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 walkabout in Asia - itinerary TBD.
Natalie spends most weekends with family and friends on the lake or in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and loves hiking with her rotten little dog, Presley.
Heather Lee, Senior Tour Specialist
Much like BikeToursDirect, Heather is a native Chattanoogan and has travelled extensively in Europe. She's our resident Anglophile after studying English and History at Trinity Christian College outside Chicago and a stint at Oxford University in England. Visiting 12 countries, Heather’s favorite destination is Wales because of the friendly locals and beautiful scenery.
Heather is a long-time soccer player, Chelsea FC fan, and a casual biker. She's taken up biking more seriously over the last few years and has recently gone clipless, though not without incident (just ask the person she collided with and the onlooker in the car). As an adventurer and outdoors(wo)man, Heather’s dream destination is New Zealand. Her favorite quote, by J.R.R. Tolkien, reflects her love of travel: "Not all who wander are lost."
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 2-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. 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!
Candice McCallie, Marketing Coordinator
Bio coming soon!
Rachel Browder, Tour Specialist
Bio coming soon!
Brian Rickett, Tour Specialist
Bio coming soon!