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.
For the last two years we’ve been following the fascinating story of TREO Ranches, a bird hunting lodge owned by Phil Carlson and his wife Cathy. They had been looking for a way to create a second income during the hunting off-season to keep their staff employed and through a serious of fortuitous encounters, decided to cater to cyclists. A few months ago, we finally got the chance to make a visit and interview him about his TREO Bike Tours.
Phil is not your typical bicycle business entrepreneur (he freely admits to not riding a bicycle), but his ranch is situated in a veritable bicyclists playground in Eastern Oregon with hundreds of miles of empty paved and gravel roads. While he doesn’t ride a bike himself, he sees the potential value in bicycle tourism. Phil is not the sort of person to take half measures. He has invested heavily into making the bicycling portion of his ranch a success, both with time and money. He took the week long bicycle mechanic course at UBI, he was a common site at Sunday Parkways in Portland this year and he has purchased and outfitted a full service bus and trailer to run his bicycle tours.
Phil is also important in that he provides a rural voice that is supportive of bicycling. He can speak about the positives and potential problems with bicycle tourism. He talked at length (though not included in the final edit) about how being bike-friendly is a two way street and that bicyclists have to be farm-friendly as well. There are signs in his lodge instructing bicyclists to share the road and respect the property rights of the local farmers.
We are pretty excited to share this video since we feel it provides a great rural perspective on bicycling that is lost in our current dialog. Bicycling on the national level focuses primarily on the urban story, often forgetting that a lot of the country is rural. The problem with that is that if we can’t make the case for bicycling in rural America, we are disregarding and ignoring a lot of potential supporters. Sit back and enjoy!
A few months ago we took a little sojourn out to Eastern Oregon to capture some interesting bicycle tourism stories out there. We visited with Kim and his wife Anita, who use to own Mountain Works bike shop in La Grande, Oregon (their daughter and son-in-law run it now) and are now embarking on a new venture during their “retirement.” They are running one of the few pedal rail cars in the US!
What started out as a whim has become a pretty serious business for them and came about through some rather fortuitous circumstances. Unlike most rail in the US that is owned by a railroad company, the stretch of unused rail they are operating on is owned by the county. Through lots of meetings, conversations and perseverance they were able to get their pedal powered excursion machines up and running. One of the toughest obstacles was finding insurance, since there are virtually no other operations like it in the US. The insurance had lots of safety stipulations, so riders are required to wear a helmet and a seat belt.
Safety accoutrements aside, the rail riders are a blast! The current route goes from Joseph to Enterprise and back and takes about two hours depending on your pedaling speed. There are plans to offer a longer day route in the future. We crashed a large party that rented nearly all the cars for a family event. Everyone we spoke to were extremely excited about it and were all having a great time. The Joseph Branch Rail Riders is seasonal and doesn’t operate during the winter, but start planning your Spring and Summer trips now!
Bicycle tours, bike touring, bicycle tourism….the terms all sound similar but they mean different things. To clear up some terminology, we made a little video that gives a definition of bicycle tourism and what sort of behaviors it captures. Sit back and enjoy!
We’ve only just begun to catch up on rest from our shoot in El Paso, TX and Las Cruces and we’re already planning the next month of travel! In a few weeks we are going on a speaking tour of sorts, presenting about bike tourism at various conferences. We’ll be in Iowa, Ontario and San Diego spreading what we’ve learned about bicycles as economic development. Bicycle tourism manifests itself in many forms and one of the most visible ways is the multi day supported bike tour. Perhaps the mother of all event rides is RAGBRAI which is the country’s largest multi day event ride. Bicycling tourism is a big deal in Iowa and generates $365 million dollars a year in economic impact anually.
A few years ago we had the opportunity to film Cycle Oregon, a RAGBRAI inspired tour in Oregon. Cycle Oregon from its very beginning was conceived as a way to bring people from urban areas to ride in the rural areas that were getting hit hard by the decline of the timber industry. The first Cycle Oregon is riddled with stories of riders going hungry from not enough food and small towns overwhelmed and surprised by a thousand lycra clad visitors. 25 years later, Cycle Oregon has matured into a well oiled machine both logistically and philanthropically. Not only does Cycle Oregon create a huge economic impact during the event, but it also offers grants to host communities. Perhaps more interestingly, many riders that have a good experience in a town during Cycle Oregon will often return to visit again.
