Kansai Scene: Why did you start Cycle Osaka?
Sam Crofts: I had been riding around Osaka and loving it for years. Whenever I had friends from out of town, I would borrow bikes from my local friends and do a DIY tour. Then one day I was chatting to a guy who was raving about a bike tour he had done in another city and the penny dropped. I googled Osaka bike tours and when I found that there wasn’t much out there, I just decided to give it a go.
KS: Is Osaka a good city to discover by bicycle?
SC: It is the most amazing place to discover on two wheels. It’s too big to cover by foot (and who wants sore feet?), and if you take the train you miss so much of the real city in between the major sights. Add to that the fact that cycling is a green and healthy method of transport, Osaka is pretty flat and people are generally considerate, and you have a top city for riding.
KS: Do you provide mama-chari style bikes or something sleeker?
SC: We decided to go for six-speed cross bikes, which are somewhere between road bikes and mountain bikes. The gears are nice and they look cool in tourist pictures. Many of our guests say they like the bikes with orange tyres, though I am not sure why?!
KS: Who are your typical customers?
SC: We don’t really have a typical customer. They have included professionals in town for conferences, couples on holiday, airline pilots, students on gap years, and English teachers from across Japan.
KS: What have been the main obstacles to getting the business launched?
SC: Really just fitting in all the tours and other associated things (arranging bookings, bike maintenance, website stuff) with my own schedule. I have been lucky to have two top guys helping me with the tours and a very patient wife helping me with Japanese business law. Thankfully, I think we’re all getting the hang of things now. KS: How did you finance the operation? SC: A credit card and crossed fingers…
KS: Cycle Osaka is currently number one on TripAdvisor’s ‘things to do in Osaka’ list. Was that by design?
SC: Not really. I just wanted to design a really cool day out for people and show them that there’s more to Japan than Tokyo and Kyoto, and there’s more to Osaka than a castle and USJ. I was always aware of the power of TripAdvisor and I knew that climbing the rankings would be an important way to both measure how we are doing, and also attract new customers, but I didn’t think we would do so well so quickly.
KS: What kind of marketing or promotion are you doing?
SC: We have flyers in local hostels, a couple of bars and cafes in town, but our presence is mostly online. We have a good TripAdvisor profile, a decent Google ranking, a clean website and a few likes on Facebook.
KS: How long is a typical tour and how do they work?
SC: We basically have a two tours: a 3-hour and 6-hour course, both limited to 6 people to maintain a friendly, non-touristy atmosphere. We meet in the morning, have a quick orientation about the bikes and how cycling in Osaka may be different from elsewhere in the world. Then we just head out. The route is really great and takes advantage of all sorts of cycle-friendly paths and pretty photo opportunities. We stop for drinks, snacks, pictures, and sometimes just for a sit-down, it all depends on the group.
KS: Where do you see Cycle Osaka one year from now?
SC: I would love our tours to entice people into spending a day in Osaka when they otherwise wouldn’t have done. The numbers of foreign tourists visiting Osaka is tiny compared to Kyoto or Tokyo, so if we could redress the balance even by a fraction it would be a great result…