Kickstand Tours wants to put wineries in reach of ordinary cyclists

Andy Zissermann worked in western Washington as a mechanical engineer for more than 20 years before his career ran its course. In 2019, he had fun—spending much of the growing season riding an electric bike among the wineries of Walla Walla and the Yakima Valley.

The Edmonds resident wasn’t merely enjoying Washington’s wine country.

The now-former engineer was developing a Kickstand Tours, an e-bike touring business with a focus on wineries. During his tours, he introduced himself to dozens of wineries and secured partnerships with some of the best-known tasting rooms in the region.

“We didn’t run into too many people who weren’t interested,” he said.

Zissermann completed his business plan and bought a van, all with an eye toward a soft launch in April. He ordered e-bikes and a trailer to haul them. He was preparing to lease a Tri-City apartment—with garage—to house the business during the active months.

May 1 was supposed to be the public kickoff.

“We were literally weeks away from launching,” he said.

As of April, Zissermann was hopeful Kickstand Tours would launch this summer. But that depends on when the economy revives after Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order limiting activity to slow the spread of coronavirus lifts at the end of May and life returns to something approaching normal.

Zissermann said he’s fortunate. The shutdown came in time to shelve his order for the e-bikes and trailer. He called off his hunt for a local apartment to call home too.

“We were in a good place to put on the brakes and pause and see how this was going to pan out,” he said.

Zissermann said he’s ready to complete his bike and trailer order when the stay-home requirements are lifted. Kickstand Tours won’t launch until wineries reopen their tasting rooms.

When that happens, he’s confident e-bike touring will offer wine enthusiasts a social distancing-friendly way to reconnect with wineries.

“As soon as we can, we want to be out there and available. I think this is something people will be craving when they can get out of their house,” he said. “I think it’s going to grow after this epidemic.”

Looking for a change

Zissermann is originally from Alabama but spent most of his adult life in the Seattle area. He’s a University of Washington graduate who grew tired of mechanical engineering and was looking for something new.

A career counselor planted the idea of creating his own business.

He toyed with engineering-related ideas, such as installing solar panels or offering construction site drone services. He mentioned e-bike tours to a friend, and the enthusiastic response sealed the deal.

“That’s the only one that sounds like fun,” the friend told him.

A bike commuter who loved visiting Chelan with his wife and her family,  Zissermann said that’s when the idea of an e-bike touring company based in Eastern Washington began to form.

He spent a year developing a business plan. He worked through a Washington Employment Security Department program that waives job-searching requirements for those who are creating new businesses.

His wife, Katie, teaches special education in Seattle schools. Her income kept the ship afloat while he planned. She’ll join the business in summer when school is officially in recess.

Small group rides

Kickstand Tours will start small, with groups of up to six. Zissermann and guests will work out a tour, either preset or custom, and meet at the last winery on the tour. They’ll ride a circuit, concluding at the spot where they parked.

Groups can choose pre-set tours or arrange their own, as long as they form a reasonable riding circuit. Kickstand Tours provides the e-bikes, helmets and a guide who can carry items.

A support van will collect purchases, so clients do not have to carry them on bikes. Zissermann said the guide bike will be set up to carry personal items such as backpacks. Zissermann counsels riders not to carry personal items during the tour.

Zissermann said e-bikes give even non-cyclists a good way to explore wine country on two wheels. Heavier that traditional bikes, battery-powered motors extend the rider’s range.

“When you’re riding an e-bike, hills just aren’t an issue. Heavy winds—it just doesn’t matter anymore,” he said. “They’re a lot of fun.”

They’re even comfortable on warm days, up to a point. He concedes there may be a few Eastern Washington summer weeks where it’s too hot to operate.

Zissermann said it will cost about $30,000 to launch the business, including buying Rally e-bikes and a trailer. He already bought the van. Once set up, he’ll add a second batch of bikes, offering up to two tours a day. The cost will be $120 per rider in the spring and fall shoulder seasons and $150 at the top of the season.

Prosser and Red Mountain partners include Airfield Estates, Davenlore, Jade’s British Girl Treats, Milbrandt Vineyards, Ryan Patrick Wines, Terra Blanca Winery and Tucannon Cellars.

While he’s hopeful Kickstand Tours will be able to launch this summer, he plans to be thoughtful.

“I want to be smart about it as well. Even if we’re legally able to get back, I want to make sure it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

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