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Skift Global Forum: Riding Bicycles and the Joy of Slow Travel

@SamShankman

Aug 25, 2014 8:00 am

Skift Take

Travelers around the world are seeking ways to form deeper, more emotional connections to the places they visit, but the solution can be as simple as slowing down and taking it one step, or pedal, at a time.

— Samantha Shankman

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Lucas Winzenburg

Lucas Winzenburg is the founder and editor of the Bunyan Velo. Lucas Winzenburg


With countries worldwide bragging about their ever-faster trains and present-day air travel making it quick to get just about anywhere, it seems counterintuitive that some travelers would look for a way to actually slow down their transportation.

Biking, however, makes up for its speed with a richer experience and deeper local connection than trains and planes could ever foster. With the goal of telling these incredible stories of long-distance bike travel, Lucas Winzenburg created the magazine Bunyan Velo as a project to get him through a cold Minnesota winter.

Winzenburg, an outreach coordinator for the Polar Geospatial Center by day and editor by nights and weekends, has worked on Bunyan Velo as a passion project for almost two years. He’s published four issues and worked with 45 writers and photographers who all agree that traveling slower is often traveling better.

Winzenburg will speak October 9 about the joys of slow travel at the Skift Global Forum on The Future of Travel. Skift caught up with Winzenburg to learn more about the magazine’s start and why he thinks more travelers should slow down between point A and B.

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Skift: Can you tell us a little about Bunyan Velo?

Lucas Winzenburg: Bunyan Velo is a creative project that I started in 2013 during the dark months of winter in Minnesota. I wanted to share my passion for bicycle travel and to share the passion of friends and other writers and photographers that I’ve gotten to know over the past couple of years.

It’s a free publication that is published quarterly. It’s a collection of photographs, essays, and stories that all celebrate the simple pleasure of traveling by bicycle. It’s a pretty focused publication and all the contributors have one thing in common — bicycle travel has been really meaningful for them and they want to share their stories with an audience.

Skift: How do you define bicycle travel?

Winzenburg: In this instance, bicycle travel is traveling through typically remote regions of the world, or remote places in our country, for days or weeks at a time. For stories, we’ll narrow down a longer trip to about 1,000 words and a few accompanying photos that focus on one theme.

For example, these three brothers from a farm in North Dakota rode their bicycles from Alaska to Argentina over the better part of a year. They wrote a beautiful essay (“Bound South,” page 22) about what it meant to them to travel with, and pack their entire lives into, only three bicycle bags.

Skift: Who are your readers? Are they bike travelers or people who aspire to travel by bike?

Winzenburg: The armchair travel audience is something that we love about the publication. It inspires people from around the world to go on their own trips, maybe for a day or a few hours or a longer trip across the country.

Not every story in Bunyan Velo is some epic journey around the world. Some people leave their front door and go ride for a day and come back. That’s just as valuable and important and I think it’s more accessible for a lot of people as well. We try to focus on all kinds of bicycle trips.

Skift: What are other ways to travel besides bike that give travelers some of the same benefits?

Winzenburg: I got into bicycle travel through doing multi-day and multi-week hikes. It was through that that I acquired all the gear I needed to do these same trips by bicycle. Switching to a bicycle allowed me to go further while still traveling at a very reasonable pace to really take in the landscapes and the people around the way.

Skift: So, why travel slowly?

Winzenburg: I think part of what makes it fun is the challenge; you really earn every mile. Biking a mountain is not easy and you might not like it at the time, but you’ll probably look back and appreciate the time you spent climbing that mountain.

For example, I’ve been through the UK a few times in the past several years and was always zipping around on planes and trains. Last summer I rode the length of Great Britain from northern Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall. During that two-week ride, I learned so much more about the people, the places and the history than in all my previous trips combined. Slowing down really let me get to know, not the whole country, but those thousand miles I rode.

People took me into their homes and made tea for me and told their family history and the history of the land. I would have missed had I been in my car driving across the country.

Skift: Can you explain the editorial process of creating each issue?

Winzenburg: The first issue I assembled by contacting friends who I know love to bike or have been on bike tours as well as bloggers, photographers and writers who have inspired me.

I approached everyone and I said here’s my idea: I want to make this magazine and I want to tell these stories. We all share this passion and I want to make one place where people can learn and be inspired. I told them that they’re not going to get rich or famous, but I’ll put my heart and soul into putting it together and assembling it and trying to do their stories justice. I’d also help them edit their stories and photos.

I published the first issue completely for free; no advertisements. It was a passion project that got me through the winter and something that I was really excited about. I published it not knowing what was going to happen. No expectations to be honest. I was pleased that it had come together and that everyone was willing to contribute.

Then, in the first day alone, 30,000 people viewed it from around the world. There was no advertising budget, there was no push. I just published a link on Facebook and watched it spread around the Internet. It really surpassed my wildest dreams. I’ve now published four issues. It’s still free and the most recent issues has been accessed 1.6 million times. I never could have imagined that when I started this project.

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