Mountain Bike Mania
So far in my blog I’ve worked hard to be objective and not allow too many personal prejudices bias my view on the Kent360 perspective. But today, that’s going out the window. Today I’m climbing on my soapbox and shamelessly promoting mountain biking. I’ll try to argue that it’s one of the nation’s fastest growing sports so it’s a great economic development opportunity. I’ll argue university cities always have great bike shops and plenty of trails nearby which is good for university enrollment and good for city retail.
I’ll argue that mountain bike riders are actually successful, type A personality types, who continually push their capabilities and take risks, and when they take their helmets off we call those people entrepreneurs — which we need more of. I’ll argue that mountain bikers are practicing environmentalists who appreciate natural resources and are committed to volunteering their time to protect and preserve it.
I’ll argue that mountain bikers travel in packs and spread the word about trails in guerilla marketing style creating great buzz which is what I call promoting eco-toursim. I’ll argue that mountain bikes are not cheap and riders spend serious cash on their gear, food, gas, maps, etc. to do what they love and that means more dollars in our local economy. I’ll argue those things and more but in the spirit of full disclosure I admit that I can’t be very objective on this one, I’m a bike-aholic.
I didn’t grow up bouncing off railings and benches riding those trick class BMX bikes. Sure, I had the typical banana seat Schwin bike as a kid that I rode around the neighborhood and that evolved into a series of ten speeds but trail riding was never in the mix. We moved to Washington DC and I did some road biking and paved trails, but again, I still hadn’t tapped into any off road trail stuff. Then we moved to Tennessee and I figured when in Rome, be like the Romans — and that mean’t riding through the peaks and hollows of northeast Tennesse, southwest Virginia and western Carolina. Being a novice I had no idea that this part of the country was considered by many to be mountain bike heaven but I soon discovered that on my own.
After the first heart rate busting climb and white knucled heart racing descent I was hooked. As a newcomer I stayed away from the real technical stuff, e.g., log rolls, rock jumps, because I found out quickly (and painfully) that there’s more to this sport than a good set of lungs; it takes great skill and frankly courage to take these bikes where they go. But the connection between man, bike, trail and nature was unbeatable, and to be honest it’s the only place I can go to clear my mind from all the troubles of a city manager because I learned the hard way that if you’re not focused on the task at hand in the woods, mother nature (as beautiful as she is) can be merciless and I’ve left shreds of body parts along trails all over northeast Tennessee (including a piece of my eye, nasty stuff that gives a whole new meaning to being one with nature).
Being late to this sport (I was 35 when I started) I’m still shaky on a lot of the technical trails but I’m still out there as often as I can learning how to safely traverse swithcbacks, roots, creek crossings and rock ledges. Besides a great workout I find that a lot of solutions to my work problems reveal themselves while my mind is focused elsewhere and trail metaphors abound, e.g., don’t let your wheels get stuck in ruts, don’t overgrip the handlebars, stand more than you sit, and don’t get distracted by the flies, that help me see what I need to do at work.
When we moved to northeast Ohio I was worried about finding comparable trails but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The hill climbs are not as high and the downhill sections don’t last as long but the natural beauty and technical challenges stand up to anything I’ve been on. The Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association has done a great job in our region. They’re actually a group that doesn’t just talk about regionalism they practice it. CAMBA advocates, builds and maintains trails as far south as Portage County. They’ve partnered with State Parks folks to create sustainable trails that are enjoyed by all levels of riders. West Branch State Park has really great trails and if you can’t reach me in the office you’ll probably find me banging around the trails and practicing my own version of tree hugging.
So what does all this have to do with Kent? A lot more than meets the eye.
Kent’s economy is in transition. We’ve lost a lot of our old manufacturing base and by default we’ve become increasingly reliant on Kent State University as our economic benefactor. That’s fine but I think it’s time we shift from a passive strategy of default to an aggressive strategy by choice to leverage the full economic potential of the university for community (and university) gain. To me that subtle difference means finding those business niches that thrive around large universities and going after them at full speed.
Outdoor activities, like mountain biking or kayaking, are great opportunities to grow the small business base which is so important to Kent’s hometown charm and market profile. We’re not a big box retail Stow look a like, we’re more “small business-ish” and many of the stores and support services for these outdoor activities are small business establishments that can compete in specialized markets that businesses like WalMart have not chosen to get into. A good example of this is Century Cycles which has small successful bike shops in Solon, Medina and Peninsula. We need one in Kent and we could probably get one if we did a better job cultivating our local bike scene.
Consider a few statistics:
60% of the general population participates in outdoor activities, like biking, hiking and kayaking.
Nearly half (45%) consider themselves avid enthusiasts.
Enthusiasts spend more money at specialty outdoor stores than in any other retail stores
The average age of participants is 39 but all age groups are represented.
Participants have a higher household income than the general population.
64% are college graduates.
Bicycling is the most participated in sport.
Participants spend an average of $780 on gear for their sport.
25% took a sports travel trip last year.
In last 5 years sports related travel is up 14%.
Participation in single track Mountain Biking is up 113% over last 5 years.
[read the full report]
In addition to the potential economic value, consider that Kent’s natural resources, e.g., the river, the bog, and it’s trail network linking to regional resources, e.g., Cuyahoga Valley, State Parks, are consistently rated at the top of the region’s assets. So the availability of outdoor resouces is a highly valued quality of life component to Kent’s residents.
Sports and eco-tourism holds great promise to bring new dollars into the Kent economy, we just have to figure out how to capture it. Every university city I’ve been in has had a couple of bike stores and trails nearby to choose from. The University of Virginia and East Tennessee State had their own trails on university grounds that were open to the public and were quite challenging. I’ve mentioned this to Kent State informally but I’d like to pursue it more actively in the year to come. And not just because I love it, I actually think it has genuine economic and quality of life benefits for Kent.