This story originally appeared in the September 2015 edition of Georgia's Cities.
Robyn Elliott, owner of Bicycle Tours of Atlanta, talks about the history of an in-town Atlanta neighborhood during a bicycle tour she leads weekly.
Ask Robyn Elliott, owner of Bicycle Tours of Atlanta, about bicycle tourism and she is happy to talk about it but she would rather show someone instead.
“I’ve been doing bicycle tourism for six years,” she said. “It is great way to introduce people to the city and see that it is a great place to live, work and play.”
She invited a small group of GMA staff to take her “Fall in Love with Atlanta” 8-mile bicycle tour one morning in August to experience firsthand the benefits of touring parts of the city by bike. Along with bicycles, helmets, water and tips on handling a bicycle, the tour included frequent stops that allowed Elliott to discuss the history of a neighborhood or allow a resident to share his or her story with the group.
The tour started on Atlanta’s popular eastside BeltLine, then Elliott took riders through historic in-town Atlanta neighborhoods, like Inman Park, where a plantation once thrived, then was the site of historic Civil War Battles and later where Coca-Cola founders and leaders called home. The GMA group rode to the Oakland Cemetery and stopped to hear Elliott discuss how the cemetery was formed to not just be a place where some of Atlanta’s elite were buried but also as an event facility and community gathering space, which it continues to be today.
In Atlanta and several Georgia cities bicycling tourism is thriving and having an economic impact.
“Georgia has all the raw material needed to become a global destination for tourists who enjoy bicycling,” said Brent Buice, executive director of statewide bicycle advocacy group Georgia Bikes. “We have challenging mountainous climbs, relaxing coastal bike paths, lovely antebellum college towns and a vibrant capital city where bicycle infrastructure and cycling culture seems to double every few months.”
Bicycle ride events in the River Valley region help draw tourist to small cities such as Americus and Plains.
In the River Valley area, which includes the cities of Columbus, Americus and Plains, the River Valley Regional Commission (RVRC) promotes bicycle state routes within the region. Initially, the RVRC tried to promote the routes with brochures and flyers but didn’t see much success.
“We came to the conclusion that the best way to promote the bicycle routes is to get people on their bikes on the routes,” said Julio Portillo, Regional Community & Bicycle-Pedestrian planner for RVRC. “We didn’t just want to offer a bike ride; we started thinking about bicycle tourism as a means to promote not only the routes but the historic sites, points of interests and cool and interesting things to see and do along those routes.”
The commission sponsors bicycle events throughout the year, like May’s Prison to Peanuts, a ride from the Andersonville National Historic Site, through Americus, to the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site; and a Tour the Farm ride in November that provides a tour of organic farms in the region.
“The events give people a unique way to visit rural places in Georgia that they wouldn’t think of as a bicycle destination,” Portillo said. “We are trying to showcase how rural areas—because of the low traffic and scenic areas—can be bicycle destinations.”
Portillo noted that they’ve seen the economic impact the bicycle events have on local businesses.
“In Americus the downtown tourism association provided vouchers for discounts. They collected the vouchers back from the merchants to see if they were used and collected 62 out of the 70 that were distributed.”
The Dahlonega-Lumpkin Chamber and Visitors Bureau produces the Six Gap Century and Three Gap Fifty bicycle rides every year in the city.
“We attract between 2,300 and 2,600 cyclists annually to this event, which is now touted as ‘the largest ride in the Southeast.’ We know that this one weekend event generates approximately $1.35 million for our local economy,” said Chamber President Amy Booker. “These dollars help to lower local residents’ property taxes and the cyclists’ investment in our community, through dining, shopping, enjoying our attractions and staying overnight, help our local businesses to thrive.”
Booker said the Dahlonega rides are popular because people love the beauty and the challenge of the region’s mountains. “Cyclists come throughout the year to ride and train for their recreation and to prepare for Six Gap and other cycling events,” she said. “We are working to grow as a premiere cycling destination and strive to become a true ‘bicycle friendly’ community.”
Dahlonega’s efforts to become bicycle friendly are line with what Buice pointed to as key traits communities must have to capitalize on the bicycle tourism boom.
“Communities can be a bicycle tourism destination by offering good riding opportunities and welcoming customer service,” he said. “That means a community should first, offer quality, safe, physical places for people to ride, from standout facilities like the Silver Comet Trail to bicycle friendly city streets and bikable rural shoulders. Second, provide a friendly, welcoming atmosphere for people on bikes. Convenient bike parking, bike friendly lodging/camping and well-publicized emergency and repair services for stranded cyclists are important aspects of creating an atmosphere of welcoming customer service. And third, be a community of safe drivers who welcome bicyclists to their community. Nothing will scare off bicycle tourists faster than a high-profile hit-and-run...or a nasty personal encounter with an aggressive motorist.”
In the future, Elliott would like to see a state run website that would allow bicycle tourists to see all the bicycle tourism opportunities in one place.
“Other states are doing one stop shop websites,” she said. “Our pitch has been how to create a line item budget at the state level that recognizes that this is a great tourism opportunity that doesn’t require the building of anything but a website.”