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IOWA CITY - 'Everybody knows Iowa City,” said Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau. 'Largely it's because of cyclocross.”
Most of the cycling reputation is based on the city hosting the Union Cycliste Internationale, or UCI World Cup, for four years, Schamberger said.
But now, Schamberger and his team are working to harness Iowa City's growing reputation as a cycling destination and not just for cyclocross. The convention and visitors bureau recently launched Bike Iowa City, a website dedicated to highlighting the diversity of the Iowa City area's cycling options, as well as offering links to routes, trails and courses, cycling events and other resources such as area bike shops and organizations.
In addition to the hundreds of miles of road and paved trails, the Iowa City area is home to two cyclocross courses, six miles of single-track loops, countless miles of gravel routes and the Sugar Bottom mountain bike trail system - widely regarded as one of the top mountain bike areas in the state.
'You combine all those things and throw it into the pot, and you've got a pretty dang good soup,” Schamberger said. 'That's what we aim to show off through this site.”
Schamberger said the website was born out of a group formed about three years ago called Cycling Johnson County.
The purpose of the organization was to streamline cycling-related advocacy, marketing and programming efforts between the various cycling organizations in the area.
One idea to emerge from that group was the creation of a website that would allow organizations to program together, promote events and raise awareness about cycling resources in the county.
In building the website, Schamberger said organizers looked at the work in other cycling destinations around the country such as Cuyuna in central Minnesota and Bentonville, Ark. Both communities are known for their single-track trails.
'A lot of those communities are really strong in the single-track discipline or mountain biking discipline, and we're very fortunate that we have all of those here and this almost one-stop shop for cycling,” Schamberger added.
Investment in trails
Bike Iowa City invites visitors to 'ride your own adventure” and highlights routes and rides for roads and paved trails, gravel rides, fat bike rides and off-road and cyclocross adventures.
The suggested rides include the mileage, number of feet of climbing and a link to the route, as well as a description of the course. A calendar on the website allows people or organizations to post or search for cycling events.
'Hopefully, that will become more and more popular with people logging on and saying, ‘Hey, there has to be a ride this weekend. Let's go do 15 miles,' ” Schamberger said.
Since passing a $20 million conservation bond in 2008, Johnson County has beefed up its trail system while making sure its secondary roads serve cyclists, Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said. That investment in cycling infrastructure represents a response to the Johnson County public, he said.
'This is a county where a lot of people use bicycles, and we're trying to be responsive to that,” he said, while also touting cycling's role in addressing climate change and public health goals.
And while the work done by the Board of Supervisors largely is to serve local residents, Sullivan said it doesn't hurt to make Johnson County a cycling destination for visitors or potential new residents.
'It's all upside and no downside,” Sullivan said. 'You're not bringing pollution. You're not bringing problems. ... It's a pretty easy answer.”
‘Culture of enjoyment'
Coralville also has expanded its cycling options in recent years. About five years ago, the city opened a three-mile Coralville Woodpecker Singletrack trail east of Camp Cardinal Boulevard after working with the Iowa Coalition of Off Road Riders to improve old trails there.
In the two years, Coralville has added a second three-mile loop west of Camp Cardinal Boulevard and Creekside Cross - the state's third permanent cyclocross course.
Sherri Proud, parks and recreation director for Coralville, said Creekside Cross was built in about five months for only $10,000. Proud said local cycling organization Goosetown Racing has continued to host events at Creekside Cross and it has become a destination for local and out-of-town cyclists.
'I get calls from people coming to town, they want to use the cyclocross course, they want to make sure it's open,” Proud said.
Businesses are doing their part to attract cyclists, too. When Matt Swift opened Reds Alehouse in North Liberty, he said there was a 'light assumption” it could be a destination for cyclists who want a drink during or after a ride.
But future restaurants - specifically Big Grove Brew Pub in Solon and Big Grove Brewery and Taproom in Iowa City - were '100 percent planned to be bike friendly,” Swift added.
'We felt like breweries and biking go well together,” he said.
Now, Swift's restaurants host and sponsor rides throughout the year.
The Big Rove, which took cyclists from Big Grove in Iowa City to Reds Alehouse to Big Grove in Solon, this year was an official training ride of RAGBRAI and is set to return next year.
Big Grove Brewery and Taproom also was a stop in last weekend's Beer and Poker Gravel Grinder, a 70K bike ride hosted as part of the Jingle Cross. Swift estimates 100 cyclists came to hang out at Big Grove as part of that event.
Swift, a road cyclist, said bike riders tend to 'embrace the culture of enjoyment” and spend a few bucks doing so.
'It's a demographic you can't ignore in the hospitality industry,” he said.
More than visitors
Iowa City Nighttime Mayor Joe Reilly said downtown hotels also were at 85 percent to 90 percent occupancy throughout the Jingle Cross weekend, a good number for a weekend when the University of Iowa football team was on the road in Ames.
Those cyclists all were looking for a place to go when they were done riding, he said.
'I was working the beer garden” at Jingle Cross, Reilly said. 'I would have people come and ask for recommendations where they should go from here. I asked, ‘What are your interests, what are you looking for, what kind of atmosphere?'
'I don't know if they took my recommendations, but they were interested in going downtown.”
But it's not just the visitors who spend money on cycling. Local filmmaker John Richard is part of a gravel riding group, the Gravel Scouts. The group meets Mondays at World of Bikes before embarking on a 20- to 30-mile gravel ride, Richard said. Those rides often end at bars.
And when Richard needs a replacement part for his bike, he goes to local bike shops.
'With gravel cycling, it is a little harder on your bike,” he said. 'Dust, rocks - things wear out a little faster. You are having to replace parts. That probably contributes to the local economy.
'The food and beverage after the rides probably ends up being a larger part of the money one spends.”
It's those local riders who Schamberger, of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, and his team also are trying to serve with Bike Iowa City.
'If we continue to get our local residents passionate about cycling and proud of the infrastructure and the resources we have available, they're our best advocates. That's free marketing,” he said.
'They're the ones bringing in their friends and colleagues and those that share the same interest they have in riding. ... We get all of those folks proud and being able to share that story and that message, it's going to get out to the visitors.”
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