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Adventure Cycling announces new executive director

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Jennifer O'Dell

Jennifer O'Dell is the new executive director of the nonprofit Adventure Cycling Association.

The largest bike travel organization in the United States, based right here in Missoula, has a new leader.

Jennifer O’Dell has been named the executive director of the nonprofit Adventure Cycling Association. She joined the organization in April as its chief marketing officer and is now taking over the top spot from Scott Pankratz, who served for 20 months during the disruptions of the pandemic.

“Our mission is to inspire and empower and connect people to travel by bike,” O’Dell explained from the downtown office on Tuesday. “We provide education, tours, resources, tools and programs to really help people learn how to buy gear and travel. We sell maps, we sell gear and we have guided tours and other programs like that.”

The organization has professional guides who lead people on routes all over the country. They also operate a full-service sales organization with a glossy magazine. People can purchase seat covers, lights, racks and any other biking accessory under the sun.

With a staff of around 40, plus seasonal and remote workers, Adventure Cycling is a big employer in downtown and brings lots of tourists to the area every year.

There was an explosion in bike sales across the country during the pandemic, and now more and more people are seeking guidance from the experts at O’Dell’s organization on how to safely navigate. They interact with roughly 250,000 people a year.

"People call and say, 'Now I have a bike, what do I do?' and we give them ideas and tools for trips that they can do,” O’Dell explained. 

The organization was founded over 50 years ago with a mission to inspire people to embark on huge, cross-country trips. These days many people are interested in shorter weekend or overnight trips.

“So we’re working on some routes and resources for that as well,” she said.

Before moving to Missoula with her husband from Arkansas, O’Dell worked in the consumer-packaged goods, e-commerce and fitness industries. She lists large brands like the Hershey Company and Sunny Delight Beverages Co. on her resume. She went to college in Oregon and loves to mountain bike, hike, cook, see live music and drive her kids to sporting events.

“I’m thrilled to be stepping in to lead Adventure Cycling Association as we accelerate our efforts to make our mission relevant to many more people,” O’Dell said. “Our leadership team is energized, unified, and committed to our bold vision to build a much larger and inclusive bike travel community."

It's the staff that really makes the organization effective, she said.

"Adventure Cycling is fortunate to have a blend of long-serving staff members and new hires that offer a good balance of stability and enthusiasm, and I’m proud to have their support," she said.

The organization will focus on an initiative called Bike Overnight in 2022. It includes preparing do-it-yourself resources that will be available online for anyone to go on their first road or bike-packing tour. The initiative aims to prepare trip itineraries close to major cities and connect people with experts who can give advice on two to five-day routes. The whole goal is to provide guidance and support to novice riders to create bike travel opportunities for people of all ages, backgrounds and experience levels.

“We’re excited to have Jennifer take on the role of executive director,” said Joyce Casey, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors. “She brings a collaborative leadership style and thoughtful management, and has already helped us define our strategy to bring the joy of bike travel to more people. We look forward to what the future holds for Jennifer and Adventure Cycling.”

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