If you’re increasingly frustrated by watching online videos of mountain bikers or road cyclists conquering precipitous peaks and peering out over endless vistas that lift the spirit and make you forget your day job, but don’t know where to start planning such an awesome ride, perhaps you should consider the guided tours offered by Ride & Seek.
If, however, you’re instantly turned off by the thought of a guided tour, visualising smiling families riding bland bikes along a bike path, then you really should take a closer look at the epic adventures of Ride & Seek Bike Tours. Recently, I sat down with Dylan Reynolds, one of Ride & Seek’s tour guides, and asked him for more information about the tours offered, and have since added riding one of them to my bucket list.
Who is the historian in the partnership? How did this whole concept come about?
Sam is the historian or, more accurately, archaeologist. Before becoming part of Ride & Seek he worked on excavations throughout Europe and in museums, such as The British Museum in London. The concept came about after he worked for the BBC presenting their TV documentary ‘On Hannibal’s Trail’ where he and his brothers cycled the route of Hannibal — the Carthaginian commander who attacked Rome in the 3rd century BCE.
The brothers told the historical story from the saddle of their bikes as they rode his invasion route from Spain to France and Italy. After doing this trip which essentially took in the best of Western Europe there was a clear overlap between great historical journeys and potentially beautiful bike tours! It was just a matter of getting the bike tour management skills which I brings to the partnership.
Exactly how much ‘history’ will I learn? Maybe I just want to go on a really long guided tour across Europe without the history lesson.
The amount of history is really up to the riders. We have a few short fixed talks — about 1 a week on each of our Epic trips about the history but these are always over an apertif somewhere relaxed and stunning. For example we have one of these talks on the river Trebbia where we stay at a beautiful Italian castle. We have a glass of Prosecco and some antipasti on the castle walls and chat about Hannibal’s big battle there. These talks are 15-20 mins long at a maximum and more like a relaxed chat than a lecture.
From these riders can get more or less, it is their call as either Sam or one of local experts will be giving these talks and they are around for dinner and love to talk more on the topic if people are interested — if they aren’t, then that is great too. They will be happy to eat and drink the great food and wine! To be honest judging people’s levels of interest in the history is part of the tour management and we feel we are pretty good at getting the right balance for people’s different levels of interest.
Most mornings we also give a 1 minute chat prior to getting on the bike about what to look out for, historically and culturally, when riding that day. As I am sure most of the cyclists reading this know, being on a long bike ride is a great place to chat and gives a great opportunity for people to talk at length. If history is the thing our guests are interested in then we have the guides to talk about it, if it isn’t that is no problem, they know a lot about other things too! One thing we can say about the history is that it definitely adds an extra element of atmosphere and purpose to the ride.
What’s your longest tour?
Our longest tour at this stage is Napoleon: Paris to Moscow. It is 45 days and around 4400km. We travel through 7 countries on this tour and it is epic! We leave the Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe in Paris and 6 weeks later literally ride into Red Square and up to the Kremlin in Moscow!
It makes for an amazing trip. This trip also goes through Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. One day we (well Sam anyway!) would like to follow in Alexander’s steps and ride from Greece /Macedonia to India which would be around 12,000km long!
If I wouldn’t be able to bring my own bike, you have bikes available for me to use, such as Lynskey and Specialized. Riding a titanium Lynskey across Europe sounds like a dream. What are those bikes like to ride?
Really lovely. We feel they are the perfect match for us. We have long days riding on the Epic tours, so having a quick and nimble bike that’s also comfortable is perfect. The titanium ride gives us this and they are a really classy build. We have found that our guests feel the same way — we had close to none left of our first Lynskey fleet after one season — everyone wanted to buy them as soon as they rode them!
Ride and Seek isn’t just about the epic adventures, what about the local tours?
The local tours are great and like our epic adventures, we want to these to be unique experiences. As an example, for all our French tours we have partnered with ‘Les beaux villages de France‘, an institution that chooses the most beautiful villages of all France. This relationship gives us insight and access to that little bit more than other tour companies, as we go from one beautiful village to another in fantastic cycling regions like Provence or the Dordogne.
