Interview (english)

Here is an interview, by Richard, a bikepunk from Isere (bottom of french Alps). It should be published someday in a franco-bulgarian split-zine.

NB : Answers are from october 2008, and some of my point of view changed a bit since then...

1- Could you please introduce yourself ? The place where you live « traditionnaly », hobbies, desires, occupations ... apart from riding your bike.

My name is Theophile and from July 2008, I'm free from school oppression. I've grown up in the countryside near Toulouse (in the south-east of France), but I spent 2 years around Lyon. My squatter life has begun there. I love coldwave and I hate festive and happy music, I'm fascinatined by synthétisers (analogic), electronics and computers. I love zines and opening squats. I like politics (in the punk way). I don't like party anymore but I suppose it's linked to the fact that I stopped drinking alcohol. I consider that my home in Lyon was « Deadwood » (a squat that has been evicted after an only 3 months existence), even if I've never really lived here. I feel like escaping from oppression and making autonomous spaces. The trip I'm living these days allows me to discover how autonomous spaces are existing and working in Europe. Also to meet a lot of people who sometimes become friends and finaly to build my own network...

2- Why have you choose to travel by bike rather than on foot, by train, by hitching, … ?

Why by bike ? First, I exclude every paying means of transport because I refuse to work to give my salary to oil sellers (ideological, political, environmental reasons useless to develop). There are still three means left : hitching, walk and bike. Walking doesn't allow to do more than 30 kilometers a day and I don't particularly appreciate it. Hitching is not exactly an autonomous means of transport ; you depends on others and worst, on cars and motorways, two things I hate. Bike is (almost) free, it doesn't pollute and it allows to be relatively fast (till 300 kilometers a day or 1000 kilometers a week for me these days). So, it's for me the only possible means to travel being really autonomous ...

Travelling by bike, compared to faster means of transport, allows to be really confronted to the local reality and to have time to « appreciate » the places you go through, with a human rythm.
Rousseau has written that whatever the place where you go to, what is important is the trip in itself. He was travelling on foot and that was making sense. I think that, traveling by bike recover this « philosophy » of travel somehow.

Actually, when I was 16, I joined a cycling club and I trained for competition. Even if I consider competition and the the idea of riding along a circle, trying to ride as fast as possible (and above all faster than the others) is a nonsense, I've learned at this moment that riding long distances is possible without so many problems.

3- You explain that the idea to leave with a bike with no return comes from your chilhood. Could you say a little bit more about ?

I've grown up in the countryside , in a 200 inhabitant village. The nearest neighbour lived at 300 meters and the nearest shop/baker's/post office were at almost 10 kilometers. Friends often lived more than 20 kilometers from where I lived. Impossible for me to get a moped. Then, very early, bike has become a synonym of autonomy for me. And I loved to get lost along the paths and in the woods. I was very young when pedaling became a necessity.

Sometimes, at the time of my lonely strolls in nature, I turned round and, not seeing anymore my house, I concluded that I've overtaken the horizon. I had reclaimed the unknown. What an great feeling !
And then I looked around me and I was thinking : « If, insted of turning back and coming back home, I go on further, straight forward, and if I do the same tomorrow and the day after... as far as where could I go ? Ther's no limits … One day perhaps ... » I was dreaming. Sweet dreams of freedom from a bored kid ...

4- Could you tell about your current trip ?

Not easy to answer ; I'm filling my second copybook, that fills up every day with experiences and impressions, more than 100 pages, it's not really « summarizable » and the best to do for that is to check my blog out.
Ok, a summary. After two bike trips, in France and surrounding area, during summers 2006 and 2007, I felt like leaving further. If you tasted bike trips, it's like a drug : when you stop you only have one idea in mind : leave again. Because (for me), these are each time the best experiences in my life. As I finished my studies (of sound technician) on June 2008, I begun to think about a trip in Europe in the beginnig of year 2008. After changing my plans many times, I finally left, without a great preparation, as usual, with some adresses and two goals : being in the Shit Town in Copenhagen and see Pizza OD (a french band) during their european tour. I was at the beginning of July 2008.
As a global objective, visit a large amount of autonomous spaces (non exhaustive list of course, because it is not really possible). As I wrote it above, that's something that interests me the most in this despicable world in which we live.

