How dangerous it is to ride a bike in India

By bike from Berlin to India? That's how it's done!

* Guest contribution by Thomas Jakel *

Thomas Jakel is the initiator of Guts for Change and co-founder of Nonwatersanitation and Ecotoi, a landlord of ecological mobile toilets. With his Wonderpress project, he shows people how to build their own professional website with WordPress and share their ideas, visions and projects with the world. In this article he writes about his bike tour from Berlin to India for a good cause and what he learned from it.

Fall 2011 - I came back from a short vacation in India a week ago.

Harmless 10 days on the subcontinent after getting a bargain flight for € 219 there and back.

It was intended as a short relaxing vacation - to Goa and back - nothing special.

I couldn't have known that this short trip would have a lasting impact on me.

Now I'm sitting in my kitchen in Berlin. It's already dark outside. Absolute autumn weather.

With my mug of Moroccan mint tea in front of me, I stare at my laptop. I'm excited.

I just recently linked random locations on Google Maps. And the next moment I have an idea. It makes me shine with joy, delight and enthusiasm.

"How about cycling from Berlin to India for a social project?"

"Yeah, dude!"

A surge of enthusiasm overcomes me. I was already too much in love with the idea to stop myself.

The planning

When you have an idea like this, you are quickly faced with the question of where to start.

What has to be organized?

Who, what, how, where, why?

And above all: How do I explain to my business partner that I will first go to India by bike?

Anyway, I can take care of these problems later, right? Or not?

If you have a crazy idea or want to start your own project, then this is a “just do it” mindset mostly not wrong. I've developed such a mindset in the past few years.

In the case of the bike tour, however, I also learned that there are a few things that you should take care of before you set out on your bike for several months.

What I have learned specifically and what I would recommend if you are planning a similar bike tour, I will describe below:

1. Viva Visa!

Getting your visas and entry permits early on is a good place to start.

I know that sounds very intuitive, but on long journeys it is sometimes more difficult to implement than you might imagine.

For example, I left my passport with a Berlin agency that applied for the visa for me in such a way that they could send me the passport with my visa to Istanbul. I was able to travel as far as Turkey with my identity card.

If they had applied for the visa too early, I would not have made it to Pakistan with a valid visa, as the period there would have already expired.

Had they sent it too late, it would have stopped us in our onward journey.

Coordinating as a team so that everyone has their visas on time turned out to be more complicated than originally thought.

One way to ease the visa hurdles a bit would be to apply for a second passport. If you can justify why you need it, that's basically possible.

2. Of padded underpants and Lidl tents

Before the bike tour, I was concerned that I might not have bought the best equipment.

I got loud laughs from various family members when I bought tents from Lidl for the entire team. Four for sixty euros.

But at least I didn't want to save on the underpants. Who knows how quickly I would get a sore bum on the saddle otherwise.

After several months on the bike, I wanted to take precautions. So I bought overpriced padded cycling pants.

The result?

The Lidl tents accompanied us in top condition as far as India. They served their purpose perfectly.

And the padded cycling pants? They started rubbing and sliding while driving after the first day. They were also too tight for me. I switched back to my normal underpants and gave away the padded buttock pads.

My learning:

Not everything that seems professional and expensive makes sense.

In the future I will equip myself cheaper and if I notice on the trip that I am still missing something crucial, I will buy something extra.

In a world full of technology and products with more and more high-tech and this and that feature, we often forget that fifty or a hundred years ago we could do without these technological wonders. And usually very well.

With this awareness in mind, I will plan and pack for my next month-long bike trip.

3. How important is high tech?

I raised this point in the last paragraph. And I think that the following motto makes sense:

As much high-tech as necessary and as little as possible.

What was absolutely necessary for me?

My laptop and my smartphone.

What was luxury?

A battery pack, a dynamo-powered USB charger embedded in the bike frame and a solar panel.

I could have bought a lot more, but in a moment I held wise insight to myself.

Ultimately, I never needed the solar panel, the battery pack gave up the ghost somewhere in Iran and the USB charger didn't rust to me.

Everything that is high-tech is also particularly prone to errors and quirks.

If you don't mind that and you don't rely solely on technology, then they are sure to be nice gimmicks. But you don't necessarily need them.

4. Hotels and four star petrol stations - good and very good accommodation options

If you've been cycling for months, then a certain creativity is not wrong when it comes to finding places to stay.

When we started the tour, we had no idea how and where we would best stay overnight on the tour. In Germany we proceeded very hesitantly. Campsites and couch surfing were the options of choice.

In Romania we slowly got the idea that petrol stations also had very good nights. Not only did we usually find clean toilets and snacks there, but also stable internet from time to time.

In Iran, on the other hand, we slept more often in public parks. It wasn't unusual for the Iranians. They have a very strong picnic culture and like to pitch a tent in the park themselves.

And if you can't find a gas station, are not spontaneously invited by enthusiastic passers-by to spend the night with them and you are miles away from the next guesthouse, then the sleeping mat and sleeping bag on the soft arable land somewhere in eastern Turkey will do.

5. The key is the team

When you think of cycling from Berlin to India, the greatest challenge may not immediately come to mind when it comes to being part of a team. But that was exactly the biggest challenge.

When four of you spend time together 24/7 for six months and your privacy is much more restricted than in your own four walls, you need a lot of tolerance, compassion and calm to get on well with each other.

With such a long journey, you can no longer hide your weaknesses and vices from others.

If someone is grumpy in the morning, it might be possible to hide and whitewash for the first week. But at some point, true nature comes out. The rest of the team then has to adjust to it.

In our team, it was perhaps even more difficult that the team hardly had time to get to know each other before the trip. I was the only interface between the team members before we left.

In the end, what helped us most to be a good team, to get along well with each other despite mood swings and differences of opinion, and to tolerate our quirks were, of all things, spiritual audio books that I distributed to our small illustrious group.

The audiobooks had a sedative effect on all of us and I think we all got more reflective in that time.

Instead of getting into each other's hair at every opportunity, we were able to overlook each other's mistakes and mood swings more calmly.

From now on, these audio books belong in my luggage as soon as I go on a tour in a group again.

I hope that these learnings will help you if you want to go on a tour yourself.

On our One Day Profits blog, I write about how to implement projects of this kind and get attention for your ideas and visions.

I have described exactly how you start your own social project step by step.

Do you have a bike trip planned too? Or have you ever done a crazy tour yourself? Share your experiences and questions with us in the comments!