The Day Job

Do you yearn to earn a living from the seat of a motorcycle? Admit it. You’ve thought about it. At least once, you’ve considered jacking it all in and escaping somewhere awesome to set up a bike tour business. These ABRs did just that and they’ve never looked back…

Name: John Cayless
Age: 59
Originally from: Melbourne, Australia
Now lives: Red Hill, Australia
Bike: Honda CB 400
Tour company: Asian Experience Motor Bike Tours

When did you set up your bike tour company?

In the late 1980s there were no bike tour operators in Australia and very few elsewhere, so I thought there’d be a good market specialising in motorcycle tours.

What was your previous ‘day job’ before setting up your tour company?

I started out as an accountant, which looking back now so isn’t me! After backpacking around the world for five years in the 1970s, I couldn’t face the nine-to-five job when I returned to Australia, so I bought 10 windsurfers and five paddleboards and started a hire business on the beach.

What inspired you to ditch the old day job and set up your tour company?

I was 20-something when I left home to ‘see the world’. Having been to South East Asia, Africa, South, Central and North America, I wanted to start a travel business when I got back, but the reality of settling down, getting a job and having kids put a stop to that. It was while on holiday with the family a few years later that I finally decided I had to start my travel business now. The windsurfer/ paddleboard hire business provided a good income during the season but was slow during the of-season.

Using my travel experience, I plotted out an itinerary for a hiking tour in Nepal and placed an ad in the local newspaper. Within a few weeks I had a group of 13 booked, and the trip turned out to be a great success.

As we were finishing a trek into the Himalaya, I met a local chap riding his motorbike. I’ve ridden since I was 18 and was keen to have a spin on his bike. He agreed, and as I was riding I thought, ‘Why can’t this tour be done on bikes?’ and so Asian Experience Motor Bike Tours was born.

Describe your typical day

A riding day begins with warming up the bikes and loading the riders’ luggage into the support vehicles. Then we have a rider brie. ng before heading out on the open road. The riders are free to go ahead at their own pace with regular stops along the way to bring the group back together.

I encourage the riders to take photos and get involved with what the locals are doing, like visiting a school en route. Lunch is at restaurants that I’ve used previously, so I know the food and kitchens are clean and good. We usually aim to arrive at the destination hotel by late afternoon, so riders can relax with a few drinks or explore the local area and the mechanics have time to do any repairs.

What do you enjoy most about your current job?

I’ve never looked at what I do as a ‘job’. I do it because I love the destinations and feel privileged to introduce other ABRs to these wonderful countries, not to mention the great riding.

What do you dislike about your job?

It gets up my nose when a ‘Westerner’ coming to these developing countries thinks they’re superior and can treat the locals with disrespect.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of setting up their own bike tour company?

Spend a long time in the countries where you’re taking tours. Local knowledge is essential. You also need a good sense of humour and to be prepared to spend long hours in the office organising the tours.

Contact: www.asianexperience.com.au

Name: Ron Ayres
Age: 6
Originally from: Dundalk, Maryland, USA
Now lives: Plano, Texas, USA
Bike: BMW F 800 GS
Tour company: Ayres Adventures

When did you set up your bike tour company?

2002.

What was your previous ‘day job’ before setting up your tour company?

I was president of EDS Africa, living in Johannesburg. I was responsible for all of the company’s technology business in sub-Saharan Africa – 4,000 people! When I retired from EDS in 1999 at the age of 56 I decided never to work again. I remained in Africa ‘on safari’ with my BMW R 1100 GS and Landrover Defender for six months after retiring before returning to the USA.

What inspired you to ditch the old day job and set up your tour company?

After 18 months’ not working, I decided I was too young to retire but didn’t want a ‘real’ job again. I was riding in South America when I got the inspiration to start a company offering guided tours there. I’d lived in Sao Paulo for a few years previously while with EDS, so I knew it well. After starting in Brazil, I expanded tours to take in Africa, Europe, New Zealand, Alaska, Canada, and the American Southwest.

