No longer just for the athletic elite, bike tours are becoming a fast-growing trend in the travel industry—and tour operators have taken notice. Travelers are seeking out bike tours to stay active, minimize environmental impact, and experience diverse landscapes and cityscapes at a closer level.
This trend is part of an overall growth of interest in bicycling that has taken off in recent years. According to the Bikes Belong Coalition, cycling has increased by 71 percent in San Francisco and 47 percent in Minneapolis over the past decade. The Adventure Cycling Association reported a very successful 2011, with revenue, participation, and interest at an all time high.
Cities with well-maintained bike paths and compelling scenery can lure cycling tourists who, in turn, can have significant economic impact. In Wisconsin, for example, bike tourism contributes an estimated $1.5 billion every year. “You will also be contributing more to the local economy by using local guides, or companies who engage local guides and fixers,” explains Catherine Shearer of H&I Adventures Mountain Biking Worldwide, based in Inverness, Scotland.
Promoting bike tourism also enables travelers to appreciate the native plants, wildlife, and natural beauty of the area that one may not notice on a tour bus or traveling by car. “We are finding that point-to-point cycling trips are becoming very popular now,” says Trish Sare, founder and director of BikeHike Adventures, an international tour company based in Vancouver, British Columbia. “For example, our Scotland, Coast to Coast Adventure. We cycle from the east coast to the west coast of Scotland. Many travelers love trips with a goal.”
Human-powered travel has obvious benefits for the environment as well: Cyclists can enjoy—and actively preserve—the landscapes they pass through. Maria Elena Price, co-owner of ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours, headquartered in Colorado, estimates that on a standard eight-day trip covering 220 miles, an average of 10 to 12 people are biking who might otherwise have driven. “So we could be essentially displacing three to five cars that would have been on those 220 miles.”
For travelers who care just as much about the ecosystem they leave behind as the one they’re about to see, bike tourism certainly has its merits. Trish Sare notes, “Every mile you bike will save about one pound of CO2 and other pollutants from entering the atmosphere.”
On two wheels, you can explore the natural beauty of a new destination – or the trails in your own backyard – as fast as your feet can pedal. You’ll also get the health benefits of physical activity. Adventure photographer Jeff Bartlett recently completed a 10-day, 300-mile bike tour through the Andes and Chile’s Lake District with ExperiencePlus! He reports, “The ride itself will get you in shape I don’t think training is too important. For a lot of people “getting in shape’ will become an excuse that prevents them from hitting the road. Let the ride be your training.”
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