Published on Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bicycle role in travel: speeding up

The fastest growing method of travel in some cities such as Vancouver: bicycling. “Travelers -- the future is on bicycles! ” says blogger and veteran rider David Kroodsma.

It may sound far-fetched but there are many indications (outside of the many bicyclists in China and the Netherlands) that cycling is growing to become a much bigger part of travel in North America.

Don’t laugh. There’s peddling power in bicycles.

Data and tour operators demonstrate the economic role of bicycling. It’s been seeing steady gains in the rising travel market sector, says Adventure Cycling, a group started in 1973 to promote that means of travel.

Bicycle travel is becoming an increasingly visible part of the adventure travel market. In fact, bicycles generate US$89 billion annually in the market, according to a study by the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

“Bicycle travel continues to grow as part of the travel market in North America and beyond, according to empirical research and anecdotal evidence from tour operators and tourism promoters throughout the United States,” said Jim Sayer, executive director of Adventure Cycling Association, the largest such group in North America.

Sayer cited a variety of indicators and data that demonstrate the growth and economic clout of bicycle travel over the last year.

They include:

---The economy is noticing bike tourism. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin calculated that out-of-state visitors traveling to Wisconsin for cycling opportunities generated $532 million, or more than half-a-billion dollars in economic activity.

---“States are seeing bicycle travel as a cornerstone of their tourism strategy,” the association says. The state of Minnesota last year hosted its first conference on bicycle tourism, for example.

---Commercial tour operators in different market segments saw more interest in cycling vacations this year. "Our business has seen a 20 percent increase from 2009 to 2010 and we are off to a good start for the 2011 season," said Tania Worgull, president of Trek Travel, which operates tours in North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa.

---Adventure Cycling has observed that, in the last couple of years, a number of smaller communities have created bike-only camp and hostel sites to attract riders and spur economic development.

---Following in the tracks of Europe and parts of Canada, the US is beginning to develop an official US Bicycle Route System (USBRS) connecting states and cities from city to countryside. A plan was adopted in October 2008 and in the last year, 27 states and the District of Columbia have begun to implement routes to improve cycling transportation, travel, and economic development, according to the latest status report published by Adventure Cycling.

Kroodsma admits he is prejudiced in part because he spent two years traveling by bicycle across North America. But he maintains this is the best way to travel. It allows participants to relate to others or operate as a sort of experimental tourism.

“The increase in bicycle tourists does not surprise me. What would surprise me is if the popularity didn't continue to grow,” he said.

By David Wilkening

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