Describe your typical day

I spend more time in the office now than in previous years. Initially, I led all the tours but now I have a team of full-time tour leaders and sta. around the world who manage them for me. I try to get on several tours a year as a host and to do some quality assurance.

What do you enjoy most about your current job?

I love every aspect of it, but especially scouting new tours, which I’m currently doing in the Andes. I also like hosting tours. When I’m in the office, I enjoy taking calls from customers and prospects.

What do you dislike about your job?

Having to balance expenses and revenue – we operate a very high-end tour in terms of accommodation, meals and support services. My tendency is to always spend on the best and worry about the revenue later – the discipline to keep things in balance is a challenge.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of setting up their own bike tour company?

In addition to a love of motorcycling and working with people, you need a good grounding in business and financial operations, sales, and marketing. Also, have a good financial cushion in place. In order to do it right, your business will likely run for a while before making a profit.

Contact: www.ronayres.com

Name: Phil Wood
Age: 42
Originally from: Leeds
Now lives: Cortes de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain
Bike: Honda CRF 450X
Tour company: Riders of the Lost Trail

When did you set up your bike tour company?

May 2010.

What was your previous ‘day job’ before setting up your tour company?

I studied photography and worked as a travel photographer for eight years. When we moved to Spain, I learned how to build things and became a builder.

What inspired you to ditch the old day job and set up your tour company?

I went riding with my best friend on another trail company’s tour and all the way through the three-day trip, I just couldn’t help thinking, ‘I have to do this for myself’. I didn’t have any intention of changing my career until I was on the bike. It was a spiritual moment!

Describe your typical day

After a café con leche and brie. ng, we jump on the Suzuki DRZ 400 E’s and head o. on the trails, which are less than half a mile from our base. We have variety of riders who come to us from very experienced to first-time off-roaders and I try to cater the riding to the individual’s abilities, and always try to make it challenging. Our whole ethos at Riders of the Lost Trail is having fun.

Once onto one of many routes, we can find ourselves climbing rocky mountains, following well-gravelled forest trails, riding through rivers, or tackling trials-like sections in first gear. We can climb to around 1,280m within an hour of leaving our base and the terrain is very varied. We’re surrounded by a large empty wilderness and there aren’t any other off-road operators nearby, so we have the whole place to ourselves!

We often stop for a break mid-morning, and then have a proper lunch around 2pm in one of the many traditional Spanish country restaurants before heading back out onto the trails. We normally ride between 60 and 80 miles a day and arrive back at the hotel around 6pm to enjoy a well-earned drink.

What do you enjoy most about your current job?

I love riding motorbikes on the dirt, but what really puts a smile on my face is seeing our amazing landscape through the fresh eyes of our riders. I also get a huge amount of satisfaction from seeing the grins on peoples’ faces after they’ve achieved something on the bike that they thought they wouldn’t be able to do.

What do you dislike about your job?

There aren’t many things I dislike about my job, but cleaning endless pairs of boots gets a little tedious.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of setting up their own bike tour company?

Make a full and comprehensive business plan. This business contains many hidden and potentially unforeseen costs. Then, ask yourself, “Do I really just like riding bikes, or do I really want to ride bikes for a business?”. Be very honest with yourself when you ask this question, as there’s a huge difference between the two.

Contact: www.ridersofthelosttrail.com

Name: Peter Gray
Age: 44
Originally from: Gateshead, England
Now lives: Ouarzazate, Morocco
Bike: KTM 530
Tour company: Wilderness Wheels

When did you set up your bike tour company?

I knew there was great potential in starting an off-road biking company in Ouarzazate, the ’door of the desert’, so my wife and I came out here in 1999 to research the living situation and do some language classes. Then we started the business in April 2000.

What was your previous ‘day job’ before setting up your tour company?

I worked as a service engineer in a power generation industry. I worked in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Australia and the Falkland Islands.

What inspired you to ditch the old day job and set up your tour company?

I’ve always been passionate about bikes. As an entrepreneur with an adventurous spirit and a very cool wife, I decided to do something different for a few years before we got stuck in the mortgage trap. Fourteen years later, we’re settled in to Moroccan life.

