Bicycle Tourism in Rural Oregon

Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway. Photo by Russ Roca.

Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway. Photo by Russ Roca.

by Catherine Corliss, AICP, Matt Hastie, AICP, and Laura Krull, Portland, Oregon

Bicycle-related activities contribute a growing share of total travel expenditures in rural regions in Oregon. From overnight trips to organized bicycle tours, bicycle tourism accounted for over $400 million in 2012, representing 4.4 percent of the direct travel spending in the state.1 This market has seen significant development over the last 15 years both at the state level and in local communities.  This macro and micro approach creates a strong bicycle tourism market in Oregon. Bicycle tourism requires more than paths and cyclists. Physical infrastructure needs to be coupled with strong partnerships, quality bicycle-friendly accommodations and thorough promotion and marketing campaigns for bicycle tourism to be successful.2 As with other types of tourism, it is necessary to provide a complete package rather than just a landmark or attraction. Oregon has taken this holistic approach to building bicycle tourism.

Oregon State Framework
Connected, holistic partnerships

Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway. Photo courtesy of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway. Photo courtesy of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Oregon has been promoting bicycle tourism as a benefit to rural areas of the state for many years. A good example is the close relationship between the Oregon Parks and Recreation’s Scenic Bikeways Program and Travel Oregon.3 Scenic Bikeways are routes that are carefully picked from locally proposed routes to highlight the best road cycling in Oregon. The routes are nominated by locals and selected by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department through a Scenic Bikeways Committee. Currently, there are 15 designated Scenic Bikeways across the state, from the Willamette Valley to John Day.4 The routes are denoted with official Scenic Bikeway signage. Each Scenic Bikeway has printable maps, GPS, cue sheets, ride descriptions and info on places to stay and eat.

Travel Oregon promotes and helps develop the Scenic Bikeways, through marketing and signage, as well as the development of the website This website focuses on cycling-related travel and includes an interactive map showing restaurants, bike shops and overnight accommodations on each Scenic Bikeway. Other Travel Oregon initiatives include the Bike Friendly Business Program and facilitating Oregon Bicycle Tourism Partnerships. These partnerships range from conducting Tourism Studios in communities to educating businesses about the benefits of being a Bike-Friendly Business. The partnership between Travel Oregon and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department promotes the goals of both agencies while minimizing duplicate information.

Scenic Bikeway Map. Oregon’s State designated Scenic Bikeways are carefully picked from locally proposed routes to highlight the best of the best road cycling in Oregon. Each bikeway is categorized by being mild, moderate, challenging and extreme. Currently, there are 15 designated Scenic Bikeways across the state. Map courtesy of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Cycle Oregon

Organized rides, events, and races can be another important element of bicycle tourism. One of the largest and best-known bicycle events in Oregon is Cycle Oregon. Over 2,000 bicyclists ride town to town through different parts of Oregon each year. Tara Corbin of Cycle Oregon explained, “We are a non-profit that is all about bicycle tourism as our mission is to host a safe and scenic bike tour that has a positive financial impact on the communities of Oregon.” This year’s ride, which was held September 10 – 17, visited the south coast Oregon communities of Myrtle Creek, Camas Valley, Bandon, Gold Beach, Indian Mary Park, and Glendale.

The idea for Cycle Oregon was first suggested in 1987, and it received support from the Oregon Department of Tourism, which assumed coordinating responsibilities for the event with the goal of increasing tourism and generating income for Oregon’s rural communities. The inaugural event took place in September 1988, with 1,006 cyclists from 20 states. The ride covered 320 miles from Salem to Brookings and generated more than $360,000 for participating communities. Twenty-five years later, in 2012, Cycle Oregon 25 included 2,200 participants from 46 states and eight foreign countries.

