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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Overnight Rides as Gateway Drugs to Bicycle Evangelization

02/28/12 #235 0m
Attended a presentation by Jim Sayer of Adventure Cycling at CMU. (Now I can say I went to CMU, I guess).

Adventure Cycling is a non-profit (established as BikeCentennial in 1973) organized around supporting travel by bicycle through map and route planning, advocacy, organized tours, and more.

The Adventure Cycling headquarters is in Montana, along one of the cross-country routes, and bicyclists are encouraged to stop by for a cold drink and to get their photo taken. There's a great variety of poses that trans-America riders (don't call them trannies) present, such as this one:

Jim Sayer explained this photo by telling the story of Blaine Bare, of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Mr. Bare was riding to Oregon but did not have a bankroll to fund his ride, so he carried a pushmower and cut lawns across America to pay his expenses. (The point was, there's a lot of ways to get there.)

The presentation talked about the economic impact of bicycle touring and the return on bicycle infrastructure investment. (For instance, Portland's extensive, world-class bike trail system cost $60 Million dollars; the same amount would buy 1 mile of highway.) An economic analysis in Wisconsin revealed that bicycle tourism contributes more to the state's economy that hunting does, which surprised many people.

There was a good explanation of Adventure Cycling's route system and route maps, and there were sample maps - very impressive, first maps I've seen that were really designed for on-the-bike usage. The newest route, the Underground Railroad Route, includes a spur from Pittsburgh.

He gave a good briefing on the effort over the last few years to develop a National Trails System. (click here for a primer on US Bicycle Routes.)

He also took pains to explain that the US Bicycle Route System is a work in progress and not something that you can go use today.

Mr. Sayer went on to discuss Adventure Cycling's next initiative in bicycle advocacy, not in terms of legislation but in terms of increasing participation (evangelization). This is a topic that's of great interest to me. My early (puerile) view of bicycle advocacy was legislative (sharrows, trails, routes) but increasingly I'm coming to see that the path is participation; if we can get more people on bicycles, then the money and the politics will follow.

The proposition that Adventure Cycling will be pursuing is that urging people to ride across America won't really produce bicycle advocacy; rather, urging people to take an overnight trip on their bicycle will provide a low-cost, non-threatening way to experience bike travel, and the rest builds from there. Because once you've got somebody who takes two or three one-night trips per year, you've got somebody that supports bike legislation and you've grown the base.

Serendipitous case in point: today's blog post by two DC riders who take an overnight trip.

The overnight bike trip is referred to as the S24O (ess-two-four-ohh) by Grant Peterson in this article. The acronym S24O means Sub 24-hour Overnight, and the idea is that you start out in the afternoon, ride your bike for a while, spend the night (B&B, hotel, spa, tent) and then ride back the next morning. Not a threatening experience, doesn't cost $1000, don't have to risk a week of vacation time to try it. The money line of the presentation was: "The overnight bike trip is the Gateway Drug to Bicycle Travel.

One of the tenets of this strategy is to say, Every bike is a traveling bike, because there's lots of different versions of traveling. Some people want to carry tents and sleeping bags, some people want to carry clothes and go to the hotel, some people want to pack a credit card and a toothbrush - that's all bike travel, and there's a niche for every bicycle in that spectrum. So every bike is a traveling bike, and Adventure Cycling isn't picking favorites with any product line over another.

With all that in mind, Adventure Cycling is rolling out a new website, BikeOvernights.org that hopes to support their initiative. The tagline is, Don't wait to go cross-country. Go overnight.

It was an excellent briefing.

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