Polish Cyclists Olo and Inka Share Their Tandem Ride Across Asia

For bikepackers Olo and Inka, riding a tandem bicycle gave them the feeling of freedom and independence when they rode all the way from their home in Poland to Singapore about 22,500 km away.

In this interview, you are going to learn how they prepared for the adventure, the best and worst part of the adventure and much more (including why nobody wanted to steal their bike).

Bikepackers Olo and Inka

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Well, we are Olo and Inka and we consider ourselves as ordinary folks, but when we are doing slideshows, audience always calls us courageous, don’t know why is that. Both of us grew up in fairly natural environment of northern Greater Poland Voivodeship, Poland.

Growing up with easy access to lakes and forests made us fall in love with outdoors from early years and it continuous ever since. Currently, I work part time as a bike mechanic and Inka is on maternity leave from her forestry job.

How and why did you get into cycling?

It all went gradually. At first, I was cycling quite a lot with my mom, but these were just one day trips, then in high school I first met with the idea of cycle touring and went on a couple of short trips with my classmate.

During university, I accidentally came across a website of Daisuke Nakanishi, a Japanese bike traveler whose idea was to make 1 million friends and share his story with as many people as possible, so I translated all his website from English into Polish. That was very inspiring experience. Daisuke was cycling the world for impressive 11 years, met several good people, both locals and travelers. One of the people he met was an older guy from Germany, Heinz Stücke, who has been on the road for over 50 years, using simple 3-geared bike most of the time.

About then we have got together with Inka and started dreaming about our own adventure. And again it was more or less gradual here, we did some short trips in Poland in 2009 and 2010. In summer of 2011 came our first foreign trip to Ukraine (where we’ve found a cute puppy and brought it back home) and in 2012, there was honeymoon spent on cycling in Belarus and on the following year we took off for our trans-Asian journey.

As for preparations, we didn’t do any physical training, cycling was (and still is and hopefully will be) part of our daily life – commuting to school, work, shopping, etc. Obviously, before first trip, we needed to collect basic camping gear, like bike panniers, tent, sleeping bags and so on.

Bikepackers Olo and Inka

Why is cycling important for you?

That’s the easiest and cheapest way of independent travel. Long-distance cycling gave us better perspective of what we have here in developed European countries and how little is, in fact, necessary to live happily. Going outside and abroad made me feel more like a part of the world as a whole, as fellow human and fellow living being, dwelling on one common planet Earth.

What have been the best and difficult parts of your bikepacking?

In general, that was the feeling of freedom and independence, experiencing variety of landscapes and human kindness. Too many single events to point them out one by one.

Making money in former eastern block is not so easy if you don’t have a fairly decent job. As fresh graduates, we didn’t have ones so it took us more or less two years of sparing and living cheap to raise enough money to fund the trans-Asian trip. Those years involve a few months spent working abroad, where salaries are significantly higher. Planning itself is very easy, just point out some dots on the map where you want to go, check for visas, complete your gear and voilà!, you can set off.

If you grow up in country with one of the most hazardous traffic in Europe, you always have eyes around your head. But in fact we didn’t feel threatened anywhere, on road or camping.

When it gets bad, either physically or mentally we don’t push it, just stop and take some rest. Traveling is not racing.

Bikepackers Olo and Inka

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

It all depends on the country, for instance in Korea and Japan we didn’t go to any restaurants and stayed in hotels as little as possible (3 times during 3 months). So we cooked own noodles and camped most of the time. But in China and SEA, street food was cheap enough to quit cooking, and hostel prices were low enough to stay one night per week or so.

In more developed countries, we used CouchSurfing (it’s a hospitality service and social networking website) pretty often, as there usually was not so much reply from WarmShowers (free worldwide hospitality exchange community for touring cyclists) sadly.

In general, the northern part (Poland-Japan), was mostly own cooking, camping and CouchSurfing, while in the south (from Hong Kong to Singapore) was camping, cheap hostels and street food.

Our tandem was so unusual, nobody wanted to steal it. We had a bike lock with us, but I can’t really remember using it.

Bikepackers Olo and Inka

What are your best advice for new cyclists and bikepackers?

I think people new to cycle touring focus too much on gear, gadgets and technical stuff. To start your first adventure you really don’t need high-end bike, clothes and so on.

How do you prepare for your cycling/bikepacking?

We try to keep in shape in general, not focusing on being prepared for distance cycling. Preparations and planning are usually cut to basics, like visas and a couple of interesting places to visit in each country, then we take whatever road suits us best at the moment and adjust plans to current conditions.

Bikepackers Olo and Inka

How do you financing your bikepacking adventures?

Getting sponsorship is not so easy and companies usually want to give gear they make rather than cash. We managed to get a free set of bike panniers from Crosso and a tent from Marabut. About 98% of budget was earned in normal jobs, part abroad, part in Poland. Total cost of our over 14-month journey across Asia is about 50,000 PLN, which is roughly 11,800 EUR or 13,200 USD, what gives just over 400 EUR/person/month.

Most money goes on traveling, besides basics like food, visas and flights are cash consumers, some goes on spare bike parts and occasional nights at hostels/guesthouses and tourist attraction tickets. Gear itself is not that expensive compared to cost of living several months abroad.

Bikepackers Olo and Inka

How do you balance normal life with bikepacking?

There wasn’t really any balance in our travel, we just spared money and when it was enough, just quit our jobs and started cycling.

What has been your best cycling purchase?

If one plans to do to some long-distance cycling, it’s a good idea to have good bike panniers and a comfortable camping tent. These are gonna be your wardrobes and home for long time and you don’t want them to be cheap and poor quality.

We used and are very happy with Crosso’s Dry panniers and Marabut’s Atacama camping tent.

What other favorite cycling gear/gadgets do you have?

MSR Multi-fuel tourist stove is a handy thing, same goes for MSR Dromedary water bags (we used 4 and 6 liter options), which are good for storing water and serve good as kitchen tap and a shower. A dynamo powered usb charger was useful in remote areas.

Bikepackers Olo and Inka

What will the future bring?

Yeah, lots of plans. There are so many places we’d like to visit and it’s hard to start somewhere. It would be great to cycle to (and through!) Africa from home, we also dream about South America and all other continents. But first kids, now we are family people, we’ve got our first daughter and wish for at least one more kid to come. We can’t wait till they grow so we could start cycling together.

We don’t actually dream about better gear, maybe just a better rear hub for our tandem would be OK, as 3 gears of Shimano Nexus 3 were too little sometimes, so maybe a Shimano Nexus 7 or Shimano Nexus 8 would do the job? And better brakes too, for the downhills.

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