I learned a lot of things when training to become a cycling guide. And there is a lot more to the job than riding your bike. If you’re considering becoming a cycling guide, here are a few things that come with the job you may not have expected.
Bike handling, safety and more
Even though it’s a cycling holiday, some travellers may not have ridden a bike in years! It will be obvious when they get on their bikes for the first time. Those who are less confident require extra vigilance; for the first few days at least. When guiding, you’re responsible for the safety of your group to avoid accidents and emergencies. Part of that task is assessing the bike-handling skills of the travellers.
E-bikes are growing in popularity. They equate to higher speeds, which can cause serious accidents. Does everyone know how to operate theirs, change gears and use their brakes safely? Are they wearing helmets (correctly)? The rules of the road vary from country to country, too. It’s your job to introduce the bike, show how it works, and do a safety talk, which includes explaining any special rules of the road compared to their home country.
And what is the emergency procedure? You’ll be in very delicate situations and must be prepared in the event of a crash, heart attack or worse. Guides must have First Aid, CPR and defibrillator training (renewable every two years). Discussions and role-playing during training help but everyone on the trip will look at you for guidance when things go south until emergency services arrive. You must be ready. Know where the closest hospital is and have emergency numbers pre-programmed in your phone.
Spoiler alert. Guides do not stay in the same luxurious accommodations as their travellers. But they need to know every detail before the group arrives. This means a visit (or a phone call at least) ahead of time to introduce yourself and ask questions pertinent to the group’s stay.
Where will the bikes be stored? Does the space have a plug to charge the e-bike batteries and GPS units? Where should the van be parked in the morning? You’ll need ice for the cooler every day. Should you get it at the hotel bar or restaurant?
Guides need to know where the bathrooms are located and what time breakfast is served. Find out if there is a spa and appointments available. How do you get to the swimming pool? And are towels provided or do they need to be brought from the room? These are questions travellers ask, and guides need to have answers. “I don’t know,” won’t get you very far.
If the hotel rooms offer the same level of quality and comfort, great. But what about when a traveller finds a room substandard or doesn’t like the view? Guides need to see the rooms when possible (ahead of time) and be ready to decide who gets what on this night’s stay vs the next to be fair. There are no secrets on a trip. Travellers talk and know what is going on.
Accounting is a dirty word on vacation but you’re working. Who wants to think about money? And on these types of holidays, most everything is pre-paid in advance. You’ve got a budget to respect. But you also need to keep your group happy within that financial boundary. Can you say yes to a few more bottles of wine at dinner?
A company card covers gas, tolls, transport between venues, cultural outings and miscellaneous costs, bar and restaurant tabs for the group and cash withdrawals for vendor gratuities. All this money business requires keeping a close eye on cost allocations of the when and where. And this means receipts, lots of receipts.
Every transaction needs to be justified, and receipts are the way. It’s the digital age, which means keeping track of them until you scan them into the company’s accounting software or smartphone app. You need to get up to speed quickly on how to use it to justify your expenditures, manage your budget and get paid!
A sense of family
Day one is the anticipation of meeting the other guides and wondering how you’ll fit in. It was a fantastic international and cultural experience as the other new guides came from countries like Japan, Brasil, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Romania, Poland, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, among others. So many stories, cultures and adventures to share.
Training is handled by management and a group of experienced guides. The group was divided into smaller clusters for role-playing certain activities or addressed as a whole. It wasn’t all work and no play. We rode bikes together daily and shared some excellent meals, bottles of wine, and laughter. We started out as strangers but quickly morphed into a closely knit family who shared the same aim, that of becoming the best cycling guides possible. And have fun doing it!