As brand manager for one of Asia’s leading bike tour companies, St. Louis native Stephen Grace is driven to encourage Americans to expand their cycling horizons. “Please put off your seventh trip to Italy and come to Asia once. See where the future is coming from. Two-thirds of the world’s population lives in Asia,” said Grace. “There’s no better way to really understand what’s happening in a country or region than on a bicycle. You’re exposed to elements and the people and the live culture, and truly welcomed. It breaks down all the barriers.”
What are your earliest memories of cycling in St. Louis?
My family lived in Webster Groves. I’m one of seven and being outdoors and active was my claim to fame. My earliest memories of cycling are of a big, heavy, dark red, three-speed Schwinn that got me to and from sports practices after school and in summer was my transport of choice to the public swimming pool at Memorial Park.
How did you get involved in travel cycling?
I’ve been a keen cyclist since childhood, and while a graduate student at Mizzou’s Journalism School, I was offered an opportunity by friends at INTRAV to lead tours during the summer to all corners of the globe. INTRAV was a leader in large group educational travel for private organizations, alumni groups and the like.
When I finished grad school, I started a career in broadcast journalism. It was my love of travel — and experience — that helped me land a position with NBC’s Today show, traveling the world producing feature programming.
How did you end up “circling back around” to travel cycling as a career?
Travel and cycling came together as a new career after I moved to southeast Asia in 2013. I was offered an opportunity in Cambodia to lead a tourism infrastructure project. Upon arriving in Siem Reap, one of my first purchases was a used, Trek bike at the annual Grasshopper Adventures clearance sale. It was there I met the owner, Adam Platt-Hepworth, and struck up a friendship. Two years later, he offered me a chance to join his company as country manager in Vietnam. I’ve moved on from Vietnam and now work across many countries on projects for Grasshopper.
Tell us a little about Grasshopper.
We now offer multi-day cycling tours in 16 Asian countries and day tours in nine southeast Asian cities. For people curious but slightly afraid of cycling tours, day tours are a great way to start. Whenever I’m traveling anywhere in the world, I always check out the local half- or full-day bike tours as a great way to get the lay of the land.
What do cycling and traveling mean to you?
I joke with friends that cycling is my fountain of youth. I’ve been athletic my entire life, but injuries and age have limited my running and even trekking. Cycling just works for me. As for travel, I’m convinced there is no better way to truly immerse yourself in a country or a region of the world than by bike. It’s still a popular mode of transport in many corners of the globe, and it certainly has kept me active and fit.
What would you tell folks in St. Louis about travel cycling and why they should do it?
A misconception is that you have to be in great shape, or an expert cyclist, to enjoy a bike tour. Not true. If you enjoy riding a bike and have even a moderate level of fitness, most cycling trips are easily achievable. I just completed our 10-day tour of Rajasthan, India with singles and couples ranging in age from 50 to 62 and from Australia, Canada, England and the U.S.
The newest development for Grasshopper is the addition of e-bikes in Vietnam and Sri Lanka in 2018, and soon across all our tours. Now, you have no excuse for not joining a tour.
Do you ever get back to St. Louis, and if so, where do you enjoy cycling in town?
I have such great memories of growing up in St. Louis. But nearly all my family is scattered around the U.S now, so visits come less and less frequently. But I think I’m overdue to ride the Katy Trail across the state. It’s time to put that on my calendar.
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.