If you’ve ever entertained a dream of riding a grand European tour of your own, through famous wine regions and sampling the local delicacies, or perhaps following in the footsteps of historic legends like Hannibal or Napoleon, Ride & Seek Bike Tours can turn that dream into a reality.
Last year, three Australian brothers, Danny, Sam and Ben Wood, retraced the steps of the Roman conqueror, Hannibal, from Barcelona to Rome. The journey was filmed and edited into a BBC Four documentary. Sam Wood, alongside tour director Dylan Reynolds, has since established Ride & Seek to offer the experience to cycle tourists. And if you’re not interested in ancient history (or partaking in the local specialties), they also offer classical tours through France and Italy’s most scenic gastronomically enticing regions. I caught up with Dylan, a tour designer, scout and leader with 12 years experience, to find out a little more about Ride & Seek the journey that brought him to this point:
Dylan, you must be clocking up some touring miles by now, and have rode through some interesting and beautiful territory. Can you tell us what your favorite route is, and why? There’s a tough question to start. You’re right, I’ve certainly had the privilege of riding through some pretty awesome landscapes over the years. I guess in terms of favourites I’d have to lean towards some of the touring I’ve done in my own time. By design the commercial bike tours I’ve led always take you through the best parts of the region they visit but as a guide you know what to expect. The routes that stick in the memory are those that come as a bit of a surprise. I cycled down the west coast of the US a few years ago and riding through the giant redwood forests was pretty mind blowing. In Europe the ride up to Volterra in Tuscany at sunset takes some beating, especially the first time I did it with a couple of mates when we were cruising around the region with no idea as to where we’d end up.
After 12 years of leading bike tours, you must be getting close to achieving your ideal setup. Can you give us a quick rundown of your equipment list for an extended tour? I guess in terms of set up the art to leading a successful bike tour is covering all potential eventualities, of which there are many. The obvious in this regard are mechanical and health issues that will sometimes arise. Logistically on a tour the accommodation and meals are booked in advance so that element is covered and doubled checked on the pre tours before the tour proper starts. That said probably the most important tool a bike guide has is his/her mobile phone as it is important to phone ahead of time to make sure everything is in place. Another key element is the van that accompanies every tour and acts as the luggage carrier, sag wagon and snack storage. We work as a 2 guide team with the guides alternating driving the van and riding the bike. Obviously most guides prefer the latter but there is definitely a skill in offering decent van support to the touring group. The van also carries the spare bikes, a variety of bike spares, picnic gear for the days that we put on lunch during the day, everyone’s day packs and whatever else besides.
What do you love most about bicycle touring? Cliched as it sounds I can’t think of a better way to travel and explore an area. As much as I enjoy hiking you can only cover a relatively small area. ‘Going for a drive’ has never really rocked my boat as I use a car as a means of getting from A to B and that’s it. On a bike you get the chance to really connect with the area you’re travelling through taking in the sights, sounds and smells as you go along as well as meeting the locals along the way. The biggest plus in my book though is that you build up a great appetite riding a bike and since food and wine are two of my favourite things the fact that they both seem to taste better after you’ve been on a bike all day is a big bonus.
Ride and Seek is your new venture, offering bicycle tours through some of Europe’s most beautiful regions. Can you give us a little background to the business? Who are your partners, and what was the events that lead to the founding of the company? Sure. The idea of Ride and Seek was a culmination of a whole lot of thinking and planning on the part of both by myself and Sam, my partner, on the venture. We both had been making plans independently though and it was only when we got chatting at a wedding last year that our plans converged. I was already in the process of putting together some tours with guiding buddies based in Europe and Sam was keen to set something up on the back of the success he’d had with the BBC documentary ‘On Hannibal’s Trail’. When we got chatting it seemed a natural step to start collaborating together and bring together our respective expertise and ideas. Both of us are mad keen on cycling so that was a given, but I was able to bring my guiding experience to the table and Sam who is an archaeologist by trade conceptualized the Expedition tour idea that we are both really excited about. Excuse the pun but the rest is history!
Ride and Seek offers Classic Tours whose itineraries read like a foodie’s pilgrimage. Personally, what’s your favorite stop on these tours? I think I’d probably have to go for the town of Alba in Piedmont, Italy. The smell of Nutella that permeates the air as you cycle in – it’s the home of the Ferrero chocolate business – gets the taste buds going and the choice on offer in the town doesn’t disappoint. Just down the road in Bra is where the Slow Food movement began and it is an ethos that the town seems to live by. Alba is also the gateway to the Langhe region where some of Italy’s finest wines are produced – Barolo and Barbaresco to name a couple. The town also hosts the world’s most prestigious truffle fair each year which is a site to behold. White and black truffles are found in the surrounding hills and a highlight of our Piedmont tour is that we take guests out with a truffle hunter and his dog. He is happy to share the secrets of his trade as well as sharing any truffles he might find.
