A Tech Meetup On Wheels Goes The Extra Mile
The article was originally published in Forbes at #changetheworld
There’s a meetup of techies, it’s on wheels, it crosses borders, bridges cultures, it brings tangible benefit to the less fortunate — and its membership is growing.
I* founded Techbikers in 2012 to provide early stage entrepreneurs at Campus London, Google’s first physical hub for startups, an opportunity to come together around an important cause: building schools and libraries in the developing world, in partnership with Room to Read, a non-profit focused on girls’ education and children’s literacy in Asia and Africa.
Over the past 6 years, we’ve built the community from 50 participants on the first ride to over 600 founders, VCs and techies who have taken part in the rides from Vienna to Budapest, Paris to London and Copenhagen to Berlin. This fall, we’re launching two more rides in two of the world’s most exciting startup ecosystems: Silicon Valley (Napa to San Francisco) and Startup Nation (Ein Gev, Israel to Petra, Jordan).
The Israel-Jordan ride is not trivial, not only because of the physical challenge — cycling to the Dead Sea 400 meters below sea level inevitably means a long climb afterward. But it’s not trivial also from a regional perspective: while there’s a formal peace between Israel and Jordan, the populations on both sides have very little contact, and visits to and from both sides aren’t routine affairs. There’s always tension in the region, and always an awareness of the risks, especially at or near border crossings.
It’s with this in mind that this November, a group of about 50 Techbikers from Europe and Israel will meet in Tel Aviv and travel north to the Sea of Galilee for a four-day cycling adventure.
The peloton will start near Tiberias, an ancient city on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. From there it will ride south to the Dead Sea on the Jordan Valley road (approximately 80 km).
Day 2 starts at the Dead Sea and the Edom Mountains with a steep climb (approximately 88 km). We get to Petra, in Jordan, by coach and stay overnight.
After seeing the Petra antiquities, the third day consists of cycling from Dilagha to Robert’s rock with steep climbs and their reward — downhill through beautiful desert scenery descending to the Arava Valley.
After a night of camping in the desert, the last day is the longest consecutive cycling — a total of 100 km to Eilat. The thought of the falafel and party at the finish line should make the last stretch particularly fun.
Techbikers aren’t competing against each, it’s not a race like The Giro (which is starting in Israel this year). It’s a long, fun, meaningful meetup on wheels where everyone wins in their own way. Every participant is an entrepreneur, developer, venture capital investor or tech executive. They drop their laptops and get on their bikes to cycle over 300 km, to exchange ideas, expand their network and get deals done. The camaraderie forged on the road carries long after the ride is done.
While there are a lot of startup founders on the rides, bikers from bigger companies get involved too as sponsors and participants: Google for Entrepreneurs in the valley, Deutsche Telekom, Plexal and La Fosse Associates, Decent are amongst our supporters.
But it wouldn’t be Techbikers unless there was copious amounts of quantified self data and gadgetry going on. Cameras, wearables, fitness trackers, drones, connected speakers and GPS trackers are a big part of the experience. Swedish startup Mapillary has recorded remote routes near Dieppe in France.
Santander bikes (formerly called ‘Boris bikes’) equipped with Blaze’s laser safety lights have also done routes. We’ve created APIs to map tweets from the group to our current location. We’ve had all sorts of bikes: Tandem (with a blind person in the back), Boris bikes (each weighs 23kg), a hand bike (someone who broke their ankle before the ride did 320km on a hand bike), Fixies (no gears), Mountain bikes, and Brompton folding bikes.
That Techbikers has started becoming also a hackathon on wheels is a great development. The creation of a localized, and mobile innovation ecosystem — one where participants and their networks find solutions to all kinds of challenges while they’re on route — is a welcome organic outcome.
So Techbikers is inviting anyone developing cycling or fitness related technology to use the Techbikers community as beta testers for their products.
While the gadgets, sightseeing, networking, and workouts are what unites Techbikers, what really motivates them is philanthropy, and giving of themselves in some way to make the world a better place for someone less fortunate than themselves.
At a time when tech and Silicon Valley in particular are seen as having a negative impact on the world (Cambridge Analytica), we’re looking to leverage the tech community as a force for good.
Techbikers have raised over $700,000 so far, all of which has built 10 schools and 30 libraries in Nepal, India, Vietnam, South Africa, Tanzania, Cambodia and Bangladesh. It’s also provided scholarships for girls, books in local languages, and training programs for teachers. And we’re just getting started. Proceeds raised for Room to Read from Techbikers Israel-Jordan will be dedicated to educational projects in the Middle East.
Feeling curious? Join one of the upcoming Techbikers rides in 2018: https://techbikers.com/rides
Eze Vidra is the founder of Techbikers and Managing Partner at Remagine Ventures, investing in early stage Israeli startups in the intersection of tech, media, data and commerce
*Techbikers could not happen without a massive team effort powered by volunteers who work hard behind the scenes to make
the rides feel flawless. I’ll take the opportunity to thank (in not
particular order) Drummond Gilbert, Michael Willmott, Kristina
Tauchmannova, Marek and Juraj Zamenick, Maja Capova, Pierre Charvet, Lisa Ellwood, Tom Kotecki, Emily Holgate, Barry Furby, Ricardo Sequerra Amram, Benjamin Ratz… and the many others that were involved in the past and contributed to this impact… Mark Jennings, Marie Steinhaler, Rich Pleeth, Ben Southworth, Abe Choi. Thank you so much for your hard work!