Cycle Oregon also provides much-needed financial support to communities. All the net proceeds from the rides have been placed in the Cycle Oregon Fund at the Oregon Community Foundation since January 1996 when Cycle Oregon created its fund at the Oregon Community Foundation. To date, Cycle Oregon has awarded 190 grants totaling $1,653,699.7 Cycle Oregon has the following two main grant programs:

  • Community Grants: The community grants program is divided into three categories: environmental conservation and historic preservation; bicycle safety and tourism; and community projects. Grant recipients in 2014 included support for the Comunidad Latina en Accion, a culturally-specific health promotion program in Madras, comprehensive signage for bicycle tourists in Oakridge and Westfir, habitat enhancements for the Blue Mountains Conservancy near La Grande and drinking fountain along the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway.
  • Signature Grants: Separate from Community Grants, Signature Grants provide support to catalyze projects that have statewide impact. In 2009, the Signature Grant was awarded to Oregon’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The grant went toward State Scenic Bikeways, for the shared vision for an official network of State Scenic Bikeways.

Bicycle Tourism on the Ground
Local initiatives, opportunities, and challenges

GO FOR GOLD. Image courtesy of Cycle Oregon.

GO FOR GOLD. Image courtesy of Cycle Oregon.

Cycle Oregon, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and Travel Oregon have set up a substantial framework for building and promoting bicycle tourism and cultivating the communities involved in bicycle tourism. Local communities and counties have seen varied impacts from the cycling community.

Monmouth and Independence, two small adjacent cities in the Willamette Valley, have developed their bicycle tourism programs around economic benefits. The communities are located near the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, with several restaurants and a bike shop listed on the Scenic Bikeway map. According to Marshall Guthrie, Monmouth City Councilor and local bike advocate, Monmouth does not have a strong local cycling organization. The community instead relied more heavily on local economic development staff. Additionally, Independence and Monmouth participated in a Rural Tourism Studio Group with Travel Oregon. Agri-tourism and bike tourism were identified as focal points, and local action groups were formed for each. The bike action group has been very active and successful.

Beyond just increasing economic expenditures, Monmouth looked at how local businesses could participate. Monmouth first started promoting bike-friendly business to support Cycle Oregon events when the route came through/near Monmouth. Advocates went out and spent 4-5 hours talking to local businesses about the economic benefits, and the impact was felt; bike-friendly business listings went from three listings to ten. Monmouth was also a Cycle Oregon grant recipient.

Shawn Irvine, City of Independence Economic Development Director, has been working to promote bicycle tourism in Independence by investing in bike amenities and infrastructure. The city opened a bike-in campground last July. With virtually no publicity, except for being listed on the Travel Oregon site, the facility has hosted over 40 groups from throughout the Pacific Northwest and other countries and has hired a host to provide services from March-October. The city also has fix-it stations at bike campgrounds and new drinking foundation/water bottle fill-up stations. These type of amenities signal to bicycle travelers that the community welcomes them.

The message is now coming from within these communities. During the most recent community visioning process in Monmouth, the second highest priority was to make the community more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. Being able to point to positive economic impacts and benefits for residents, businesses and visitors was crucial for the community to fully embrace bicycle tourism.

Multnomah County
The rural-urban fringe

Not all rural areas may reap the benefits of bicycle tourism or want it. Multnomah County, which includes the urban areas of Portland and Gresham, sees significant bicycle use by urban residents on rural roads in the outer reaches of the county. Sauvie Island, the West Hills and East County (near the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area) are very popular for recreational rides. This can lead to conflicts with rural residents.

Much of the bike use in areas is by day-riders from Portland and other urban communities. According to a Dean Runyan Associates study, in 2012 day road riders spent an average of $988 on travel (expenditures are per travel party and include all lodging accommodations, campground fees, restaurant and bars, groceries, fuel and other transportation costs, bicycle repairs and related clothing and gear, event fees, recreation, other retail, and airfare (if applicable) for trips made in Oregon). However, this may not be the case when urban riders are in such close proximity to rural routes. As Marshall Guthrie noted, “The spandex crowd likes to get out there early, head home early and isn’t looking for a place to spend the night. They have less economic impacts than visitors spending more time to see everything that’s there.” This observation is consistent with the data, which shows this category of bicycle tourist has the lowest average expenditures per travel party per trip.9

