BREATHTAKERS: The DJ Who is Cycling Himself Around the World
This Canadian DJ JaBig has found a way to combine his love for music and cycling.
The opening scenes of the short film, Escape, feature Montreal-based DJ, Jean-Aimé Bigirimana, taking on the daunting challenge of cycling on a frozen river across the Arctic. Directed by Anjali Nayar, Escape was screened at the Ottawa Adventure Film Festival and won the 613km Award in 2018. For Jean, also known as JaBig, the scene of cycling on slippery ice depicted in the film was only a small part of his larger challenge – cycling from Montreal to the arctic coast in an attempt to break the record for the longest continuous bike ride in a single country. This feat took him an impressive 1 year, 2 months and 21 days.
Born in Rwanda and having lived in both Kenya and South Africa, JaBig’s itch to view the world seems to have started early, stating, “I grew up in a country where I went to an international school and everyone was from everywhere, and now it’s great that I get to meet up with them everywhere, some years later.” When he moved to Montreal, he found success in the local DJ scene, and eventually found popularity around North America thanks to his YouTube channel where he has over 200 million views. He is now an international name.
A new chapter in JaBig’s life began the day he bought a fixed-gear bike on a whim and started taking up cycling. In January 2016, he started the journey chronicled in Escape, which became an international hit at film festivals around the world. But what was next for JaBig after Escape?
“I thought, ‘why not ride around the world?’” he states. Currently located in London, he is in the middle of cycling through the UK while setting up and awaiting his new DJ gigs. His plan, however, is to travel all of Europe as part of his 5-year DJ world-tour by bicycle – a 100 000 km ride he started in August 2019. Although exciting, unfortunately, he has already had to face a couple obstacles, such as the recent coronavirus outbreak.
“Basically, I’m planning three different runs. One goes all over Europe, and that was the one I was doing now, but I would have to go through Italy, and right now Italy isn’t ideal,” referring to the current high number of coronavirus cases found in Italy.
He was planning on cycling around Africa, but, according to JaBig, it’s too expensive to do right now. So instead, he’s considering coming back home to do the Americas. He would start from either Boston or Seattle and make his way down to Ushuaia, Argentina – the southernmost city in South America. He predicts this could take him 8 months.
Working around the coronavirus outbreak is only one of the obstacles he has encountered so far, and he is preparing for others. For example, JaBig remains conscious of his identity and how others may react to him internationally.
“I don’t have a point of reference because there haven’t been many people like me who cycle around the world, but in some cases, because of my race, it might be slightly more dangerous for me to venture there,” says JaBig. “Cycling across Canada, my only worry was the weather and the wildlife, the only element was the physical effort and the merciless winter.”
He’s also conveyed concern about the physical obstacles that come along with a bicycle: “I know there are more places where bicycles are welcomed, but I also know there are some places where bicycles are not welcome on the roads.”
“But this is what I signed up for,” expresses a cool, calm and collected JaBig, in a situation where many would have already given up. “That is why I told myself that I’m going to do this trip right and give myself five years” he explains. He doesn’t mind the long journey if it means spending time in places he never thought he’d visit, like small towns in France.
“I’m really going slowly because some of the places that I go, you know, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he says. “The odds of me coming back to some of these places is slim to none.”
JaBig is also DJing as part of his tour, and the proceeds from his gigs are split between helping with the logistical cost of his bike tour, and donating to the charity he supports, World Bike Relief – a charity that provides bikes to kids in rural Africa so that they have a more efficient means to get to school.
“To date they have donated half a million bicycles.”
Although it’s still early in his trip, JaBig already has favourite places and aspects of his journey.
“Switzerland was the most challenging, but the most beautiful,” he says. “And my favourite part is meeting the people.”
Although JaBig isn’t filming his current travels due to the complicated logistics that would come with handling equipment on a bike, that doesn’t mean he won’t show up on screen again.
“I know that filmmakers are paying attention, and so who knows what will happen.”
JaBig has made sure that his story is a unique one. This is a once in a lifetime experience that most wouldn’t dare taking on, but he makes it sound worthwhile: “It’s crazy getting to go places you’ve only heard about in books or seen on TV. Then you realize, oh I’m here, it’s no longer a dream.”
“If I rode every day with a support team, within a year I could circle the globe. But these experiences are unforgettable, and that’s why I cycle around the world, to view it and experience it.”