Russian bikes from Mexico to Argentina

Source: Press Photo

Source: Press Photo

Vladimir Kumov, the curator of the Russian project Let's Bike It!, has covered most of his exotic, year-long Mexico-Argentina itinerary. The following is his exclusive interview to RBTH.

Source: Press Photo

How did you get the idea of this journey?

The project was conceived four years ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I was studying at the time. I was impressed by the arrangement of cycling lanes there, their cycling culture, and the government's care for cyclists. I returned to Moscow in April 2010 and set to work on the details.

Two years ago, I went to Guadalajara, Mexico, for a couple of months. The cycling culture there is also very impressive. The final pieces fell into place, and I decided to draw my route between these two places.

Let's bike it! From Russia to Portugal by bicycle. Trailer. Source: YouTube

Although the idea first emerged three years ago, due to my chronic lack of free time I ended up with just two weeks for preparations before setting off. We found the bikes, the money, studied the map to find the best routes, and off we went.

Did you contact any Russian embassies or local residents in advance?

I did not get much response from the embassies, but my relations with locals have been extremely positive. One week before arriving in my next town, I start sending e-mails to their mayor's office and contacting their local Facebook groups, inquiring about the rules of the road for cyclists and things like that. Local people are pleasantly open and eager to help.

Do local media cover your trip?

Our departure from Mexico was covered by local television. Some media are waiting for me in Argentina. I even became a national star in Colombia, thanks to the press, because I had my bike stolen there.

In the morning of May 29, I tethered my bike to a lamppost outside an Internet cafe. As I reemerged an hour later, the bike was no longer there.

I called the police immediately and then posted a request for help on different Facebook groups, describing my situation and asking for reposts.

Two or three hours later, I got a phone call from the national daily El Tiempo. Thanks to the numerous articles about me and my situation that followed within the next week, people whom I didn't even know set up a Facebook group entitled "A new bike for Vladimir Kumov."

We decided to stage a mass-bike ride in protest against bike theft, which is a great problem in Colombia. When we staged it two weeks later, around 500 cyclists took part. As a result, the cycling equipment company Specialized presented me with a new bike, for which I am very grateful.

Why are you traveling alone now, what's happened to your fellow travelers?

I set off with a friend, who is an active participant in the Let's Bike It! project. We pedaled to Panama together, but then he had to return to Russia for family reasons.

I blogged to invite any potential new mate, and got a reply from Michael Ratkewitz, who accompanied me to Bogota.

We went along great, but I got my bike stolen in Bogota; the situation dragged on for weeks and eventually, Michael had to go back to Russia as well. So I decided it was my destiny to keep on travelling on my own.

What has been your most picturesque itinerary segment so far?

I would nominate the stunning Pacific coast in Mexico, Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the unbelievable beaches in Nicaragua, and the stunning nature in Costa Rica and Panama. I will always remember the five days spent at sea as we were sailing from Panama to Colombia.

In Colombia, I was impressed by the mountains; in Ecuador, by the 200-kilometer Volcano Alley and by the waterfalls. In Peru, it was the desert and the mountainous portion of the country. I also loved Machu Picchu a lot.

Who is sponsoring your trip? Is the Russian government helping you in any way?

My only sponsor is the company that outfitted me with my Berghaus clothing, which keeps me very warm. I am very happy to have this apparel with me.

We used to have a bike sponsor, but one of our bikes had to be sold after my first partner left, and the other one got stolen. Most of our budget came from our personal earnings, which first ran dry five months into the trip.

I odd-jobbed in the summer, and my subscribers keep helping me. What they donate doesn't come up to much but I still value their support a lot.

As it happens, I only have the money to cross Bolivia at the moment. I have no idea what I'm going to do after that, but I do believe in the cosmic power and hope that something will crop up for me. I keep writing to various firms but haven't heard back so far.

What do Latin Americans know about Russia?

They know very little. Lenin, Putin, Tchaikovsky, and Stalin pretty much exhaust their vocabulary.

What is the difference between Russians and Latin Americans? How could you describe the inhabitants of the countries you have visited?

The main thing we have in common is our utter slipshodness. What differs us is that the Latin Americans are merrier, warmer, and more responsive.

What is the aim of your trip?

I aim to popularize cycling in Russia and bring it up to a new level. I would also like to tell my Russian audience about the Latin American cities I've visited.

My plans include making a second movie about my cycling travels and the foreign cycling culture (the first one was about cycling across Europe). I am also planning to write a book.

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