Ambitious teens run bike tours
CARTER LATNO and Bryce Letcher, who are both 15, launched their own bicycle touring business this summer.
Two Sonoma Valley teens are testing their business savvy this summer by launching their own touring company, Janky Bikes. Bryce Letcher and Carter Latno, both 15, are leading tours around Sonoma on seven-speed Beach Cruiser bikes, offering a mixture of historical insight and local color along the way while raising money for their college educations.
During the summer months, hoards of Sonoma Valley teens search for work, but few are as industrious as Latno and Letcher. These soon-to-be sophomores at Justin-Siena High School did not want to open a fly-by-night operation - Janky Bikes began with a $10,000 bank loan and is now a fully-insured, incorporated limited liability company that got the blessing of the Sonoma City Council.
"We wanted to do it ourselves. We did the whole incorporation ourselves, including all of the paperwork, which was annoying," Letcher said, adding that his mother, a small-business owner herself, helped guide the teens through the process of launching their own company.
The friends began offering tours in June, leading visitors on a seven-mile tour from the Plaza, to the Gen. Vallejo Home, back along the bike path, through Ledson Estates, finally ending with a picnic at Bartholomew Park Winery. Along the way, they point out historical sites and places of interest, such as the HGTV Dream Home and houses that are reported to be haunted, at least in the eyes of local author Carla Heine. The pair said they spent several weeks researching the information they share with customers, pouring over history books in the library.
"The Robert Lynch book has been extremely helpful," Letcher said, referring to "The Sonoma Valley Story," written by the late Index-Tribune publisher. "Like 90 percent of our information comes from that."
The young entrepreneurs also offer creature comforts, including cold water and blankets to sit on in the grass at the winery. Each rider also gets a snack pack, with brie, cheese and crackers, grapes and brownies, which Letcher's mom makes up fresh for each participant. Currently the pair is offering two tours a day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, which last two-and-a-half hours and costs $30 a person. When school starts, they plan to drop the Friday tours as they'll be in school.
"We're only going to do one tour on Sundays because we have homework," Latno said. The teens plan to offer tours through October, picking up again in the spring once the weather dries out.
"People can call us for a special tour, like we've had bridesmaids call us for bachelorette parties," Letcher said.
In its first summer, the business is growing steadily. The young men reached out to the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau and have also developed brochures that they provided to hotels around the county.
"We're working on vacation property owners now," Letcher said.
The business idea blossomed last summer when the pair, who have been best friends since they met in the Dolphin Room at the Sunshine School at age 4, were visiting San Diego. Too young to drive, the friends rented bikes to explore the city.
"They were hilarious," Latno said.
Letcher added, "They were completely the wrong size, falling apart."
The teens said they first discussed opening a bike rental business, but after discovering that service already existed in Sonoma, they decided to expand their idea into a touring company that would offer hometown flavor for visitors. They used their experience in San Diego as inspiration for the name of their company, Janky Bikes, although the name does not reflect the quality of bikes the teens purchased.
"We bought 15 2011 Beach Cruisers ... they're brand new and they're very pretty," said Letcher.
It'll take time for the business to become profitable due to high insurance rates and the $10,000 loan, but the teens said they plan to run the business for the next three summers at least, until they go to college. Even if the business doesn't succeed in making them independently wealthy, the best friends said the business education they've received would be more than worth the investment.
"The whole thing is a huge learning curve," Letcher said. "It's almost indescribable all we've learned."
For more information or to sign up for a tour, visit www.jankybiketours.com or call 939-3652.