Best Job in the World?!

Krystal’s Office

Honolulu’s Pedal Power Bike Tours Hawaii is the latest bike tour in our directory.  We had a chance recently to chat the with the owner, Krystal Vogel.

Krystal thought she had the best job in the world working as a guide for another bike tour company in Honolulu:

“I get to go to work!” I heard myself say one day.

And then last year she found out that the tour company was closing:

“I LOVED the job! I LOVED the people! I LOVED sharing every reason why I live here and why my heart belongs to Hawaii…we were all told that the company would be closing…..just not enough business to stay open………my heart broke a little.”

One of her co-workers joked that they should buy the rest of the bikes and just do it their own. That got Krystal thinking. There wasn’t enough business to support the shop rent and expenses and all the guides. But, one guide with six bikes working from her home, that might work. All she’d need were the bikes, a few helmets, rain gear, some spare parts, an air pump and and a corner of her house for a home office.  

She thought about it, hard, for three days. And came to the conclusion that:

“..if I didn’t try I would always wonder.”

She also realized that if it didn’t work out, at least she still had her biggest investment, the six bikes, to sell. So, she did it and:

“…it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made!”

Krystal started with open eyes and has learned a lot since last November. She’s had to learn about business, website development, SEO, bike mechanics, accounting, and more, all while giving bike tours every day.

“I went into it knowing that it would be difficult, and knowing that I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I was doing it for the love of it all, and that has made all the difference.”

The evening before each tour, Krystal loads up her bikes, two at a time, and drives them to secure storage at a hotel across from the tour’s start point on the Honolulu Zoo Trail. The next morning, she bikes from her home shop to recheck the guest bikes and prepare to meet her guests at the corner of Kalakaua and Kapahulu Avenues.

Most of her guests stay at hotels within walking distance to the meet up point. Waivers are signed and riders matched with bikes and off they ride off on Krystal’s “perfect route”.

So what’s it like to lead bike tours in paradise? We asked Krystal for some stories:

“One couple was so excited when we went past the mall and asked if they could return something really quick. No problem! and I just chilled outside for about an hour and waited. They brought me ice cream when they returned, and off we went!!”

“Then there was the sweet innocent young lady who enjoyed frequenting high end gentleman clubs and invited me to join her that evening instead of some random guy she met on Tinder, what else can you say but ‘OK!?'”

“A sweet young man and his girlfriend that had a great aunt that he had never met, and had lost touch with the family. She was last known to own one of the major lei shops in Chinatown 30+ years ago, so on a whim, we went to check it out. She was there! There was a lot of hugging and tears and I felt so honored to be a part of that moment!”

“The awesome little girl that called me Miss Krystal the whole tour and wanted to know EVERYTHING! Random photo bombs. And a mom that REALLY wanted me to date her son!”

“The Japanese man on his 60th birthday, (we didn’t speak each others language, but we understood each other perfectly!)”

“I keep in touch with most of my tour guests. It’s such a bonding experience sharing your world and the things you love, in such an intimate setting. There’s nothing better than the universal language of laughter! And it comes with every tour!”

Thanks for sharing your story, Krystal!

Bike Tour Beginnings

We have three stories for you about how bike tours get started.  The first two stories are from today’s news.  Third is a nice blog post from Austin’s own Brew and Bike Tours.

  1. The city of Houston is getting a new bike tour!  3rd Ward Bike Tours is starting up just this past weekend with a fleet of orange bikes donated by CYCLE Houston.  The founders, Alan Moore and Veon McDonald are combining forces to encourage locals to bike more, get moving, and stay healthy.
  2. The Locks Heritage District Corporation (in Lockport, NY near Buffalo) will be offering the Lock City Cycling Tour on Saturdays, starting July 8.  The seven mile tours are a home grown project, visiting landmarks in Lockport focusing on the Erie Canal’s namesake locks.  Sandy Guzzetti and her husband Mike started with an interest in local bike tours.  That grew to be ride chaperones for Explore Buffalo, and finally creating the new bike tours.
  3. Adam Watt, of Austin’s own Bike and Brew ATX tells his story about starting his bike tour company.  Here’s a snippet:

…I had fallen in love with tourism and when I went on a bike tour in San Francisco, I realized that Austin didn’t have anything like this. So, I brought it back home with me. Although I never had a “real” office job, I was able to take all those years of experiences at tour outfits, breweries, teaching, distilleries and skydiving and mold it around a business that perfectly fits me. Everyone wants to change the world right? Well this is my way of making people laugh and smile for those 3-4 hour that I get to ride bikes with them.  I mean, bikes and beer; what’s not to love?

