Your safety and enjoyment are more important than the false economy of getting a bad or unsafe trip cheaply. A good trip is the product of many different factors. America Tours SRL and GRAVITY ASSISTED MOUNTAIN BIKING have developed the following guide to help you to choose the right mountain biking tour operator. Print the guide out and ask the following questions of any tour operator... We know that GRAVITY ASSISTED MOUNTAIN BIKING is the only mountain biking operator in Bolivia that guarantees to meet these important safety standards!
What brands of front suspension do you use? Internationally recognised brands (Rock-Shox, Marzochi, Manitou, RST) are reliable and safe brands which meet International safety standards
What kinds and brands of brakes do you use? Shimano and Avid V-brakes are great, Hayes disc brakes are the best.
How old are the bicycles you use? More than a couple of years and they are probably getting tired.
How often do you do maintenance on the bikes? Bicycles should be maintained after every ride.
Does at least one of the guides speak fluent English? If you don’t understand Spanish, a non-Engilsh speaking guide cannot provide instructions or communicate with you in case of emergency. Just as importantly, a guide who speaks English but sits in the support vehicle all day cannot provide any coaching during the ride so is really not terribly useful.
Are the guides experienced cyclists? Without years of experience as riders and racers they are unlikely to be able to provide good instruction on safe riding techniques to beginners, or keep up with good riders.
Will one guide always be at the front and one at the back of the group? These guides provide safety, support and supervision for the group.
Is at least one of the guides an experienced and qualified mechanic? Without a good mechanic it will be impossible to fix problems during the ride, and it will be more likely that you will continue with an unsafe bike or have to finish the trip in the bus.
How many years have they been doing mountain bike tours?
How many clients have they had on mountain bike tours?
With experience comes improvements in systems, problem solving, and knowledge. New companies should obviously be given a chance, but only if they have appropriate systems in place.
- have a support vehicle close behind the group at all times
- have radios between the guides and support vehicle
- have at least one spare bicycle
- have tool kits and spare parts, in particular puncture repair equipment
- have a first aid kit with each guide
- have a more extensive first aid kit in the support vehicle
5. Safety Record
What are the worst accidents your company has had?
What have you done to improve things since these accidents?Good operators will assess and learn from accidents.
Can you show me positive things that have been written about you in international and local magazines, books and newspapers? This could provide independent support to their claims of being good.
What is the word on the backpacker trail about this tour operator? Ask travelers who have been with the operator as to what their experiences were.
Word of Mouth is the most up-to-date form of confirmation of how good or bad an operator is. The experiences of people who have been on trips are direct confirmation of whether what the operator says they do actually happens, and whether it translates into a good or bad trip. If you can’t find anyone who has been with that company have a look on the Thorn Tree discussion pages on www.lonelyplanet.com search for “Bolivia Bike” and see what people have to say about their experiences.
Your safety and enjoyment are dependent on choosing a good tour operator.
For your own peace of mind, get a receipt from the tour operator you go with that details all the things that they have promised will be included in the tour. This way, if they mislead you, you could ask for some money back… which may encourage them not to mislead other travelers.
To help other travelers, tell people you meet about your good or bad experiences with an operator. To help operators improve themselves give them honest feed-back about their trip and the way they ran it.
This guide has been prepared by America Tours SRL, the home of Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking: Setting the standard -- Accept No Shabby Imitations. For more information check out www.america-ecotours.com and www.gravitybolivia.com or phone us on 591-2-2-313849.
"... there are now a number of operations offering guided mountain biking tours in Bolivia. These are concentrated out of La Paz due to its proximity to the Andean mountain ranges just before they drop down into the jungle. With this natural geopgraphic advantage, companies are able to offer downhilll mountain bike rides involving as much as 65 km of almost continuous downhill riding, and 1-day altitude losses of over 4-km vertical.
