JaBig loves riding bikes. To be honest, that observation is what you might call an understatement when describing the Rwandan-born Canadian DJ! His quietly refined manner gives nothing away about his passion for travelling and experiencing life on two wheels. JaBig’s current tour, a six-month circular route around the United States, is a journey of three levels. Whilst the focus is on it being a ride to raise money for charity, it’s also part sightseeing tour and part long-distance commute (he’s DJing at various locations along the way)
We caught up with JaBig just as he finished his first big leg of the trip to learn a little more about his motivations, setup and daily life on the bike.
Tailfin: Who is JaBig?
JaBig: My legal name is Jean-Aimé Bigirimana, and I am a Canadian DJ born in Rwanda in 1979. Montréal is my hometown as well as Vancouver, but I am always on the road performing or exploring.
What brought you to cycling?
For years, I rode a bicycle for the occasional fun or commute like the average person. I got serious about it in 2015 when I got a fixed-gear bike and started riding everywhere in Montréal and wherever my travels took me. I was hooked and wondered why I had never taken it up before as it always brought a smile to my face!
Why do you ride?
I ride to explore and experience new places. I ride for escapism. I ride because I feel good.
Where are you currently?
Right now, I am currently in Portland, Maine, in the United States of America, where I have just finished the Pacific-Atlantic portion of my USA tour to raise funds for World Bicycle Relief. It’s been a 9138 km (5678 miles) journey in 3 months & 28 days before turning around to head back to Seattle, my initial start point, to close the loop.
Can you tell us a little bit about the route you chose to take?
I’ve cycled across Canada twice, the first time on a fixed-gear in Winter to break a Guinness World Record and the second time out of sheer boredom and frustrations from COVID-19 international travel restrictions. Alongside that, I’ve completed a European tour that took me across the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, France and Switzerland, so I felt I needed a challenge while the world was still recovering from the pandemic.
So the United States came to mind as a dream destination. Unlike Canada, I wanted to circumnavigate the US because it is more populated. It turned into a project that would have me start in Vancouver, one of my home bases in Canada, cross into America by bicycle and officially start and finish the ride in Seattle within six months – the duration of my tourism visa.
What made you choose this particular journey?
This ride is a fundraiser for World Bicycle Relief. This charity provides bicycles to children in rural Africa, especially girls who live far from schools and are unable to attain an education. World Bicycle Relief is a US-based organisation started by some of the founders of SRAM to empower people through the power of mobility, and that is a cause I can stand behind and support.
And of course, for me, riding a bicycle whilst raising funds for bicycles seemed like a perfect project.
How many days have you been riding so far?
As of writing, I have been on the road for 3 months and 28 days, so almost 4 months.
Talk us through a typical day so far.
As a career DJ who has been at it for 20 years, I am not the most morning person, so it takes me a while to get started. Depending on my stomach’s mood, I will either have a heavy breakfast or nothing at all and have a big lunch instead. In the evening, I have dinner, update my social media platforms, plan the next day’s ride and go to bed to do it all again the following morning.
I pick my destinations according to accommodation, so if I am in the barren areas, my days consist of long rides that can be up to 240 km; however, my best rides are those around 130 km in length.
Have any parts of your new routine been hard to get used to?
Waking up early and going to bed early. I don’t think I will ever get used to that as I am a night owl by nature.
Do you plan where you are going to stay in advance?
Oh yes. I never get on the OPEN U.P.P.E.R unless I know where I am spending the night. The only exception is if I am heading to a big municipality where I know that there will be an abundance of lodging options such as motels, hotels and Airbnb.
Are you working to a strict deadline?
Canadian citizens can stay in the United States of America for 181 days (six months) on a tourism visa. As a traveller, that is the one that I am on; therefore, I need to complete the 16,000 km (10,000 mile) journey in that time frame and leave the country no matter where I might be; otherwise, I risk a ten-year re-entry ban.
What have been the highlights so far?
Meeting in person the amazing people that I have known for ages on social media or that I have been acquainted with. Nothing will surpass that, not even the beautiful scenery I enjoy on most days.
And dare we ask – any low points?
Motorists. The United States of America is not a bicycle-friendly country overall. People behind the wheel do not have much tolerance for bicycles being on some roadways, despite being perfectly legal.
On top, In some states, I also endured racial abuse by being called derogatory names, but hopefully, within 24 hours, I had left that area.
How do you keep yourself occupied riding alone and for hours on end?
One of the joys of being on such long journeys is to be alone and get lost in deep thoughts that sometimes make me wonder what happened in the twelve hours I spent on the bicycle that day.
I do not listen to music because, as a DJ, I get absorbed in it, and it becomes mental work; I need to pay attention to my surroundings. I actually want to hear what the area sounds like, and for the most part it’s illegal to have headphones, and I do not wish to have a speaker disturbing the peace of the fauna around me.
Being alone is how I occupy myself; it brings me great peace and I love it that way.
Have you got any go-to on-bike foods you seem to eat every day, or has it been a bit of a lottery as to what to eat and where?
It’s been a lottery. Different areas have limited food options, so I would say that it’s always a gamble. However, if I can have yoghurt to start my day, I colour myself blessed.
Can you let us know some details of your current bike and setup?
The OPEN U.P.P.E.R is my frame, and I’m running a SRAM Red Etap AXS groupset with Quarq Powermeter (46/33 and 10-36). The cockpit and wheels are all Zipp – SL Service Course for bar and stem, plus 303 Firecrest wheels. The tires are René Herse Barlow Pass 700 x 38 in Endurance casing. SpeedPlay Zero pedals by Wahoo work wonders for my weak knees, and the company’s ROAM GPS keeps me from getting lost and records the data from my ride.
To travel very light, I have a Tailfin AeroPack on a rack that can take panniers which I ship ahead to big cities and get to them every second week or so when I need a change of clothes or to access my laptop.
My helmet and glasses are by POC, clothing from Rapha (the brevet collection or long-distances and touring), and Lake shoes work for me despite being road, not MTB – so hard to walk in off-bike as the SpeedPlay pedals are kind to my chronically bad knees (the irony).
Disclosure: all of the above brands support my ride by providing me with their products except for OPEN.
Would you change anything about your bike after riding it for so long?
I would probably get the Tailfin mini-panniers for extra stuff and perhaps a carbon handlebar and seatpost for extra comfort, but that’s just being extra demanding for nothing!
Have you picked up any tips along the way?
It took me a while to figure out that I needed to inflate my tires more due to the extra weight from the cargo!
For someone who looks like me, it also dawned on me that backroads are not a good idea in the United States, so I stick to busy secondary highways with shoulders where I have witnesses; therefore, most locals’ advice on navigation is ignored except if it’s from women. I will let your readers figure out why I do things that way.
Can you give us a brief idea of where you aim to be by the end of this week?
Today I am in Portland, Maine. Next weekend I will be experiencing Niagara Falls from the American side, which I usually visit from Canada, so I will get to figure out which is the best view. A week later? In Chicago. It’s a big country but long days in the saddle help me tour it fast because time is of the essence.
How can we follow your journey?
My travelogue is on Instagram: @JaBig
How can we donate to your chosen charity?
100% of the funds go directly to the charity towards empowering people through mobility.
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