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Manny Agulnik leads bicycle tours at home and abroad

By Ilana Belfer

At 68, commercial real estate broker Manny Agulnik is passionate about fitness. He has been a jogger for more than 60 years and now organizes and leads international bicycle tours in Canada, the United States and Europe with OK Cycle Tours, an endeavour he describes as more of a hobby than a business.

"The priorities are responding to people who sent in registrations and making sure their registrations have come in," he said. "Cashing the cheques - that's not so important," adding that people sometimes question his lax attitude toward collecting payments.

Agulnik's involvement with organizing cycling tours began in 1995 when he participated in a ride from Ottawa to Kennebunkport, Maine. When the original organizers lost interest the following year, Agulnik took over.

"I realized I had a knack for the logistics involved in organizing these things," he said.

While only four other men had made the 614 km, four-day journey with Agulnik back in 1995, that annual trip each June is now almost always filled to its 60-person capacity.

In 2005, Agulnik took a cycling trip to the Netherlands with a group of friends. Afterward, he thought, "Why don't I do the same thing over here where it's a cycle-friendly country?" OK Cycle Tours now offers tours in the Netherlands and Denmark.

Closer to home, there's a bike tour in Picton, Ontario. The original tour from Ottawa to Kennebunkport is still available with sessions in early June and late August. New this coming summer is a tour of the Mosel River Vineyards, which covers France, Luxembourg and Germany.

The Canadian tours are selfguided.

Cyclists are provided a map for each day and go at their own pace. The European trips are for smaller groups of six to 12 people all travelling together. Agulnik emphasized how he carefully pre-selects routes and distances for all the trips so that all cyclists feel comfortable.

He described the range of participants as a potpourri of people from the U.S. and Canada who hear about OK Cycle Tours via word of mouth. He said they are of all different ages and skill levels.

"One woman signed up this year for July. She has done Netherlands and Denmark with me and she's a really fit, young woman for 72," said Agulnik.

He stressed that creating a sense of camaraderie on the tours is very important and participants often keep in contact afterward.

Occasionally, Agulnik arranges more than just the bike tour. He is, unintentionally, a modern-day shadchan (matchmaker) as more than one romance has been sparked on an OK Cycle tour.

"I received a call about a month after a tour from a girl looking for a guy's phone number. Lo and behold, next thing I heard, they were engaged," he said.

The outcome is part of the joy provided by planning bicycle tours.

Fascinated by history, Agulnik's hobby has also allowed him to take on the role of tour guide.

"We see things cycling that you would not see on a bus tour," he said, explaining that certain sites are located on back roads, which are not easily accessible. He said he's tripped over some of them by accident.

"Most Dutch people wouldn't know there's a witch museum in Oudewater [Holland]," he said, referring to one of many activities on the weeklong Netherlands tour.

Although the groups and types of tours may vary, Agulnik said he is always there to answer questions, pick up the bikes, and make sure accommodations are reputable. He is responsible if there is a breakdown or someone gets lost. The tours, he said, are well organized and social, noting that the cyclists don't have to think about anything.

"It's really like a holiday," he said.

The bike tours are not Agulnik's first experiences in organizing community fitness activities. He and his wife, Paula, organized the UJA Walkathon in Ottawa in the 1990s.

A commercial real estate broker by profession, Agulnik is a family man, sits on numerous boards of directors, volunteers consistently, and has won several awards for his community involvement.

In the past, he's been a board member for Agudath Israel Congregation and Hillel Lodge and currently sits on the boards of the Tamir Foundation and Great Canadian Theatre Company.

He also sat on the board for the Hillel Lodge Foundation, for which he was the first president and cofounder.

He is still involved with Hillel Lodge's Biking for Bubbies bike-a-thon.

Agulnik is also the chair of the annual Minto Run for Reach, which assists persons with disabilities.

This year's run takes place April 10.

Agulnik said he plans the bicycle tours using "a little bit of time here and a little bit of time there" and his work has not gone unappreciated.

In 2006, Agulnik received the City of Ottawa's Bruce Timmermans Cycling Award for the encouragement of cycling. He has also won the Golden Shoe Award from Runner's World magazine.

He credits his family, as well, for their support.

"It's a family affair," he said.

Paula has joined him in Europe several times and his younger son, Mark, spent part of the last two summers overseas with him. His older son, Adam, wife Galit, and their two daughters live in Toronto.

Agulnik said his goal is to encourage people to be fit and happy, as well as to develop an attitude of "Hey, I can do this!" while having fun.

"Why do I do it?" Agulnik asked rhetorically in reference to the bike tours.

"Because of the satisfaction in knowing people appreciate what I'm trying to accomplish."

from Ottawa Jewish Bulletin - March 21, 2011

History of OK Cycle Tours

Back in 1995, I was approached by my friend Jim to participate in a ride from Ottawa to Kennebunkport, Maine. After calling him crazy, I broke down, being drawn by the romance of cycling to the Atlantic Ocean from Ottawa.

At our start, we were each given sheets of coloured construction paper, a different colour for each day, on which were marked the towns we were to aim for along our route. The first year, there were five of us. Leap-frogging from car to car, staying in B&B's, first in Malone, NY, then Hartwick, Vermont for the second night, an an inn in North Conway, NH for the third night, on the fourth day we finally arrived in Kennebunkport, Maine. That was when I found out that there had been no arrangements made for a place to stay. Fortunately, it did work out.

The next year, the initial organizers dropped the planning of the tour, and I took over with one of the other cyclists from the first year. By now we were up to eight cyclists and we still stayed in B&B's. Year three, our numbers skyrocketed to twenty-four, and the routes had to be changed, stopping night two in Morrisville. No more B&B's, and we added a late summer edition, giving some people who want to get more riding in before attempting the 614km route the chance to join us.

Each year, we have about two thirds return who have previously participated in the ride. The route is tweaked annually. Typically, the spring tour is now up to about sixty people. Our riders are drawn to this tour by the camaraderie, great support, daily hospitality suite, the possibility of a massage being available after the ride, or perhaps the extra discount coupons at Pearl Izumi factory outlet in North Conway or the Louis Garneau factory outlet in Newport, Vermont!

Manny Agulnik