Chad Maurer has been helping keep the wheels turning at Bicycle Adventures for 30 years now. He’s our longest-standing employee, a true wealth of cycling knowledge, and we’re lucky to have him as an integral member of our team!
As anyone can probably imagine, much has changed in our industry since I guided my first tour for Bicycle Adventures some 30 years ago, in the spring of 1994. Hmm, where to begin this little trip down memory lane…?
Bicycles? It seems like a fitting place, given they are at the heart of the experience. No, we didn’t wear heavy leather boots and ride penny farthings! That said, road bikes at the time still had downtube shifters. For those who haven’t experienced these, the big difference was you had to take one hand off the handlebars to shift. This wasn’t always the easiest thing for a novice rider to accomplish, especially while going slowly uphill. Our hybrid (aka “flat bar”) bikes, on the other hand, did have integrated braking and shifting to make going uphill easier, but the cantilever rim brakes of the era had poor stopping power, and adjusting them properly required a Ph.D. in bike mechanics. Even then, no matter how well-tuned they were, they were prone to horrible squealing. Today, all of our bikes have integrated shifting and braking as well as disc brakes that are safer and more effective under any weather conditions. In short, bikes have come a long way – in a good way!
The Cyclists? In the beginning (1984-1993), Bicycle Adventures clients were predominantly passionate riders who wanted to enjoy luggage service and a hotel in lieu of camping or having to carry everything on their bicycles as they pedaled from place to place. The concept of an “active vacation” was just starting to get traction around the time I started. A whole new industry was being born – one with a far wider demographic. This meant lots of people came to us who were very new to cycling. Alas, there was no internet to help you get acquainted on your own. This led to some humorous moments at times. Comfortable, Lycra fabric had mostly replaced the itchy wool cycling togs of yore – which was good. However, a lot of people still presumed that the pockets on their new cycling jerseys went in front instead of the back – which was embarrassing. There were no user-friendly “clipless pedals.” Pedals were either flat or they had toeclips that you – quite literally – strapped your feet into and hoped you didn’t fall. Similarly, it wasn’t unusual to have guests put on their helmets backward, or worse – to resist the requirement to wear one. After all, helmet hair had yet to become “fashionable,” and professional cyclists didn’t bother – so why should they?
Tour design and scouting? In the late 20th century designing and scouting a tour meant going on the road, driving countless miles, and taking copious notes along the way. The process usually took a week or more. There was no pay, but for me it was enough to get to explore new places and have my expenses reimbursed. Instant oatmeal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, gasoline, and campsite fees – the boss took care of them all – woohoo! It was essential that your car had a working, accurate odometer, and that was about it. On the passenger seat beside you were a phone book, a calculator, and a pile of maps and local guidebooks. Fairly primitive stuff by today’s scouting standards. After a year or so I recall buying – “oh, wonder of technological wonders!” – a small digital voice recorder. This marvelous, compact, futuristic machine allowed me to dictate the cues as I went. I no longer had to try to write in a notebook while driving a stick shift!
Communications? No, we didn’t use smoke signals or the Pony Express. Even the telegraph was long gone. Still, it was before the advent of email, and there were certainly no smartphones. Only a few people had even heard of the internet, and virtually no one envisioned how soon or how much that was about to change our lives. When we weren’t snail-mailing letters, we communicated primarily by telephone – good old “landlines” to be specific. Guides spent more time in phone booths than Superman ever did. And no matter what happened. . .you did not forget your quarters!
Technology? This will be a short paragraph. We had a state-of-the-art photocopier! This was by far our biggest and most expensive technological investment. Otherwise, we had a filing cabinet filled with our routes and maps for each tour. Due to the difficulties of scouting tours at the time, these routes and maps were highly proprietary – our biggest trade secret, in fact! They were literally kept under lock and key. It seems laughable now. In the information age, there are no more secrets. Whether you use heat maps or a web search, everyone knows the good places to ride.
Regulations? When I started, we had a handful of public lands permits and were not subject to commercial driver requirements for the Department of Transportation. These days, it can get very complicated. A commercial permit is required for virtually everywhere we go, and almost every tour has at least one permit, with the most being seven permits for one tour. Guides need to be familiar with and adhere to specific permit conditions for all of these different locations. They are also required to keep commercial driver logbooks and be subject to DOT rules and regulations.
As you can see, while things were in many ways harder back in the 1990s, they were also far simpler. Before I went out on my first tour, I really only needed to have a good driving record, get basic First Aid/CPR training, obtain a food handlers card, become proficient at backing a trailer, and master the intricacies of the office photocopier. Today, technology is pervasive. We use smartphones, Microsoft Teams, DOT apps, GPS devices, and mapping software – just to name a few. Guides need to be trained in all these aspects before leading a tour in the field. Instead of taking a few days to prepare a guide, it now takes weeks.
With all the changes I’ve described already, you may wonder if anything is still the same. Yes! Customer service is one thing that has not changed – and will never change – for our guided tours. We have always expected our guides and staff to provide the highest level of customer service and care. Getting there may be more complicated now than it was once upon a time, but our goal has always been to make your vacation the best possible experience. It is both the challenge as well as the reward for us, and we feel that our customer return rate has always demonstrated our success in this regard. More than anything, I love seeing people who traveled with me 25 years ago still signing up for tours! To me, that shows the power and importance of what we do. We provide a fun, safe place for people to connect, support, and empower each other through the sharing of great adventures on this wondrous and beautiful planet we live on. I don’t think it gets much better than that!
Stay Curious, Eat Well, and Pedal Happy!
By Chad Maurer, Veteran Bicycle Adventures Guide & Permits Guru