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11 Indicators that Bicycle Travel and Tourism are Booming — and Changing

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2015 and 2016 mark a continued surge in all types of bike tourism, from single-day to multi-day, paved roads to gravel, all over the world

Missoula, Montana, November 3, 2016 — As 2016 winds down, bicycle tourism and travel continue to rocket upward in North America and overseas. In its fourth biennial survey, Adventure Cycling Association has found that the bicycle tourism sector in the U.S. and globally is becoming more prominent, more lucrative, and is diversifying, especially with the boom in bikepacking and off-road travel. Demand for bicycle tour opportunities is also prompting new and expanded bike route networks and facility improvements at the regional and national levels. Here are eleven indicators of how bike travel and tourism are prospering and changing.

1. Boom in “adventure” and touring bikes: An indicator of bike travel’s popularity is that one of the hottest new categories in bicycle sales has been “adventure” bikes — multi-purpose bikes that can be used on paved roads, gravel, and for light touring. All of the largest bike manufacturers have jumped in with new models, including Raleigh (with their Tamland 2 and Stuntman), Specialized (the AWOL), and Trek (the 920). Pioneers in the adventure field such as Salsa have released new models, including the Marrakesh and they have upgraded existing models (as Surly has done with the popular Long Haul Trucker). Start-ups like Advocate Cycles are producing excellent adventure bikes for both pavement and off-road (the Sand County and Seldom Seen).

2. Boom in bikepacking and gravel travel: Spurred by innovations in off-road bikes and bike travel gear, especially lighter and trimmer framebags and other packs, bikepacking on single track and unpaved roads has taken off. In 2015, adventurers like Tom and Sarah Swallow successfully rode the entirety of a dirt trail across the USA originally meant for dirt motorcycles. New websites have come out (like bikepacking.com) to chronicle classic routes (such as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route or Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route) and new ones (from the Estonian Taiga to the Tasmanian Trail). New groups are forming too, like Bikepacking Roots, to promote and conserve bikepacking opportunities. There has also been a boom in gravel riding, and many states are touting their large networks of very-low-traffic gravel road networks, especially in agricultural areas (like Iowa, which boasts 68,000 miles of gravel roads).

3. Continental and national bike route networks continue to grow: One of the biggest official continental networks on the planet, EuroVelo, continues to expand, now with 15 routes equaling 70,000 kilometers (or 42,000 miles) designated in 42 countries. The official US Bicycle Route System has grown in the last two years from 15 to 24 states and the District of Columbia, and from 6,790 miles to 11,243 miles (with a goal of reaching at least 50,000 miles in the network). More than 40 states are working on the project and many are now signing segments of the system, for example in Michigan, which is working to be a major bike travel destination. Another forthcoming continental system is the Great Trail in Canada, comprised of 15,000-plus miles of local trails. This project is slated to be completed by mid-2017, though some cyclists have cautioned about the condition of some of the trails.

4. National and state tourism bureaus invest in promoting bike travel: Countries around the world are increasingly investing in becoming bike travel destinations. Taiwan has finished a round-the-country route system and is marketing the island as an up-and-coming velo-destination. At the annual Adventure Travel Trade Association conference in Anchorage, Norway and Switzerland announced major plans to promote cycling in their countries. Germany continues to be a bike travel powerhouse; according to ADFC, the German cycling non-profit organization, 10% of tourism revenue in Germany results from bike travel, and the country has increased its number of long-distance branded cycle routes to 220. In the U.S., more states than ever are promoting bicycle tourism, starting with long-time leaders Minnesota and Oregon (which is expanding its network of official scenic bikeways). Other states are stepping up, including Alaska, Idaho, Mississippi, Michigan, Tennessee, and Florida (which recently announced major investments in new cross-state connector trails and hosted a statewide conference this year on bike tourism).

5. Regional networks and routes: The most ambitious provincial bike network in North America, La Route Verte in Quebec Province, has grown to more than 5,300 kilometers (or 3,180 miles). Adjacent to this network is the expanding Great Waterfront Trail through Ontario, along the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie; the route is now more than 1,600 kilometers (or 960 miles).Regional route and trail networks are also being developed in the U.S. One of the most ambitious efforts is the creation of a route network in the southeastern United States, sparked in part by a unique regional conference on bike tourism. The Chattanooga area in particular is striving to become a regional hub for cycling and active travel. Popular new long-distance and regional routes were released by Adventure Cycling in 2015 (Bicycle Route 66, from LA to Chicago) and 2016 (Texas Hill Country Loop, circumnavigating the Austin area).

