Preparations for the Ecotopia Biketour 2017 have most definitely begun! The biketour had an open meeting in Berlin last weekend where we reflected on last years tour, reviewed our online organisation structures, shared ideas for the biketour 2017, planned a timeline of what we want to do, and, actually made some decisions!! The most important one being the region of where the biketour will cycle in 2017. After careful consideration of the biketours values and priorities, we are pleased to announce that the region for the next biketour will be Germany, France, east Spain and possibly Switzerland.
Over the course of the weekend about 16 people participated in the meeting, all discussing and making decisions together, from multiple past ecotopia participants, to complete newcomers who had heard of the biketour and came along to say hi.
We started our discussions on Saturday morning in Anton-Schmaus-Haus by reviewing what worked well and what didn’t work so well from the 2016 biketour. Some things that were commented on were: lack of local coordinators, and also local coordinators having different ideas than us about what the biketour is about; not doing many skill-shares; not utilising the theme enough; too few people joining the biketour for the Poland-Belarus part (probably because of visa issues); generally small group size and whether the ratio between rest days and cycling days works for everyone. On a more positive note, most people agreed it was good to have a big event on the way (in 2016, SapfoFest in Lithuania);the bike-fixing evens were enjoyable and effective, although some more than others, but this was generally when we only organised them a few days before; actually managing to get into Belarus despite many barriers, and being better at buying local produce. One big positive was about the organisational process. The biketour has moved away from the structure in previous years of just having two co-ordinators, to a structure of open group planning. For 2016, many people were involved in preparation, from people who maintained our online organisation tools, to people who wrote funding applications, others who made links with projects – overall the group was quite large.
From here, we started discussions about where the 2017 biketour should be. This was very much grounded in feedback from the last couple of years. One issue that has come up is how disconnected the biketour has become from local people and organisers. In the past, local organisers would organise a few days or more of the biketour – which meant local knowledge about routes and contacts. The problem with organising mostly online is that we have slightly lost the local touch, for example, not so many people from the countries we passed through joined the tour, and roughly half of the participants in the last couple of years are from Germany or the UK. We thought that this year the biketour should prioritise local coordination. As so many participants are from Western Europe, we felt it would also be good to organise a biketour in the areas that participants are from – we have more local knowledge, links and contacts, so it makes more sense.
Other criteria that were discussed and deemed as important included the weather (may not seem important, but the last two bike tours have been in northern Europe where summers are cooler and rainier – maybe its time to go south!); the ease of getting to the starting location; likelihood of larger numbers of participants; that we like the region: and that there are good projects there.
Based on the above criteria, the region including Germany, East Spain, France and possibly Switzerland seemed to be the best fit. As so many participants come from Germany, there is a high chance participant numbers will be higher. It is likely the weather will be hotter than the biketours of the past two years, and as already quite a lot of the organisation group so far is based in Germany, more local coordination and links.
Another big part of the meeting was to discuss the biketour values. The biketour values have remained similar for quite some time, so the discussion is more about how we implement them. One issue that has been raised is about language. We discussed about making the language used on the website simpler, for example re-writing the values to make them easier to understand. We also aim to have as much information translated as possible, which is obviously quite a task, but as a minimum to ensure that least the most important information translated.One other issue that was raised about the biketour always being so far away from where most of the participants are coming from is that there is a growing trend of people flying to the biketour. This sometimes feels at odds with the values of sustainability that the biketour holds. The conclusion from this is to have further encouragement of participants to not use planes – by improving the ‘how to get there’ section, by writing a blog post about why planes are bad, and by researching if it is possible to refund travel costs for participants coming from low income countries or situations to travel by bus or train if they would otherwise choose the plane because it would be the only option they can afford.
After the weekend, the meeting informally continued in Spechthausen at the paperfactory. The organising people had the idea, that it would be nice to spend more time together than just the busy meeting. Therefore we wanted to stay at a calm place somewhere near Berlin. The paperfactory (where some biketour-participants have been before) hosted us at their really nice place.
We finished our time in Berlin with an info event at RegenBogenFabrik in Berlin, where we presented the concepts and values behind the biketour and showed some photos from our many adventures.
Finally… What happens now.. Well.. now we have a region decided, we need to start making local connections and finding local organisers, finding interesting projects that the biketour might want to visit, researching action camps or events in the region. Also to be worked on is funding applications, thinking about promotional materials and advertising the tour, and thinking about what equipment we have and need. We will continue to have planning meetings on Skype every couple of weeks. If we find a suitable place in the decided region and enough people to participate, we would also be up for a second physical meeting in spring.
Also continuing on from the meeting we want to re-write some of the texts to make them easier to understand and also select key texts to be translated, as well as finding a good system for texts to be translated. The organisation group is open to anyone who wants to help organise the tour, so even if you were not at the winter meeting, and want to help, you are welcome to join, any contribution is welcome even if you just want to take on something small. Also, if you ave any suggestions for project, eco-villages, bike kitchens, squats, social projects, route suggestions, action camps, events, or know someone who might like to be a local organiser, please contact us, we would love to hear from you :)