Bike Tours 101
Welcome to Tours 101! Here you’ll find the ANSWERS to common questions about bike tours (click here to see our 2015 tour offerings!). Whether you’re looking for the adventure, the new friendships, little and big ways to make your life more sustainable, or to polish your public speaking skills, here’s how it all happens...
“We're not cyclists. We're people taking action on bikes. We just got on our bikes and rode... It was never a race, and when someone was hurting, others slowed down or took another sandwich break with them. A few sore muscles and a few tough hills, mixed with lots of singing, laughing and feeling freer than ever before, and before we knew it, biking was like breathing... it just happens.... Trust us."
– 2010 Tour Member
Volunteer tour members are the heart of Otesha (lub dub, lub dub). As a tour member, you experiment with sustainable living in the way that you eat, get from A to B, deal with waste, and use energy. Sustainability is not only about turning off the lights when you leave room, though, it’s about relationships, and that’s where Otesha volunteers shine.
Like ripples from a stone in water, you start by organizing yourselves as a joyful community of bike nomads that considers each others’ needs; you relax in the hospitality of generous hosts; you bring your enthusiasm to students and teachers tackling questions of environmental impact and “living green”; you consider the land under your feet as you pitch in to help with weeding market gardens, and the people who belong to that land.
We’re looking for passion and commitment, a willingness to give it your all. We seek people with gifts of all kinds - creativity, positivity, endless energy, great listening skills, humour, critical thinking, diplomacy, logistics, or general helpfulness. Meet some of the fine folks who have volunteered before you by checking out the bios from past tours; mouse over "Bike Tours" in the green menu (above) on the website, then mouse over "Past Tours", and select what ever year you fancy! Here's the bio's from 2013's West Coast Tour.
Volunteers come from all corners of the world with varying experience. You don’t need to be an experienced cyclist, a veteran actor or a backwoods survivalist to thrive on an Otesha tour. You don’t need to be a capital “A” activist or an up-and-coming motivational speaker. Some people come on tour as omnivores and leave eating vegan. Others start out vegetarian and finish loving local meat. One past cycling tour member hadn't been on a bike for 15 years before she joined an Otesha tour. With some serious determination you can do anything.
As we work in schools and often stay in community centres and people’s homes, all volunteer tour members abide by the terms of our Program Rules and Guidelines Agreement.
We’ll let past tour members tell you about it. Sample the Notes from the Road blog for more about the daily experience of living a bike-y life on tour.
Mobile . . .
After our CanBike-certified staff train you in safe riding, the days start off at 15-30km, gradually building up distance, interspersed with rest days, performances and meet ups with local sustainability groups, until you have developed the ability to do a 80-90km day near the end of two months. Shorter tours cover shorter distances and the riding days are not as long. We use our bikes to get from where we are going and to model a form of human-powered transportation that many youth think is impractical until they see you do it! A two month tour covers up to 1,500km, visits 22 communities and performs to over 4,000 students. Take that, Tour de France!
Sustainable . . .
You will visit urban and rural communities, people who have lived on the land for millennia and people who just moved in. . . each has something to offer. Every community has its own take on the buzzword “sustainable” and Otesha teams push the conversation ahead. With the support of your co-volunteers, challenge yourself to experiment with reducing waste, changing your diet, or revisiting your relationship to the people who sewed your T-shirt and grew your food.
Community . . .
“This is a community experience like no other. We got to know each other in fast forward and it brought out the best in everyone. On a deep level, we are now a family.”
– 2012 Tour Member
An Otesha tour creates families. Living through rainstorms and rainbows, your bonds built on bikes last forever. At the beginning of tour, you'll be offerred some tools to use for group facilitation and conflict resolution, and you'll get to roll it out into action during tour.
Whether you are laying your sleeping bag on a church basement floor, curling up in your tent by the river, enjoying a host’s couch or sleeping in a school classroom, you will encounter a level of kindness and hospitality like no other – Otesha hosts are amazing! Sometimes they even feed us. . .
There is a lot to do (grocery shopping, cooking, bike maintenance, hanging out with hosts) so tour members are busy and days can be long. Nine day tours typically include 3 unstructured mornings, afternoons or evenings for everyone to recharge, do laundry, go for a swim or explore the nearest town. Otesha's longer performing and cycling tours take a day off every week, as well as bits of free time between bookings.
“How can we eat sustainably?” is one of the most powerful questions asked on Otesha tours. We often have strong feelings about what we eat and why. All this is amplified when your body is propelling you through kilometers of field, forest and mountain every day – it wants food, now!
