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Architecture student at Nantes university, Gaelle Bojko has dedicated her sabbatical year to visiting Europe by bike to write her research on urban cycling infrastructure.
Interview with a discrete adventurer
What is Bike to the Blocks exactly?
The principle is to pass through various European cities, stay a few days to observe cycling behaviour and to meet local cyclists.
It will help me put together my research on the movements and culture of cyclists in these cities.
How did you come up with this idea?
I’m a cyclist, even if I have never entered any competitions, I have always ridden a bike,.
I went to Brussels to study but I said to myself that there are too many things to see to be spending 3 years in front of a computer at school. I felt like leaving, and by bicycle
I wanted to find a purpose for the travel. I find out and back routes quite demotivating, you can always cut them short and there is no final goal. I wanted an objective.
From the time of having the idea and leaving, it was a year.
How long will the trip take?
The plan is to be away for a year. It is a sabbatical between the degree and the masters studies. I have to get back next September, otherwise it is the sort of thing that can go on forever…
That’s the trap! I really enjoy it, but if I don’t come back at that moment, I will never come back! I have to at least finish my studies.
You mean you could potentially head back out on the road after that?
I don’t feel like that I have to become someone, to be part of the rat race, to do what everyone else expects me to do.
It is however reassuring to have a mould to slot into, to know that I’ll have my degree and a job.
It would be scary to tell myself that I am going to head back out on the bike, but not knowing how long for. I don’t know what’s going to happen!
There’s nothing like a good scrub before retiring to appease the body and mind
But what soap to use?
-For our personal health and that of the environment, we should firstly look to eliminate the most toxic.
It’s a goodbye to the toxic substances, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Polyethylene Glycol et Alkylphenols !
-We can also limit the use of products packaged in plastic… Even if they are listed as being recyclable, as they are only recyclable a single time. Then it’s into the bin! So it’s goodbye to shower gels! In any case, these products are 70-90% water based, useless weight to carry anyway!
-The best solution is the good old soap bar, composed of simple ingredients and no added perfumes (which attracts mosquitoes anyway). Soaps such as Aleppo or Marseille.
-If you want to go further in reducing your carbon footprint, there are cold-process soaps which are manufactured in a way that is less demanding on energy than traditional soaps.
In any case, any soap, even biodegradeable, has no place in flowing water.
It is advised to be at least 60m from any water source and to put any contaminated water in a cat hole so that it degrades. Not so easy!
And you, how do you wash in the wild?
Do you have an exact route in mind?
I have a general plan, the route, the towns I want to see. In between, I see how the mood takes me.
I never know where I will stop. I ride in a set direction, around 100km a day and I just adapt along the way.
At the start I wanted to do a tour of the Black Sea, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine etc, but there will be too much snow! However, I am going to cross Turkey and into Iran via Georgia and Armenia to spend most of the winter.
You left last October. Did you come across some interesting examples of cycling infrastructures?
The northern countries are often talked about for being bike-friendly examples, but towns like Burgos or Pamplona also have an amazing infrastructure, that was unexpected!
And do you manage to stay on course for your research?
Meh. For the time being I haven’t really made any notes or precise plan.
My goal is to conduct some interviews, but to approach people in the streets -especially with the language barrier- is a little complicated.
I am not sure if I am the best person to be approaching people like that as I am a bit shy!
It could be that the final outcome won’t quite be as I imagined it will be!
Are there any areas that concern you?
I think that’ll I take the ferry to cross the Black Sea. I’m not sure how that will go as it isn’t the coolest boat in the world… It is full of truckers and as a solo female, it could be a little complicated.
At the moment this isn’t really bothering me, I’ll just see how it goes in Turkey, that’ll be the test. I’m not going to go with any preconceived ideas.
Any areas that you’re looking forward to visiting?
I can’t wait to get to Iran, where you’re no longer in Europe!
- Frame : Bombtrack Arise 2
- Bags : Helmut Equipement
- Front derailleur : Shimano Deore
- Rear derailleur : Shimano Tiagra
- Crankset: FSA Omega 46-30
- Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon + Tour
- Dynamo hub : Bombtrack
- Front light : Supernova E3 Pure 3
- Rear light : Supernova E3 Tail Light 2
- Pedals : Blackspire
- Brakes : TRP Spyre
- Shifters : Microshift BS-M10
- Levers : Tektro RL340
How do you manage navigation?
I don’t have a GPS, I look at the map on my phone and decide my route from there. With a GPS, I’m not aware of where I am or what I am doing. Also with a map, I can choose where I go, it’s more simple, which makes me happy.
How do you record your work?
I carry a notebook, a small Lumix and 2 prime lenses.
I also have a 2nd hand tablet, which I am really happy about. It can run Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere Pro.
It only cost me 200€, I’m super impressed!
How do you manage nutrition?
I have a pan and a petrol stove. It’s more practical than gas canisters and it’s amusing to see the look on employees at petrol stations as I turn up on my bike and fill my bottle.
Generally, I eat pasta or rice, lentils and fresh vegetables…
My normal diet is vegan, but travelling it can become too complicated especially when food is a large part of the culture.
This has been a bit of a personal debate for a while!
Any advice for anyone who is thinking of embarking on a similar trip?
If you are thinking about such a ride, then it is because you can do it.
Don’t listen to the those who say it’s a mad or not achievable.
You can do it!
Follow Gaëlle’s trip on Instagram, Facebook and on her blog: BikeToTheBlocks
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Helmut Equipement Bingobag
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- Inside: 2 ultralight layers
- UV protection: 5 year warranty
- Water resistant zip
- Handmade in Savoy
- Price: 55€
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Prize draw restricted to people of age within the European Union (United Kingdom included, even post-Brexit). Registration deadline: April 1st 2019, 11:00pm UTC. Winner will be contacted via email and by taking part implicitely agrees to be tagged on social media.
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