So, since July, I do more or less what I've planned. There have been a first « crisis » in Berlin after having seen Pizza OD, I had reached my two spatio-temporal goals, and I was in a situation where everything was possible and you have to choose. I didn't really know in whitch direction leaving (I even had the weird idea to go to Oslo for winter... ) And then I went to Poland. I'm still there and I think I'll stay here for winter time, because I surprise me to love this part of the world. Here is the situation after almost 4000 kilometers in 6 countries. I'm supposed to reach the end of the first important period of my trip. In fact, I'm thinking more and more of finding a place to stay for winter safe from cold weather and to try building things too (like participate to the life of a « social center » or write a fanzine for example).

5- Always about this trip, have you plan a return date ? When do you consider you've found what you are looking for ? But, are you looking for something ?

No return date. Because I left without thinking about the come back. I said my fareweels with the idea of a undetermined lenght trip. When people I meet ask me if I'm on holidays, I answer that the trip has become my way of life. My house is my bike.
About the come back issue, for me, it's not very easy. For a comeback, you need a place where you can come back, the only place I considered as my house has been evicted few weeks ago (without any surprise, I already knew that when I left).
I don't know if I look for something particular. I'm looking for truth, the real truth, not the one you watch on TV, you read in books, or you learn in school. For me, truth is based on experience.
I'm making this experience. For example, at the moment, I'm discovering Eastern Europe, that is so different from ideas I've got before. Asking questions to people about their everyday life is better than all the history books.

I don't think it's possible to reach absolute truth, absolute isn't human, it's a matter of divine.
Therefore, I think I'll be in search of something all my life time ...

6- Recently, I've ridden « roads of my adolescence », much more slower than at this time. And nevertheless, distances seemed shorter to me. Proof that my relation to time has changed. How could you explain your relation to time when you are on your bike all day long ?

Time is, as you notice, something very relative. I think that bike (but not only) has teached it to me. For riding long distances, I sometimes spend whole days pedaling (with as a record a stage in almost 17 hours – in whitch 15 pedaled, for 300 km …) When you wake up in the morning at 6 and you think that you are going to pedal the whole day, doing nothing else but eating and peeing, it looks sometimes strange, especially when it's the same schedule for the tomorrow and the day after …
It could seem to be very long ; it's very long. But, as I said before, time is relative, if conditions are good and if you feel good, all goes fast and I appreciate avery moment. On the contrary, under the rain, lost or riding along a motorway, it can become really long and bloody boring. The worst is when I'm lost in the middle of nowhere, when I'm exhausted and when I am longing to arrive. In these cases, minutes really seem hours to me ...

7- What is your relation to the weather, to the weather forecast ? How do you manage ?Do you accept rain, cold, opposite wind, … ?

For a cyclist, weather can be either the best ally or the worst ennemy. For the moment, I haven't been faced with cold during my trips (but it arrives, especially cold in Poland at this period of the year) but thanks to experience, I know that it's less difficult than the opposite wind or the rain.
You have to know that, to make a bike moving forward, 80% of energy is expended for moving air, so when the wind is pushing you in the opposite direction, everything becomes very tough, especially when it lasts hours and even a day. Sometimes, I have the impression to climb passes even though the road is absolutly flat. The difference is, when it really climbs, it goes down again sooner or later. The wind pushes you always on the same way.

But for me, the harder is the rain. As I often say, riding a bike has more to deal with your mind than with your legs when it's hard and when you need energy. When it rains, despites the equipment, you are humid eventually, then soaked. My shoes (rangers ?) are full of water. When it rains, you feel cold and humid, there is « no light » anymore. I hate the rain, it brakes my spirits. Without spirits, I lose my energy, it's a vicious circle and everything becomes very tough and I've got no one on which rely to cheer me up.

Travelling with a bike is putting yourself in situations that sometimes can be very difficult and in which we have generally no choice. I got lost sometimes in the middle of nowhere (where people speak neither french nor english, that means a problem of communication for me) after pedaling for hours under the rain, confronting elements alone, counting only on myself in order to arrive. In these cases, it's very hard. The first times (during my first trips) I have thought sometimes to give up, when it's no more possible to confront forces that outshine you. And then, in fact, in these situations, you've got no choice, you can't stop, the only mean that all that shit ends is to arrive, and for that, you have to go on, even if you are on the verge of the attack of nerves, that you're exhausted and that you have the impression that you'll never reach the arrival. No choice, no alternative, You have to go on (everytime I'm on this situation, I think to Henri Guillamet (cf. « les ailes du courage » de Jean Jacques Annaud) and I say to myself that others have confronted worst situations, so I ought succeed).