The great thing about our local tours is that they are suited to all riding levels and is perfect for couples and families — non-riders are also welcome — as well as offering a challenge to stronger riders with optional extra loops. Our local adventures have minimal accommodation changes and provide more time and opportunity for cultural activities such as city and site tours, cooking classes and immersion in the local culture.
These tours really look to be trips of a lifetime, and the reviews certainly describe them as such. The Napoleon and Hannibal tours are both sold out for 2015, but if I sign up for a 2016 tour, what can I expect in terms of adventure?
Yes, we’re delighted that the 2015 tours have sold out so quickly. I think the book Felix Lowe wrote about his experience on the Hannibal tour in 2013 – Climbs and Punishment — has paid dividends and we have found the Outside magazine accolade of placing Napoleon at the top of the list of ‘Best European Tours’ has really opened up the US market for us. It has meant that for the first time in 5 years we have been able to focus on the marketing of the 2016 tours with plenty of lead time.
With the Epic Adventures in particular we have found that people want plenty of lead time to get themselves organised. I guess securing six weeks off work to ride the Napoleon tour takes a lot of forward planning. In terms of the adventure we can offer, we think the world is your oyster.
As a way of seeing the world, I hold no reservation in stating that the bike is the ultimate mode of transport for doing so. Our tours are geared to offering an immersive experience in terms of the history, culture and gastronomy. With the awesome places we travel through and the cool dynamic of travelling as a group we think the adventure is laid on a plate to be discovered.
What will I eat?
We put a lot of emphasis on what we eat on our tours mainly because we love to eat ourselves! The same goes for the wine. We feel that sampling the gastronomy of a place is one of the best ways to actually connect with where you are. On our tours we are aided by the fact that the great cycling areas of Europe are invariably the same places that the best wines come from — Barolo, Brunello, Burgundy and Champagne, to name just a few — as well as a rich assortment of culinary jewels.
In the evening, dinner is usually a 3 course affair with the menus set up to reflect the cuisine of the local region. The beauty of being on a bike tour is that you can eat and drink as much as you like knowing that you will burn it all off on the bike the following day!
Where will I stay?
One of the benefits of keeping the group size small is that it enables us to stay in the smaller, family run establishments that add to the authenticity of the travel experience we hope to provide. We have carefully selected the places we stay in based on their ‘personality’ and the hospitality of the hosts. Be it Parador’s in Spain, Manoir’s in France or Agriturismi in Italy, we seek to connect you with the places we travel in, through the accommodations we choose.
We go by the mantra of selecting the best available accommodation wherever we stay but in saying that we also look to avoid the generic luxury chain hotels. Invariably our more eclectic choices such as a deconsecrated monastery in Tuscany where the English Patient was filmed, or a balsamic vinegar producer in Emilia Romagna are highlights of the trip for many of our guests.
What else is on the agenda for Ride and Seek in 2016?
Thus far we have built a reputation based on our Epic adventures, following in the footsteps of a historical figure. We started with Hannibal – Barcelona to Rome – and then moved on to Napoleon which travels from Paris to Moscow. The latter has been a big undertaking as you can imagine given the distance and the number of countries we have ride through so we are very proud of that one.
In 2016 we are launching another Epic – this time following in the footsteps of Caesar from London to Rome. Given that Caesar traversed so much of Europe during his reign it also gives us more scope to search out some of cycling’s more renowned cycling jewels.
The Caesar tour will take us over the cobbles of Roubaix, down through Champagne, coast around the Italian Northern Lakes and on to the famed passes of the Dolomites. From here we descend to Venice and down the Adriatic coast where we pedal on the same roads that Pantani did before finishing the ride in the Eternal city – Rome. It will be a great tour!
On top of this we are broadening our offerings in Asia – another tour in Vietnam and a new one in Taiwan – as well as adding Hawaii and the ascent of Mauna Kea to the portfolio. We also hope to offer more to the easy riding opportunities provided by our Local Adventures. All in all 2016 is shaping up to be a big year!
It all sounds breathtaking, doesn’t it? Start making plans and find out more information on the Ride & Seek website.