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Jim Sayer has a few bike rides planned before he leaves the top job at Adventure Cycling later this year.

Call it product testing. Perhaps a novel way to refine interview questions for his replacement. He’ll likely encounter plenty of people with suggestions.

“When I started 14 years ago, we’d get about 500 people a year coming through to see our Wall of Fame,” Sayer said of the bulletin board at the entrance of Adventure Cycling’s Missoula headquarters, where long-distance bike travelers post their portraits. “Now it’s 1,200 to 1,400. It varies a bit with weather and conditions. In April and May, we start to see the pace pick up.”

Sayer has seen bike touring surge in participation since he came to Adventure Cycling in 2004. The nonprofit organization has ridden a similar wave, growing from a staff of 20 then to 46 today. In the process, it’s evolved a unique character in the special-interest world — one that makes choosing Sayer’s successor a novel challenge.

“We do memberships and donations and grants like the average nonprofit,” Sayer said. “But we also run hundreds of tours and training courses. We have six full-time cartographers who are creating new and updated maps. We sell bike gear. We have a magazine that’s one of the top-circulation bike magazines in the United States. This is a hybrid, with earned income as well as classic nonprofit activity. Whoever gets hired has to manage the overall thing.”

Adventure Cycling came together around interest in “Bikecentennial” cross-country bicycle treks popular around the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations. From its original coast-to-coast route guides, it has added itineraries following the Continental Divide, the perimeter of the nation and numerous internal scenic passages. In two weeks, Adventure Cycling will publish a 1,200-mile guide to northwestern Arkansas, which features a mix of gravel and backcountry roads.

Jean Belangie-Nie worked with Sayer to win federal support for a bike trail making the trip from Lolo to Missoula along Highway 93 much safer. She said Sayer’s understanding of how long big projects can take was essential.

“If it wasn’t for Jim and Adventure Cycling being involved in the Bitterroot Trail from the very beginning, it wouldn’t have happened,” Belangie-Nie said. “We met for 10 years, every month. He allowed his people to work on significant bike projects, and he knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight.”

Sayer said he plans to stay through the search for a new chief executive. But there will be absences as he takes a ride from Maine to South Carolina, and one across the northern edge of the country from Maine to Missoula.

“I’m not retiring right away,” Sayer said, “but it will be great to have some flexibility in what to do next.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.