We believe in bicycle tourism – and in its ability to bring sustainable economic development to small and rural communities. But it isn’t the data or the astoundingly-large numbers from economic impact studies that convinced us. Rather, it’s the small anecdotal stories, the local businesses that attribute their continued ability to stay open to the steady trickle of people on bikes.

When we present about bicycle tourism, it’s always important to flash the enormous numbers that are reported back from study after study..

Outdoor Recreation is an $83 Billion industry in the US.

Recreational cycling contributes $3.1 Billion to Washington’s state economy.

Western North Carolina brings in nearly $100 Million from bike tourism. (new study TBR)

You hear those numbers and you can’t not be excited. This isn’t some little niche, and these aren’t a few crazy people on the fringe. Rather, there are a lot of different people participating in some form of bicycle tourism all across the country.

And, yet, these numbers are too big. I have no personal understanding of $100 Millon. No idea how much that is or isn’t. I certainly have no personal understanding of $83 Billion. And I imagine that most of us would say the same thing. We’re in awe, but we can’t connect to those numbers because they are so far beyond what we could hope to amass for our own personal fortune, so they are beyond the realm of belief.

At the same time, the $3.1 Billion that is spent in Washington is spread out throughout an entire year and across the entire state. No single community or business owner will see that amount on their bottom line.

So, while it’s important to talk about the big numbers in order to make the point that bike tourism isn’t some little fringe industry that can be easily brushed off, it’s also important to break it down to what a single community or resident could reasonably expect for themselves.

What we have seen to be the greatest contribution of bicycling to a small or rural economy is the way it spurs a steady and sustainable trickle of new money.

A few people on bikes travel through Austin Junction every day throughout the summer. They stop for a burger or ice cream at the cafe. It amounts to enough that the cafe can maintain regular hours and hire on additional employees.

Austin House cafe has been a respite to bike touring cyclists along the TransAm for over 16 years.

Or maybe those cyclists camp at the campground in the Mitchell town park, for $5 each. Now the cost of maintaining the public restroom doesn’t come out of the town budget.

Or maybe it is a small lodging property that opens along the Tanglefoot Trail in Mississippi specifically targeting trail users.

Or it is the opening of a small trailside pub in Madrid, Iowa that also houses a food truck from the Hotel Pattee.

Bikes, Beer and Business: The Flat Tire Lounge from Russ Roca on Vimeo.

Or it is a hunting lodge owner in Eastern Oregon that caters to cyclists when hunting season is over to keep his staff employed.

There’s also a ripple effect. Somebody rides through an area, loves it, and then returns later. We have found some of our favorite places because we happened to pedal by, and we have heard similar stories from many other people.

We all daydream about some magical moment where we are instantly rich. In comparison, building slowly over several years isn’t nearly as exciting – but it does have a greater chance of lasting. Look at North Dakota and all the new shopping malls that popped up at the peak of the fracking boom, malls that now sit empty because there is no longer any reason for outsiders to visit. The instant wealth daydream is sexy, but it can also be heartbreaking.

Bicycle tourism has an unexpected and humble ability to prop up small economies. And it is those small-but-lasting impacts that we want communities to expect and believe in, and then build from.

(If you are a destination and are interested in our consulting and speaking services, send us an email at pathlesspedaled (at) gmail (dot) com!)