Behind the scenes of 2022 with the founders
So how has living the dream been?! We catch up with Aurelien, Olivier and Jean-Baptiste to find out how their first year of GravelUp has been and how far they’ve come since that ride in Shanghai where they first met, all those years ago.
Has sharing their passions of travel and cycling with others been all they hoped it would be??
Whats it like working with your mates?
AUREL - In our previous jobs we didn’t always get to choose who we worked with, in fact it was something that was mostly imposed on us. For me people are most important thing in whatever project you undertake, be it personally or professionally. That and the relationships that develop. This was one of the driving factors for us in launching GravelUp. Olivier and JB had already started planning their bike and travel related adventure/business when I got involved… of course I was psyched on the idea of the project but I was even more psyched at working with them, knowing we’d make a great team!
You often hear that you shouldn’t mix friends and business, but I totally disagree! However I think it’s important that there’s a structure in place to protect everyone, and that’s what we did. We made sure we each had our place and role(s), formalised a few rules that we were all happy with and put in place some tools for dealing with the inevitable differing of opinions.
For example, we make a point of having a meeting together each week where we cover how we’re feeling about work and each other. It’s crucial for us as a team and therefore our project.
How does your first year measure up against what you hoped it would be?
AUREL - With smaller groups and less trips than anticipated in 2022, we could test and tweak almost all the aspects of our trips, so we can get it just right for 2023. So we tested different formats and length of trips, different destinations from just our initial three, got to know our local partners and to better understand our varied customer base… basically every single part of the GravelUp experience.
Most importantly the big thing we have taken from our first year is our almost 100% satisfaction rate, with no major mechanicals or injuries and really happy partners in every destination. And the enormous pleasure from the whole team in putting each trip together. Which means we are ready for 2023 and can’t wait!
Whats the hardest thing to manage for the expeditions and is there anything you hadn’t anticipated? 🤔
OLIV - The pleasure and satisfaction in seeing clients after their first gravel ride is incredible, when they discover the love of gravel and their progress. We really didn’t expect that.
But seriously we knew just how awesome riding as part of a group and journey-ing by bike across mountains could be, but we totally underestimated the power of the human aspect of our trips. No matter whether clients came on their own or with people they knew already, as each adventure unfolded the connections that developed between everyone were deep and profound. We felt a certain stress at the beginning of each trip to make sure the expedition met the expectations of our clients. It was (and is!) so satisfying to mostly exceed those expectations and see the group develop.
How did you choose your destinations?🏔
JB - Right from the beginning our aim was help Europeans (re)discover Europe, and particularly the beautiful mountain ranges that we have on our doorstep.
We’ve aimed for mid mountain (between 500-1500m of altitude) because quite simply these areas are often less developed in terms of tourism. But also because the altitudes involved, the flora and the climate are just right for gravel riding… and this is where you find the best forest tracks that are a dream to ride!
In 2023 we have 7 destinations - 5 in France plus the Scandinavian Alps in Norway and the Sierra Morena in Andalusia. We’re planning to add 2 or 3 destinations each year and have given ourselves a target/max of 15 destinations.
Choosing the right destination and area is so important for us, and we see it as a badge of honour that our clients really discover and get a feel of a place, including the jaw-dropping landscapes and local culture and specialities. So we’ve learnt to work closely with our local partners in each location, and take the advice of our local guides and communities, as well as the PNR (Parcs Naturels Regionaux).
What was the most stressful part of your first year? 🗯
JB - 2022 was our first year of operating having defined, put together and tested out ourselves the actual product of GravelUp in 2021.
It was intense and a little stressful at times as we wanted to prove our concept of the group expeditions/adventures, and Covid was still affecting the travel industry with restrictions at the start of the year. This also affected Atout France, the French agency that all tour operators must be registered with and work alongside. So with lots of delays (and relief!) we finally got our Tour Op licence in March 2022, 3 weeks before our first expedition was due to depart!
In the end we had just over 100 clients across 15 expeditions in 5 different destinations, between April and November. We’re so proud of our 100% satisfaction rate and that almost everyone was ready for another challenge to another destination or a different format next year.
So 2023 is here already with plenty to do and of course some stresses… but we are so ready for the challenge!
Whats the best part of your new job? 👨🏻💻
OLIV - The scouting trips! What a pleasure to head off somewhere new and, starting with a blank page, put together each and every aspect of a trip so that the clients can discover the best of each region. The trails and the gravel, flora and fauna, local specialities, and not forgetting local people we meet… all are important. We really put ourselves in our clients shoes (and on their saddles!) to best imagine and create each trip.
We still sometimes pinch ourselves that travelling and exploring by bike is an integral part of our work…
AUREL - My baby is the numbers, the tech… and some gravel of course 🙂 Numbers first - they reflect the good health of a company and I put everything in place to keep it that way. Then the tech, which is key for you company like ours. We’re a necessarily small team, and so streamlining as many processes as possible is really important; to be efficient and keep our heads above water. And so that we can focus our energies on the important things, like developing the business. It’s a challenge I relish everyday, maintaining a 360 vision. After years of working in big business where the processes were already in place, it’s been trial and error (and learn!) at times as we learn what will work for us.
Best story/memory of the year? 💬
In the Grands Causses we got to a river crossing… There was a ford so I put myself in position just in case a client ended up in the water. Next up was one of our investors, who I saw tip over in slow motion and disappear backwards into the river. I stopped videoing panicking that he was hurt, but he bounced back up totally unscathed and we had one of the funniest videos of the season!
Again in the Grands Causses, we were right in the heart of the Rougier de Camares (a beautiful area). It was a beautiful day, the bright blue sky contrasting perfectly with the deep red earth. We came to a riding stables and one of our guests Clemence, from the Blue Mountains in Australia got very excited. She managed to persuade us all to ride laps of the yard in the sand - the resulting photos of us 5 chasing each other are hilarious!
In Corsica we came across a dead cow (that was fairly well decomposed already!) blocking the track we wanted to take to avoid an 8km long cut on the road. Do we go?? or not?!
In the Grand Causses, two clients who were roommates for the trip got on like a house on fire… They convinced the rest of the group that they were old friends and didn’t let up for ages! Theres something about bikes that creates those links!
In the Morvan, Eric managed 7 crashes in one day, all without consequences. One of them was timed just right for him to disappear into a massive patch of mud, he was covered head to toe!
All the important info you need for getting back out on the Trails.
As everyone heads back to work and school after the summer break, we’ve put all the key info together to help you get back on the bike (if you stopped!): Getting (back) on the bike, choosing the right kit, heading off on a bike trip, gravel events to take part in...
Gravel vs Road, what’s the difference?
It’s not really news anymore that gravel is having it’s moment, with all kinds of bikes now available for all kinds of riding. It’s where MTB meets road riding, for a do-it-all bike that can take on a large variety of terrain, with unrivalled versatility. A gravel bike can take you from your daily commute to a long distance trip, via any trail it can find in between. So is a gravel bike just another bike on the market??