Biking across Canada is a big undertaking, but JaBig (known sometimes as Jean-Aimé Bigirimana) is very casual about the whole thing. The trip seems short compared to the journey the cyclist and DJ originally intended to take. This year he was five months into a planned five-year international DJ world tour by bike (fundraising for World Bicycle Relief), when COVID hit and he was forced to return to Canada and re-evaluate his goals.
As the itch to get back in the saddle grew and provinces began to re-open, JaBig realized he would be able to plan a cross-Canada ride, and he promptly set off on his bike again.
This isn’t the first time the 41-year-old has ridden across the country, and, compared to his last trip, this one seems like no big deal. On his previous journey, JaBig became the first person to cycle across Canada coast-to-coast-to-coast in the winter on a fixed-gear bike, breaking the Guinness World Record for longest journey by bicycle in a single country.
“Cycling across Canada to all three coasts on a fixed-gear bike in the winter for the first time is most certainly different than cycling across Canada again,” says JaBig. “This time I’m on a bicycle with gears, in summer and only going from one coast to another.”
“This means extra daylight, dry roads, less clothing required to stay warm and the most important: Gears to allow me to climb and descend faster. Even with COVID-19, it’s also easy to find restaurants or motels that are still open for the season.”
A perfectly suited bike
To cross Canada, JaBig is riding the OPEN U.P.P.E.R.:“The bike I was using to circumnavigate the world before COVID-19 rained on everyone’s parade.”
Originally JaBig had a 1x setup with a ‘mullet style’ 38 SRAM Force AXS chainring and a SRAM Eagle 10-50T cassette. It had Zipp Firecrest 303 wheels running 700c x 35 René Herse Jon Bon Pass tires, a Zipp cockpit and saddle post with a Brooks C15.
“For the journey around the world, I had in mind that I would travel on some of the worst roads and in places with few LBS should disaster strike,” he says, “but we are in Canada with relatively good paved and gravel roads and the terrain varies from mountainous, flat to hilly,” he says. “It’s also easier to access a bike shop in case of trouble since the only thing I know how to fix is a flat.”
“For crossing Canada, I knew that I wanted some changes,” he says, so he brought his bike to Broad Street Cycles in Victoria, who made some updates to the setup. “My issue with the 1x is that there are too many jumps in the cassette so I was always mashing or spinning like a hamster. I found that the only time it benefited me was on rolling steep roads or on really steep hills thanks to the 50 tooth.”
He found roads were rarely steep enough that they needed that kind of range. “I wanted smoother jumps to allow me to leverage the new found art of spinning,” says JaBig. “And it happened that SRAM had just come up with the perfect 2x groupset for laidback riders like me: Force AXS Wide.”
With this groupset he’s able to to climb the steepest roads with fewer gear jumps. He also upgraded to the new Zipp Firecrest 303 wheels (“more crosswinds friendly while maintaining speed and for kicks”) and Zipp’s new XPLR handlebar with a slight flare, which JaBis says, “comes in handy when I am going downhill on shoulder with huge fast lorries on my left and a 300 metres ditch to my right!”
For even more comfort, puncture resistance and durability he upgraded from 35mm to 38 mm René Herse Barlow Pass tires, which sit at 39.1 mm on his Zipp wheels.
Stopping to smell the roses
“The objective for 2020 was to take my time and enjoy the scenery and the company of friends made in my first odyssey,” says JaBig. “The only problem? This is such an enjoyable bike that I just want to be pedalling all day long at the risk of exhausting or injuring myself!”
The being said, JaBig says he’s starting to learn to listen to his body and his instincts. “Now I know when I am doing too much and need to slow down or take days off,” he says. “I also trust my guts and if something doesn’t feel right I act on it. When I look at a route and I don’t feel comfortable with it, I will scrap it.”
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I have a question 😂😂😂 Let’s say that you take a day off from cycling across Canada to raise funds for @worldbicyclerelief (www.bike4bikes.com) because you are absolutely knackered and because you are scared of the wind 🤓🤓🤷🏿♂️🤷🏿♂️ Then the following day you feel so rested that you ride double the distance meaning that you actually caught up with your schedule thanks to the an insane tailwind! My question… Is it cheating or is it strategic brilliance? 😅😅😅
“[I’ve learned to] take my time and smell the roses so to speak which I found that I did not do enough when crossing Canada in 2016-17 and in the first months of my globetrotting trip.”
