"Bikes are for kids." "You paid how much for that pushbike?" I'm sure anyone who hangs out on this site or on any of other myriad of mountain bike enthusiast sites that have spread like disease in the past while has heard this before, and probably had the same shaking-head reaction. But we're "enthusiasts"; bike geeks. Some would say blinkered addicts, addicted to mountain biking, trail building, riding, and hanging out with other mountain bikers. Often caught up in an ecosystem of bike nerdery without much insight into the relative smallness of the mountain biking industry and its relative insignificance in the grand scheme of a global economy.
Times are a-changing though. The people who started riding in the 80's and 90's are now older. Often they have kids. They're still riding; and they're travelling to ride. Sometimes they travel with their spouses; sometimes with friends. Many times travel and mountain biking is a family affair as Mums and Dads ride with their sons and daughters.
Slowly but surely the tourism industry is catching on to this; targeting their marketing to this potentially lucrative new demographic. Recognition that mountain bikers are not just a fringe iconoclastic set of slumming dirtbags is not completely universal. There's a wide contrast between say the sophistication of Tourism Whistler
in Canada who actively promotes mountain biking and collects copious data about all visitors to Whistler. Compare this to Chur Tourismus
in Switzerland who as late as 2010 told us that they did not encourage mountain biking from the top of their Brambuesch gondola (to be fair it seems now that Chur has gotten religion and actively promotes the sport
The purpose of this article is to compare economic impacts of mountain biking tourism in diverse locales. The article assumes that, within reason, "growing the sport" and tourism is inherently a good thing; both for local communities and for mountain bikers. However, there is extensive disagreement about this stance so please discuss in the comments if you have an opinion. EDIT - many thanks to those providing comments, insight and vital information. including Claude Balsiger (Davos, Switz.), Sierra van der Meer (Yukon), Sean O'Neill (MT), Jeff Cooke (Squamish), Rob McSkimming (Whistler), Frank Savage (Whistler), Samuel Hubschmid (Interlaken, Switz.), Darco Cazin (Graubunden Bike), Ursula Beamish-Mader (Tourism Switz.), Eric Brown (Bellingham), Justin Calof/Thomas Schoen (Williams Lake), Ray Freeman (Victoria) and many others
Who travels to mountain bike?
Kleine Riffelsee in Zermatt
As someone who travels to and writes about appealing places to visit on a mountain bike, anecdotally speaking it seems that even the dark ages tourism professionals are beginning to clue into the fact that mountain bikers are a target market with some degree of spending power and desire to travel. But people who travel to mountain bike are predominantly of a certain age and travel preference.
I took the trouble of aggregating recent relevant content concerning economic impacts of mountain biking from a variety of sources. Source files of all these Economic Impact Assessments are here
. Many of these EIA's breakout economic impacts not just by locals but also by travellers. Even a small glance will show that the usual suspects (Whistler, North Vancouver) have detailed EIA's but even this data tends to be stale-dated. Notable omissions from this article include Phoenix, Vancouver Island, South Tyrol, Austria and other locales. Since I don't have access to academic bibliographies or written copies not on the web it is possible, indeed probable, that I missed a ton of data so please use the comments to point to regional studies if there any. A 2004 Government of Yukon study by Jane Koepke
is an older comparative piece that also attempted to compare economic impacts of mountain bike tourism and was useful in providing historical data.
It turns out that mountain bikers who destination travel spend comparable amounts per day, spend as much time and are willing to travel as far as other groups such as golfers
who tourism marketers typically chase. A useful study from the Canada Tourist Commission displaying average spend and duration of average stay for all tourists (all years
) shows mountain bikers coming in about average or above average on counts as compared to other summer visitors. In general the EIA's show that the profile of a typical visitor is as follows:
• Predominantly male (approx 75%)
• 25-45 years old (approx 65-70% on a bell curve distribution with tails dropping off dramatically on each end except in Moab and Whistler where there were a significant amount of younger travellers). 19-29 year olds are generally the second largest category at approx 27%.
