Faced by the threat of the climate emergency, some people recycle more, or turn down the central heating thermostat a notch. Daniel Rayneau-Kirkhope and Arianna Casiraghi drew a 600-mile wide GPS bicycle across Europe. While accompanied by their dog.
The couple gave up their jobs as physics researchers to undertake the 4,500-mile cycle trip through seven countries, a route painstakingly planned to plot the outline of a giant bicycle over the continent.
Speaking to the Guardian from Switzerland, en route back to their home in Piedmont, north Italy, the Anglo-Italian pair said their hope had been to draw attention to the scale of climate breakdown and persuade people to think about using bikes instead of cars for shorter trips.
The journey has won them three somewhat niche world records: the largest GPS drawing ever made, the biggest such image drawn only by cycling, and – perhaps unsurprisingly – the biggest bicycle ever drawn.
While the actual cycling took about four months overall, it has been a much longer quest. Beginning in the summer of 2019, they had to stop because Casiraghi, 40, suffered a knee injury. A return to the route that November had to be halted because it was too cold to camp. A plan to finish it in March 2020 was then scuppered by Covid.
“Being able to see it on the map is mainly a relief,” said Casiraghi. “We had so many obstacles. When we started this time we were thinking – what can go wrong this time? We felt we had let people down by not completing it, and our life felt kind of stuck. So we’re very happy.”
Rayneau-Kirkhope, 35, built the bikes for the trip himself. One of them has a cargo section at the front, in which their Italian water dog, Zola, could travel with them.
“She liked the cargo bike – she jumps in and out happily, and makes it plain when she wants to walk,” he said. “We tried to go on small roads where possible, or off road, also so Zola could walk a bit.”
Plotting a perfect bicycle across France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands was not easy, with Casiraghi’s initial attempt to place the drawing on a map taking them directly through Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris.
Luckily, the image is so big that taking detours of a few miles to find quieter roads barely showed. It was drawn virtually, in a continuous line, with the GPS only switched off going to and from campsites and on one forced 30-mile detour after a ferry across the Rhine turned out to not be operating.
The eventual virtual drawing is massive – the couple estimate it is about 600 miles across – and very obviously a bike.
“If people see the image, the message we want to put across is: please do remember that you probably have a bicycle somewhere, and it would be nice if you could use it a little bit more, rather than a car, for short journeys,” said Casiraghi, who met her husband when they were both doing PhDs in Nottingham. “At least think about using a bike – it’s enjoyable, and it’s great – cheaper and healthier.”