Imagine hopping on a bicycle in Anchorage, Alaska, and traveling to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina with only your own muscles to provide the power. Talk about adventure. That was the journey Greg Siple and his wife June undertook with another couple back in 1972. While they were riding, Greg had an inspiration that grew into the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA), a major organization for encouraging bicycle tourism and promoting pedal power in general [source: D'Ambrosio].
Greg originally set out to organize a cross-country ride to celebrate the bicentennial of American independence in 1976. June came up with a name for the tour: the Bikecentennial. Thousands of people participated and the organization named for the event lived on. In 1993, it changed its name to the Adventure Cycling Association. Headquartered in Missoula, Mont., the group has grown to include more than 45,000 members [source: Bateman].
Bicycle touring has a long history in the United States. Bicycles became wildly popular during the 1890s and riders lobbied for smoother roads well before automobiles made their appearance. Cars have elbowed cyclists to the side of those roads, but two-wheeled travel still appeals to thousands of riders.
The activity suits folks of all ages, from teens to seniors. It's a unique way to see the country or the world, to meet people and to experience a landscape rather than just watch it go by. In an age of "green" consciousness, bicycling shrinks your carbon footprint to invisibility. And it's a great way to get fit while having fun.
An average cyclist carrying traveling and camping gear can ride 55 to 65 miles (90 to 105 kilometers) in a day, which means that over a week or 10-day trip, a rider can cover a substantial distance. The ACA recommends that riders carry a maximum of 45 pounds (20 kilograms) of equipment if they're camping. Some prefer to stay in motels or go on tours that arrange to carry gear in vehicles [source: ACA Bike Touring 101].
Anyone considering a bike tour of any kind will want to connect with the ACA to take advantage of the resources it offers. In the next section, we'll look at the nitty-gritty of what the group's trying to accomplish.
Mission of the Adventure Cycling Association
"I can tell you our mission in one sentence," says ACA media director Winona Bateman. "The Adventure Cycling Association inspires and empowers people to travel by bicycle"
[source: Bateman]. Basically, the ACA wants you to climb on your bike and ride, and the organization is busy making that ride more convenient, safer and more enjoyable. The ACA is active in several areas, each of which contributes to the mission.
Promoting bicycle tourism: Cars rule in the world. It just doesn't occur to most people to take a trip by bicycle. The Adventure Cycling Association is trying to change that thinking and to make life easier for those who choose to pedal for pleasure. The ACA hosts its own tours and encourages all types of bike tours.
The group also shows communities the economic benefits of welcoming bicyclists. A bicycle-friendly approach can mean more business for motels, bed-and-breakfast establishments and stores. The association points out how local businesses can supply the needs of touring bicyclists by providing access to bike tools, hot showers, bike racks outside stores and convenient food and water. Towns and villages on ACA routes can see a boost in business just by making these small, welcoming changes.
Advocating for bicycle-friendly laws and policies: Local, state and federal governmental agencies can play a big role in making life easier for bikers. Bike lanes, bike trails and designated highways for use by bikers all improve the options for the two-wheeled.
But budget cuts can reduce spending for bicycle facilities, and bikers need to keep the pressure on. The ACA collaborates with other organizations like America Bikes to lobby for pro-bicycling legislation and policies that help bikers. The ACA has worked closely with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to promote the U.S. Bicycle Route System, which officially designates roads across the country as bike routes. When completed, it will be the largest bicycle route system in the world [source: ACA]. In 2012, the association raised $50,000 through a social media blitz to finance the system [source: AASTO].
Providing a forum for the bicycle touring community: You're more likely to hop on your bike and ride if you know others are doing the same. The ACA, through its Web site and wide membership, has created a way for bikers to share information and make connections. The insights users share include the latest about great places to ride and about bottlenecks to avoid. Members discuss bike-friendly places to stay, sources of food and water, and bike repair shops along particular routes.
One feature of the community is the ability to connect with touring companions. The ACA website lets bicycle tourists search by region and by their touring plans to find a riding buddy [source: ACA Companions].
The ACA works to achieve its mission through ongoing programs. You'll read about these in the next section.
Adventure Cycling Association Programs
The ACA has created the Adventure Cycling Route Network, which traces more than 40,000 miles (64,374 kilometers) of routes in various parts of the United States. Some routes cross the entire continent, while others cover a region or coastline. Cyclists who follow the routes have the advantage of a well-planned, bike-friendly course. They are more likely to meet other cyclists along the routes, and they will run into more bike-friendly businesses. The ACA continually updates information about the routes, allowing riders to stay on top of changes [source: ACA Route Network].
Not all road maps are created equal. The ACA publishes a series of detailed, convenient maps especially for cyclists that correspond to the ACA's routes. Unlike ordinary road maps, the guides give turn-by-turn directions and include elevation profiles to show you the dreaded hills.
The maps are waterproof and laid out to be easy to follow while riding. They give information about weather, road surface, width or lack of shoulder, and alternative routes. On the backs, they list all kinds of services a cyclist needs to know about, from libraries and post offices to lodging and bike-friendly camping spots. Each map covers around 400 miles (643.7 kilometers) of a route and costs $14.75 for nonmembers [source: ACA Maps].
