Bicycle Tourism Snapshot: Lodi, CA
When we were invited to speak at the first-ever Lodi Bicycle Summit, we were thrilled! Lodi is a wine town (our first experience with Lodi wine was in Iowa of all places!) in California’s central valley. Probably best known for their old vine Zinfandel, the wine industry has expanded and matured during the last two decades and has become one of the major draws to the area. Lodi is perhaps lesser known as a cycling destination; however, hosting the Stage 2 finish of the 2015 Amgen Tour of California has put them on the map and created interest in the area.
We spent five days in Lodi, with the first few spent riding with local cyclists to get a sense of Lodi as a bicycling destination, before presenting at the actual summit. Lodi, like all destinations, has strengths and challenges. For us, the most obvious strength was strong community support for bicycling in the area. Several wineries support bike teams and bike events. Giro d’ Vino attracts around 700-900 people every year and generates an estimated $40,000 in wine sales on that day, not including dollars spent on local lodging and restaurants). LangeTwins not only sponsors cyclocross riders, but hosts a cyclocross race on their property as well. During our stay, we saw about a half dozen jerseys from various wineries. There is also good political support for cycling in Lodi. City manager, Steve Schwabauer, is an avid cyclist and spoke about the freedom he feels while bicycling at the summit. Mark Chandler, former executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission and vice mayor of Lodi, is a cyclist as well and was instrumental in bringing the Amgen Tour of California to town.
Headbadge sticker on the bike of David Philips, part owner of Michael David Winery.
Location. Location. Location.
Geographically, Lodi makes a perfect weekend escape for people from Sacramento and the Bay Area. Lodi is also fortunate enough to have an Amtrak Station run right through downtown, with roll-on bicycle service. This opens up any number of multi-modal bike vacations in the central valley. Topographically, Lodi is flat as a pancake, which can be both good and bad. For the casual cyclist and bicycle commuter, this makes for easy pedaling terrain. However, for someone who wants hills, this is a bit more of a challenge. We did learn that many local cyclists will head east into the foothills of the Sierras to test out their climbing legs (this site has some great ride suggestions). West of Lodi is the California Delta. We got a short tour through some of the Delta communities, like Locke (a historic Chinese community whose labor built the levees), and were blown away. It was like stepping back in time, with old weathered wooden buildings leaning towards the street.
While people currently ride in Lodi, big gains with ridership (as with most destinations) can be made with more bike infrastructure. On one morning ride, we got caught in few lights with busy crossings that weren’t sensitive enough to recognize our bikes. This is the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Bicycling Needs – being recognized by the all-seeing traffic signaling device. There were some bike lanes but not a very thorough network. Some two lane-country roads were lightly trafficked and delightful, others (which looked very similar) had very high traffic volumes – and as a visitor it would be easy to end up on the “wrong” road. Because of farming and water drainage needs, many roads were shoulderless or had soft shoulders. While almost all the drivers we experienced were really courteous, a few “Bicycles on Roadway” signs or “watch for bicyclists” would be a welcome addition in terms of feeling safe. Bike destinations become attractive because of great riding opportunities AND the presence of other cyclists. Building infrastructure that grows cycling for residents will also attract bike travelers – we like to travel where our tribe is.
Promote Beyond the Silos
In addition to biking, Lodi also has some surprising outdoor recreational assets – like a lake! I had assumed that most central valley towns were just hot and dry, so I was surprised to learn about Lodi Lake, which is formed by the Mokelumne River (which gets a salmon run!) that passes right through town. Dan Arbuckle, owner of Headwaters Kayak and an avid cyclist, has been working hard to make more people aware of the recreational activities you can do on the lake and river. Dan offers SUP yoga classes, kayak and SUP rentals and can also give you tips on where/how to fish in the waterways around town. While seemingly tangential to bike tourism, these other recreational activities are a great compliment to the experience. For me personally, I could see one day of riding in the morning and tasting in the afternoon and another day floating and fishing the river in the morning and more wine in the afternoon. If you look at the travel experience beyond just neat activity silos, but more of as a traveler archetype (explorer, adventurer, epicurean), and package complimentary experiences together, you are more likely to entice multiple overnight stays.
Regionally, Lodi is in a unique location. To the West is the California Delta and Bay Area and to the East are the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. One could create a fascinating multi-day bike tour throughout the region and get a different perspective of California every day. Or, one could use Lodi as a base camp, with day explorations to the Delta and the foothills. Thinking regionally is essential. When a cyclist goes on a bike ride they are blind to arbitrary political borders – they are just going on a bike ride. And while it is important to promote your home destination, it is just as important to have information available about bordering areas.
Drawing a slightly smaller circle, there are some interesting communities that don’t fall under your typical wine-tour experience which we appreciated. We rode through the community of Thornton which has a panaderia with a sign welcoming cyclists and advertising free ice. How could we not stop? Around the corner, we learned there is a bullfighting ring where they hold Portuguese style bullfights (the bull isn’t killed). A little further away is a nature preserve with a visitors center that tells you about the area’s wildlife (complete with a large Sand Hill Crane and aquarium with Steelhead smolt). We appreciated these stops which don’t fall in the typical wine-tour itinerary, because it gave us an authentic-feeling look into the area. Often, looking at what is in your own backyard that will provide a memorable existence to a visitor is the biggest challenge in developing bike destinations. After you’ve ridden a route a thousand times, things don’t stand out as special or unique anymore and sort of blur into the background scenery.
The Bike Summit itself was an awesome event. Organized and spearheaded by Robin Knowlton, a longtime Lodi resident and art gallery owner, the Summit attracted not only cyclists and business owners from Lodi but the neighboring communities as well. The morning kicked off with a community bike ride on an informal tour of Lodi’s bike lanes led by local bike shop owner Jon Tallerico. It was great to see a wide spectrum of cyclists at the ride, from family cargo bikes to faster riders. Pat Patrick, CEO of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, gave introductory comments and was the event emcee. In total there was an estimated 150-200 attendees which is a great turnout for a first time event. After our keynote, the attendees broke out into small working groups to identify gaps in bicycling in the area. Everyone remained engaged and all the comments were to be turned over to the city for consideration.
Lodi has a strong identity as a wine destination and we are excited that they are getting more serious about incorporating bicycling as a complimentary activity. While the bike advocacy is in its early stages, we expect great things in short order by the amount of community support and enthusiasm we saw during the last week!
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