“I started working on an idea that started developing inside my head during the trip through Africa: A bike touring platform with multiple functionalities… It didn’t take long before I quit the job and started to work on Cycle Planet full time.”
When I first heard from Bas about his project Cycle Planet, I was intrigued. From my own work on BikeSleepBike I know how fun it is to build websites for the bike travel community, and also how hard it is to get the word out so cyclists will find and use them. I was happy to offer my website as a place for him to explain his project and reach more cyclists.
But the story gets even better! It turns out Bas was in the middle of an ambitious world bike tour – in challenging West Africa, no less – when the pandemic forced a change of plans. Some people might have sat at home sulking, but Bas quit his job, taught himself to code, and spent an entire year building an online platform to help bicycle travelers around the globe.
Three things I love: bikes, scrappy software development, and the moxie to quit a traditional job and pursue that crazy thing you love. This story has them all!
Read on to hear Bas describe his project, then go check it out at cycleplanet.org.
Bas, kudos on your progress, and thanks for sharing so much of your energy and time with the cycle touring community.
Hi Bas! Tell us a bit about who you are and where you’re from.
I’m Bas, a 29 year old Dutch guy who likes to go on adventures in countries that aren’t well known.
How did you get into cycle touring? Where have you cycled and what are your favorite places so far?
One day I saw an article about a Dutch guy going from Rotterdam to Singapore by bicycle. He was going to pass through Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and so on. While I was planning to go on a gap year to Canada, an adventure to these countries sounded much more interesting, and so I changed my plans. However, I went backpacking to these countries, I came in touch with more long distance cyclists who were passing the silk route. A seed was planted in my brain, and after returning back to home and working in an office for 3 years, I couldn’t resist the call of the bike, and planned my trip around the world.
I felt the urge to go as far as possible, and to see all cultures, including the often skipped Africa. With just little experience, I slowly moved myself out of my comfort zone through the West African jungle. After a year on the bike, I was only 6 days away from the South African border, which closed due to the virus. Stranded in Namibia, I decided to go back home and wait until this pandemic is over.
Some places that I’ll never forget are the beautiful landscapes in Morocco, the tough times on the muddy roads in Liberia, the magical Voodoo experience in Benin, cycling on the steep hills of Sao Tome and Principe and strolling through the rough diamonds Angola and Namibia.
What were you doing before you started Cycle Planet, and how did you find the inspiration to work on it?
Arrived back at home, I started working on an idea that started developing inside my head during the trip through Africa: A bike touring platform with multiple functionalities such as a country database in which all users can contribute, combined with a map with points of interests, and the ability to find hosts and other long distance cyclists.
I also went back to the office to practise my previous function as structural engineer, but it seemed that the office clothes didn’t fit me well anymore, and it didn’t take long before I quit the job and started to work on Cycle Planet full time. Besides, there was a lot to learn, as I didn’t know anything about coding. It took a lot of time to learn coding and to build the platform in the way that I was imagining it.
I found motivation by learning how much was actually possible with the available code, and that it would be great to build a platform for such a nice, trustworthy community.
How long did it take you to build, and what were the biggest challenges?
By now, I worked on the platform for about a year. I started making an Android app in the coding language Java. After half a year, I discovered that there are other languages in which you can build a website, Android app and iOS app with a single codebase, so I basically had to start over to serve even more people. It’s important that these kind of voluntary projects don’t have a lot of maintenance, in order to stay updated and to apply improvements quicker.
There have been tons of challenges. From forgetting a capital inside the code that can cause lots of trouble, to outdated plugins. Coding is partially writing code, and partially solving errors. Luckily there is a huge community of developers that are committed to help solve these errors. But beside the errors, a huge challenge is to find users and to convince them why the platform could be useful. Therefore, the platform simply has to be very good and should serve the user in the best possible way. To reach that point is incredibly difficult.
What are the most important features of the platform?
Cycle Planet is originally built to provide information for each country, which can be added and edited by every user. The country pages are built in a Wikipedia like system. Some of this information, like border crossings and things to see and do, is very useful if you know the exact location, which can easily be transferred to your offline map.
Having a map with all these points of interests made the decision to add users’ locations to it quite logical and easy to apply. Therefore, a hosting system has been built as well, including the possibility to find other bike tourers.
A recent function that I added is to share gpx routes. And a beta function is the trip planner, in which you can select the countries that you want to visit. The planner then shows only information for these countries, and selects the best places to apply for visas and to cross border crossings. A few premade trips can be found on https://cycleplanet.org/trips.
For the features that are similar to another app, like Warmshowers, what does Cycle Planet add to make them even better?
Compared to Warmshowers, Cycle Planet is and always will be free. I believe that meeting locals is one of the nicest aspects of bicycle touring, and like the original idea of Warmshowers, I don’t think you should charge money for making these connections. Another improvement is that with Cycle Planet, it should become easier to find a real host. With Warmshowers, you sometimes have to send messages to 5 different people in order to get one positive answer. Users can switch between “available” and “not available”. If a user declines a certain amount of requests, the status will be automatically set to “not available”. Also, people who are traveling with pets, can hide hosts that don’t allow pets. And if a user sends a request, both the host and guest will see a textbox on their profile about the status of the request. The host can either accept or decline the request. The responses will be saved and shown in statistics, so that other users can see how many percentage a hosts responds, accepts and received positive reviews even before sending a new request.
Which places are the most completely covered right now? Which places need more help to fill out?
Most Western country pages (like France, Germany, USA) are filled out quite a lot already, and especially small islands need more information.
What can cyclists do to get involved and help the project?
You need an account in order to add and edit information. Therefore, you gain credits and other users can easily be redirected to your personal profile. If you want to contribute more than just information, by joining the team of volunteering bike enthusiasts, everyone is welcome. There is a ‘behind the screen’ Slack group in which information is shared and where you can contribute to different fields such as developing, promoting, marketing, etc.
What will you work on next as the project grows?
We’re now trying to speed up the platform, and to make it open source, so developers can contribute to the project. And besides those bigger issues, there is a huge list of small improvements to be made to increase the user experience and to make the platform smarter.
Anything else you want readers to know?
There is also a central place for several Whatsapp groups for cycling on different continents. In these groups you can exchange the latest information about certain countries. You can find a list of these groups on https://cycleplanet.org/resources.
Closing Words From Alissa
Impressive, right? Breaking into any community with a new platform like this is going to be a challenge, but it looks like Cycle Planet has a lot of potential. If you’d like to help it get off the ground, head over to cycleplanet.org to contribute information or research your next trip.
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