploring a bit, as well as meeting with community leaders and bike advocates, and seeing what bike tourism can look like in Alabama.
If you’re local and want to join in the fun, we’d love to meet up! There are some events already planned or in the works, and hopefully there will be impromptu meet-ups along the way as well.
We’ll be in the following places on the following dates:
– Birmingham: Monday 3/23
– Fairhope: Tuesday 3/24 & Wednesday 3/25
– Montgomery: Thursday 3/26 & Friday 3/27 (the Summit is Friday)
If there’s anything we should see and do (or eat), we’re all ears!
We’re thrilled to start the pre-production for another Scenic Bikeway video shoot with Travel Oregon. In June, we’ll be filming the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway, and we’re on the hunt for potential talent. If you’re local and interested, check out the details below and contact us for the full call-out.
Who: A couple + a dog (preferably a large breed, like a lab). Talent must provide their own bicycles and camping gear. Ideally, talent will provide their own trailer to carry their own dog, so that the dog is familiar with being on a bike.
When: 2 full days in mid-to-late June, to be scheduled with talent.
In case you’re not familiar with the series, check out the Madras Mountain View Scenic Bikeway video below…
When I last looked at the weather for Minneapolis, it promised a whopping 5 degrees when we arrive this afternoon. It’s not lost on us that this may not the best time of year to visit, especially since we don’t really like the cold. But it is when QBP is hosting Frostbike, so we’re packing all of our layers (literally) and planning to make the best of the silly cold weather.
We’re looking forward to meeting (and meeting again) the good folks at Salsa (and Surly and Cogburn), and maybe tossing around some new project ideas. We’re looking forward to seeing some of the behind-the-scenes, and getting a glimpse into what’s coming up. And, despite the cold, we’re looking forward to exploring a bit of Minneapolis, although we have conceded that biking in this weather is not in the cards for this trip (unless anyone wants to lend us proper snow biking gear).
How do you tell a story from five years ago? How do you describe a memory that looms so large in your head that you’re not sure if you completely remember the “truth”? And, as you search for all the little details, how do you know what you were really scared of and what the lesson really was?
Tonight, I will be one of four storytellers at a bike-themed fundraising event here in Portland. (If you’re in town, join us!) Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working with the creative souls behind the Portland Story Theater, slowly fine-tuning our stories and how to tell them in front of a live audience. And the thing that has struck me most about this process is the way it has dug out all of the details that I haven’t thought about in years, leaving me pondering the “truth” of my memories and the extent of that “truth” that I’m brave enough to share.
Five years ago, we were in the West Texas desert. We were exhausted, and we desperately wanted winter to be over. Yet, we were also in awe of the beautifully rugged landscape and the immense quiet. And set right in the middle of this frontier is the story that I’ll be sharing tonight.
At its core, it’s a story about bravery. Not the “bravado” that Hollywood tries to sell as bravery – but the quiet bravery of being anxious about an impending situation, while not wanting to admit it, and then going ahead because there are no other good options, and finding a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I easily could have missed.
Which means that, as I have found my way to the precise words that I will be stringing together on stage, I have thought a lot about the concept of bravery.
Sometimes we don’t see our own bravery, because we assume that “being brave” means doing something “epic” or “hard-core.” But we’re not all afraid of the same things, so I’ve come to believe that bravery operates on a sliding scale. I didn’t see it at the time, but the more that I think back on our travels and prepare my story for tonight, the more I believe that bike travel is inherently brave. Not because of the unknown or the bears or the strange people – but because traveling by bike has an incredible knack for breaking down barriers and giving us glimpses into worlds that we would never otherwise see – and the simple act of being open to these experiences is bravery.
Bicycle adventures come in all shapes and sizes. From epic multi-month tours on dirt roads in remote places, to shorter trips not too far from town. Since putting down some roots in Portland to get serious about promoting bicycle tourism, our trips have been of the far shorter variety. I had coffee with our friend Joshua Bryant a local frame builder in town the other day. He had just come back from a snowy bike overnight testing out his latest creation, the NFD (National Forest Development) bike. We talked briefly about the idea of doing a bike tour every month, calling it an “S24O R-12″ or something like that.
For the non bike geeks out there “S24O” is a bike tour that you complete in less than 24 hours. You essentially ride out in the afternoon, overnight somewhere and come back the next morning. “R-12” is a term borrowed from the randonneuring community, that denotes a rider that completes a randonneuring event of 200k or longer in 12 consecutive months.
What I’m proposing is nothing as rigid or stringent, but just a little impetus to get people “out there” on the bike. Looking back (way back), I had set this as a New Year’s resolution in 2008, little did I know where it would take us. It seems like a good time to take on this resolution again. Who’s with us?!
So here’s the ground rules.
-You must complete one overnight bike trip per month for 12 consecutive months.
-Since this whole challenge thing is starting mid-January, you can double up in February.
-You can stay for more than one night.
-While tenting is preferred, an overnight to a cabin or yurt is perfectly acceptable especially in the colder months.
-Bikepacking or bike touring or bike whatevering is OK!
-There is no minimum or maximum distance you have to ride.
-You must have fun. This is not meant to be a death march.
-If you use Instagram, tag your photos #BikeTourR12 (to avoid a nonsensical hashtag like S24OR12 or something).
-Post some photos to the Bike Tour a Month Flickr Group! Prep and gear photos are totally OK and encouraged.
