The business of cycling is booming nationwide, with the many paved and unpaved trails of Southern Arizona being no exception.
Given that the biking industry accounted for an estimated $83 billion in “trip-related” sales (or tourism revenue) in 2017, local officials are increasingly focused on attracting cyclists, according to Visit Tucson’s Dan Gibson.
Gibson, senior director of communication for the tourism institution, highlighted the Pima County Loop bike trail system, which sports 120 miles of paved bike path in the city and surrounding suburbs, as proof of the region’s bike-friendly mentality.
“When you’re talking about tourism, you’re trying to find things that are distinctive or things that will connect to a potential visitor. And the assets that Tucson has for biking are incredible,” Gibson said. “Obviously, there’s people training, going up and down Mount Lemmon, and there’s mountain bike things happening all around the city. And then, obviously, having the Loop is such a remarkable thing for a city to have.”
Gibson said Visit Tucson actively courts out-of-state tourists by promoting the Loop and other bicycle activities, both in industry publications and other forms of media.
He cited the group’s efforts in getting a journalist from a major daily newspaper to come to Tucson and write about their experience on the city’s bike paths as proof of the success that can come from a coordinated tourism push.
“We set her up with where to go and what to do and things like that. And she wrote this ecstatic article in the [Chicago] Tribune about how much she loved riding here,” Gibson said. “And so that’s like a larger, long-term plan. That’s something we’re working on right now is just like reaching out to more of these bike writers.”
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, out-of-state bicyclists traveling to Arizona for events, guided tours, races and other events produced $57 million in retail sales and $88 million in total revenue in 2013, creating 721 jobs in the process.
Making sure that Pima County gets a piece of that action is part of the job for Diane Frisch, who works as Pima County’s director of attractions and tourism.
Frisch, who left a gig with the PGA Tour to join Pima County in 2017, promotes the region’s paved and mountain bike trails, with the Loop serving as a major attraction.
“Sometimes people are looking for areas they can ride that they don’t have to drive an hour or more,” Frisch said. “We have endurance training that happens in Tucson during the winter months, including the trails up near Mount Lemmon, as well as various parks and mountain biking trails that are our natural resources in the county. There are a ton of areas. There’s varied riding from expert to beginner. There are tour groups that work within the city.”
Frisch said Tucson’s “340 days of sunshine” is a big draw for cyclists, as well as a variety of biking options, from the Loop to mountain-bike trails to national parks.
It’s that diversity that drew longtime mountain biking enthusiast Tara Alcantar to the region eight years ago.
Alcantar, who runs the mountain biking advocacy group Tucson Off-Road Cyclists & Activists (TORCA) with her husband, said the region is well-suited to compete with the best regions for off-road biking.
The Idaho native said there’s no reason that Tucson and Pima County can’t contend with well-known mountain biking areas, like Moab, Utah or Sedona, given the variety of trails in the region.
“I would say mountain biking in Southern Arizona is not at the top of most people’s list when they think of top three riding destinations,” Alcantar said. “Places like Sedona get a lot of attention, but—and this has been confirmed by numerous writers and publications even on a global level—Tucson is absolutely a world-class mountain bike destination.”
Alcantar, whose group works mainly with the federal government on matters concerning mountain-biking trails, said she’s been rather satisfied with the regional government’s ability to promote mountain biking trails.
She cautioned that such progress could come undone, however, should the local government backtrack or fail to deliver on promoting said spaces in the future.
“Hopefully everybody at the top understands the opportunity that we have here. And, it would be great to see some strategic action taking them to that end and kind of getting everybody on board,” she said. “Because it’s not been without a lot of challenges and uphill battles, especially when it comes to working with local government.”
Alcantar, who’s been an avid mountain biker for a quarter-century, said the current push to bring biking tourism to Southern Arizona needs to continue.
“It’d be good for the local government to see that there are a lot of people working really hard to make another segment of Tucson tourism that is nothing but healthy and brings dollars,” Alcantar said. “And nobody can argue that there’s a lot of good to come from recreating in the outdoors.”