The Association offers more than 50 guided bicycle tours every year in all parts of the United States. There are four types of tours:
- Self-contained tours require bikers to carry their own gear. Usually, the group includes a single leader and about 14 riders. Cyclists camp most nights. On some tours, they stay in motels or other lodging.
- Fully supported tours are designed for large tours of up to 120 riders. Vehicles carry the gear, so you can ride light. The group camps at prearranged spots like campgrounds or state parks.
- Van supported tours are for smaller groups. Equipment and supplies are carried in a van.
- Educational tours are designed as an introduction to road touring. Some include leadership training, which teaches participants about operating a self-contained tour of their own.
The Adventure Cycling Association maintains an online Cyclists' Yellow Pages, which points riders toward many of the resources they'll need when they go out on the road. It includes bicycle touring clubs, events, and publications. Riders can check out bed and breakfast listings, computer services for bikers, tour operators, bike shops and bike parts suppliers. Another feature called "For a Cause" lists the many rides organized to raise money for charity [source: ACA Yellow Pages].
Adventure Cyclist Magazine
One of the benefits of joining the Adventure Cycling Association is that nine times a year, all members receive a treasure-trove of information in the form of Adventure Cyclist Magazine. The publication, available nowhere else, is devoted to bicycle touring and contains articles that inform and inspire devotees of two-wheeled travel.
Most bikers love to follow the latest developments in gear, and editor Mike Deme discusses new and specialty items in a regular column. "Cyclist's Kitchen" is another regular feature -- nutritionist Nancy Clark offers advice for eating right when you're out there exerting yourself on a ride. Columnist John Schubert provides expert technical tips and reviews of touring bikes. Willie Weir, a commentator on National Public Radio, gives readers first-hand accounts of what traveling by bicycle is all about [source: ACA Magazine].
The feature articles in the magazine fall into three main categories:
- Bike travel basics: What should you take when you head off on a tour? How should you pack? How can you travel light and still be comfortable? What's the best way to get in shape for a tour? Hint: Just reading guide books won't do it.
- Shipping a bike: If you'll be starting or finishing your tour at a distant location, information about how to box and ship your bike is crucial.
- Bikes and gear: Articles include annual buying guides for touring bikes and even a history of touring bikes. There are pieces about reading maps, riding in the mountains, and touring on a recumbent bike. You'll also find loads of technical articles about brakes, fenders, seats and derailleurs. Panniers, bike-mounted luggage racks, are an important subject: How do you protect your things and keep your bike balanced?
Not all the articles in Adventure Cyclist are technical. One often-overlooked area that's covered is social skills. Articles discuss the best way to relate to the people you meet on your tour. For example, it might be a good idea to remove your helmet and sunglasses to encourage a friendlier reception. Other articles go into things like planning charity rides, biking across the entire United States and touring by mountain bike.
Probably the most important purpose the magazine serves is to get bicyclists psyched to go out and ride. And that's what the Adventure Cycling Association itself is all about.
I once wrote an article about Major Taylor, one of the premier bicycle racers during the biking craze of the 1890s (and incidentally, one of the first African-American sports champions). What impressed me was the sense of excitement that bicycles generated in that era. How much better to have a bicycle than a horse, which you had to feed and stable. What a sense of speed and independence the owner of a bike felt.
Over the next few decades, the arrival of affordable automobiles quickly doused that enthusiasm. We gained a great deal, but we lost a lot too. I've done enough biking to know how much appreciation you develop for landscapes, for small towns, for the sights and sounds and smells that you pass. I haven't done much long-distance touring, but researching this article has definitely sparked my interest.
- AASHTO Journal. "Adventure Cycling Association Raises $50,000 for U.S. Bicycle Route System," June 22, 2012. (June 29, 2012) http://www.aashtojournal.org/Pages/062212bikeroute.aspx
- Adventurecycling.org. "About Our Routes & Maps." (June 29, 2012) http://www.adventurecycling.org/routes/maps.cfm
- Adventurecycling.org. "Adventure Cycling Route Network." (June 29, 2012) http://www.adventurecycling.org/routes/network.cfm
- Adventurecycling.org. "Adventure Cyclist Magazine." (June 29, 2012) http://www.adventurecycling.org/mag/index.cfm
- Adventurecycling.org. "Bike Touring 101." (June 29, 2012) http://www.adventurecycling.org/features/biketouring101.cfm
- Adventurecycling.org. "Cyclists' Yellow Pages Online" (June 29, 2012) http://cyp.adventurecycling.org:8080/4dcgi/index.a4d?action=cyp.online
- Adventurecycling.org. "Companions Wanted." (June 29, 2012) http://www.adventurecycling.org/mag/companions.cfm
- Bateman, Winona. Media Director, Adventure Cycling Association. Personal interview, June 28, 2012
- D'Ambrosio, Dan. "Our History," adventurecycling.org. (June 29, 2012) http://www.adventurecycling.org/whoweare/historylong.cfm
- Zheutlin, Peter. "Annie Londonderry." (June 29, 2012) http://www.annielondonderry.com/learn.html