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Here comes the guide

18 Jul 2017

Bikecation's Rob Penn is a real-life trip advistor, and one of the best in the business. Here he tells us about his job

This feature was produced in association with Bikecation.

Cyclist: Hi Rob, what qualifies you personally as a cycling tour guide?

Rob Penn: Well, I used to be a lawyer, but I gave that up in my late twenties to cycle around the world. I then became a journalist and author, I wrote a book called It’s All About The Bike (Penguin, £9.99), which was then used as the basis for a programme I did with the BBC.

I’ve also ridden in 50 different countries over the years. And on a personal level I’d say it’s because I deeply believe that the best way to see a country is from a bicycle saddle.

Cyclist: So why should someone hire a guide rather than setting off on their own?

RP: By hiring a guide, you buy into their experience, and usually at a modest price. A good guide won’t just facilitate the experience, they’ll maximise it.

They’ll tell you about the local architecture, history, wildlife, food, and hospitality. They’ll also make sure you’re kept safe and healthy, just by knowing about things like the humidity, the state of the tarmac, and how comfortable the ride will be.

On our rides we always have a well-stocked support vehicle to make sure riders can refuel at the right time. It’s also there for any mechanicals.

Cyclist: What's the process of booking a break with you?

RP: Our packages are completely bespoke so the way it usually works is somebody gets in touch and says they’ve got a group of cycling friends that they’d like to go away with.

They then give me an idea of what their collective capability is, as well as things like whether or not they like climbing, and the kind of budget they’re on.

I then offer three different options as to what destination might work best for them. Once a destination is agreed, I then build an itinerary, work out the routes, the lunch stops and hotels, which I then discuss with the group before booking.

The whole process typically takes around six months to organise, although it can be shorter.

Cyclist: So you don't stay in the same hotel every night?

RP: Correct. There’s nothing wrong with staying in one place and riding loops or circuits from a base, but I think you get a greater understanding and feel for a country if you travel through it.

You’re also less likely to take a day off and, of course, you can’t elect for a shorter ride if you’re committed to an itinerary. It all comes back to maximising the experience.

Cyclist: How long do holidays with you usually last?

RP: It depends. We do quite a few corporate rides and they tend to last five days with people leaving work around lunchtime on a Thursday and arriving back late on a Monday.

Otherwise, Rob’s Raids as we call them, tend to last seven days with six days of riding. We also take care of transporting people’s bikes to the destinations ourselves.

We find it saves time. It also cuts out the hassle of people travelling with their bikes as well as the risk of them getting damaged or going missing.

Cyclist: Thanks Rob. Finally, what's the best advice you can give to anyone thinking of booking a holiday with you?

RP: There’s such a long list of places we know and love that we can suggest for rides and show you. Places you might never of even considered for a cycling holiday, places like Turkey, Bosnia, Greece and Corsica.

So if you really want to get the most out of the experience, the best advice I can give is to approach us with an open mind.

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