It began as a lark, a funny conversation over a meal at a pizza joint in La Jolla while visiting a sister at UC San Diego last summer. This year it morphed into a fledgling start-up enterprise, complete with a presentation to the planning commission, a small business loan, business license, web site, insurance and a whole lot of chutzpah.
It’s Janky Bike Tours, started by 15-year-olds Bryce Latcher and Carter Latno. The soon-to-be Justin-Siena sophomores, who have been friends since they met in the Sunshine School’s “Whale Room,” say they have learned more this summer than they ever dreamed possible.
“We rented these really junky bikes when we were in San Diego and started talking about how great it would be to start a bike tour company in Sonoma with cool, fun bikes,” said Letcher. “The idea just kept coming up in our conversations so we mentioned it up to my mom, who said she’d help us put together a business plan,” said Letcher. Latno added that no one in Sonoma rents cruisers so those were the bikes they chose and, “we realized the really fun part would be to lead tours rather than just rent the bikes.”
Equally gregarious teens, both boys like the camaraderie that comes from the tours – meeting, interacting with and learning about their visitors, etc. – and have learned enough about Sonoma to provide plenty of local lore.
For instance, on the abbreviated ride I took with them one recent afternoon, the pair took me by Second Street East’s Cedar Mansion, describing the ghost that haunts the property and frequently walks down the west side of Second Street to MacArthur Place, returning to the mansion using the east side of the street.
The two also know a lot about the Plaza itself and the native trees that dot the eight-acre property. They wax poetic about General Vallejo and the Bear Flag Revolt before setting off to visit his home. They give a mini history-of-railroading lesson in Depot Park. They’ve boned up on their Sonoma history for sure.
Both of the boys go on every tour to provide commentary as well as for safety reasons – for instance if a bike breaks, one can stay with the group while the other arranges alternate transportation.
Tours are led on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with each one being two-plus hours long – an out and back trip that emanates from the Plaza. The destination is typically Bartholomew Park where the group stops for a short break and snack. The cost, just $30.
“We’ve had lots of positive feedback from our customers,” said Letcher. “And the City of Sonoma has been great, really supportive of our new business venture.”
As school starts, the boys will pare the tours back to just weekends, balancing school work and sports schedules with their business. They’ve looked into options like hiring a helper and possibly opening another company to increase cash flow. But for now, they’re happy to continue learning about their customers, Sonoma and the business world at large.
For more information on Janky Bikes Tours, call 415.816.5364, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit jankybiketours.com.