Why we drew 600-mile long picture of a bicycle across Europe

Daniel Rayneau-Kirkhope and Arianna Casiraghi, accompanied by their dog, Zola, have just finished 4,500-mile (7,250km) bike ride across Europe to draw a giant GPS-plotted bicycle across seven countries to raise awareness of how cycling can help tackle the climate emergency. It is believed to be the world’s largest GPS drawing. You can see photos of their trip on their Instagram account.

We really, really love cycling. Like everyone, we’ve become more aware of climate change, and we wanted to add our voices to what should be a bigger chorus. We think using the bike as a form of transport is a wonderful thing, and wanted to do something.

The idea of the trip was a gradual thing. We thought about trying to inspire people somehow about bikes. We can’t even remember who first came up with the idea of drawing the bike. But it seemed like the best and most fun way of putting across our message. We’re both physicists, but we both quit our jobs as researchers and decided to do it.

Arianna used a computer programme to draw a bicycle, and then Google Maps to match it to a route. The first attempt didn’t go very well. The drawing was almost done and we realised there was a big bump in the route. Zooming in, we saw we had put it right through Charles de Gaulle airport. So we had to move everything by a few kilometres.

The GPS image of a bike, which took 4,500 miles of riding to create.

We actually started in 2019, and should have finished it then. But Arianna had a knee injury, and we had stop after a couple of months that summer. We began again that November, but had to stop again because it was too cold to camp. We were going to start again in March 2020, but then the pandemic happened.

It’s been very start-stop, and quite difficult. This time the heat was difficult. With cycling at least you get a breeze, but it got up to 39C. But we’ve finished now – on 9 August. Overall, it was 131 days of cycling, and some rest days, so about four months.

Daniel built both the bikes, and Zola – she’s named after Gianfranco Zola, the footballer, even though she’s female – went in the cargo bike. She jumps in and out happily, and makes it plain when she wants to walk. She’s a Lagotto Romagnolo, an Italian water dog.

We were carrying a lot of stuff – tents, sleeping bags, all that. And Zola. We tried to camp most of the time but did also stay in hotels and Airbnb occasionally. Before the pandemic we stayed with some people with the Warmshowers community, who host people who are touring by bike.

The bicycle picture shows the full ride, apart from a few places where we had to go off the route to a campsite, and then back to the same point. One time we came to a crossing of the Rhine, with a very small ferry, and it wasn’t running, so we had to do a deviation of 50km, which we removed. So there is a small point where it isn’t continuous, which is annoying.

Apart from that, it was only broken at the end of the handlebars. We didn’t repeat the route on the handlebars. But we did ride the fork and the seatpost twice.

We didn’t stick 100% to the route we planned. It’s so big that if you wiggle around it by 5km or even 10km it’s OK. So we tried to go on small roads where possible, or off road, also so Zola could walk a bit.

Being able to finally see the bike on the map is mainly a relief. We had so many obstacles. When we started this time we were thinking – what can go wrong this time? We felt we had let people down by not completing it, and our life felt kind of stuck. So we’re very happy now.

If people see the image, the message we want to put across is: please do remember that you probably have a bicycle somewhere, and it would be nice if you could use it a little bit more, rather than a car, for short journeys. At least think about using a bike – it’s cheaper and healthier. And, of course, it’s really enjoyable.

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