As he rides across the country, JaBig has been documenting his journey on Instagram. It seems as though everywhere he goes, he makes friends along the way. A recent comment on his fundraising page says: “I’m the woman you ran into yesterday who ‘prefers walking her bike to riding’. Haha! Thanks again for helping me out with my bike troubles. I was out riding to clear my head after a rough week and I didn’t realise how far from home I had gotten. Good luck with the rest of your ride!!”
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In December 2016 when I was cycling across Canada on a fixed gear bike to break the Guinness World Records for the longest journey by bicycle in a single country, I ended my Atlantic-Pacific segment of the journey in Victoria, British Columbia. Via @warmshowers_org, I met Alan and his family who hosted me for two nights. When I left to cycle North to the Arctic Ocean, he and some members of his cycling club decided to see me off to Nanaimo where I would catch the ferry back to mainland. On that ride, I met Louise, James and @voelfgang and I will never forget how unpleasant the weather was and am grateful that they came out to ride with me in it. I stay in touch with most of the people who hosted me on my first journey across Canada so naturally I kept in contact with the quartet via social media. Last year, Rolf and his family visited Montréal, my hometown, and I showed him. He rode the heavy Bixi rental bike but he still was faster than me LOL. Fast forward to last week. I was stuck. Supporters such as @SRAMroad, @ZIPPspeed and @ReneHerse sent me the latest components for my @OPENcycle U.P.P.E.R. bike but I did not know of any reliable mechanic in Vancouver. Rolf spoke to his people and that’s how I got introduced to Matt, a mechanic and Shawn, the owner of @BroadstreetCycles. They liked my project so they kindly offered to rebuild my bike to cross the country and raise funds for @WorldBicycleRelief. (Sidenote: It took me an hour to figure out that the Shawn in the emails and in person were the same.) I was told that my bike needed something called a derailleur hanger or something and that OPEN’s was proprietary. This dude casually went into the basement and started a mill and before I knew it, he had built the missing component 🤷🏿♂️ I don’t even know if I am saying that right. The next day like three and a half years earlier, Alan, Rolf and new-friend Shawn (@shawn.mc.kean) braved the nasty weather again to offer an escort out of Victoria. Thanks Alan for hosting me and for introducing me to Rolf who introduced to Shawn and Matt who introduced me to my U.P.P.E.R. U.P.grade 😎
Riding for a cause
The 41-year-old points out another major difference between this ride and his first trip across Canada: “The first ride was a personal pursuit while the second is a charity challenge to benefit World Bicycle Relief,” he says.
World Bicycle Relief is a cause close to JaBig’s heart. He was born in Rwanda but emigrated to Kenya and South Africa at a young age before permanently settling in Canada.
As a Montreal-based artist, he gained global recognition from his more than 500 “Deep & Dope DJ mixes” which have been streamed for over 7 billion hours on YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Music and Mixcloud. “Whilst cycling Canada for the first time,” says JaBig, “it occurred to me how much of a privilege it was for me to simply take a fifteen month sabbatical to go on a journey of self-discovery despite challenging weather and underbiking.”
“On the road, I thought how I could use the power of bicycles to help out children in Africa, my continent of birth, get to school so that they could have a chance for an education that would eventually yield similar privileges.”
World Bicycle Relief gives bikes to mobilize students to access education, healthcare workers to reach more patients, and entrepreneurs to get more goods to and from markets. They also build the bikes locally, which creates jobs and helps the regional economy.
“Adding a charitable cause to the ride was my way of using my large platform to give back to my continent of birth while doing two things that I love the most: cycling and playing music,” he says. “I invite those who follow my ride to donate to this great cause and for cyclists to join me along the way and to convert the distance cycled to Canadian dollars and donate it to World Bicycle Relief. I ride bikes for fun, but in some parts of the world they are literal lifesavers. That is why I bike for bikes.”
A DJ on a bike
What does the musician listen to as he rides? “As a career music person when I am on the bicycle, I do not listen to anything,” says JaBig. “Actually, I do but it’s not music. I listen to the soundtrack that the outdoors have selected for me on the day’s specific ride. For once, someone can play something for me—nature does that better than any human can.”
He also says he keeps the headphones off when he rides as it’s important for him to monitor his surroundings on big highway roads.
There are exceptions though. “On motor vehicles-free roads however, I will put on my finest Audio Technica sweat-proof earphones and review the latest music because, as a DJ, I have to stay on top of the trends (even if right now nightclubs are shut down due to COVID-19). It’s the reason I was able to embark on this charity ride across Canada from Victoria to St John’s.”
To donate to World Bicycle Relief, visit JaBig’s page at Bike4bikes.com