Street Biking: Asmara-Massawa Roadtrip – Photo Story
STREET BIKING: ASMAWA ROADTRIP – PHOTOSTORY
by Poncho, Mar 5, 2012
In western and Asian metropoles, the term ‘fixie’ represents urban mobility and a do-it-yourself lifestyle. Switzerland’s Patrick Seabase breaks out of this context and proves to be a genuine extreme athlete. His latest adventure took him to Eritrea, a little known country situated on the Horn of Africa.
The fixie is simply a track bicycle. It owes much of its recent renaissance to the bicycle messengers of San Francisco. Needing a low-maintenance ride for the rough terrain of their city, they took this bicycle from the velodrome to the streets. Nowadays, the minimalist fixed gear bike is a popular symbol for urban mobility and a DIY-lifestyle of the young generation.Patrick Seabase from Bern, Switzerland, is an inadvertent figurehead of this globally connected scene. He regularly causes a stir online with videos that show him riding down mountain passes or motor-pacing at speeds of 83 kilometers per hour behind a car. This latest adventure took place in Eritrea, a country that is barely noticed on the world stage, officially only existing since 1993. Here is a little Q&A with Patrick:
A friend of mine has a Swiss-born Eritrean girlfriend. In the summer of 2010 he visited the country to attend a wedding. After the trip he showed me some pictures of a road that winds its way from the capital city Asmara, situated at 2350 meters above sea level, down to the Red Sea. It’s a rampant road with many sharp turns, mainly used by camel caravans, overloaded lorries and speeding buses packed with people. The last part of this road heads through an apocalyptic desert. I really wanted to ride this road as I felt that this was my chance to do something that no one had done before.
How did you approach it, then?
I assembled a team and together we drafted a concept for a documentary film which would take the fixed gear bicycle out from its urban context. There would be my story however; we all felt strongly that a story of Eritrea should also be told. It’s an unknown country with a lot of history, a place where cycling is more popular than football. I started to research and inform myself in-depth about Eritrea. I’d never been to Africa or the Third World before so I had no idea of what to expect. The cultural differences, diet, emergency medical care (in case needed) security etc. All of these were big issues in the run-up to the trip.
How did the people in Eritrea react to you?
They were all so very kind and polite. Some of the team had been in Africa before. They told me stories of people being bothersome and demanding. That was not the case. In regards to the project, most of the people we spoke to did not understand why I had come to Eritrea with my track bicycle. They laughed and said I was crazy. Nevertheless, they were interested. Many people wanted to help in some way, one even offered me his racing bike for use as he thought it was impossible to ride down the road to Massawa without hand brakes.
You were in Eritrea for 10 days. The ride from Asmara to Massawa would not have taken more than a day?
The ride itself took only half a day. However, we wanted to get to know Eritrea and its rich cycling culture. Nowadays, in our dense and networked world, few things remain undiscovered. The case is different with Eritrea. Most people outside of Africa have never heard of the country, let alone know where it is situated on the world map. Eritrea has the richest cycling tradition in Africa, producing the best racers on the continent. It’s crazy, no? People have to know about this. That’s why it was important to document this and not just make a film about ‘Euro-boy’ riding down a mountain road in Africa.
How did you prepare then for the downhill ride?
Well, I could not train as much as I wanted to. The winter was very cold and snowy in Switzerland so I kept myself fit by exercising at home on a cycle trainer. Then, two weeks before the trip I went to Aigle and trained on the indoor track. That was all the preparation I had. Once in Eritrea I then had a 2-day long training ride with some local up and coming racers, on a road out to the Western Lowlands. Through meeting people I then also had the opportunity to ride through the streets of Asmara with the Eritrean national team. When I jumped the red lights they wouldn’t follow and stayed back yelling after me. After a while they then followed and took pleasure in some risky business. That was fun.
How did the downhill from Asmara to Massawa challenge you physically and mentally?
103 kilometers through unfamiliar territory, 60 kilometers of that steep downhill, it really takes it out of you. When I ride I never put my feet up, I control the speed by skidding, many times. My state of mind is so different when I’m on my track bike. I have to be clear and focused; it’s not like a regular road bike. You can’t just let the bike roll and enjoy the environment. Riding fixed, brakeless, for me means being 3 seconds ahead. Foreseeing and assessing the contingencies requires a hundred percent attention for that very moment and beyond. Physically I recovered very soon after but it took me at least an extra day to be mentally present again.
What was the most formative experience on your trip?
I would say that the whole adventure was one of the most formative experiences of my life. I came to know and love a country that I would certainly visit again. I learned much about a culture that is unfamiliar but at the same time in many ways familiar. I met people who treated my like I was their brother and people who respected me as an athlete. I had a physical and mental achievement. For that I am proud and thankful.