HOW TO FIND THE BEST MOTORCYCLE TOUR IN THE UNIVERSE
RAMBLINGS BY MATT NATONEWSKI
If you are reading this then you have likely experienced this phenomenon.
Back in the day it used to be a shitty quality photo of a bunch of rich white dudes, mostly in the full Ulysses membership demographic standing next to a bunch of old Royal Enfield Bullets or more recently, (thanks to Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman), BMW GS 1200’s. In the background stood some blurry snow-capped mountain range or perhaps a desert mirage of some description with some dressed up camels or something stereotypically exotic like that. The riders appeared dusty and weary but dressed in the finest Belstaff Adventure gear and some cheesy company logo was, literally cut and pasted, yes with scissors and clag, somewhere into the image and photo copied for authenticity. This was pre google so the tour operators often had to brainstorm clever travel related business names themselves without any online assistance. These were the days of motorcycle magazines, print media, TV and radio. This was called marketing and is how motorcycle companies use to find customers and “inspire” people to travel with them. Life was simple, life was good and profits were huge. Fast forward 20 years and traditional media is dead and anyone using it stupid. It amazes me to this day that even the pathetic attempt at marketing back in the day was often enough to inspire us to part with large sums of hard earned cash, hop in a steel tube full of farts for 20 hours and risk our lives riding some shit box on the worst roads in the world.
These days tour businesses have it far better. It might be a bunch of tattooed hipster men claiming to be the liberators of a particular mountainous region or something less bold like a combination or abbreviation of search engine optimised ad words such as motorcycle, adventure, travel, rides….Generally all wrapped up in pretty website pulled together by some bored real estate agent on his bosses time. The website will generally make all sorts of bullshit and irrelevant claims as to why they are the chosen ones and everyone else out there has stolen their awesome idea’s and that by choosing to travel with anyone but them will surely result in an apocalyptic experience, zombies and all, and ultimately guarantee you a premature and very painful slow death. Social media has now made it possible for pretty much anyone to claim anything, start the brain fart of their dreams on no budget or experience…. very few survive. Some bored and disgruntled public servant or engineer starts a new passion based business every day. Sometimes it’s a custom bike builder, a biker café or workshop or a tour company. Interestingly, amongst these new “motorcycle start-ups”, there is an absence of new motorcycle stores. Perhaps as these require high investment, high risk and high commitment and are a full time gig, anyone with a motorcycle store has to have a big set of balls. Most “start-ups” in the motorcycle field will not make this kind of commitment, risking the family home for their “life passion”. This is something to consider when shopping around for anything really, what level of commitment has this young “entrepreneur” made. If the owner isn’t prepared to risk the family jewels, and back his/her own product and services then why should we?
What does any of this mean to you? Well to put it simply NOISE and lots of it. Open your Instagram or Facebook. How many motorcycle related businesses appear in your newsfeed within seconds? Bearded hipster types with loads of tatts and slim sexy brunettes posing on retro style bikes. Yep the marketers know who you are, what you ride, how much you earn, even your sexual fetishes and so can send this noise to your newsfeeds, hoping that you take the bait and if you are addicted to motorcycles like me you probably will at least be thinking about it.
So how do you break through the noise, the thousands of offerings all claiming to be the best in the business. How do you even know if a motorcycle tour is the right decision for you?
If you have a curious and open mind and are fascinated by the world around you will enjoy travelling by motorcycle, there is simply no doubt about that. The absolute best way to do this is to take 3 to 6 months off and hit the road making it up as you go. However, for many and most of us this may not be possible due to work, kids and other commitments. This is where the option of a motorcycle “tour” type service can be awesome. Generally, 1 to 3 weeks with the all the planning, logistics and back up taken care of. The right tour company will get you to places that might otherwise take years and many visits to discover. Not only this but also provide you with the same sense of discovery and achievement and have you stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging you as a rider and as a person. Like a good parent the best will not hold your hand too much but still provide a safe and supported environment from which to push your limitations, giving you the sense of irresponsibility and freedom without unnecessary risk.
A really good tour should be a journey of self-discovery not just a whirlwind ride ticking boxes. You should leave wanting more, with a bunch of new mates and a new outlook on life. Buy experiences not more stuff, as they say.
