Could Bicycle Travel Be The New Snowboarding?

Years ago, snowboarding was completely unknown to most people in the world. Origionally banned from ski resorts and looked down upon by traditional skiers, snowboarders pressed on and fought hard to get their sport accepted by those within the snow industry.

Today, snowboarding is more popular amongst young powderhounds than skiing and the snowboard industry has carved out a niche for itself that is bigger, more profitable and has made more of an impact on youth culture than any of its original founders could ever have imagined possible.

The question then is this: Could such a thing ever happen in the bicycle touring world? Could young riders reinvent the sport, build a lifestyle behind bicycle travel, and turn bicycle touring into an activity that is bigger and better than any of us can currently imagine?

What’s important to note is that:

1) Snowboarding was origionally done by just a few people (typically of a younger generation).

2) Traditional skiers looked down on snowboarding and frowned upon the presence of snowboards at their resorts (some resorts still restrict snowboard access).

3) The media played an important and influential role in propelling the sport of snowboarding to new heights.

A Time For Change Has Come

So how does all of this relate to bicycle touring? And why exactly should you care?

It relates to bicycle touring because, as both myself and countless readers have pointed out, bicycle touring is an activity that has failed to evolve since its peak in the 1970’s. While other sports and activities have continued to grow, expand, and evolve, bicycle touring has become an activity of the past – a sport that is largely conducted by people over the age of 50.

For years I’ve been hearing those in the bicycle touring world talk about the need to bring bicycle touring to a new generation of riders.

Being a younger rider myself, I was at first inspired by the talk of newer, younger riders joining the bicycle touring revolution. But as time went on, I began to believe that the traditional bicycle touring world (while they have good intentions) are not only failing to attract new riders at an acceptable rate, but are actually repelling new riders by holding on to the traditional bicycle touring ways of the past.

Now this isn’t meant as a diss against the established bicycle touring organizations, people over the age of 50, or anyone who wants to keep bicycle touring the way it is… but I believe that bicycle touring not only deserves an update, but desperately demands one!

We are at a point in history where entire industries (take the newspaper and auto industries for example) are being wiped out and asked to reinvent themselves to accommodate to the needs and demands of our ever changing world. The people, organizations, and businesses who are succeeding right now are the ones who are willing to change and adapt to their market, while those who are struggling and dying are the ones who are fighting to maintain the status quo.

While some people in the bicycle touring world seem to be fighting to maintain the ways of the past… and while bicycle touring may likely never become as big, as profitable or as popular as snowboarding has become, I don’t think there is anything wrong with reinventing what we currently do and turning the act of bicycle travel into an activity that appeals to a younger generation.

Could Bicycle Touring Be The New Snowboarding?

As many readers pointed out in my latest article on Land Rover and the need for an overhaul in the image of bicycle travelers, there are many in the bicycle touring world that do not want bicycle travel to become the big, popular giant that snowboarding has become. I too will admit that if bicycle touring were ever as popular as snowboarding, it probably wouldn’t be an activity that would appeal to me.

That being said, I do feel that bicycle touring could use a makeover and that a little bolstering to the image of bicycle travelers could really go a long way.

In order for change to happen though, I think we’ve got to start with a little self-reflection. We current bicycle travelers have to look in the mirror, pay attention to the way we are perceived by those around us, decide for ourselves how we want to be perceived in the future, and then begin working to make this new vision for the future a reality.

Advancing The Sport Of Bicycle Travel

For just a minute I want you to imagine that you desperately want to bring bicycle touring to a new generation of riders. Forgetting what everyone has done in the past, what do you think could be done in the future to:

1) Bring bicycle touring to a newer, younger generation?

2) Get traditional bicycle tourists to realize that change is a good thing and that maintaining the status quo is preventing the sport from evolving into something bigger and better?

3) And finally, get the media so excited about bicycle travel that they help to spread the word about our exciting and life-altering sport?

If you have any ideas, remarks, or suggestions on any of the topics discussed in this article, please leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing your responses and I hope to continue this discussion in a future article.

14 thoughts on “Could Bicycle Travel Be The New Snowboarding?

  1. Jack Moore says:

    I think it’s a great idea to generate new interest in touring and encourage younger people to tour, but I’m not quiet sure what you mean by this: “some people in the bicycle touring world seem to be fighting to maintain the ways of the past…”

    What people and what ways of the past? (I should probably self-disclose a bit here, I’m in my mid-forties and have been touring for a few years now. Maybe I’m one of those people).

