Rick and Tanya McFerrin: Pioneers of Bicycle Travel and Advocates for Inclusivity

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In a world where adventure knows no bounds, Rick and Tanya McFerrin of OnaVelo Tours have carved a remarkable path by transforming their passion for bicycle travel into a lifelong calling.


Their awe-inspiring exploits span over two decades, encompassing a 25-month, 24,000-kilometre journey across 43 countries, a 14-month, 14,000-kilometre tandem bike expedition with their young children, and a 13-month, 15,000-kilometre exploration of diverse regions.
Through these incredible journeys, the McFerrins have embraced the world of bicycle travel and helped shape it. We recently had the opportunity to ask Rick and Tanya McFerrin of Onavelo Tours about their perspective on e-biking and the technology’s contribution to the accessibility and inclusiveness of cycling.
They visited E-bike Lovers in Washington, DC, during their recent cycling journey from Ottawa, Canada, to Charlotte, NC, and were interviewed there.


You have traveled over 100,000 miles on a regular bicycle. What do you think of e-biking?
We don’t think e-bikers cheat. It is an accessible way to get more people to cycle who otherwise wouldn’t be on bikes. It is an inclusive technology that allows individuals to get on two wheels. We have friends who wouldn’t be riding their bikes if there weren’t e-bikes, and now we can visit them and go on bike rides together.

E-bikes are a great way to get more people on bikes. We have seen people of all abilities get back on the bike and enjoy the freedom bicycle travel gives you.

You are both ultra long-distance cyclists. Do you think it’s feasible to cycle long tours with an e-bike?
It is certainly possible based on the technology and E-bike Lovers’ experience. One consideration with e-bikes and analog bikes would be the pace of the day. If you set people up with the right expectations, with the right ideas of the pace of the day and how the day will go, e-bikes could be incorporated into long-distance traveling.

One limitation might be electricity or charging in some more remote areas, but with technology improving, that shouldn’t be a problem.

What does e-biking mean to your travel company, OnaVelo Tours?
For our travel company, e-bikes make our tours accessible to more people. We’ve had many requests for e-bikes, and we look forward to including them on our tours.

Some people are scared to get on their bikes and ride for 50 or 60 kilometres a day on a tour. An e-bike makes our tours more accessible and realistic for them to join and participate in fully.

Would you consider long-distance touring with an e-bike?
There are so many different types of cycling. Some people love mountain biking, some love racing, and others love e-bike touring. People gravitate to prefer one or the other. It’s a different style of traveling. Like you travel by train or plane. We prefer our traditional touring bikes but welcome anyone to bike with an electric bicycle.

E-bikes are a great way to get more people on bikes. We have seen people of all abilities get back on the bike and enjoy the freedom bicycle travel gives you.

Are you an exception in the long-haul cycling community for being so open and inclusive to the new technology?
We all know people and have friends who have suddenly entered the cycling world because of e-bikes. It opened the whole world of two wheels.

We can’t speak for all long-haul travelers, but our approach to biking and life has always been inclusive and welcoming of others. If an e-bike allows someone else to join our trip, why wouldn’t we welcome it?

What makes touring by bicycle so special?
We like to say that it is traveling at the speed of life. It allows you to meet people one-on-one and experience life at a slower pace.

In your 40 years of cycling, have you ever had an account with a car?
My (Rick) closest account was being run off the road in Kenya by a bus, but I wasn’t hit. My worst accident was right outside my house. I hit a curb and broke my jaw.

You are experienced cyclists. What are the top tips you want to share with anyone inspired by your story?
With bike travel, starting slowly and listening to your body is important. Do not try to be too aggressive with your route. It’s OK only to go 20 or 30 miles a day.

We biked with our kids when they were very young and planned a trip that would be 50 or 60 kilometres a day. We quickly realized we could only go 30 kilometres and adjusted our schedule. Be realistic with your ability and expectations of where to get to each day.

And enjoy a good time. And be ready for changes. Maybe the road you thought you were going to ride is too busy. Well, choose an alternate route. Make changes to your plans.

And be OK with that. It doesn’t have to be all set and designed exactly what it was. Because sometimes it’s safer to do something different, given more information.

What about equipment like saddles and clothing?
It is important to be comfortable on the bike. If you are uncomfortable, it’s not the right bike. There is a right fit for you. Having more upright or leaning out, everyone’s riding style is different. Having a comfortable saddle is important. It is the wrong saddle if you can’t sit on that saddle for an hour. You should have a saddle that feels good.

What do you wear on cycling tours?
Well, for me (Tanya), I have sensitive skin. I think it’s important for me to wear airy clothing. I don’t wear pads or something that’s going to be close to my skin. I wear just a pair of cotton shorts. And I use a Brooks saddle. The Brooks B17 is a well-fitting leather saddle.

Here’s one fan of the Brooks B17 saddle:

What about having a mirror?
It is important to see and to be seen. Wear bright clothing and a helmet. Although we have never been hit by a car, it is important to realize that you are quite vulnerable on your bike, and accidents can happen because of an interaction with a car or just your carelessness or falling. It is important not to wear earphones or earbuds.

We use a handlebar mirror just to keep an eye on what’s behind us. You need to know what’s happening around you and be very defensive. Make eye contact with cars at corners. Follow the directions. Follow the rules of the road. Anticipate. Assume that people don’t see you.

Anything else you would like to share?
Get on your bike and ride. Stay fit. Stay healthy. Health is everything. Get outside, whether it is on a normal bicycle or an e-bike.

When you’re on a bicycle, you get to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet and learn a lot about people in very positive ways. Whatever you ride, there are many ways to travel. Get out on two wheels and enjoy the ride.

And yes, join us on an unforgettable biking tour.

This article originally appeared on ebikerlovers.com.

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