We made a half hour documentary on Cycle Oregon’s 25th anniversary ride a few years ago. Here is an edit that gets to the spirit of the ride and the possibilities of bikes as economic development.
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.
There was recently a flurry about mirrors on our Facebook Page after I posted an Amazon link to the Take-A-Look mirror. Opinions on mirrors are varied. Some swear by them, others think they are the epitome of Fred-om and a fashion abomination. Say what you will, we think they’re infinitely useful and are an underrated safety tool.
Three years ago, almost to the day, we left our then-home of Long Beach, CA, on what would turn out to be a fateful bike trip to Joshua Tree. By the time we had returned home, we knew that we would soon be selling everything we owned and leaving on an incredible adventure. Never would we have dreamt that such a decision would lead us down this amazing path – or that it would open so many opportunities to show the inherent joys of bicycle travel.
A blast from the past. Having a picnic on one of our early tours.
Our time in New Zealand disappeared astoundingly fast, and now we are back in Southern California, figuring out our plans for the rest of this year. While we are still wrapping our heads around everything that happened and all that we learned (particularly in terms of bike economics), we are more convinced than ever of the benefits of bicycle travel.
In another couple weeks, we’ll be heading up to Portland, Oregon, which will be our home base this summer. It may sound counter-intuitive, but we’ve decided to step back from the continuous movement of the past year(s), so that we can promote bicycle travel in new ways and to more people. As we’ve been traveling, we’ve been making hundreds of mental notes about projects we want to work on that would help inspire other people to travel by bike and support bike travel. The time to act on these ideas, we’ve realized, is now.
While we won’t be actively traveling, we’ll still be here on this site, sharing many of the stories that haven’t yet made it online. We’ll also be taking our enthusiasm for bicycle travel off the website and to various events around the US. A lot of the details are still in the works, but you can expect a number of opportunities to meet up and hear us speak.
After 4,000 loaded touring miles on our Bromptons, we also want to share all that we’ve learned about adventure travel on these sturdy little bikes. We’ve been hinting about this book for some time, but we’re committed to finishing it over the next short while. (If there’s something you want to know, email us!)
And don’t forget the videos! The Kiwi Chronicles will certainly not be the last series of short videos we make about bicycle travel. We had an incredible experience filming and creating each of these videos, and we’re looking forward to taking the camera out on a variety of shorter-length trips to show the accessibility of bicycle travel.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we’ve taken some time to think about why bicycle travel is such an incredible way of exploring a place and why someone should consider it. What is bicycle travel? Watch and see.
(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 2012 2012 calendar or some of the fun bike-themed t-shirts we’re designing.)
Have questions about our New Zealand trip that we haven’t answered in a video or a post? Now’s your chance to ask them! We’re going to do an hour long live webcast this Wednesday at 6pm PST. We’ll share with you our “Top 5 Favorite Things” about touring in NZ as well as our “Top 5 Not So Favorite Things” things about NZ. Also we’ll give you some tips about touring in NZ. In an attempt to keep it from being just a talking head show, I’ll be experimenting with a little live studio streaming program that lets us transition in photos and movies : )
We’re using USTREAM for the event. We’ve been digging around for a better option but haven’t found one yet. Here are the critical details:
When: Wednesday at 6pm PST
Ask Us Questions:
You’ve got a couple options to ask us questions. You can either:
-go to our USTREAM channel at the time of the event and log on (you’ll need to sign up really quickly with an email address)
-email us your questions in advance and you can just sit back and relax and watch the show.
-you can send in your question via Twitter using the hashtag #PLPNZ
Some quick notes about USTREAM. First, you will be subjected to 30 seconds of advertisement. For this we are truly sorry. Feel free to make a cup of tea or grab some cookies when the inane car commercial is playing. Secondly, it’s more fun when you join the conversation. We’ve been looking for video/group chat option that doesn’t require some sort of log in with no success. Of what we’ve tried, USTREAM asks the least amount of information so please don’t be too put off and join in! It will be fun.