Cycling participation has been growing at quite a rate for the past number of years, and as a result, there are more and more companies, old and new, trying to get a (bigger) piece of the action. Personally, I think it’s over-saturated, but now and then a brand will enter the scene with a new product and a fresh approach.
VÉLO-PORTE got started ’round about a couple of years ago in Adelaide, SA in the service side of the industry, offering a premium bike hire service, and have been growing ever since. I had a quick chat with Keith, the main driving force behind the brand (with partner Alexis), about VÉLO-PORTE, how it fits into the cycling scene, Adelaide, and about cycling in general.
So, What is VÉLO-PORTE?
VÉLO-PORTE provides performance bike and equipment rentals delivered to your door.
Is it just you or are there others involved in making the magic happen?
VÉLO-PORTE is a true family business, even the kids are included in (some) decisions and the odd ideas session we have around the dinner table.
We’re actually looking at rolling out an idea Angus (age 13) came up with before summer, which will be great, if we can get it off the ground.
The closest extension of the VÉLO-PORTE family is Brendon Harslett who has helped us since the very beginning. He was also the first person we told about the idea so he truly has been along since day one.
Brendon has an unwavering addiction to cycling that we are more than happy to support. Without him we would not have been able to deliver on the 80+ rental days we had over Tour (Down Under) week this year.
Cleaning, servicing and delivering large numbers of bikes each day was only achievable with him around.
He also accepts bike parts and pizza as payment which is awesome.
Do you offer anything aside from a premium bike hire experience?
Since launching we have introduced a couple of new products.
As the bike rental season drops off over the winter months it was obvious that we needed something that bridged the off-season.
Our hard case bike boxes have proved very popular over winter when a lot of locals head overseas in search of European roads and summer sun.
Generally, it’s been great to offer a product that is almost exclusively for the Adelaide locals. We’re really conscious of being part of the local scene particularly as most of our target market is elsewhere.
We’ve also added a fleet of Specialized Sirrus flat bar road bikes. These have been rented for a multitude of reasons, from one-day city exploring up to touring around McLaren Vale for 5 days with our rack and pannier upgrade.
What’s your background, in general?
We’re both originally from Scotland. Alexis moved to Adelaide when she was eight with her family. We met in Edinburgh and came out here together in 1998 for one year. That was 17 years ago.
We spent two years living in Sydney but moved back to Adelaide in 2001. One of the biggest reasons that brought us back to Adelaide was the quality of cycling.
When did bicycles enter your life?
I started riding bikes when I was 4. Growing up in a small town in Scotland a bike meant pure freedom. I loved every minute of it.
My unhealthy passion for bikes developed through BMX. The tech and the tricks were the main draw card for me, Mum just recently threw out my beloved Haro Master as it was taking up too much room in the house (30 years on). I’m kicking myself as it was probably a collectors item if i could have rebuilt it.
After BMX I moved into mountain biking. This was where I learned to strip and rebuild a bike at a very early age.
The muddy conditions back home meant you had to look after your bike or it would simply fall apart. Every Sunday my bike was spread out across the garage floor to be cleaned and rebuilt.
I dabbled with road bikes a little in Scotland but seemed to use my Raleigh Criterion 12 mostly on MTB trails. It didn’t last long.
My serious road biking started in Australia about 13 years ago. It was an easy way to get a couple of hours of riding in without having to drive up to the MTB trails. It wasn’t long before it took over from mountain biking as it fitted better with having a young family.
I was the last in our group to wear lycra knicks and still used mountain bike shoes for a few years on my road bike.
The closeness to the Adelaide Hills and the quality of the roads up there are just fantastic. Having ridden all over the world this place is definitely one of the best for variety and ease of access. When taking interstate VÉLO-PORTE clients out for guided rides, it always amazes me how blown away they are by what we have here. It’s great be a part of their riding experience in Adelaide as it makes you more aware of what we have and not take it for granted.
How has your personal experience, in general, informed your vision for VÉLO-PORTE?