In no order of priority here is a list of factors that should help you select the best company to travel with. These are probably good factors to consider when making any purchase, new bikes, gear, car servicing, a house…
Experience has nothing to do with the number of years a person or business has been around but how they have used the time. There are many businesses out there that have been around a very long time but have really nothing new to offer or have become tired and cantankerous. Similarly, there are many new start-ups that have researched the shit out of the market, pulled together investment and a big budget, invested in a fancy website and Facebook page and pumped money into getting “likes”, “followers” and “reviews” so that they look BIG and experienced lacking substance, nothing exists behind the glamour. Always call and speak to the company owner if you can, or if not arrange a call back or meeting with a company tour leader. If the person is passionate, professional, positive, makes no negative remarks about other businesses or competitors and generally makes you feel at ease this is a very good sign. Talk about the different options available and if the person genuinely makes an effort to guide you into a suitable experience/product then you most likely are speaking with a company that has your best interests at heart. If they are pushy, “salesy”, slanderous or you cannot meet them in person or at least by telephone then walk away. Many tour operators see the industry as a means to an end and only interested in making an easy buck or it is about servicing their ego. You can pick these ones as they generally do not personally run the tours they sell and have other businesses or careers. If running motorcycle tours is a sideline, a hobby, then your experience will be treated as such. When things go pear shaped they vanish. If the company is committed, has an Australian office and staff, is a registered Australian business and is operating motorcycle tours week in week out you can be certain of great service, value and experience. To put it simply these guys, have their balls on the line and will not survive if they cannot deliver.
So as a minimum look for at least 5 year’s experience and a committed, professional local service that gives you a positive “gut feel”. Stay away from the weekend warriors and anyone who does not operate all of their own tours.
Ask about the tour locations and why they take you to the places they do. The good ones will know the history and have some great stories about the places they take people and why. They will have a connection to the places and people and should communicate this with you. Others will have pulled an itinerary off the internet or cut and paste a bunch of info from another tour operator’s website. A good operator will be able to describe the road conditions, culture, history and will have forged amazing relationships with the people on the ground such as local cafes, guesthouses, local people, charity organisations and small businesses. This is great as you will be provided with a very genuine and authentic experience that you would likely not otherwise be able to experience. It is the people that you remember forever.
Knowledge of political situations, local hospitals, managing altitude, remote area medical training and motorcycle first aid are non-negotiables. If these questions can not be answered with confidence then look elsewhere. A good knowledge of the travel and motorcycle industry is important and shows a level of experience important in getting you where you want to be on the most suitable vehicle.
A great tour operator will be extremely intimate with the regions they take people, almost fanatical – for this is their life, legacy, their art, their music, their passion – therefore they will be able to talk to you about it for hours, and probably will.
Again, go with your gut instinct. Talk with the owner and as many company reps as you can and build a relationship with them. You will soon know if there is a toxic culture within the organisation. If you even suspect this be wary. This will also help you to identify if there is any substance, any depth to the organisation or if they are just a one man show weekend warrior with a flashy website and a big budget. Look for a bricks and mortar location, somewhere you can visit and speak with the company. This shows a commitment to the customer, the service and product. Nobody signs a 5 year commercial lease or purchases a shop or office if they are not committed to being the very best. These guys are playing the long game and will be looking for your repeat business for the next 20 plus years so will bend over backwards to ensure an exceptional experience.
Look for staff that are knowledgeable, honest, passionate and positive. A mix of male and female tour leaders of various ages is always a very good indication of a company maturity and positive culture.
A company culture is best gauged by talking to the representatives. Are they positive? Are they proud of the organisation? Are they confident in the products and services? How do they talk about the management? Passionate and positive staff means a passionate and positive tour. Look for strong leadership, mission statement and vision that resonates with you. This shows the organisation is proactive and well managed as this will flow through everything they do including your adventure of a lifetime. Also ask what training programs tour leaders are subjected to and what qualifications and experience are on the team.
What is the customer service like? Were they positive and helpful and did they get back to you? Can they answer your questions? Good service is hard to find these days and if they have it, and staff that provide it, they are likely a proactive and well managed company. Can you meet with a real person if you would like to, or have a good yarn on the phone? Or is it only by messages and email?
Look at the review sites such as Trip advisor, Facebook and Google. If any of these are 100% 5 stars and/or less than 10 or so in number then be cautious as these reviews are purchased or fake. Have a read of the reviews and look at the dates. If the company has mostly positive reviews spread over a period of years all responded to by management as well as maybe a few low star reviews they are likely genuine and real. No company is ever 5 star all of the time and nor should they be. If a business is providing an amazing and authentic experience, being creative and trying new places and ways of doing things then they are guaranteed to upset someone at some point. Companies that have never made a mistake have never done anything worthwhile and will stagnate and fade away. As long as there are a significant number of reviews and the majority are 4 stars and above your looking at a hard working and well managed organisation.
Be wary of a lack of online reviews. If the only reviews are on the company website and Facebook page it is likely that the company has something to hide. Talk to several people who have been on tours with the company if possible. I know we at Nevermind have thousands of happy customers who are more than happy to discuss our tours and will often attend information nights and events in support of our company. Ask about opportunities to attend events and info nights where you can meet other customers, this is a great way to get information from the “horse’s mouth”.
Be wary of “media”, “celebrity riders” and “social media influencers”. Media and celebrities are essentially paid reviewers. Anyone on social media fitting into the cool, hip, sexy, category with a huge following are generally being paid to promote the product or service. They can be helpful but bear in mind they are being paid by the company to endorse the same company.
The million dollar question. Yes, we all know it, you get what you pay for. Price is what you pay for and value is what you get. A truly great tour company will make sure you come home frothing at the mouth with a totally new outlook on the world and your life. Some people will look at the cost of a tour and based on the cost of a room and a hire bike conclude that they can arrange the same experience at a fraction of the cost. This is true in part but is like deciding to do your own electrical work at home or cooking your own dinner. You can head down to Bunnings or the supermarket and get all the supplies and ingredients, knock a few holes in the wall or slap a few sausages in some bread for much less than you can get an electrician or go to a restaurant. A great Chef or Tradesmen will leave you talking about their workmanship for years. However, most people do not value their own time not to mention all of the benefits in engaging an expert. Yes, its slightly cheaper to eat at home perhaps but its damn fine to enjoy a restaurant quality meal from a chef that has dedicated his/her entire life to providing an amazing culinary experience.
Great tour companies will know the best places to stay, the best bikes to ride, attract the best employees and customers, know the best roads, the best places to visit and have an entire team that have devoted their lives to providing an amazing motorcycling experience.
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it” Thoreau. A good tour operator will give you more life in 2 weeks than most will experience in a year. That’s our job.
Are they just more noise, more of the same or are they offering something different, unique and something they have put thought and energy into. Look at the itineraries and information, the entire business model. If its unusual and original so will be your experience with them. Does it reek of catch phrases such as “guaranteed lowest prices” etc and stuff you have heard hundreds of times before then be wary. If that’s the experience you are looking for great, but if you want something unique, authentic and genuine then look elsewhere. Do the staff, managers, tour leaders, owners, customers – everyone involved in the business ooze personality, passion and charisma? This will translate into experience.
Does the marketing appeal to you? Does it inspire you and make you smile?
We focus heavily on providing visual marketing so that we attract the right people to our tours and so that people can best gauge the nature of our experiences and make a decision based on what they have seen. Honesty and transparency are important to us as the last thing we want is someone on an adventure motorcycle type experience that is expecting a cruise ship type experience for example. We have actually even been accused of “anti- marketing” and deliberately turning people off certain tours with our blatant honesty and transparency. We focus our marketing in a way that attracts the right people as this means we attract extremely satisfied customers as well as pulling together like minded groups of people on our rides. As a result, pretentious wankers do not book tours with Nevermind Adventure nor do we want them to.
How does the ride operate? This is the single most important factor in making sure you come home in one piece. If this cannot be answered confidently then walk away, fast. Whilst it is super important to have adequate emergency response, medicines, first aiders, medical evacuation etc PREVENTION is far better than the cure in 100% of cases. A good tour operator will have a solid system and procedures in place to manage group riding, fatigue, speed and other factors such as natural disasters, political disruptions and heavy traffic. A good operator has thought through, if not experienced, every possible scenario and has a system in place to prevent any disasters whilst keeping the ride super fun for everyone.