-Use the tag #BikeTourR12
That’s it! Again, this is really meant to just get us out there having fun.
This month, we are biking out to Stub Stewart State Park this week to stay in a cabin. We’ve toured there before and have usually treated it as the end destination. This time, we’re spending a few days there so we can use it to explore some local gravel roads. We’ll put up a separate post about that when we get back. If you want to follow along on Instagram we’re using the tag #gravelgetaway.
How much information can you share in 15 seconds? During the winter months we have more editing than filming and riding going on. Always one to keep honing our storytelling skills, we’ve started a mini project on our Instagram account reviewing products in 15 seconds! Check out the first one below and follow the hashtag #Reviewedin15Seconds.
Over the last five years the ways we try to tell a story have changed. At first it was purely words and photography, then a few (really) rough videos to more polished work as our skills have improved. I’ve become really enamored with the idea of short form videos. All the videos we’ve produced for the Oregon Scenic Bikeways are under two minutes. This week I’ve been playing with Instagram videos. The time limit is 15 seconds, which is actually a pretty decent length of time to get a targeted message across. These are still pretty rough sandbox type sketches, but something we hope to do more of in the future. If you’re interested, follow us on Instagram. What do you think of short form video content?
What is #bikefishing ? Tag your ride and rod adventures! #oregontroutback #flyfishing #biketouring #bikepacking #fatbike #roadslikethese #outsideisfred #outsideisfree #campvibes #gh4 #lumix #deschutes #traveloregon #oregonexplored #tenkara #redingtonreleased #echolife #findyourwater #rideyourwater #salmonfly @redingtongear @redsflyshop @tenkarausa @johnprolly @patagonia @salsacycles @qualitybike @cogburnoutdoors @waterworkslamson @echoflyfishing @simmsfishing @statebicycleco
Ever since our experience on the Otago Rail Trail in New Zealand, where we saw first hand how a trail can re-vitalize a rural region, we’ve been looking for a similar stories in the US. A few weeks ago, we had a whirlwind trip traveling from Iowa to Ontario, Canada to San Diego. We were in Iowa for a week and explored some of the numerous trails the state has to offer. Unbeknownst to us, there is a pretty robust trail system in the state. Many of them passing through small towns and are slowly being recognized as tourism attractions.
Perhaps the most significant trail that everyone was talking about was the High Trestle Trail, so named because of an architecturally stunning bridge that spans the Des Moines River. The bridge’s design pays homage to the mining in the area. Looking straight down the trail, you get the visual illusion of looking down a mine shaft. Since the opening of the bridge, it has become the darling of the region attracting visitors from all over the US. It has become a new tradition to ride through the bridge, especially at night when it is illuminated. More significantly, the 25 mile trail is beginning to make serious economic impact to the towns it traverses.
We interviewed Scott Olson, co-owner of the Flat Tire Lounge, that literally sits right next to the trail in the town of Madrid, Iowa (pronounced “MAD-rid”). It was fascinating to hear how their sleepy town was being rediscovered because of the trail and particularly about the new businesses that were opening in town because of the trail.
We have to admit, when we first heard about bikeshare, we were a bit skeptical. The real cause of low ridership, we thought, wasn’t a lack of bikes, but a lack of safe places to ride. Bikeshare has since rolled out in many cities and we’ve had a chance to ride multiple systems over the last year.
We first tried them out of curiosity during a business trip, to see what the big deal was. When we threw a leg over, we weren’t that impressed. The bikes were heavy, awkward, and had the grace of pushing around a loaded shopping cart. But after a few minutes, we got used to the lumbering beast of a bike, and actually started to have fun, despite ourselves.
When we were in Austin, TX (which has a fairly robust system), we were surprised at the range of people using the bikes. They weren’t “bikey” people, but casual riders running errands or curious tourists giving them a try. In Fort Worth, TX, we saw parents on bikeshare bikes riding the Trinity Trails with their kids, and tourists riding them to the different pop-up restaurants along the river trail.
That was our “ah ha” moment, because it was a completely different use than we had expected. The bikes weren’t used as a strictly utilitarian transportation device, but as a tourism asset for visitors to more efficiently explore and enjoy waterfronts, restaurants, and retail districts. We were sold.
During our current trip through the Midwest, we’ve used bikeshare systems in both Omaha, Nebraska and Des Moines, Iowa. We are on a pretty grueling schedule of speaking, presentations, and conferences, without too many chances to get some exercise. As an alternative to spinning away in the stuffy and sweaty fitness rooms of various hotels, we’ve taken out bikeshare bikes at every opportunity. In this context, the heaviness of the bike just adds to the workout. Not only do we get to stretch the legs but we get to do some sightseeing as well. Speaking with a person from the chamber in Des Moines, she said that they were also finding visitors among the highest users of bikeshare.
This makes a lot of sense. Bikeshare bikes are relatively inexpensive compared to a bike rental, and they are often placed near popular civic spaces (parks, waterfronts, bike trails, business districts). This combination of affordability and accessibility, in desirable locations, make them a great mode for pedaling tourists. As “business travelers” during the last few weeks, they have been a blessed alternative to hotel fitness rooms.
While we were skeptical at first, we’ve turned the corner and have become fans. When/if Portland does get its own bikeshare system, we probably won’t use them, since we already have a stable of bikes at our disposal. But when we travel without bikes to other cities, we’ll probably ditch the cab whenever we can and throw a leg over these odd lumbering beasts.