Jim Johnson, Founder & President
The idea for BikeToursDirect came from president and founder Jim Johnson, an avid cyclist and former Corporate America nine-to-fiver whose bike tour brokerage idea came from his own experiences abroad.
In the early 90s, Jim was a freelance travel writer who felt that bicycling is the best way to explore a country, meet local people, and research destinations. And, of course, it allows for frequent stops for pastries or ice cream along the way.
"When I was 15, I got bored in a summer exchange program in northern Europe and made my way across six countries before flying home. I’ve been back to Europe at least 30 times. Wanderlust is part of my soul."
When he first started touring in Europe by bike in the early 1990s, he couldn't find an economical alternative to the $3,000-4,000 European tours offered by American companies. He also didn't want to do self-contained tours, where he would have to plan routes, book hotels and carry his own gear. He found that local European bike tour companies offer superb tours at a fraction of what their North American counterparts charge. Self-guided bike tours are often 50-70% less expensive than their U.S. counterparts but still include lodging, luggage transfers, rental bikes, detailed maps and route instructions, service hotlines, and other services. Many also offer guided bike tours – still half the price or less.
In the late 90s, Jim told some friends about his travels, and they asked if they could come along. The next year, more friends—and friends of friends—joined the group. At one point, someone said, "You love bicycling and you love travel. You know Europe, and you have the contacts. Why don't you do this for a living?"
In 2003, he left corporate America and launched BikeToursDirect – not organizing his own trips but representing the local European companies he'd been working with for years. Over time, the number of companies has grown to more than 50 with plans to expand to four more continents in 2012.
At home in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Jim was president of the local bike club for two years. He describes himself as a recreational cyclist – the same type of customer who uses BikeToursDirect's services.
"Travel, writing, bicycling, tour planning – over a period of time I have been able to integrate my passions into a livelihood," Jim says. "People tell me I have a dream job, but that’s only partially true. My job is making other people's dreams come true."
Simon Clarke, Reservations Manager
Simon's 15 years of travel industry experience range from the footpaths and hills of the British Isles to administrative offices in California. He’s originally from Nottingham, England (like the Sherriff – even participating in archery growing up, but he assures us tights and feathered hats weren’t involved). He loves traveling in his home country because of the depth of history and how quickly you can travel to a completely different landscape. The "football" is better too, as a fan of Manchester United.
Simon enjoyed hiking holidays and made the jump from tour client to being paid for his hobby as a hiking tour guide throughout Scotland, England, and Wales. After leading tours for a couple of years, he moved into the office operations for the tour company, a role that helped prepare him for his present role with BikeToursDirect when he moved to the U.S. in 2004. Today Simon supports our clients with inquiries and bookings.
Simon’s favorite destination is “wherever’s next,” with no time to visit the same place more than once when there are so many new adventures out there. One of his favorite past trips is a safari in Kenya: “It’s humbling to know that we are in these animals’ homes – that we’re the intruder, rather than them having been brought to an artificial habitat for our viewing.” His dream trip is Nepal (so he’s very excited we’ve just added a bike tour there!).
Simon enjoys watching for pelicans and whales from the beachside cliffs of southern California, where he lives with his wife.
Natalie Cook, Vice President
Natalie is a corporate world escapee who joined BikeToursDirect to help spread the good word about slow travel. Originally from South Carolina, she’s also lived in England and Switzerland, where she discovered she hates (really hates) cold climates. The dreary winters were forgiven, though, for the quick train rides to new and exciting destinations. “I’m a passionate advocate for experiencing places beyond their 'must-see' sites. You take a lot more away from interacting with the fromagerie owner to select a perfect sampling of smelly cheeses than you do from snapping blurry pictures through a tour bus window.”
Favorite travel experiences have included working on an Alpine dairy farm and in a Swiss-Italian vineyard, ATVing in the Mexican jungle, and exploring Europe through the eyes of her favorite tween. Itineraries on her bucket list include Spain-Portugal-Morocco and Turkey-Greece-Croatia. Next stop? A bike and barge trip in the Netherlands and Belgium and a few days in southwestern Ireland.
Natalie spends downtime on frequent short roadtrips, hiking trails, and making an earnest effort at becoming a passably proficient road cyclist and mountain biker.
Lindsay Nash, Asia Tours Specialist
Lindsay is a native Chattanoogan who came to BikeToursDirect in the summer of 2012 after four years of living in South Korea. She caught the travel bug early in life, thanks to a fearless grandmother who wasn't afraid of flying and adamant about taking each grandchild to a far-flung destination. During university, she studied abroad in the South of France and become a complete Francophile before backpacking through Europe solo to visit the new friends she made in language classes in Cannes.
But it was when she first traveled to Asia that she really fell in love -- so much so that she's still there, now just outside of Daegu, South Korea, home to BTD's Asia satellite office. It's just a short hop, skip and jump away from many of her favorite places: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, India, the Philippines, China and Japan.
