Bicycles were scattered around the Edney Building in downtown Chattanooga this week during the inaugural Southeast Regional Bike Tourism Summit.
Inside, their riders — in town from seven states — discussed things like bikepacking, electric bikes, U.S. bike routes and the economic benefits that they can bring to communities.
Bicycle tourism is a burgeoning idea in the South, and Chattanooga will soon be the headquarters for another business based solely on the concept.
Velo View Bike Tours, an Austin, Texas-based company founded in 2012 and known for its four-night bike vacations and three-night bike retreats, is moving to Chattanooga, where the company will also experiment with day trips in the Chattanooga area and other regional rides.
Owner Shannon Burke, a panelist during the bike tourism summit on Wednesday and Thursday, and his wife, Celeste Cyr, both have family in Tennessee, and that played a part in the decision to relocate to the Southeast.
But they chose Chattanooga over Asheville, N.C., and Greenville, S.C., among others.
"You've got the community, the outdoors and the city planning, and all of that stuff makes a difference to people like us who are looking for a new home and coming from a really cool place," Burke said. "In our minds, it's like a small Austin with better scenery and less traffic."
Velo View is already offering a three-night bike retreat trip on the scenic Cherohala Skyway that connects Tellico Plains, Tenn., in Monroe County to Robbinsville, N.C.
It will soon offer city tours of Chattanooga and back road tours through the surrounding area, and Burke is working on putting together a "Tour de Farms" featuring stops at local North Georgia farms.
"There's a great sense of community that was really appealing, and you add to that the incredible opportunities for outdoor recreation and cycling, in particular, and it starts to become a no-brainer," Burke said of the move. "The more we discovered about the place, the more it confirmed we were making the right choice."
Burke said bicycle tourism isn't something you do to get rich, but studies have shown that it can provide a nice boost to local economies.
A 2012 report by the League of American Bicyclists found that bicycle tourism in North Carolina's Outer Banks area generates at least $60 million annually.
The Silver Comet, a 61.5-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail northwest of Atlanta, is responsible for $57 million in direct spending per year, according to a 2013 study.
"Communities can prop themselves and become bike tourism destinations," said Ginny Sullivan, director of travel initiatives for the Adventure Cycling Association and a panelist at the bike tourism summit.
Bicycle tourism takes different forms. Bikepacking is a more rugged, off-the-beaten path form, while Velo View bike vacations include stops at nice hotels and restaurants on trips through the Rocky Mountains, New Mexico and Kentucky's horse country, to name a few.
"The whole point of what I'm trying to do is allow people to turn their brains off and put their wallets away," said Burke, who leads the tours himself. When you come on vacation, the last thing you want to be thinking about is how much your next meal is going to cost or if you're going to get lost. We make it really simple."
Burke has already purchased a home in Chattanooga, but he isn't planning to have any office space here. He said he just needs his van and a laptop.
And he is looking forward to spending time in his new city.
"I think we're going to be shifting our focus a little more to the regional retreats more than the bigger out-of-state bike vacations," he said. "We'll still do them, but as far as growth goes, there are a lot of great destinations in the region, and I want to go into the Chattanooga bike tours."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at email@example.com or 423-757-6249.