Get To Know Cycling Guide Mark Collins

Owner and guide of Riding With Cosimo, Mark Collins, has more than 12 years’ experience cycling in beautiful Florence and started the business three years ago. Mark takes small groups on tailor-made cycling tours of the region, with options to include stops to sample gelato, pastries and espresso – multo bene!
How did you get into cycling tours in Florence?  

Our daughter married a Florentine and settled here 14 years ago. During visits, usually twice a year, I would cycle, after hearing from others how great the cycling is here. Eventually, I bought a bike that I left at her apartment and would ride most of the time while visiting.

How did you make the transition to being a tour guide? 

For a number of reasons, my wife and I decided to live here in Florence, mostly to be with our grandchildren as they grew up. I needed to make some money and loved cycling, and at my daughter’s suggestion, decided to start a tour guide business. She said “Dad, you know the roads and area better than anyone I know here and you would be great at it.”

What does a typical day look like for you? 

A typical day of guiding involves meeting my clients at either their hotel, if they have brought bikes, or at a rental shop where they rent bikes. After that, there is no typical. I have guided clients ranging from honeymooners in flip flops to former professional racers. What I do is ask if there is anything the clients want to see, then get a feel for fitness levels as we start. I always allow for changing the proposed route as we go.  My only objective for a day is for the clients to have the best day possible on a bike.

What is the best part of your job? 

I love sharing my passion for cycling and in particular cycling here in beautiful Tuscany with others. Seeing the glow of a wonderful day on a client’s face is probably the best part.

How many times do you stop for gelato when taking tours in summer?  

That totally depends on the clients. There are options for espresso, pastries, panini, and of course gelato, as we go.

 Where did the name of your business, ‘Riding With Cosimo’, come from? 

Before moving here, I had friends visit for a couple of weeks when we were here. They are dedicated cyclists, and we spent most of our days cycling. On a rainy day, I took them through the city and we stopped at a statue of Cosimo Il Magnifico. My last name is Collins, and one of my friends looked at the statue and just started calling me Cosimo. The nickname stuck with us and I got the name of the business there.

What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour? 

I had clients who wanted to check out a field of blooming irises one day. I asked the owner, who was out enjoying the day, and he was happy to let us wander. He eventually joined us, and spent 45 minutes with us, explaining that the flowers were cultivated for perfume, and sent to Paris. We walked all over his terraced gardens and had a wonderful time.

What is the mix of time spent in the countryside versus Florence’s inner city when it comes to your tours? How do you deal with the traffic in the inner city?

Typically, I get my tours out of town as quickly and safely as possible. Depending on which direction we want to go, there are bike paths accessible.  If the clients are experienced with traffic, we simply use the roads. If we are using roads and riding quickly, we can almost always be out of town in 10 minutes or so.  It is one of the wonderful things about riding in Florence.

What is one Italian phrase you’ve found invaluable as a guide, and what does it mean? 

‘Dove la fontana de aqua?’ It means ‘Where is the water fountain?’ Almost all small towns in Tuscany have public water fountains which supply good and safe drinking water. It is important to hydrate as we ride, particularly in the summer, so I know where most of the fountains are.

What do you do if someone gets a puncture? Do you do wine tasting tours and if so, has anyone ever fallen off the bike? 

If someone gets a puncture, I help them change tubes and get them going again. I occasionally do wine tastings, but try to keep the consumption to a reasonable level, as typically there is a ride back to town to be completed. No, I have not had someone fall off a bike after a wine tasting.

Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t like or aren’t that keen on? 

There are times I simply get tired of being “turned on”.  It is my job to give my clients a great, entertaining day, and if I do 10 days in a row, I just get a little tired.

As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are? 

For cycling, you leave all your worries behind. No need to have maps, try to figure out where you are and where you are going – simply enjoy my knowledge base. I know most of the best places in many directions to find espresso, pastries, and more. Clients can use my experience to have a hassle-free day of cycling in one of the best spots in the world to ride.

Tell us something about cycling in Florence that only a guide would know – what can you see or learn about the area, or Italy, that you would never experience otherwise? 

I typically take people on roads that are very out of the way and one would never find on their own, and not on one of the many pre-set tours available.

What benefits do you get from taking small group tours (one to five people)? 

The benefit of taking one group at a time is that the group has one set of expectations. They need to ride at the pace of the slowest person without complaint. If you mix groups, you can end up with many different ability levels. Small groups work best by far for me.

And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?

Just contact me and ask questions. I spend a fair amount of time answering questions from people who may or may not end up spending a day with me. Be clear about your expectations and what you have in mind. For me, only then can I design the best tour for you.

If you like this, you might also like Explore Florence and Explore Italy.

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