Why I swapped life as architect to run bike rental and tour company

Cork-based Ruth Herman is looking forward to a busy summer. EMMA CONNOLLY catches up with the woman behind Wild Atlantic Sports, a bike rental and skills business
Why I swapped life as architect to run bike rental and tour company

Ruth Herman, Wild Atlantic Sports - Bike Tours, Rentals & Skills is running her business from a new base in Acton’s Hotel in the centre of Kinsale. Picture Dan Linehan

AN architect made a dramatic life change by leaving a well paid, secure job to set up her own bike tour business in Kinsale — and she’s never looked back.

In fact, Ruth Herman is looking to expand this season and boost the numbers in her team, despite the uncertainties posed by the pandemic.

Ruth, originally from Sutton, Dublin, now lives in Garrettstown with her partner Ollie and dog Broccie.

She arrived in Cork after working in the capital’s city centre as an architect for nearly a decade, preparing large commercial planning applications.

“We worked long hours, often under pressure, and I found myself enjoying office and city life less and less. I ended up spending all my free time escaping to my favourite outdoor sports — kayaking, windsurfing and mountain biking.

 Ruth Herman. Picture Dan Linehan
Ruth Herman. Picture Dan Linehan

SEEKING CHANGE

“Then, at the height of the boom, I realised it was all getting too much for me. I was exhausted and burnt out.

“I took a few months off, figured out what I wanted from my life and what was really important to me. Then I made some big changes to my life!”

That saw Ruth, who at this stage had qualified as a kayaking instructor, getting a job working as an outdoor instructor in Killaloe, Co. Clare.

“Many people shook their heads and said I was ‘throwing away’ a well paid, secure job, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted and eventually people stopped asking the ‘will you go back to architecture?’ question!”

After getting a taste for freedom, Ruth spent a winter in Whistler, British Columbia, learning to snowboard, and the following summer working in a bike hire shop.

“I spent another winter teaching skiing in Switzerland and a summer windsurfing in Lake Garda, Italy.

“I also spent time in different parts of Ireland, working in adventure centres.”

BACK TO STUDY

“After a few years, I realised I needed some further qualifications and I returned to education, studying for a QQI Level 6, Outdoor Education in Kinsale College. I had spent a lot of family holidays in Kinsale so I knew the area fairly well and I discovered that I enjoyed living there.

“After I finished studying, I got a job in North Cork but I loved the beach in Garrettstown so much that I would spend every weekend there, staying overnight in my van with my dog.

 Ruth Herman. Picture Dan Linehan
Ruth Herman. Picture Dan Linehan

“Eventually, I got tired of sleeping in the van and I bought a house and moved to Garrettstown permanently.”

That was in 2015, and Ruth started her business, Wild Atlantic Sports, a bike rental, tours and skills business.

“I felt there was a gap in the market for visitors wanting to rent good quality bikes from Kinsale,as well as an opportunity to guide tourists along the amazing coastline of the Wild Atlantic Way.”

ABOUT THE BUSINESS

“I rent electric bikes, which are a great way for visitors to really enjoy a different view of all the great spots near Kinsale.

“I also run relaxed bike tours, mainly from the Old Head of Kinsale — such spectacular views!

“And I teach cycle safety in primary schools and run ‘learn to cycle’ classes for children with learning difficulties.

“I offer adult classes to help people improve their confidence and ability on bikes.

“So, there’s never a dull moment and the business runs year round rather than just being seasonal.”

She admits, honestly, that the business took a while to get going.

“I had pretty much no business plan and I didn’t have a background in business or marketing, so the first year or two were really tough! I believed that once I had a website that customers would flood in, but they didn’t. Far from it, unfortunately.

“I continued working odd days in adventure centres to keep some money coming in and, despite a rocky start, I persisted with the business and eventually it took shape.

“I had to reassess my plans several times to find something that would work for me on a personal level and also bring in a financial return. I’ve found that it’s really important to be flexible and open to new ideas.”

COVID-19 HIT

The pandemic, naturally has impacted her work.

“Like most businesses, we had to shut for the first lockdown, but during the summer, when things reopened, Kinsale was busy with staycationers keen to see the area by bike.

 Ruth Herman, of Wild Atlantic Sports - Bike Tours, Rentals & Skills.
Ruth Herman, of Wild Atlantic Sports - Bike Tours, Rentals & Skills.

“The business wasn’t too badly affected by the second lockdown but the latest one has definitely been the hardest.

“I’ve tried to remain positive and I’ve got involved in some community work, promoting cycling and advocating for better cycle facilities in the Kinsale area, through a new group that’s just formed, Kinsale Loves Bikes.

“I’m also in the process of learning to unicycle — I needed a new challenge!”

EXCITING PLANS FOR TRAILS

Ruth is also part of a group, Kinsale Trails/Rianta Chionn tSáile, that was formed to explore options for the development of a greenway/blueway in the wider Kinsale area.

“This project has fed out of the My Town Plan Initiative in 2019, run by South and East Cork Area Development (SECAD).

“Early this year, SECAD granted the Kinsale Trails group €22,000 (90% funding) for a feasibility study to explore ways of linking Tracton, Riverstick, Belgooly, Kinsale and Ballinspittle for cycling and walking.

“These should be community friendly routes that will sustain and encourage biodiversity.

“It’s exciting to be involved in a project that has such an active, green agenda,” she said.

LOOKING FORWARD TO A BRIGHT SUMMER

Ruth remains very optimistic about the coming summer season. She currently employs one person part-time and is recruiting for another part-time position. She’s also looking at establishing a rental shop in Kinsale this summer.

Until now, the business has been mobile, operating from a van.

“While things are quiet at the moment, I know B&Bs and hotels in Kinsale are filling up fast, particularly for the summer months. Last summer was really busy so I’m expecting the same this season with plenty of staycationers looking to rent bikes.

“I expect my fleet of electric bikes to be particularly popular as they’re a great way to conquer the Kinsale hills without breaking into a sweat!

“Also, during the first lockdown, I put together a new GPS guided electric bike tour called ‘Sandycove Island Views’ — feedback was positive, so I’m hoping it will really take off this summer.”

WORK/LIFE BALANCE?

Does Ruth ever regret undertaking such a dramatic career change?

“I actually still work long hours, particularly in the summer, but the difference is that I really enjoy the work.

“I love working outdoors, being active and I enjoy meeting people — children and adults — through my work.

“I did have a big drop in salary when I moved from architecture to outdoor instructing, but the improvement in quality of life made up for that.”

See wildatlanticsports.com for more

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more