Cycloscope travelers believe in crowdsourcing biking-related information that helps make great adventures happen - why rely on Google's car when you can do it yourself? In this guest post they explain how and why.
Elena and Daniele - the Cycloscope duo
When we first thought of this trip - going on a world tour, around five continents, by bicycle - we had absolutely no knowledge of this being possible or not. Have other people done it before? How would the road conditions in remote areas of remote countries be? What kind of bicycles do we need to ride?
But we are now in the digital era and it's so easy to access lot of information, so we realized this: yes, many people have done it before, it's possible and easier than we thought.
So, let's do the planning! But though it's true that we found answers to most of our questions on the web, we still couldn't find reliable info about the road conditions. Google Street View cars haven’t managed to drive the desert of Kazakhstan yet.
So an idea came to our mind: what if we do the photo-mapping of this area? With the help of a group of Makers, the friends of RaspiBo, we developed a system to automatically shoot geolocated pictures every 250 meters; we called it Automatic Road Sampler (ARS).
It was a race against time but we managed to make it and test it just a few days before our scheduled day of departure, the day when our life would completely change.
Our life on the bike
We set off from Bologna on the 5th of May 2014. We rode through Northern Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where we stopped for the winter. In May 2015, we started riding again, back to Kazakhstan and into western China (Xin Jang, Gansu, Qinghai where our ARS system basically caused us to be arrested. Kicked out of the country, we sailed to South Korea, then Japan, Philippines, Malaysian Borneo, Indonesia, West Malaysia, and Thailand, where we are at the moment, taking a short break and writing this article.
Our path so far, from Italy to Malaysia (click for interactive map)
Going on a bicycle trip is a mind-blowing experience, a slow way of travelling where it is not the destination that matters, but what's in between: the people, the culture, the scenery, the road. Progressing at such a slow pace kept us in touch with the slow rhythm of Asia, let us visit places unknown to tourism and experience the real local foods and lifestyle. It's not uncommon to be invited into local people's houses and have a taste of their way of living. It's been two years now and we are not willing to stop or speed up. Instead, slowing down is what we are doing, to explore more and more deeply.
Biking in the midst of the Kungey Alatau Range of the Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan
During these two years we shot videos, wrote articles, interviewed people and mapped the road. Doing this while on the road, basically living in a tent, and cycling around 70 km a day was very challenging. We tried developing an interface to display our photo map, of course with the help of RaspiBo, but this was also very time consuming and we couldn't reach the results we aimed for.
So we began thinking on a larger scale - why do everything ourselves? How amazing would it be to have a community of world photo-mappers, to help each other and share the data we all collect? Then we realized this community actually already exists! It's called Mapillary and it's big and constantly growing!
I believe every bicycle traveler should consider to join this community: there are plenty of us and we are riding remote and beautiful places. Our way of traveling allows us to reach places not possible by other means, and we all are always looking for info about the roads we are going to ride. Moreover, most of us have an action cam and a GPS device. But a smartphone works just as well. So, why not be a part of this?
You won't see any mapping cars here! - Kalimantan, Indonesia
Post Scriptum: Unfortunately such an adventure is very tough for electronic equipment, most of our stuff is now broken or worn out. Now we are taking pictures of the road manually with a cheap Sony action cam, to rebuild the ARS system is out of our tight budget right now. So if you’d like to support our project and see nicer pictures, you can consider making us a small donation or find other ways to support us. If you like the project but can't or won't give a little financial support, you could always follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube (please subscribe to the channel), Twitter and Flickr. It's very appreciated help for us as more followers helps our chances of being sponsored.