• A majority (55%) had household income levels greater than $80,000. As a datapoint 31% of all BC outdoor recreationalists
had household income levels greater than $ 80,000. Mountain biking visitors were generally in line with all tourists to Canada going on guided tours
(59% had incomes of greater than $100,000)
• Average stay at each location 3 to 5 days (longer if the visitor is from far away; shorter if the visitor is from close by)
• Average spend per day $ 60 - $ 100 (inclusive of accoms, food, recreation, etc but exclusive of travel costs to get to a destination)
To the extent there is data, international travellers generally spend more than domestic travellers over the course of their trip. Perhaps that might be because the upfront cost of forking over for the airline ticket means that the international traveller wants to invest more time and money in having a good experience. But international visitors also spend more days; accordingly their per day spending tends to be less - presumably because package lodging and food deals are priced cheaper for longer stays.
it's interesting to note that contemporary data is little changed from the 2004 Koepke study profile
with the exception that an increasing number of visitors/travellers now travel with non-biking partners or with family and that the demographic is slightly older.
Canada Tourist Commission 2012 all travellers characteristics to Canada - international travellers over the entire year
Vancouver Island is a locally known fantastic spot to ride with year-round opportunities but Tourism VI does not have analytics about who rides and why they visit.
The Aletscharena is one of the world's magical places but the Swiss (one of the world's most organized people) have poor data on who visits this area to bike and why.
Diving into more detail here are some of the numbers from the various EIAs surveyed in this article. At the outset its noteworthy that all the communities who're the subject of the EIA's have a strong local mountain bike community, strong local trail network and active local organizations. Truly it seems that once the community has a entrenched, passionate local foundation that others want to visit and also experience from that richness.
The seminal MBTA 2007 study Whistler Report is the one most commonly used as a baseline. Surprisingly it showed that over half (52%) of Whistler visitors weren't there for the bike park but for the Whistler valley's exceptional trail system. Bike park ridership was greater though due to number of repeat visitors (76,600 bikepark vs 25,000 trail for the mid June to mid Sept study period) There was less than 10% crossover between bikepark and valley trail riders showing that the trail system, in and of itself was a significant draw. A large majority (70% were male). Another large majority (68%) were non-locals. Riders in Whistler (including bikepark and trails) were predominantly in the 30-39 category (37%) with bikepark riders being generally older than trail riders. Visiting riders were strongly represented by 18 and under year olds (18%) which brings down the average age making visiting riders in Whistler relatively younger than for any other area with an EIA (except for Moab where the average age of visitors was also younger). Living in Whistler I would hazard a guess that there is a noticeable subset of younger travellers who are more budget-conscious that travel to this core name-brand destination but the younger demographics' average dollar spend isn't significant.
As to spending, 90% of visitors were overnight visitors. Both bikepark and trail riders stayed a fairly long time (4.5 to 5 nights). Bikepark riders spent more per day ($133) vs trail riders ($94) - but taking out the price of the bikepark passes, trail riders spent more. International/oversea visitors spent the most, stayed the longest (7 nights) but spent less per day on average; probably because lodging costs drop as you stay longer. Income of riders was all over the place with the bell curves having fat tails at bottom and top end (ie fair amount of budget mixed in with bling but with lower incomes predominantly among trail riders).
Whistler Bike Park couldn't divulge visitor numbers for 2012 but did provide other statistics to show that the visitor breakdowns from 2007 are fairly consistent in terms of nights stayed and mix of riders but with a one year anomaly that visitors got younger and income level dropped in 2012. RMOW (ie Whistler Muni) kindly provided raw trail usage numbers which showed trail useage by total visitors basically staying the same from 2008 to 2012. Although the 2007 MBTA survey badly needs updating a reasonable Wild Ass Guess can be made that its data is still useful and/or somewhat representative.
Lost Lake - Whistler
Top of the World - Whistler
Squamish is another area which benefited from the 2007 MBTA Sea-to-Sky
study. Another recent 2014 study from SORCA
produced some eye-popping numbers showing astounding growth.