In order to avoid the perils of feeling “hangry” (hungry + angry!) at the end of the day, you will practice a system of rotating cooking squads. A squad prepares the group’s meals for 1-2 days, which includes gathering groceries and food donations, cooking it up and packing lunches for the road. Nine day tours are accompanied by a volunteer Food Coordinator who brings culinary expertise and organization to your cooking squads. Kitchen facilities range from full indoor kitchens to camp stoves supplied by Otesha.
As a starting point, tours begin with a vegan menu, with occasional animal protein side dishes. However, what your team eats and how you “vote with your dollar” is ultimately the decision of your group. Your challenge will be to harmonize your team’s dietary needs, food politics and budget in a way that gets you thinking about food production systems and makes you happy. New recipes, new ways of eating and friendships forged in the kitchen are the results!
Otesha emphasizes an experiential, do-it-yourself approach which requires a high level of involvement from tour members. Training is a combination of input from staff and input from you.
All volunteer tour members have the opportunity to develop your networking skills as you fundraise the project contribution. A comprehensive fundraising guide, an online giving page for your supporters and access to staff support get you started. For many, getting over the fear of fundraising is one of the most valuable accomplishments of the tour.
“My body has amazed me – if I ask it, it will do anything, even giant hills and heavy trailers!”
– 2012 Tour Member
An Otesha tour is a high-energy adventure and a physical challenge. Physical training before the tour is crucial. You don’t have to be a marathon cyclist to enjoy your tour experience, but you will need to condition your body ahead of time to avoid injury and exhaustion. We can offer a few tips.
You may be invited to take on specific responsibilities as a Tour Liaison several months before tour. Tour Liaisons organize the team’s finances and coordinate your work with the media. Tour Liaisons participate in a training two days before the tour begins.
CanBike-certified staff train all tour members in cycling safety, group riding skills and basic bike maintenance. You will become familiar with our leading edge Safety and Risk Management Plan and apply it to common navigation and traffic situations. With each others’ encouragement and feedback, you build the confidence to safely live on your bike for days at a time!
Team-building activities and training in facilitation prepare you to run meetings, deal with interpersonal conflicts constructively, and make decisions using consensus, delegation or consultation tools.
Nine day tours focus on a single issue (e.g., local food systems) and training is specific (e.g., seed saving, container gardening, how to cook with local ingredients).
Longer tours with a public engagement component, such as performing a theatre piece and presenting a workshop, include training on facilitating interactive learning and managing a group of students in a school setting, as well as gaining knowledge about the topic of the play or workshop.
“I have learned how to create community, how to facilitate discussions and workshops, how to speak in front of people and I've learned many other hard skills that I can share.”
- 2013 Tour Member
As a volunteer you will gain plenty of experience in working with the media, public speaking and storytelling. Theatre for social change has been at the heart of many Otesha tours, and our performances involve the audience and open dialogue on issues that matter (e.g., Where do our cellphones come from? How can indigenous and non-indigenous people share this land justly? Who grew the ingredients in my lunch?). Learn how to make theatre a safe space for discussions people care about.
"Engagement through theatre opens doors to individuals' willingness and comfort levels, enabling them to participate more fully in sharing knowledge and understanding their own abilities".
- 2013 Tour member
Otesha's nine day tour offers many opportunities to connect with people in a region. Relationships that begin as a volunteer tour member often extend long afterwards as you meet local farmers, foodies and gastro-activists (yes, we just made that up).
Every two month Performing and Cycling Tour interacts with more than 4,000 audience members, mostly students from elementary to high school. A team performs an average of three to five times a week.
"You raised some good points in a school that doesn’t think much about the environment."
-High School Student
"You used music and drama to connect little things people can do with our school’s initiatives, without being preachy."
Otesha’s plays offer a humorous take on big issues, provoking the audience to examine their own role in the worlds’ ecological and social systems. Rather than overwhelm with the scope of global problems, our interactive theatre pieces and small group workshops bring it down to earth – volunteer tour members model examples of daily actions that make a difference and invite students to come up with actions that fit their own lives. We demonstrate that large changes are rooted in daily choices made by everyday people like you and me.
"Otesha is a great group of young adults who deliver a fresh and inspiring message in a fun and engaging way. They are a great start to any school year. Their play is the perfect set up to return to your classroom and ask your students 'OK everyone, in terms of sustainability, what are we going to commit to this year?'"
– High School Teacher
“Cycling Through Change” is a 40 minute play that showcases three characters with different approaches to changing the world. The performance combines theatre and improv in a high-energy show that involves audience members in brainstorming solutions to local environmental challenges.
