Ramey (left, with family) is launching Bikabout to help bike travelers navigate Madison and other cities.
Megan Ramey loves to travel, but she prefers to explore on bicycle rather than with a big, clunky, gas-guzzling car.
So whenever she takes trips, she researches a city's bicycle options, trails and bike-friendly businesses.
"Every time I took a trip, I was compiling all this information," says Ramey, who used to own the MoCo Market on Willy Street but now lives in Boston. "I realized if I could make this available to the public, maybe more people would take vacations with bikes."
This was the inspiration behind Ramey's latest business venture: Bikabout. It's another example of trying to make the IT economy work for travel and is a kindred spirit to Uber, Lyft and Air B'n'B.
But unlike those services, Bikabout is free for users. It aims to compile the resources and information tourists need to travel and explore by bike.
Ramey hopes to outline the ins and outs of transporting a bike by bus, train or plane, as well as which hotels and businesses are friendly to cyclists. Madison is one of 10 cities where the site is launching this fall. The other nine are Athens, Ga.; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Chicago; Montreal; Minneapolis; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and Vancouver.
Madison was chosen because Ramey remembers it as an easy place to get around by bike when she lived here. She feels much less safe biking in Boston. "I wish I could articulate the stress level," she says. "You're constantly looking over your shoulder for cars."
One of the coolest ideas for the site is the plan to have local musicians, artists, chefs and others from each city map out a bike tour for visitors.
"In my dream world, it'd be like getting David Byrne to curate where he likes to ride his bike in New York," says Ramey, who is still lining up virtual tour guides for Madison.
Chef Leah Caplan will design a culinary-themed ride, designer Cory Ring will map a tour of the city's chicken condos, and Zachary Barnes of Wisconsin Bike Fed is curating an urban farming tour.
These tours will be geared for a biker of average fitness. Ramey tells guides to "Think of a 60-year-old mom. If it's safe enough for her, then a 22-year-old white male will feel safe. Nobody wants to be stressed out on their ride."
So how will any of this make money? Ramey says she's also working on signing up hotels, restaurants and other businesses as sponsors, which she'll then promote on the site. Some businesses, she notes, are "already doing these amazing services -- it's just a matter of advertising them."
Ramey says that tour guides won't be asked to weave particular businesses into their tours. "I don't want a bunch of TJ McScratchies," she says. "I want small, boutique places because it's part of the fabric of a city."
Europe already has a strong bike tourism industry, Ramey says, noting that a recent study found it generates $59 billion annually there. A study in Oregon found the state generated $360 million from bike tourism in 2012.