Giacomo Elia is the owner of Brompton Tokyo Tours, an international company that offers bicycle tours around Japan and Europe, all while riding the revered Brompton.
Born and raised in the Italian capital of Rome, Elia didn’t have a clear path toward financial success growing up, and consequently it was difficult for him to establish a sustainable career once he became an adult.
“You can try many different things when you’re striving for success,” Elia says.
“But unfortunately, my country does not give its citizens a lot of chances to be successful.”
Rome may not have presented the professional opportunities that Elia was seeking, but no matter how bleak his career path looked, Elia always found inspiration when riding or working with bicycles.
His fascination with the two-wheeled contraptions began when his brother introduced him to critical mass cycling, an activity where thousands of people meet at a predetermined location before collectively riding their bikes through cities and neighborhoods.
Elia says the critical mass cycling movement originated in San Francisco, but adds that by the time he became enamored with cycling, the critical mass hysteria had spread to Rome.
“And that was the first time that I started to think that a bicycle could change lives,” Elia mentions.
Once Elia fell in love with cycling, he began fixing bikes for free, and his efforts were later rewarded when he was given an opportunity to partner with Brompton, a British manufacturer of folding bicycles.
For context, Brompton Bicycles have become globally revered for their self-supporting compact size and user-friendly rideability.
At the time a brand ambassador and champion of the Brompton, Elia traveled to Spain, Denmark, and Germany to promote the company’s unprecedented product.
In fact, the European tour was so successful that Brompton sent Elia to Asia to continue showcasing their unique bicycles.
As the company hoped, many cyclists in Asia were intrigued by the Brompton, but what the British manufacturer didn’t anticipate was that when they stopped in Tokyo, Elia’s life would be upended, albeit in a positive way.
That’s because while in the Japanese mecca Elia met a young woman, sparking a romance that was so powerful, Elia didn’t want to go back to Rome.
Two years after Elia’s chance encounter with the young woman, he was married and still in Tokyo.
By then he was no longer on Brompton’s payroll, but the Rome native also still held a deep affinity for the Brompton product, and cycling in general.
Moreover, Elia was also searching for a way to earn money in Tokyo without having to work for a company.
“I wanted to figure out a way to stay in Tokyo without having to work for someone else,” Elia shares.
“My experience with Brompton led me to think that I could work with those bikes, even though I wouldn’t officially work for the company, and that I could do so in a way where I would I work for myself.”
After much research, Elia decided that he would begin offering bike tours around Tokyo, and in order to stand out from his competition, he opted to only offer tours on the Brompton bicycles.
At first, Elia struggled to gain traction in the Tokyo market.
Much of this could be attributed to the fact that he was still learning Japanese, but he also learned later that he wasn’t marketing to his ideal demographic.
“Right away the business was challenging because I didn’t fully understand Japanese people and Japanese culture, but eventually I learned that I could circumvent that obstacle, due to the fact that there was a niche population that wanted to ride Brompton,” Elia explains.
This niche demographic consisted of casual tourists, many of whom found his bike tour on Airbnb, plus Brompton enthusiasts who relished the opportunity to ride the special contraption in a different part of the world.
“People who love Brompton hire me because they see my story on the Internet and they want to take a tour around the city of Tokyo,” Elia says.
“And a lot of tourists want to see Tokyo on a bicycle, and even if they have no idea what a Brompton is, they will choose me based off the reviews that they see on my Airbnb listing.”
Since being able to make inroads with his ideal clientele, Brompton Tokyo Tours has blossomed, and despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19 Elia has spent the last few years brainstorming new ways to elevate his brand and business.
This includes plans to open a coffee shop that doubles as a bike shop filled with accessories and vintage bicycles from different eras.
“This idea would ultimately cater to bicycle lovers who want to socialize, have a cup of coffee, and meet people who not only like to ride Brompton, but bikes in general,” says the amiable Elia, who now adeptly speaks Japanese, as well as Italian, English, and Spanish.
From struggling in Rome, to partnering with Brompton, to later having a family in Tokyo, Elia has proven that he will go wherever his aspirations can be realized.
Which is to say, perhaps he will remain in Tokyo for another couple decades, or maybe opportunity will bring him elsewhere.
Either way, he has not lost appreciation for the past, or for the blessings Tokyo has afforded him.
“I have thought a lot about this and it’s hard to say where my family and I will end up. Some days I want to stay in Tokyo forever, and sometimes I miss Italy,” Elia admits.
“But Tokyo, and the country of Japan, is like a second home. The people and the culture here are amazing, and regardless of what the future may bring, I feel so lucky that the country welcomed me and ultimately allowed me to build a life for my family and I, all while doing something I love.” QS
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