So The Slow Cyclist has been going for a couple of years but how long is it since you first had the idea behind it? Was it a slow burner or an epiphany?
The Slow Cyclist as a concept began way back. I guess the seed was planted when I spent 6 months working as a gardener near Almeria in Spain in 2002. Come the end of each day I used to jump on my bike and ride up and down the conical hills that dot that corner of Andalucia. For the first time I thought of a bicycle as more than just a means of getting fit; it could take me places. Years later I plotted a journey from London to Brisbane to watch the Ashes Cricket Series. I left in 2009 and it took me 14 months. I found the slow movement from one village to the next a revelation. Locals fed me, welcomed me into their homes and even cycled sections of the route with me. The journey encouraged me to pursue bicycle travel as a business and now we create much shorter but similarly immersive experiences for our guests.
What an incredible story. Could you pick out a highlight from your journey to Australia? Sorry that might be tough with 14 months worth of adventure to choose from.
That is tough! My cricketing highlight was playing a game with the Serbian national team in a 3rd century fortress. My favourite person was Laszlo, who I met in Budapest for an hour and who ended up making a film of my ride and cycling the last 3 weeks with me into Brisbane (his wife then flew to Australia and they had their honeymoon). The best camping spot was in a Thai school playground because I woke in the morning to find assembly going on around me. My favourite view was of Australia’s northern coast after a rough week at sea. My cycling highlight was heading down from the Taurus mountains to the Turkish coast. The best bit of all was the hospitality I received from countless, wonderful strangers.
I think it’s fair to say that Transylvania and Rwanda are not the most well known corners of their respective corners. Is that part of the reason you chose them as destinations for your first tours?
Absolutely. So many parts of the world have been explored to death. I was adamant that I didn’t want to take our guests cycling along the Danube or Loire or across the Pyrenees. For a start, it’s easy to go and do that yourself. I wanted to take people to places where I felt we could offer huge added value. I lived in Rwanda for 2 years running a small cricket charity. I spent my spare time exploring the country on a bike and the ride we take guests on is one they would never find on their own. Of course, it helps that there is very little adventure tourism in Rwanda…but that won’t last for long. The same goes for Transylvania. Since 2014 I’ve spent 8 months there, immersing myself in the region, making friends and learning the language.
And how is your Romanian?
Vorbesc un pic, dar eu nu scriu bine. That means ‘I can speak a bit, but I can’t write well’!
Everyone knows about the horrors of Rwanda’s past but could you tell us a little bit about your experiences there and its current state?
Rwanda is stable and incredibly safe. Its government is in many ways very progressive: Rwanda was the first country in the world to have more female MPs than male. Most visitors come away saying how happy people seem, and how well things operate. Of course, that doesn’t mean Rwanda is without its problems. There are many but I believe it is important for foreigners to keep visiting, to keep supporting its burgeoning economy. Apart from anything, it’s one of Africa’s most beautiful countries and I’m convinced mass tourism will arrive soon. I’d like to show our guests Rwanda before it changes.
So since you took your first tour back in 2015 has there been a favourite moment?
Obviously I like going back to places that I have grown to love. Getting to see gorillas, which I never did when I lived in Rwanda, is hands down the greatest wildlife experience of my life. Getting to spend a summer in a remote medieval Transylvanian village surrounded by stunning hills and forests was a great privilege.
And finally Oli, what is next for you and The Slow Cyclist?
I’m most excited about the challenge of maintaining our standards as the company grows into another 2 countries in 2018. The core of any business is its customers and The Slow Cyclist is no different. I really enjoy offering a high quality service to our customers.