“I didn’t expect fast food on a tour that bills itself as first class…”
With motorcycles readily available to rent now, it became easy for entrepreneurs to get into the motorcycle tour business. In the past, a tour company owner had to buy its own fleet of motorcycles making entrée into the world of touring cost prohibitive for most people. Not so anymore. Now more than ever, it’s important to ask a lot of questions of a tour operator to make sure what’s promised on its Web site or brochure is what is delivered.
At the very outset, a motorcycle tour company is doing the work of planning your motorcycle vacation for you so all you have to do is show up. The company has taken care of every detail so you can enjoy the ride. However, what sets one tour company apart from another is how much the company exceeds your expectations. A first class tour company encourages you to go places and try things you normally wouldn’t do on your own, tells you interesting things about the places you’re visiting, and the roads you’re riding that you’d never find on a tourism Web site or brochure. A first class guide knows the area like a local and gets treated like a local at all the places you visit because he or she has been there countless times before.
Questions to ask:
1. Find out exactly what’s included in the price of the tour, and more importantly what is not. It’s standard practice for things like alcoholic beverages and fuel to not be included. The Twisted Trailz tour I was on did not include lunch or dinner. I was on my own. If this is the case, you should expect from a first class tour company to include personal recommendations on meals not included so tour participants have some direction on where to go for lunch and dinner when in these foreign places. When you’re on an organized motorcycle tour, part of what your paying for is having the guide take the guesswork out of your planned adventure. Plus, it’s nice to have a local (your tour guide) recommend the “gotta eat there” out of the way places that only the locals know about and have tested for you. Your tour guide should even know the owner of these eateries because he’s brought people there before. I’m always impressed when someone I’m with knows the owner of a restaurant or I drop a name and I get special treatment. This is par for the course with a top notch tour company.
3. How is the riding structured? An organized motorcycle tour means you’ll be riding in a group with other riders. Find out how structured the tour is. Some are the “follow the leader” type, with the group always staying together on the road, while others allow riders to ride on ahead to the next stop at their own pace. I’ve been on both. Twisted Trailz is a follow-the-leader type of tour with the group riding as a pack the entire way, which is fine if you’re okay with whom you’re riding.
I’m always a little leery about riding in a group of three or more riders when I don’t know the skill level of those riders, or the tour leader for that matter. You assume the tour leader and his or her support staff has experience leading a group, but if the company is new, they may not have much experience. So very important here: find out if the tour leader has gone through road captain training and group rider training. If he or she has not, then the ride is no different than riding with a bunch of people and one person designating him or herself as the leader.
4. How does the tour company plan to cater to my needs? An experienced tour company will provide you with a questionnaire when you sign up for the tour asking questions like how many years have you been riding, how many miles have you ridden, if you have any special food requests (vegetarian?) or food allergies, or medical issues they need to know about. And these are just the basics. While on the tour, you are under the guidance and care of the tour company. It is in their best interest to know as much about you as possible so they can provide you with the best experience possible. A good tour guide anticipates your needs before you realize you have them.
“…I expect bathroom facilities to have been scouted out ahead of time…”
5. How much experience does this tour operator have in this business? When interviewing prospective tour operators, don’t ask how many years they’ve been in business; ask how many tours they’ve led. There is something to be said for experience leading a group of motorcycle riders. Like I said, it’s an art and a science and in the end it’s a customer service business. If they are new to leading tours like Twisted Trailz find out what the background is of the tour owner/operator. Did he or she come from a travel or tourism related field? This would help so they understand the needs of discriminating travelers.
6. Ask if a detailed itinerary is given to you ahead of time, it should be. Once you sign up for a tour, the tour operator should send you a detailed itinerary of where you’re going and what you’re doing. Experienced tour guides have every mile, every rest stop, and every picture-taking stop mapped out ahead of time. They don’t necessarily have to share all those minute details with you on paper, but if you ask them they’ll know specific answers on time and miles related to the day’s schedule. If they don’t have everything planned out ahead of time, you may end up stopping somewhere like a convenience store for a bathroom stop only to find out that there are actually no public restrooms there. That happened to us on the Twisted Trailz tour I went on.
7. What kind of roads will you be traveling on? How much of the ride is on the interstate or highway and how much is not? Are there going to be any gravel roads? I know many beginning women riders who are still skittish about riding in groups and/or riding at length on busy interstates. If this is a concern to you, ask ahead of time to get the exact route so you know how many miles of the tour will be on the interstate. We were on a busy interstate about 40 percent of the time on this tour.
