5 Ways Bicycle Travel and Touring Are Changing
Bicycle touring and travel is making a comeback. Previously reaching a peak in the late 70s and early 80s, before giving way to bicycle racing, Millennials who have discovered cycling in an urban setting are starting to venture further and further out. But this iteration of bicycle touring is looking different than the last.
#1 Shorter Trips
Bicycle touring was once only seen as the hobby of the wild-eyed and crazy extreme sports adventurer. A “real tour” had to be an epic undertaking across continents, through deserts, and slashing your way through a snake-infested swamp. While there are plenty of pedalers pushing boundaries, there has also been a growth in the popularity of short-form touring. S24Os and Bike Overnights are becoming more common cycling parlance. This is good for several reasons: It makes bike travel more accessible and broadens the touring market. It also allows people to enjoy the fun and sense of adventure of bicycle travel NOW without having to save up for years for that one grand trip.
#2 Multi-modal Adventures
Along with the sea change of what is considered a “real” tour is the idea that you have to pedal every mile, no matter how terribly excruciatingly awful it is, because it’s cheating otherwise. The concept of a “rideshed”, the distance you can cover with your bicycle and transit (trains, regional buses, light rail) is starting to get traction. This makes perfect sense for people who live in large metro areas surrounded with Suburban Donuts of Death. You could ride out of a downtown, risk your life in the suburbs, and then enjoy quiet riding, or you could just cut to the good stuff using transit. We’ve long been proponents of combining Amtrak with bicycle travel because of their reasonable bicycle carry-on rates and the simple fact that the train moves at a more harmonious human speed. There is nothing like looking out the window for hours on a long train ride to wake up your inner traveler.
#3 Family Friendly
In conjunction with shorter trips and the ability to use transit or other means to get out of dodgy riding areas, there also seems to be a growing interest in family bicycle camping. Family camping, once strictly the domain of minivans and Coleman tents, is also becoming more popular because of cargo bikes. Xtracycles, Yubas, Bakfeits and even trailers are making bike travel more accessible to families. In Portland, we recently participated in a family bike camping trip put on by Kidical Mass, which had a total of 22 bikes and 16 kids of varying age! The beauty of a bike-powered family vacation is you don’t have to travel very far or fast to make it feel like an adventure.
#4 Tourism Industry Recognition
With more people touring more often, tourist destinations and businesses are starting to take note. It’s simple math really. A traveling cyclist will eat more and will require more accommodations more often because of their limited travel distance. If your county is 200 miles wide, it will take a cyclist 3-4 days to navigate through it. As a tourist destination, you have a captive audience and it takes very little to attract and entice cyclists to stay. Oregon’s various tourism groups and DMOs are leading the way on this front. We’ve had the opportunity to work with them on their Scenic Bikeways and are amazed at how enthusiastic many small towns are at the idea of cyclists pedaling through.
#5 Off Road and Gravel Touring
On the other end of the bicycle travel continuum is the new trend of off-road/gravel road/mixed-terrain bikepacking. Combining ultralight backpacking principles with frame bags and mountain bikes or fat bikes, touring cyclists are exploring new unpaved territory. In some ways, I think this is a response to the amount of traffic we experience day to day. A lot of the great road touring routes in the 70s aren’t so great anymore, so the current generation is looking elsewhere – namely, off road. This is also augmented by the fact that camping and bicycle technology have never been better! Gear is ultralight, bikes have lower gearing and a wide range of tires and suspension to tackle virtually any kind of terrain.
Bike travel and touring are making a comeback in a big way. 6 or 7 years ago when we got interested in bike touring, it was a virtual wasteland. We’d walk into bike shops and ask about touring and the people behind the counter would just scratch their heads. Times are changing. Surly’s LHT has brought touring to the masses. The veritable explosion of young custom bicycle pannier/frame bag/rando bag makers is making bicycle touring hip and fun again. It’s never been better to travel by bike!
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