In 2013, Elmar and Ellen van Drunen quit their jobs, sold their house in the Netherlands and flew to Brazil to embark on a multi-year journey from South America to Alaska. Fourteen months into their adventure the Dutch couple have pedaled 10,500 miles (17,000 kilometers) on their Santos Travel Lite bikes with Gates Carbon Drive. They’ve battled stiff Patagonian headwinds (see photo above), hauled their bikes up muddy trails, crossed 16,000-foot (5,000 meters) mountain passes, watched King penguins waddle on the coast and enjoyed fresh popcorn, which was first domesticated in Central and South America, given to them by villagers in the Andes. “We have pushed our bikes through deep sand on the Bolivian Altiplano, endured temperatures of minus 21 degrees Celsius (negative 6 Fahrenheit) and didn’t take a shower for 12 days in a row,” Ellen wrote us by email from Peru. Sound difficult? Hardly. “We are living our dream,” Ellen writes. Read excerpts from our email conversation below.
Fietsjunks Hit the Road
Ellen: We met in 2003 and began bicycle touring every chance we got, so we nicknamed ourselves “Fietsjunks,” which means “bicycle junkies” in Dutch. We cycled through more than 30 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and America (all documented on www.fietsjunks.nl), but the dream to undertake a long-distance tour stayed with us. In 2013 we decided it was time to go.
In his previous life Elmar was a mechanic for a bicycle touring company. I am a freelance photographer (www.ellenvandrunen.com) and used to be a communications manager for a big company.For now we are just cyclists, adventurers, dream-chasers, travelers and happy people.
Santos Travel Lite Bicycles
We had no doubt in our mind about which bicycles to ride: it must be a Santos, it must have a Rohloff hub and it must have a Gates Carbon Drive belt.
With the experience of our previous cycling years and the fact that we’ve tested many bikes for a Dutch magazine, we know what makes a good touring bike. We like the stiffness and geometry of the bikes and we love the low maintenance of both the hub and the belt. In the 17,000 kilometers we’ve cycled there have been no issues with the bikes aside from the occasional tire puncture. The belt shows no sign of wear and tear and needs no lubrication. We wrote an article about it here.
Camping Beneath the Stars
There have been many memorable moments during this trip. It’s not just the scenery, it’s also the people we meet along the way. But, honestly, we really enjoy the silent moments in the middle of nowhere. Camping alone at the foot of a huge mountain, underneath countless stars, listening to the water lapping the shores of a lake–that’s when we are happiest, because we realize how lucky we are.
Follow the adventures of Elmar and Ellen on Facebook.com/fietsjunks and read their travelogues and see photos on http://www.fietsjunks.nl. Read their gear reviews and travel tips on http://www.traveltheworldbybicycle.com. Maybe you, too, will be inspired to become a Fietsjunk.
Alee Denham and Kat Webster recently completed the bike trip of a lifetime, bicycling through 30 countries from Europe to Asia and back to their home in Australia over two years–all documented on their website, www.cyclingabout.com. The couple overcame adversity, enjoyed thrills, camped in stunning landscapes, ate incredible foods, persevered through nagging injuries and pains, befriended countless individuals and created enduring memories. The couple started in the Netherlands in 2012 with two Surly Long Haul Truckers modified to use a Rohloff hub and Gates Carbon Drive belt, then switched to a Co-Motion Equator with Gates belt drive and Rohloff hub. Riding without chains and derailleurs gave them more time to enjoy the sites and relax instead of doing drive-train maintenance. We recently caught up with Alleykat, now back home in Melbourne for several months, to get their story.
What is Alleykat, who are you, and what is your cycling history?
Alleykat is our combined name (Alee+Kat) which our friends gave us when we first started dating. We are both in our mid-20′s and are passionate about the world. So much so that we decided to dedicate two years of our life to travelling the world and meeting its people. We believe that bikes are the best way to experience the planet as we can work our way into all the places that regular tourists don’t often get to. Our bike offers no physical barrier between us and local people, so we meet people more regularly and get to experience the world’s amazing hospitality. We’ve never had to worry about waiting, timetables or understanding a transport system. We do what we want, when we want. Bikes give us the ultimate freedom.
Tell me about your trip: how long in length and time, and what countries did you hit?
We spent over two years cycling 31,000km (19,000 miles) between Amsterdam to Melbourne in Australia. We zig-zagged through Europe to Turkey, then headed into Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran before cycling through the ‘Stans (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan). We were denied a Chinese visa at the time, so we flew over it to Korea, and then caught a boat to Japan. The typhoon hit the Philippines late last year, so we went over to help. We then flew from there to South East Asia to cover six more countries before flying into Australia to complete the rest of our trip.
What kind of bike and gear did you have?
We started our big trip in two separate bikes (both with Carbon Drive) before realizing that a tandem would allow us to go further, faster. It turned out there were other benefits too, such as the extra space given to us on the road, overwhelmingly kind responses from the people who saw us, easier communication between us on the bike, and the feeling of a team effort. We got a custom tandem bicycle made by Co-Motion in the USA, and we carried around 40kg (88 pounds) of gear between us in five bags (no trailer… woo hoo!). You can see our gear breakdown here.
What were the high points of the trip?
The most mind-blowing thing about our trip was undoubtedly the people. It is always the people who make a place special, who change our perceptions and who open our hearts and eyes. We have had the most incredible travel experiences in the dullest of places. We’ve learned that we can trust more people than we ever thought was possible. We’ve learned that people are incredibly hospitable and on the whole, people are very kind and generous if you give them a chance… even in your own country!
What was the most difficult experience of the trip?
