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BUSINESS STORY I PEDAL NATION


BOOTSTRAPPING PEDAL NATION


I


n June 2002 Nick Mitchell spotted a van dispensing sandwiches to a group of cyclists by the tiny church at Syre, Sutherland. Little did he know that this insignifi cant observation would eventually lead to the birth of his own cycle tour company - Pedal Nation (www.pedalnation.co.uk)… At that time, studying at Nottingham


University, I had a long summer break to fi ll. I explored several options, none of which involved gainful employment, wrestling, in particular, with two challenges; sailing up to St. Kilda or cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats.


Having no experience of long-distance cycling, I decided that LeJog would make for a challenge. My mountain bike and I had never cycled further than ten miles. I was sensible enough to realise I would need to fi nd my way to Caithness, so I equipped myself with the Cycling Touring Club’s notes and, a week after booking my rail ticket to Penzance, I was off.


It was fun, although the cycling was exceptionally tough. A total novice I was well out of my depth; through willpower rather than technique I reached John O’Groats in a fortnight. At the Seaview Hotel in John O’Groats I compared notes with another cyclist and mentioned the cyclists, the support van and the sandwiches I had seen earlier in the day; my companion informed me that there were cycle tour companies supporting riders from Land’s End to John O’Groats. What a way to make a living, I thought; next morning I left for home.


I found I enjoyed cycle touring, eventually taking on diffi cult cycling challenges and becoming experienced in cycle camping trips, eventually completing a self-supported 3000 mile tour on the North Sea Cycle Route.


Subsequently I moved to Germany and toured all over Bavaria and Austria. Back in the UK in 2010, looking for a


72 www.cyclingworldmag.com


new business venture, I decided to get involved in guided cycle touring. I wasn’t sure in what capacity, but knew there must be cycle tour guides. Networking around the industry, I quickly discovered that the cycle tour industry is very much a closed shop. CV’s don’t work; to get work you will require persistence, a signifi cant amount of luck and last-minute readiness for your fi rst tour work, when the original guide suddenly drops out. Take this opportunity - you’ll only get asked once.


Eventually I broke through, meeting an established cycle tour company without a long distance tour in their portfolio. I knew people would pay money to be supported on the Land’s End tour - I’d seen it happen. I persuaded the company that my idea was sound and cycled off on LeJog, noting every turn, recording the hills, cafes, good pubs and hotels.


Research done, the trip was posted on the internet. The tour sold out in a few weeks. There was no turning back: our clients had paid good money and we had to deliver. It was a very nervous drive to Cornwall, to prepare for our fi rst tour. We needn’t have worried: the tour went


brilliantly, the clients gelled and all had a great time. The exercise was repeated fi ve times in 2011. I cycled every mile on the 2011 trips. In hindsight this caused some friction with the business owner - I had the easier job. For the uninitiated riding as a guide is far easier than driving the support van. Nonetheless, during that season I met some amazing people and turned the original research notes into what would become “The End to End Cycle Route” for Cicerone Press. Regrettably, at the end of 2011 the business relationship came to its natural end; I think we both knew this was inevitable. Having sensed this was coming, I’d made tentative steps towards setting up my own business. Perhaps I should have been braver two years earlier?


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