Electric Escapes Ireland: Meet Paul and Marie Harmon

Paul Harmon, owner of Electric Escapes in Westport, Co. Mayo. Photo courtesy of Electric Escapes.

How did you find yourself in County Mayo and how did the idea for Electric Escapes Ireland come about?

Love is how I found myself in Mayo.

Marie, my wife, says she dragged me back from her travels!

Originally, I’m from East London and Marie is from Ireland.

We met in the Middle East, traveled the world, and were blown away by the beauty of Mayo on a brief 2-week return. So much so that we have been here 20 years, raising a family and creating a fabulous life.

I was made redundant and started to think of what I enjoyed as opposed to what I wanted to earn.

Photo: lucigerma

On a visit to the U.S., I saw Blazing Saddles in California using e-bikes to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

I followed this up with trips to Germany to see them in use throughout Europe and saw an opportunity for Ireland. That was 10 years ago.

Did you always have an interest in the tourism industry or was this a career change for you?

It was a complete career change.

I was Mr. Corporate working for large multinationals throughout the world. I never thought about the tourism industry. I just enjoy traveling and have been lucky to have been around the world a few times experiencing different, amazing cultures.

I knew what I liked and wanted to give others similar authentic experiences.

What exactly does a travel company like Electric Escapes Ireland offer the visitor to Mayo and what should people expect when taking an Electric Escapes bike tour?

Having been going 10 years now, we still have the same philosophy we had from day one. “It’s your day, your way. It’s a bike safari.”

We offer quality e-bikes with four-wheel drive support, the best local guides, and the best equipment for the experience.

Cycling through Co. Mayo on an e-bike from Electric Escapes Ireland. Photo courtesy of Electric Escapes.

But what sets us apart is what we offer in giving visitors a unique experience.

We give you choices on the day. We have a conversation, not a lecture, and then tailor-make the experience for you. There is a start point but where you finish depends on your choices.

This may be because you are enjoying your local gourmet food being cooked on a beach, by a waterfall, or on top of a mountain.

Rockfleet Castle near Newport, Co. Mayo, otherwise known as The Pirate Queen's Castle. It is reputed to be the place where Grace O'Malley died in 1603. Photo: Arthur Ilkow, Tourism Ireland.

Our local guides help you make decisions on either/or trails. The high road or the low road?

The Wild Atlantic Way cliffs during a storm or relaxing in the sun on your own private beach? Want to head over the hills to see what’s there? Had enough cycling and want to jump in the jeep for a spin on the sand now that the tide is out?

Want to know more about the Pirate Queen’s Castle or a 6,000-year-old fort? Or maybe you just want to be left alone?

We support but don’t intrude. We’re there but don’t lead…..we are your bike butler for the day. It's your day, your way.

Are electric bikes more popular than regular ones? What makes electric bikes different from a regular bicycle journey in the country?

Initially, e-bikes were chosen by people who considered themselves less fit, too old, or unable to cycle.

Riders take to the beach on their Ebikes. Photo: Electric Escapes Facebook.

They soon became known as easier to ride than a regular bike, especially on hills, and increased distances covered with ease.

This led to a multi-generational activity of old and young together. Our oldest bike rider to date is 88 and the youngest is 16.

Now we have younger parents with their college kids and even E mountain bikes for the mountain trails that are suitable for 20 somethings.

Burrishoole Abbey, one of the stops along the way on an Electric Escapes tour. Photo: DvcDvd84 for Getty Images.

Times have changed regarding the perception of the E-bike.

It’s not whether you‘re able or not. The bikes just allow you to look up and enjoy the scenery rather than down at your legs struggling to make it up that hill.

It’s not either or but both complement each other. They are merely a means of sustainable transport that lets everyone enjoy the view together.…and let’s face it, the best views are usually from the top of the hill!

I see you offer a few different tours. Which one is the most popular with your visitors? Do you have a personal favorite?

The Bangor Trail, an ancient 6,000-year-old mountain pass trade trail is a firm favorite.

The sheer beauty and variety of landscapes appeal to everyone.

An aerial view of the Wild Nephin Wilderness Area, including the Nephin Beg Mountains in Ballycroy National Park. Photo: Courtesy Gareth McCormack for Failte Ireland/Tourism Ireland.

It covers an Ice Age landscape of mountains, drumlins, bogs, Viking forts, a pirate queen’s castle, deserted villages, 11th-century Christian abbeys, and ring forts from people long forgotten since pagan times.

We uncover layers of history and culture as we cycle through it.

We follow a trickle of a stream from the mountains through loughs, rivers, bogs, the coast, beaches, and ultimately out onto the edge of Europe on the Wild Atlantic Way and onto some of the highest cliffs in Europe.

The light changes daily and it's never the same twice in a row!

My favorite time is exploring this trail to uncover hidden roads, trails lanes, and routes as alternatives for those a little bit more adventurous.

people on bicycles Electric Escapes
A group of French bloggers takes a ride through the beautiful County Mayo countryside with Electric Escapes Ireland founder Paul Harmon, far right. Photo courtesy of Electric Escapes.

Do you personally take visitors on the tours or do you have separate guides who do that?

Both. We have excellent local guides, along with myself having over 20 years of local knowledge.

As I said, we don’t lecture but enhance your experience by listening and telling the story that matters to you.

How do you incorporate the local food and culture into your tours?

We use only locally produced food. Even our salt is from Achill Island and the coffee is locally roasted. We use local mussels and mackerel and cook them up on the beach for you.

two jars of salt Electric Escapes
Achill Island Sea Salt. Photo courtesy of Achill Island Sea Salt Facebook.

Local bread, cheese, seaweed, organic salads, and more. We visit the producers and local people that make their lives here. We embrace the language, the food, the culture, the song, and the spoken word that resonates with Mayo.

What are the best times of the year to take an Electric Escapes tour?

Anytime! Ireland is Ireland and we can have four seasons in a day. Summer can turn up any time and often does at least once a day every day!

people on bicycles Electric Escapes
A happy Electric Escapes Ireland customer riding through rural Co. Mayo. Photo courtesy of Electric Escapes.

Ireland is temperate so it’s never too cold or hot. It does rain but never for long and the colors and skies of the West of Ireland are legendary and made for artists.

We are still scheduling tours at this time of year. It's cold and clear and with snow on the mountains, which makes it truly beautiful.

The Irish weather can be changeable, especially on the West Coast. It is advisable to bring rain gear. Photo: Nico van Gelder, Getty Images.

The warmest months are May through August, followed by September through October, with the wettest being March.

Bring layers and smiles and you won’t go far wrong. We do provide wet gear and layers if you need them.

Where do your visitors come from typically?

Everywhere! America, the UK, and mainland Europe mostly.

It seems word of mouth is our main strength and often we will get groups from the more remote areas of America and the planet who have heard about us from friends of friends.

We recently had our first Chinese group and have had Australians, Kiwis, Thais, and more.

What makes Electric Escapes Ireland different from other bike rentals/tour companies?

We love being a “passed-on secret,” as our tours are all about small intimate groups having an authentic experience.

a cyclist on a long road Electric Escapes
The beautiful Mayo landscape is perfect for touring on an Ebike. Photo: Electric Escapes Facebook.

We can’t put down exactly what we do hour-by-hour as we tailor the tour by the weather, wind, culture, interests, festivals, seasonality of food, wildlife, and based on our 10 years of experience, what we feel is right for the group we are with.

We never repeat a day and we never put a square peg in a round hole. We always listen more than we talk…we let the landscape talk for us.

For more information, visit the Electric Escapes Facebook page or email Paul at [email protected]