Conversation with Jim Sayer, Director of Adventure Cycling Association (Part 1)

When I got wind Jim Sayer was in town, I jumped onto my computer machine and using electronic correspondence, I requested a meeting.  Since I missed him on my trip to Missoula, Montana where ACA is headquartered on my epic trip there in 2016, and have been curious about bikepacking/touring ever since, I was keen to learn more about ACA.  He was kind enough to meet me at a coffee shop and chat.  He’ll be doing a talk Tuesday, November 13 at 6-8 pm at Bike Texas, so if you’re in Austin, come on down!  I’ll post a follow-up after that event to share more.  But let’s dive into what the ACA is about!

The Largest Membership American Cycling Group

With 53,000 members and multiple programs, the ACA is not quickly summarized.  To read all about it, you should definitely visit their robust website,   But the name says alot, since their mission is “to inspire and empower people to promote travel by bicycle.”  So I was surprised to learn that one doesn’t have to be a super cyclist to enjoy bike tourism.  When I think of adventure cycling, I see an image of a bicycle loaded down with gear, super fit riders going thousands of miles, across huge mountains.

But that’s not the only sort of trip ACA encouages or supports.  One project called Bike Travel Weekend, which is the first weekend in June, encourages people to bike any distance and stay overnight.  This year, there were 900 events with 10,000 people participating.  That’s a whole lotta biking.  But it included a family and friend in Seattle (A Dude’s old haunts) that biked about 8 miles to go camping on Bainbridge Island.  So my impression was not correct.  Anyone who can bike can bikepack.

Jim kindly gifted A Dude with two issues of ACA’s great-looking and informative magainze, Adventure Cyclist.

Among their other programs are:

  • Routes and Maps
  • Guided Tours
  • Adventure Cyclist Magazine
  • Membership
  • Online Store
  • Building Bicycle Tourism
  • How To Resources
  • Online Communities
  • Bike Your Park Day

Jim Pushes Paper but Also His Bike Pedals – Alot

With a history of leadership at various non-profits, and building ACA into a successful, self-sustaining non-profit with a budget of over $7 million, Jim and his team have done amazing work promoting cycling across the US and the world.  But he is more than just a paper-pusher.  He’s no slouch on the bike himself, and he practices what he preaches.  Last year he traveled by bicycle with his daughter from California to Florida.  That’s 3,100 miles, averaging about 65 miles a day.  That’s coast to coast in 47 days, not counting days to rest.  Wowza.  I asked how dangerous it was, and he said 99% of car drivers gave them a wide berth.  In fact he is really into “normal people doing extraordinary things.”

Being an ordinary guy who did something kind of extraordinary (riding 10,000 miles in two years), I can relate.  And while Jim spoke at length about past achievements and future plans for the ACA, which are really interesting and which I’ll get more into after his talk tomorrow, I wanted to know what might interest my readers.  Just like me, how does one go from a commuter, or urban recreational rider, into doing trips by bicycle?Another surprising answer:  whatever works for you.  If you have the means, you can pay to join a guided bike tour (ACA does dozens a year), as do other groups.  Or, you can bike somewhere and stay at a motel, hotel, hostel, or Air BnB — camping is optional.

In fact, there’s a website dedicated to overnight trips:  It’s a pretty cool idea:  you can search for examples of trips people have done, and then if you take a trip, post where you went with photos for others to see.  The first one I found under Austin was a 25-mile trip taken by a woman and her son who couldn’t get a campground so just stayed in an Austin hotel.  Another was a 200-mile trip that was supposed to be in nice sunny weather but turned into a rainy challenge.   So the crowdsource approach shows the diversity of the kinds of people and types of trips people do on their bicycle.  It’s not just “self-contained” trips, it can be inn-to-inn, van supported, fully supported, family-friendly, and other types as well.

Just Get on Your Bikes and Ride!

Jim poses with A Dude on Armistice Day

The lesson for me was that bike travel can be whatever the hell you want it to be.  The point is to get out there and try it.   In fact, I’ve already done several bike trips, I just didn’t know it.  My overnight trips to Salado Smokin’ Spokes, the Hill Country Ride for AIDS, the Easter Hill Country Ride, and the MS 150 were all bike travel trips.  (The latter was the only one where I biked two days with camping in-between.)  So if I’ve already done it, what’s holding me back from more?  I even know a guy who leads overnight trips with the Sierra Club.  I guess it’s concerns about cost, since I would want to not have to rely on a back-up if I’m going over 25 miles, and there is a legimate fear of not being able to haul more weight than I already do between my awesome fathlete self and my 28-pound Fairdale with only 9 gears.  But eventually those obstacles can be overcome.

In Europe, bike tourism is huge.  Jim says it’s a mult-billion dollar industry, because people go on vacation, use bikes, go places, and spend money.  He’d like to see that happen here.  It will take some time to map more of the routes along with the US system.  In fact, there are already over 47,000 miles of bike-friendly routes that ACA has mapped out.  Working with the U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS), which has over 13,000 miles of routes, the ACA hopes to someday have virtually all of the US mapped out where it’s easy to go from your backyard to most anywhere in the country.

Again, I wanted to bring it back to how to do it:  he says you don’t need a fancy bike.  You can take just a bivvy sack, a lightweight material to cover you if you sleep outdoors, and a sleeping bag.  One woman took five Snickers bars on her overnight trip.  Jim said find a place where you want to go, research it, and see what the options are based on your budget.  Map it out, make sure you have what you need, and go for it!  On the website there’s a whole section devoted to the How-To of doing bike travel.ACA_TravelBasics_WEB

In the second post I hope to go into more detail about the organization and whatever else Jim presents.  But it was great to meet an influential voice in the American bicycling community.  Not only did he allow a little-known small-time blogger time to meet (and let me buy him a cup of coffee), he spent more time than planned.

I’m grateful to Jim for his time and sharing his personal experience and insight.  I don’t know about you after reading this post, but I’m eager to explore the idea and who knows, maybe I’ll become a big-time bike travel rider like Jim or HalfastCyclist, who recently biked from coast to coast.  Or, maybe I’ll just figure out how to get out of dodge for a night and not have to do it with a car.  Sounds like fun to me!

How about you?  Have you done bike travel?  If so, what was it like?  If not, what’s holding you back?


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