Last year, I've got an attack of nerves after 100 kilometers under the rain, getting lost many times, and being arrived in the dark night after 10 pm. During that trip last year, I've ridden 400 kilometers under the rain and I promised to myself leaving this year, to wait or to take the train in case of rain.
Finally, I realize that it's not possible, neither waiting nor taking the train, so I rode more than 500 kilometers under the rain the last 3 months.
But with experience, I feel that I accept it easily. Now, when it begins to rain, I say to myself that, anyway, I've got no choice and that it's a bad moment to live.
I often ctch myself thinking : « Whet the hell am I doing here pedaling under the rain in the middle of nowhere ?!!! »
The hardest for me is that you can do anything against rain, you can fight against fascists, cops, or even against things that overtake you like oppression or capitalism, but not against rain. I can't resign myself. I refuse it … And nevertheless … I have to write a punk song to show my rage and my despair against rain. (sorry for the length of the answer)

8- I've read you travel with a walkman on your ears. Why not be listening to the nature noises, the animals, the blowing wind, … ?

Most of the time, I don't use ma walkman, because, as you say, I prefer generally listening to what happens around me. But, sometimes, when I ride along a important road or a noisy and straight motorway during 80 kilometers, I prefer listening to music I like insted of engines noises I hate. I also use music to keep my mind busy (time goes faster), to give me a rythm (it goes faster when you pedal in a D-beat rythm (even if I don't listen to plenty of D-beat)). It's the first time (this trip) that I bring music with me. And honestly, I appreciate. If only my mp3 player were waterproof, I could use it under the rain ...

9- Is it your choice to travel alone ?

Yes and no. I've always said to people around me (especially those who say : « It's great what you're doing, I'd ike so much doing the same thing »). Take your bike and come with me. No one is mad enough to do it. I haven't decided to wait what ever or whoever to do what I feel like, so alone or with someone else, I leave. Till now, it was always alone. Furthermore, you have to know that travelling by two (or more) is far from being easy. You have to know each other very well and to like one another and the big risk is not to stand each other after a few days / weeks / months ...

And you can't be more free and autonomous than alone. I haven't to ask no one for advice, I only depend on myself. I sincerely believe that it's difficult to be more free than a lonesome bike traveller. And, I love freedom ; That's, I think, the essence of my survival in this world. However, I'd like to try to pedal with someone else. Readers, I'm opened to every proposition ...

10- At the end of the « Into the wild » movie, the hero, just before dying, writes that « happiness only real when shared ». What do you think about that ?

That's very funny you ask me this question, I'm very fond of this story, I've seen the film twice in cinema. I identify myself a lot to this « hero » who's not one. Regarding this sentence, many times it has been the topic of conversation. I absolutly agree with the fact that « happiness only real when shared » and without looking to much arrogant, I've understood that long time ago. If I like travelling alone, I can't live alone, I've known boarding school, life in squat. I don't conceive of living alone, according to me it's meaningless. I need to live with others, to share, everytime. You can call that communism (of course I don't speak about the liberticide ideology). So yes, according to me, communism is a condition to « happiness » ...

11- Your health and your physical form have to be important factors for the pleasure lived on a bike. Then, what do you think about mixing sometimes with people abusing more or less prohibited and harmful substances ?

What a strange way to ask me what I think about drug and alcoholic/junk punks … I've never really cared about my health, even if I think having taken good food habits. My choices aren't directly linked with the fact that I pedal a lot, it's more political or personal. I've never smoked and I don't plan to begin, I've stopped drinking almost one year ago and in the everyday life, I use no drugs. In fact, I don't like anymore to lose control on myself ; I don't like (anymore) to trip. If I'd like to, I think I would drink / take drugs, bike or not. So, for a moment, I'm not excited anymore by the idea to have fun. I don't really feel comfortable when, during a gig, everyone is drunk and that it's not possible to discuss with someone (and it's even worse for a birthday or an other celebration where people have only one thing to do, i.e. drink and trip). Being temperate and surrounded by drunk persons is really oppressing ...

