From Passion to Profession
David Mebane ’98 used his passion for international experiences to create Fat Tire Tours, which offers lively learning experiences across the globe.
- By Lori Ferguson
- Photography by Antoine Doyen
- Oct. 26, 20215 min read
Shortly before graduating from Texas A&M University, David Mebane ’98 found himself in Paris working for the major accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. For a management information systems major with minors in international business and French, the assignment seemed like a dream job. Yet Mebane felt something was missing.
“I found myself thinking, ‘Why am I doing this when I could be out exploring the city?’” he recalled. “I had worked in France every previous summer during college, which inspired the idea of living abroad once I graduated, and my trip with Texas A&M’s Europe Marketing Study Abroad program reinforced my interests in history, architecture and food.” Mebane quickly realized what really sparked joy was showing visitors his adopted city of Paris like never before, offering them a special experience they’d remember. With this revelation, the bicycle touring company Fat Tire Tours was born.
During the next 20 years, Mebane steadily built his company; by 2019, he was operating “bike, Segway, walking & skip-the-line tours” in 13 cities across six countries. Then the pandemic hit, and in an instant, everything changed. “On March 12, 2020, I awoke in Paris to the news that President Trump was banning all flights into the U.S. from Europe the next day. Fortunately, I was booked on a flight home that morning, but I decided to suspend Fat Tire Tours’ operations temporarily while in the air over the Atlantic.”
The following months were brutal, Mebane admitted. “We lost all of our business in the States but are still operating in our eight European cities. During the past year, we focused on staying afloat and navigating ever-changing laws, decrees, grants, and loans in six different countries, which was a challenge. We also had more than 100 employees who were suddenly out of a job. It was a strange situation.”
Mebane used the downtime to focus on strategy; now, he is back to putting people on bikes. He acknowledges that it will take time for the business to recover but insists the prognosis is promising. “There’s a lot of attrition in the marketplace right now, which means that there’s market share to grab. People will return—Fat Tire Tours’ future is bright.”
And Fat Tire Tours remains the special company it has always been, an enterprise that shows people places in a new light, Mebane notes. “Our style of touring—fun, interactive, relaxed and family-friendly—is special to us. We call it the Fat Tire Tours secret sauce. We don’t try to give customers every detail about a place; it’s not a college course. We know our customers are there to have fun, learn something about the city, and get great tips from the guides on where to eat and what to do.”
The pandemic also gave rise to a new, personal offering from Mebane: spring and fall tours of Texas A&M’s campus for prospective students and their parents. “I’m particularly proud of Texas A&M. I enjoyed my time on campus, and I wanted to share what I think is special about the school, so I decided to offer a tour that would provide a personal and behind-the-scenes encounter. Our model presents a unique way to experience campus.”
I enjoyed my time on campus, and I wanted to share what I think is special about the school, so I decided to offer a tour that would provide a personal and behind-the-scenes encounter."
Mays Business School professor Stephen McDaniel ’71, Mebane’s friend and longtime Fat Tire Tours customer, is confident Mebane will prevail. For 14 years, “Dr. Mac,” as he is affectionately known, has directed the study abroad program that Mebane attended as a student and has taken students on numerous Fat Tire Tours. At least three (with 80 students each) are a regular part of the program each year. “David’s tours are first-rate; I haven’t had a single student complain in 14 years,” he said.
As Fat Tire Tours regains its momentum, Mebane hopes that Aggies will again be among those venturing abroad. “I know it’s not practical, but I wish that every American college student was required to participate in an experience abroad—it’s a great way to gain perspective,” he said. “For many, college is the best last chance to go abroad; it may even be their only chance, and a trip like that can be life-altering.”
Make a Donation: Eager to help future Aggies enhance their education through travel? Support the Dr. Stephen McDaniel ’71 Study Abroad Scholarship by making a gift of any size online at give.am/MKTGStudyAbroad.
About David Mebane ’98
David Mebane ’98 admits he doesn’t remember when he decided he would attend Texas A&M. He does, however, recall that Texas A&M was the only school to which he applied. Among the highlights of his four years: meeting wife Kelly ’98, earning a degree from Mays Business School and making dear friends through shared experiences. “Texas A&M is different than other schools,” said Mebane. “The Aggie Network is real, and the door is always open.”