Conversation among students at Otesha’s workshop on biodiversity, monocropping and labour issues:
Student 1 - It really gave me knowledge about the world that I had no clue about. That many people are suffering, and that there is something to do to make a difference. At the end of the day, I think I would contribute to help and this presentation was a great way to give insight to people who have no clue.
Student 2 - The only way to accommodate this issue is for Westerners to give up their life styles. This is not likely to happen so therefore the workers will continue to work in poor conditions and our society and ecosystem will become more a disaster.
Student 3- The Otesha project aims to fix that: bring fair wages, working conditions and form unions for those that have the short end of the stick in the production chain.
All three students make valid points, and Otesha workshops are designed to create critical dialogue within our teams and with our hosts and audiences. Workshops are tour-specific – exploring the role of corn in our food system and the importance of biodiversity, digging into the life cycle of a banana as it makes its way from seed to mouth and the uses of fair trade, or expanding our awareness of water as a right and a commodity with solution-based discussion a focal point. Staff will mentor volunteers in facilitating the workshops at the very beginning of tour during Training Week.
Each Otesha tour is a unique and amazing experience. No two teams of volunteers are the same. We consider skills, experience and balance when building a team. We ask that people be open to the opportunity to participate in the team that they are offered a position within. The Application Form asks you to indicate which tours you would be willing to join. You'll need to consider:
- Location: First and foremost, we encourage you to join a team in your region to reduce carbon emissions that are produced by traveling to and from the program.
- Tour Type:
- Performing and Cycling Tours focus on bringing awareness-raising events to schools and community groups. You will learn to perform a play and deliver workshops to students, as well as meet local groups working for sustainability and help out on farms that host your team.
- The Pedal to Plate Tour is a weekend to weekend romp around a local food system. You’ll meet food producers big and small, get your hands dirty on a variety of farms, and learn to cook mouth-watering meals using local ingredients.
- Participant Age:
- Performing and Cycling Tours are “by youth for youth” programs - this means that all participants are between the ages of 18 and 30ish and will work on youth education.
- The Pedal to Plate Tour is an all-ages tour. Volunteers have ranged from 20 to 67 years old on past trips. If you are not yet 18, but can ride with a guardian who is of age, get in touch with us to discuss your participation.
- Time commitment:
- Performing and Cycling Tours range from one to two months and cover 1,000-1,500km. You will perform to over 4,000 students and visit approximately 22 communities.
- The Pedal to Plate Tour fits into nine packed days of food-tastic fun. Begin on a Saturday and end the next Sunday afternoon, just in time to take a bag of fresh tomatoes home for the next week.
- Physical challenge: Some tours cycle through mountains, while others follow the shores of oceans and less rugged terrain. We travel largely without support vehicles, so pre-tour training is critical to avoid injuries that take you off the road. Tour members range from experienced long-distance cyclists to people who haven’t ridden a bike since they were a kid! Our experience shows that proper training will allow you to tackle any of our routes.
We'd like to draw your attention to the photo of millions of sprouts. That's a cheesy, but accurate, way of saying that fundraising is about planting seeds and making new relationships.
Our volunteer tour members gain the opportunity to “walk the talk” and experiment with ways of living sustainably, get valuable training and make contacts that will last a lifetime. Student audiences and workshop participants benefit from meeting real people who model sustainable decision making. Host farms expand their customer base, get their veggies weeded and their barns shoveled. Citizens across Canada encounter Otesha’s positive messaging in the morning paper, on their Twitter feed and the local radio station.
All of this is possible through the generosity of ordinary people. A network of dedicated donors give every year to sustain the organization. Many organizations and businesses contribute food and in-kind donations. Hosts open their doors and pantries. Volunteer tour members offer their time and rally a group of supporters to make Otesha’s wheels go round.
Each tour member is responsible for raising a project contribution to cover tour expenses such as food, liability insurance, tour planning and support, and team equipment. It’s an integral part of Otesha’s economic self-sufficiency (rather than operating primarily on subsidies provided by foundations and government agencies). By raising funds to participate in a program, you are not only covering the costs of your experience, but are helping to ensure that the organization keeps riding on into the future. You can see an estimation of how funds are used to organize a tour in our fundraising guide, as well as check out the Otesha finances in our Annual Reports. When it comes to Cycling and Performing Tours, the greatest expense is the staff time required to book the itinerary and train the volunteer team. On the road costs are minimal thanks to the generosity of hosts and food donors.