Currently there are few agencies renting good quality, safe mountain bikes. Furthermore, the wealth of good downhill rides has encouraged a number of companies to opt for the "quick buck" approach with their operations, using cheap, inappropriate, and potentially dangerous bicycles, inexperienced guides, insufficient guide-to-client ratios, and little or no instruction and advice during the ride.
This would be less of a problem if these companies were running tours around the Bolivian Altiplano, or countryside near La Paz. Instead, these companies are offering tours down the current travelers' favorite, the "World's Most Dangerous Road" -- 64km of downhill riding, 3,600m of vertical descent, on a narrow (as little as 3.5-m wide), 2-way, relatively busy, mud and gravel road. The potential for disaster on this road is high if: a bicycle failure(as has been the case for several travelers on cheap bikes), or a client not being advised which side of the road to be on (as has been the with several groups of riders), or a client going "missing" for a few hours due to insufficient supervision (again, a real incident), or a client crashing without rapid attention from a guide (as with one group where the guide was over an hour behind the client). After all, the drop off the side is over 600m in places, and there is traffic on the road throughout the ride!
Yet when run correctly the risks are manageable, and arguably cycling the road is safer than travelling it by bus! But this requires good quality (USA-made) bicycles, experienced guides (who can and do communicate instructions, advice and coaching before and during the ride), and good supervision (a guide in front and a guide behind when there are more than 7 people in a group). Outside of the World's Most Dangerous Road ride to Coroico, the area around La Paz presents opportunity for a huge variety of rides; 1-day dirt road rides suitable for all levels of riders (for example: Zongo Valley, Sorata, Chacaltaya to La Paz), through to extremely technical 1-day rides in remote areas, through to multi-day rides exploring a huge variety of terrain for up to two weeks. All of these rides can be organised to take customers from high Andean passes down through mountain grasslands, past grazing llamas and alpacas, alongside various types of cloud forest, and into the Amazon Jungle. The rides are characterized by incredible scenic and ecological variety, a thrilling challenge, and a whole lot of fun.
Choosing the Right Operator
Ensuring that the cycle tour is fun and safe is often difficult for travellers without specific cycling knowledge. However as a general rule, if a company is opting to run tours on cheap Chinese or Chilean made bicycles, then they are also unlikely to be bothering to use experienced and knowledgeable guides. Good giveaways are: Front and/or rear suspension make by JST, Block-shocks, or, even more revealling, without a brand-name on them, or bikes with no front suspension at all. Reliable and safe suspension forks are made by: Rock-shoxs, RST, Manitou, and Marzocchi ... note that the other companies are trying to imitate these brand names, but these cheap imitation forks are designed for children riding around cities; they are not designed for serious riding down serious roads or trails. Failures of these kinds of forks are common, and potentially disastrous!
Chinese- and Chilean-made bicycle brands such as Santosa, or Bianchi, are generally of lower quality, and again designed for children riding around cities, not serious riding. Come companies try and hide the fact that they are using these cheap, potentially dangerous bikes by painting over the brand name, or replacing it with another name that sounds better (as a hint, Shimano is not the name of a bicycle brand -- it is the name of a brand of bicycle parts!). Reliable brands currently available in Bolivia include Trek, Cannondale, Kona, Raleigh and Specialized. If you aren't being offered one of these brands be warned that the quality standards on construction and parts selection are likely to be questionable at best. Cheap, low-end parts will often also confirm whether a bike is of poor quality, or if the bike was once of good quality, short-cuts have been used in maintaining it. Shimano Alivio and Acera-X level derailleurs (the mechanism that moves the chain from gear to gear on the cogs) are low level, cheap components that do not cope well under harsh conditions. More reliable models are Shimano STX-RC, Deore, LX or XT.
Remember also, that if you don't speak Spanish, and your guide doesn't speak your language, it is unlikely he or she will be able to communicate important information such as braking and cornering techniques, which side of the road to be on, coaching adivice, or, even more importantly information in an emergency.
IN "Safety Standards":