Feature Article - July 2017
Find a printable version here

Rolling Right Along

Expand Biking Options in Your Community

By Joe Bush

From Mike Repyak and Andy Williamson, executives with the Trail Solutions arm of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), you can get a cycling two-fer: an update on how bike trails and bike-optimized facilities are gaining popularity with communities across the globe, and how they can help your community with everything from planning to funding and construction advice for your own bike park or mountain bike loop for all levels of riders.

Linear bike trails like those created and promoted by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy get connected with each other and side features such as skills courses to provide recreation as well as transportation. Communities that aren't checking out greenways, bike trails and bike parks as potential offers for their residents are not doing due diligence, said Repyak, Trail Solutions senior projects manager.

"Communities are seeing the benefits of greenways and those greenways making connections to bike-optimized trails, bike parks, hiking trails, trails in general, seeing what they do for health benefits, building community, economic benefits and getting people outdoors," he said.

"You see industries and commercial operations looking for cities that have opportunities to put their workers near facilities like this. I am heading up much of our business development, and I am getting requests for proposals daily from all over the nation for bike park facilities, single track with skills loops, interfacing with greenways. We are very busy chasing work all over the place, and we are not the only consultant out there doing this work.

"While the economic downturn slowed things down, we now have this wave of communities realizing we need to get on board here, or we're going to fall behind our peers across the region and across the United States."

There are two types of trail-related biking venues: linear for lower-key riding with enough room for two-way traffic, and the kind IMBA advocates, higher energy and rugged single-track paths and courses for jumping, bumping and fat-tired bikes. Williamson, Trail Solutions' director of programs, said there are reasons for the surge in attraction to the latter. Simply put, the present younger generation and the one to come are looking for a customized and adrenalized experience.

"Young professionals, they're looking for this active lifestyle that includes these kinds of activities," Williamson said. "Kids love it. Young millennials expect it. They're getting doctorates and moving to Portland and Boulder and cooking hamburgers, for a reason. It's changed drastically to where we are a core component of an economic revival in the nation's strategy. Outdoor recreation. To me, my work on the ground has totally changed."

Communities that aren't checking out greenways, bike trails and bike parks as potential offers for their residents are not doing due diligence.

Repyak added, "There's demand for this outdoor recreation experience that's not team-based—it's not soccer, it's not baseball, it's not football, it's got an X-Games factor, where you've got these kids, now millennials, who grew up watching X-Games and alternative sports. Communities have picked up on that and realized that these are facilities that the initial costs are similar to or less than building a large field complex, but maintenance is lower than some of these very developed sports facilities."

The 20 employees of Trail Solutions provide services such as market assessment, tourism development, trail planning and design, and trail construction. Williamson said their purpose is far from being directed at only hard-core mountain bikers; there is loads of growth in the sport, as attested by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association's 2015 Sports, Fitness, and Leisure Activities Topline Participation Report.

The study showed that mountain biking is in the top 15 of both actual growth and percentage growth. The rise is a testament not only to a generation's desires, but also the changing perception of the sport's participants, Williamson said.

"We're no longer dirtbags with our hair on fire," he said. "Communities need to realize, we are riding $5,000 to $10,000 bikes. We are educated and affluent. We don't sleep in the back of our pickup truck and ask for money. We are staying in nice hotels and eating at restaurants. We have a full spectrum."

Repyak said the communities that have seen the light have two goals for adding mountain bike trails and parks.

"They say, 'We want to do this for our local community, but we also want to turn this into a destination community that brings people seeking out these trails because they're out doing a road trip and they're hitting the top spots and they're going to come here and spend money at our bike shops, at our restaurants, at our breweries, at our wineries,'" Repyak said. "Bikes bring an awesome demographic. They come with expensive bikes and like to spend money on food and beer, too."

One clear example that Trail Solutions worked on is the Allegripis Mountain Bicycle Trails System in Pennsylvania. Working with federal, state and local economic development agencies, as well as bike enthusiasts, the IMBA crew helped create a trail project for an economically depressed area.

It resulted in approximately 55,000 mountain bicyclists per year who have accounted for more than $7 million in annual revenue to the community. Based on the better-than-anticipated results, there are plans to accelerate construction of a parking lot and camping area to keep up with demand.

Not only has the increase in mountain biking interest and activity boosted the economies of communities, it has also created the need for businesses like Trail Solutions and specialty construction contractors and manufacturers of equipment used for bike parks.