How much would it cost to make British Columbia a globally recognized destination for all stripes of cyclists?
According to the B.C. Cycling Coalition, the price tag is about $75 million a year. That's the number the organization is asking the province and tourism to contribute to a larger plan to grow the cycling tourism industry.
While that seems like a lot, the money would go towards everything from widening highway lanes, to improving cycle touring opportunities like the Kettle Valley, to connecting and improving mountain bike trails province-wide. Marketing is also in the budget, explained BCCC president Richard Campbell.
"When you look at the big picture, all around the province there are missing links," said Campbell. "There will be an investment of time and money to create a good route, but then it doesn't necessarily connect to where people want to go, or another existing route. And even existing facilities, which are considered world class, need to be cleaned up and better identified."
Campbell added that the Sea to Sky Highway, which was upgraded with wider shoulders for bikes, could use some improvements as well.
"Even that experience, which is becoming world famous, could be improved," he said. "There are a few areas where drains have been placed poorly, or cyclists could use a bit more room on the shoulders.
"In the Vancouver area there could be better connections to some of the bridges, and the Spirit Trail in North Vancouver (the region's version of Whistler's Valley Trail network) is being held up, and one of the challenges there is money... Until the whole thing is completed it's just not as useful as it could be."
Campbell said that no definitive study of the value of cycling to British Columbia has been completed, but he said the contribution to the tourism economy is probably higher than people think. He pointed to a recent study that suggested that cycling and cycling tourism contributed US$325 million annually to the economy in the state of Oregon alone, while a study in Quebec revealed that the province's "Route Verte" system — a network of roads and lanes covering almost 5,000 kilometres — generates $134 million in economic activity each year.
A study by the European Union determined that cycling was one of the fastest growing tourism sectors, and that cyclists spend over 44 billion euros each year. A network of lanes called the EuroVelo network is expected to generate another seven billion euros when completed.
Closer to home, a now dated study by the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association determined that total mountain-bike visitor spending for Whistler alone was over $34 million from June 4 to Sept. 17 in 2006. Since then the resort's popularity for mountain biking has only grown, while the Sea to Sky Highway upgrades and events like the RBC GranFondo Whistler and Ironman Canada have made the area popular with road cyclists as well.