Streets For Everyone recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Josh Bloomfield, owner and founder of Cycle City Tours to discuss operating a bicycle-based business in Vancouver. This interview kicks off Streets For Everyone’s series on people-friendly street designs and the individuals, businesses, and organizations who embrace them.
Streets For Everyone (SFE): So Josh, what is the general idea behind Cycle City Tours?
Josh Bloomfield: The general idea of Cycle City Tours is to take small groups of people around the city with a knowledgeable local guide and to tell them stories that are relevant to the history, culture, and environment in Vancouver.
Josh speaking to a Cycle City Tours tour group on the Sea Wall
SFE: Tourism is a very large industry in Vancouver. Why do you think that people are choosing Cycle City Tours over other potential ways to see Vancouver?
Josh: There’s definitely a big rise in the active style of touring that people are interested in doing these days, and I wouldn’t limit that just to biking. If you look, for example, on a website like TripAdvisor where people give reviews, the top five companies on there are all small independent companies like mine. Small-group, intimate experiences that are active have become a lot more popular, and I think in some way that has to do with the spontaneity that guests can experience in a small group either by walking or biking. You can stop if you want to or if you see something interesting. There’s no limitation on where you can go, which direction you can go, or where you can start and end, so it’s a little bit of a different style than if you are stuck in a vehicle in traffic. Even if a bus wanted to, a lot of the times it couldn’t stop to let you see something.
SFE: You’ve spoken about sustainable transportation in various forums. What does that mean to you and how can cities with large tourism industries, like Vancouver, support and foster sustainable tourism?
Josh: It really just comes down to having infrastructure for it. If the city was to build the infrastructure, everything would automatically build-up around that. If there are great bike paths, for example, like the Seawall, then small businesses like rental bike shops will inevitably pop up. When people call or email to ask about tours, they often want to know about safety. They want to know about whether we’ll ride in traffic, and the nice thing that I can say is that 90 to 95 percent of our riding is on separated, safe infrastructure.
A tour group on their way to English Bay
SFE: Cycling for transportation is growing very rapidly in cities all over North America and around the world. Do you think that that has impacted the growth of your company?
Josh: A lot of the people who come on our tours do ride bicycles. It’s amazing to see the demographics of the people who come on tours, because if it was ten years ago we wouldn’t get all the seniors that we get, and we probably wouldn’t get all the young families who are putting their kids in bike trailers or trail-a-bikes or on kids bikes and coming on decent rides with us.
We’re also benefiting from this trend in that there are similar experiences like ours to be had in a lot of major cities. A lot of our guests will say that they’ve done bike tours in Paris, or Barcelona, or Amsterdam, or New York. And I think that once you do this kind of activity in your travels, you kind of get hooked and realize that it’s a really fun way to see a place, it’s a great way to work off all that food that you’re eating on holiday, and that it makes you feel good at the end of the day. It’s definitely a trend that’s helping us.
SFE: If the Cycle City Tour routes weren’t on high-quality bicycle infrastructure do you think you would have less people interested in taking your tours?
Josh: Absolutely. The bottom line is that people aren’t comfortable biking with traffic. When I talk to guests on our tour, they’ll tell me that in their city, whether its Houston, Texas or Miami, Florida, that it’s not that safe to bike in their city, and they’re so happy when they come here. They feel so relaxed and safe exploring our city by bicycle. In a lot of ways, I think it affects their point of view of what is possible for their city. But, if we didn’t have safe infrastructure we wouldn’t get the families, we wouldn’t get the people who aren’t comfortable on roads with traffic.
Tour routes are designed to maximize use of quality cycling infrastructure, like the separated bike lane on Union Street, because many customers do not feel comfortable riding in traffic
Are there places you would like to take your tour groups but don’t at present because there isn’t currently quality cycling infrastructure?
Yes. Gastown and Chinatown! Especially Water and Cordova Streets.
SFE: There’s a lot of small innovative companies popping up around Vancouver that are using bicycles as a core component of their business model. Why do you think that is and what can the city do to encourage this trend?
Josh: The investment in a bicycle tour company is far less than the investment in a bus tour company. The investment in a bicycle delivery service is equally affordable. Biking is affordable.
Bicycle-based businesses are largely more affordable than their alternatives, and this makes it easier for small business to find the minimal amount of capital that they need to get started. In terms of the city, again, good infrastructure definitely helps. Also, if there was any seed capital for bike-based businesses that would be great. Tax credits or any kind of credits obviously make a difference.
Cycle City Tours group with a view of downtown.
Cycle City Tours in the woods
A tour group takes a break with the North Shore mountains in the background
Stay tuned for more articles about people-friendly street designs and the people, businesses, and organizations who embrace them