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Biking and working: from the road

Cycling Blog

Biking and working: from the road

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Office gear

July 7th, 2015

Last week we wrote about an over-the-top piece of engineering carried out by Havas, which saw a full office desk mounted onto the front of a bicycle: a stunt accompanied by the #BikeWhileWorking hashtag.

It got us thinking about the roles of the bicycle in people’s work lives (varying from complete absence to main method of making a living).

We spoke to Max Dilthey of Max, The Cyclist, who spent time working exclusively from the road whilst cycle touring. This struck us as an interesting combination: one that combined adventure with the practicalities of life, and offered a sustainable lifestyle.

When asked about his original motivations for adopting this lifestyle, he explains that the decision was mainly financial:

About two months before I graduated from college, I started writing freelance. I had enough work to pay for a very modest lifestyle that included loan payments, but not rent. Spending a year working from the back of a bicycle made financial sense, and my digital work environment allowed a lifestyle full of adventure and freedom.

Obviously this is not an option that crosses everyone’s mind, or is one which ends up being a pipe dream: never materialising into a reality. We asked Max whether he could identify a specific point in his life where it changed from something it would be nice to do, to something he was definitely going to do:

It was about getting to know like-minded people. Firstly, planning trips with others or tagging along with more seasoned adventurers makes it easier to commit to a plan. There’s a social pressure to motivate you, since it’s harder to talk yourself into avoiding a trip when someone else is involved as well.

Secondly, a lot of the barriers I experienced came from a fear of the unknown, and meeting up with others helped me learn the ins and outs of extended bike travel, increasing my confidence and my experience.

My good friends Max and Jim really got me started, but the online crowd at were full of wisdom and encouragement as well.

One of the reasons people may get stuck in the planning stage is that it can be intimidating to drop everything and head off into the wild. There is a subset of the population that refer to themselves as ‘Digital Nomads’, defined as “individuals that leverage technology in order to work remotely and live an independent and nomadic lifestyle”.

This suggests transience, absence from usual routines and some degree of distance and separation from the life you left behind. Max explains that this needn’t necessarily be the case when we asked whether he identified with the ‘Digital Nomad’ label:

I would and I wouldn’t. There were sections of my travels where I was apart from home for weeks, but at other times, I was living with my parents, friends, grandparents, second cousins, etc. and using these connections as hubs for day trips and overnight adventures.

I was partly independent, but I was also happy to use a close connection for the opportunity to do laundry or take a day off. Everyone’s definition for nomadism will vary; mine allows for me to return to civilization at least a few times a month.

The last part is interesting, and shows the importance of having a firm idea of your expectations and limitations, and working according to these.

Other insights Max shared with us on his thoughts on equipment and working locations:

Invest in the bike. Cheaping out on a touring bike bites you in the long run, period. You can’t expect a $250 computer to perform like a much nicer one, and bikes are the same way.

I love coffeeshops. I’m a grad student now, and everyone’s surprised that I do my best work at the humble Starbucks. I liked places with larger single-occupancy bathrooms, where I could take my time filling a camelbak or changing out of rain gear. I also like the constant turnover of customers coming and going. That chaos actually focuses me, since I don’t have the opportunity to concentrate on anyone nearby.

And far from being a whimsical adventure delaying the inevitable need to enter the ‘real world’, Max’s time on the road taught him some valuable and transferrable skills that have remained relevant in future endeavours:

I gained the focus I needed to bang out large amounts of work when an opportunity arose. On the road, a confluence of assignments meant extra money, which eliminated stress of wondering if i’d pay the bills that month. So, during a rush, I’d easily spend 16 hours working at a stretch. Today, in grad school, the ability to tunnel vision into a project to finish it as quickly as possible keeps my weekends open for recharging, and helps me stay ahead of my deadlines.

He summarises:

Making the jump from graduation to a career is tough. I would not be where I am today without the financial opportunity of freelancing from the road, and the character-building experiences I had in my year on the bike. I learned so much about what it is to write for a living, and what I was most passionate about – science and sustainability.

I also have a little voice in the back of my head now that says “if everything goes wrong, you can always just start touring…

If this has piqued your interest, check out Max’s touring-while-working set-up below (with full info on his blog, here). Though the picture is dated, he says “it’s been two years now and I haven’t changed a single item. When something does the job perfectly, it’s hard to think about spending money on an upgrade.”

Max's office

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