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Pedal Pushers

Read how these entrepreneurs are pursuing their dreams of owning bicycle touring companies.

Obvious setbacks- when Mother Earth gets pissed or the economy falters- travel-related businesses. But when you're an independent bike tour company, you'd think bad luck would mandate part-time employment on the side. But take it from those who've tried-and conquered: You can support yourself by "selling" your favorite pastime.

Michele Fitzgerald, 29, and Christopher Kelly, 34, co-founded L.A. Bike Tours LLC in Los Angeles last August, and not only has Kelly quit his day job, but the two expect to profit by summer's end. It's a recent luxury: The self-proclaimed "typical Hollywood actors," who met on the set of a Shakespearean play, once relied on "eclectic sources of income" like private tutoring.

Relaying anecdotes of Beverly Hills and Hollywood glitz while pedaling by the sites seemed right up their alley. Two investors agreed and offered them $10,000 for start-up. L.A. Bike Tours was ready to ride last October, but there were no takers. November only brought a couple tours.

DuVine Adventures Inc., the Somerville, Massachusetts, cycling tour venture founded by Andy Levine in 1994, had a sluggish start, too. Living off a $2,000 loan from his father, Levine, now 30, ran the company, which specializes in tours through the vineyards of France, from his kitchen. Having already established relationships with a bike lender and with family-run ch√Ęteaus and inns in France, he just needed travelers. Only two people responded to Levine's $400 ad in The Wall Street Journal, leading him to purchase more Internet ad space than he could afford print-wise.

Before long, Levine ditched his night job to focus entirely on DuVine, whose $2,495 packages include accommodations, meals, wine tastings and use of a laptop. Levine was finally able to take a paycheck when sales reached $120,000 in 1998. Last year reaped $180,000. Having zero overhead (he rents everything except his domain name) helps, but amid competition from two tour veterans in France, specializing in Burgundy tours has given DuVine an edge. "Our trips are like baking a fresh loaf of bread," says Levine. "People tell us what they want, and we work with them."

L.A. Bike Tours can thank joining the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles Bike Coalition as well as an annual bike show for its recent success. They now book tours ($25 to $55 per day, per person) almost daily.

Do they worry about competition? "This isn't a big secret- take people on bike tours around [Los Angeles]," says Kelly. "But it takes an awful lot of work to get going." If you're doing this abroad, Levine says learning global business etiquette is a must. And if you're doing it locally, Fitzgerald and Kelly warn a lack of networking and bad weather can hurt business. But remember: You get to ride bikes for a living

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