Continent Welcomes Motorcyclists

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 rise.

Currently, only 8% of the members are women, but that number also is climbing (the author of this article recently obtained her motorcycle license).

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 past."

"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 person, double.

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 Norway.

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 added.

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 itineraries.

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 added.

"Look for reliability, for example, how long have they been in business?"

Also, "read all the terms and conditions written in fine print and make sure the itinerary is where clients want to go," he said.

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.

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