From England to India, thousands and thousands of km under the wheels on Royal Enfields, a few broken bones, a couple of years in Ibiza renting out 1960 Ford Mustangs, a fun-filled midlife crisis living on a boat while exploring Europe, and back to Asia, this time in Sri Lanka, to build a hotel on the beach and settle.
This is the short version story of Zander, the original founder of Extreme Bike Tours and owner of the Halcyon Mawella hotel (Sri Lanka), with whom we had the pleasure of having a nice chat.
Zander now operates Halcyon, a newly launched boutique hotel in Mawella, a stunning and untouched fishermen’s beach just a few minutes away from Tangalle, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
Halcyon Mawella is an Official Sponsor of the 1st Edition of the RnT Story Contest.
Zander: Hi Cian, how are you?
Cian: Hi Zander, how is it going?
Zander: I’m alright mate, I have just recovered from a bit of “Covid”, but it’s all good
Cian: Ah really… jeez… it seems like everyone is getting it now
Zander: what time is it mate where you are?
Cian: it is half twelve, 12.30, so…
Zander: where are you?
Cian: 2.5 hours ahead of you I think
Zander: but where are you?
Cian: I’m in Bali (Indonesia)
Zander: oh ok nice, that makes sense, I thought you were in Italy
Cian: No no, not where Simone is from anyways [Simone is the founder of RnT]
Zander: ok, cool, nice
Cian: I’ll just get in it, so I guess I just have a few questions, they’re all kind of be to do with yourself…. So just to start this off, where are you from and what actually lead you to Sri Lanka, so what jobs did you do, what actually made you go over there
Zander: ok, that’s quite a long story for me but I’ll try to be short… So I’m from England… I started my life in England, and I worked in the city for a few years, I hated it, and then I decided to do things slightly differently.
So I moved out to India, where I lived 17 years and one of the things that I have done there was set up a company called Extreme Bike Tours, which you might know about, and I ran that for about 10 years before I sold it to some people in Sri Lanka (Ben & John), with whom I am still run it and own it.
But I actually went back to Europe, for a couple of years, because I thought it would be a good idea, and I moved to Ibiza where I have … I am a bit of a serial business “setter up”, the business I am setting up here is number 8, but in Ibiza, I started setting up a company renting out 1960 Ford Mustangs, and cars…
Cian: V8s I hope
Zander: all V8s, of course, yeah. I did actually have one 6 cylinders which is in a maculate and original condition, so I had that as a backup car as well.
Zander: surely it did. I have sold that company and it still doing well. It seems there are more formula one drivers renting cars than normal people
Zander: I have also set up a company renting out classic boats, sort of “self-drive” boats… so that’s what I have done while in Ibiza, and then I took 2 years where I bought a boat and I sailed around Europe for 2 years, trying to work out if Europe was the place I wanted to be…
Cian: that was one of my follow up questions…
Cian: that was one of my follow-up questions. I had a look at your Instagram and I saw that you are an avid sailor, so I was going to ask about the boat, the places you went, Simone was telling me that you just decided to go off for a couple of years on the boat.
Zander: that was the best midlife crisis ever
Cian: it’s not a bad one
Zander: yeah, so actually that was… I’ll come back to that, and then basically I decided that, I mean, I love Asia, I have always have done and it’s a very much part of me to be …. And decided that Sri Lanka was the place, and decided to build a hotel (Halcyon Mawella), with the new owners of Extreme Bike Tours.
Zander: that’s where I am now, and we have been building throughout the pandemic, and we are opening on Saturday.
Cian: unbelievable, it looks unreal. I have seen it on Instagram, I have been looking at the page, following it. What I… even to do with the Bikes, I had a look at your Instagram where you had a picture from when you were 8 and a YZ80, where you couldn’t even reach the ground, and you are on the bike…
Zander: the YZ80, yeah, that was my first motorbike, yeah,
Cian: … Did you get muddy after that or was it kind of (just posing)?
Zander: I was brought up on a farm, and I have got 3 older brothers, they were always into fishing, and I am not the most patient person in the world, so fishing wasn’t for me and I got into riding motorbikes.
Cian: so all the dirt bikes in the start?
Zander: all the dirt bikes from the start, you know we used to make ramps, jump over things..
Zander: actually funny enough I have never had a proper motorcycle injury until Extreme Bike Tours
Cian: ok, so, Sri Lanka probably was it?
Zander: No, that was in India, Extreme Bike Tours was originally in India, and I did actually have a few broken ribs, collar bones, arms, and legs. Most of that was from one accident to be honest. It happens. You know, where you are doing – I don’t know how many kilometers we were doing a year but it was probably in the ten thousand.
Cian: was the on the road? Did you fall off a bloody cliff or what happened there?
Zander: Some of my customers fell off the cliffs but not me, that was actually on – my tour seasons were about 10 months long, so we were running 16-17 tours a year, which I lead every one of them, and the last day of the last tour, before I took 2 months off, somebody ran right into me.
Cian: No…for f*** sake…
Zander: I broke legs, arms, ribs..
Cian: a car drove into you, was it?
Zander: a motorbike, just pulled out right in front of me
Cian: a motorbike?
Cian: oh, that’s the worst
Zander: I think I hit him at 80 km/h
Cian: how did he get away with it?
Zander: I think he had a few breaks but he was ok.
