What a year

This is turning out to be an extraordinary year for Bike Florida. Our little 22-year-old nonprofit has been growing; expanding its education and safety mission, diversifying its tour offerings, and looking for new opportunities.

Bike Florida is, above all, an entrepreneurial organization. Our small but enthusiastic staff spends a lot of time talking about what can be, what we can do differently, what can be done tomorrow, next week, next month and next year to take Bike Florida to the next level.

Our Rules Of The Road are simple. Collaboration. Innovation. Building partnerships. Expanding our horizons. Remaining relevant in an ever-changing state.

We don’t always get it right. Flats happen even on the smoothest of roads. But we will keep on cycling.

The year 2016 isn’t even over yet and here’s what we’ve done.

This year Bike Florida awarded its inaugural $25,000 matching Challenge Grant. We wanted to challenge communities to come up with innovative ideas to improve cycling at the local level. Nine grant applications came in – from Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Gainesville, Miami and elsewhere. Ultimately we decided that our first Challenge Grant would go to the City of Key West. Key West is a marvelous place to ride a bicycle, but because of the daily massive influx of tourists and other factors, it also has one of Florida’s highest bicycle accident rates. Key West has recently hired its first bike-ped coordinator and Bike Florida is proud to partner with that island city on its plan to become a safer and more enjoyable community for cyclists.

We will keep tabs on Key West’s progress and, hopefully, some of its initiatives will be applicable to other Florida communities.

For the first time ever, Bike Florida held its annual spring tour in Southwest Florida. The 2016 Surf & Turf tour took 500-plus riders from the rural roads of Arcadia to the beaches and cultural attractions of Sarasota and Englewood. We visited St. Armand’s, Siesta, Casey and Manasota keys, cycled to the post seaside resort town of Boca Grande and explored the wetlands and subtropical forests of Myakka River State Park.

We also launched Bike Florida’s newest and perhaps most scenic small group luxury tour. Our Forgotten Coast Tour is a five day trek along the lightly-developed and little-traveled upper Florida Gulf Coast from Port St. Joe to Tallahassee via Apalachicola, Wakulla Springs State Park, St. Marks and points in between. The Forgotten Coast Tour is a journey through time and nature and an opportunity to enjoy the region’s rich culture and culinary delights. We will be offering it again and again. Check it out on our web page.

We continue to work with our partner, the Florida Bicycle Association, on the 4th annual Share The Road Celebration of Cycling. The heart of this yearly event is a day long series of speakers and panel discussions about bicycle-related issues. The dominant theme of this year’s gathering is titled “Cycling Is The New Golf: Can Florida Be A Major Destination For Cycle Tourism?” We are bringing in speakers from around the country to talk about this important economic development issue and our participating partners include Visit Florida and the University of Florida’s Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management. In the afternoon the FBA will wrap up the day’s events with the 2016 Florida Trails and Streets Summit. For more details and registration information go to sharetheroad.org.

And please make plans to join us on Friday, Oct. 28, in Gainesville, for this important discussion about the future of bicycle tourism in Florida.

The following day, October 29, will see the culmination of a two year Bike Florida campaign to restore six bicycle sculptures that were raised in 1997 to memorialize a horrific crash the year before, when a distracted driver plowed into six cyclists who were riding from Gainesville to St. Augustine – killing two and injuring the other four. Bike Florida raised or otherwise pledged $16,000 for the restoration effort. On Saturday, Oct. 29, following Celebration of Cycling, there will be a Ride of Silence from the University of Florida campus to Depot Avenue Park, where the sculptures are located. The ride will be followed by a formal dedication of the renamed Share The Road Memorial.

Oh, yes, and we’ve just opened a new Bike Florida headquarters. We are sharing our new Gainesville digs, at 101 North Main Street, with another nonprofit, the Florida Community Design Center. If you are in town, drop by and visit with us. We love to talk about who we are and what we do.

That’s just the short list of Bike Florida’s 2016 initiatives. And there is more to come.

In 2017 we will be experimenting with a new format for our annual spring tour. The Gullah-Geechee Tour, March 19-24, will be Bike Florida’s first “wagon-wheel” tour. Instead of moving from host community to host community – packing up your tents and moving your luggage every other day – our tour will stay in in one place, the St. John’s County Fairgrounds, for six days. Each day riders will set out in a different direction to different destinations; St. Augustine, Crescent Beach, Palm Coast, Palatka, Welaka, the upper reaches of the St. John’s River and elsewhere. Check our web page, www.bikeflorida.org for registration details.

More importantly, our Gullah-Geechee Tour is an opportunity to raise money for the small community of Armstrong. Located on the rail-trail that goes from Palatka to St. Augustine, Armstrong is a rural African-American community that has ambitions to develop its economy around cycle tourism. Armstrong has been a great partner to Bike Florida, frequently hosting our riders to community brunches and otherwise welcoming cyclists. And we want to dedicate our spring tour, the Gullah-Geechee Tour, to helping Armstrong achieve its dream of becoming a “trail town.” Click here for ways you can help the Armstrong Community.

Look for other Bike Florida initiatives and innovations this coming year. We intend to continue to expand our small group tour offerings (right now we’re exploring the prospect of a woman’s only tour in the Fernandina Beach-St. Augustine areas. And other new tour ideas are also simmering. As Florida continues its initiative to connect and expand its system of regional rail-trails, Bike Florida will poised to offer trail-to-trail exclusive tours for riders who don’t feel comfortable sharing the road with cars. We will continue to experiment with ways to attract younger riders and a more diverse ridership. And we intend to keep expanding our Share The Road education and safety mission.

Got any suggestions for us? We’re always looking for constructive collaboration. Contact me at ron@bikeflorida.org or give me a call at 352-262-5798. And keep an eye on our Bike Florida and Share The Road web sites, Facebook pages and other social media outlets for the latest news about our little 22-years-young nonprofit.

And please, come ride with us. If you haven’t done one of our tours yet, you are missing out on something special.

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