In 2002, Rene Cormier, then a 33-year old, sold his house and all his possessions to ride around the world. What was supposed to be a circumnavigation of three years became a five-year-long journey of 95,000 miles and 41 countries, and when Rene returned to Canada in 2008, he realized his perspective had changed. “I’d learned that the world was full of loving, generous, and honest people. I’d learned how little money it took to be happy on the road. I’d learned that the more of myself I shared with the locals, the more they shared with me and the more I rode away with. I’d learned that the simpler my life was, the more I was able to enjoy it”, Rene remembers.
After completing a memoir of his journey, The University of Gravel Roads, Rene went on to start a new chapter: Renedian Adventures, a motorcycle tours company offering two-wheeled trips to Africa, Mongolia, South America, and Canada. These days, Rene’s time is split between Canada where he lives with his wife Colette and their two boys, and southern Africa where he still scouts and leads tours.
So what’s it like to run Renedian Adventures, how has Rene coped during the pandemic, and what would he advise to people who are dreaming of doing the same, whether it’s RTW travel or starting a motorcycle tours business? I caught up with Rene to find out.
What was it like to start Renedian, and what has changed since?
I finished my RTW trip in October of 2008 and a year later I was ready to start selling the finished University of Gravel Roads book at the 2009 winter motorcycle shows. Since I was going to be at the shows anyway, I figured I could make a little postcard flier to see if there was any interest in folks taking an adventure motorcycle tour in Africa, where a friend was willing to supply backup support. Keep in mind that at that time, The Long Way Round was still buzzing loudly in the motorcycling world and we sold out a trip to Africa quickly. So we added another. We ran two tours in late 2010, both from Cape Town, South Africa to Windhoek, Namibia. Our biggest mistakes on the first trip were to make days much too long and chose gravel roads that we personally enjoyed, but proved challenging for some of the group.
Since those first trips in 2010, we have found the sweet spots for the routing, and we have done a better job of talking with riders before they come over. Trade shows and rallies are good for this. A good example would be a rider coming up to us and say they like to get a full tank of riding in before breakfast and stop riding at sunset. We are blunt with them and tell them our trips are not for them. (If they are good sports about it, I will continue to chat and ask them why they would consider traveling to a place they have never been before, only to ride all day long without stopping to explore the area). We also pay close attention to those who want to join a tour where gravel roads are prominent (Mongolia, South America, some Africa trips) and we will be sure to tell them that the first day on gravel roads in Mongolia/South America/Africa is not the place to find out whether they like gravel roads or not. If they reply with “No worries, I rode dirt bikes as a kid” then more chatting is likely worthwhile to make sure the trip is right for them. These are big trips, and worthy of someone’s bucket-list or ’trip of a lifetime’ category. There is no need to rush to complete them if the trip is unlikely to be enjoyed.
As a world traveler, how do you design Renedian tours so they are manageable logistically yet still remain unique and take people to extraordinary places?
With any group of riders there will be a range of travel styles; those that want to go slow and see fewer places but in detail, and those that move fast to see many things but briefly. Neither is wrong. Being on the road for a multiple year RTW trip has lent a knack for balancing distances and must-see highlights. And over the last 10+ years, we have learned to include group dynamics as a positive aspect of the trip. This is an under-appreciated skill. While on tour, a tip that our guides have come up with is to simply keep our (the guides) mouths shut. We want to prepare riders for what is coming up, yes, but there is a beauty in letting riders experience the awe and majesty of a viewpoint, road, animal, scenery, sunset …without being prepped for it.
When designing a tour, what do you focus on the most – the scenery, the adventure, the culture?
Tours can emphasize different qualities. Our Waterfalls and Wildlife tour in Africa is our most popular trip as we spend a lot of time on safari and in beautiful lodges – but the riding is nothing like the Alps. We joke internally that the route has four left turns and no hills. But riders who come on that trip are there for animal encounters and to see Victoria Falls. On the other side would be Mongolia, where we sleep in felt gers (yurts) for the entire trip once we leave the city, and the dual sport/adventuring style of riding is unparalleled on this planet.
How many of the tours do you still guide yourself?
2019 was quite a busy year for me leading groups, with 5 tours and 20,000 km over a three month period in Africa, and then down to South America for a month helping as the chase truck driver. That amount of guiding was unusual, as I try to only schedule 1-2 trips a year. As we ramp up our Canadian tours I expect to spend more time with groups here in Canada, simply from a logistical perspective. The summer of 2020 was the first time in 10+ years that I have spent a summer season in Canada (I am normally away on tours) and I gotta say, it’s pretty nice here!
What does a typical day of a motorcycle tour company owner look like?
Off Tour: I have always been an early riser, so I am up between 4 am-5 am, and at my desk by 6 am. My office is on the property, so no commute to worry about. We have two boys aged 5 and 8, so I have a few hours on the computer before getting them ready for school. Our Cape Town staff are 9 hours ahead, so early morning meetings can be done without going too late into their night. Mornings are generally spent on computer video calls with the staff to check in and chat at the virtual water cooler. We book our hotels 2 – 3 years in advance, so much time is spent double and triple-checking itineraries. It is also important to make sure the team is working in unison on similar projects and goals. A local forest is only a few minutes’ walk from the house, so I try to get there over the lunch hour.
Afternoons are a time for tea and daydreaming. I will normally schedule the ‘doing’ items for before lunch, and the ’thinking’ items after lunch. These afternoon hours are intentionally lacking in efficiency. Some days are spent on Google Earth looking at new routes, some days spent looking at websites that offer kayak trips/wedding vacations/medical tourism/gap year vacations/museum websites… and seeing what unique marketing methods others are using for their businesses. This could be web design, sign up processes, social media approaches, or innovative ways to display information. Lots of clever people out there doing great things that we can learn from. Outside of the winter months, we ride bikes to and from school, and I will pick them up from school at 2:40 pm arriving home before 3:30 pm. I excuse myself to the office until 5 pm, wrapping up the correspondence and preparing notes for the next day. I try not to be on the work computer in the evenings. We don’t have a TV, so after dinner time is normally games, lego, Hot Wheels cars, or watching Rally Car/F1 highlights on YouTube. Lights out in this house by 9 pm!
What is the best part about your job?
Staring at maps, dreaming up new itineraries, and then pre-running them. For research, you know.
What’s the worst part about your job?
Being away from the family. We have tried to solve this by having Colette and the boys spend every other year in South Africa. Both boys were born in Cape Town, so these trips allow them to be near her side of the family, and I can at least get a few days of visiting in between African tours.
What challenges has Renedian faced in 2020, and how have you dealt with them?
2020 was a disaster. We ran one private tour in South Africa in January and were 5 days into another tour in March when COVID forced the cancelation of the trip and we sent everybody home. Despite that, there was one significant approach to corporate spending that was a relic from the RTW days; if you don’t have the cash, don’t buy it. Pay with cash, and never carry debt. Our approach to buying our physical assets (guide bikes, trailers, Sprinter vans, on site equipment) were all paid for in full with cash when we bought them. When the pandemic hit, it was easy for us to park them and let them sit without worrying about having to cover any loans. This has removed significant mental burden, and allowed us the space to continue to prep for the return of the tours, which we are hopeful will be July of 2021.
If you could give adventure riders who want to explore the world just one tip, what would it be?
Speaking to potential RTW riders: One of our regular riders (Jim F) has this great saying: Do what you can while you can, until you can’t. I would also add that there will never be a perfect time for going. It will always be nice to have a bit more money, a newer bike, a fancier camera, or more vacation time saved up. But rather go with what you have and make it work. It will all be ok. And if you have the choice, opt for more time than more money.
Images: Rene Cormier