After meeting Jim Sayer of Adventure Cycling Association on Monday (see my conversation with him), I cycled in the cold to attend his talk on Tuesday. So it was still a conversation, but with about 75 people, not just me. The evening was hosted at the in a big room at the offices of Bike Texas. As you might deduce from the name, it’s a group that works to make cycling safe and appealing in a variety of ways, from lobbying, pressing for infrastructure improvements, and education like Safe Routes to Schools. The evening began with schmoozing, beverages and snacks. I enjoyed the hot apple cider after my chilly ride. Some familiar faces were visible, including one rider I invited. Many were not, but were long-time supporters of the group. For Austin it’s colder than usual for this time of year, so before I continue I’m going to heat up some of that extra cider I brought home in my water bottle. Yum!
Adventures Come in Many Shapes and Sizes
Robin Stallings kicked things off with a talk about what Bike Texas is up to around the state. There’s plenty there for another post. In fact, BT and ACA have had a long relationship, and in fact Jim was in town eight years ago for a conference. But I will stick to the latter. As mentioned Monday, one doesn’t need much to have an adventure. Looking at Jim’s slides of himself on rides with his three different daughters, other cyclists around the world he met or who sent in photos of their trips, the point was well made. And travel he has! To Australia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Quebec Canada, Alaska and alot more places. Common to them all are people who ride bikes, which are truly a way to bond with people internationally. (Perhaps the future ex-US President Tinyhands Orangehead should come down off his high horse of hypocrisy and take a nice bike trip.)
Jim says that whatever bike trip you can conceive of and manage within your budget and abilities is bike travel. There are some pretty amazing places you can’t get to with an RV, that’s for sure. Narrow canyons and temples, the tops of hills and mountains going off road by mountain bike, and amazing beaches for just a few examples. After seeing his slides, I would ahave to agree that seeing the world by bicycle is often the best way.
The disclaimer is that harsh weather is an obstacle for even the most hardcore cyclist at times. Certainly on long trips there are plenty of challenges that come from being on the long haul rides. (Tips on learning how to do bike travel are on their webpage.) But being in nature, interacting with local people and their culture, and traveling at a speed where you can take things in instead of whiz past in a car is all great advertising for this growing activity.
Schopenhauer’s Three Stages of Truthiness
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently
opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.
-attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer but of dubious origin
Regardless of who said or adapted this, Jim felt like we’re in stage two, being violently opposed by some. I’m a cyclist who will have ridden 80 miles per week on average by the end of 2018, and who has advocated for bike lanes to car drivers not ready to admit that we’re here to stay. I can certainly attest to the fact that there is violent opposition just by riding the roads of Austin and having near-daily close encounters with aggressive drivers. I’ve nearly been hit countless times, have been honked or yelled at for no reason, and once or twice have even had things thrown at me. But that’s the minority and most people are willing to share the road as the law requires.
Jim’s experience of riding many, many thousands of miles, in many places also supports the notion that bikes are no longer ridiculed, but we are not yet universally accepted. So there is work to be done. The cool thing about riding is that the more people who do it, the safer it is for everyone else. He showed pictures of many riders who stopped by the ACA office in Missoula, Montana, as I did when there on my trip two years ago (Mountain Time: Biking and Hiking the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming).
Although I didn’t tour — I went by planes, trains, automobiles and buses and rented bikes along the way — I saw many of those pictures, and mine is up there too. There was one guy who carried a push mower across the US. He would mow yards to help pay for his trip. Families, individuals, couples, old, young, all shapes, sizes and colors of people and types of riders made that trek. Who knows how many people do it a year worldwide? It’s a lot. The point is, people do it, and we’re people, so maybe we can do it too! I’d certainly love to take off on a bike and go for a week or more to tour national parks. ACA leads tours of all types as well as provides the route maps and other tools for bike travel. And the truth is that eventually bike travel will be accepted as something that’s here to stay.
Bike Travel Makes Good Cents
Another point he made was about the financial impact bike tourism has had. In Europe, it’s so common for vacationers to go on bike rides (think about all the people following the Tour de France) that it’s a $50 Billion dollar a year industry. Yes, you read that right, Billion. I’m not sure how that’s figured but he claimed that it’s so prevalent that it’s more than cruise ships with their subsidized roads and ports and so on. In the US, biking has literally saved small towns like in Colorado where their former industry like mining has stopped. In Wisconsin alone, it’s $924 million dollar per year business, outpacing even ice fishing. He joked it’s partially because bicyclists are so ravenous after riding, they eat alot more.
In the end what I took away from this presentation is that bike travel is far more accessible than one might think. You can take a small amount of things you need and head to a nearby state park for an overnight. Take a toothbrush and a credit card, and bike to a hotel, bed and breakfast or other lodging. Go on a group tour that’s supported by van, or do it yourself. While some of the more advanced levels cost money, maybe it’s worth working and saving for them.
At the event, I ran into Niles, a guy I’ve ridden with who guides overnight tours to a park. I was concerned about my bike having the gears, and being able to haul things. Having seen me ride in the Hill Country, he felt sure I could do most of the routes that weren’t too hilly with Sophie the Fairdale, who only has nine speeds. He said he didn’t go fast, the point was to enjoy getting there. And since I’ve already done a few overnights, and ridden a ton of miles, perhaps it’s time I consider bike touring for myself.
How about you? Have you done bike travel? How did you get started? What was fun and what was hard about it? And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
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