This letter is intended to convey TOSRV’s challenges in the current bicycle tour environment and correct misinformation that has spread about our beloved event.
TOSRV has been managed by the same organization since its inception – Columbus Outdoor Pursuits (formally operating as American Youth Hostels). There have been multiple Tour Directors over the years, most notably Charlie Pace, who have all been accountable to the Columbus Outdoor Pursuits Board of Directors.
TOSRV Participation in decline for 20+ years
TOSRV attendance began a noticeable and steady decline in the late 1990’s/early 2000s. Of course we all ask, “why?” The simple scapegoats in recent years have been the change of dates and start location; however, the steady decline preceded those changes by 10-15 years.
Date and Start Location Changes
TOSRV moved from a downtown starting location & moved (one weekend) off Mother’s Day in 2017.
A rider survey suggested strong support for these changes:
- Riders had long expressed that TOSRV on Mother’s Day was a deterrent.
- Hotel and parking costs in downtown Columbus were a deterrent for many
- The route from downtown had become increasingly busy and unpleasant for many years.
- The cost of permits and required traffic control by Columbus Police exceeded $10,000.
TOSRV moved from May to September based on these factors:
- The COVID pandemic caused the cancellation of the May 2020 event.
- During the rescheduling process, Portsmouth expressed concern with continuing the May event due to their diminishing capacity to provide needed support and their prioritization of local needs – Shawnee State graduation, local high school graduation, and other growing regional festivals. Portsmouth leadership, in essence, would only welcome TOSRV in the fall.
Rider Demographics and Satisfaction
Analysis of our ridership data in 2015 revealed that as riders aged out, they were not being replaced by younger riders. In 2023, 67% of TOSRV riders were aged 55+. Many younger riders attended one TOSRV, but didn’t return. They just “checked the box” for America’s Oldest Bicycle Tour. These riders also expressed that they enjoyed the ride, but didn’t find the ride experience strong enough to return.
- The route was boring or uninspiring.
- The route didn’t feel safe and was too busy with cars. Over 40 miles of each 100 mile route uses 2-lane, 55 mph speed limit roads. This requires TOSRV to pay over $5,000 to the Ohio State Highway Patrol to try and calm traffic on these roads.
- There are only three roads into Portsmouth. Route 104 is the safest of these three but is continually cited by riders as extremely uncomfortable and unsafe, particularly for the last 30 miles of Saturday’s ride into Portsmouth. Access to Portsmouth by bicycle has become increasingly challenging.
- The nature of the traditional TOSRV route has changed dramatically, for the worse, over the last 50+ years.
- With so many event choices in the region that are more scenic and safe, TOSRV is no longer a first choice or attractive to younger/newer cyclists.
Many longtime TOSRV participants suggest that TOSRV isn’t being promoted enough. Like our cycling event peers across the country, we have shifted our marketing investments to more effectively reach core cycling enthusiasts through digital channels and via long-term partners with crossover appeal (e.g Adventure Cycling, Pelotonia, etc) . But, no matter how much we invest in marketing, if a product or service isn’t attractive or needed by a segment of customers, it will not succeed. Do you see marketing for pay phones, phone land lines, camera shops, typewriter repair shops, print newspapers, etc? All products and services have a life-cycle. We must realistically recognize if, and how, our product meets a viable market segment need.
Like most special events across the country, volunteer participation for TOSRV is lackluster. Management of TOSRV is performed by a (paid) staff member of Columbus Outdoor Pursuits. If you want to commit to engagement as a leadership volunteer, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
TOSRV is not financially self-sustaining at current participation rates. Due to some of the factors referenced above (e.g. cost of Highway Patrol, cost of insurance coverage, limited facility choice, staff cost, etc) TOSRV is an expensive ride to manage. For the record, TOSRV operation is subsidized by other Columbus Outdoor Pursuits events – particularly GOBA (Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure), Ride Series, Memberships, and annual appeal donations from individuals.
Board of Directors’ Discussion
Our Board of Directors will meet for an annual strategic planning retreat in early November. We plan a deep discussion and critical decisions on TOSRV. While history, passion, and “that’s the way it’s always been done,” comments will inevitably be part of the conversation, the Board will discuss TOSRV objectively; they’ll “consider the numbers” (aka finances).
A Victim of its own Success?
TOSRV was the trailblazer event that gathered bicyclists from across the country every May. The strength and passion of the participants translated to the creation of bicycle tours across the country. Did you know that TOSRV was directly responsible for the development of Bikecentennial 1976 and Adventure Cycling? We are proud to have so many bicycle event choices and such a vibrant industry grow from TOSRV.
TOSRV faces core, structural challenges that compromise its future. We have put great effort into managing the event in its traditional format to provide a positive experience for those that do participate. The passion for TOSRV and the positive experiences of riders is gratifying.
Thank you for your continued support!
Jeff Stephens Jerry Rampelt
TOSRV Director President, Board of Directors