Just about every business these days seems to be “giving back” or supporting some semi worthwhile cause from men’s health to human rights. Most of this is simply marketing masquerading as charity and does nothing more than make the operator feel good. Very few charities have any measurable positive impact on the world whatsoever so be wary of any business claiming to be donating profits or supporting charity. The best and most effective charities are small and local and 100% of the money you contribute is given to the direct to the people who need it, no middle men, no admin, no fee’s. No funds should be appropriated for “administration” as the most effective charities this is done by volunteers. Ask for specific results to back up claims – how many lives saved? How many children educated? Most will spit out a list of programs that they have thrown money at. If this is the case then ask for the results from these programs. Nevermind Adventure is proud to support a school in Agra India which provides free education to over 100 children aged between 3 and 9 years old. Indeed Nevermind Adventure was established as a means to help fund this school and continues to do so. On our India tours we can take you to visit the school and kids and you are more than welcome to make a visit anytime. 100% of any cash given to this project goes to the school. Nevermind Adventure contributes funds as required and where possible but first and foremost must meets its obligations as a business. We can genuinely claim that we have provided exceptionally high standard of education to more than a 1000 Indian children that have gone on to secondary education and careers in all sorts of fields.
Compare this to many organisations that claim to give back by handing out money or “supporting”, basically outsourcing their philanthropy, to massive charity organisations such as UNICEF or Movember. Ask if they can give you some numbers around how much of your dollar actually goes to the recipient and how many lives the organisation has actually saved. Have a look at the bank balances of some of these “charities” and the pay checks of directors and staff expenses. Many have more funds in the bank than a small nation, have hundreds of staff and offices all over the world and have directors living lavish lifestyles of the proceeds of your generosity. Basically, do your homework and again go with what feels right and it helps if you can see the benefits of your generosity first hand of course. Although not directly related to the quality of the service being provided it does give significant weight to the ethics and values of the company which will flow onto the experience they will provide you with.
Hopefully I have both inspired you and given you some useful tools and information to make a good decision as well as got you thinking on some interesting points you may not have previously considered. I have tried to be as unbiased and genuine as possible and for us at Nevermind Adventure it has always been about assisting people to make a decision that is right for them – matching people to the most suitable products or services rather than making a sale at every opportunity. Sometimes that has meant turning potential customers away however we are strong believers in doing what is right for the customer all the time. Our mission statement is “To be the very best, not the biggest, not the prettiest and not the most profitable. Only the best”
I have been researching and studying global affairs, geography and travelling internationally since 1988 (yes I was ten years old). From studying Environmental Science at University and a career in caring for the planet led me to operating a primary school in India for the past 10 years, infact almost my entire life has essentially dragged me, sometimes kicking and screaming, to the point where every second of my life is somehow about travel and motorcycles. I cannot, not run motorcycle tours all over the world and every event, lesson, experience, relationship over the past 30 years has led me to Nevermind Adventure. Motorcycle tours is 100% what I do and I cannot – not deliver as I will simply not survive. Running motorcycle tours is the only thing I do better than anyone else on the planet. I know this because I know it is the thing I was put on this planet to do – supporting and inspire people to grow – taking people out of their comfort zones and into the unknown to experience foreign lands and cultures – by motorcycle – building bridges between cultures and helping as many people along the way as I can. If your potential tour operator can say something like this and you believe them then that is a good sign, they will not let you down. If it is all about them, their ego and how awesome they are then walk away. Look for a genuine, authentic down to earth honest company owner or manager with an ethos that really resonates with you and you cannot go wrong.
To celebrate the first in this series of blogs we at Nevermind Adventure are giving you the opportunity to sample our tour experience for $100!!
That’s right book any available Great Ocean Road motorcycle tour in 2019, enter the promo code “tryb4ubuy” to get a $195 discount. There are not many tour companies out there where you can test drive the experience before you commit. At Nevermind we don’t tell you how good we are, we will show you.
BIO MATT NATONEWSKI is CEO and Co-Founder of the Nevermind Group of companies, environmental scientist, adventurer, musician, comedian and author. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org