VÉLO-PORTE (under a different name) was an idea we had about 5 years ago. After travelling back to Scotland a few times and always coming up against the logistical nightmare of travelling with a bike and also keeping it with you the whole time your away was always problematic.
Most of the time I’d beg or borrow bikes off friends and family to ride when I was home. Although these bikes were greatly appreciated I always wished I had a better one, as good as my bike at home. Or better.
The initial phrase we came up with was ‘Created for cyclists who travel by cyclists who travel.’
Our other passion in life is design so it was important to reflect both in the business. We’re really focusing on the design aspect at the moment with a new website in the making and a bunch of new products including kit and accessories.
Who is your clientele? Are they mostly more serious cyclists using your bikes to train while away from home, or for pleasure and as a means to see more of what Adelaide and surrounding area has to offer?
When we started our biggest target market was the tourism traveller. This was mainly due to the idea being triggered by our personal experience of riding while overseas on holiday.
The business and conference traveller has easily grown into our biggest and most consistent client base over the last twelve months. These clients are generally visiting for shorter periods so they love the convenience of every bike being delivered to, and collected from, their doorstep.
The business client base also holds the biggest opportunity for us to develop our products and services through return clients. Some of these clients are already up to their seventh and eighth return trip where they have used VÉLO-PORTE bikes for training, a bit of escapism from their busy schedule or even organizing meetings with colleagues on our bikes.
Being in Adelaide with the benefit of good hills riding just 25 minutes from the CBD gives the interstate business traveller a huge cycling opportunity which can be achieved in a relatively short space of time, all before heading to the office. They all love this and most of them have heard of Norton Summit so want to check it out.
You have recently added a selection of flat-bar bikes to the line-up – do you think this will change the make-up of your customer base? What motivated you to do this?
We had a few enquiries for different kinds of bikes over the first 18 months of operation. The most common was a good quality all-purpose bike that was comfortable, but not a mountain bike and not a road bike.
We also realized that what we weren’t being asked for by our clients were cheap bikes and that’s where we saw the opportunity and potential to expand.
Adding the Sirrus bikes has offered an alternative product but we are still focusing on high performance and quality. We believe high performance doesn’t always have to mean speed.
We were acutely aware that this was potentially heading off-brand for VÉLO-PORTE so we are treating it like an experiment for a couple of seasons. So far the response has been pretty good and the bikes are great fun. One may even be used as a delivery bike soon if we can source a 2 bike trailer for it.
That’s a great idea! With the rising popularity of gravel riding and the amazing network of gravel roads in the Adelaide Hills, are you considering adding any gravel or CX (Cyclocross) bikes to the lineup, or would you say that what you have should cover that?
The increase in gravel road exploring is something that really interests us and we’ll be looking into it more over the coming months.
At VÉLO-PORTE we set out to provide a hassle free way of riding away from home. Part of this is always about exploring, losing yourself on a bike and discovering new places. The growing polarity of gravel road riding feeds into this perfectly.
We love giving clients a little bit of local knowledge so they get the best out of their limited time. A good quality CX bike and a few secret gravel roads linked together sounds like an awesome way to spend a few hours.
We’d be interested in hearing from anyone out there who thinks this might be a package they’d be interested in.
Moving away from your brand for a minute, how have you found Adelaide as a place to ride in terms of the urban context (infrastructure, speeds, drivers, attitudes, etc), and do you think the current level of cycling infrastructure has had an effect (or if an improvement would have an effect) on the uptake of the flat-bar side of the business?
There’s always room for improvement whenever we talk about infrastructure and road use but I think Adelaide has a pretty solid base that may be under appreciated by a lot of people locally.
Sometimes it takes a visitor to point this out, particularly the ones coming in from larger more congested cities.
The attitudes of drivers here, in the main, are pretty good too. You’ll always get idiots but they tend not to be exclusive to one mode of transport.
Adelaide itself was a huge factor in setting up VÉLO-PORTE. We had to have confidence in our location being safe, easy to navigate and provide a variety of routes and loops that are accessible by bike.
What about the cycling as you head out of town, in the hills, along the coast, etc?
