Bringing Together Bikes and Brews: Vermont Bike & Brew makes touring Vermont easy on electric pedal-assist bicyclesJun 16, 2021 11:51AM ● By Jennifer Goss Duby
Jonas Cole is not new to the outdoor guiding industry. He’s been leading outdoor trips in rock climbing, canoeing, and backpacking since 2009 and has guided folks of all ages—“from K through gray,” as his website says. His mission in starting Vermont Bike & Brew in 2020 was twofold: first, to help increase access to the outdoors, and second, to help small local businesses around the state. “I was looking for a way to share my wonderful home state of Vermont with people in a really accessible way,” Jonas explains.
Vermont Bike & Brew organizes e-bike brewery tours. The 20- to 25-mile routes are carefully designed by Jonas to be scenic and interesting and make a point of visiting small businesses along the way.
Keeping It Local
“Every time a tour makes a pitstop, it’s a victory for a local business,” says Jonas. Putting local businesses at the forefront of his business model, Jonas arranges his tour routes around those little powerhouses of the Vermont economy. “So that means putting the local breweries and cafes and farm stands on my tour routes and directing my guests to those places so that they don’t end up at any of the larger chain stores or any of the more heavily trafficked tourist paths. I want to take a little bit of the traffic off that path and steer them toward small, local businesses.”
Jonas forged partnerships with two superstar breweries in his first season. Upper Pass Beer Company in South Royalton was his “right-hand man. They have outdoor seating on the South Royalton green and occasionally have live music. Not to mention, their beer is awesome.” That route was very popular. “I probably sent 25 or 30 groups on that route.” The route offers tour bikers the opportunity to sample local libations at two venues. In addition to Upper Pass, that route stops at Fable Farm Fermentory. It also takes in the Barnard General Store, Kiss the Cow Farm stand, and a swimming hole.
Jonas’s second partnership, with the Norwich Inn, makes a route to visit Jasper Murdock’s Alehouse possible. “They were really easy to work with and also the most local to Thetford. So, it was great to have a hyperlocal brewery partner like them.” This route hits Crossroad Farm stand, and of course, no visit to Norwich is complete without a trip to the world-famous Dan & Whits General Store.
The routes typically take riders about four hours. But if you want to stop and linger and enjoy a beer (and why wouldn’t you?), “You’re better off making it a six-hour tour,” says Jonas.
What Is an E-bike, Anyway?
The bikes that Jonas rents for his brewery tours are pedal-assisted electric bicycles. They have an electric motor and a battery that gives an adjustable amount of assist to the rider when pedaling. The rider can choose how to set the pedal-assist to provide themselves with the amount of assistance they want. Vermont Bike & Brew is also an authorized dealer of Haibike and iZip electric bicycles for those who want one of their very own.
The benefits of electric bikes are multiple. Riders can ride longer distances and steeper hills at a comfortable pace, enabling them to maintain a conversation. And for riders who want a more challenging ride or more exercise, the pedal assist can be reduced. It’s an excellent way for a group of riders of differing abilities to ride together.
For example, a family can bring along the grandparents, and everyone can enjoy the ride. Or a couple where one person is more fit than the other can ride together comfortably. “E-bikes are such a powerful resource,” says Jonas. “They allow people of all ages and abilities to get out and enjoy Vermont’s terrain when it might otherwise be inaccessible on a traditional bike. They change the meaning of a conversational pace ride. You can be biking up a hill at ten miles an hour, having a conversation with your neighbor, and not be huffing and puffing. It makes for a really pleasurable outing for most people, especially for those people who don’t enjoy the grind of biking up a hill on a gravel road.”
This is an important feature to note. The roads that make up the Vermont Bike & Brew routes are off the beaten path and selected for their scenic beauty. Patrons have indicated that this is what they want—to see Vermont up close and personal, in all her scenic glory. Vermont being what it is, this means that the roads are pretty hilly and often quite steep. Having that pedal assist turns what could be a grueling outing into a bike in the park.
About Last Year
Going into spring and summer of 2020 with a new business is not for the faint of heart—because, you know, pandemic. “I was biting my nails in March and April, as the pandemic got going, and I wondered if I actually wanted to start the business,” Jonas relates. “But I bit the bullet in May and bought my bikes. And I never looked back.”
Thanks to pandemic restrictions on travel, Jonas didn’t see the out-of-state tourism he hoped for when he first created his business plan. “Instead, what I got was a lot of local business.” Many outdoor recreation businesses benefited from the increase in interest in outdoor activities that the pandemic brought, and the same was true for Vermont Bike & Brew. Instead of traveling for their summer vacations, many locals had to find fun things to do close to home.
The initial business plan was for tours to be guided, but “with COVID, that became less feasible. So, I switched to a self-guided model.” Riders receive a route downloaded to a smartphone, which is mounted on the handlebars. “They’re pretty easy to follow,” says Jonas. “And it points out scenic views, tells you when the big climbs are coming, where the swimming holes are, where the breweries and cafes are. It’s a ton of fun packed into a four-hour adventure that wouldn’t be possible for most people without an e-bike.”
On the Horizon
Looking ahead to a post-pandemic future, Jonas has plans. Lots of plans. For 2021, he has expanded brewery tour offerings ready to go. In addition to existing partners Upper Pass and the Norwich Inn, Jonas is adding three more routes to his offerings. Breweries that will be showcased are Outer Limits Brewery in Proctorsville, Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree (which is adding food service this year), and Brocklebank Craft BrewingBrocklebank Craft Brewing in Tunbridge. “With each of those routes will come a combination of maple creemees, farm stands, swimming holes, and general stores,” says Jonas. “My hope is to get more butts on bikes this summer and help more people experience the wonderful craft beer scene that we have in Vermont in a really fun way.”