I hate people (generally totally drunk) who try to explain that it's very cool to drink and have fun, that it's indispensable to have a good time. I hate these people who only ask for that. I think that drugs (tobacco and alcohol included) are more a social problem than an individual one.
In fact, if you work 35 hours a week (or maybe more) doing something you don't like, I understand very well that, during week end, we need to have a good time. I also believe that it's a need to find a certain form of stability. Simplifling a lot, we could say that have a good time on week end alloys to accept to come back to work on Monday.

I understand very well the use of drugs when you don't live the life you want. On a certain way, it allows to accept the inacceptable.

All that to say I'm not happy fun-loving person because it means nothing to me anymore and I appreciate places where people don't need drugs to exist (I don't dream of a straight edge world, far from it !!!). To be confronted to alcoholism and other forms of addictions makes me sad ...

12- Could you tell us about meetings that have left their marks ?

Meetings … Whao !!!! You ask me for a novel. I don't really know how hundreds of people I've met since the beginning of this trip. It makes me dizzy when I think about it … I've met a lot of incredible people, and some of them have become my friends. Let's go ! I list some of them : Gelise and Nic who realized Gerda 85 and who are delightful and fascinating persons, the queer friends from Brussels without whom I wouldn't be who I am (I was during my 2006 bike tour), Erwin who has welcome me in his squatted boat in Amsterdam, Bene who has opened his door in Hamburg and who is exceptionnaly kind, Jakob from Svendborg, who had a hectic anarchsit life all around the world, punks from Hafermarkt in Flensburg, Frank from TS who is a real novel character, Daniel with whom I pedaled from Riebau to Pstdam and who was my first long distance (180 km) companion, Mano from Budapest I've met by chance in Berlin the day before my leaving, Krzysztof from Rozbrat who is punk for 30 years and who teached me so many things, Pawel who escaped from psychiatric hospital, Leszek from Elba squat in Warsaw … It's far from being exhaustive, but it gives you an idea...

13- What are your worst memories ?

I hesitate between a night in a breakcore gig in Gent, the rain in Denmark and being chucked by a vegan because I don't like barking dogs...

14- What would you say to someone who hesitate to leave its home with a bike ?

It's now or never. Personnaly, it's the best thing I've ever done in my life.

15- « The revolution won't be motorized ». What does this sentence inspire you ?

I hate engines. I don't remember who said : « car is war » … It's so true, in the literal and in the figurative sense.

16- Why is it natural or logical for you to associate bike and punk ?

It's neither natural nor logical in itself, there are in principle two completly different things. There are only my two most important life choices in a certain way. Both personal and political choices that are integral parts of the individual I am. « Bikepunk » defines me in a certain way. I am bikepunk like others are vegan straight edge …

17- A last word ? I've asked you some questions so, I allow you to ask me one !

One question : for you, bike, what is it ?
Last words : freedom is not to be afraid anymore / Nothing's true, everything's possible (This sentence was in already in english)

Richard : You make me interviewed interviewer !
First thanks for the replies.

What a bike is for me ? Even if the two usages are linked, I would make a difference between urban, day to day usage and the travelling usage.
About the first, the bike allows me to be faster and more free, from a place to an other. Moreover, I'm not locked in a steal box supposed to bring me safety feeling ; I'm part of my environment as an actor.
Then, the cyclits concept is ambiguous : indeed it brings safety feeling but isolate the cyclist from the rest of the society. In mz mind, we have to be visible and considered by the other road users. People should think « That's right, getting around is possible by bike ! »
Let's make the city a two-wheels non-motorised area.

About further trips, journeys, biking allows you to understand better and reclaim the geograhy : by car is too fast and on foot you might feel too slow.
It seems to me biking brings the ideal speed to know places and theirs inhabitants : neither too slow nor too fast.
Bike got also a special place in the collective unconscious (it might be different in other countries). Often people come on to you. Bike remembers linked with youth or even childhood come up and encourage people to inquire gear, way and feelings.
Moreover, you're able to carry more than on foot siting down ! Riding a bike is restful !!! Ok, I'm lying a bit but still.
Softness is also very important : quietly sliping, smoothly, blending in the landscape, air-rending...
Just to say that I'm always packing my stuff in my paniers with happyness and excitement for some journey.


BVK said...

ride on man! great thoughts about biking, and living your way.

João Taborda said...

great interview ;)... so when are you ridding this side of europe?