6. More bikes on rails: One of the biggest stories in bike tourism this past year is Amtrak’s embrace of the bicycle. In 2013, Amtrak and Adventure Cycling launched a special task force to improve bicycle accommodation, and in the last two years, their efforts have borne fruit. The first success was launching carry-on service on two pilot routes, the Capitol Limited and the Vermonter. Amtrak has also expanded another type of bike service – trainside checked – on all of its remaining national routes, which allows you to check your bike as baggage without having to deal with a bike box. Next up: the Task Force will be working to expand carry-on service to even more routes, increasing the ease and convenience of bike/train travel. More on Amtrak’s bike services here.

7. Parks get on the bike travel bandwagon: National, state and local parks are getting more involved than ever promoting and facilitating cycling to and through public lands. 2016 saw the first-ever Bike Your Park Day, which involved more than 1,400 DIY (do-it-yourself) cycling events and 11,000-plus participants all over North America. During the National Park Service’s centennial year, different national park units improved bike facilities; for example, Shenandoah is installing bike maintenance stands along Skyline Drive and Glacier National Park is offering special shuttles with bike trailers for their spring car-free season. Natchez Trace is continuing to improve the cycling experience, with signage and support facilities. Crater Lake is in its third year of offering Ride the Rim “car-free”events and park units are now collaborating with Adventure Cycling and the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center on “best practices” approaches to biking and active transportation in national parks. State parks are also getting involved; for example, Tennessee State Parks heavily promoted Bike Your Park Day events and is working on a no-turn-away camping policy for bicycle travelers. (This would be the eighth such policy in the U.S.) Montana State Parks used tourism infrastructure funds in an innovative way and invested $200,000 to create bike camping sites at four state parks along popular Adventure Cycling routes.

8. Bike overnights and day trips become more mainstream: As in Europe (where 80% of bike tourism activity revolved around day tours), the American market is morphing to include more bike overnights (one- to two-night bike trips) and day trips for tourism purposes. States like Georgia are seeing more interest in short urban and rural bike tours, and are promoting these trips as an economic development tool, especially in small towns. Time-and resource-strapped families and singles are taking advantage of quick, inexpensive overnights and are chronicling their adventures on bikeovernights.org and other sites. In 2016, bike overnights enjoyed the national spotlight with the first-ever Bike Travel Weekend, which sparked more than 900 DIY bike trips all over North America and involved nearly 12,000 participants. The weekend will become an annual event and take place next year on June 2-4.

9. Cycling hospitality networks grow: Another global trend is the development of extensive hospitality networks to serve traveling cyclists. Perhaps the best known is Bett+Bike, managed by the German cycling non-profit ADFC. Bett+Bike serves central Europe and has grown to more than 5,400 lodging offerings, from spartan camping to deluxe hotels, all of which meet ADFC’s criteria for supporting cyclists. Other parts of Europe are establishing similar networks, including Denmark with its Bed + Bike Denmark and Italy with Albergabici cycling accommodation certification. In North America, the closest equivalent is Velo Quebec’s Bienvenue Ciclistes. Globally, there is also a cycling hospitality non-profit called Warm Showers, through which members can make reciprocal lodging arrangements; the organization has grown to 99,000 members and is working to expand and upgrade its website.

10. North America cycling events thrive, expand: A mainstay of the bike tourism sector is the array of large multi-day bike events, including classic events like Cycle Oregon, Bicycle Ride Across Georgia, Ride the Rockies in Colorado, BikeMaine, The Grand Tour in Quebec and New England, Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA), RAGBRAI in Iowa, and the popular Tour de Cure and Bike MS series of events. These rides continue to attract hundreds of thousands of participants, many of them on their first multi-day bike ride, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact and charitable contributions. RAGBRAI alone generates at least $24 million in direct spending at the local level.

11. The boom in urban bike tourism broadens: Urban bike tours are becoming a more standard part of the American tourism scene, from cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans to Atlanta and Washington, DC. Specialty tours combining history, beverages, and food are becoming more popular, especially when it includes beer, from Fort Collins (Beer & Bike Tours) to Portland (Pedal Bike Tours for beer, wine, food carts and even marijuana). A number of companies — like Urban Adventours in downtown Boston or the Wheelhouse in Detroit — are melding two businesses, a classic bike shop with sales and service plus urban bike tours. The expansion of bike share systems has also opened up more cycling options for visitors, who make up a large proportion of users (and revenue) in tourism-oriented cities like Washington, DC and New York City and across Europe and Asia.

Adventure Cycling Association inspires and empowers people to travel by bicycle. It is the largest cycling membership organization in North America with more than 51,000 members. Adventure Cycling produces cycling routes and maps for North America, organizes more than 100 tours annually, and publishes bicycle travel information including the award-winning Adventure Cyclist magazine. With over 45,000 mapped miles in the Adventure Cycling Route Network, Adventure Cycling gives cyclists the tools and confidence to create their own bike travel adventures. Phone: 800-755-BIKE(2453). Web: www.adventurecycling.org

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