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Photo courtesy of Jim Johnson / Bike the South tours are planned throughout the region and designed to take people to parts of the country they might not otherwise ever visit.

For many years, bicycling advocate Jim Johnson booked bike tours of Europe via his Biketours.com business. Nearing 65, he thought he just might walk away from the business side of things and enjoy his retirement and then the pandemic hit and he had time to think about things.

"I'm 67 and I was planning to retire because I'm not in it for the money, but I was having too much fun. I'm a real bike advocate for lots of reasons. Health being just one of them, but also tourism."

COVID-19, however, put a full stop on European tours so he adjusted and created Bike the South, a new venture that books tours around the immediate area. He has also created Bike and Brew, a local bike tour that takes people to downtown breweries.

The idea behind all of his tours "is to get people out biking." Johnson stressed that his business is about "taking the 'what ifs' out of the equation."

Things like "what if we get lost?" or "what if my bike breaks?" or "what if I get tired?"

"These are for people who maybe bought their first bike during the pandemic or haven't ridden in a while," Johnson said. "It's designed to be stress-free and leisurely. These aren't for people training for the Tour de France."

The company offers three basic levels of tours. Guided tours include a support vehicle and one or more guides, while with the self-guided tour, Bike the South provides all of the planning and a person on call should a bike break down or if a ride is needed.

These can also be booked for overnight rides and Bike the South handles things like luggage transfers and planning.

A supported tour offers either a person on a bike riding with you, or a vehicle that is nearby at all times.

Tours can be planned for four or more people and Johnson said the rides take place throughout the area in rural, out-of-the-way places that people might not otherwise ever enjoy. Tours can be arranged for almost any length, but most are between 18 and 30 miles, Johnson said. Prices range from $50 to $150 dollars per person and Johnson said the business model is very much fluid at the moment.

"I'd really like to hear from people about what they like or don't like at this point," he said. "It's about getting out and riding."

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Photo courtesy of Jim Johnson / Bike the South can customize a tour for groups of four or more and provide, rental bikes, support vehicles and guides.

He has plans to expand the operation to include community building excursions such as a ride to the McLemore Cove area in North Georgia that will conclude with a once-a-month pot luck dinner with locals in the Cedar Grove Community. We are also looking at a Thanksgiving Day ride.

He is also working on a week-long trip to Savannah, Georgia, from Athens, Tennessee, that will include lodging and meals.

Johnson said the company offers private tours and rental machines, including electric bikes.

"We will pick you up and take you to the ride," he said.

"As for the e-bikes, we don't like to say electric bikes, we like to say the 'e' stands for equalizer. They are great for couples where maybe one has ridden for a while and the other hasn't. We love hearing people say, 'Oh, this is what you've been talking about all of these years."

Johnson said the e-bikes are now about 50% of the bike rental business in Europe and headed that way here. In fact, when he rides on one of his tours, he typically now takes an e-bike, "so I can relax.

"You still have to pedal. It's really more of a pedal assist as the more you put into it, the less the bike does. It amplifies what it does."

Bike and Brew tours take place each Thursday and last between 2 and 2.5 hours. Breweries on the list include Five Wits, OddStory, Hutton & Smith, Wanderlinger, Naked River and Heaven and Ale. Riders get a different view of the city as they ride and they get to sample some of the beers and food offered by these local breweries.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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