What inspired your first (long distance) cycling trip?
After graduating from university (and a French immersion program), I decided to take a year off, took my bike to Europe and cycled for 6 months. I was inspired by seeing photos of Europe and thought that seeing it by bike would be amazing. It was.

Where was it?
On that first trip it was mostly through France which absolutely astounded me.

How did you end up as a cycling tour guide?
On that first cycling trip I met another traveler in France who was a bicycle guide for a tour operator and so applied, got hired and the rest is history.

What is the best thing about guiding trips around the world?
For me, travelling (especially by bike) is like an awakening of the senses which gives me new perspectives and insights into the region I am travelling in. The best thing is often the people one meets, including those we as guides get to travel with and also the locals – whether they be people we are meeting for the first time, or locals we have come to know through travels.

What is the most challenging thing about guiding trips?
Guides usually have many roles: logistics coordinator, bike mechanic, sage, teacher, psychologist, sometimes chef. It’s the most challenging (but most rewarding) occupation I can imagine.

What has been one of the most memorable trips you have had?
I designed and co-guided our first trip to Japan this spring. It was one of the most memorable because of the scenery, food, culture and was so very different from anywhere else in the world I have biked. I can’t wait to go back.

Where was the most surprising place you have visited?
Morocco would have to be on the list. It feels like an Indiana Jones movie sometimes. It has to be one of the most exotic places on earth.

If you could only return to one country to cycle, where would it be?
France is one country that has fabulous cycling and so much variety and everything else that we look for in a great trip. I lived in Provence with my family for 6 months and return almost every year to travel and ride. [I’m returning in March, 2020 with my wife and children (ages 12&14) and this trip is open to other families. Anyone out there with kids who like to ride?]

What has been your least enjoyable destination for biking and why?
When I first cycled in SE Asia, I used the Lonely Planet guidebook called ‘Cycling Vietnam’ which recommended the ride from Hanoi to Saigon all on the main highway that traverses the country. I did this route and found it noisy, dangerous and not enjoyable in any way. The good news is there is, in fact, great cycling in Vietnam but it isn’t on Highway 1. We took the time to find safe, scenic and enjoyable routes that make much more sense to do.

What do you love about cycling?
I like physical exercise and biking is easy on the joints etc. I also love the adrenaline rush and sheer joy of experiencing the speed that two legs and a simple machine can produce. Plus when you meet people in a foreign land on a bicycle, you are usually welcomed warmly. I also love that biking is good for the planet. If we could get people out of vehicles more and onto bikes, we would be all better off.

What keeps you inspired to keep guiding and running worldwide trips?
I have found that inspiring people to cycle and travel gives me great joy and is fulfilling. Having guided trips for 37+ years, I feel I have some wisdom, experiences and stories I can share that will help others.

If you weren’t a cycling tour guide/operator what do you think you would be?
I truly can’t imagine doing anything else.

Interview with founder Robbin McKinney on October 31, 2019.

Vancouverites, want to know more? Come and join us at our Slideshow on Nov 13th!

As many of you know, we have been organizing the annual Sunshine Coast Mountain Bike Trail Challenge, combining our love of BC trails, biking in some of the incredible nature we have right at our doorstep (across the bay), an opportunity to meet and catch up with our fellow mountain biking community and just a weekend to be outdoors, camping and of course, the delicious BBQ and live music enjoyed with a beverage of choice in hand.

We can’t quite believe that it has been nineteen years since our first Sunshine Coast Trail weekend. We have loved each and every year, got to meet new people – some briefly, some have returned again and again.

It can be hard to end something that you love and enjoy hosting so much, but also it seems fitting to acknowledge the almost two wonderful decades we have had with this event – and to honour it by going out with a bang and making it the best year yet.

The inspiration for this event, way back when, was to highlight and encourage bikers to ride the amazing trails on the Sunshine Coast and to raise awareness to the value of these trails. With this in mind we wanted a weekend that would have a point to point ride and add some festivities, fun and a chance to actually catch up and get to know our fellow riders.

