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BikingMan: Ultra-Distance Cycling with a Taste for Charity

By Jonathan Bouchard

The RedBull brand has a long history of catering to crazies so there’s no need to introduce that. We took two of them aside and asked them a few questions about the past, the present, and the future. Don’t expect prophecies though, Axel Carion, the CEO of the BikingMan team and Andreas Fabricius, the teams Race Director, were just casually talking about endurance cycling, designing original bike trails, establishing a charity foundation, getting Guinness World Record… You know, the usual!

These guys managed to cross the South American Continent from Cartagena, Columbia, to Ushuaia, Argentina, on what is some of the toughest environments in the world in the record time of 49 days, 23 hours, and 43 minutes. That’s the past. As for the future, they’re planning something even more strenuous, daredevil-ish, and challenging. The lovechild of their want for adventure and good intentions is called The BikingMan Foundation aka Pompiers Sans Frontières aka Firefighters without Borders. Why firefighters? And what is BikingMan 2018? Answers below!

Atacama Desert (Credit: BikingMan – DStyv)

Please explain to us what your foundation is all about and tell us your plans with it in 2018 and beyond.

Axel Carion: In 2015, I was cycling across South America, from Colombia to Argentina following the Andes Cordillera. But the special thing was that during our journey, me and my friend were welcomed with such great generosity by the local people along the route, especially by the Firemen of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina, who frequently offered us free accommodation (more than 20 nights in total). Something of tremendous value when you are doing a long bike touring trip believe me!

And this is where the idea and purpose of the foundation gradually came to us; as a way to give back to these wonderful men and women who welcomed us so kindly. Most firemen are volunteers limited to using really old equipment. But these people are dedicated to their community and doing the best they can to help in life-critical situations. Pompiers Sans Frontières is a French Non-Profit Organization (NPO) which was originally created in 1991 in Peru. So for us, it simply made sense back then to get in touch with Mr. Serge Montesino, its founder, and build something together to support the NPO’s action.

We were rather surprised to see such a drastic change in your concept from last year. Why change it from a record-based event to a cycling endurance event?

Andreas Fabricius: A good question. In fact, we do two things in life. We search for epic locations where we can embark on our own adventures. The World Record in South America was an expedition we built to promote endurance cycling in a very challenging location and raise funds for Pompiers Sans Frontières to help Chilean firemen.

BikingMan Team in Argentina (Credit: BikingMan – DStyv)

The second thing is, we build ultra-bike packing races based on our field experiences. We bring athletes to unknown locations such as Peru, Oman, and Corsica that all require more than just endurance and legs. Orienteering, finding fuel (food, water), accommodations. In addition, interacting with locals plays a big role in our bikepacking races. Adventure with a capital A in a sense!

Why the Sultanate of Oman? What will be the hardest challenge for this event in your opinion?

Axel Carion: Well as I am sure you know, the Sultanate of Oman is still relatively unknown as a cycling destination. For example, in the world of Pro-cycling, the Tour of Oman, organized for years there is sharing 1% of the cycling potential of the country with the public. We want to show some of the remaining 99%!

Secondly, Andreas has been traveling for business to many of the countries in the Middle East for the last 6 years and was amazed by the kindness of the Omani people, their culture and the stunning landscapes. We then decided to go there for a race reason and we discovered amazing weather conditions where you can ride on pure asphalt in the desert and climb to 2,000 meters to the “Grand Canyon of the Middle East” and enjoy a pure experience of riding in the wilderness, all of this within the same day!

It feels like an unexplored treasure. You don’t have so many places in the world where you can ride from enchanting beaches in the morning, up to spectacular mountains at noon and close from a dune desert in the evening.

The main challenge will definitely be the Jebel Shams climb which hides some very steep sections. The reward on top is worth any drop of sweat though, as it is absolutely spectacular. (Apply for BikingMan 2018 here, if interested!)

Do you think of this event as just a race or more like a friendly endurance event?

Andreas Fabricius: Our motto is simple: Explore, Endure, Empower.

So this February, we are bringing athletes from around the world (Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa) to race in Oman. In a sense, this is more a race against yourself before being a competition between athletes. We do have some athletes joining to get the first place and whom will definitely be fighting for the prize pool, but most of them see BikingMan 2018 as a challenge to push their own limits and explore new locations.

Desert storm (Credit: BikingMan – DStyv)

If you look at the athletes who had signed up so far, any name(s) to watch out for specifically? Any favourites?

Andreas Fabricius: The beauty of the race is that we have lots of experienced athletes coming from different backgrounds (Ironman distance triathlon, Cape Epic, Race Across America, Ultra running, IncaDivide finishers) so it is hard to say who will win.

What we are proud of is to see the growing list of women joining the race such as Shusana Pillinger (first British woman to complete the Race Across America). And especially since we’ve had a lot of women asking us questions about the safety. Oman is super safe! You can leave your bike unlocked outside, no one will touch it. Hopefully, by the time registrations close for Oman, we’ll have more joining!

IncaDivide (Credit: BikingMan – DStyv)

We realize that this event is new in the world of endurance cycling. Are you looking into making it a world-prominent one?

Axel Carion: IncaDivide 2017 last July was our first ultra bikepacking race with a “Divide” format (as opposed to the “Sprint” format of Oman and Corsica).

More precisely, the “Divide BikingMan” races are max. 15-day races while “Sprint” races are max. 5 days. With IncaDivide, we brought 17 athletes on the toughest cycling experience on the planet, mixing high-altitude riding, remote locations and challenging elevation (3,500km route with 60,000 meters of elevation) in Ecuador and Peru. Since then we have been building a series of ultra bikepacking races for 2018. Oman is the first (February 2018), Corsica the second (April 2018), IncaDivide the third (July 2018) and we will announce a final location later in the year.

Our goal is to bring athletes from different sportive backgrounds who all wish to take the step into the world of ultra-cycling/bikepacking but hasn’t found any options besides races, which can’t be finished for the average cyclist in less than 15 days.

IncaDivide (Credit: BikingMan – DStyv)

You see, the trend in the ultra-cycling industry seems to be to put on longer and longer events, making it harder not just to complete but actually to get the free time necessary for athletes to participate in! And that’s not our goal. Going from Gran Fondo (160 km) to a 3,500 km racing is a huge step! So we try to design our races to be an amazing adventure but also manageable both physically and with respect to family and work constraints.

Oman is can be perceived as a relatively unknown, intimidating territory, especially for women. Will you take any special precautions?

Axel Carion: Oman is the 4th safest country in the world according to the World Economic Forum but for some reasons is still seen as an intimidating territory. We have 6 women on the participant list and hopefully they will be able to share their amazing experience of racing in the Sultanate of Oman. We made sure, before planning the race that Oman was open to welcome female athletes as much as the men.

Crossing South America and beating Guinness World Record is something really amazing. Favorite adventures you had on this route?

Andreas Fabricius: We were averaging 300 kilometers a day in Argentina. At 1,800 km from Ushuaia (the finish line), we took 30 minutes during the day to save a Guanaco (lama-like creature) which was unfortunately stuck in barbwire on the side of the road. An Argentinean Gaucho (local) told us the animal was doomed but we kept trying to help and finally managed to cut him loose. We’re humans after all, this is what adventure is all about!

Do you have any advice for beginners in bikepacking?

Andreas Fabricius: Daring to start a bikepacking adventure is the key! Once you have the mindset, nothing can stop you. In 2010, Axel had never touched a bicycle. In 2011, during a work holiday, he took a touring bike on a self-supported ride in Central Europe, 1,200 km in 10 days, loaded with 40 kg of equipment. And he did this after only 2 months of easy training, on less than 100 kilometers per week. And in 2017 he rode with me the South American challenge; 10,600 km in less than 50 days without resting days.

So really it is all about your mindset and actually getting on your bike! Believe in yourself! Also, we must keep in mind that bikepacking is also about the equipment you chose. And the current equipment available and the gravel bike segments has drastically improved. All of this makes a bikepacking adventure more accessible than the classical bike-touring configuration.

Today you can carry bike bags, pack light (less than 15kg) and ride far. Touring bikes often weights more than 40 kg all together, which made the effort way harder and the average mileage lower. For example, Axel’s bicycle in 2015 weighted 60 kg including all packing. In 2017 tour during the world record, it weighted about 20kg.

Thanks Axel and Andreas and keep rocking!