    I believe the reason there are more older tourists than younger, has to do with time and money. As people get closer to retirement they have more of each.

    Bicycle tourists are a varied group and for the most part not organized. Bicycle touring is not one thing. A tour can be one day tour of a city or country road, an overnight camping trip by bike, a couple of days riding from inn to inn; a couple of weeks, months or even years spent exploring the world. It can be totally self-supported, totally SAGed or somewhere in between. It can be a lone adventure or a group activity. It can be (and is) done on any type of bicycle (and even some tricycles!). There are organizations, such as the Adventure Cycling Association and newer organizations like as Randonneurs USA (promoting the growth of non-competitive Brevets and multi-day self supported rides), but I think most people who tour are doing their own thing, making it up as they go…and that is the beauty of touring. The freedom to do your own thing.

    I think the best way to promote the sport is by being a good ambassador for bicycle touring every time we are out. By being open and engaging to people we meet and letting them know travel by bicycle is accessible to almost anyone who is interested. Letting people know that bike touring can be a great way to spend a vacation or just a weekend and need not be an epic undertaking involving tons of expensive gear and meticulous planning. Encourage folks to throw a change of clothes in a backpack and hop on whatever bike they have and ride to a friend’s house for the night or consider doing an overnight camping trip near their home…whatever get’s them started. My wife and I invite friends to join us on trips. That is a great way to get others interested.

    I also think that websites like yours are doing a good job of exposing others to touring.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Andy Solaini says:

    This is a very interesting topic. There are a few things I want to say on the issues raised.

    First off a comparison with snow boarding is interesting but I can see maybe one reason why cycle touring has not become such a lifestyle thing. Snow boarding is really a social sport where the right “look” and clothing/appearance is often seen as important. This is obviously attractive to clothing manufacturers etc who can supply these latest clothes etc.
    Cycle touring on the other hand can be a social sport but is often done alone or with maybe two people. As such a “lifestyle” and “look” have had nowhere to evolve from as cycle tourers are not generally that interested in looking the part.

    While not needed to look the part I think a lot of younger riders (myself included) want to see some more up to date products and things. A lot of touring bike look quite boring and traditional and may put a younger rider off. Also a lot of touring websites and blogs (this one NOT included) are a bit boring in their presentation and content. Often the stories are of suffering up hills and in rain for days. While these are of course part of every tour they can be very offputing. I think people need to write about cycling in a positive manner and highlight the places they have been, people they have seen etc. Also there is a fair bit of snobbery among the touring pros that really doesn’t need to be there.

    I think manufacturers need to make products that the younger end of the market want to own, not things that look boring or nerdy.

    Andy S

  3. Pete says:

    I think snowboarding/skiing are comparable to bicycles/recumbents. Although marketed differently and with different popularity levels they esentially do the same job.

    Cycle touring is a bit like ski-touring with cross-country skis and a big backpack.

  4. Robert Gladfelter says:

    I don’t think you could take touring and compare it to a competitive sport. Snowboarding took off from the X-games with kids doing bigger and more daring stunts. There is nothing flashy about touring. It’s you versus your goals. It is a very demanding sport, but not flashy. Interesting, but not exciting to watch.
    I’ve been touring for 12 years now. I agree with Moore. When we are touring, we always come across interested people. I always try to convey that bicycle touring is not an elitist sport. It is not a competition. It is demanding and rewarding. Its very personable. The goals that we set as tour riders vary from person to person. It also varies from ride to ride.
    I do see a change in equipment geared towards touring. There was not nearly as many bikes and gear 5-6 years ago. Most stuff was either pricey or hard to get. There are now many more choices. I also have seen a difference through the web. I’m hoping to meet up with Derek Gytenbeek on his ride along the north american coasts. I would have never had this oppertunity if it wasn’t for this site. I also talk to riders from around the world.
    I think bicycle touring is gaining more interest, but I don’t see being as big as snowboarding. Just ride, and have fun. If it looks like fun, other people will try it.

  5. Darren Alff says:


    Thank you for your comments. You are right. Bicycle touring is not one thing. There are many different types of bike tours and many different kinds of people who travel by bike.

    This article is just one in a series of articles I’ve been writing on “the new generation” of bicycle travelers… and my ideas are not completely hashed out, but I plan to continue expanding on them in the future.