This amazing trail network that we have for our biking pleasure is thanks to the hard-working trail builders and maintenance volunteers, events such as these and all of the riders who come out to participate and support (our Sunshine Coast Trail Challenge has donated over $5,000 dollars to trail building on the Sunshine Coast.) and also increased awareness and use of what we have available to us really helps the biking community, the Sunshine Coast community and benefits the future generation of mountain bikers (we have had riders from the age of 9 at our Sunshine Coast event – and some young, aspiring riders joining us this year!)

As well as our riders we have an amazing team of volunteers who come along to ensure that you have to do is enjoy the ride!

The delicious food, the encouraging and well-stocked rest stops on route and all the other behind-the-scenes are a huge part thanks to the busy team of volunteers who know that they are going to be around a fun and passionate group of people and we love that!

We have a particularly environmentally conscious team this year and are working on doing our very best to make this year our most eco-conscious yet. As cyclists, we already know that we reduce our carbon footprint the more we choose biking over other forms of transport.

We will be working towards efficient and proper recycling and we ask all of our attendees to bring a plate, cup, cutlery and anything else that you will need for eating at mealtimes.

This is what is at the heart of events like these, and ultimately at the heart of why we do what we do – firstly; we love to ride. We love any opportunity to get out on the road/trails with like-minded folk.

With that we value and respect nature, our environment and ensuring that we are giving back to it as much as we are getting from it.

The community; as a cycling tour company which has been providing trips and tours all over Canada and the world for over 35 years, we know the importance of community.  Whether it be the people you bike with or the advice and tips you get from friends or strangers all over the world. We love to meet new people, hear stories of cycling adventures and maybe even make some new friends to hit the trail/road with.

This is why we do what we do, this is why we have run the Sunshine Coast Trail Challenge for 19 years and we could not be more grateful to all of you who have supported, encouraged and shared your wonderful feedback (and company) with us.

We are very proud and happy to be able to offer something special like this weekend with you all and although we are sad to let it come to an end, we know that there are new and exciting things to come.

We really hope you can come and be part of our final installment of The Sunshine Coast Challenge, if not we want to say a big THANK YOU from all the Great Explorations team.

I was intrigued when I read that the writer Pico Iyer had made Japan his home. Pico is a discerning travel writer and his descriptions of his adopted country make anyone desperate to visit, if not live. A colleague suggested that the Noto Peninsula offered just the right mix of rural countryside, beautiful sea-side vistas, an astounding number of cultural attractions, charming ryokans, great restaurants and more. But how would it be to bike, I asked? At this question, his eyes sparkled and he grinned widely, exclaiming: the biking is some of the best in the world on the quietest roads imaginable.

We put together an itinerary that included a mix of inland and coastal riding, visiting and staying in the towns of Wajima, Suzu Beach, Wakura Onsen, Kanazawa and Yamanaka. We designed the trip around where the best riding is including regions of the interior that are exquisite and this is where the traditional rural villages and quietest roads are. One of the great appeals of this region is the opportunity to stay in charming and luxurious ryokans that are unlike any hotel I have stayed at before. Omotenashi is Japanese hospitality and until you have experienced it first-hand, when staff make you feel an honoured guest, you really can’t imagine. Many of the ryokans have hot springs (onsens) that you can enjoy and provide traditional yukata to wear to the spa (and dinner when dining in!). Did we mention the food? In a word, extraordinary. We mix traditional Japanese meals with French and Italian-fusion restaurants including Ben Flatt’s outstanding restaurant along the coast south of Suzu for a lunch you will never forget. To hear Ben describe his philosophy to food and cooking and why he chose to live in this region of Japan will have you understand its appeal.

Because I have been leading trips for some 35+ years, people often ask what is my favourite trip? My new answer is – Japan – and the Noto Peninsula.

Best time to go? May is ideal. On our May 10-17 trip, the cherry blossoms were still in bloom; rice was being planted and the weather was perfect averaging a balmy 23-26C. We will be offering trips in April, May, and October.

What bikes do we use? We purchased a brand new fleet of Cannondale Quick model hybrid bikes for this trip.

Do we operate the trip? Great Explorations operates our own trips – no ‘middle man mark-up’ which is why our prices offer outstanding value.

Client Reviews?  Here is a comment from a guest from our first trip (May 2019):

Food, biking, cultural events, Ryokan service, onsens were all amazing. For me, rural Japan shows the essence of Japanese culture, that people find something to be passionate about, whether serving tea, preparing food, making paper, or greeting you at a Ryokan. Then they work hard on details to produce something special. And, undoubtably, the result is amazing. Such passion and effort is something we can all learn from. All accommodation was great. Especially loved the quaint seaside location, food and service of the Lamp Ryokan. The final Ryokan had the most amazing service as the staff appeared wherever we were to make sure all went well – the grandfather made a surprise visit at the train station to make sure we got on the right train. Food was also great. The meals provided an opportunity to understand that no matter what kind of food Japan serves, it is amazing. Loved all meals. Loved all events! Maybe the Sake one was a highlight, with the adorable, spunky sake master. The rides were challenging but manageable. I was worried that I was going to “die” each day, but was relieved that the most difficult days were the first 2, and that I could relax(somewhat) for the rest of the trip. Snacks were superb – great mix of salty, sweet, unusual and interesting Japanese fruit, cookies, crackers, powerbars, candy and chocolate. These were the best snacks on a bike trip.” Deborah H. from Toronto, ON.

Want to know more? We offer both Luxe and Classic trips. The itineraries both start from the Noto airport (we include flights from Tokyo). The Luxe trip finishes in Yamanaka and the Classic trip finishes in Kanazawa.

Need inspiration? Stay tuned, video coming soon! The trailer video is now online on both itinerary pages.

 

Robbin McKinney, Owner of Great Explorations

“No one can predict what will happen in Cuba in the coming years, which is why you must rush there now. As in, right now.” Reif Larsen, NY Times – Havana’s Symphony of Sound

I had always put off going to Cuba, as I wasn’t interested in sitting in Veradero at an all-inclusive resort. I wanted to bike through the country, but stories of pot-holed roads, poor accommodation and bad food put me off. The good news is, things are changing, quickly.

Going to Cuba is still definitely a step back in time. As soon as you arrive to Havana and see the vintage cars driving around (there are at least 700 in Havana alone), you’ll think you landed on a movie set from the 1950’s. On my most recent trip, I was quite surprised with some of the changes that have come to this island in the Caribbean. In addition to the vibrant art and music scene it has long been known for, Havana now boasts new hotels and amazing restaurants; one could easily stay here for a weekend. But to really get to know the country and its people, our advice is to take 8 days and explore the countryside on bike – in Cuba especially, there really is no better way to travel. Central Cuba boasts stunning beaches along its southern coast at Playa Larga and Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and Santa Clara are vibrant and interesting; each provide context for what the country has experienced and what is to come. Americans are starting to visit – contrary to what you read, it is quite easy to get a visa now. In the smaller villages, the casas particularles are not luxurious, but they are certainly clean and comfortable and the hosts as proud and friendly as could be. Live music, as you might guess, is everywhere – The Buenavista Social Club group may be the only band you’ve heard of but there is more musical talent on this island than anywhere I have traveled in the world.

Cycling along the quiet roads along with locals is the best way to experience this country now. On this most recent trip, even in the smaller towns where we stayed, the food was surprisingly very good with lots of variety. We ate lobster, fish, beef, pork and chicken. Every evening restaurant we dined in offered complimentary cuba libres or a mojito.

We met a family cycling on two tandems; the children were 5 yrs and 7 yrs and they were cycling around the whole country. The parents told us it was the safest country they had ever cycled in and that the kids were loving it. We felt a bit guilty with our customized support bus with AC, but everyone acknowledged the benefit of having local guides who showed us sites that the family would never have found on their own. In Trinidad, perhaps my favourite city, we spent a fun evening at the Casa de la Musica salsa dancing with Cubans on a large outdoor dance floor as an amazing band with a dozen musicians played their hearts out. Everyone was happy and smiling and you realized that despite living on so little, Cubans certainly enjoy themselves. They pride themselves on their spirit of community and egalitarianism; my hope is that as the country opens further, that they hold on to this spirit and sense of pride that they have. It’s a moment in time to be treasured.

Robbin McKinney, Owner of Great Explorations

Central Cuba Biking