By Ron Cunningham, GLOB Correspondent
EDITOR's NOTE: Ron Cunningham is a Gainesville cyclist, Journalist, and Executive Director of Bike Florida. The Cycle Chronicler is updating readers on what is looming on the Cycler Chronicles horizon
A few years ago Jill and I cycled the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. Our first challenge turned out to be locating the GAP trailhead.
So I did what guys aren't supposed to do and asked directions from a local cyclists, who proved to be friendly and quite helpful.
In the course of our conversation I told him about Bike Florida and invited him to come down and ride with us. He looked at me like I'd lost my mind and then said something I've head many times before and since.
"I'd never ride in Florida," he said. "It's too hot."
And he's right..if you chose to ride in the dead of a Florida summer it does tend to get pretty hot.
Still, I wish he had been there for our Orange Blossom Express Tour, in the balmy month of that following March. We had a few nights that dipped down into the 30s.
The point being that when it comes to attracting cyclists, Florida has an image problem. A few of them, actually.
Yes, there's that whole summer heat thing (although having ridden RAGBRAI in the heat of an Iowa summer, I'd say Florida holds no monopoly on that). There's also a perception that Florida consists of Disney, South Beach, urban sprawl and not much else. And it certainly doesn't help that Florida continues to have an earned reputation as a dangerous state for cycling and walking.
The reality is that Florida is a place where you can ride year-around, and the spring, fall and winter months are wonderful for cycling. The reality is that Florida is a state of endless natural wonders - crystal clear springs and moss-draped canopy roads and winding rivers and green forests and primitive wetlands and miles of beaches, many of which do not suffer from overdevelopment. The reality is that while much of urban Florida is problematical for cyclists and pedestrians - and that's something we all need to keep working to rectify - Florida is also a state blessed with endless miles of little-traveled back roads, streets and highways with well designed bike lanes and, best of all, a wonderful system of greenways and trails that are now being connected to make multi-day off-road cycle touring possible.
Those of us in the cycle tourism business understand very well the perception vs. reality dilemma. Bike Florida has been in the touring business for 22 years, and we continue to expand our tour offerings. But we also know that Florida hasn't even begun to scratch the surface when it comes to tapping into a large and growing cycle tourism market.
In Europe, cycling is a $57 billion a year industry. One popular cycling route alone, in Canada's Quebec region, brings in in excess of $94 million a year in cycling-related business. Closer to home, states like Colorado, and Oregon - and even Iowa - are magnets for attracting cyclists.
And here's the thing about people who choose to do their touring on the back of a bicycle. They tend to be older, well-educated and possessed of disposable income. The majority of riders at our recent Surf & Turf Tour were retired Baby Boomers and college graduates with household incomes ranging from $$70,000 to $109,000.
Florida can and should do better when it comes to capturing its share of the cycle tourism market. And Bike Florida wants to help move the discussion in that direction.
On Friday, Oct. 28, in Gainesville, as part of the 4th annual Share The Road Celebration of Cycling event, Bike Florida will sponsor a series of speakers and panel discussions around the theme "Cycling Is The New Golf: Will Florida Be A Major Destination For Cycle Tourism?" In partnership with the Florida Bicycle Association, the University of Florida's Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management and Visit Florida, we will thoroughly explore ways the Sunshine State can truly become the Cycling State.
We will be bringing in speakers and panelists from across the country to see what Florida can learn from other states' success stories. One of our panels will feature tour operators who will talk about what they need by way of community support then they bring riders to town.
Another will showcase Florida communities - Clermont, Madison and Palatka notably - that are already adopting strategies to bring cyclists to town. Still another will focus on the research being done about the economic benefits of cycle tourism.
In coming blogs I'll be sharing more details about our speakers and panels. And in addition to our focus on cycle tourism, our sister organization, the Florida Bicycle Association, will be sponsoring a Bicycle Streets And Trails Summit that day to talk about other important bicycle-related issues.
Please make plans to join us in Gainesville on Friday, Oct. 28. And while you are in town, stay the night and join us on Saturday for a Memorial Ride and the formal dedication of the Share The Road Memorial at Gainesville's new Depot Park.
In short, come Celebrate Cycling with us.