Ontario By Bike Network encourages Island businesses to market to cyclists

Mike McCreesh, project manager of Ontario By Bike, Mike Wozny, Tourism Northern Ontario, Maja Mielonen, president of Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates, and Louisa Mursell, executive director of Transportation Options spoke at the Bike-Friendly Business Workshop in Mindemoya May 29. photo by Jason Forrest

MINDEMOYA—If you come touring Manitoulin Island in your vehicle, you’re likely here for a weekend trip to your favourite campsite and tourist destinations. Cyclists, on the other hand, will stay almost a whole week, traversing the designated routes set out in the local guidebook provided by Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA). This recent rise in ‘cycle tourism’ on the Island over the last decade has shifted the way businesses, townships and the associations who assist them think about the services and amenities they provide.

Louisa Mursell, executive director of Transportation Options, and Mike McCreesh, project manager of Ontario By Bike came to Manitoulin Island Monday, May 29 to present their bike-friendly business workshop. It allows businesses to sign up, for free, to become part of an online directory tailored towards cyclists on their path across Manitoulin Island and Ontario as a whole.

Michael Wozny, special projects consultant for Tourism Northern Ontario, and Maja Mielonen, president of Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA) spoke on behalf of Northern Ontario and Manitoulin Island ‘cycle tourism’ and how much it drives the local economy when there are services catering specifically to cyclists, including all-inclusive tours, designated routes, safe storage and quick repair or roadside assistance.

Mr. McCreesh stated the Ontario By Bike Network (OBBN) is coordinated and administered by Transportation Options Association of Ontario, a not-for-profit organization who develop sustainable tourism and transportation initiatives around Ontario. Supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, and other municipal and regional associations and partners, the OBBN and the bicycle friendly certification program is now administered in 37 regions and has over 1,250 participating locations. 

According to the Network Participant Toolkit provided at the workshops and online, to be eligible to join the OBBN, your business must be in a region where the network is offered, meet the minimum requirements of the OBBN industry standards and register with Ontario By Bike through their website or over the phone.

“The importance of creating these standards is, there comes to be a benchmark of services and amenities that consumers and visitors have when they come to visit, say, an inn on the Island, or another accommodation in Windsor or Ottawa; they have those certain services and amenities that cater specifically to them as cycle tourists,” Mr. McCreesh said.

He explained each category will have a different set of minimum standards; businesses providing accommodations and campgrounds will have more criteria to be met than one providing food services and tourist attractions like museums, breweries or cruise lines. Everyone will require an area to allow cyclists to securely lock-up their bikes, while accommodations will require the area to be covered. All businesses will be required to provide cycling information along with routes in the area, with staff knowledgeable about cycling information. According to the toolkit, an area of town can be certified as a bicycle-friendly business area if more than five applicable businesses within 3 km are participating and certified, and include at least one of each category: accommodations, food services and attractions.

“We work with a community association, a business improvement area, Chamber of Commerce or similar association to make that community designated as a bicycle friendly businesses area,” Mr. McCreesh. “There’s value there because you are creating a cluster of reasons for cyclists to come to the area and have services that cater to them.”

The Network Participant Toolkit becomes available to you once you register and meet the industry standards, Mr. McCreesh said. They are available in print through the workshops administered through Ontario By Bike or in digital format once you register online at www.ontariobybike.ca.

“Inside the toolkit is a lot of information regarding our program, there’s also tips on how to market your business to cyclists, how to gauge an event if it’s coming through your area,” Mr. McCreesh said. “There’s a lot of great research in the document, so please share it with your colleagues so they might also register and any staff interested in inviting cyclists to your businesses.”

A Regional Cycling Resource guide is also provided through the workshops and online. According to Mr. McCreesh, “it is a fluid document that is constantly changing as more business register and more cycling information comes available.”

The resource guide provides information on regional cycling information and infrastructure, cycle routes and trails in the region, additional resources like the Cycling in Ontario magazine provided by OBBN, and Cycling the Backroads of Manitoulin, a booklet provided by MICA. The guide also offers locations for Bike rental and bike repair shop services, partner support in the region and sustainable travel modes for tourists reaching Manitoulin Island, including the Chi-Cheemaun ferry. According to the guide, last year approximately 850 cyclists boarded, not including vehicles carrying bikes. 

As for the Island, along with the cycling roadmap provided by MICA, they also provide an all-inclusive Alvar Treasure Ride; a five-day cycling package each year during the last week of June and the first week of September, and a sold-out Passage Ride last weekend that took riders on multiple choice routes with dinner and dance at the Mindemoya Community Centre on Saturday and lunch and live music at the Kicking Mule Ranch on Sunday. 

“With a continuous trail starting in Sault Ste. Marie or Sudbury and weaving through backroads to Espanola and south down Hwy. 6 to connect Manitoulin Island to the rest of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail, a project of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust, it opens up unlimited potential for the Island to really cater to and benefit from cycle tourism,” Ms. Mursell said.