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Cycle Tour Guide jobs
What's it really like?
Olly Townsend is an experienced mountain bike tour guide (now Leader Operations Manager) at renowned London-based tour operator, Exodus.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I first started mountain biking 18 years ago when I was at university. It was a friend of mine who suggested that instead of taking out groups of friends for bike rides, I should think about leading people who lacked the time to organise their own rides. I was in a unique position to help these people to explore areas they hadn’t visited before.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise'?
Wake up early to make sure breakfast is ready for clients, then a quick brief, and then onto the bikes! The rest of the day follows a fairly typical pattern: ride until snack stop, ride again until lunch, ride up to mid afternoon stop, then on to the hotel. I need to then book clients into their rooms, organise dinner, eat, repair bikes as required, and then finally go to bed! In between all of this, there can be visits, mechanical problems, vehicle transfers, and skills tuitions. Of course, all the time you are riding in some of the most beautiful places.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
Mechanical issues on bikes, such as punctures, snapped chains and other broken components. Other things can be hotel or food-related issues such as dietary requirements or room changes.
What do you like most about the job?
My bike is my office! Passing on my passion for mountain biking to others is a huge personal reward. The look on a client’s face when you have taught them something new stays with you, and I find this endlessly amazing.
What do you like least about the job?
Being away from home. That’s probably the main issue, but then you do have opportunities to explore these incredible places.
What are the key responsibilities?
Mechanic, interpreter, navigator, peace keeper, negotiator, gastronome, sommelier, first aider, shepherd to name a few!
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg A Levels?
No formal academic qualifications are required, but many companies insist on a mountain bike leader/guide qualification, such as CTC’s Technical Leader. Also, if working abroad, a good working knowledge of a foreign language is very important.
What is the starting salary, and how does this increase over time with promotion?
If working for a travel company, usually around £40 per day with everything paid for (food, travel, accommodation etc).
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
Be passionate about cycling (and that can be all disciplines of the hobby and sport, depending on what personally interests you). Get used to mending bikes using everyday materials (you won’t always have a workshop) and be happy about working in all types of weather conditions. It’s not always hot and sunny!
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
Empathy towards the clients, ingenuity, adaptability, endless patience and a cracking sense of humour!
Cycle Tour Guide
A cycle tour guide is a person responsible for leading a group of cycling enthusiasts on an organised journey, either domestically or overseas.
A cycle tour guide (or cycle tour leader) is the head of a group of touring cyclists who pay to partake in the guided tour. The tour guide will usually be employed directly by the tour operator, and many operators now specialise in outdoor pursuits, such as cycling, walking, canoeing and climbing. Cycle touring is very popular in Western and Central Europe, and many operators have sprung up to take advantage of positive market conditions.
Tour guides who remain in their home country tend to cater towards the “staycation” holidaymakers i.e. people who prefer to concentrate on one activity such as cycling or mountain biking that bit closer to home. The domestic market is relatively limited, though, when compared to opportunities overseas. Most cycle tour leaders choose to go to other countries and often, cycle tours will be transcontinental, taking in several countries along the way. The tour leader must be able to look after everyone in the group, know the routes well and be able to overcome obstacles that come up along the way.
This job is usually remunerated daily due to the irregular and also highly seasonal nature of the business. Cycle tour leaders who work domestically usually earn around £25-£30 per day, whilst those working overseas can expect £40-£50. On top of this, all expenses (including food, accommodation and travel) are taken care of; it’s an ideal bonus for cycling enthusiasts who want to tour exciting places and also make money whilst they are doing it.
There are no formal academic barriers to entry, although the more well-know operators will ask that new candidates have completed a course like CTC’s “Technical Leader.” This is an accreditation offered by CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation in the UK, and it demonstrates the candidate’s dedication towards becoming a professional in this industry.
After completion of the course, the cycle tour guide will be able to deliver a programme to tour guests of a high standard. Courses are currently available for National Mountain Bike Leadership, Rider Skills, Maintenance, Cycle Instructor, Bikeability (road skills course) and Safe Working Practices.
This job is very demanding in terms of the requirements it places on physical fitness. However, since it is not a job that is likely to attract the casual respondent, it is very well suited to cycling enthusiasts. As with any highly physical activity, there is the possibility of injuries being sustained whilst on the tour. It is essential the tour leader is able to recognise signs of stress within his or her group, such as dehydration or muscle degradation, and advise the cyclist on how best to look after themselves and prevent mishap.
Some overseas placements will put the candidate into quite extreme conditions, depending on the terrain, length of tour and the country being visited. Some Pro-level mountain bike tours are very demanding, and only very experienced riders should apply for these posts.
There are several approaches to working in this industry. For example, a “hardcore” mountain bike enthusiast may already have great technical riding skills and good knowledge of difficult trails and bike repairs, making them ideal for this role even without previous experience; a local enthusiast with excellent knowledge of their local tourist area may be suited also, despite not having the same level of technical expertise. There is also the possibility for tour leaders who work with walking groups or historical/sight-seeing tours to move into this exiting industry.
It has been recommended by several respondents during the course of this research that the candidate contacts the CTC for advice on professional accreditation, as this will be a great help regardless of the individual’s circumstances.
Candidates can occasionally progress from working as a tour leader to becoming a manager within their own organisation; some shy away from this, however, as it typically means more time spent behind a desk preparing quotes and handling business promotion issues, and less time spent riding.
The chance to work overseas should also be regarded as a “personal milestone,” as this career can open up many exciting possibilities for meeting new people and enjoying new experiences in other countries.
It is difficult to ascertain the size of some of the domestic operators as many UK tour companies only sell tours to foreign destinations, and vice versa. It is a worthwhile exercise for the potential candidate to pick up a copy of a cycling or mountain bike magazine, as a search on the internet will yield thousands of results from operators of various sizes all across Europe (a hint as to how oversubscribed the industry is in many countries).