Describe your typical day

My favourite typical tour day is a fantastic ride starting on an old Dakar track which then heads north through the spectacular Anti Atlas Mountains, stopping in at hidden oasis villages along the way. The track is quite technical in places, so an important part of guiding is helping clients develop the right bike skills to tackle it.

Dropping down into Tazenakht, we usually stop for a meat and vegetable Tajine as our last lunch break of the tour. It’s enjoyable to hear the clients’ de-brie. ng on a superb trip, and sometimes they’ll already be planning the next one.

Overall my job is often more mentally tiring than physical. We have to think about clients’ needs, the route, preparing for what’s coming up ahead, and ordering food before we roll into our lunch stops. I also call the UK during rest stops, to order spare parts, or check airport pick-ups for the next group. All this while operating alternatively in English, Arabic and sometimes French – the job description is certainly varied!

What do you enjoy most about your current job?

Nobody ever says, “I wish I got to spend more time in the office”, but rather, “I wish I got spend more time on my bike or with my family”, I get to do both while meeting ABRs from around the world and showing them the beautiful scenery of Morocco. When there are lots of smiley faces at the end of a day’s tour and riders sharing funny stories over a few beers, that’s a good day and great job satisfaction.

What do you dislike about your job?

I don’t like it when it rains, but that only happens about two mornings a year here! There’s a lot to learn about how businesses run when you’re working in a different culture. The greatest challenge is the unknown; things aren’t always as straightforward as you imagine them to be. It’s a big responsibility guiding riders of varying abilities and the safety aspects that go with that.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of setting up their own bike tour company?

Set yourself up in an accessible location where there is a combination of great weather, good riding, and delicious food. Learning local languages has really made a difference in the growth of our company too, especially studying Arabic, which is invaluable when communicating with people in more rural locations.

Contact: www.wildernesswheels.com

Name: Mike Burns (right)
Age: 46
Originally from: West of Scotland
Now lives: Central Scotland
Bike: Kawasaki ZXR400 and Yamaha XJ900 in UK; Royal Enfield in Nepal
Tour company: Motorcycles and Mountains

When did you set up your bike tour company?

Officially in 2008, but I started doing recce tours in 2006.

What was your previous ‘day job’ before setting up your tour company?

I’m a toolmaker to trade and worked in precision engineering for 12 years. I’ve done various other jobs including tree planting and HGV driving. I’m also a fully qualified DSA instructor and have done this part time for about seven years.

What inspired you to ditch the old day job and set up your tour company?

I love bikes and have been riding daily for 30 years. I also love mountains, Nepal and India. I was fed up with being inside a factory all day; I think you get to a certain age and want to do something that you really enjoy.

I spent two years in the mid-90s travelling in India and Nepal on an old Royal Enfield, which got me hooked on riding there. I was also lucky enough to work in Nepal for a couple of seasons for climbing expeditions on Everest, which is how I met current business partner Dawa Sherpa; he’s my man in Nepal.

Describe your typical day

There’s no such thing as a typical day in this part of the world; unexpected things are the norm here, like strikes, landslides, herds of animals and stuck vehicles, which means we may have to change our route plans, so we always start by brie. ng clients about the ride ahead.

We tend to ride out in convoy on the busier roads and in pairs when we are in the mountains. Riding here is mentally draining; it’s not unusual to have to ride across rickety bridges and through rivers while avoiding a herd of animals. We normally ride for an hour or two before stopping for lunch around midday. This gives me a chance to see if anyone’s struggling. It’s my job to make sure clients are happy and safe, and to sort out any problems they may have.

We normally arrive at our destination about 4pm, where clients can shower and chill out for a while or do a bit of sightseeing with the locals. I’ll chat to the riders to make sure all’s well with their bike, and then our mechanic checks the bikes over before washing them off ready for the next day.

What do you enjoy most about your current job?