Personally I’m more drawn to the hills. Growing up literally a few meters from the beach I don’t feel the need to head to the coast as much.
The hills for me are an easier place to get to and I enjoy the lack of traffic and trying to find new roads to ride.
Would you consider Adelaide as a serious cycling destination, nationally or even internationally?
Definitely. Adelaide has so much to offer all types of cyclists and is getting better and better all the time.
We continue to have clients from all parts of the world who visit for all types of reasons. The ones who visit for non-cycling specific reasons almost always say they want to come back for longer just to ride here.
We may not have 30km long alpine pass climbs but we do have amazing variety and it’s all on our doorstep. In one ride you can roll along the coast, climb up through the vineyards, weave through old gum forests and sweep along ridges with breathtaking views on both sides. This is all within 75kms too.
Do you think with the geography, scenery, weather, density of towns/services, etc, that South Australia could or should be promoting cycling as more of a tourist draw than it is?
The Tour Down Under has done a huge amount to promote cycling here but we shouldn’t think that’s the only reason to visit SA as a cyclist. Cycling can be enjoyed here all year round and we think there’s more to be done to promote this.
We believe that Autumn is actually the best time to visit and ride in Adelaide. The weather is perfect, with cooler mornings, and the colours in the hills are truly incredible.
There’s a huge opportunity to promote this time of year as the best South Australian cycling season with events, that can be ridden to from the CBD, that showcase Adelaide Hills towns.
What sort of feedback do you get from your clients about riding in Adelaide?
100% Positive. Even when the weather hasn’t been perfect that doesn’t seem to affect their experience of riding here.
It’s always great to hear how friendly local cyclists are to our clients. We get a lot of clients telling us how someone helped them out with directions or let them join their group for a while. This says a lot to us about the cycling culture here and it’s another aspect that confirms just how good we have it here.
Favourite ride in the area?
From Mylor head over to Hahndorf via River Road, Germantown Hill, Old Mt Barker Road then back down the Old Freeway.
This is a ride I take interstate clients on, when they tell me they want to do ‘a bit of climbing’. Most don’t realise how many vertical meters you can stitch together in the Adelaide Hills (note: if you really want to pack in all the best/worst climbs within minutes of the CBD, take a guided tour here).
Any notable stories/clients since starting up?
We have two clients, Will & Brent from Sydney, who booked two bikes for six days for the Tour Down Under in 2014. They loved the bikes and service so much they booked for 2015 before they left Adelaide. When we collected the bikes this year they locked in again for next year.
They totally get it. We think they’re pretty great too.
What has been your favourite part of operating VÉLO-PORTE so far?
Meeting great people from all over the world with a shared passion for cycling. It’s great being able to give them a fantastic bike and some local knowledge so they can get the best cycling experience out of their visit to Adelaide with the minimum of fuss.
What is the next step for VÉLO-PORTE? Anything exciting in the pipeline (that you can tell us…)?
We’re working on a few new initiatives all of which are about building our product and service offers both for the local and visiting cyclist.
VPCC (VÉLO-PORTE Cycling Club) will be our sub brand that will provide a range of cycling kit and accessories with a modern SA reference. Our test kit has just arrived for a few weeks of riding while we finish of the final design work.
We’re also looking at a more structured monthly ride program that will connect with a different café, bakery or coffee shop in the hills each time. It’ll be about getting off the beaten track and promoting great places to visit on the best cycling routes around the hills.
The rest is under wraps for a while yet but we hope to bring something really special to SA under the VÉLO-PORTE banner in the not too distant future.
Anything else you would like to add?
Just to acknowledge the support we’ve had from our wider cycling friends and family here in Adelaide. It sounds cheesy but we couldn’t have done this without the back up of our little peloton.
Thanks Keith – a pleasure as usual.
Now you know what to do if you are headed to Adelaide in the future. Whether you just need to blow the cobwebs out of the legs on a business trip, want to cycle the Barossa or McLaren Vale on a wine tour, check out the Tour Down Under (hot tip: get in early), or do a little of everything, check them out here.
All images courtesy of VÉLO-PORTE or The Sticky Bidon