Established by David Lloyd and Ashley Carruthers, Velo Vietnam is the country’s first operator dedicated to road cycling tours. Together they’ve combined a shared passion for cycling with their different professional backgrounds to develop a unique and engaging product. Joshua Zukas investigates the innovators.
Competitive road cyclists David and Ashley met on a ride through the mountainous province of Ha Giang. Their mutual love for cycling and Vietnam was immediately clear, as they traded stories about cycling through different parts of the country, from the central highlands to the northern mountains. Between them they’d cycled thousands of kilometers across Vietnam and cultivated an unrivalled knowledge of the best routes that the country had to offer.
Their backgrounds complement each other. Ashley, an anthropologist from Australia, has been coming to Vietnam since the early 1990s, intrigued by the country’s vibrant ethnic makeup. David, a travel writer and photographer from the UK, has been living and working in Vietnam since 2011 and is currently director of sport at Topas Travel. Setting up Velo Vietnam, a company that focuses exclusively on road cycling tours, was the logical next step.
“David and I were probably the first to realize that Vietnam now has the road infrastructure to enable some truly great, European-style cycle touring,” explains Ashley. “This is a result of the Vietnamese government development priority of providing power and roads to remote upland populations.”
Vietnam’s mountainous geography lends itself to cycle touring, while high quality roads in remote provinces often come as a surprise to tour participants. “We’ve had riders come over from Hong Kong, Australia and the UK and say they wished the roads at home were as good,” asserts David.
Infrastructure has outpaced tourism in many of Vietnam’s most scenic provinces.
“Here in Vietnam we have monster climbs to rival the European greats,” opines David. “But people who ride with us will be one of the few to have enjoyed them. On the big alpine climbs in Europe you’ll just be one of thousands of riders to have reached the top.”
This sense of adventure ties in with the cultural discovery people get with a Velo Vietnam tour of the country. As David has authored numerous guidebooks on Vietnam and Ashley is a cultural anthropologist with knowledge of Vietnam’s ethnic groups, Velo Vietnam is uniquely positioned, not only within the bike tourism market, but in Vietnam’s wider tourism segment.
Velo Vietnam is uniquely positioned, not only within the bike tourism market, but in Vietnam’s wider tourism segment.
(Photo credit: Velo Vietnam)
In order to set up a legitimate business with a license to work in Vietnam, the pair partnered with Topas Travel, a Danish travel company that has been working in Vietnam for over 20 years. David had been working with Topas on various projects for many years, so the relationship was already established – without this link, setting up and operating legally in Vietnam would have been considerably more complicated.
Partnering with Topas Travel has allowed David and Ashley to bypass some of the arduous and time-consuming bureaucracy involved in establishing an independent business. Instead they are able to focus on the products. And with a seemingly endless network of roads to choose from and various groups wanting different experiences, it is important that the products offered by Velo Vietnam can remain adaptable.
“All our tours in the last year have been bespoke,” says David. “If people want seven hard days of riding with bags of climbing, we can dish that up. However, if people want to mix in some days on the coast and have some less demanding days in the saddle and a bit more beach time, we can cater to that.”
Providing personalized and quality tours is also a vital component of Velo Vietnam’s success, not so much in terms of return customers but rather referred customers.
“Word of mouth cannot be underestimated in the cycling community,” explains David. “All around Southeast Asia there is quite a tight network and we’ve found our bookings have come directly through people talking about us. Facebook is also very useful for spreading the Velo Vietnam word, and it helps that we provide those who come on our tours with pro level photos to share after their tour.
As with the suitability of Vietnam’s roads for cycle tourism, the relative ease of figuring out logistics may also come as a surprise. For example, although Velo Vietnam can arrange bike hire, most customers bring their bikes from home – and getting them to Vietnam isn’t particularly difficult or expensive.
“Compared to Europe and the US, we are in a very bike-friendly airline culture,” explains Ashley, who goes on to say that Vietnam Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Vietjet Air and Nok Air are all extremely affordable when it comes to transporting bicycles.
“Here in Vietnam we have monster climbs to rival the European greats.”
Once on the road, tour logistics are also manageable. David explains, “We have the spare parts in a van [that follows the cyclists] and we can fix the bikes ourselves if people need help. In case of injury, we have a first aid kit with us and we know where the closest clinics and hospitals are. If the injuries are serious, we can take them straight back to Hanoi or Danang.”
This content is also available in: Vietnamese