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Cycling Retreats with NTSQ Velo

Never the status quo.

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Less than 10 minutes—and just three kilometres—into our ride, the contoured green of Pebble Beach’s infamous 14th hole emerges from behind a cluster of ponderosa and bishop pines growing along 17-Mile Drive. On any other day, I’d be clamouring for my clubs. Instead, I’m doing the first of three challenging, picturesque, and—in some cases—once-in-a-lifetime cycling rides in the greater Monterey, California, area with NTSQ Velo, a Vancouver-based enterprise run by a team of mostly transplanted Australians who specialize in luxuriously appointed North American cycling retreats.

Soon, we’ve reached the coast. We pass the Monterey peninsula’s iconic Lone Cypress—the tree famously at the centre of Pebble Beach’s logo. Shortly after, we’re snaking our way past the even more aspirational golf holes of the exclusive Cypress Point Club before turning inland, climbing away from the Pacific and toward the dramatic ridgelines of Carmel Valley.

The cycling company’s name is an initialism that stands for “Never the Status Quo,” and the opening 15 kilometres of this retreat’s introductory ride provide evidence of that. On an NTSQ Velo retreat, stunning vistas and charming roads aren’t delivered near the end of a ride; instead, they characterize most of it.

More than an hour later, as we’re coasting along backcountry roads in a shaded valley about 18 kilometres east of Carmel-by-the-Sea, I ride up alongside Travis McKenzie, the founder of NTSQ Velo, who is steadily pacing the strong riders at the front of the group. “It’s a lifelong dream to be able to do this,” says 35-year-old McKenzie, an experienced Ironman competitor. “The joy I get from riding my bike is so special. It’s a freedom that I crave, and it’s very special to share that with our guests.”

The cycling company’s name is an initialism that stands for “Never the Status Quo,” and the opening 15 kilometres of this retreat’s introductory ride provide evidence of that.

McKenzie grew up on Australia’s Gold Coast and, last year, founded NTSQ Sports Group (parent company to NTSQ Velo), which specializes in organizing and operating a variety of sporting events throughout Canada. The company has also sponsored a few professional cycling teams, which provided McKenzie with an insider’s view of how a cycling group can be supported both on and off the road. Armed with that knowledge, as well as his own Ironman experiences, McKenzie is committed to delivering an equally proficient service with NTSQ Velo, albeit one draped in luxury.

Currently, the travel company leads five-day, four-night cycling retreats, starting at $6,900, in six places around the U.S., many of which are based at boutique Relais & Châteaux hotels and resorts. At Twin Farms in Barnard, Vermont, for example, cyclists are treated to a fine dining and beverage program that has routinely earned the New England resort prestigious awards over the last two decades. Guests spend their late mornings and early afternoons traversing the area’s quaint and pastoral landscapes on two wheels. “It’s like an untouched paradise there,” says McKenzie. “There are these undiscovered, beautiful riding places that we’re able to share with people, and it gives people a real appreciation for the U.S. and Canada as beautiful places to go and ride their bikes.”

With a portfolio of destinations that also includes Maui, Napa Valley, and Kennebunkport in Maine, NTSQ Velo is committed to distinct locales. (Canadian trips to Banff, Lake Louise, Whistler, and Vancouver will be added next spring.) Despite the varied nature of their dramatic settings, every retreat features a bevy of standard amenities that elevate the trips beyond other high-end cycling excursions, such as Cervélo C5 road bikes equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 components; daily post-ride massages; and access to NormaTec Pulse Recovery System boots, which use air compression to enhance blood flow and quicken muscle recovery from the upper thigh to the lower calf.

Unlike some cycle-focused travel companies that only run a trip if a certain number of guests commit to it, NTSQ Velo guarantees that all of its scheduled retreats will occur. It can accept reservations only a couple of days before a retreat’s starting date, if necessary. What’s more, the team can craft custom itineraries and retreats for interested cyclists. “We want to create experiences and life-changing moments for people,” says McKenzie. “And I’m really lucky that we’re creating something that I would want to do myself.”

Photos by Chris Thorn.

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September 12, 2017