The 2007 study found that 49% of mountain bikers on Squamish trails were visitors with 30% of these visiting riders coming from far destinations. The vast majority were male (71%). 8,900 riders over the study period (594/week) used Squamish trails with the majority of visiting riders (47%) being in the 30-39 category .That same study found that Squamish visitors spent a healthier chunk of cash if they were same-day ($93) vs overnight ($54) reflecting the survey findings that many visitors ate in Squamish pre and post-ride. 21% of riders overnighted in Squamish
The 2014 Squamish study found that 75% of trail users were visitors (a large increase); jumping to 85% on the Half Nelson
landmark trail. The sausage factor dropped considerably over the past 7 years with male percentage dropping to 55% showing that Squamish trails drew increasing female ridership. The study counted 1339 riders over a three day weekend. A conservative projection estimated rider counts at 1920 visitors/week; 640 locals/week. It was then projected that 25,000 riders visited Squamish on just weekends over the riding season (26 weekends) roughly doubling that number when including weekdays. 40% stayed overnight spending $ 215 per person per trip or approx $80/day (average stay was 2.5 days). Day visitors spent $ 37 per day.
Accordingly Squamish has seen dramatic increase in rider volume. Per an interview with Jeff Cooke (SORCA president), it is hypothesized this is driven by the quality of trails, growing reputation of Squamish as a riding destination, the PR generated by signature trails like Half and Full nelson, PR generated by videos posted by world class riders and videographers living and riding in Squamish, the highway improvements and last but not least, the growth of mountain biking in general in the region (ie uptick in average cost of bikes, popularity and growth of race series in the corridor etc).
The 2007 MBTA study
found that 55% of mountain bikers were visitors (counting only North Shore residents as locals). 18,700 riders/week used Shore trails with the majority of visiting riders (47%) being in the 30-39 category and the vast majority being male (85%). Only 12% of riders came from further destinations ie areas outside the Sea to Sky corridor; a reason for that low number commonly cited was the perceived technical difficulty of Shore trails.
Very few riders (9%) overnighted on the North Shore reflecting the fact that the vast majority of non-resident Shore riders stayed in other places in Greater Vancouver. Reflecting this same fact, daily spend was low for visitors to the Shore ($39 sameday/$48 overnight)
There have been no updates to the North Shore 2007 MBTA EIA. While it is possible that the addition of a leg of the BC Bike Race to North Vancouver and the development of easier trails may increase out-of-town ridership that is just speculation at present
Mount Seymour during a North Shore Bike Fest enduro race
This interior town of 3,500 people has punched above its weight in the mountain biking world for a long time now and was the subject of a BC provincial government funded EIA in 2013
. It has the benefit of professional bike advocacy via the KCTS
and the signature Seven Summits trail
54% of mountain bikers on Rossland trails were visitors; curiously the EIA didn't provide estimated visitor counts. Almost all the visitors travelled some distance to get there with a significant number (23%) coming from outside Canada. Collectively 85% of all visitors were 25 - 54 years old with the youngest category being, by a small margin the largest; 25 to 34 years old (32%), followed by 35 to 44 years old (28%) and 45 to 54 years old (26%). Rossland travellers are a prosperous lot with almost half (48%) having household incomes of over $100K. The visitors were a pretty motivated crowd with most reporting spending an average of 4.5 hours/day on their bikes.
As can be expected for a destination far from bigger cities, almost all visitors to Rossland were on extended roadtrips. Visitors tended to stay between 3- 9 days in the Rossland area (other BC'ers stayed 3 days, internationals and other Canadians stayed the longest at 8 to 9 days). Many visitors were travelling as a couple (84%) or as a family with kids (36%). Spend was an average of $63/day during trips with costs decreasing as length of stay increased.
Golden is a town of 3,700 people located near the Alberta/BC border. It also received the benefit of a 2013 BC-funded EIA
. Mostly known for the Mount 7 ultra gnar downhill race the trail system is now a bit more diversified from the gravity crowd but it still attracts a fair amount of riders to ride the Mount 7 and Kicking Horse downhill trail systems.
