Panel: Bikes have huge impact on Tahoe economy |

Panel: Bikes have huge impact on Tahoe economy

Jack Barnwell

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The bicycle’s impact on Tahoe’s economy has been gradual but steadily growing, according to a Wednesday panel discussion at Lake Tahoe Community College.

May’s Tahoe Talk forum, coordinated by Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization, focused on the bicycle and how the push to make South Lake Tahoe more bike friendly has benefited the area.

The panel included Curtis Fong of Bike the West, Carol Chaplin from Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority (LTVA), Jason Collin from South Shore Tahoe Chamber, and Gary Bell of Sierra Ski and Cycle Works. Ben Fish from Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association moderated.

Fish said studies, especially those conducted by Whistler in British Columbia, Canada, showed that bicyclist-minded tourists stay an average of three to five days in a location, and spend at least $75 per day in an economy.

Panelists agreed that bicycling has had an impact on the economy, though the metric can be difficult to track.

Fong, whose organization coordinates the annual America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride and Tour de Tahoe events, noted that the area’s businesses give a lot of praise in support, while tourism agencies initially pledged financial support.

Combined, both events have brought in as many as 5,500 participants a year, an additional 14,000 visitors coming to watch. Fong said the events have had an estimated $10 million economic impact annually.

America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride has also caught the attention of Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program. Fong said over the last 14 years, chapters from different states have participated in the event and have raised $65.8 million to find a cure for leukemia and lymphoma.

“It’s remarkable in what our kinds of events have been in identifying a few charities to endear to market,” Fong said.

Fong added it’s also lifestyle that attracts bicycling tourists.

“These tourists come here because it matches their lifestyle,” Fong said. “They enjoy the vibe.”

Chaplin, LTVA’s executive director, said while her organization hasn’t tracked the economic impact, it has promoted the destination’s credibility.

She pointed to the recent success of the AMGEN Tour of California’s Women’s Race that took place on May 8 and 9 in South Lake Tahoe.

“They wanted a challenge and we gave it to them,” Chaplin said of the race. Having an AMGEN event in South Lake Tahoe boosted the area’s credibility as a premiere bicycling destination. The LTVA and partners poured $200,00 into AMGEN’s marketing and safety precautions.

Bell, of Sierra Ski and Cycle Works, said it’s difficult to track the average tourist whose main purpose is cycling.

But he added there is a changing trend since he set up shop in the 1970s.

“Back then, there was no mountain biking and now to see the change now with our organized events and clubs, the number of people locals that are active is really amazing in that short period,” Bell said.

He called it a double edge sword, balancing a quality experience with a need not to overwhelm the area.

However, the demographics based on a 2008 survey showed there’s a appetite out there.

“Right now the economy is in good shape and people aren’t afraid to spend money,” Bell said.

Collin, the Tahoe Chamber board chair, agreed that there’s a balancing component to everything. He pointed out a goal would be to work with the local businesses to take advantage of that type of tourism.

“The better inclusion the better the benefit to the community,” Collin said.

Chaplin said the community has already done a lot to invest in the infrastructure, what with bicycle paths being built or in the process of being developed. Signs could be better to locate bicycle paths, she added.

She added more investment might require community support, much like Park City, Utah has done. Park City has taxes and bonds supporting its infrastructure.

“Is this destination courageous enough to self assess to support this new economy?” Chaplin asked. “You have to have courage in the community to support it.”

It also requires businesses to ask bicycle tourists what part of their visit didn’t meet expectations.

Troy Rarick, owner of Over the Edge Sports, said the goal was to figure out what the area has in place first and build around that.

“Start with what you want to look like in the finished product and it will answer all those questions,” Rarick said.

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