Newton County residents may see nearly 100 tandem bikes riding around this weekend, and some local businesses will see thousands of extra dollars enter their registers.
Covington is playing host to the 12th annual Georgia Tandem Rally, one of the largest tandem bike events in the southeast, and 191 cyclists descended on the town Thursday evening. Riders came from 16 states, as far away as Washington and as near as the city of Social Circle.
While locals may enjoy the unusual site of 92 tandem bicycles, it’s the potential $45,000 in revenue to local businesses and $1,350 in local sales tax revenue that will provide a longer term benefit.
Ride Director Roger Strauss said the tandem rally was held in Albany in 2008 and the city estimated the riders spent more than $60,000 during a weekend.This year, the riders will eat a Friday lunch at the Blue Willow Inn and dinner in Covington Thursday and Friday, which could bring in $9,000. The Hampton Inn is the host hotel and they could receive $27,000 for three nights of packed rooms over the weekend. Add in rental costs for Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center and Turner Lake Park, tanks of gas and miscellaneous shopping, and an additional $7,000 or more could come in.
"We like to come into town and spend as much locally as we can," Strauss said.
The tandem rally had originally planned to stay near Augusta at the Savannah Lakes Resort, but when that facility closed Strauss turned to an area he knew well.
"We ride our bikes a lot in Covington. We needed a place with a good hotel and a lot of venues for our social events. It all worked out really well," Strauss said.
He said, in his opinion, the paths along Dixie Road, as well as those between Covington and Social Circle and Madison make for some of the finest bicycling in the state of Georgia.
If Covington can become a biking destination, there could be many more revenue-producing opportunities in the future. April and May and September and October are the prime biking months and Strauss said there are probably about 20 large rides every year, at least one every weekend during those months.
One large local event is the annual Covington Century Bike Ride which drew more than 1,500 cyclists last year. In addition, the Covington Conyers Cycling frequently hosts smaller local rides.
Strauss said he’s heard some talk about the possibility of a trail along the unused Norfolk Southern railroad corridor. For a bike enthusiast like him, the idea of a beautiful path through the heart of Newton County would be an amazing addition, he said. The current way to travel south involves riding along U.S. Highway 278 to Elks Club Road, a sometimes dangerous proposition.
"Something like that would make Newton County a bicycle paradise. Look at what the Silver Comet trail has done for Paulding County," he said.
However, the previously discussed cost to create a paved trail would likely prohibit such a venture for many years, but that won’t stop bikers from dreaming.
Some of the most experienced bikers could ride well more than 100 miles during the rally weekend.
"We‘re excited to be here. We hope everyone in Covington will wave at us with all of the fingers on their hand," Strauss joked. For more details go to georgiatandemrally.com.