8. Does this tour stop often to take scenic roadside photos? Very important, find out if this is the type of tour that will stop for pictures because I can tell you from first hand experience not every tour company is the same when it comes to the opportunity to photograph your trip. And when in a follow-the-leader type of ride, you’re limited on what you can do if this tour is not structured with photo ops built in.
As an example, on the Twisted Trailz tour, we never pulled off to take any roadside photos. Apparently, the men on the tour were okay with this, but me and the other woman rider wanted to stop. This may be a male / female issue as generally speaking male riders seem to like to buzz on without stopping much to enjoy the scenery while women like to chronicle their vacation with photos. This leads me to my next point…
9. If you’re a rider who is a woman, do not sign up with a tour company if there is not at least one female rider guiding your tour. I’ve found that having a woman rider on the staff of a tour company means that tour is generally more intuitive to what the needs are of women riders. For example, women prefer clean and women-only bathrooms when available. I realize some places you’ll be touring are out of the way and requests like this may not be possible, but when possible, it should be taken into consideration. I can squat in the bush just like the rest of the them and quite frankly prefer it over a stinky, nasty toilet, but when I’m paying to go on a guided tour, I expect bathroom facilities to have been scouted out ahead of time with the needs of a woman in mind.
Women tend to get colder than men and have to go to the bathroom more often than men. A woman on staff will be in tune with this and perhaps build in some more rest stops to shed or add layers, and to go to the bathroom. And don’t even get me started about how women like to shop and men simply do not. Find out if the tour budgets time for shopping, at least for souvenirs, if that’s what you’re into.
Much the same way that dealerships are finding out it’s important to have women on staff if they want to attract and cater to its every growing base of female customers, I believe a solid, first class tour company who wants to attract women riders, should have at least one qualified and experienced woman rider on its staff riding with the group.
10. Will there be a support vehicle to carry your luggage, and is there a trailer with an extra motorcycle to replace and transport one that breaks down on the way? Since I’ve never been on any other 3-day 2-night tours before, I don’t know what to compare it to, but on the Twisted Trailz tour there was a support vehicle to carry our luggage, something you should expect from an organized motorcycle tour company. However, on this short of tour, there was no extra bike. But on the 7- and 9-day tours I’ve been on, an extra motorcycle was transported on a trailer, which came in handy when a participants clutch cable went out the bike he was riding. The crew quickly swapped out the bad bike and the rider was on his way with the rest of the group.
11. Ask the tour operator if you can speak with previous customers on the phone or read a review article done on the company in a magazine. Surveys and rating systems that the tour company puts together itself are biased; and testimonials they put up on their Web site are obviously going to be handpicked to make the company look good. The best gauge of what to expect from a tour company is by reading a review done by a motorcycle journalist you respect, or by asking to speak with a former customer. While the tour operator can handpick this personal reference, you can ask this person the questions I’ve outlined above, as well as others that may never show up on a survey or testimonial. Former customers are more likely to be honest when speaking directly to you. So, if you’re considering touring with TwistedTrailz, email me to find out if this tour company is right for you.
And lastly: a few more things to expect from a company that bills itself as “first class”: A tour guide that has ridden the route in recent weeks. Road conditions change over time, especially in rural areas. The tour guide should be able to report to you at the beginning of the day in the rider’s meeting what to expect in terms of road conditions (smooth, potholes), terrain (curvy, straight off camber turns), road construction (any gravel, fresh asphalt). A seasoned tour guide will have knowledge of road construction, check points, or travel delays you may come upon and report to you both in the morning and after lunch.
What kind of cell service coverage is there along your route if being in touch is important to you? A seasoned tour guide will inform you ahead of time what kind of coverage there is no matter what provider you use because this person has ridden this route before. It’s their job to check the maps of major cell phone providers’ coverage area and let you know what to expect. Sure you could check yourself, but it’s nice to get first hand knowledge of the coverage from someone whom you’re assuming has ridden this route a lot of times before and knows where the dead spots are.
Don’t forget there are many tour companies out there. A tour can be a wonderful thing but it requires a bit of research on the tour participants part. The tour is only as good as what you find out ahead of time. The worst thing is going on a tour that does not meet or exceed your expectations.