The Life of a Cycling Guide

By Andrea Champredonde

The working schedule of a cycling guide revolves around the weather. It’s a seasonal job, running from late spring to early fall when atmospheric conditions are more consistent. I don’t know anyone that intentionally enjoys riding in the rain and cold. Do you?

Cycling guides get a much-needed breather off-season. But once availability is given to the mother ship and trips are assigned, it’s time for action. Personal schedules and needs take a backseat to those of the travellers. But what’s the life of a cycling guide like? Read on.

Time in the saddle

I became a guide because I love to ride. Duh, right? And I thought I’d be cycling a lot, with people who share my passion. But that isn’t always the case; far from it sometimes. It depends on the company you work for. Some travel businesses are more cycling focused. Others use e-bikes to slow down and enjoy the wonderful surroundings. And in many aspects, they are right, but it might not be your cup of tea.

Do your homework before you apply if it’s a deal breaker for you. But regardless of who you work for, you won’t be riding every day. On a typical trip, you’re on the bike every other day at best. The rest of the time, you’ll be driving the van doing rider support, aka “sag duty”.

Sag is following the group in case a traveller flats or just needs something out of the van. Occasionally, you drive ahead to set up a snack break for the group. Pick your spots wisely, targeting magnificent landscapes as a backdrop. Travellers love this aspect of their experience. They come around a corner or arrive on top of a hill to see a set table full of snacks and cold beverages, just when they need it the most. You’ll be a hit.

Up early, late to bed

Guides do more than ride with the group. Your job is to make the trip go as smoothly as possible for your travellers. The day’s activities and events should be seamless and stress-free. They’re on holiday, so it’s up to you to prepare the bikes every morning and take care of them when done for the day.

When the group stops for lunch, you may be late to the table. Their bikes need to be locked up first. Not quite finished with your plate? Too bad, you have to unlock the bikes and reset the GPS devices for the remaining route before the travellers are done and ready to go. Guides rarely stay in the same accommodation as the paid group. That means extra travel time to and from their location. You’ll be up early and late to bed.

Regional expert

I speak another language, other than my mother tongue, fluently. It’s part of the reason I was hired. The guide works as a language liaison and more. The travellers on the trip count on them to know a lot about the region and they want to hear about it. This goes for food, culture, architecture and sometimes even the fauna and flora.

When guiding on a trip to a specific region you don’t know as well, it’s your job to learn the terrain before it starts. Does the cycling route pass by historical buildings and cultural treasures? If so, what’s their history? How about the biography of the hotel where the guests stay? What kind of trees line the route?

You don’t need to be an encyclopaedia. But having enough information on the subject is vital to sound knowledgeable. A few snippets of information will do. You’ve got the itinerary in advance, so it’s expected that you do your homework. If you always work in the same region, you naturally become an expert and the information flows.

Handling awkward situations

As a cyclist, you know bikes. And you know how to ride in a group. But the situation changes once the two-wheelers are stored away for the night. You’re at dinner with the group. You feel like one of the crowd, and it’s easy to forget you’re working.

It’s a guide’s job to maintain a delicate balance between keeping the group and your vendor happy. By vendor, I mean the management and staff of the hotel, restaurant, café, winery, and cultural event where you’ve brought the group. The travellers are on holiday and enjoying themselves. Things can get rowdy and disturb other patrons. What do you do?

A lot of discretion and tact are needed to maintain harmony between the two. You want the group to have a good time. But you want to respect the vendor and other patrons who aren’t part of your group. If you don’t, you won’t be welcome on the next trip. It’s a great venue, and you want to come back.

A group of mountain bikers
As a cycling guide you don’t spend as much time in the saddle as you would think. © Profimedia

Physical work

If your trip is based in one location, the same hotel or villa for the week, you’re in luck. You only need to set the bikes up once. I say once but the everyday work is the same. E-bike and GPS batteries need to be charged, water bottles filled and bikes grouped together by the couple every morning. Helmets hanging on the bikes and the GPS on and set for the day’s ride before they arrive.

If the trip itinerary changes location every day or two, the bikes also have to be put on the roof rack or rear hitch trailer to move them. The amount of work depends on the size of the group and the type of bikes. E-bikes are growing in popularity, but they’re much heavier, even after removing the battery.

Putting a pedal bike on a van’s roof rack can be done solo. Placing a dozen or more e-bikes up there is a different story. It requires two people and a fair amount of strength to deadlift about 25 kg above your head. You’ve got to pass the bike to your co-guide that is on the roof or vice versa. It’s a workout on its own.

If your trip requires transfers every day, then it’s done every day. For sizable groups, the handlebars have to be turned to the side, so all the bikes fit. GPS devices, handlebar bags and water bottles get removed daily. Tomorrow, the alarm sounds early. Everything has to be back in place and ready to go before the travellers arrive the following morning.

Trip reports

Once the trip is over, the home office wants to know how it went. What went right and wrong? What was the highlight of the trip? Were there any accidents or situations to report? Problems with vendors? All of this detail has to go into a report summary.

This requires remembering every traveller, what you did and where to fill it out correctly and to the best of your knowledge. Take daily notes from day one. A few minutes every night saves you a bundle of time and a headache when filling out your report. Your memory will particularly appreciate those notes with back-to-back trips.

Magnificent places, delicious meals and interesting people

Cycle guiding is a lot of work but it’s truly rewarding. I’m lucky not to be stuck in an office with a daily 9-to-5 routine. The great outdoors is where I earn a living, including some of the world’s greatest destinations and cultural wonders. There isn’t much downtime but there are plenty of other advantages.

When you’re on the job, it’s a chance to dine on delicious meals, share an exquisite bottle of wine, and talk with interesting people from around the world. That’s what it’s about in the end, expanding your cultural and personal horizons in magnificent landscapes with like-minded people, united for the love of cycling. There’s no better way to travel and see your surroundings.