Economics of Bike Touring
After an eye-opening talk with Bill White, the man who rallied the community of Twin Bridges together to erect the nation’s first ever Bike Camp, we’ve been thinking a lot about bicycle touring and its effects on small towns. He started Bike Camp as a means to get touring cyclists to stay in town and to benefit the local economy. He became enamored with the many stories of passing cyclists but also saw an opportunity for the town of Twin Bridges to benefit from hungry and tired bike tourists riding through.
For Bill, it was simple. To not do something to keep the cyclists in town was like “watching gold flow down the river.” So he dreamed up Bike Camp and raised the funds and community support to see it happen. It was such a simple insight, but one that we as bike tourists always clamor for. Show us a modicum of bike friendliness and we’ll be eternally grateful. Heck, we’ll even spend money in your town.
This got me thinking about our spending habits and how it would be different if we were in a car. We’re pretty average as far as touring cyclists, shooting for about 50 miles a day. Far enough to move through the landscape, but slow enough to do some fishing and eat some pie. Because of our limited distance per day and the massive amounts of calories we’re expending a day we eat a lot and require a place to overnight (camp, RV park, motel, etc.,).
I began thinking of how our spending habits would be different if we were driving. Take a 200 mile road trip. It would be easily accomplished within a day in an automobile. You’d probably stop for lunch, refill the gas tank along the way and get dinner and lodging at your final destination. You might pass a handful of small towns along the way, but since you’re moving so fast and not expending any calories, chances are you probably won’t stop unless you have to use the bathroom. Those small towns would just be a blur from inside your car.
Take that same 200 mile stretch and think of how a bike tourist would move through the landscape. If they’re 50-mile-a-day cyclists like us, they would require 4 nights of lodging or camping. Because we’re constantly burning calories, that same trip would require 12 meals or snacks in between (either cooked with food bought from local markets or meals at the local eateries). We would definitely stop in every town to refill water bottles, stock up on food, use the restroom and spend the night.
Given the same 200 mile stretch, a touring cyclist will make more of an economic impact on the small towns along the way than a person driving in a car. Now imagine, if small towns across the country welcomed cyclists by offering simple accommodations like the Bike Camp, especially those along Adventure Cycling routes. Not only would it benefit cyclists, but small towns would benefit as well with a constant stream of tired and hungry bike tourists coming through town. The more accommodations, the more people touring, the more people spending money in small towns.
It’s a dream for sure. But after seeing Bike Camp, in Twin Bridges and talking to Bill, we had a momentary glimmer of what bike tourism could be.