The Historical Tours, retracing the steps of Hannibal and Napoleon, would even sound enthralling to cyclists who might never have considered such a journey. Have you any more Historical Tours planned for the future? Sure. Both Sam and I are really into the Expedition element of the tour and incorporating the historical element into the tour format. Sam has a list as long as his arm of historical figures he thinks we could create a tour around – a good few of whom I’ve never heard of! I know that a tour following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great is one idea that really excites him but since that would involve a tour over 32,000km long it might be on the drawing board for a while. Spartacus and Hercules are two other tours that he has in mind that would be easier to put together. Personally I’d love to do a tour that follows in the footsteps of the Incas in South America or Marco Polo on the Silk Road.
How easy is it for a cyclist from another country (for example, Australia or the US), to bring their own bike on a tour? It’s a strange one this in that when I first started guiding I’d say the majority of the riders on tours brought their own bikes and I can’t remember there being too many issues. In recent years though with bike tour companies providing decent bikes people seem to be happy to leave their bikes at home. For example we have sourced the Trek Madone 5.2 and Specialized Roubaix for people coming on our tours as well as a decent spec flat bar hybrid, so guests can avoid the hassle of bringing their own bike knowing that they’ll have a decent bike for the tour. That said I appreciate that a lot of riders simply like to have their owns bikes as that is what they are used too and I wouldn’t discourage them. From experience I’d say by all means bring your own bike but account for the possibility that it might get delayed in transit. If you were booked to arrive from Australia or the US the day before the tour started you would be cutting it a bit fine but if you were arriving in Europe a few days before then at least you have a buffer. In conclusion bring your own bike but make sure you pack it properly or get someone to do it for you, and chat with the tour operator regarding what can be done with the bike box whilst you’re on tour.
Have you any tips for novice cyclists considering one of your tours? What about tips for more experienced bike tourists? The great thing about going on a guided bike tour is that the guides hopefully take the logistical element out of the equation and allow the traveller to just concentrate on the fun bits of riding their bike, taking in the scenery and sampling the gastronomy of the region. In terms of tips for the novices i guess the best piece of advice I can offer is to read the grading spiel for each tour carefully and don’t overestimate your abilities. Whilst the van is always available as a back up and can come in very useful at the bottom of any steeper hills I think that people will generally have a better time if they manage their expectations beforehand. In this sense it is always a good idea to get some bike time in before you come on tour irregardless of the difficulty rating we have given the tour. If nothing else it means that you’re backside will already be prepared for spending multiple days on a bike seat. Our espresso grading system is designed to give potential guests an idea of what sort of rider each tour is aimed at and whilst slightly subjective provides a decent guide. For the experienced bike tourist all I’d say is come along for the ride and enjoy being pampered for once!
Who are your modern day heroes, cycling or otherwise? As a kid I was a huge Pedro Delgado fan and whenever we went off on family bike trips I would pretend to be him on the customary sprint to every village sign we came across. The subsequent doping allegations apart he is still pretty high on my list. The Italian cyclist Girardengo is a hero from the past but I guess the De Gregori song about ‘Il bandito e il campione’ played a part in that. Among today’s riders I have to say I was chuffed that Cadel finally got a tour win under his belt and I’m always happy to see Cav on the podium. Special mention should also go to a guy called Alastair Humphreys who rode around the world a few years back and whose take on life through his blog I find pretty inspirational.
Are you optimistic about the future of cycling, and in particular, cycle touring? Definitely. There seems to be a real buzz around cycling at the moment at all levels from commuting up to the professional ranks. I’ve lost count of the number of blogs I’ve followed of people cycling around the world and I love the fact that chatting about the Tour or the Giro seems to become almost commonplace at work. On the bike tour front I think the fact that tourist numbers on the bike tours I lead have continued to increase over the last few years – even through the GFC – suggests that the appeal of bike touring is continuing to grow. Having set up a new bike tour venture we certainly hope that is the case anyway!
If you’ve ever had an inclination to tour by bicycle through Spain, France or Italy (or all three), make sure you bookmark Ride & Seek. There’s plenty of inspiration there. Thanks to Dylan and Sam for the words and photography.