The hardest thing to deal with was how Kat was treated in some countries. Men felt it was their right to touch her inappropriately and even kiss her. Sometimes it happened multiple times per day, making it very hard to have a good time. This problem was localized in small pockets of the world, and we did become a bit better at dealing with it over time. We don’t want to discourage women from traveling, so let’s put it in perspective: Kat was treated very well 99.99% of the time.
Tell me about your experience with Gates Carbon Drive.
We had a very positive experience on the three bikes we’ve used with Gates Carbon Drive. At the time we left, we were unsure as to the durability of the system, but we thought we’d give it a go anyway. We carried a few spare belts just in case. Our first (and only) belt lasted 31,000km. Try getting a chain to last that long!
How did the Gates belt and sprockets compare to chains you’ve used? Did using the Carbon Drive belt make the trip easier or less maintenance?
The best thing about belts for us was the maintenance-free nature of them. We cleaned our belts with water and a toothbrush about once a month on average. We found that they required more frequent cleaning on dusty roads with really fine grit, but those kinds of roads were only a few short sections of our journey. On the whole, the Gates belts certainly made our life easier.
What are your plans now that you have returned home?
We are taking some time to think about and remember and reflect on all that has happened over the past few years and determine how to implement some of the amazing ideas we’ve come up with. It would be easy to float back into jobs, but we think it’s important to extract everything we can from our life-changing experience. With that in mind, Kat has recently started writing a book about our journey. She has also decided that it’s time for a career change from teaching to dietetics, so she will be studying as of next year. I’ve decided to devote some time into making our bicycle touring website even better, and will invest time into learning new skills, notably the ins and outs of documentary film making. Work will have to wait.
The few images we’ve shown in this post are just a tiny sample of the incredible video and photo archive Alleykay have compiled of their trip. Below is their video report from Laos. It’s hard not to love these guys once you see and hear their enthusiasm for this beautiful nation, its people, wildlife and culture. Who knows? Their joyful attitude may convince you to embark on a bicycle journey yourself.
CyclingAbout.com // Alleykat Loves Laos (EP.12) from Cycling About on Vimeo.
Considering a global bike tour? Well it’s time to hit the road, Jack. Austrian bicycle brand KTM has created the ultimate trekking and touring bike, made to handle the rigors of riding around the planet: the Life Lontano P1.18 Pinion. “This bike is for all those who want to discover the world,” the company says. The judges at Eurobike agreed, awarding the bike a prestigious design award in the category of Cross Bikes. The judges noted its comfort, stability, functionality and stylish design.
“The Life Lontano includes absolutely everything required for a major trip around the world by bike without losing itself in any superfluous gimmicks. Furthermore, the KTM is proof that design is possible even in highly function-driven travel bikes.”
The combination of Pinion gearbox and Gates Carbon Drive belt system is increasingly recognized as a low-maintenance pairing for touring cyclists who want to enjoy the ride without the daily work of maintaining a chain drive. The Life Lontano’s high-end steel frame also includes disc brakes, a Brooks saddle and space for three water bottle mounts. Visit a KTM dealer to order your Life Lontano P1.18 Pinion. Then hit the road, Jack. And don’t come back.
KTM shows off its Eurobike design award.
Grace Electric Bikes are now available for ordering and delivery in the United States thanks to a new distribution partnership with Grace Bikes USA. Their belt drive eBikes can be ordered directly through Grace USA, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and through a growing network of American dealerships.
The German brand’s award-winning eBikes have a large and growing following in Europe, with over 124 dealerships. Grace won a Red Dot design award in 2012 due to their clean style and simplified operation, and their models with Gates Carbon Drive are recognized as some of the most stylish and functional eBikes in the world.
Pictured above is the Grace Easy, which features a BionX hub motor, regenerative braking, four levels of regeneration and multiple levels of pedal assist. “The Grace Easy has a top range of 26 MPH and can easily cover 30 to 60 miles, depending on the terrain and the use of pedal-assist,” said Mike Page, sales director at Grace Bikes USA. “The Magura MT4 hydraulic disc brakes, front and rear LED lights, Gates Carbon Drive and a variety of custom options make the Grace Easy one of the best looking electric bikes to enter the US market.”
Below is the Grace MX, which features a suspension fork for rough riding, a Bosch mid-motor electric drive, Gates Carbon Drive and the Nuvinci N360 continuously variable planetary hub for seamless shifting.
Also available is the Grace MX II, pictured below. The MX II comes in an urban and a trail version with two frame sizes. It features a the second-generation Bosch motor, Gates belt drive and NuVicini N360 hub shifting.
“Gates is extremely pleased to have Grace eBikes available to American consumers because their designs ideally showcase the clean, quiet, light and strong advantages of the Gates belt drive,” said Frank Scurlock, global sales director for Gates Carbon Drive. “We believe these eBikes will make more Americans aware of the grease-free and low-maintenance benefits of the Carbon Drive System.”
To order online or to inquire about becoming an American dealer contact www.gracebikesusa.com.
For the bicycle industry and electric bike enthusiasts, there may be no more important publication than Electric Bike Action. Launched this year by the publishers of Mountain Bike Action and Road Bike Action, Electric Bike Action is on the forefront of the eBike revolution that is sweeping Europe, getting more people out of cars and onto bikes–and coming to America.
The magazine has just published an eight-page photo spread and story in its June issue, now on newsstands, about Gates Carbon Drive’s “Custom eBike Showcase” at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in March. That’s one of the Gates “Bionic Belt Drive” eBikes on the cover. The story includes great photography of the custom builds featuring Gates belts and electric drive systems from Bosch, SRAM and BionX, and the NuVinci continuously variable planetary hub. “The results were, to say the least, amazing,” the editors say about the Gates showcase. Pick up a copy of the magazine or go here to purchase a digital issue. The eBike revolution is coming, and it will be belted.
Custom builder Kent Eriksen’s titanium eBike is among those featured in the magazine.