    My thought is that there are all the “old” ways of traveling by bike that we are all familiar with… and now there is a new form of bicycle travel emerging. That is what I am hinting at in this article. This new form of touring is similar to the traditional bicycle touring of the past, but has a newer, younger, more technologically advanced twist to it.

    And no, Jack, you are not one of the people I’m talking about who are fighting to maintain the staus quo. The fact that you understand that there are different types of bicycles tours and there is no one way to tour means that you are not one of those people.

    When I said that some people were fighting to maintain the status quo, I said that because I get these long, crazy emails from people sometimes where they tell me that bicycle touring has to be done one particular way, and if I say something that they disagree with… or something that goes against the way they have traveled in the past… then they feel the need to write me a long, heated email.

    So that’s what I was refering to.

    Thanks again for your comments. I appreciate it.

  6. Darren Alff says:

    Andy, I think your comments on bike touring companies needing to make products that are more up to date is right on. I couldn’t agree more!

    Also, I think that the reason snow boarding caught on so much and continues to be so popular is that people can go out for a day, try it, and then quit if that’s what they want. Bicycle touring, on the other hand, is a lot harder. The equipment is harder to get, it’s more expensive, and the act of quitting is so much harder to do after you’ve bought all the specialized equipment.

    Some people go into snowboarding and know that they’ll only do it for a day. But it’s almost impossible to go into bike touring and be thinking from the start “I’ll just do this for a day or two and that will be it.”

  7. Darren Alff says:

    Robert, you too make a good point. Bicycle touring isn’t really a sport… and because it isn’t as flashy as snowboarding, it is hard to get young people interested in it. It is interesting, but not flashy.

    But do you think this could ever change? Is there a way to make bicycle travel more flashy?

    I think there might be a way, but I’m not sure what it is. I’ll keep thinking… but if you have any ideas or suggestions, I’m open to hearing them.

  8. RJ says:

    Darren, you bring up some very interesting points. However, exactly what do you mean by “old ways” and “new ways”? Can you give us some examples?

    And as always– thanks!

  9. Eric says:

    You ask ” Is there a way to make bicycle travel more flashy?” I don’t think the word is “flashy” I think it might be “appealing”. To me, flashy brings up images of the “right clothes”, the “right destination”, the “right attitude”. It all smacks a bit too much of group think. The last thing cycle touring needs is to become tribal. We don’t need an “indie” style of touring, or metro, or goth (black bikes, helmets, clothes, panniers – lousy visibility for other traffic, ya know?). How about a social networking style tour? – tweet the sights to your followers as you stop at every vista.

    This isn’t about “old ways” or “new ways”. Its about what appeals to people. If slogging away on your bike appeals to you, you’ll go touring. If it becomes about having the right clothes, attitude, destination, personal style, friends, gadgets or whatever, you’ll kill it. There are no “old ways”. In fact, there’s no real “way” at all. People who are interested in touring look for a way to go touring that suits their needs, wants, interests and budget. By framing it in terms of old and new ways, you’re looking for some sort of social box that’s more appealing to younger people. Unfortunately, much of what makes a thing appealing and fashionable to each up and coming generation is its sense of exclusivity and isolation from the older generation. Marketers love that crap – it makes it so much easier to define a “right” way to do it that requires those young consumers to spend megabucks to assert their individuality by fitting in with the herd…or tribe.

    I’ve said enough. I’m off to build my website on fixed gear touring. I’ll feature links to all the companies that make and market fixed gear touring accessories that look like you styled and made them yourself. I’ll also feature a list of places to ride by and sneer at because of their incredible un-hipness. I might even further differentiate it by calling it “fixie-tramping” rather than bicycle touring. I’ll completely re-invent it. After all, cycle touring is done by benighted old farts over 50.

  10. Jamie B says:

    I agree with a few of the posts that the right comparision isn’t with snowboarding, but with ski touring (or perhaps telemark skiing, if you want “backcountry” to include more downhill excitement than cross-country skis allow).

    Or, perhaps even more apt, consider camping. You can do technical backcountry stuff with a lot of specialized gear. Or you can throw your stuff in the car and park somewhere and go for day hikes. The latter is more accessible to more people–so just do what you can! And some of the people who do day hikes decide they want to go overnight, and then, maybe, go for a week…

    The challenge, I think, isn’t to make bike touring a cool trend. It’s to make cycling in general a cool trend. Get more people commuting, or riding an hour or two for fun…and pretty soon, some of those folks will think, how about an all day ride? Or maybe a weekend trip would be fun? Maybe I’ll sign up for that fundraising ride coming up?

