Pedaling and Tasting: A Unique Columbia River Gorge Wine Tour

With stunning vistas of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, and a dramatic climate that transitions from rainforest to high plains desert in the span of 35 miles, the Columbia River Gorge is an amazingly beautiful region that is meant to be explored - whether it’s by Lewis and Clark paddling a canoe or by a mountain biker hitting the trails.

For Ali McLaughlin, owner of MountNbarreL Tours, the preferred method for taking in the natural beauty of the gorge has always been by bike. Straddling the river is fertile land dotted with numerous farms, orchards and vineyards. The region is also wine country, home to close to 50 wineries. Ali got to know the Mount Hood territory of the gorge by taking leisurely rides with her husband and friends, visiting the farms and wineries. Pedaling and tasting, and loving the experience.

Starting up the Business

While there were plenty of established wine tasting tours in the area, Ali knew she had hit upon a business opportunity. She began offering bicycle tours where tasting was only part of the experience. Her customers would also be able to encounter the mix of agriculture and nature by pedaling down beautiful country roads on the way to visit multiple orchards, wineries, and vineyards. The tastings (wine and cider) would be done over a relaxed five-hour ride, where customers could bond and have fun with each other. Some tours would end with a vineyard dinner for the group.

As Ali explains it, riding bicycles makes the experience stand out. And the goal has always been to provide a memorable customer experience. MountNbarreL is now in its seventh year and the number of offerings has grown to about 5 different types of tours.

The wineries now even help map out the routes and provide access to private vineyards for the cyclists.

Adding E-Bikes to the Mix

After running the business for several years, MountNbarreL was gifted several bulky low-cost e-bikes, which they used to test the market.

One of the first things the company noted was that the low-cost e-bikes needed a lot of upkeep and were difficult to transport in a car, making logistics difficult. Ali decided that if the company did invest in a fleet, it would need to get high-quality folding e-bikes, and not just focus on price.

She also noticed that the step-through models were the first ones chosen by customers, since they were easier to get on and off, and made the customers feel more in control. The company also decided that any e-bikes purchased needed to provide an excellent riding experience.

The final thing Ali decided was to purchase the bikes through her local independent bike shop instead of buying direct. While purchasing direct was cheaper upfront, she had to consider the total cost of ownership for her investment, and having a local partner that can provide the right consulting and after-sales service was an important lesson she learned when getting her original batch of e-bikes road ready.

So she approached Jodie Gates of Oregon E-Bikes to help choose bikes that fit MountNbarreL's needs, both operationally and financially. Jodie recommended a mix of Tern Vektrons and flat-folding Tern HSDs. The Vektron is a full-folding e-bike, while the stem and handle-bars fold down on the HSD, making it easily transportable in the back of an SUV. 

Falling in Love with E-Bikes

The Tern e-bikes have been an instant hit. Many MountNbarreL customers are not familiar with e-bikes, and get a kick out of seeing an e-bike that can fold. Although some customers are a little nervous about using e-bikes, they tend to adjust quickly. Ali explained that the bikes are so stable that riders can't help but feel confident. There's a smile on everyone's face by the time we hit the first stop, she added.

As MountNbarreL continues with the e-bike tours, Ali has been receiving an increasing number of inquiries from customers who have "fallen in love" with the bikes, and she now works to connect them with Oregon E-Bike to purchase bikes. 
 
The bikes also make business sense for MountNbarreL. There are stops along the tour that are situated on hilltops, which previously required the use of a shuttle to get some of the riders to the top. The e-bikes have turned the customers into hill climbers, making the tours less dependent on the shuttle. Also, in the past when a customer was over-exerted and could not ride, MountNbarreL needed to use the shuttle to pick up the rider and transport the bike back to base. With e-bikes, this seldom happens.

Another benefit is that HSDs and Vektrons can be used by riders of all different heights, and the cockpits are adjustable. This makes it easy for staff to provide just about every customer with the right fit. And riding the e-bikes has allowed riders to focus less on the pedaling, and more on the riding experience, making for more satisfied customers.
 
Ali ended up getting herself a Vektron as well. She uses it to scout out new routes, and as a guide bike when MountNbarreL has a full group. She also uses it to continue exploring the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge.