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An Interview with the Polar Cyclist Lorenzo Barone

By Filippo Mari

Over the last few years, I have become very interested in the positive effects of cold exposure when applied to cycling performances. Being a bike guide based in Prague, it is very hard for me to train in winter. I really struggle cycling in the cold. So I am always trying to get better. I have been practicing the Wim Hof method for several years and I read as much as possible on the subject. Recently I stumbled upon Lorenzo Barone’s Facebook page.

A picture of a thermometer showing -56° Celsius and a fully loaded bike caught my attention. Since I am a passionate bikepacker I wanted to learn more about this guy! So I reached out and enjoyed a nice conversation with Lorenzo.

Hi Lorenzo, where are you at the moment?

I am in Siberia. After 43 days and 2,801 km I have finally reached the small village of Yuryung Khaya, which is the end of the northernmost road in the world (and the coldest).

The northernmost road in the world.

Congratulations! We will get back to that. But first, tell us a bit about you.

I am 23 years old and I am from Italy. I have been traveling around the world by bike for the last 6 years. I felt the urge to see the world and to get out of the comfort zone of everyday life. It all started with a trip in my area. It was my 18th birthday and it was raining. After lunch I just left for a week. I loved it. I was only back for 20 days when I left for another more epic bike adventure. I rode 8,000 km to Portugal and back. And since then, I have never stopped.

Tell us about your last polar adventure. How did you get the idea?

When I was 19, I rode from my hometown Terni, in Central Italy, to North Cape. It took me 8 months. Two things happened during that trip. First, I left almost without money and I had to support myself in a creative way. I made it and thanks to that I understood that money was not a limit for me to think big. Second, I cycled back from North Cape and it was winter and that experience changed me. I started to be attracted by trips in extreme places like the -56°C in Yakutia or the +48°C of the Sahara desert, the 5,400 mt of the Himalayas’ high passes and the desolation of Siberia.

In Siberia
Welcome to Siberia! © Lorenzo Barone

Impressive. Regarding your last subzero adventure, how do you prepare for such an extreme trip and what are the biggest challenges?

After 6 years of almost non-stop cycling, fitness is not my problem. What is really important is to carefully plan the gear because at these extreme temperatures a mistake could be fatal.  My bike, when loaded, is about 75 kg. So even at -50, if I dress too much, I sweat and that is a big problem because the sweat will freeze and my body temperature will drop, exposing me to the risk of death as I cannot always get changed quickly (if ever). So, it is really all about keeping the sweating to a minimal level and I manage it with a combination of carefully planned gear and going slow enough. And I accept that there will be always a small level of discomfort as the skin always expels a minimum quantity of humidity and consequently everything I wear freezes, including gloves, jacket and even the sleeping bag during the night. My face is also always covered with ice because of my breath.

I have learnt the hard way that materials should be picked carefully. Plastic freezes and breaks so every gear that is under stress, like for example the panniers’ hooks, must be steel or aluminum.

Another challenge I have faced here in Siberia is the wolves. To avoid curious wolves visiting me at night I apply the same technique that local hunters do, putting red flags all around my tent. I’ve never had a problem. For peace of mind, I also have a cap gun with me. 

A tent in Siberia
Apparently, fluttering red flags drive wolves away. © Lorenzo Barone

Can you tell us about an average day cycling at these temperatures?

I start very early because I need to melt snow for breakfast. After packing everything I start cycling. I now know very well what my limits are and I try not to overdo it. I can cycle:

100/160km with temperatures down to -25°C

60/80 km with temperatures between -25 and -35°C

50/60 km with temperatures between -35 and -40°C

40/50 km with temperatures between -40 and -45°C

30/40 km with temperatures between -45 and -50°C

20/30 km with temperatures between -50 and -55°C

Do you have some interesting or funny story that happened to you?

Last winter, when I was crossing the Pole of Cold, I was followed by two dogs for 8 days which made riding at -45/-55°C even more complicated. In the end they meant no harm, so it was an amazing experience. 

Did you get some help from sponsors? How do you support yourself financially?

I don’t earn from sponsors, I only get some support in the form of free gear for example from Montura, Biotex, Schwalbe, and BIKEWORKX. But I sell photos from my trips to those who follow me and want to support me, and I have started taking care of my YouTube channel and can now earn a little bit with it. But all these things happened only in the last year, not in the previous 5 because nobody knew me. So my philosophy was always about not relying on earning a lot of money but on spending little. And being creative. Most of the time I have earned money to pay for the basics by juggling on the street with rice balls inside socks. 

What is the ONE tip you would like to give to somebody who wants to ride in extreme cold?

To cycle in extreme temperatures, you need experience and that must be acquired gradually. During my trip to North Cape in winter, I always slept in a tent and cooked with the stove, so I learned a lot of things that proved to be crucial for my future travels in more desolate places. The only thing I can recommend is to follow your dreams and make them come true by taking the first step. All the rest, you will figure out.

A tent on ice
Camping on ice. © Lorenzo Barone

What is your next project?

I have many projects in mind, but I have not yet decided where I will go. Surely sooner or later I will return to pedal here in Siberia, perhaps again next winter. For the moment I will return to Italy for a while with my wife. She is Siberian. I met her here during my stay and we got married.