Leigh Burdett set her tires in motion and built a sustainable tourism business with her bike tours.
By Wendy Bautista
While her company’s name often gets jumbled, Leigh Burdett’s vision for her e2ridebiketours (www.e2ride.com) doesn’t. “When I first came up with the name and logo, I wanted something recognizable that if and when e2ride bike tours (red “e” to ride bike tours) becomes something either nationwide or worldwide that when you saw the red e, you would know that that’s my bike tour and you could expect the same type of service and experience,” says Burdett.
“I wanted a symbol that was clean, big and bold, and could stand on its own, and I felt the red e eventually could. Right now I find that most people call me e2ride bike tours or ezride bike tours, and I just gently correct them,” she continues. The red e logo and company name represent how she runs her bike tours—when you show up, she has everything set and you are “ready to ride.”
“Often when we are on a tour, riders will be looking at the license plate signs on the bikes with the logo and all of a sudden I hear, ‘Oh, I get it now!” and I laugh knowing exactly what they are talking about. But once people get it, they never forget it!”
For Burdett, it took losing her job in corporate America as a general sales manager to find her true calling. She found herself watching Oprah one afternoon when the book, “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle was being touted. Burdett says they were discussing how the book basically teaches you to lose your ego and fear and follow your passion, and if everybody in life followed what they were good at, the world would operate more smoothly, people would be happier, and it would be a better earth— therefore a new earth.
The words touched home for Burdett, who then read the book, and she began to wonder what she would want to do if she didn’t have any fear. “I started to look at the things I enjoy versus what I had at my old job because I could have gone to another company and gotten a job doing what I was doing,” says Burdett, “But my old office had no windows and I was practically in front of a computer all day.”
While she continued her analysis, she would hop on her bike and ride through her neighborhood, and it was then she realized she wanted to do something outdoors. “Even as a child I would be on a bike or was heading outside to do something; I was never an inside person,” she says.
On the right path
Still forming her idea, she continued to think of what else she liked to do. As a younger adult, she gave tours at the Anheuser Bush Brewery and remembered how much she loved meeting people from all over the world, hearing their stories, communicating with them, and sharing her stories. That’s when she asked herself, “What can I do that is outdoors and I can talk to people?”
“I had friends go on bike tours in France and on wine tours, and they all said what a great time they had,” says Burdett. “And I thought, ‘My goodness. There are places in our own community that are beautiful enough to create similar bike tours!’”
While she was contemplating the administrative element of creating week-long bike tours, the right idea came to her—why not daily bike tours?
Once she had her epiphany, she set her wheels in motion. She began gathering information,researching, and learning the history of the area and of each location she was considering, with much of the information coming from the communities’ preservation societies.
She then did test runs with friends and watched their reactions to the information she was putting out. “If it made them light up, I did more research on it; if they seemed uninterested, I took it off,” says Burdett. She wanted it to be like bike riding with a friend who just happens to know the history of the neighborhood. She didn’t want to bore people with a myriad of dates and history that will be “snoozey.”
“I then basically took that information and put it to a route that had not only safety as a factor, but a ‘fun feel’ factor as well.” During all of this planning, she realized she wanted to provide an opportunity for people to “step off the gerbil wheel of life,” as she calls it, and be able to throw on whatever is comfortable and show up, which meant supplying gear for every rider and getting it to the locations without having a storefront at each location.
Ready, set, ride
What she has is a fleet of 20, easy-to-ride Trek 7200 hybrid bicycles that can be adjusted for anysize and comfort and a trailer to haul 16 of them—wedged like a puzzle—with room for the other four in her truck, if needed. Each bike is outfitted with a computer to measure mileage and speed, a basket for personal belongings, and a red flashing tail light for inclement weather, and each rider is provided a biking helmet, ice cold water in an e2ride bike tour souvenir water bottle, and healthy snacks, along with Burdett’s history knowledge and preservation tips and facts.
“Riders can also bring their own bikes and gear and enjoy a $25 discount off the regular price. I built it that way to offer flexibly to my customers as well as my company,” says Burdett. “I have 20 bikes, but once I’m out of those 20 bikes I can’t take any more riders. By offering the opportunity for people to bring their own bike, I can have tours as large as possible, which I have had up to 82 people.”
e2ride bike tours has five tours to choose from—Riverside/Avondale, San Marco, Springfield, Beaches, and Old Mandarin—with each tour starting at a select location in the community (such as the Riverside Avondale Preservation Society for the Riverside tour). They each run about three hours and are 10 to 12 miles in length, but Burdett says it’s an easy ride that is set to the pace of the slowest rider with plenty of sightseeing stops.
