Dividing your time between the Scottish Highlands and the French Alps can’t be a bad thing, but is it all fun and games?
Pete Scullion joins Mountain Bike Guide Ben Jones to find out.
Who is Ben Jones?
A rider of bikes lucky enough to be able to turn a passion into a career.
What’s your background in cycling?
I’ve been riding for 15 years. I grew up in Stirling, Central Scotland, and as you know, it’s a fantastic place to ride – there are some amazing natural trails. Every time I ride there I can’t believe just how good it is. Even after a season in the Alps…
What’s your background in guiding?
As a poor student, the best way to ride my bike all summer was to become a guide! I was lucky enough that my first job guiding was in The Alps.
At first the novelty of riding bikes on amazing singletrack every day was enough – but now I enjoy the guiding aspect of my job just as much as the riding part. I think it’s fair to say that my interest in wild places in general and the whole host of mountain sports I enjoy, have played a part in developing the type of guiding I like to do on a bike – and that is going to places where other people don’t (or perhaps won’t)!
How did Ben Jones MTB Adventures come about?
During my time working as a guide in the Alps it became a fun past-time to link up valleys and explore new areas. We would use the lift networks, public transport and pedalling to have amazing multi-day adventures. When I say “we”, that’s me and my fellow guides, in particular Chris Deverson, who has been involved from day 1 and was instrumental in developing our concept.
The singletrack we un-covered during those trips was so sweet and no one else was riding the trails we found, but it was combining this excellent riding with an off the beaten track adventure that we found most exciting! Luckily the trails we ride on our trips are still off the beaten track – so that element of adventure is still there for me. And that’s how Ben Jones MTB Adventures came about.
How many people make up Ben Jones MTB and what do they do?
I do most of the boring stuff – admin, marketing, logistics etc. and I have a team of guides who work during the summer months. Last year I had 5 guides. We’re a pretty small and personal operation with only 2 guides on each trip.
I’m very aware of how important my guides are to what we offer, and I’m very confident that my current team are the best in the business – and we are all also good friends which makes the whole thing a lot of fun!
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
Honestly – nothing I have done so far has felt like a sacrifice. The opposite: I feel privileged to have a job I love. When I started Ben Jones MTB I hadn’t got a career to give up – I was used to seasonal work and earning crap money. So, not a lot has changed – but working for myself (or more accurately my customers) is great!
Are you working alongside to make ends meet?
Not anymore. For a while I was, doing some airport transfer driving in the winters, but now we are organising trips in Scotland and Europe there is so much to do in the winter months that I wouldn’t have the time.
How make or break is the company for you?
Well, it’s all I do right now – so I do rely on it working out! So far though – people love what we offer, the whole concept of point to point adventures is getting more and more popular, and I don’t see any sign of that interest going away…
How did you learn what you needed to know to get your own company off the ground and the customers coming to you?
It certainly wasn’t the 4 years I spent studying Geography! I had some experience of selling and organising holidays due to my previous work with other MTB holiday companies. I’ve been very lucky to have good people around me who are always happy to offer their advice and experience.
I had a few useful contacts in the industry before I started and everyone was very happy to help spread the word! I think the business aspect comes naturally to me and it has always seemed obvious what I need to do to develop the business. Luckily though, my customers are the best sales people I could have and repeat business and word of mouth referrals make up a huge proportion of my customers.
How many scouting missions did you have to do before getting to the trips you’ve settled on?
It’s easier to put this in years! I’d say the two trips we run in the Alps are a cumulative result of 10 seasons of exploring. It’s not just a set route – we have plenty of alternatives and options – and ultimately we like to keep it fresh so the routes change most years.
Beyond the scouting, how did you get to the trips you offer?
The aim for us is that from when our customers turn up they should only have to worry about riding great trails – everything else is organised for them. There is a whole bunch of work behind the scenes that goes into the “off-bike” side of the trip. Most of the initial work was researching and settling on our accommodation – and I think that shows as everywhere we stay is locally owned and has a unique feeling.
The most important priority for us is probably the food – and it is a great week of eating local food, as well as a great week of riding. Although we did have a customer recently (you know who you are), who insisted on steak and chips every night, as “all this fancy European food” wasn’t for him!
Where next for Ben Jones MTB?
We currently have 5 different trips in Scotland and the Alps. Next year we’ll do the research to put together another trip, probably based in Italy (did I mention food was important to us?). Watch this space! In terms of new guides – we set a high standard so it’s hard to find quality guides who are personable, professional, great riders and have a huge amount of guiding and mountain travel experience. If anyone out there thinks they have got what it takes then please get in touch.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
There are too many people who have helped me get to this stage to thank separately, but I need to say a big thank you to my guides Iain, Tom, Julia and Chris, who really are the best in the business and I am lucky to have on my team. Thanks guys.
I should mention Chris in particular, as the concept would not be what it is today without all the time and effort he has put into developing our concept and searching out so many of the great trails we show our customers!