A large proportion (75%) of riders on Golden trails were visitors; as with the Rossland EIA no estimated visitor numbers were provided. Only 20% were from other parts of BC with the vast majority of others (75%) being from Alberta. US and other international numbers were negligible. 46% of the mountain bike visitors were 25 - 34 years old, 26% were 35 to 44 y.o., and 14% under the age of 24. 50% had incomes of greater than $100k.
Many visitors were on extended road trips of 7 days or greater with the average stay in Golden being 3 days. Visiting mountain bikers spent an average of $ 87/day
Storm over Canmore; not Golden but I've got no pictures of our rides there
Located in central interior BC Williams Lake has been featured in countless freeride movies. The town is forward-looking and extremely supportive of mountain biking to the extent of organizing free mtb shuttles this summer of 2014
. A 2012 EIA
from the local umbrella advocacy group (the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium
) documents the growth of the sport and the attempt of local bikers to not just showcase DH but also the diverse pedalling trails in the region (also see this PB article about Williams Lake pedalling trails
The remarkable aspect of mountain biking in the Williams Lake area is its growth; an increase in visitors of 21% over the past two years admittedly from a relatively small base (7100 in 2010 to 10,160 in 2012). 43% of riders were visitors (23% from surrounding communities; 20% from outside the Cariboo region). Outside Cariboo region riders increased by 10% in the past two years. No demographic drilldowns were provided but it was assumed that visitor profiles were largely in line with the rest of the province. Visitors largely camped or stayed on tight budgets spending $ 19/day (daytrippers) and $ 77 (overnighters).
On the Fox Mountain Trails
The 2012 McNamee study
conducted an EIA of selected Oregon events occurring in the Bend/Oakridge areas and consequently is useful only as a sample set for event participants.
65% of mountain bikers in those events were visitors. The majority (73%) were older at 25 - 44 years old (44% were 25 - 34; 29% were 35-44). Also a prosperous crowd 43% had household incomes greater than $ 100,000. Average length of stay and average spent per day was comparable to non mountain biking visitors to Bend (3.9/nights; $99/day vs 4.2 nights/$96/day).
That 2012 study is an interesting compare/contrast to the 2008 Weigand EIA re the Portland
area. This 2008 Portland study is for all bicycling (including commuting and road) and nicely wraps up comparative studies for Colorado (2000)
, Maine (2001) and Wisconsin (2006)
. In all cases, bicycling generated significant revenue and jobs either through daily activity or through attracting visitors by way of events and tours. Wisconsin's study reported per day average spend subtracting event fees of $ 60/day. Maine's study showed much longer average bike tour durations for cycle touring (4- 7 days) compared to mountain biking with average spending ranging from approx $ 60 - $80/day.
Alpine Trail - on a Mountain Bike Oregon trip
Local Santa Cruz mountain biking advocates produced an EIA in 2007 for Santa Cruz County
. Located on the Pacific coast just SW of the Bay Area this town of 60,000 people is relatively close to densely populated areas. It relates that visitors are primarily in the mid 20s to 40s year old range but doesn't provide supporting figures. Numbers are provided here just for comprehensiveness.
Clearly not Santa Cruz - sorry I've not biked there so this is filler
Moab is one of the longest-term fixtures in the mountain-bike scene and accordingly the most data exists for this small town located in eastern Utah. A 1997 study of the Adirondacks
region of is useful ironically because it cites historical data from Moab gleaned from this 1996 article by Fix and Loomis
which is unavailable online. No primary data was obtained from Adirondacks biking areas (primarily in the Lake Placid area). The Fix and Loomis 1996 study relates that in Moab the average stay was 4 days with the average spend per day being $ 55. Average of visitors was 27, considerably younger than contemporary averages, an interesting observation.
The 2011 Headwaters Economics EIA
updates information generally about public land usage in Grand County UT (Moab is the largest town in that county). Mountain bikers at 17% of all visitors (2nd only to hiking contributed 200,500 visits to the BLM-managed lands in the Moab area. A 2002 survey of Slickrock trail riders showed that 98% were visitors, 79% we male, with the majority having household incomes of greater than $80,000/year. Most (67%) were between the ages of 21 and 35 (although 29% were over 34); showing that Moab, like Whistler, attracts a younger set of riders.
