Today’s post is written by our friends at Path Less Pedaled. Since 2009, Russ Roca and Laura Crawford have explored bike travel through an advocacy lens, learning about and championing the many ways in which cycling can positively impact small communities. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, Russ and Laura are working with tourism organizations across the US to market and promote bike tourism initiatives. Learn more at: www.pathlesspedaled.com.
As part of our recent Bike Tourism Road Trip, we crossed the border from Oregon into Washington, to see what bike tourism looks like in our neighbor to the North.
We spotted bike corrals in Leavenworth, shared beers with bike advocates in Wenatchee, and rode a stretch of the John Wayne Trail near Ellensburg. We popped into Allegro Cycling in Walla Walla as a couple from Seattle picked up rental bikes, and we counted dozens of day riders along the Yakima River Valley. Everywhere we went, we counted cars with bikes strapped on the back – including a few who stayed at the same motels as us.
In short, all throughout our time in Eastern Washington, we saw signs of bike. If you’re like us, and you’re on the hunt for evidence that people on bikes are welcome, you’d see a lot of proof that Eastern Washington is a great bike tourism destination. The trick is that, as a visitor, you have to be willing to hunt.
Everyone we talked to in Eastern Washington told us about great local rides – and then admitted that you had to know the area to know that they existed. Which highlighted a large (albeit easily remedied) gulf between the people who want to ride their bikes and the routes waiting to be ridden.
Which isn’t to say that we didn’t find good local rides. When we stopped in the ReCycle Shop in Ellensburg and asked for a ride suggestion, an employee pulled out a file of cue sheets and picked one that fit the length we wanted, telling us a little about what we would see along the way, where we should be extra careful, and how we could modify the route. Win!
As we traveled, we asked folks what “bike tourism” means to them and their community – and the predominant response was that it created a reason for people to visit and stay a little longer. When bikey people see signs of bike in the places they visit (or read route suggestions online when they’re planning a trip), it’s a visual handshake that tells them that they (and their bikes) are welcome (and are welcome to stay and play).
In Wenatchee, when we checked into our motel, I asked the owner what we should do in town. She replied that she noticed the bikes on our car, and did we know that there’s a great bike path along the river? She even pointed it out on a map. Win! Imagine if she also knew the best way to wear out your climbing legs on Badger Mountain, or how to connect the back roads on a long spin through the Valley? When front line staff understand the role bikes play in their local tourism economy, and encourage and support it through simple actions like offering tips about where to ride, they make it more likely that people with bikes will have a good experience, return for another trip, and tell their friends.
Each community that we visited offered distinct rides that fit with their identity – wine country loops in Walla Walla, the John Wayne Trail in Ellensburg, the Fruit Loop in Wenatchee. These are the backbones of bike tourism. All it takes to make that leap from small-town-with-great-hidden-rides to successful-bike-tourism-destination is to bring together all the local players and start trumpeting out the availability of these rides.