Much of the conflict happens on the roads themselves. Rural residents don’t necessarily see benefits from cyclists, such as economic spending, but do see conflicts on the roads. Many of the roads in East Multnomah County are narrow with limited shoulders and passing lanes. In the words of a recent community meeting participant, “There is nothing more frustrating than trying to just get home, but then we get stuck behind bicyclists who either refuse to stay in their lane or just want to ride next to their friends, or the “bike lane” is so small that even one bike couldn’t stay in it if they tried.” Additionally, the county has limited resources to upgrade facilities to better serve bicyclists and residents and to reduce conflicts between them. The issue is exacerbated by challenging topography and sensitive environmental resources in some areas, making road and other facility improvements even more expensive and problematic.

Lessons Learned for Local Action

  • Identify a shared vision for bicycle tourism. Rural residents need to see the benefits of bicycle tourism and receive the resources needed to address their concerns otherwise it may be difficult to get their support, especially in the rural urban-fringe.
  • Identify routes that promote rural economic development while minimizing impacts to rural residents. It may be easier for small towns in the more rural areas of the state to appreciate the benefits of bicycle tourism. They have more capacity on the roads and greater economic need.
  • You don’t need to reinvent the (bicycle) wheel. Identify what you can leverage from existing programs and initiatives instead of doing it all yourself. For example in Oregon, Travel Oregon has set up a great foundation to tap into and as a way to promote individual communities.
  • Decide what you want to do then start telling people about it. As a follow-up from the Rural Tourism Studio Workshop, Independence/Monmouth talked to the president of Oregon Bike Racing Association. This resulted in Cherry Pie Road Race moving its start location to Independence; 600 riders participated, and all the downtown restaurants ran out of food that day!
  • Work together to create “pre-packaged” opportunities and information ready for people. It is important to show that the community is thinking about logistics from the bicyclist’s perspective. Materials should be created in multiple formats: apps (e.g., Ride with GPS10), paper copies, partner brochure, and distributed through a range of partners (Chambers of Commerce, bike-friendly businesses, campsite, etc.)
  • Bike tourism is a relatively easy thing to promote and see success. Bicycle tourism has a very low entry level barrier and relatively limited infrastructure needs – primarily you need a road to ride on and a bike. As Shawn Irvine advised, just tell people “here we are and we’d love to have you come visit!”
Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway. Photo courtesy of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway. Photo courtesy of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Catherine Corliss, AICP, is a Principal with the Angelo Planning Group. She has over twenty years of experience in growth management, land use, transportation, and environmental planning in the public and private sectors. She also serves on The Western Planner Editorial Board. Matt Hastie, AICP, is a Project Manager with the Angelo Planning Group. He has a wide range of education and experience in land use and transportation planning, environmental regulation, development codes, housing, and economic development issues. Previously a planner with Angelo Planning Group, Laura Krull is currently attending MIT’s graduate program in planning.


  1. Dean Runyan Associates (2013), Travel Oregon, “The economic significance of bicycle-related travel in Oregon.”
  2. Jeff Pratte (2006) University of Winnepeg. Bicycle tourism: on the trail to economic development.
  3. The Oregon Tourism Commission, which does business as Travel Oregon, is a semi-independent agency created by the Oregon Legislature in 2003 to enhance Oregonians’ quality of life by strengthening economic impacts of the state’s tourism industry.
  6. Travel Oregon (2014)
  8. Dean Runyan Associates (2013).
  9. Dean Runyan Associates (2013).

Angelo Planning Group

Angelo Planning Group, located in historic downtown Portland, Oregon, is a leader in the urban and community planning field. Our services include Comprehensive Planning, Concept and Master Planning, Transportation Planning, Public Facility Planning, Environmental Planning, Development Code updates and Development Services. Visit

Published in the December 2016/January 2017 issue

Paul Moberly