    Then a few of those folks will think, maybe a week? Maybe ride cross country?

  11. Andrea says:

    In agreement with some others above on several points. Bicycle touring is not a sport so much as a mode of travel, so the comparison with snowboarding is off kilter.

    I can’t agree about the age of cycle tourers either. There are many who are younger than 50 but perhaps you come across the old fogies of bicycle touring as a result of something in your own behaviour or movements. I am not sure but cycling as an over 50s thing is just not my experience on the whole.

    To attract the 20s crowd, definitely is something worth giving thought to. In my view there absolutely no one right way to either travel, or tour by bicycle. That goes for what you wear, where you go and how you do it. Lots of young people are very interested in cheaper adventurous ways to travel. I see it on the travel boards but cycling just isn’t on their radar. They simply haven’t thought of it or been exposed to it. I myself came to it rather late at 42 for my first tour.

    One of the attractions of cycle touring is that it is a cheap way of travelling. However the price of gear is just stupid sometimes, ditto the price of bikes. Of course it is cost effective on world tours and with regular touring but to get started is tricky for those without much money.

    But as you suggest, bicycle touring perhaps needs to be sexed up to attract more younger people and to make it trendy even. I don’t see why masses of bicycle tourers would be a big problem EXCEPT that instead of perhaps a few people heading off into remote areas, you would have masses and with that means more insensitive, incompetent and inexperienced people. This could possibly reduce the hospitality that the current small group of cycle tourers receives from locals. For this reason, I think its important to teach (drill it into people) travel etiquette at the same time as the idea is being sold.


  12. Randy C. says:

    I agree with many of the comments here. I think that cyclotouring will suffer from an image problem by its very nature. Its a lonely sport that is made up of small groups of adherents on (often) expensive equipment. Also its a sport that is not likely to get endorsements from mainstream media and soft-drink sponsors.

    That said, I think there are a couple of ways to get more young people interested. One way would be if more well-traveled cyclotourers would visit elementary school classrooms with their bikes, equipment, and photos of their travels. That could indirectly trigger some interest in the sport and at least the kids would grow up knowing something about it. Another way would be for the randonneuring community to reach out to more youngsters. Randonneuring combines elements of racing with cyclotouring and may appeal as more of a “mainstream” sport to more people. I applaud any attempt to draw more people out of their cars and onto bikes.

  13. Kong says:

    I don’t know if your still doing this or not, but here is my take. I’m almost 30 and I got into adult cycling about 4 years ago. I ride a Trek 4300 (apparently not made now, but was around 400 bucks when I bought it) and I have been getting more involved in cycling over the years. I would say don’t focus on touring. Focus on cycling. And school cycling clubs. And adult clubs, or group hangouts/rides and so on.

    Maybe I should say a little more. I am American, but have lived in Thailand for the last 6 years. I have watched a bicycle culture grow from almost non existence into city bike programs, local initiatives to build and install bike racks to lock up at, fixi clubs, bicycle weeks/days/events at major malls (a big part of life in a massive tourist town of between 12-18 million people), mom and pop as well as big name bike shop growth.

    This happened largely because of the fixi crowd. But every year there are more people at the car free events (we have more then one here), I see more and more people riding around, commuting to work and out riding at night. I’ve seen a lot of new bike shops pop up, and the road bike groups has also increased.

    Fixi riders did a lot for it here by having flashy bikes, sparkly lights, and no breaks. Being the new hip thing to do was also a factor, but it is getting bigger. And as interest in cycling grows, so does interest in other aspects of the sport. Thai movies specifically about bicycle touring for example. The big international airport here recently completed a bike park/track that is drawing thousands of people a day.

    Keep doing what your doing too. Your rides and stories inspire people to do the same. I hope to do some touring soon. But saving up for bags (that cost 10% or more over what you guys pay there) and other gear can take time when a decent salary is around a 1000 USD a month and a set of rear bags costs around 400 (yes I agree that the cost can be annoying, but you do tend to get what you pay for).

    Anyways, been on your page for about 8 hours following links, reading reviews and generally getting lost so peace out everyone.

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