Title: Ride Across EU

Funders: DHS, Orange

Year: 2010

Ride Across is the birth certificate for the 2Celsius Association, an organisation dedicated to climate change, clean transports and mountains communities. In 2010, we started a charity program by which 30 students from the mountain communities of Cugir in the Transylvanian Carpathians, received their first mountain bikes. The bicycles were meant to help them commute between home and school. In the post-crisis period 2008-2009, Romania was suffering from the most infamous austerity program in Europe; between the victims of pro-capital and unpopular policies were the school buses / school car services. In the case of the children from Cugir, the bicycles were supposed to replace them.

The daily/weekly home to school commute for the children living in the scattered villages of the Surianu Mountains has become a serious issue since the economic downturn. They have to travel anything between 10 and 25 km (6-15 miles) to take advantage of their fundamental right to education. Bikes are viable transport option. Calin Gruia and Raul Cazan embarked on the crossing of the European continent just to draw attention and some money into purchasing the much wanted vehicles.

Two-wheeled Development in Dracula Land

When it comes to bicycles, as in almost everything, Romanians create forms without substance. None of the bicycle lanes made in the last decade were homologated. Cyclists are one of the most exotic apparitions in the Romanian traffic and they are treated with a traditional xenophobia manifested in curses and spits. A true post-communist Romanian has discovered the delights of the capitalist society and truly believes that her or his social status lies in the car that she or he is driving and the amount of gasoline she or he is burning.

Romania is the EU member state where one could not buy a touring bicycle. On the other side, Romania has the worst roads in Europe, motorways are eloping in corruption scandals, traffic jams in big cities are the common everyday scenery, and air pollution is among the highest in the EU.

The Reason

Following science, the human machine is not more efficient than typical gasoline engine. Each one of them converts less than a quarter of its intake of fuel energy into work while the rest is wasted. However, the bicycle-and-rider is the unsurpassed star among transport modes, says Robert Hurst in his “Cyclist’s Manifesto”.

The cyclists need a little animal and plant matter for fuel. But not much more than a sedentary person. Petroleum, oil based energy is highly concentrated , but still derived from animal and plant matter. Both can be measured in the same units: kilocalories.

Comparing the number of kilocalories that a cyclists uses to those burnt in the gasoline engine (or alas, even in electric eco-friendly feel-good-about-myself going-green uh-la-la-la-mr.-environmental responsibility such as the ultra-praised Prius) is 20 to 30 times smaller.

The fatal energy flop of any car is its weight. Even the Prius has to haul an extra-ton of metals and plastics that surround the poor driver.

“Nothing (…) can approach the efficiency of the bicycle. Cycling stands completely above other transportation modes in that regard. We can see that we promote these modes of transportation (commuter rail, biofuel buses, Prii or pedestrians) while trumpeting the critical importance of increasing efficiency, in inverse proportion to their efficiency. That would seem to be, a bit, inefficient”.

Hurst wrote an excellent book. In its last part he is advocating the bicycle from a multitude of perspectives, however the efficiency approach is simply groundbreaking.


The Alternative

The first mayor in Romania, the mayor of the town of Cugir in the Transylvanian Alps, actually understood the above argument and managed to perceive the bicycle as a serious means of transportation, a healthier and a more environmentally friendly alternative to school buses, which could not possibly cover such areas on one hand, and, with the economic downturn, would be a burden on local tax payers.

Families that live in the alpine communities in the Carpathians, specifically in the Transylvanian Alps, make their living on subsistence agriculture, the most environmentally virtuous type of food production. Peasants and shepherds in the Carpathians are conservationist sui-generis, they preserve areas with high natural value, and cleverly use ecosystem services. However, all over the Carpathian range, their family cash incomes rarely overpass Euro 250 per month.

Thus, the bicycle is Carbon 0 and no public funds go into purchasing them. Our RideAcross programme consists of enhancing the bike as one of the most virtuous solutions in the global economic crisis. With the money we raised, each school kid in the mountainous area of Cugir will get a good bike.  Moreover, the bikes are produced in the same area by one of the biggest manufacturer in South East Europe, DHS, thus supporting at least 200 green jobs.

The Route

We will be riding our bikes from England’s Steel City to Romania’s Metallurgical Town. From Sheffield to Cugir we are going to support the cause of sustainable transport and of access to education for the children in the Carpathians.

After leaving Sheffield and we will cross the Main Channel via Hull. From Rotterdam through Arnhem, over the lowlands of Holland we’ll then enter Germany following the Rhein. Shadowing the Danube’s left bank downstream, we’ll ride across Bavaria, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. In Budapest we’ll be leaving the Danube and ride over the great Pannonian Plain. The journey ends in the Transylvanian Alps and will conclude after a month of heavy pedaling.

Yet, our adventurous tour across Europe is still dwarfed by the children’s everyday effort riding to school.