Tom Hunter was reading a gear review of bicycle panniers when he came across the name of a notable Missoula nonprofit.
"They referred back to Adventure Cycling," said Hunter, of Seattle. "So I followed up and got on their website, and then I got pretty enthused about their organization."
That was roughly a year ago. Hunter, 62, signed up for a membership, joining a long list of bicycle fans paying dues to the "premier bicycle travel organization in North America." Since 2008, the Adventure Cycling Association has bucked the recession and grown its membership, revenue, online presence and visibility.
This fall, it's also embarking on a $400,000 expansion of its downtown Missoula headquarters, a project estimated to bring a 50 percent staff increase, although not all at once.
One simple explanation for all the growth?
"I think people in general are getting into bicycling," said Jim Sayer, executive director.
Adventure Cycling will start construction this fall and complete the addition to its 150 E. Pine St. building before the onslaught of touring bikers rolls up in the spring.
The project brings a second story to the west annex of the complex, adding another 1,400 square feet to the roughly 6,000-square-foot building.
Although just one block east of Higgins Avenue, the offices stay tucked out of sight. With the expansion, Sayer said he would like to add a visual element - yet to be determined - that marks the site as the bicycle mecca it's known to be among cyclists.
The nonprofit employs 28 people, and the addition will allow it to hire another 12 to 14 over time. Demand for Adventure Cycling's editorial content is up, and cartographers are busy charting bike maps, so the nonprofit will boost staff in those areas.
"We update our maps all the time," Sayer said. "A lot of people think we're the AAA of bike mapping. And it's true, but we do better than AAA."
He said that's because the maps always are being updated to make sure they have current information about accommodations, public libraries where cyclists can check emails, bike shops, and in one case, even a bar, since it happens to be the only place to eat within miles of a route across the Great Divide.
Demand for detailed maps that don't rely on batteries is contributing to revenue growth at Adventure Cycling.
Revenue took a dive in 2008 when fewer people booked bicycle tours, but the organization has been growing steadily and surpassed its base since then, according to the nonprofit.
In 2009, it brought in $3.5 million. In 2010, it pulled in $4.1 million, and it's projected the same for the current fiscal year.
"Last year was a record year for the organization in our 35-year history," said Winona Bateman, media director for Adventure Cycling.
Generally, the growth is in sales, tours and also charitable donations.
Membership also has risen. Adventure Cycling reports new members joining at a pace of 2 percent or 3 percent a year, and since 2000, a 40 percent increase.
Hunter is one of the people who joined roughly nine to 12 months ago. It costs generally $40 for a year, but options vary.
He said a lot of information is available online to people who aren't members, but a membership gets people a subscription to the magazine, discounts on maps, and more to the point for him, lends support to the nonprofit's mission.
"If you're a long-distance bicyclist, I can't imagine why you wouldn't be a member," Hunter said.
If all that weren't enough, Adventure Cycling also has managed to raise its visibility nationally and widen the scope of its presence online. Bateman said its web traffic last year grew 20 percent.
In addition to its main site, the organization launched bicycletravelbloggers.org, which aggregates bike travel blogs. It also started bikeovernights.org, which "provides inspiration, resources, and tools" for one- to two-night bike trips, especially for newbies.
"The whole staff has pitched in to increase our outreach efforts in the digital realm," Bateman said.
And just last month, both the Sacramento Bee and New York Times made note of Adventure Cycling's resources in stories about bicycle travel.
The nonprofit doesn't look like it will slow down anytime soon, either. The economy still looks weak, biking is a relatively inexpensive way to travel, and more mapping work is on the horizon for Adventure Cycling.
"This was a landmark year because for the first time in 30 years, six new U.S. bicycle routes were approved," Sayer said.
Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, firstname.lastname@example.org or on MissoulaRedTape.com.