“I’ve taken thousands of riders and nobody has had to stop,” she says. “Some riders are so proud of themselves for doing the distance that they have pictures taken next to the odometer to prove they did it!”
Pedals and preservation
One aspect of e2ride bike tours that came as an added bonus was Burdett, without really knowing it, created a sustainable tourism business. “While I operate in five neighborhoods, my business doesn’t alter the way a neighborhood looks—it works in harmony with the natural habitat. I do not have a physical structure or a business that may look out of place in these neighborhoods,” says Burdett.
Her business also works with a community to support the businesses within that community. For example, when a tour is over, riders can buy their food, visit the shops, and purchase souvenirs at different businesses in that community. “I am bringing people who wouldn’t necessarily be coming to San Marco or Springfield or Riverside into these pocket neighborhoods and helping the communities with their goal of being sustainable communities.
“I look at it as more than a business or more than a bike tour, I see it as a cog in the wheel of preservation and ecology,” says Burdett, who is an ambassador for the St. Johns Riverkeeper and a member of the Riverside Avondale Preservation Society, Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council, Mandarin Museum & Historical Society, and the Beaches Area Museum and Historical Society.
“I basically learn from these societies and then pass the information along on the tours, such as the health of the river and the world’s waterways and what makes a river-friendly yard. I am trying to be a business and a cog in a wheel that educates people in the importance of preservation, going green, being environmentally conscious, and having community engagement—all while having a good life and remembering to get off that gerbil wheel.
“I want people to know that this business is about fun and relaxation, but it is also about preservation and being green,” says Burdett. “Put what you are feeling and learning on the tour today in your life when you go back to your everyday life.”
Burdett knows she, personally, is doing different little habits and she hopes that others are doing different little habits based on what she talks about on the tours. “I don’t think they are going home with every little fact, but I like to think they are going home with say three little things that they remember and those three little things are helping them to be a little greener, a little more into preservation and conservation, and a little more thoughtful with their actions,” says Burdett.
One of the biggest thrills for her is that fact that she’s made neighborhoods the biggest attraction in Jacksonville (as rated #1 on TripAdvisor). “And isn’t that what we really want to get back to? That off-the-gerbil-wheel, happy, and relaxed way of life?” asks Burdett.
“I love it because instead of being in an office without windows, I will either be with a group of people leading a tour or I will be going to other communities to learn their histories and setting set up bike routes. It’s an opportunity for me to be out and about and an opportunity to change the world and make an impact or footprint on the world in my small way.”
Wendy Bautista is the editor of Advantage Small Business Magazine. She can be reached at Wendy@advantagebizmag.com or 904-536-2234.
Owner: Leigh Burdett
In business since: September 2009
Projected growth: “Along with bike tours, I realized so many companies are looking to involve themselves with employee wellness or associate their branding with things that are green and about preservation, conservation, and community engagement, so one thing I am doing is talking to businesses about sponsorship opportunities.
On my tours I have heard many riders say, ‘If my wife saw these houses, she would want to buy a house here’ so another aspect I am looking into is real estate. I will talk to these companies and see if they want to sponsor so people can see the houses in the neighborhoods and communities by bike as part of what they offer as a service.
In some of my research, I discovered that business groups don’t want to book events in Jacksonville because there are not many activities right out the front door. So I have been working with hotels such as the Omni and Hyatt to book group tours. It’s a wonderful thing to have such a flexible business that I can offer this service and make people feel like they can walk right out the door and there’s the bike tour.
And of course, the more sponsorships and business deals I can make means there are more opportunities I have to grow e2ride bike tours—either growing this location or other franchises.
How you can do it
“It may sound a little simplistic, but start by reading ‘A New Earth’ and really get an understanding of putting that ego and fear on a shelf. Then ask yourself, ‘Is what I’m doing providing a service to others or is this just what I like to do?’ Then you have to be in a place where you have a passion for what you do and an enthusiasm that you’re never going to give up. Listen to what customers are saying, as they are offering good advice, and fine tune your business by what they were saying. When people come on the bike tours they say I was born to do this and I feel like I would not have found this without putting my fear and ego on a shelf and following my passion.”