She spends her free time eating kimchi and biking the rice paddies and abundant mountain trails in her backyard with her husband and 3-year-old son. She has a "Mommy Bike" complete with basket, bell, and backseat for baby.
Richie Daigle, Tour Specialist and Group Sales Representative
Before joining the BikeToursDirect team in 2013, most of Richie's travel experiences revolved around baseball. He grew up playing ball in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia and had the opportunity to travel to and play in Cuba twice. His professional baseball career allowed him to see much of the U.S. while traveling with his team. When his sports career came to an end, Richie took up mountain biking, and it wasn't long before he was competing in mountain bike races. He moved to Chattanooga five years ago to enjoy the slower pace of life (compared to Atlanta!) and the quick access to many first-class mountain bike trail systems.
Being a Tour Specialist for BikeToursDirect allows Richie to combine his interest in travel with his passion for cycling. He spends most of his free time on one of his three bikes -- his trusty mountain bike, a road bike, or a commuter bike recently purchased for getting to and from the BTD offices every day. A serious "outdooraholic," he spends many weekends camping and hiking with his best four-legged buddy, Buckley.
Richie's latest trip (June 2014) was a self-guided mountain biking trip in Sedona, AZ and the the North Rim of the Grand Canyon with his girlfriend, Veronica. If you reach Richie when calling BTD's offices, consider yourself warned if you ask about his favorite place to ride -- you'll get plenty of stories about mountain biking in Scotland, we promise!
Rachel Browder, Digital Content Strategist
Ruined on going places at an early age, Rachel has been known to tell people that being on the move is her religion. Whether it is tacking 4 hours onto a 12-hour road trip just to smell the ocean air, or hopping on her bike and heading out for dessert, she will always choose going over staying. Although she likes to go places to see the sights, Rachel’s insatiable curiosity prompts her to talk to strangers every chance she gets. For her, there is so much wonder and beauty in the people she meets, and collecting stories along the way is as good as finding gold. Her knack for connecting with others has served her well in European and Central and South American travels.
Rachel’s favorite travel experiences have been serendipitous, like wandering into a bar in Quito, Ecuador and finding walls covered with handwritten poetry from fellow travelers, or unwittingly stepping out onto the beach in Scheveningen, Netherlands on New Year’s Day and seeing thousands of people diving into the North Sea. Unplanned travel accidents are the best of all adventures. On her wish list of places to go (besides “everywhere”), Rachel has Spain, Chile (Patagonia!), Brazil (The Amazon!), Easter Island, Little Corn Island (Nicaragua), and Greece.
A self-proclaimed gypsy, she has given up on the idea of finding a permanent "home" and figures she will have plenty of time to settle down and rest when she retires. Rachel is married to a vagabond, and together they teach their children that the world is as open to them as they are to it. She is happy to have joined the staff at BikeToursDirect to be among fellow wanderers, and loves promoting slow travel as truly the best way to explore the world.
Rachel likes to live by Ray Bradbury’s words in Fahrenheit 451: "Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories."
Candice McCallie, Marketing Coordinator
Ask Candice to list the places she's lived, and you'll be waiting for a long time. She grew up close to BTD's headquarter's in Dunlap, TN, but soon left to travel and live around the world. Her travels have included time spent in the Windy city of Chicago to run media for the 2007 World Boxing Championship, and 6 weeks in Beijing with the US Olympic Committee for the 2008 Olympics.
Rounding out the list is Vancouver, Spain, Argentina, Los Angeles and Houston--which has Candice's vote for the best overall food options around.
In her free time, Candice enjoy's mountain biking and watching baseball. In fact, she's visited 23 major league baseball parks, and worked for the Houston Astros.
With so much travel, you may ask what's next on the list for Candice? That'd be Australia, where she'd love to do a safari.
Brian Rickett, Financial Administrator
Brian got his first taste for travel during high school when he spent several weeks on Isla De Culebra off the coast of Puerto Rico. Since that time he’s done his share of exploring in North America and through the Mediterranean, including Turkey, Greece, and Italy.
Brian’s bucket list destinations line up with his love for sports. He’d like to see a live Liverpool FC game in England or play golf at major courses around the world.
Whit Altizer, Marketing Content Specialist
In 2001, Whit quit his job at an IT recruiting firm and bought a plane ticket to Scotland. At some point while hiking on the West Highland Way, he decided that he was going to explore the world. Since 2007, his heart resides in Asia due to its smiling people, delicious food and flair for the chaotic. He has traveled around Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, the Philippines, Japan, and China.
He's called Korea home ever since he self-diagnosed himself with incurable addiction to kimchi. He enjoys spending his off days riding his bike along the fantastic riverside bike paths found all over Korea with his wife and young son in tow, and his next-up dream trip includes heading to Mongolia with his bike!