An Interview with Burt Richmond - Tourmeister, Lotus Tours

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You can't publish a magazine on motorcycle touring without knowing Burt Richmond, the founder of Lotus Tours and one of the creators of the motorcycle touring industry. We were curious and intrigued by his company's motto 'You supply the helmet - we supply the adventure.' A quick review of the Lotus Tours website revealed a varied, diverse, and world-spanning calendar for 2002: motorcycle vacations to Greece, Italy, Turkey, France, Spain, Corsica and Sardinia; motorcycle expeditions to Peru, Tibet, Mongolia, India and Thailand. We called Burt to ask him the following questions:

RR: What was your first bike?
Burt: In 1965 I bought a Honda Super 90. Being of a small physical stature and inseam-challenged, I developed a passion for euro bikes which are smaller and lighter than American bikes. My first new bike was a 1979 Moto Guzzi LeMans 850 that I picked up at the factory in Italy. I have been collecting bikes since 1970. At one time I had over 50 bikes, but now I'm down to a more manageable 16 bikes.

RR: Where did the name Lotus Tours come from and how did you get started?
Burt: In the late 1970's, I was an architect living in Denver. Several local friends and out-of-town riding buddies asked me to organize a bike trip through the Southwest over Memorial Day weekend. They decided since I was good at problem solving and logistics that I should organize the trip. We had such a great time it became an annual event. Most of these guys still come on Lotus trips. My architectural practice grew into a $ 10 million annual business with a staff of 180 people. I had the curiosity and resources to travel, but not the time. In 1987 I sold my practice. One of my friends, Sam Zell, suggested that I sell my Lotus Esprit and get serious about starting a motorcycle tour company. I took his advice and used the Lotus name.

RR: Where was the first Lotus Tours trip?
Burt: The first official Lotus tour was an expedition tour to Nepal and Thailand in 1984. These places are exotic today, but they were really exotic when we first went there! There continues to be a lot of interest in Asian trips. We typically run several trips from Katmandu, Nepal to Lhasa, Tibet, and China, Thailand and Vietnam.

RR: Do you go on any of your trips?
Burt: Up until three years ago, I led almost every trip. In 1998, I led 21 of our tours. Now, with over fifty trips a year, I share the tour-guiding responsibility with my wife Diane, who is also the President of Lotus Tours. Her background at Andersen Consulting made her far better organized than I could ever hope to be. Each year the business continues to grow from repeat customers, new customers and new destinations. We are part of an alliance of fellow tour operators and guides called Moto Global. They help with the tour guiding responsibilities.

RR: What types of trips does Lotus Tours offer?
Burt: Our typical customer is a successful business leader who values service and the ability to customize each day of the trip rather than to play follow the leader. Typically 65 percent of our trips are deluxe vacations and 35 percent are expedition-adventure tours. Trips usually last 8 to 10 days and have an average cost of $ 4,200. Bikes are no more than two years old and are usually BMWs, Ducatis, and Aprilias, depending on where we are riding. Every trip features a local guide, regional cuisine, culture, unique places to stay, fantastic scenery, challenging roads and comradery.

RR: What differentiates Lotus Tours trips from other touring companies?
Burt: A consistent high level of service, planning, accommodations and guide services. Either Diane or I accompany every trip. History and local culture are important parts of our tours. Our Moto Global tour partners speak the local language; know the local history, customs and the best roads. The result is a truly unique experience for our customers. Each tour is typically 8 to 12 people. Visiting on a local level is a wonderful way to gain insights and understanding into other people and their cultures

We're concerned about our rider's level of experience and make sure they are qualified for the type of riding they will need for the trip they are interested in. For example the Peru trip to Machu Pichu requires dirt bike experience. If the customer doesn't have it, we require attendance at the Gary LaPlante Ride-In-Ranch dirt bike clinic in California first. We just sent five virgins (non-riders) to the clinic. Gary had them up and riding in a few hours. At the end of the 2 1/2 day session, we couldn't get them off the bikes.

Every tour is accompanied by our van that carries everyone's luggage and arrives at the hotel before our guests so that their luggage is in their rooms when they arrive. Each morning there is a breakfast briefing to discuss different ways to get to that night's hotel and dinner. Maps are reviewed for different historic places to visit and roads to take.

Hotels and restaurants are selected for their luxury orientation and to enhance the cultural experience. For example, in Turkey we spent two nights in caves that had been lived in for over 5,000 years before being converted into luxury hotel rooms. Another two nights were spent on a Turkish sailboat with private staterooms and bathrooms.

Several weeks before the start date, all participants receive a package of information that includes visa and vaccination information, all travel arrangements (other than the air flights over and back), a list of clothes needed and a list of books to read on the region. All riders receive a custom trip memento garment designed for that particular trip.

RR: What is your favorite trip?
Burt: Corsica-Sardinia for great sport touring on deserted coastal twisties and along granite river gorges; Peru for a great off-road adventure and immersion in the Inca culture; and Turkey for its fantastic history, a place that should be labeled the 'cradle of civilization.'

RR: What are the growth prospects for Lotus Tours?
Burt: We're always looking for new places to tour and expect to add several exotic destinations to our calendar every year. Last year we offered our first trip to Turkey and that was very successful. Private tours are becoming an important part of our business. Each year we have many groups of riders that tell us when and where they would like to go and they have Lotus Tours design and run a custom tour for them. Other companies are using custom Lotus Tours for incentive trips and business development trips. We're also putting together trips for motorcycle dealers who want to build their relationships with their better customers. Last October, for Ducati, we led a group of foreign journalists from Denver to Las Vegas for Ducati Revs America.

RR: Thank you! I look forward to participating in one of your future rides!
Burt: Thank you. See you on the road.