Overnight vIsitors to Moab outside National Parks were a majority of users (64%) and as a whole (hikers, bikers, OHV users etc.) spent a good deal of money per day; much more than other destinations . The $206/day figure includes a good chunk for local gas and transportation ($38 ). Although there are no separate break outs for mountain bikers the raw numbers hint at a remarkable increase in per day spending over the 1996 historicals.
Porcupine Rim in Moab
With 80,000 residents the Ham is not small by any means but the running locals joke is that it's the closest you can get to Whistler without becoming a bacon eating hoser. Bellingham has developed an incredibly passionate and diverse trailbuilding scene centred around legal trails (Galbraith, Padden) and unsanctioned trails that were kept on the down low until land manager's chainsaws felled them
. Many Bellingham residents moved to this town specifically for the biking and outdoors scene foregoing the brighter lights of other cities. Many road-trippers making the trek up I-5 make this town's trails a must-stop.
The 2014 WMBC (Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition) survey
provides profiles of Bellingham riders. Conducted over winter to spring 2014 this survey was online-based. Demographics were in-line with other areas (ie males 30-49, avid and frequent riders, with household incomes of $50,000+). Visitors comprised 31.5% of total ridership (most visiting from Other WA and from BC). Their profile was also unsurprising. More affluent than locals (67% had household incomes greater than $70,000/year), visitors returned often (72% visit at least quarterly) and spend significant sums (59% spend $20-60 per trip). No breakdowns were provided differentiating between overnight visits vs day visits or obtaining data concerning average duration of stay.
Not actually on Bellingham trails but at least it's the same state - on a road trip to Mt St Helens
Tourism Switzerland supplied numbers reports that 11.8% of all visitors to Switzerland in 2010
mountain-biked; far outnumbered by the largest user group hikers/walkers (68% ). However to put it in context more visitors travelled for mountain biking than for snowsports, tennis or golf, for example. 2014 figures from the Swiss federal government "Swiss Sports"
(see pg 42) shows that as a percentage of the population mountain biking is among the more popular activities (4%) in 8th place; above ski-touring, tennis or golf. Skiing is by far the most popular activity with hiking being the most popular summer activity (17.6%)
Swiss studies from Graubunden dated 2012
) provide some cursory information about visitors to this Swiss canton. Graubunden mountain bike visitors are mostly 40 years old, predominantly male (67%) and are from other areas of Switzerland. Trail bikers stay an average of 2.7 days; downhillers stay an average of 4.7 days. Mountain bikers were high value spending an average of 159 CHF/day (higher than other visitors who spent an average of 128-140 CHF/day).
A 2013 Masters Thesis by Schallteger
provides mountain bikers comparables for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The thesis is long and deals with several issues so see Appendix C (pg 122) for profiles of mountain biking tourists. They are overwhelmingly male (89%); and 25 - 44 years old (60%). The majority of visitors to the areas in questions are German (50%), then Swiss (40%). Other regions are mere rounding errors except for Austrians (5%). High-incomes were not as overly represented in visitors to these regions as in North American with 33% having household incomes of more than EUR45,000/year (47% with household incomes less than EUR45,000/year). No information was provided on average spend/day.
A 2003 study by Heer
also presented some demographic data about mountain bikers comparing them to hikers but without distinguishing between visitors and locals. Data presented just for completeness follows. Mountain bikers were overwhelmingly male (87%; hikers were evenly split male/female). Mountain bikers were younger (77% younger than 45 years old; 36% of hikers younger than 45 y.o.)
The Lauberhorn downhill in the Grindelwald/Jungfrau area
The United Kingdom doesn't have the terrain that its more storied European cousins in the Alps have but they have worked hard at developing "trail centers" where people travel to mountain bike. There is consequently data about this activity. The 2008 Gajda Study
is perhaps one of the best compilations of data about how and why mountain bikers make a choice to travel. Largely conducted online from IMBA UK membership, the Gajda study developed visitor profiles that were consistent with that found elsewhere in the world.
UK bikers who travelled were avid, mostly into pedalling, overwhelmingly male (97%) and mostly between 30-39 years old (57%). With 70% having incomes of greater than f £30,000 per year they are a prosperous lot
Spending habits surveyed were limited to Welsh and Scottish centres. Of 135,000 mountain-biking users at Welsh trail centres, 35% of riders in Welsh trail centres were overnight visitors; 24% day-trippers. Scotland was the outstanding performer in the UK region with 600,000 visitor nights taken up largely by mountain biking visitors. Average stay was an outstanding 5 nights, average spend was £33/day. Of note the UK rider appears to be very acquainted with travelling for biking with over 80% having taken an overnight trip to go ride.
A 2007 Guide to Mountain Bike Tourism in Scotland
(free but registration required) also provides useful data. It's worth noting that Tourism Scotland's 2013 study
dives into details about the importance of cycling tourism generally to Scotland and is useful in the context of providing gross comparables. However mountain-biking's segregated impact isn't broken out limiting usefulness of data.
From the 2007 guide - 600,000 riders per year travelled to Scotland for the purpose built trails; 22.5 stayed overnight. Note that the total number of visiting riders to Scotland's purpose built trail centres per year is THREE TIMES that of Moab, the Noram leader. Counting those outside the trail centres (there were more visitors) total visitors to Scotland's trails to mountain bike was 1.3 million/ year. Day visitors only spent £12.50/day; overnight visitors spent between £32 (Scottish - hold the jokes) to £45/day (non-Scottish). The 2007 study's visitor profile was largely in-line with the Gajda Study with the possible exception that the average age of visiting riders was found to be slightly younger (24-35) and not quite as male-dominated.
While I've never been to Scotland to ride I somehow always imagine it would look something like this.
So why is this important? As an advocate for mountain biking, I believe its good to know your material. And the material is generally favourable showing lots of positive facts; ie that mountain biking travel is growing & is a significant activity and that mountain biking tourism is a significant contributor to local economies. Perhaps that will help other mountain biking advocates increase support of the sport either among local governments or the business community. At the very least perhaps it will go further in dispelling stereotypes about people who mountain bike.
This article might also go some ways to explain why if you complain about those dorky tourism promo videos being so boring
and why-oh-why are they featuring a bunch of old XC geeks then let me blunt; you're not the target market. Statistically, either you don't travel because you're dead broke or when you travel you go super-budget (top ramen, camping in Walmarts, panhandling tubes at the trailhead). Bottom line is that the 30 - 45 crowd travels, they're mostly male, they're relatively well off, don't mind spending a bit of money, spend a fair amount of time on bike and like to pedal. Indeed what data exists shows that the age of mountain bike travellers has gone up over the past decade. One can reasonably conclude that this has happened because sport has become more popular among older people or that the 27 year olds of 1997 are now the 43 year olds of 2013 and still travelling to ride. Having said that the average age of visitors to the most popular destinations (Whistler and Moab being by far the destination attracting the most visitors) is noticeably younger.
The common thread among the various destinations surveyed is that there is an EIA and therefore, some data about the economic impacts of biking for these destinations/areas. Another commonality is that these areas have healthy trail systems, a strong local community and a strong local bike culture steeped in trail building and advocacy volunteerism. Tourists don't come to places unless these unquantifiable things exist; that healthy local scene, trail system and culture is basically a prerequisite. Unfortunately, for the most part, governments take the volunteer effort for granted. It is hoped that this article will show that some (any) investment in supporting local trail groups will return dividends not just in quality of life for a local community but also in terms of hard economic impacts.
In conclusion, mountain biking has dramatic positive economic impacts; even a simple cursory glance of the EIA's show that. It's my experience that a thriving local scene with good trails and outstanding local community doesn't just add quality-of-life for locals but also tends to attract visitors from elsewhere (Smithers, Burns Lake
anyone?). Outside visitors can be the icing on the cake for a strong local mountain biking community, bringing in outside money, bringing in new (hopefully good) ideas and reminding locals that, yes --- they do have it good.