Couldn’t have said it better myself  🙂

San Francisco – An Alternative Touristy Ride

There are at least a half dozen bike rental and bike tour outlets along the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf.  All of them offer guided and/or self-guided trips along the bay, across the Golden Gate Bridge and down into Sausalito, with a ferry ride back to the city.  If you’ve never been to San Francisco, it’s not a bad choice.  Except that Sausalito is pretty touristy.

Maritime Park

I was in San Francisco recently, primarily to check out the East Bay Punk History Rock Bike Tour.  I’ve always wanted to bike over the Golden Gate Bridge.  But, having been to Sausalito ONCE, I didn’t really want to do that again,  Plus, there are other ways to ferry around the bay (tip, check out downtown Oakland or Alameda).

So, do ride the touristy San Francisco side (especially if it’s your first time in the city).  And do ride across the Golden Gate bridge. But, then, come back and take in another side of San Francisco.

Fort Mason

Here’s how this ride breaks down:

  • Embarcadero to the Golden Gate Bridge, passing through all of the most touristed areas, including  the Exploratorium, Pier 39 (don’t miss the sea lions!), Fisherman’s Wharf, the USS Pampanito and SS Jeremiah O’Brien, the Maritime National Historic Park,  views of Alcatraz, Fort Mason, and Crissy Fields.  Finally climb up to and on the Golden Gate Bridge.  Approx. 6.5 miles.  Consider which side of the bridge to ride.
West Sidewalk – Golden Gate Bridge

 

The Presidio

 

  • SOMA back to the Ferry Building.  The mapped route is pretty direct back to the Ferry Building, but this area is dead flat and pretty bike friendly.  If you’re interested in craft beer, there are several brewpubs noted on the map.  Approx. 3.5 to 5 miles depending on detours.

Need a bike?  You can’t walk 50 feet along the bay without running into bike rentals.  But consider treating yourself to an upgrade from Golden Gate Rides, Bike Hut, or Dandyhorse.  Tell ’em BeenThereBikeTours sent you.

Have fun!

East Bay Punk Rock History Bike Tour

“Punk rock” and “bike tour” are two  phrases you don’t expect to see together.  Throw in “history” and you’ve got the East Bay Punk Rock History Bike Tour.   When I saw this in my news feed a few weeks back, I knew that I had to make the trip.  The ride was co-sponsored by Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (WOBO) and the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA).  So I cashed in some frequent flyer miles and began looking for a rental bike that wouldn’t make me look like a tourist who’d escaped from Fisherman’s Wharf.  Shout out to Golden Gate Rides who set me up with a Cannondale Quick flat bar road bike that was perfectly suited to a long weekend in the Bay Area.

Chris kicking off the ride at OMCA

The sellout ride began at the museum in downtown Oakland.  The 30 or so riders mingled prior to a welcome and pre-ride briefing from the WOBO board president, Chris.  CBGB and Dead Kennedy T-shirts replaced the typical cyclist kit.  And there was a bit of minor incredulity that someone would fly 1500 miles to participate.  Each rider received a pocket-sized Powerpoint deck detailing each stop of the tour.

 

We rolled out under clear blue skies to the first stop at the former site of the Practice Pad, in downtown Oakland.  Our guides were Kamala and Kate, pioneers of the punk rock scene in the East Bay.

Here, and at each of the eight following stops, Kamala and Kate related stories “from the day”.  Stories of starting bands, communal living, and less-than-normal rental practice spaces shared with semi-legal tattoo parlors and offbeat print shops.

More than half of the nine stops no longer resembled their punk rock roots, due to gentrification, remodeling, and new construction.  This ride was not about sightseeing as much as about the stories.  After each stop’s story, the guides played a song from one of the associated bands.   There’s nothing like a punk rock soundtrack on a bike ride.

