Special to The Record
Riding bicycles isn’t just a fun hobby here in the Comox Valley – it’s also becoming big business. The combination of a stunning natural environment, relatively little pollution as a result of minimal industrial activity, and favourable topography make our area a natural cycling destination. This confluence of factors continues to attract cyclists of all types — both to live and visit here — and that is a major benefit to our local economy.
If we start by doing a quick review of the specialty bike shops in the Valley, we find that there are seven in total (not including Hornby Island). Trail Bicycles, Mountain City Cycles, Sara’s Bicycles, and the Broken Spoke are all in Courtenay. Blacks and Simon’s Cycles are located in Comox, and Dodge City Cycles is in Cumberland. Between them they have at least 20 employees, and if we assume industry standard pay, that represents an annual payroll on the order of $600,000.
However, there are many other businesses that sell bikes and bike-related goods. Blue Toque Sports Swap sells used bikes and products. Most major retailers including WalMart, Canadian Tire and Costco also sell bikes and bike-related products. All of these businesses are trying to be a part of the several hundred-million dollar cycling and related goods retail market in Canada.
Beyond retail sales, many other businesses in the Valley are directly related to the cycling industry. Each year since 2007, the BC Bike Race has brought several hundred mountain bikers from around the world to Cumberland, spending money locally on food and lodging. The United Riders of Cumberland have been running race events since the early-2000s, bringing mountain bikers here from all over the Island and the mainland. Mount Washington had lift-accessed mountain biking, which was also an attraction that brought people from out of town and provided employment for people on the hill. The Comox Valley Cycle Club hosts road bike events, which also attract out-of-town competitors. Finally, the newest development is in cycle touring, guiding and coaching. Island Mountain Rides provides guided tours of mountain bike trails. Island Joy Rides provides fully supported cycle touring all over the Valley and the Campbell River area. Drift Mountain Biking provides coaching and guiding to mountain bikers of all skill levels.
The international and national attention the events and businesses in the Valley have provided over the years, combined with the excellent cycling resources for both road and mountain bikers (roads and trails), is starting to add up. There is potential for the Comox Valley to leverage this sustainable business opportunity to an ever-increasing scale, following in the footsteps of such places as Moab, Utah — an incredibly popular mountain bike destination — and many places in Europe that have prosperous cycle touring industries. Looking at Moab in particular, mountain bike tourism is estimated to inject over $8 million per year into the local economy.
To take advantage of this healthy, relatively low environmental impact, and profitable business opportunity, our local governments need to work towards making the Valley bike-friendly. Bike infrastructure and bike-centric policy are two important tools local governments can use to boost this industry.
Andrew Gower is the chair of the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce