FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) – It didn’t take Bob Williams long to embark on his first bike-and-beer tour.
He was 15 and couldn’t drive, so Williams and his friends convinced their parents to let them ride their bikes 300 miles through Wisconsin.
On that ride, they came across a cold, unopened can of beer on the side of the road, and thus began Williams’ love of riding bikes and drinking beer.
A lot has changed over the years for Williams, 38, of Fort Collins, but one thing that remains the same: his affinity for capping off a long bicycle tour with a cold brew.
It is that love that has led Williams to launch last week Fort Collins’ latest business venture called simply Beer & Bike Tours.
Unlike many bike tours, Beer & Bike Tours is more than just a brewery crawl connecting beer fans with drinks by riding bikes from one brewery to the next. Instead, his business is for avid cyclists who want to ride longer distances and incorporate a few breweries into the day’s ride.
The aim is to bring cyclists interested in Colorado’s views and brews to Fort Collins for a virtually all-inclusive trip. Beer & Bike Tours would pick up customers at Denver International Airport and provide bikes, helmets, lodging, food and connections for beer. Cyclists basically would need to bring their own cycling shorts and shoes, Williams said.
The new venture offers tours tailored to suit smaller groups of riders on any number of rides that Williams has designed. Tours range from the four-day Fort Collins trip called “Fun in the Fort” to a statewide trip following the USA Pro Challenge tour’s route.
Other tours are Aspen Leaves, Boulder to Fort Collins, Tour de Colorado, Fort Collins to Winter Park and mountain bike trips.
Trips range in price from $75 to $3,500 and include a support and gear, or SAG, van that will follow riders.
Williams has ambitious plans for the business. His target demographic goal is to bring cyclists from around the nation and world to Fort Collins to showcase the rides, scenery and breweries. He also would like to expand the business overseas to Ireland, Germany and Japan with satellite offices.
“There are lots of roads to ride and lots of beers to drink,” he said. “I would probably run out of time before I could do them all.”
But that’s not going to stop Williams from trying. He has spent the better part of his life riding his bikes to breweries and bars to check out new beers.
While Williams officially launched the new company in Fort Collins, it actually originated in Japan. Williams’ wife is a middle-school teacher, which provided them the opportunity to move overseas.
They first moved to Berlin, where the beer and bike culture hooked Williams. Germany is home to some of the best breweries in the world, and Europeans rely heavily on bikes to get around. From Germany, the couple moved to Japan for four years, where the company started first as a club.
Williams said the best way to get to know the country was to ride his bike to a new bar each Thursday and try something new. The concept took root in Fort Collins, where Williams sees the most potential for growth.
“Basically, Fort Collins is fun and more people should be coming here and playing,” said Williams who noted that people across the globe identify Fort Collins with beer.
While in a Patagonia store in Japan, Williams recalls seeing Kim Jordan, CEO and president of New Belgium, on a television one day representing New Belgium’s global reach.
In June, Williams returned to Fort Collins and set about forming the business.
Williams is currently working with breweries around the state to see about getting the first flight of beers for free for his groups who can then tour the breweries.
Mike Hiatt, assistant brewer at CooperSmith’s, has known Williams for five years and thinks the new business concept is a great fit for Fort Collins.
As a certified beer judge, Hiatt said he is prepared to guide Williams’ riders through a tasting of his beers when they stop at CooperSmith’s for a drink and some dinner.
“I’m kind of excited about bringing awareness of the bike culture to Fort Collins and sharing that with people who are not necessarily from the state or country to see the Front Range and breweries,” he said.
The rental fleet of bikes arrives in April and Williams would like to start tours at that time.
Beyond Fort Collins, Williams has ambitious plans for the company. By summer of 2014, he would like to start opening satellite offices in England and Ireland based on the same model he is implementing in Fort Collins. For Ireland he may alter the concept from beer to “Whiskey and Wheels.”
Eventually he would like to enter Germany, Japan and Belgium, bringing the bike-beer combination to the masses.
The beer-bike concept will fit perfectly with the Old Town brewery vibe, said Hiatt, who noted on any given day there are lines of bikes chained to their grain silo out front.
Beer & Bike Tours is not the first bike tour company to hit Fort Collins.
MyHandleBar, the 16-seat bicycle, offers cyclists a tour of Fort Collins’ breweries and bars.
No alcohol is served on the bike, which takes riders to breweries and bars around Old Town. The bike, which includes a designated rider, has a bar top as riders sit in a semi-circle and pedal.
Septacycle, a conference bike built for seven people, also serves Fort Collins. Patrons sit in a circle and pedal while one person steers. Fort Collins resident Ian Leinwand started the Septacycle Co., which allows riders to rent the bike on an hourly basis. Often, they tour local breweries.
One of the main bike tour companies based in Fort Collins provides tours outside the country. Experience Plus! Bicycle Tours offers guided bike trips to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Costa Rica, New Zealand and other places.
It was founded by Rick Price and Paola Malpezzi Price in 1972 as a way to travel to Italy. Since then, the couple’s daughters, Monica Price and Maria Elena Price, have taken over operations of the business.
For noncyclists, Hops & Shops, a SuperShuttle, offers visitors a shuttle service from brewery to brewery in Fort Collins.
The rise of such bike and beer tour companies is an indicator of how both the cycling industry and brewing industry have put Fort Collins on the map for visitors. Jim Clark, Fort Collins Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director, said he sees Fort Collins maturing into a destination for visitors thanks in large part to such tour companies and the beer and bike industry locally.
When Clark started in his position eight years ago, he recalls there were no such tours in operation. Now there are bike tours, historical tours, brewery tours and, as with Williams’ plan, combinations of the above.
As an example of how Fort Collins’ bike and beer culture has become a measure of success, Clark noted a Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas breweries tour business with a bike component looking to launch referenced Fort Collins as what it wanted to emulate.
– By DAVID YOUNG, The Coloradoan
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