Dan Shryock - Gear up for cycle tourism
Yamhill Valley benefits when bicycle riders take to our roads
When claps of thunder rumbled across the Yamhill Valley sky on a recent Sunday morning, one couldn’t fault Chuck Lawrence if he mistook the clatter for the sound of his cash register.
Lawrence owns and operates Amity Foods & Coffee House in downtown Amity, and when Cycle Oregon bike riders rolled into town seeking shelter from the storm, they headed straight to his espresso counter.
“We probably had between 50 and 75 riders stop to get out of the rain,” Lawrence said later. Expensive bicycles lined his narrow, covered porch. Helmeted, Lycra-clad riders streamed through the front door and sat at tables. Each spent a few dollars.
Lawrence appreciates cycle tourism’s positive effect on his business. Amity is a convenient crossroads for riders making their way through the southern Yamhill Valley, and his store has become a popular way station.
“I love bike riding myself, so I try to get as many riders in here as I can,” he said. “I always wanted to make this (store) bike friendly.”
Cycle tourism helps fuel our economy. A recent study by Dean Runyan Associates concluded travelers who participated in a planned Oregon bicycle-related activity in 2012 spent about $400 million. That’s more than $1 million a day added to the state’s economy.
Breaking the dollars down, here is how the report said travelers spent their $400 million:
- $174.6 million on accommodations and food services.
- $71.5 million on motor fuel.
- $53.5 million on groceries.
- $31.9 million on cycling event fees.
- $27.9 million on bicycle repairs, clothing and gear.
While we have no numbers to illustrate the local economic impact, cyclists are seen on Third Street in downtown McMinnville almost every day. I frequently stop and ask these cycling visitors about their time here, and the responses are fairly consistent. They come to visit wine country. They want to ride our country roads. They love what they’ve experienced.
2,057 first dates
In the days following Cycle Oregon’s stay in McMinnville, I’ve defined the event in conversations as a first date for the 2,057 cyclists riding that weekend. If the first date went well, we could anticipate they would return to ride again.
“More than 2,000 avid cyclists now know about the silky and scenic roads (in the Yamhill Valley),” wrote Cycle Oregon executive director Alison Graves in an e-mail following the July 11-13 event. “They know about places like Farmer John’s Produce stand, which is a great place to buy local produce and get some ice cream. They know there are beautiful parks to visit. They know there’s great wine. And they know there is a wonderful and increasingly bike-friendly downtown McMinnville.
“(McMinnville) is close enough to Portland, where most of the riders are from, to visit regularly and just far enough that it feels like a destination: the best of both worlds,” she continued. “Cycle Oregon was a tremendous success from our perspective. We’ve already gotten a lot of positive feedback from riders of all levels. The quality of the roads was excellent, the lack of traffic made the riders feel safe and the people in town were friendly and welcoming. Simply put, this is an incredible place to ride. If it was a first date, it was a good one and the chances of getting together again are high.”
Cycle Oregon estimates riders spent roughly $20,000 in town that weekend, even though lodging and food were provided on the Linfield College campus as part of each rider’s entry fee. The event organizer spent another $100,000 at Linfield for services and facilities and in donations to local groups for their help on the routes.
Graves noted that downtown McMinnville is “increasingly bike friendly.” That’s no accident. Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism marketing organization, has launched a first-in-the-nation initiative to encourage businesses to provide services that appeal to cyclists. If a business meets the criteria, it’s included in a free cycling resources database on the state’s RideOregonRide.com website.
Ordering a “Bike Friendly Business” sign tells visiting cyclists they are welcome to walk in, helmet, bike shoes and all.
To date, more than 130 businesses throughout the state have joined this program. Of those, 20 are from the Yamhill Valley, and the numbers continue to grow.
Cycle tourism as economic development
We’re already in the cycle tourism business — riders are here now. We already offer the attributes and amenities cyclists want: beautiful country roads, charming downtowns, appealing wineries and breweries, excellent restaurants and lodging.
And we should want them riding here. Road cyclists spend money. Their bikes alone cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The Lycra clothes, the helmets and the cycling shoes aren’t cheap, either.
Who are these people? The Dean Runyan report revealed the following demographics:
- 71 percent of traveling cyclists are 25-64 years old.
- 81 percent completed a four-year college degree or more.
- 75 percent earn at least $50,000 a year.
- A healthy 32.7 percent earn $100,000 or more.
- 84 percent of cyclist travelers stay at least two nights.
- 70.6 percent stay in commercial lodging: hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast inns, for example.
Here’s the next step
With 20 area businesses and organizations already on board and more rolling this way, we are primed to take the next step. With commitment, planning and countywide cooperation, we should be able to create a viable, profitable cycle tourism product.
Travel Oregon can help make that happen. To assist regions such as the Yamhill Valley develop its cycling infrastructure and marketing efforts, a planning program called the Bicycle Tourism Studio has been established.
We will need all communities in the county to work together for this common goal. We will need the support of Yamhill County officials as we examine the importance of paved safety shoulders on many of our country roads.
It will be worth it. Ask Chuck Lawrence in Amity.
“We like the quality of the people who are riders,” he said. “They are concerned with safety and the environment. They are good for the county. People would be amazed at how much they contribute to the county.”
He sees the potential. Can you?