I love riding my bike in the Himalaya where the road rules are relaxed, over mixed terrain and through rivers. I love the unpredictability of riding here and meeting new people. It’s brilliant getting to know new clients during the tour and becoming friends with them. I also really enjoy seeing how happy, exhilarated and proud clients feel when they’ve finished a tour.

What do you dislike about your job?

All the paperwork, bullshit and legalities involved in running a tour company. Computer website stuff is also not my favourite thing to do.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of setting up their own bike tour company?

Make sure you really know the area you’re riding in. If you’re going to go to developing countries then it’s important to have someone there you can trust. It’s not possible to do everything yourself. Lastly, make sure you have about 50 percent more cash than you think you’ll need to set the business up.

Contact: www.motorcyclesandmountains.com

Name: Dave Drudge
Age: 47
Originally from: UK
Now lives: UK and Guatemala
Bike: Honda Goldwing trike
Tour company: CATours

When did you set up your bike tour company?

1999.

What was your previous ‘day job’ before setting up your tour company?

Before I started CATours I worked for over two years as a volunteer in Guatemala with a fundacion (charity), which helps street kids take part in sports activities.

What inspired you to ditch the old day job and set up your tour company?

I was in England and thinking of buying yet another property. I already had a few and I thought one more would only make my business better. Then I thought again about what I really wanted; how many houses would it take to make me happy? It was then that I decided to sell all my properties and do something that I hadn’t done before; learn another language and do charity work in Latin America.

Describe your typical day

When I’m in Guatemala, I run around trying to make sure everyone’s happy – I do try! I spend a lot of time talking with other riders who pass through; Guatemala is a great place to meet bikers and exchange travel advice and information.

I probably ride a little less than I once did. Chris Gwinner is my first in command and runs most of the tours with one or two other guides. Rider training is something that’s very important in what we do and I like to give as many motorcycle and road lessons as possible. Road riding is always varied but less physically demanding than some of our off-road tours.

At the moment, we’re in the process of building a new bikers’ lodge which is nearing completion. When finished it will be the new accommodation for our tours and for ABRs passing through Guatemala. Besides running the company, I also still look after some of the street kids.

What do you enjoy most about your current job?

The location and the people that I get to meet.

What do you dislike about your job?

If I dislike anything I think it would have to be bad coffee. Oh, and smashed-up scooters, which often happens with our rental side of the business.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of setting up their own bike tour company?

Setting up a bike tour company is a good idea. It’s all about location, location, location.

Contact: www.catours.co.uk

Name: David Grist
Age: 55
Originally from: Sevenoaks, Kent
Now lives: Overton, Hampshire
Bike: Kawasaki H2C 750 (1975), plus others that are less interesting
Tour company: H-C Travel

When did you set up your bike tour company?

1994.

What was your previous ‘day job’ before setting up your tour company?

Academic book publisher.

What inspired you to ditch the old day job and set up your tour company?

Just that, a flash of inspiration, and a chance conversation down the pub!

Describe your typical day

I open shop about 8.30 and begin working through my emails – I probably send around 40 on an average day, preparing quotes for our US Harley-Davidson rentals, sorting flights for existing bookings, insurance, amending customer changes to their schedule, and taking new bookings. I also answer a lot of customer telephone queries on everything from Route 66, to safety in South Africa, to trip itineraries in Australia and our new Silk Road Adventure.

What do you enjoy most about your current job?

Making our customers happy and their dreams come true by arranging trips that they didn’t think could be done. That could be a competitively priced flight itinerary to suit an adventure ride, arranging visits to places that they’d never find and never be allowed to ride without our local knowledge, or simply giving them a genuinely life-changing experience.

What do you dislike about your job?

People who can’t accept that shit happens, however hard we work to try and avoid it. Hotels and airlines that mess us around or charge extra for the merest hint of service are also frustrating, as are travel ‘know-it-alls’.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of setting up their own bike tour company?

Don’t underestimate how dificult it is. Make sure you understand EU travel regulations and comply with them fully; don’t expect to get rich and never accept second best. 

Contact: www.hctravel.com