Your ability to fundraise depends on the time you have available, a pannier of various strategies and a solid “ask," and access to friends, family, neighbours, and community organizations who can contribute. In addition to the fundraising guide, we offer you phone and e-mail support. Fundraising is one of the great skill-building and empowering aspects of the tour experience. Despite all this, fundraising can be challenging, which is why Otesha offers bursaries to tour members in financial need.
If you commit to a tour and then must change plans due to family obligations, personal health or other emergency before the tour begins, Otesha holds your fundraising contribution for you for one year, until the next tour season. If you are unable to complete your trip once it has started, we are unable to hold your funds for the next season – the funds have already been used to set up and support the tour. All fundraising is by donation, which cannot be refunded.
The project contribution includes food, accommodation, training, team equipment, and emergency funds. It does not include medical insurance, travel to and from the tour, your bike and personal gear. If you think costs may be an obstacle to volunteering, consider these scenarios:
Kat’s never ridden a bike or gone camping before. She socked away some money and bought a bike ($300), panniers ($100), sleeping bag and pad ($200), and tent ($300). She brought along another $400 for laundry and spending money to buy her favorite organic, fair-trade chocolate bars to share on tour. Bus transportation to and from the tour cost her another $350. Total cost: $1,650.
Jason, on the other hand, is a thrift-machine! He used his own bike and borrowed his roommate’s panniers and his dad’s tent (which he’ll be sharing with another team member). He found used gear on Craigslist and at a local thrift shop. His gear bill totaled just $100. He decided to keep things simple on tour, hand washed his clothes, and brought along $200 to cover bike repairs and an occasional ice cream on his days off. He arranged a rideshare with a friend out to the tour, put in $50 for gas, and decided to continue biking after the tour to visit his brother. Total cost: $350.
Otesha staff are CanBike certified, and we adhere to provincial laws governing traffic. That means cyclists belong on the road and follow the rules of the road.
Wherever possible, tours are booked on routes that have lower traffic flow, wide paved shoulders and reduced speed limits. When planning a travel day, we take into account the distance, weather, time for bike repairs, meals and rest stops.
Using our Safety and Risk Management Plan, you will be trained in group riding skills, bike maintenance and how to handle common traffic scenarios. Each volunteer tour member brings their personal safety gear (mandatory), including reflective wear, helmet and mirror. Otesha provides emergency cell phones, and well-stocked bike repair and first aid kits. Biking with a personal listening device is prohibited.
Every day starts with an ABCD Quick Check of your bike and gear. You will always have a “bike buddy” for the day, so that everyone has support during every ride. Each rider carries enough water and food to stay energized and ready for the delays caused by weather, traffic, construction or getting lost on the way to a host destination.
Below is the timeline for a typical Performing and Cycling Tour. The Pedal to Plate Tour is similar, with the exception of the play and workshop preparation, and Tour Liaison training.
- Read website. Smile, cry, laugh. Be inspired.
- Apply to the bike tour program
- Apply to the bursary program
- Check out The Otesha Book: From Junk to Funk (we’ll send it to you if you are accepted on tour or you can buy yourself one, either way!)
- Phone interview
Within 10 days of acceptance
- Submit $250 deposit
- Get paired up with an O-lumni buddy who can answer your questions
- Start fundraising! See, it’s fun :)
- Submit paperwork – police check (for two-month tours), waivers, etc.
- Continue fundraising
- Gather your bike and gear (don’t leave this to the last minute or you’ll spend lots of money!)
- Get on your bike, go for a ride
- Do some “Community Sleuthing” – you will get to research some of the places you will be visiting
- Join your team’s online discussion about food choices, rideshares to the rendezvous, your favorite TeleTubby, etc.
Two months before tour
- Continue fundraising
- Continue physical training
- Get familiar with the play script, workshop, Safety & Risk Management Plan
- Casting – volunteer to learn specific roles in the play
- Get a feeling of excitement in your stomach when you receive updates on the itinerary
One month before tour
- Your fundraising is complete
- Continue physical training
- Take yourself, your bike and ALL your gear and go for a 50km ride – The Great Road Test!
- Your team gathers via conference call to hear each others’ voices for the first time
During the week before tour
- Two days of Tour Liaison training for those volunteering to organize finances, media outreach, communication and evaluation
- Travel to Training Week site
Tour begins! Performing and Cycling Tours start with Training Week, and Pedal to Plate Tour sets off for a nine day adventure.
"I learned how to lead by giving support to others. I discovered that this style of leadership comes naturally to me."
– 2012 Tour Member
Otesha volunteers are at the centre of the excitement – you are the ones on stage, riding your bikes, delivering workshops, visiting farms and talking to the media about what you see and experience. You make the day-to-day decisions on tour.