Cian: Was that on, did you always use the Royal Enfield? I saw that they were pretty much all the Enfields on the Sri Lanka tour, was it the same bikes?
Zander: Yeah, on all the tours we used the Royal Enfields
Cian: Ok, all the 350cc, is it? Or the 500?
Zander: No we had the 500s
[A quick water break]
Cian: Simone was telling me – I have never ridden a Royal Enfield – but he was saying that they are really heavy….
Zander: I mean, that’s a very loose sort of thing, they are not for… I think most 500cc bikes around the world or 600s, are a lot heavier than an Enfield because they are so simple. You know there is no electronics, very simple, bulletproof bikes, but you know if you get more modern 600cc like sportbikes they weigh a lot more.
Cian: tell me about it, the bike I had back home was a 750, and I have never had more problems with a vehicle in my life.
Zander: what was that?
Cian: It was a Suzuki GSX-R… really good engine but I don’t know what happened, I think it was the ECU, I thought it was, I rode to two mechanics, took the whole engine off…
Zander: Electrical problems…
Cian: oh my god, I bought a new ECU, it had to be calibrated, and still it didn’t work, the most complicated… Literally had to sell it, I spent over two and a half grands trying to fix it and sold it for the same 2.5 grands.
Zander: that’s why old is gold, you know old things, you fix them up and then you know what you have got and they are very very easy to fix and maintain.
Cian: Probably just carbs on the Royal Enfield, there is no injection or anything, is it?
Zander: they have two options nowadays, for the 500s, there is a carb model and fuel injections. The fuel injection, I haven’t been in that business for 6/7 years, but it used to be a problem.
Cian: Of course, when they start to adding things…
Zander: they was only little things, you couldn’t store the bikes, you had to keep half a tank of gasoline, otherwise the fuel injection would just disappear, so as long as you left fuel in the gas tank when you are storing them you are fine.
Cian: back to the boat, so you bought a boat and … interesting stories, scariest, do you have any? Or the best place you have sailed?
Zander: well the boat was not a sailing boat, it was actually something called “Dutch steel cruiser”, which is designed to go down inland waterways. It’s not a barge, it doesn’t look like a “sea-going” boat, but technically for inland waterways, so most of what I did was through the canal systems in Europe, but me being me, I did go into the Baltic see in it for one summer, and got all the way north of Gotenburg, in Sweden, and it was about 100 km in the arctic circle, which was brilliant.
I did some of the fjords as well, which was brilliant, and Denmark and all the archipelago which was stunning, and then I actually came back all the way through Europe again, and then spent a summer in the Med as well.
The easiest time was obviously in the canals, ‘cause there’s not much that can go wrong, and I did leave Barcelona, and rather than following the coast, decided to go just north of Barcelona straight across to Ibiza, and it was 2 days crossing, because the cruising speed was let’s say about 8 knots, so about 12km/h, so it was very slow, and I misjudged the weather, completely. So I had these 2 days, and it was rough, it was not fun, it was not fun at all.
The amazing thing, I am quite a loner, I quite like my own company, but to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, for 2 days, with even your VFH radio not really contacting anyone, and not being able to get weather reports… it was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
Cian: a bit of excitement too.
Zander: Sure, it was good things to put myself through.
Cian: if was funny that you said about “not much could go wrong in the canals”, I am not sure if you have seen it, do you follow Top Gear at all?
Zander: I have actually ran a Top Gear Christmas special in India
Cian: Wow, in India?
Zander: I was with these guys, well, I was actually working for them for 3 months, and I spent 6 weeks with the boys running their Christmas special.
Cian: That’s a dream, that’s a dream. But this you see their… That’s unreal actually… I don’t know in which canal was it, it could have been somewhere in India, I just remember seeing that the lads got stuck, when the tide came out, I don’t know how it came out, but the boats got stuck, the water came out and the boats got stuck there…
Cian: Do you have any funny stories about Simone about your tours in Sri Lanka on the bikes..
Zander: Oh yeah, Simone is not a very good map reader.
Cian: He’s got lost a lot, was he?
Zander: Well, we started to call them “Simone tours”, when we were having some with him, because we’ll all end up in the hotel and Simone would turn up 6 hours later after going missing, like (on the phone) “where are you”, “I don’t know”
Cian: he would be stopping a lot with the bike, would he? Looking at the map
Zander: I think he stopped to take pictures and obviously when is a group of mates riding, there’s always a bit of competition so, he’s not the fastest rider and I think we just lost him, and then it took him a while to find out where we were.
And of course, he had the support vehicle with him with all the alcohol in there as well, so by the time we got to the hotel we were all pretty upset with him by the time he turned up.
Cian: you were all waiting for the drinks. There was no bar in the hotel?
Zander: There are normally but where we were staying for that one night, it was a guest house, and no, there was no booze.
Cian: He probably had a few before he got there, got a headstart.
Zander: I think he probably gave the motorbike to the mechanic to drive and he sat on the support vehicle drinking probably.
Cian: Well anyways, I’ll leave you there, I’ll let you back to it. Congratulations on your new resort, or is it a hotel, how do you call it?
Zander: It’s a hotel, it’s a 10 bedroom hotel.
Cian: Congratulations on it, and it was nice talking to you, hopefully I can meet you in the future sometime.
Zander: Indeed, once all this rubbish is all done we can travel normally again, would be good.
Cian: Thank you
Zander: Thank you