Two West Kootenay communities are in the running to win a national competition for motorcycle friendliness.
Kaslo and New Denver, along with Two Hills, Alta., are the western finalists in Canada’s Most Rider Friendly Community contest. The contestants were decided by nominations and the national winner will be decided by online voting and will receive a $35,000 marketing package.
“We launched this as a pilot, to see if there is traction there,” said Holly Sorgen of Community Futures Alberta, one of the contest’s sponsors. “And there definitely is.”
Sorgen sees motorcycle tourism as an important growth opportunity for rural tourism.
“Some tourists like the metropolitan or urban feel, but there is a huge portion of the population that wants to experience the country, the rural places between the urban places, something really different, so there is huge tourism potential.”
And she says that makes sense because riders tend to have money.
“The typical motorcycle enthusiast and rider has disposable income,” she says. “They are professionals, entrepreneurs, business owners. Those riders are coming through town spending money in the community because they don’t have the home on wheels, and they plan out their routes, so communities become destinations. If they are rider friendly, they are most likely to stop.”
Sorgen explained that motorcycle friendly communities find out who motorcyclists are and what they like, provide parking spaces and wash areas for bikes, and dispel myths about motorcyclists and make a point of treating them well.
Sorgen admits that it’s an interesting irony that two of the three Western Canada finalists are from a region that has garnered a 4,300-name petition asking the government to crack down on loud motorcycles.
“Take some time to see beyond bad apples and embrace motorcycle tourism,” she advises communities. “If you do this, your motorcycle community respects you back. If you can involve them in your plans, make them part of the overall vision for your community, they will respect the community a lot more.
“The myth is that people think the person in the helmet is not respecting the environment or our communities. That is as untrue as it can possibly be. We ride because it makes us closer to the community and to nature. There is never an intent to be disrespectful by most riders.”
Rene Charbonneau, who started the contest, is an Alberta rider and motorcycle blogger who writes under the name Belt Drive Betty. She says the powers-that-be do a poor job of promoting the tourism potential of small towns.
“We have all these beautiful little communities and so many get no support, no education from the tourism office, and the support you do get is like pulling hens’ teeth. You hear so much about Jasper and the Stampede, but I wanted to find a unique way to promote riding in rural areas, where it is not as dangerous to ride as in cities.
“There you have potholes, construction, distracted drivers, every inch is a danger zone. In the country you can enjoy the sun, the wind, it is a stress reliever, you can re-centre yourself, refocus. What we find in most communities is if they embraced motorcycles as a revenue stream, they never have trouble with their riders.”
Charbonneau says she has been riding motorcycles for 40 years.
“I have been around every kind of rider, from police officers to outlaw motorcycle clubs.”
She says motorcyclists who are disrespectfully loud are in the minority, and she has strong words for them.
“You can have a really loud motorcycle, but you can putt it out of town and never disturb a soul if you want to. You could be thinking, ‘It’s 7 a.m. and someone might have just worked a night shift. Maybe I should be a good neighbour.’ It’s the same with the guy with the diesel truck. There is rudeness in every community and that means you don’t tar everyone with the same brush. The obnoxious loud bikes are the same people with a loud truck or car with [a noisy stereo]. They are show-offs, not real riders. Their bikes and gear are a fashion statement.”
Charbonneau says riders tend to have a certain personality profile.
“We cross every walk of life. We tend to be strong willed and independent thinking, adrenaline junkies, the same as (people who ride) skidoos and quads. We know if we screw up we are dead or paralyzed. It is the heightened awareness of everything, when you are not out to show off. It does things for your heart and soul and brain like nothing else. You see and feel everything going on around you and the closest thing to it for me is riding a horse. You are constantly challenging yourself to grow and expand. There are 700,000 motorcycles registered for highway use in Canada. Five or six out of 300 will be idiots.”
Voting continues in the rider friendly community contest until March 22 at riderfriendlycontest.ca.