Sometimes the hardest things in life are the things that most people find so easy. That was the case with Harry and Roelie, a Dutch couple that found it almost impossible to go back to their regular 9 to 5 jobs after completing the Great Divide in 2017. After three months of cycling and living only with the gear they were carrying on their bikes, they started to feel depressed after returning to Holland to find a big house with two cars, a dozen suits in the closet, and more things than they knew what to do with.
Like most Dutch people, Harry and Roelie have been life-long cyclists. This level of comfort on a bike eventually developed into the idea of bike and travel throughout Italy, allowing them to eat and drink as much as they liked, while burning off the calories the next day. Since 2012 they have been on several bike tours around key tourist destinations in Europe.
” When we are cycling we see ourselves more as travellers and not as tourists … so we try to avoid the most touristic places of Slovenia and Croatia.”
Unfortunately, in 2015, Harry became unwell whilst mountain biking and after visiting a doctor and getting some tests done, he was put on a waiting list to get multiple-bypass open-heart surgery. Three months after a successful 6-bypass heart surgery, Harry and Roelie decided to cycle to the Mediterranean Sea as part of his rehabilitation. This led to progressively bigger rides, and in 2017 the flew to San Diego to cycle the Great Divide all the way to Banff, Canada. Unbeknownst to them at the time, this trip would become a turning point in their lives.
“Sometimes it was hard, pushing the bike and falling, but those things are also quite beautiful, because you really are yourself, beyond limits that you thought you could.”
Having gone on and completed a big tour such as the Great Divide, it was difficult to go back to the normal lives they had previously so enjoyed. Within a month of returning home, they had decided they wanted to do an around the world tour. They wanted to find that feeling of freedom and simplicity that they missed so much.
“We realized that we have never lived so intensely, but at the same time so simply. We also realized that we have never been so happy.”
During the next year Harry and Roelie began to plan their trip around the world, search for sponsors to provide them with equipments such as tents, touring bags, clothing, tools, spare parts, and even bikes. One thing they learned through the process of finding sponsors was to approach the smaller companies, as they have more to gain from sponsoring someone. They first approached the bigger bike companies, but were always turned down.
“We had to pay a small amount for the bicycles but they are really expensive so we could not afford that kind of bike”
They they found out about a Dutch bike company called Pilot, which makes titanium bikes that use the pinion drive train, which is very different from your traditional derailleur and cassette system, or even that of the Rohloff internal hub that is built into the rear wheel. The pinion system is a gear box that is build into the bottom bracket of the bike, providing 18 gears to choose from. The advantage of this is that there is no need for derailleurs and external gears, which can be damaged quite easily during transport. The two big disadvantages with the pinion system are the weight and the lack of mechanics in rural parts of the world that can fix it. Luckily, the weight penalty is negated a big by being positioned right at the feet of the rider and in the middle of the bike. The worry about mechanical issues has been alleviated by Pinion by their guarantee to mail them a new gear box should any problems occur. This would mean a slight delay while waiting for a shipment, but it was a risk that Harry and Roelie were willing to take, as they like to use progressive and leading edge technologies if they have the opportunity. Lastly, their bike is belt driven, rather than using a tradition chain configuration. The advantage of the belt drive is that they last far longer than a traditional chain, able to get up to 50,000km before needing to be replaced.
When something goes wrong with the gearbox, we have a big problem, because we can’t fix it [and] most of the bicycle shops in the world can’t fix it. We have some contact with Pinion. If something goes wrong they will send a new gearbox.
For now, Harry and Roelie have been on the road just a bit over a year and are currently cycling through Indonesia, after which they will be heading to Australia and then on to Argentina to cycle up to Alaska.
Thank you Harry and Roelie for taking the time to talk with me.
Follow Harry and Roelie on their adventures at:
~ 30 sec Episode Intro
~ 1m30s Who are Harry and Roelie? Past bike touring experience
~ 5m45s Why Western Europe is a good starting point for bike touring and why Eastern Europe is the best for experienced travellers/bike tourers. Favourite places to bike tour and why the plan to cycle 3 weeks in Turkey turned into 9 weeks and getting off the beaten path in Serbia.
~ 17m Cycling the Great Divide, the types of riding being done, what they liked most, how the landscape changed as they went North, and about their encounters with bears
~ 25m30s Encounters with bears and other wildlife
~ 32 min The most difficult part of the Great Divide for Harry and Roelie
~ 37 min Talking about the difficulties of going back to “normal” life
~ 41 min Harry’s multiple bypass heart surgery, and bike touring two months later
~ 49 min Back to discussing the world tour, why they skipped certain countries, having his coffee grinds read in Turkey, and hiking in the Anapurna Circuit
~ 1h1m30s Discussing budgeting, killing iphones, and the costs of visas
~ 1h6m30s Getting a free place to stay in Singapore, the next part of their journey through Indonesia and Australia
~ 1h15m30s Plan to cycle to Alaska but dealing with visa limitations, discussing Adam’s plan to cycle to Tuktuyuktuk
~ 1h18m Discussion about Pilot bikes, pinion gearbox, and belt-drives. Some of the advantages and disadvantages
~ 1h24m What they’ll do in case of major breakdown of the gearbox
~ 1h27m Why they are using different luggage configurations, and how much water they carry
~ 1h33m Cost of bikes and equipment, how to get sponsorships, what gear they love and hate
~1h46m Back to discussing Heart to Beat, fundraising goals, and how they also donate 10% of the value of all sponsored gear to the foundation as well.
~ 1h53m30s Saying goodbye and conclusion of the episode.