Think of the Otesha staff as the backstage folks. The Program Coordinator books the itinerary, works on the script, ensures safety, and puts everything in place so that your team can make a huge impact. When you’re on the road, we’ve got your back – in person or by phone.
Months before the tour begins, the staff Program Coordinator approaches and books hosts, performance and learning opportunities, and maps the route. There are three volunteers, called Tour Liaisons, who take on additional responsibilities while on the road. One coordinates regular communication with office staff in Ottawa and with hosts en route. Two other volunteers will take Tour Liaison roles in order to coordinate the team’s finances and media strategies. Tour Liaisons exercise collaborative leadership – they provide information and expertise to the whole team so that the group can make decisions together.
Together you will decide what you will eat, how you will manage your time, and what learning opportunities to explore. You will inherit a system of rotating roles that past tours have used to coordinate cooking, composting, working with the media, liaising with hosts, monitoring group health and safety, navigating, facilitating meetings, etc. It’s up to you to adapt it to your situation. In order for this shared, rotating leadership to work, every tour member gets involved. There’s room for quiet leadership from the side and leaders who stand out publicly.
The creativity of the “green schools” we visited have inspired me to start some personal projects on food justice and sustainability. The critical discussions we had in our team have given me the knowledge to contribute to other organizations positively.
– 2012 Tour Member
Put your energy back into your community – Return to all the people and organizations who supported you, donated to Otesha, lent you gear and gave you the push. Share a bit about your experience with them!
Stay involved with Otesha – Give presentations or workshops in your home community, help a new volunteer tour member get ready next season, volunteer at a future Training Week, become a sustaining donor and fuel the next wave of Otesha programming.
Otesha Hubs – Concentrations of Olumni in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal continue their funky efforts for a just planet with strength in numbers. Check out their Facebook pages. Hubs are started up and coordinated by keen “Spokes”People (ha ha!). Hubs give Olumni the opportunity to hone your skills as facilitators and quench your thirst to jump back on stage every now and again. Otesha potlucks are also rumoured to be some of the most delicious happenings ever. . .
Throughout your tour experience you’ll be exposed to a plethora of learning opportunities and thoughtful discussion on turning ideas for social change into reality. Fellow Olumni in the town you land in can help you in your future endeavours (think susty events, campaigns, social enterprise development, school etc), and the Otesha office might be able to support you as well.
Here's what volunteer tour members are saying:
"I realized that repairing clothes isn't actually that difficult, that one can sustain themselves off an essentially vegan diet, that there are people doing amazing things, that I can change my habits, and that cycling is an amazing way to get around.”
“I have gained so much! Above all, a new mind set, especially when making purchases – asking myself if I can find what I need locally, without a lot of packaging, will it compost when I’m done with it, can I get it second hand, do I really need it?”
“A big thing for me was communication – talking with the team, putting everything on the table, being clear, transparent, encouraging and affirming. And it seemed that everywhere we went, people had this same attitude.”
“I would love to live and work internationally once again – this trip has made me feel like I could handle many of different types of living situations. I’m a lot more aware of how others perceive me and how I make others feel with my words and actions. I feel great about my ability to get things done and stay motivated!”
“This tour showed me that I can set my mind to something big and succeed at it.”
“After a pack in, pack out lifestyle on tour, I am going to hold on to my garbage for 2 months at a time this coming winter...and who knows for how long after that?"
"The collective knowledge of our group and the experience of living as a mobile sustainable community gave me the strength and confidence to step into leadership and take on tasks I normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to do.”
“I’ve gained confidence to speak to people about issues I care about. With the support of the team, I’ve tried new things and climbed huge hills.”
"While on tour, I learned the importance of doing what you believe in and not giving in to your fears."
If you're asking yourself "what kind of bike do I need?", the short answer is one that is reliable and fits your body. This short primer covers what you should consider as you choose or prepare your bike for a tour.
We encourage you to borrow, buy second-hand and build-your-own gear and bikes! Bike co-ops are great places to learn about your two-wheeled friend and online gear swaps and your uncle's garage are sources for useful gear. You and your tourmates can organize sharing of tents and other needs as well. You might find that riding your bike to the rendezvous point is the most exciting way to begin your tour, or you might need to ship your bike.
Otesha tours run on human power (i.e., limited vehicle support), so the team's kitchen supplies, food, first aid kit and bike tools are carried in 2-3 Otesha-supplied trailers. Make sure your bike is compatible with one of our two hitches, and learn more about how the team turns trailer-pullin' into a party here.