Jul 30, 2011

Cycling Cardiff, Interview with Pol van Steelan, Founder of Cardiff Cycle Tours

Pol van Steelan founded and operates Cardiff Cycle Tours, a company which offers bicycle rental and guided bike tours of Cardiff:

AmeriCymru:  Hi, Pol, and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Why a cycle tour? What are the advantages of exploring Cardiff by pedal power?

Pol:  I looked at cycle tours and their popularity in other cities, like London, Paris and Amsterdam, but also smaller cities like Bruges and Antwerp in Belgium. It gave me a strong indication that there was interest for this type of sightseeing of a city, and then I started looking at Cardiff and the possibilities here. I have been involved in cycling for a long time, and on a personal level really enjoy cycling in and around Cardiff. It was obvious to me that Cardiff was ideal for this kind of activity; it is reasonably flat, traffic is not very heavy, and both Sustrans (a charity for the promotion of cycling) and Cardiff County Council are doing great stuff to make this city very bike-friendly. We also have a green “wedge” which goes all the way into the heart of the city (Bute Park), and great cycle paths along the Taff and the Bay. These factors combined make it an ideal place to view the city by bike.

AmeriCymru:   You currently offer two custom tours. Care to describe them for our readers?

Pol:  Cardiff is in many ways a reflection of the history of Wales itself. Before 1800, this was a small place, where not much was happening. But then came the discovery of coal and the industrial revolution, which made Cardiff grow enormously in a short period of time. The closing of the heavy industry and the move towards a more service led economy reflects itself in the development of the Bay area.  The first tour – the longest one – covers the history of Cardiff, with only a small  touching on the recent developments in the Bay. It is called the Bute tour, as the Marquesses of Bute (2nd and 3rd Marquess) really defined the way that Cardiff was shaped in the nineteenth century. The influence of the arquesses can be seen in many of the landmarks of Cardiff, and were it not for them, one could actually question whether Cardiff would have become the capital of Wales. We see the role the Taff played, the docks which were constructed by the 2nd Marquess of Bute, the renovation of the castle by the 3rd Marquess of Bute, Bute Park, Cathays Park, riding along the Taff, and picking up some older historic places in the centre of the city. The second tour, the Bay tour, gives a great impression of the very recent evelopments that have made Cardiff a truly exciting young and vibrant place to live. We start at the coal history (you can not escape this anyway), but gradually move towards the Bay and the modern international sports village, the marinas, the barrage and the important buildings around the Bay. This is very much a tour of the Bay, and a combination of some history with a great leisurely ride.

AmeriCymru:  What kind of bicycles do you use?

Pol:  I had a couple of criteria to find the right bikes for these trips. Quality, comfortable, good for cycling around a city, low in maintenance and looking great. I finally decided on the Pashley contemporary range, which are made entirely in Britain, and components are British as well – Brooks saddle, Sturmey Archer gears. They have proven to be an absolute top success. Even people who haven’t been on a bike for a while feel really comfortable on it.

AmeriCymru:  Are the tours mostly off road in the city? How bicycle friendly is Cardiff and has it
improved in recent years?

Pol:  As mentioned before, a great effort is going into making Cardiff cycle friendly, and for quite big parts of the city we are making serious progress. We are lucky to have the Taff trail which goes all the way through the city along the river Taff, and there are many plans on the table to connect different areas of Cardiff with that backbone in a cycle friendly way. My tours are mostly off road, and when they are on the road, it is usually on quiet roads. Cardiff is still a small city and apart from some major busy
roads, it is safe and quiet to cycle around. 

AmeriCymru:  Where have the majority of your customers been from so far? Overseas?

Pol:  Interestingly enough, most of my customers are from overseas, and from all parts of the world – Vietnam, Australia, Brazil, Venezuela, US and Canada, Europe – somehow surprisingly I have not tapped into the local market yet, but we are working on that.

AmeriCymru:  Do you operate all year round?

Pol:  We close during the winter period (Dec – Feb) but there might be one or two special tours on the calendar.

AmeriCymru:  Do you have any plans for longer distance bicycle tours outside Cardiff?

Pol:  Not at the moment, I would need to look at the type of bike needed for that, and people who do these kind of activities tend to have their own bikes. However, there are possibilities which will be explored to go just outside Cardiff, eg Caerphilly and it’s famous medieval castle can be reached by bike traffic free and without much climbing.

AmeriCymru:  Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Pol:  When you come and want to discover this fascinating city, do it by bike, it’s  environmentally friendly, it makes sense, and it’s a great way to explore a city like Cardiff. Come on a guided bike tour with Cardiff Cycle Tours !

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