Hana Ptackova and David Mather are an extraordinary couple. They both love people and motorcycles. And, they decided that they should combine the two and make a living from it. Those two passions led them to found and operate MotoAdventours, a motorcycle tour company based in Malaga, Spain. Kim and I met Hana and David on a dual sport ride from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to Capetown, South Africa.
Both Hana and David have interesting life stories. Hana grew up in Communist Czechoslovakia while David grew up in northwestern England. They met while both were traveling in Morocco and as a result of that meeting, run MotoAdventours.
We thought you might like to get a glimpse of what it takes to run a motorcycle tour company and the people who run them. So here’s Part 1 of our 2 part interview with Hana and David.
Meet Hana Ptackova
ADVRider: Hana, tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I am Czechoslovakian originally. I grew up in communist Czechoslovakia, back then, and I lived for a couple of years in Germany, but I now live in Spain. So I’ve been around Europe quite a bit.
ADVRider: Was it difficult growing up a communist nation?
When you were a kid, you didn’t know the difference and basically I actually had a great time. We had to go to school, and I had a lot of hobbies, a lot of sport and spent a lot of time outdoors. So I really didn’t see any kind of difference, everyone had very similar lives. I was 16 when the wall fell and everything changed. I could move around freely and travel anywhere. So I just sort of grew into the new way.
ADVRider: Were women treated differently from men?
Not at all actually. When I came to Spain 20 years ago, I noticed that women didn’t necessarily go to school and that there were adult women learning to read and write. In the communist countries, everyone was essentially equal so everyone had access to the same education, the same jobs, join the Army, etc.
ADVRider: Could women generally get good jobs?
Yes, my mom actually had a better job than my dad. She had a university education and was the main provider for our family.
ADVRider: Were motorcycles a part of your life at an early age?
My mom worked in the co-op and I went to a farming school. From there, I had the opportunity to get licenses for tractors and motorbikes at 16. So I got both. But we didn’t have any bikes at home so I really didn’t start riding until later in life.
ADVRider: Since they weren’t, what motivated you to get into motorcycles?
It wasn’t until I moved to Germany. I was 24 and I had to pass the driving tests again because theCzechoslovakia licenses weren’t accepted. So I went to driving school and took my bike test again. That helped me refresh my motorbike riding skills.
My boyfriend at the time had a Harley-Davidson so I went and bought one as well. I ran that for 2-3 years around Europe but then I ended up selling it and I didn’t ride for a while again. Then in 2006, I got the chance to get into the motorbike industry and basically started riding full time.
ADVRider: You said you got your motorbike license again after you left Czechoslovakia. To get a motorcycle license in the US, no specialized training is required. What is it like in Europe to get your license?
Hana: When I took my test in Europe, I had to take a test on a low cc bike and ride one for two years. Then I could go test with a big bike and get a license to ride the larger cc bikes.
David: It’s actually changed in the last 3 years or so. Now there’s a written test, then a maneuver test through cones, and if you pass that you ride with an examiner. It’s a lot harder to get your license than it used to be. In talking to some of our US friends, it’s a lot more stringent in Europe than it’s ever been in the US.
ADVRider: What motivated you to get into motorcycles?
Hana: After Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman did Long Way Round, the boom of moto travel started. I found an opening in a motorcycle tour company for a support vehicle driver and I did that for about 4 months. Then the boss of the company said everyone had to drive the support vehicle, ride a bike and be able to do anything. So then I got the chance to ride and I loved it. I thought it was the best job I ever had.
Meet David Mather
ADVRider: David, tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I am from a town in Northwest England called Warrington. For 30 years, I ran my own retail businesses. I ran a greengrocer, a flower shop and a café, which was my favorite. Then I met Hana in Morocco, fell in love and moved to Spain 5 years ago. So I now help her with the business.
ADVRider: Now that you are living in Spain, is it much different from England? Did you have any cultural differences to figure out?
Trying to run a business in Spain is different. It’s much more laid back here and often things get put off to tomorrow. But my biggest problem is the language.
I miss my old friends and speaking English. Sometimes I feel sorry for my English speaking customers. I love speaking the language and they must think I never shut up.
ADVRider: Were motorcycles a part of your life at an early age?
Yes, at a young age I wanted more than a pushbike so at age 16 I went out and bought a 50cc motorbike. That felt very, very good and I rode it until I was 19. But then family came along and motorbikes took a sideline.
It wasn’t until years later that my brother in law had a sabbatical from work and he wanted to go on a motorbike tour. I told him that I thought that was fantastic, but neither of us has a motorbike license! So then I said, “Let’s do it”!
Initially, the plan was to go to the US and ride some big Harley-Davidsons or something similar down the west coast of America. So we traveled to Spain to do some off-road riding to get some more experience. Then we took our tests, passed and both bought BMW 1200 GSs.
After that my brother in law told me he had a change of mind and that we weren’t going to the US, we were going to go to India. We flew into Dehli and rode north into Shimla on Royal Enfield Bullets and spent 2 weeks traveling in the Himalayas.
ADVRider: That must have been exciting…
It was great, but if I knew then what I know now, how scared would I have been? Most of the guys on the trip had ridden for years and there I was with no experience riding some of the world’s most dangerous roads. There were no guardrails and drop-offs 100s of meters high. If you went off, you were dead.
We also got caught by landslides, hid under rock overhangs and watched as boulders the size of TVs rolled down the mountainside. We traveled at night with headlights that gave as much light as candles.
It was an incredible experience and that is what got me hooked. From then on, my brother in law and I made trips all around the world. Then one year, we went to Morocco and that’s where I met Hana.
ADVRider: David, how did you get involved with MotoAdventours?
David: Well, I met Hana in Morocco…
Hana: I asked David, “Why don’t you come and live in Spain?” and David said, “Let me think about it.” Then 3 weeks later he called and said: “I’m coming”.
David: And it has been 5 years since then.
ADVRider: Hana, tell us about your company, MotoAdventours. What does the company do and where do you ride?
Hana: I worked for a motorbike tour company for about 3 1/2 years. But the owner felt that the business wasn’t as profitable as it should be and basically closed the business overnight. I loved what I did so I decided that I didn’t have any choice but to start my own company; MotoAdventours. It has now been 14 years and I still love doing it.
ADVRider: Did you get any special training to help you run a motorcycle tour company?
Hana: As I said before, I started with another company. Over those three years, I learned a lot of things about running a tour company. I learned everything about running a base for moto touring and to organize bookings, etc.
I didn’t know much about riding off-road and off-road navigation, so I did take some private training since there weren’t any training companies for those skills at the time. But once I became a BMW partner, I went to BMW’s International Tour Guide Academy in Germany and became a BMW certified Tour Guide. During that time, I got additional training on riding on and off-road, mechanics, and first aid.
After a week, you have 2 days of written and rider guide testing which I passed. Some didn’t.
But what I underestimated was marketing and publicity aspects of the business. That was a big part of my learning experience. You can run the best tour in the world but if people don’t know about it you can’t make a living from it.
ADVRider: Did you experience any problems because you are a woman?
Yes, there were problems. But the problems I had would have been problems whether you were a man or a woman. I may have even gotten a little of an advantage because BMW didn’t want just men running tours. They thought that as a woman, I might run things differently than all the other companies being run by men.
ADVRider: Tell us about the places you ride and the terrain you cover on your tours.
David: Originally, we operated mostly in Andalucia, Northern Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. But then we looked at our seasons and decided that things were slow in months like January and February. So we made a choice to start running adventure tours overseas.
We started with South Africa and overnight it was a success. Then we built tours traveling from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to Cape Town, South Africa. And we now have a tour that goes from Cape Town to Krueger National Park through Lesotho and Swaziland.
One year we went to Thailand and it was wonderful, but we had some difficulty getting motorbikes. Unfortunately, we no longer run tours there.
Since it’s very hot in the Andalucian summer, it’s not great riding weather. So we operate similar to a traveling circus and take all 15 of our BMW bikes to the Czech Republic and then travel around northern and central Europe. This year we ran Alps and Adriatic tours.
We also ran a few private tours as well. They were very successful!
ADVRider: If someone is interested in touring a certain part of Europe, you could design a tour for them as well?
David: Certainly. We can start from several locations in Europe; generally Munich or Prague depending on where you want to go. We also have several BMW partners around Europe so we have access to as many bikes as we may need.
Hana: Our tailored tours have been very successful. They often come from repeat customers that want to see another part of the world.
David: We also partnered with an Argentinian company for the last three years. We designed a tour for them that starts in Prague and ends in Germany. Along the way, we rode through Austria, into Hungary, then to Croatia and up the Adriatic coast, through Slovenia, into Italy ending in Germany. So if you have a group of 6 to 7 people, we can generally design something specifically for your group.
ADVRider: Several of your tours cross many country borders. Is language sometimes a language barrier?
Hana: We generally don’t have any issues with languages. I speak several languages so that helps a lot.
ADVRider: How many languages do you speak and what are they?
Hana: Well, I speak four fluently. I can speak, read and write Czech, Spanish, German, and English. I also speak Italian, French, Croatian, Romanian, Polish, Russian and some Arabic.
David: I have to tell you that Hana learned to speak Italian by working in an Italian restaurant in Spain. How incredible is that?
Making the cake
ADVRider: I know it’s a team effort to run MotoAdventours. What are your responsibilities for MotoAdventours?
David: It’s really fun. I look at it as we are taking people on a ride and we want to give them great experiences. So we look at it like the trip was our adventure. It’s like making a cake. We add the ingredients and the result is wonderful. In addition, we make sure the destinations are not too far apart and the accommodations and food are great. We want to make sure that everything is up to the standards that we would want for ourselves.
Hana: We make sure the roads are nice. We also plan our trips so the weather will be the best for that time of year. And we make sure there is time and opportunity for our guests to get a feel for the culture as well.
David: The bottom line is that we are taking motorcyclists on travel and we want to make sure that the roads and places are fun, enjoyable and interesting.
ADVRider: Is running the business still as exciting and enjoyable as when you first started?
David: Now it’s fantastic. When I first started I was like a fish out of water, so now it’s awesome!
Hana: Definitely, you get to meet loads of fascinating and very interesting people. This is the most important part of our business; the people that come and ride with us. The tours are all great, but what really makes the difference is the people we meet and spend time with. We’ve had some famous people ride with us.
But the best part is that we have a lot of repeat customers; I would say over 80%. So the pressure is on us to create new destinations and experiences so they have fun and come back. And this makes it more exciting for us because we get to try new places. Yeah, so we always try to keep it exciting for ourselves as well, not only our customers.
Coming soon in Part 2, we discuss what it takes to run a motorcycle touring business.
Note: Part 2 has been published and you can see it by going What It’s Like To Run A Motorcycle Tour Company: How To Plan Tours (click here).
Photo credit: MotoAdventours’ Facebook page unless noted otherwise.