This is Part 2 of a two-part interview with Hana Ptackova and David Mather, the proprietors of MotoAdventours. Part 1 told you about Hana and David and the beginnings of the company. Part 2 discovers what it’s like to run a motorcycle tour company and what is involved.
RUNNING A MOTORCYCLE TOURING COMPANY
ADVRider: Now that we know a bit about you both, let’s talk about MotoAdventours and what it takes to run the company. Running a moto tour company has to be interesting, exciting and sometimes exasperating. So let’s talk about that a little more in-depth.
ADVRider: How do you decide where to run your tours?
Hana: We are based in Malaga, Spain and there are really amazing roads just outside our door. When the weather is good, it would be crazy to go too far from here, the roads are that good. But like we said earlier, it’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter and that’s when we look for other destinations and routes.
And again, because we have people coming back, sometimes multiple times in the same year, we always have to be looking for better routes. Like David said earlier, we have to put the ingredients together, look around, find the best and put that together for the group.
But we have to be careful about where we go. If a trip doesn’t sell, we won’t run it. We once tried to run a trip to New Zealand, but it didn’t sell and we didn’t end up running the trip. You have to go where the interest is.
ADVRider: How do you plan your routes?
Hana: First, we take a map and find destinations that we would like to see and determine what accommodation is available. With the internet, it helps a lot with the pre-planning. We pre-plan everything, put it on paper and fly or ride to where we plan to start the trip. Then we check the roads, sights, accommodations, facilities, and food to make sure that the route is great.
David: we are constantly looking for new routes. We check them out, make sure they are interesting, and avoid highways like the plague.
Hana: We even plan tours where we ride only half a day and then spend the rest of the day checking out the sights. We try to include other activities as well.
ADVRider: What’s the most important consideration when planning a tour?
There are a lot of different things to think about. For example, certain groups don’t like to get up too early. If you ask them to be a certain place at a certain time, to them it’s an estimate. So the differences in cultures are probably one of the biggest considerations.
ADVRider: What’s it like to work with people of varying motorcycle experience?
David: It’s all about confidence. I often drive/ride sweep and I can see people’s confidence. If you’re not confident, riding can be a real chore. So we try to ensure people maintain their confidence. We’ll never tell anyone to speed up, it’s dangerous and it’s not fun for the customer.
Hana: We’re not running a race, we are here to have fun, see the scenery and get to know the surroundings. Not just spend two weeks staring at the tar (or dirt/gravel/sand).
ADVRider: Do you ask them about their experience before accepting them as riders?
David: Yes, just so we can help them decide if a tour is good for them. But even sometimes, it can be difficult. We had one case where a customer rode his motorbike to work every day in London traffic. But when he came on our Alps tour, he wanted to stop the first day. He said he had lost his confidence. So we try to help people know what to expect.
ADVRider: What kind of motorcycling experience should a customer have?
David: Generally speaking, if you can ride safely, competently and confidently, you’ll be ok. We’ll take care of you.
ADVRider: You offer dual sport tours. Are there different considerations for those?
David: Yes, experience. Our website asks potential customers if they will be comfortable riding 1,200 kilometers (~750 miles) offroad. The Victoria Falls to Capetown is one of the tours where we need to know that people are comfortable riding off road. It’s a difficult one to manage because people have so many definitions of “offroad”.
Hana: It’s a difficult one because you can have people who have ridden thousands of miles on gravel and dirt roads, but when you hit sand, it’s completely different. They may not have sand experience which requires completely different skills altogether. So for us, its important to know your skills. Especially because the conditions change year to year.
Sometimes the roads can be hard packed gravel and other times very sandy. It’s difficult to tell what the conditions will be beforehand. We definitely tell less experienced people that our dual sport tours may not be for them.
ADVRider: Some of your tours involve border crossings. What should people know about them and what do you do to prepare for them?
David: Obviously, you need your passport, driver’s license, bike ownership papers and if you are renting, some paperwork showing that you are authorized to take the bike out of the country. When you rent bikes from us, we’ll give you all the appropriate motorbike paperwork.
In Europe, there is very little in the way of borders. Only if you leave the EU do you really need any paperwork. If you go to Morocco, you’ll need a permission paper saying you have permission to bring the bike over.
The one thing that people still get caught out on is cameras at border crossings. Please, please, please do not have your camera out at a border crossing. No matter how much you want a picture, leave your camera and your phone stowed until you get away from the border. So no matter how good that picture might look in your coffee table book, put your camera away until you leave the border crossing area.
ADVRider: We assume this means helmet cameras as well?
David: Yes, and even other things. I got arrested once in Morocco for having a walkie talkie that I use to communicate with Hana when I’m running sweep.
In addition, some countries don’t allow drones. Just make sure that before you bring your drone, that you are allowed to bring one into the country.
ADVRider: Do you have a favorite tour?
David: We’ve talked about this before. I can’t think of one. Let me put it this way, if we don’t like it, we don’t do it. Life’s too short. We’ll try something we like.
Hana: Also, I think if we don’t like the tour, how could you expect anyone else to like it. And I love the Victoria Falls to Capetown tour; every time we do it.
You know what, you can run one tour one time and there’s always something different. Or something that didn’t happen before. It always remains exciting.
ADVRider: How do you deal with “unruly” riders?
Hana: We don’t get many unruly riders. They know they are going to ride as a group and they will have to make some compromises to adjust to their fellow riders. If they are not comfortable with that, we also offer them the option to take a GPS and ride by themselves.
Then they can meet the group for lunch or at the end of the day at the hotel. So if someone was really incompatible, we always have a spare GPS and we can tell them, “You know what? Why don’t you take the GPS and enjoy yourself and we’ll meet you at the day’s destination.” We’ve never had to do that, but it is an option.
ADVRider: Tell us about some of the craziest or more memorable things that have happened during one of your tours.
David: Yes we’ve had a few. Like people riding with pillions (passengers) that forget their pillions. This guy left his wife on the ferry and took off with us to Morocco.
We also had this one tour to Morocco with only two guys since we were between tours. This particular day we had a few planned river crossings, nothing major, nothing that you needed to train for. Generally, the crossings can be dry or just have enough water to get your rims wet. We’re riding into the high Atlas mountains and it starts raining.
When we get to the first crossing the water was just a little deeper. But by the time we got to the third crossing, it was getting a little hairy. But we knew we couldn’t turn around because the water was still rising. There were no hotels, auberges, hostels on the road behind or ahead for many miles. By the time we got to the fourth crossing, it took the four of us pushing the bikes together through the crossing. At this point, the water is over part of the engines.
Hana: The water was so deep and fast that we had to hold hands just to get back to bring the other bikes across. It was touch and go and these guys are looking at us thinking, “Wow, this is so exciting!” They thought this was just a normal day.
David: So we get through to the next junction and the road is totally washed out. The only way to go was ahead towards an auberge we knew about. The area and road are flooded and there are lorries (trucks) on either side of this road not daring to cross. By this time it was just standing water, and we said, “Shall we?”.
So we decided, let’s just go for it. So we just very carefully and at the right speed go through with the 1200 GS. As the bike moves forward, it makes a wake pushing the water out of the way. As long as you go a certain speed the wake kept the water out of the engine.
By this time the locals are videoing us. And by the time we all finish, we got a big round of applause from all the truckers and locals for making it across.
When we finally got to the auberge, there was no power, only candles, the beds were as hard as nails, and we’re really worried about our customers. We are thinking they are going to hate us. But they have these grins ear to ear and they say, “We love this!” Here we were worried about their experience and they put rave reviews on Tripadvisor about how awesome the trip was.
ADVRider: What about crashes? Have there been any crashes on your tours?
David: Every company with any significant experience has had crashes. We’ve had our fair share of them and some injuries. Luckily, they have just been broken bones and the like.
We’ve had crashes in Serbia which is awkward because a crash is classified as an offense. So if you have a crash, don’t do it on a Saturday, because you’ll have to stay until Monday until a judge decides who was at fault. No matter if you or anyone else is injured or not. If you have caused any damage you’ll have to stay. The moral of the story is don’t crash in Serbia on the weekend.
Hana: The minute police or public services get involved you’ll have to stay and you may have to pay a fine.
ADVRider: What about injuries, how do you handle them?
David: If anyone is injured and there is an ambulance available, we’ll get one to take that person to the nearest hospital. If it’s not a serious injury, they can also go in the support vehicle and we transport them ourselves. We had one case where a person broke his leg badly in the middle of nowhere in Nambia. It was getting dark and the helicopter and plane wouldn’t fly. So we had to transport him in our support vehicle 200 kilometers to Windhoek. He had surgery the following day and a few days later was on the way home.
ADVRider: Should people traveling on your tour consider any obtaining special medical or repatriation insurance?
Hana: In Europe, it’s easy. As long as you have some sort of international cover you have easy access to care and medical services like ambulances and hospitals.
David: But in Africa, we insist that people have their own medical and repatriation insurance. In many parts of Africa, you might have to pay for care first and then get reimbursed from your insurer.
ADVRider: Let’s talk about the motorbikes. What types of machines do you use on your tours?
David: We have BMW GS motorcycles. We use three different models, the BMW 1250, 850 and 750 GS models.
Hana: I have worked with BMW GSs since the very beginning. They are very dependable and require very little maintenance. They are easy to handle and comfortable to ride.
ADVRider: For those that have shorter inseams, do you have any bikes that will fit them?
David: Yes, we have BMW factory lowered F 750 GSs and a low R 1250 GS. And for all the bikes, we have low seats available. The F 750 GS is fairly low from the factory. But for those that aren’t that tall, the F750GS is a lovely bike to ride with the factory low setup and low seat.
ADVRider: What happens in the event of a breakdown?
David: That kind of thing is a rarity. In the last 5 years, we’ve had only one breakdown and it was an electrical one caused by a loose wire. But if there is a breakdown, we put the bike in the support vehicle and take it to the nearest garage. If we don’t have a support vehicle (sometimes in very small groups) we get a recovery company to come and pick up the bike and we can usually have it back on the road within 24 hours.
Hana: These bikes are really good. It’s not something we’ve come across in our recent history.
ADVRider: If someone crashes and damages a bike, are they done for the tour? Do you carry a spare bike?
Hana: It depends. It depends on why they fell off the bike and how badly the bike is damaged. If they can still ride the bike, they can continue on the same bike. If we think they fell off because lack of skills, then they finish the trip in the support vehicle. We don’t want anyone to get hurt. As they say, if you kill your pony, then you walk. That applies on the bike as well. If you break your bike, I’m sorry you’re not getting a second one.
David: We’ve only two people in the last 5 years that have significantly damaged the bike. One in South Africa when BMW was having fork issues and we gave him another bike to ride.
The other time was a guy on a brand new bike. I told him to please be careful with this bike and he looked at me and said, “I’m a good rider.” Less than 7 hours later the bike was on the trailer with over $10,000 in damage and totally unrideable. That guy did not get another bike.
In a large group, we will bring another bike just as a backup. Or if I’m riding sweep, they can take my bike and I’ll travel in the support vehicle or travel pillion with Hana.
Hana: we also have road assistance everywhere in Europe so if there was a breakdown, we’d just call road assistance and we have them pick the bike up and diagnose the problem. Then we can go from there.
David: We’ve never had an issue where someone couldn’t finish the ride because of a breakdown.
ADVRider: Do you do any special training for riding?
Hana: Well, you get to a certain level you stay there. Unless you push yourself, you’re not going to get any better. I like to do track days and I enjoy them, but haven’t done some for a while.
ADVRider: How long is an average riding day during one of your tours?
David: Some days are longer than others. Because roads and terrain can be very different, the distance is mostly irrelevant. But we plan for a riding time of between 4 – 5 hours per day. We try to leave the destination by 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM and we try to get there by 4:00PM-ish.
But don’t worry, we tend to plan the day so that you know you’ve been on a ride. As an example, we had two customers ask us if they could ride the bikes more after we’d reached the destination. They thought some of the planned distances were too short. We said certainly, go ahead. But at the end of the tour, they had never taken the bikes out again after reaching day’s destination.
ADVRider: Can you tell us something that most of us don’t know about being a motorcycle tour operator?
Hana: One thing that most people don’t know is that you don’t have to be the world’s best rider to run a tour business. Because at the end of the day, we’re not a riding school, training center, or track day specialist.
We are here to have people enjoy themselves, see scenery, and ride bikes. Number 1 is that you have to care about people. After that, all you have to be is a safe rider.
David: You must make sure that you really care about people. It’s really simple, you need to look after people and make them happy.
ADVRider: How do you think MotoAdventours is different from the competition?
David: Basically, what you are getting is Hana and me. We don’t sublet our business out. If you select a tour with us, Hana will be leading and I will be sweeping. We will be meeting you at the airport and we will be arranging everything.
Hana: We always know what’s happening on the tours at all times and we know all our customers personally. And, the customers know us personally.
David: So if you look at one of our tours and you have a question, you can call or email us and we can talk you through it. That’s because we are the people booking the hotels, restaurants, organizaing the routes and picking you up at the airport.
It’s a very, very personal thing we do. We think that people’s experience with us is so important that we made a decision a few years ago not to grow. We don’t want to be any bigger than we are. There are no ambitions to be a multi-national company with many employees. We want to continue to give that personal touch and be with the customers. We really like the fact that people trust us to take care of them.
ADVRider: What is the best way for people to contact you both if they are interested in taking a MotoAdventours tour?
Hana: To learn more about the tours we offer, they can go to our website www.motoadventours.com. If they want additional information, they can ask questions through the contact section of our website or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also call me (Hana) via landline at +0034 622 010112 or David at 0034 675 456760 or call us on Skype “Motoadventours”.
So that’s Hana and David’s story and some insight into what it takes to run a motorcycle tour business. We hope you’ve enjoyed riding along.