Business As Usual ... Is one road to local prosperity a bike path?
by John Fleming
Star Editor at large
May 24, 2010 | 5042 views |  0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When you're desperate to find signs of an economic recovery, you’ll pretty much look anywhere.

Yes, there are those macro-economic indicators, such as unemployment or better yet, employment figures, housing starts, GDP, GNP, durable goods, consumer confidence, earnings from key industrial sectors and so on.

Then there’s the stuff closer to home, little blips that may seem insignificant at first glance, but upon closer examination could indicate something good afoot.

Take bicycles for example, or biking in general. Bikes are not big-ticket items, nor are they tracked closely by micro-economists, but they do have a story to tell, at least right here locally.

Ask Jack Holder. He’s the head volunteer at the Eubanks Welcome Center on the Chief Ladiga Trail.

If you query him with, “how’s business,” he’ll sweep a little promise and sunshine your way.

“April was a big month,” said Holder from his office at the welcome center. “All those people who had been cooped up through the winter, well, they came out in a big way in April.”

In total, 423 visitors cycled through the center during April. They came, said Holder, from 22 states and Canada, representing the second largest one-month crowd ever.

Interestingly, the weather was mediocre at best last month. The first and the third weekends were wet and cool, keeping most people and nearly all cyclists, inside. Nearly all of the month’s traffic, then, came over two weekends.

That suggests the coming months could be very good, said Holder.

“Maybe,” he said, “we can keep up the pace.”

And let’s hope so, because more bikers, mean more business for local businesses.

But do more bikers on the Chief Ladiga Trail mean things are turning around? Well, it means things are turning around for some people.

Yes, you do not need enormous amounts of disposable income to enjoy cycling, but a lot of people have to travel very far to enjoy what is in our backyard.

Remember, Holder noted, people came from 22 states to ride the trail. If you come from somewhere other than Georgia, that takes an investment.

Retirees, he said, piled into the welcome center during the past week, arriving from Michigan, Indiana and Ontario. On the weekend, the families and avid bikers show up, “the ones who want to get way out there by themselves, to enjoy nature.”

It’s good to have people coming through and spending at places such as the Victoria and the McClellan Inn and other businesses, but the general biking mood is directly affecting at least one local business.

Patrick Wigley, of Wig’s Wheels in downtown Anniston, says business is good indeed. Already downtown, Wigley recently moved to a bigger store. The new space, he said, accounts for part of the increased business, but an improving economy is helping out too.

Most of his sales are the lower-end bikes, but he’s also been moving some impressively priced merchandise as well.

“I am doing a very large business in bikes in the $3,000-and-above range,” said Wigley.

Indeed, he said, in the three weeks leading up to the Sunny King Criterium and the Cheaha Challenge, he sold more in that range than ever.

Wigley said his biggest business is in supplying bikes to people who want to ride the trail.

“My bread and butter,” he said, “are the cruising bikes that people want to buy for the Ladiga Trail.”

Wigley and Holder see biking from a different angle than most of us. They experience it daily and have come to understand the economic impact it can have on the community and how you can read hopeful signs from it.

They can also see the big picture. And that, in short, is the power of ecotourism in Alabama.

We’ve got a lot going for us in terms of biking, the Chief Ladiga Trial, a developing mountain bike trail on Coldwater Mountain, the Cheaha Century Challenge and the Sunny King Criterium.

“Calhoun County,” Wigley said, “is going to become a cycling destination for the entire country.”

Let’s hope he’s right about that.

We can hope and in the meantime we can also do. As Holder is very fond of pointing out, the Ladiga Trial desperately needs to be extended to the Amtrak train station in Anniston. The lack of political will to do that aside, that problem can be solved with the right kind of energy behind it.

Anniston Star Editor at large John Fleming explores area business and economic topics in this weekly news column. Send topic suggestions to johnfleming2005@bellsouth.net.

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Bikes Galore

Statistics from 2008 put worldwide bike sales at around 124 million. The vast majority, (82 percent) according to Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, were manufactured in China and India.

The United States imports more bikes than any country, about 18 million. Only about 1 percent of bikes in the country are domestically produced.

In 2007, U.S. sales of bikes and related items hovered around $6 billion.

A Long Ride

Want a really long bike ride? Try the The TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. You can start in Astoria, Ore., and go all the way to Yorktown, Va. The winding trek takes you across 10 states and covers a distance of about 4,250 miles.

Or, A Costly Ride

A variety of bike-crazed websites say the world’s most expensive bicycle is one made by Aurumania, called the Gold Bike Crystal edition. It’s not surprising, really.

The thing is almost entirely covered with 24 karat gold. The handlebar grips are made of hand-sewn leather. The brand name, Aurumania, is spelled out in Swarovski crystals.

Only 10 of the bikes were made, but for $114,464, one can be yours, and the company will deliver it to you anywhere in the world. Free of charge, no doubt. What a bargain.

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