Reed Travel Features
NEW YORK -- They might not fit the stereotype of the
leather-clad, freewheeling bikers of yesterday, but today's
motorcyclists (still donning their leathers) are just as serious
about finding adventure on the open road, and many of them are
heading to the Continent on their quest for the ultimate ride.
And by far the most popular and challenging road trip in Europe
is through the Alps.
Although many bikers opt to tour on their own, a growing number
of them are joining organized programs.
Most travelers booking motorcycle tours go directly to the
operator. That doesn't mean, however, that travel agents cannot
benefit from this growing market.
After all, the American Motorcyclist Association, the largest
association of its kind in the U.S., has more than 200,000 members
who own more than 543,000 motorcycles, and these numbers are on the
Currently, only 8% of the members are women, but that number
also is climbing (the author of this article recently obtained her
Liz Beach, secretary-treasure and part owner of Beach's
Motorcycle Adventures, (716) 773-4960, said that the company is
working with agents "more this year than they ever have in the
"All the travel agent has to do is make the initial contact, and
we work directly with the client," she said. Beach's pays a 5%
commission on individuals; group commissions vary.
The company's two-week Alps tours are priced from $3,850 per
The family-owned and run tour operator, based in Grand Island,
N.Y., has been escorting groups in Europe since 1969.
Beach's offers four European programs, including two new ones in
Rob Beach, Liz's son and president of the company, said that the
rise in the number of people going on bike tours can be attributed
to the "increase in [the number of] baby boomers, who have the time
and the money, getting back into riding."
And for those interested in riding in Europe, there are numerous
advantages to taking an organized tour, he said.
First, safety and security; there is always someone watching out
for you, he said.
Also, participants can count on the expertise of guides who know
the area and what to expect on different routes, he added.
Of course, there are the conveniences of not having to search
for a place to sleep at the end of a day and being able to bring
more luggage than would fit into a saddlebag, he said.
The friendships that develop on these tours is another reason
group itineraries are appealing.
Not only do the participants have the love of riding in common,
but "anyone who would take the time and money to go on a vacation
that could be adversely affected by the weather is usually an
interesting individual," he said.
Finally, going on a group tour is more cost effective, he said.
For example, the cost of a two-week bike rental on a tour is
$1,100; it can be double that to rent on an individual basis.
These and other reasons probably help to account for the
company's 50% repeat rate, with some clients repeating more than 20
times, said Liz Beach, adding that this type of vacation also
"becomes very addictive."
"These are not structured tours," said Rob Beach, adding that
"you don't depart at the same time, you have a number of routes to
choose from and you can stop where you want."
Participants are strongly encouraged to ride with a buddy, he
Beach emphasized that Europe is not a place for beginning
cyclists, and the roads in the Alps are more difficult than
anywhere in the U.S.
"You can ride 100,000 miles in the U.S. without challenging
yourself. Going at high speeds isn't what this type of riding is
about, and someone who has only ridden in the U.S. will be shocked
at what they find in Europe."
That said, "many aspects of riding in Europe are much safer:
Automobile drivers are more aware of bikers, and there is more
respect shown for all vehicles on the road," he added.
The company doesn't offer any programs that are less than two
weeks in duration, and the main reason for that is that "people
have to adjust and fall into their pace, which usually takes about
one week," he said.
"And a two-week tour is tough, so someone who has never been on
one probably won't ride with us on their first tour," he added.
The company can take any licensed rider, but Beach said he is
skeptical of younger or inexperienced riders.
He recommends BMW motorcycles on Alps programs because they are
designed for that type of riding.
"We have had people who go on their own to other destinations
but always come back to us because it is easy," he added.
The main reason someone would go alone is because the preset
itinerary is wrong for them, said Rob Beach.
For travelers who insist on heading off on their own, Beach's
does offer individual motorcycle rentals in Germany.
Bosenberg Motorcycle Tours in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, (011)
49-671 67321; fax (011) 49-671 67153, features three Europe
itineraries and also offers individual rentals.
About 50% of the company's clients, who are mainly American,
rent bikes and tour on their own, said Leon Heindel, president and
founder of the 10-year-old company.
Fewer than 20% of the company's business comes through travel
agents, and commissions range from 12% to 15%; two-week Alps
programs are priced from $3,245 per person, double.
Nonriding companions are welcome on both companies
Do you have to be a biker to sell these tours?
Not necessarily, according to Heindel.
Travel agents should do their homework, know what the tours are
about and be aware of what to look for in an operator, he
"Look for reliability, for example, how long have they been in
Also, "read all the terms and conditions written in fine print
and make sure the itinerary is where clients want to go," he
Beach said that a nonmotorcycling agent approaching a group
probably would have difficulties generating interest unless they
have a really good deal.
He suggested going to a local motorcycle dealer who knows his
client base and could work with the agent in approaching those who
might be interested in a tour.
Approaching clubs might work, but the agent should have someone
who rides act as an intermediary, he added.