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12:56 PM Wed, Nov. 21st

Route 66: Two-wheeled tourists can have a big economic impact

Michelle Thompson is pictured on her bicycle in Kingman in December 2006 before heading to Oatman. She was taking a 2,400-mile bicycle ride along Route 66 from Chicago to Costa Mesa, Calif., to raise awareness about oral cancer and to help out her brother financially.  (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

Michelle Thompson is pictured on her bicycle in Kingman in December 2006 before heading to Oatman. She was taking a 2,400-mile bicycle ride along Route 66 from Chicago to Costa Mesa, Calif., to raise awareness about oral cancer and to help out her brother financially. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

KINGMAN - Move over, bulked-up V-8 muscle car. There's another set of wheels rolling down Route 66, powered by a sprocket and chain and two strong legs.

They're called bicycles, and they were used as a means of transportation long before America's infatuation with the automobile. People are still riding them from Chicago to L.A. on stretches of Route 66 designated as the U.S. Bicycle Route System.

"What we're trying to do is develop a coordinated and connected network of bicycle routes across the United States that would take you to lakes and national recreation areas," said Richard Moeur, traffic engineer for the Arizona Department of Transportation and leader of the national bicycle route system.

Nearly 6,800 miles of U.S. bike routes have been designated in 15 states. Most of the routes use existing city streets, county roads and federal highways suitable for bicycles, he said. The routes can be expanded as needed.

ADOT has hired the Kimley, Horn, Lee Engineering firm to analyze four routes in Arizona, not just Route 66, to determine the best alignment for the route, Moeur said.

"Here at the Route 66 festival, I don't have to overemphasize the power of designation," he told about 25 people at Friday's International Route 66 Festival symposium held at the Mohave County Administration Building.

Nicholas Gerlich, professor of marketing at West Texas A&M University and an avid bicyclist, said towns along the U.S. Bicycle Route System should not discount the economic impact of an estimated 47,000 adventure cyclists in the United States.

From one-day rides and rallies like "Hotter 'N Hell" in Wichita, Kan., to multi-state tours and weeklong "party on wheels," bicyclists are spending money along the way, he said.

The economic impact from out-of-state bicyclists in Arizona is $88 million, including $57 million in retail sales, and 721 jobs, Gerlich noted in his Power-Point presentation. Oregon makes $400 million off bicycle tourism.

Bicyclists burn more calories than most tourists, so they're going to eat and drink more and stay in small towns, Gerlich said. They're going to be tired, so they won't be "raising Cain" late into the night.

"It's healthy, clean and green," the professor said. "And the sales and jobs are nothing to be sneezed at. This is for real. The numbers are staggering. It focuses on consumers 40 and 50 years old, a lot of baby boomers and some Generation X. They tend to have discretionary time and discretionary income and that's a good group to go after."

They spend $80 to $150 a night on lodging, patronize restaurants and bars, buy souvenirs and go to movies. In some instances, they fall in love with the place and move there, Gerlich said.

"Let's face it, tourism is an opportunity to build on nostalgia. When I talk about (Route) 66 in class, my students look at me like I'm from the moon," he said. "We have 78 million baby boomers waxing nostalgic. For them, Route 66 is a cultural touchstone."

Route 66 is a "cool place" to cycle, Gerlich said.

"Make it accessible and put out the welcome mat. Accommodate people because there's lots of money to be made off these people," he said.