Good News from the Open Road
Judging by the value of U.S. bike tourism, cyclists must really be getting around.
Indeed they are, said Jim Sayer, executive director of Adventure Cycling Association. Last year hitting the open road on two wheels generated $57 billion in value, he told a packed warehouse space full of cyclists at Swift Industries in Ballard last night. In just one state, Wisconsin, the tourism folks say cyclists spent $924 million in a recent year, he said, adding “That’s more than ice fishing!”
Adventure Cycling is a big part of the trend. The Missoula, Montana-based membership organization, which counts me among its 46,000 members, promotes bicycle travel and produces maps for a growing network of routes to guide cyclists up, down, around and across America.
New Routes in the West
The network of ACA cycling routes is currently at 41,420 miles, and new routes are coming on line regularly. Like these:
- Idaho Hot Springs Loop – The route will connect Boise, McCall, Ketchum and Stanley — and, more importantly, 50-plus hot springs — on a route that’s mostly mellow gravel roads in the backgountry of the Rockies. It comes out late this fall.
- Route 66 – Next year you’ll be able to get your kicks with a bike ride from Chicago to L.A. The 2,448 miles was immortalized in popular song back when cars had big fins and you’d park them at a drive-in to watch a movie. Today much of Route 66 has been gobbled up by freeways, but the ACA is mapping a bike route as close to the original as possible.
The asociation advocates for better roads and programs that will make biking safer, and creates links between key stakeholders so biking will be considered by people managing our interstate infrastructure. For instance, Sayer said, they’re working with 44 state Departments of Transportation to create an integrated national bike route system. And just this week, the ACA is signing a memorandum of understanding with the National Park Service to encourage bicycling to, in and through the parks.
Sayer says he’s inspired by the work being done internatioally to build and connect bike routes.
- Want to bike Europe? By 2020 you will be able to use the Euro Velo route system that will be 70,000 kilometers (about 42,000 miles) of connected routes.
- Ever think about biking in Scandinavia? Maybe try the North Sea Loop, which skirts the coastlines of all North Sea countries and even includes undersea tunnels in the route.
- Is that a bit too far to travel? Try the La Route Verte, Quebec’s system that has surged to 5,000 kilometers in just 12 years.
The infrastructure is being built because it’s in demand. And Sayer believes the interest in cycle touring is growing so fast due to a combination of self-discovery and happiness people find on their pedaling adventures, along with the desire for self-transportation and community connections made when visiting places by bike.
I know my friend Willie Weir, a columnist for Adventure Cyclist, the ACA’s magazine, ventures out regularly on international adventures and comes back raving about bicycle travel as the best way to see the world. He’s just back from Myanmar (Burma) with great stories to tell, and regularly gives presentations about his travels.
Sayer related stories about a few of the 1,200 people who travel through Missoula every year and stop at the ACA offices for a visit (and free ice cream). For instance, there was Lawnmower Man, who hauled a push-mower across the entire U.S., mowing lawns to pay for the trip as he went.
And there’s the couple whose 11-year-old daughter was killed by an automobile, and they decided to honor her memory by doing the “Trans Am” (short for Trans-America) route. They had allowed her organs to be donated when she died, and they used the trip to build awareness for organ donation. Well, in Colorado they met the boy who had received their daughter’s heart. If that doesn’t qualify for an epic bike trip, nothing will.
How to get started
But if you don’t have a cause to promote or a broken heart to heal, but you still want to experience some adventure travel by bike, where do you start? I suggest starting small, with a two- or three-day trip, called a “bike overnight.”
It’s the kind of trip that doesn’t take as much planning, time or gear. Sayer related the story of a woman friend who heads out with 5 Snicker’s bars, rides until dark, eats her candy bars, camps overnight and rides home.
In the coming months, I’ll be suggesting a few bike overnight ideas, but here’s the first one: Fay Bainbridge State Park. The park, which offers free camping on the beach, is in the northeast corner of Bainbridge Island, about 8 miles from the ferry terminal. Grab a Snicker’s bar and get out there!