Sharing the health through bike tours
07/31/2012 12:00 AM
08/01/2012 9:02 AM
By most accounts, Ed Hakari was a success in the corporate world. He made good money. He wore nice clothes. He had plenty of responsibility.
But he was also overworked, overweight and stressed out.
Hakari started power walking through his Land Park neighborhood and soon the pounds melted away. He started riding a bike and lost even more weight, going from 206 pounds to 162 on a small 6-foot frame. His pants size shrunk from a 38-inch waist to a 32.
Then came his plan to reinvent himself even further: He would leave the high-stress job and do something on his own – something completely different.
By 2009, Hakari, 47, left his position at Papyrus, a greeting card and stationery company with stores throughout the United States, and launched Fast Eddie Bike Tours.
It was just him, a fleet of 10 new bikes and an idea to take visitors and locals alike on tours in and around Sacramento, telling them about the history, the culture and all of the attractions. There would be picnics, wine tastings and many other features tailored to the needs of those taking the tours.
"My mission was to be an advocate for a Sacramento experience that happens on a bike, and for that experience to be boutique – small and intimate," Hakari said.
Though it was an unlikely about-face, those who knew Hakari applauded the career change – and the shift in priorities.
"I watched him in his progression at Papyrus. They piled more and more work on him and he got so stressed out," said longtime friend Mike Tentis, director of fund development for the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis. "Finally, he pulled out of the spiral and said, 'This is crazy.' I was so grateful when he finally quit."
These days, Fast Eddie's reputation is growing. In bike-friendly Sacramento, where bicycle riding of all kinds has flourished in the past decade, his is the only bike touring company going.
"It's a great way to see the city," said Nick Leonti, tourism sales manager for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We encourage people to get on bikes and we send people to Fast Eddie. When we have industry folks come to town, we always try to hook them up with a bike tour."
The momentum for bikes as a tourism draw in Sacramento is growing. In April, the Convention and Visitors Bureau participated in the International Pow Wow, a major trade show run by the U.S. Travel Association. Its booth had a theme, "Bikes and Brews," that touted Sacramento's bicycle culture and its thriving craft beer scene.
Sacramento also has a food tour company, Local Roots Food Tours, which conducts various walking tours to restaurants and other food-centric businesses in Sacramento and beyond.
Getting Fast Eddie up to speed didn't happen overnight for Hakari, ever the meticulous planner. Before starting the business, he convened a focus group of 50 people. He served them wine and hors d'oeuvres, then presented his business plan."
"I challenged people to ask questions. It was brutal, but I learned a lot from that, and it served me well."
Hakari graduated from Californian State University, Sacramento, in 1990 with a degree in interior design. Much of his career has been spent in visual merchandising.
He designed simple yet stylish bike jerseys to promote the business and drew up a brochure that clearly spells out what Fast Eddie Bike Tours is about. He spent two months researching and testing bikes before he purchased 10 Raleigh eight-speed models with mustache handlebars and an upright riding position.
He became more immersed in local and state history, most notably by serving as a volunteer docent at the California State Railroad Museum. Hakari also wrote a draft of a script for his tour and asked local historian William Burg to critique it.
Two days after he launched his website in July 2009, Fast Eddie had its first customers – two tourists from Sydney, Australia.
Hakari offers three kinds of tours at various price points. The leisure bike tours are for the "casual, occasional or once-upon- a-time rider" and are five to 10 miles at an easy pace through the city, the American River Parkway or Delta wine country. The three-hour wine tour, for instance, costs $65.
The "executive" bike tour options tend to be longer and more customized – up to 100 miles at whatever speed the customers desire.
The road bike tour option allows customers to bring their own bikes or use ones Hakari rents. Those rides range from 35 to 60 miles in the Delta, Sacramento Valley or along hilly roads in the Sierra.
"He is very professional, very polished," said Leonti, who has been on two of Hakari's tours. "He knows things about Sacramento that we don't even know at the Tourism Bureau."
Many of his customers on the Delta wine tour rides are locals. Those tours start at the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg and meander along quiet rural roads to Bogle Vineyards and back.
"Many of them don't even know that this is out there," Hakari said of the local tour participants. "I love that. I love sharing that with them."
Early on, as Hakari was building the business and getting the word out, he hit a few dead ends, especially when he tried to make inroads with large, corporate hotels. Crucial to his success is how Fast Eddie is rated on TripAdvisor, the website that showcases reviews by customers. He estimates he gets 80 percent of his business from people who read about him on TripAdvisor.
Amber House, the luxury bed and breakfast in midtown, offers a package that includes a Fast Eddie tour.
Owner Judith Bommer sees it as a way to showcase the city and offer additional features to her guests.
"They love Eddie. He's a great resource on the history of Sacramento and he's a great customer-service guy," Bommer said.
Despite the early successes, Hakari doesn't want the business to grow to the point where his role is less hands-on.
Asked if he is making a living, Hakari smiles and says, "Barely."
"Way happier," he said.
FAST EDDIE BIKE TOURS
Where: Historic Sacramento and surrounding areas, including the Delta wine country and Sierra foothills.
How much: Prices start at $25 for a 90-minute midtown tour. Other options are customizable and prices vary.
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