Here’s a quick video of the music portion at one of the stops:

One particularly interesting detail about gentrification stuck with me.  Most of these neighborhoods were, at one time, inexpensive warehouse spaces or housing.  They were often very ethnic and dubious of the punk squatters.  Gentrification in the early 90’s hadn’t started, but Kate expressed regret that they didn’t try harder to build bridges with the existing neighborhoods.

The final stop on the tour was 924 Gilman which is a:

  • DIY and nonprofit venue for music, art, and community events
  • Cultural landmark since 1986 that continues to inspire similar spaces globally
  • Volunteer-run, all-ages, drug and alcohol-free safe space
  • Multi-generational, independent collective
  • Place for young people to work cooperatively

The route from OMCA to 924 Gilman was just under nine miles:

Stretching to Berkeley, the ride also provided a quick glimpse of some of the exceptional Bay Area cycling infrastructure, e.g. bicycle boulevards.

To top off the post ride, WOBO sent a playlist of the tracks played at the stops and during the ride:

01_TheGr’ups_RRHood.mp3
02_Special Forces_South Africa.mp3
03_StarFuckingHipsters_Immigrants_Hypocrites.mp3
04_Neurosis_Double Edged Sword.mp3
05_Christ on Parade_Just Pretend.mp3
06_Tilt_Berkeley Pier.mp3
07_Econochrist_Withdrawl.mp3
08_Spitboy_Sexism Impressed.mp3
09_NoMeansNo_Dad.mp3
10_Fang_Berkeley Heathen Scum.mp3
12_SocialUnrest_GeneralEnemy.mp3
13_Isocracy-2 Blocks Away.mp3
14_Crimpshrine_Tomorrow.mp3
15_Operation Ivy_Junkies Running Dry.mp3
16_Mr. T Experience_Gilman Street.mp3
17_Blatz_Berkeley is my Baby.mp3
18_Filth-The List.mp3
19_Lookouts_Big Green Monster.mp3
20_Screeching Weasel_Ashtray Song.mp3

Most of these titles seem to be available on Youtube.

Although this wasn’t a commercial bike tour, I’m including the usual:

What We Liked

  • It was a well organized, well run, well thought out event.  Kudos to WOBO and OMCA.
  • The pocket guide and music samples were a great idea.
  • Tim from WOBO even brought water along in his panniers.
  • Follow up emails with the route information and downloadable MP3s.
  • Friendly fellow riders.

What Could be Better

  • Nothing, even the weather was perfect.

Final Notes

Over an après-tour beer, I heard that WOBO is planning a shipping container themed bike tour around town and the Port of Oakland area.

And, finally, if you’re interested in learning more about the East Bay punk scene, check out a new documentary titled: Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk.

You Trek Utrecht?

Photo: Alper Çuğun

OK, shockingly, I seem to have originated this terrible pun.  Moving along, the Dutch city of Utrecht gained some fame in 2015, hosting the Grand Depart of the Tour de France.  As with most Dutch cities, bicycles are the most common mode of transport, with a third of journeys being taken via bike.  The city also boasts the world’s largest in-door bicycle parking lot.

However, only one of the three Utrecht bike tour companies seems to be currently operating:

  • Vintage Bike Tours is currently “not organizing any tours due to personal reasons“.  Here’s hoping that’s temporary.
  • One of Utrecht Bike Tours’ websites is down and their Facebook page hasn’t been updated since mid-summer 2016.  However this page is up and perhaps tours will resume on Saturdays this summer?
  • Fortunately, it appears to be business-as-usual over at Color Bike Tours.

But here’s something truly unique about Utrecht…they now have an entire book devoted to a bike tour.  “Rietveld in Utrecht. A heritage cycle tour” has been released to celebrate Gerrit Rietveld’s contributions to “the Style” during the 100th anniversary of de Stijl.

Photo: Arjandb

So consider putting the book into your Winkelwagen,   You can rent a bike right from the Centraal Museum.

New Cities and Experience Sharing

By WiDi [CC BY-SA 3.0]
We’ve just updated the tour directories and added some new cities, like Provo, Eindhoven, Koblenz, Ghent, Johannesburg and Soweto.  In Eindhoven, much like Memphis, there isn’t an bike tour company, but bike tours are available from experience-sharing site Withlocals (which is similar to Vayable, but currently focused on Asia and Europe).

We talked about Vayable a couple months back.  After poring over both company’s listings, we’ve concluded that:

  • They have some cool bike tours
  • They serve some cities that don’t have commercial tours
  • The providers are, mostly, not actual companies and likely to come and go more often than a bike tour company (we found a few commercial tours using Vayable for promotion)
  • Since both Vayable and Withlocals provide their own search capability by city, it seems redundant to reflect all of their listings in BTBT’s directories

That said…there are some gems, like the Memphis and Eindhoven tours, that we do want to reflect in our tour directories.  These tours are marked with this symbol: 💬  as a reminder that these are hand-picked from the “experience-sharing” sites.

Bicycle Tours of Atlanta – Fall in Love with Atlanta Tour

While visiting family in Atlanta, an extended BTBT team rode the Fall in Love with Atlanta tour from Bicycle Tours of Atlanta along with a few other guests.  When we arrived, all eight bikes were ready to go, identified with name tags for each rider.  BTofA’s website asks for height and age info when booking to provide an appropriate bike for each rider.  That’s not only helpful to find your bike, but doubly nice since it makes it easy for the guide and riders to learn one another’s names.

After a brief test ride and a few fit adjustments in the parking lot, we rolled out toward the historic shotgun houses near the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.  From there we began a rambling clockwise route roughly encircling the Little Five Points, Inman Park, and Cabbagetown neighborhoods.

After stopping for an iconic downtown Atlanta photo, we paused again to explore street art along a short section of the Atlanta Beltline (including one of three “tiny doors” that we encountered).  From there, we rode the Freedom Park Trail passing by The Carter Center.  A few shady streets later, we arrived at Little Five Points, Atlanta’s “answer to Haight-Ashbury”.  Little Five Points is proud to have exactly three non-local establishments:  The post office, a Starbucks, and an American Apparel.

After more shady residential streets and another short stint on the Freedom Park Trail, we entered Inman Park proper. Sadly, we rolled PAST the King of Pops HQ & Walk Up Window. (“Mmmm, popsicles…”)  Several blocks later, we stopped for a story about a pair of iconic houses, and their connections to the Coca-Cola company.  A bit further on, we discovered the butterfly flags marking the first neighborhood in Altanta to gentrify.

Next up, a fast, dark ride through the heavily graffitied Krog Street Tunnel followed by a photo taking break at the Cabbagetown terminus.  Heading west along Wylie Street, we encountered more murals along the concrete railroad embankment.  We then circled back to Sweet Cheats for a brief cupcake and bio-break.

Following the break, we pedaled a short distance to the site of the Fullton Bag and Cotton Mills.  A portion of the historic mill was converted to loft apartments in the late 90s.  Hundred year old walls overlook the inviting modern pool.  Just around the corner, we rode through a residence of a different sort, the Historic Oakland Cemetery.  The cemetery predates the Civil War and serves as both a final resting place and peaceful city park.

The final leg of the tour took us past the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the King Center, once again, before returning to the bike shop.

What We Liked

  • Just about everything.  The location of the shop and tour route are nearly ideal to experience a cross-section of Atlanta.
  • The bikes were in very good condition (a couple were brand new) and set up for us in advance.  The name tags were a nice touch.
  • Walt was an enthusiastic, knowledgeable guide.  Sara was learning the ropes and having a second guide to help with intersections in busy Atlanta added to our safety.
  • Plenty of water provided before and after the ride.

What Could be Better

  • One of our riders had requested an e-bike.  She wasn’t able to use the throttle, but the pedal assist worked fine.  Kudos to Walt for emailing us after the ride to explain the quirks of how that bike usually works.
  • I sure could have gone for that King of Pops popsicle  🙂

Should You Go?

Absolutely, highly recommended!  

Of note, Bicycle Tours of Atlanta also runs “Street Art” and “Twilight” tours.