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July 1, 2012 | A plan is born

Heidelberg business media, Christmas party, end of January, 2012.

“You know, it really is a pity that we have to turn around in Yekaterinburg. It would be awesome just to continue going East!”
“True that, but the Editourmobil needs to be back in Nuremberg in early November – the schedule doesn’t permit any further extension East.”
“Who says we need to take the Editourmobil? We could get off and continue, say, by bike!”
“Hmm, in theory, yes, sure we could. But, where would you go? There’s no obvious destination nearby.”
“Eh, just keep going until we hit the coast. As far East as possible!”
“Yeah, right. Do you have any idea how far that is?”
“No. Let’s check!”

The answer, it turns out, is “about 8,000 km”. And thanks to the wonders of the internet, this information was readily available to us on the night of hbmedia’s rather belated little Christmas party. Which, under normal circumstances, probably would have let to the idea being dismissed as unworkable: 8,000 km is just too far. For normal persons, which we decidedly are, it means about half a year of travelling by bike – maybe four months if you really push it. Neither of us had anywhere near that much free time.

But we had been chatting about our last trip with the Editourmobil – a company caravan used for interview tours in regions interesting to our magazine PETplanet. In November, we had gone from Nuremberg to Azerbaijan and back, and this evening, we had recounted how we had creatively mastered any difficulties over-eager border officers, non-existant roads and Istanbul traffic had posed. This summer, the Editourmobil would tour European Russia, up to Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains. Creativity was just what was called for again, and luckily, the setting – late at night, in a warm and friendly pub in Heidelberg – was quite conducive to getting the creative juices flowing.

Before long, a basic plan was beginning to take shape. For starters, our available time was limited to – at most – a bit under two months: Clearly, this was already well above what any normal employer would allow for a project like this, and even our very tolerant boss would surely reach a limit if asked for even more. Allocating two weeks of this time for repairs, illness, police interference, interference by less law-abiding folks, recuperation, plain sightseeing and, of course, any unexpected circumstances, we’d be left with about 40 days of cycling – or about 200 km a day, each day.

It’s too bad that neither of us is Lance Armstrong. For us, 200 km might be doable in an all-out effort for one day – but not for 40 days in a row! We’d spend the next several days in bed, with aching muscles. Assistance was needed! Fortunately, one of us, Felix, is the proud owner of an electric bike, and even more fortunately, polymotive – another magazine of hbmedia’s – has lots of expertise with electric mobility in general. From there, it wasn’t too difficult to consider putting an electric engine into each of our bikes.

What would be difficult, however, would be getting the electric energy needed to run this engine in remote Siberia! After all, the place is not exactly known for its regularly spaced, plentiful electric charging stations… Full batteries would last for maybe 80 of the 8,000 km needed, so very soon we figured we’d need to bring our own electricity generation. It would be easiest to just use a diesel generator – but if we went that route, we might as well take motorcycles in the first place! A sail would be difficult in Russian traffic, a wind turbine could only run while we were resting, and a nuclear reactor would certainly result in an interesting customs experience. So solar panels it was!

These panels, in turn, would have to be transported somehow – as would our stuff – and we’d need some place to mount them on, too. Trailers, preferably big and sturdy, were the way to go! And since Siberia is, after all, not the Sahara, it would be extremely helpful to be able to adjust the panel angle on the way, to maximise energy gain. Ideally automatically and on the fly… maybe with miniature electric engines, guided by a light sensor? Perhaps Lego could be of help here; we did have two of their trusty old programmable microcontrollers…

For further optimisation, why use standard bikes? How about recumbent bikes instead? Surely the air resistance would be much lower, the only problem being that Siberian roads might not work well with them. So how about trikes? Best of both worlds: stability and efficiency. And finally, if we really were to attempt all this, it might help to speak some Russian – maybe one of us could take lessons, four months are plenty of time, aren’t they?

By this point, it became clear we were either completely delusional or onto something. With many problems remaining, which of these it is is still not at all clear. But what is clear is that – over the next 12 weeks – we are going to find out!