Every now and again at Dave's Travel Pages, I run a Meet the Cyclists feature, where I interview other cyclists on long distance bike tours. Let's meet Daniele and Elena from Cycloscope!
Meet the Cyclists – Cycloscope
1. Can you please introduce yourselves and give a bit of background?
We are Daniele and Elena a couple of 30something Italians. I (Daniele) used to be an audio engineer and event organizer. Elena is graduated in political science and human rights. I am also a musician and Elena loves to draw.
We almost never cycled in our lives before setting off on the big trip, we are good drinkers and heavy smokers. When we first heard of bicycle touring we were fascinated but thought it was too tough for us.
Then we found ourselves at a turning point in our lives, we were struggling to get decent jobs, we felt dissatisfied, caged into a lifestyle that wasn't ours, we started seriously wondering what to do with our lives, how could pursue real happiness. We realized that what we both really wanted was to see the world, to travel as much as we could, experience different cultures and meet new people.
Being really short on funds though, we asked ourselves how could we do that, and the answer was simple: traveling by bicycle. It's the cheapest way to travel, your food is your fuel, your tent is your portable hotel. So we overcame our doubts and fears and set off on the journey of our lives.
2. Some people set off cycling around the world with a goal in mind. You seem to have more of a mission. Can you tell us a bit about your project?
I always had a passion for cultural anthropology and, as I mentioned before, Elena is an international human rights expert, we are both interested in world politics, especially when it comes to issues related to the oppression of minorities and ecological threats. We also love to investigate cultural peculiarities, traditions, and organic food production. So we decided to try our hands into the world of cultural reportage, using photography, video, and written words.
Every time we approach a new country, we try to get in touch with local NGOs, to give a little help for the surfacing of important topics that are often overlooked by the press. We still have a long way to go when it comes to video, the process involved is very time consuming and requires technological resources we still lack. About photography and writing, I think we greatly improved our skills in those last years.
We also have a side project called “Authomatic Road Sampler”, it’s basically a device that automatically takes a picture from the bike every 250m and geotags it, to create street-level photo maps of the journey.
We invented it together with the makers group RaspiBo, so we could create a database of geotagged pictures of remote areas of the world.
We hope this could be of some use for other travelers. We are now uploading our pictures to the crowdsourced street-level pictures website Mapillary.org. A very interesting project every bicycle traveler should know about.
3. You've been on the road since 2014 and have passed through 23 countries I think. Do you have a favourite country in terms of purely cycling, and if so, why?
That's the question we get asked most and also the most difficult to answer, we found each one of the countries we have been interesting in its own way. When it comes to pure cycling, what first comes into our minds is usually Japan. Bicycle touring in Japan is incredibly easy, the country is very camping friendly and super-safe, the roads are mostly good, and nature is astounding. Traveling Japan by bike also turns this normally expensive country into one of the cheapest.
We also loved our bicycle trip in the Philippines, where we almost decided to settle forever. But I could mention many more, the jaw-dropping mountains of Western China, the incredible cultural diversity of Indonesia, the scenic coastal roads of South Korea… actually I could mention them all!
4. What's the average distance you cycle during a day, and what is the maximum you've covered in 24 hours?
Our mileage varies according to the length of our visa and the distance we plan to cover in each specific country. Our average is 70/80km per day, but we can also go much slower, we spent two months in South Korea cycling usually 30/50km a day. The longest day we had was a 120km day in the deserts of Xinjiang, Western China, but we really don't like to cycle that much.
5. Do you think your trip has changed you, and if so how?
For sure it changed our way of life, the way we see things, how we imagine ourselves in the future, our desires. It also changed our bodies, making us more fit… we are still good drinkers and heavy smokers though, that didn't change.
6. Many people are curious as to how multi-year trips are funded. How do you keep yourselves going financially?
We sold everything we owned, my small recording studio, and some other stuff. We found some sponsors for the essential gear and built our bicycles ourselves, with the help of some friends.
We are lucky though to own the house we used to live in, a small apartment on the outskirts of Bologna. That gives us a steady income of 600€ per month, but taxes are heavy in Italy. Traveling with less than 300€ per month is totally feasible, but since we plan to be on the road for many more years, we would like a little more comfort. That's why we are now working in China since November 2016.
7. Do you have any bike touring travel tips you can share with us?
A mistake I see many bicycle travellers do is pushing too much. Scheduling and planning and then trying to stick to that plan no matter what. I’ve seen more than a few that were completely worn out because of that, so they were not enjoying the journey at all.
Doing 130km with a headwind in the deserts of China is fine for one day. Doing it every day for 2 months to get out of China without taking trains or buses doesn’t make much sense for me.
My advice is: Less planning, more improvising. Be aware that taking a transport to have then more time to explore an interesting area doesn’t make you a pussy. You’re not cheating as there are no rules (although we published a semi-serious post about 30 rules for bicycle touring).
That’s just my opinion, but I really think that if you want to keep on cycle touring for a long time you better take it easy.
One more thing: don't say you can't do it, bicycle touring really is for everybody, no matter your age or finances. If you really want to go on a bicycle trip, go for it! Take a look at our beginner's guide to start bicycle touring.
8. What's the biggest challenge you have faced so far on your journey?
One of the biggest trouble we faced while on the road was not being granted an Uzbek visa, so we ended up in West Kazakhstan in August with only 15 days to get to Kyrgyzstan, some 4000km away.
But that turned out to be a great experience. We hitchhiked trucks and have been treated like honored guests by everybody, that was just great.
We've been arrested in China, threatened in Romania, scared by a creepy schizophrenic in the lonely woods of Kyrgyzstan, and handled a big cattle under the effect of psychedelic mushrooms in Japan.
We have also had a couple of difficulties and fights between us but I guess that’s pretty normal.
I think the real challenge was to really decide to change our lives, to set off, that's the hardest part.
9. Where are you currently, and what are your future plans?
We are now in Sanmen, a small city in Zhejiang (China), working as English teachers to save money for the trip back to Italy.
We will be on the road again in 2018 to ride Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Greece and finally our home country (at least that’s the plan right now).
We plan then to stop a few months in our hometowns and then head to Africa for another several years journey. Then, of course, there will be the Americas. We would like to find a way to mix some bike-rafting in our trip.
10. Where can people find out more about you and follow your journey?
Thanks very much guys – Wishing you happy tailwinds for the rest of your journey!!
Share your story through Dave's Travel Pages
Are you currently on a bike tour somewhere in the world, and would like to share you story with a wider audience? Drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can arrange an interview similar to the one above. I'd love to hear from you!
For more Meet the Cyclist interviews, check out the latest here – Bike touring blogs.