The active-travel company Backroads will offer its guests the option of electric-assist bicycles and Specialized S-Works Roubaix and Ruby models along with its own custom all-titanium rental fleet models on many of its biking trips in 2014, Tom Hale, founder and president, said in an interview last week.
As the Berkeley, California-based cycling, walking and multisport tour operator prepares to celebrate its 35th anniversary, the company is making an effort to distance itself from the pack of commercial bike tour organizations both in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Hale said that the electric-assist bikes will be available for an extra $300 on trips in Europe, North America and Hawaii beginning next March, while the high-end Specialized road bikes are an extra $400 per client on any of its trips. The cost of renting a Backroads standard titanium road or hybrid bike continues to be included in the tour price.
The electric-assist bikes are modified versions of its standard rental bikes. A battery-operated system allows a rider to add more power on every pedal stroke on hills. The rider can ease off the battery power when it is not needed. E-bikes have been offered for some time by several European tour operators.
“We’re not trying to convince everybody and his uncle to try this,” Hale said of the e-bikes. “It’s a way that you can expand your circle of people who come along” on a tour. He noted that some baby boomers and longtime clients of Backroads - because of personal changes like joint-replacement surgery, tours with steep climbs or other issues - are concerned that they will no longer be comfortable riding a regular bike.
Private bike trips for couples, families, friends
Backroads also is promoting private trips consisting of groups from one or two couples, to a family, all the way up to 12 participants. Its online and print catalogs list per-person double-occupancy prices for eight, 10 and 12 persons on a private trip, along with standard pricing. This creates pricing transparency, said Hale. He notes the company’s private trips had increased last year by 160 percent.
With a fleet of 4,500 bicycles and more than 70 destinations, Backroads is larger than its next five competitors, said Hale. It runs trips in the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and Asia throughout the year. Typically each tour includes two vans and three leaders. Among its new categories are trips for families with older teens and 20-something members.