It used to be that kids rode lime green Schwinn Stingrays around the neighborhood, but if you rode a bike to work as an adult, well, it was a little crunchy and radical. Flash forward to today, when more bikes are sold than cars (in 2009), more funds are being allocated to bike projects than every before, and even Google has jumped on board: Google maps will offer biking directions. Biking is finally going mainstream, not only as a Sunday afternoon recreational cruise, but also a sanctioned form of transportation that can help alleviate the nation’s gridlock, pollution, and obesity.
Bicycles have always been in vogue for Lauren Hefferon, aka Bici Pazza (crazy biker gal) whose life revolves around her passion for bicycle culture, her three kids, and her company Ciclismo Classico. She started her own bicycle tour business in 1988, when the bicycle tour industry was still in its infancy, offering jaunts of Italy, combined with language and cooking lessons and dinners with the local people. Ciclismo Classico was born with two 12-day itineraries in Tuscany, and today offers 75 tours a year, from cycling along the Amalfi coast with a chef in tow, to exploring Sicily on two wheels. From a single-person Arlington, Mass., based operation, the company has grown to 30 people, including 20 cycle guides.
According to the US Department of Transportation, approximately 57 million Americans age 16 or older – about 30 percent of the population – rode a bike at least once in a 30-day period during the summer of 2002, the most current government figures. Hefferon is way ahead of the curve, cycling as often as she can, whether it’s to yoga class just down the street or over the border to New Hampshire.
Q: Tell me about the origins of Ciclismo Classico.
A: I grew up in Keene, N.H., biking everywhere. Cycling opened up new worlds to me, and it became a lifestyle. After college, in my mid-20s, after doing waitressing and temp jobs, I started to lead bike tours and get involved with outdoor venture travel. I lived in Florence, Italy, where I cycled over 200 miles a week and learned every road in a 100-mile radius. I decided that my own bike tour company fit my lifestyle and my love for travel. I ran my first ad in a San Francisco bike magazine and traded it for the cost of a trip. I developed a logo, used all my contacts with bike clubs, and in the early days, even asked my mom and dad to help me answer the phone.
Q: What kind of lessons did you learn over the years?
A: For the first trip to Tuscany, I had a beat-up crappy van that had a big crack on the hood; we used a Bianchi bicycle sticker to cover it up. I didn’t think it mattered, but it did. We made the best of it, and made fun of it, but for the next trip, we upgraded the van. Initially we also had a mishmash of bicycles; now we have a fancy fleet of 200 Bianchi bicycles.
Q: How do you use social networking to promote your business?
A: I use Facebook to get to know the customers better and find out what their interests and preferences are. It’s old-fashioned marketing, using a new method.
Q: Where are the next few bike tours going?
A: The majestic Dolomites, bike across Italy, and even Chile and Argentina. Our Web site announces a tour to Mount Everest, but that was just an April Fool’s Day joke.