Author Topic: Gravel bike tours in central Italy  (Read 2157 times)

ItsALongStory

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Gravel bike tours in central Italy
« on: May 20, 2024, 11:08:41 AM »
Good evening,

My brother and I are toying with the idea of organizing gravel bike tours in central Italy. This type of biking is becoming more and more popular with the Strade Bianche as the sort of flagship race each year. My brother participated in the amateur event this year, joining about 8000 others from all over the world.

I am originally from Belgium but having lived in the US and currently residing in central Italy I feel there is a great opportunity to make this a reality. The easiest would be to organize trips for Belgians (my brother still lives there and is well connected in the cycling community) but I was also thinking about hosting Americans. The reality is that despite the logistical headaches the American public has tons more disposable income for these types of experiences.

My intent is to merge culinary/experience driven events with the biking. Options currently on the table are truffle hunting, wine tasting, pasta making and some of the local hot springs (can be combined with a ride). For a pilot vacation we are thinking about 12 to 16 riders.

Wanted to check with you all if anyone:
- has experience running or participating in these types of experience driven vacations
- has suggestions on things to add as 'extra curricular experiences'
- knows about licensing requirements for tour companies from US to Europe

I was thinking of offering half board with breakfast and lunch included and making dinner more flexible for the guests.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

Poeirenta

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Re: Gravel bike tours in central Italy
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2024, 02:38:28 PM »
Sounds like a really cool idea to explore! If I liked biking I'd volunteer for the shakedown cruise.

These would be multi-day trips? If so, my first thought was that I wonder how many couples have one who bikes and one who does not. Would there be options for the non-biker? Because it seems like a trip to Italy would be a big enough deal for most North Americans that it could be a harder sell if one partner is on their own while the other is doing the bike trip plus other cool stuff. But I might be weird, cuz spouse and I do pretty much everything together when we travel. Except any whiskey tours, he's on his own for those!

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gpotter

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Re: Gravel bike tours in central Italy
« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2024, 02:16:49 PM »
Awesome idea, check out the tours provided by Trek Travel for a good reference. They are high dollar, high class tours and provide everything from bikes to food to local knowledge.


lhamo

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Re: Gravel bike tours in central Italy
« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2024, 09:12:31 PM »
I can't remember where I saw them now - I think it was on Youtube? -- but a couple of years ago I watched some videos about a couple who were renovating a property in either Italy or France with the intention of hosting bicycle tours in the area in the future.  I'll try to see if I can dig it up -- if they ended up having a viable business might be people you could connect with/learn from (and market your area through, if they were open to referring their customers on to you).

I would also encourage you to think about ways to develop things so that you are attractive to both bikers and non-bikers (or less capable bikers).  TheX got very into bike touring and I would have been willing to join on a family trip if it was a supported biking situation with shorter/more leisurely ride options for those of us (me and DD) who like to take it slow.  Or if we could go on gentle out and back rides while he/DS did the more strenuous stuff.  But TBH my strongest preference would have been to do less biking and more cooking, food shopping in local markets, coffee/wine drinking, and hanging around in nice gardens with a good book.

Telecaster

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Re: Gravel bike tours in central Italy
« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2024, 10:14:38 PM »
I don't know much about the business side, but the experience side sounds awesome!  Biking from villa to villa on gravel roads in Italy, eating awesome food and drinking fabulous wine?  Hell yeah!

Rightflyer

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Re: Gravel bike tours in central Italy
« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2024, 01:58:37 AM »
Sounds like a very inviting idea for a vacation.


Offering an electric gravel bike option might expand your possible pool of "wealthier" customers.


As for side trips, we always love seeing the historical sites, especially anything related to the Roman Empire.   

Heckler

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Re: Gravel bike tours in central Italy
« Reply #6 on: June 08, 2024, 10:07:41 PM »
sorry, you want to start a business? 

Or you want to do a bike tour?  The latter sounds awesome, suggest you sign up here:

https://www.warmshowers.org/

and use this:

https://www.piste-ciclabili.com/piste_ciclabili/


Alternatepriorities

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Re: Gravel bike tours in central Italy
« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2024, 01:10:55 AM »
This sounds awesome to me. If you can offer it with mustachian pricing, I'd be interested in joining the inaugural group, ideally as a part of 2.5 with DW and DS who is only 1... Alternatively, we have been talking of taking DW's parents to Switzerland next summer and if we could add a week bike tour to that trip with a 2 year old we might try it. DW would be most interested in the cultural experiences and I in the biking... But maybe I could get her into cycle touring this way!

I don't know much about running a business in euro, but I am an Americana who has walked the Camino de Santiago, done two 11 day treks in Nepal, a seven day climb of Kilimanjaro, and cycle tours of 3, 16, 7, and 5 days so I am almost your target demographic... I say almost because I did all of those on my own except the climb as a guide was required. I have thought on several of those adventures that it would be nice to do them with a larger group and maybe form some long term friendships. I just don't know if I could ever pay REI adventure tour pricing.

Also, if you can write off a trip to Alaska for "research" I'd be happy to host you for a cycle tour here. Bridge photo from my 2021 FIRE celebration tour which included at least 100km of gravel riding.

314159

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Re: Gravel bike tours in central Italy
« Reply #8 on: June 12, 2024, 11:27:29 PM »
I definitely agree with you it makes sense to target Americans rather than Belgians. As you say, there are more people with much higher travel budgets, even if they are much further away.

Definitely research your competition! Trek Travel was mentioned above. Other high-end companies, in decreasing order of price, are Butterfield & Robinson, Backroads Travel, and VBT. Most of these involve luxury hotels and multiple guides for a groups of 10-20 people, with a support van or two, and can run up to $1000/person/day. You are probably not proposing an ultra-luxury trip, but it still makes sense to look at what is on offer at the high end for inspiration, and to know when you can match their offerings and when you can't. I believe all provide detailed itineraries, like 10 page PDFS (some might be "by request", meaning they want you to give them your email so they can add you to their email marketing list), so you can get a very good idea of what they are doing. I don't think any of these are gravel riding so you won't be looking at them for bike routes, rather at what sort of non-biking activities they include.

Meanwhile, you should also figure out what your target cost will be for the trip and find other companies in that price range. And maybe even search for gravel tours specifically as well. For instance I just googled "guided italy gravel bike tours" and found a Tuscany - Strade Bianche Explorer Guided Gravel Riding Tour from Saddle Skedaddle Cycling Tours.

Figure out what will differentiate your tours from those other operators. Is it your local expertise, your unique routes, your prices, your advertising, your high quality bike rentals?

Definitely figure out whether there will be any support vehicles, the number of guides, how often you'll be moving lodgings, how the luggage will get from one place to other, how you'll offer rental bikes to those not bringing their own, etc.

For my own part, thanks to my parents' high travel budget, I've been on 3 guided trips with Backroads as a kid/teen. They were all "multisport" trips, meaning a mix of hiking, cycling, and other stuff like kayking, glacial lagoon tour in an inflatable Zodiac, etc. As an adult I have looked into how to approximate a similar experience with a different tour company so as to avoid paying Backroads' prices, but I haven't done any of those trips. I love your idea of combining biking with culinary experiences. I would say, if you want to provide half board, consider providing breakfast and dinner, leaving lunch up to the guests. If a ride spans over the lunch hour, guests could stop in whatever picturesque Italian village they're passing through, whenever they are looking for a break. Then after the day's outings everyone will be back at the hotel and can eat together as a group.

Keep us posted on your thinking and efforts!