Vedangi Kulkarni: Neuron Adventures Part 1
What’s it like on a mountain bike photoshoot? Vedangi shares her adventures on the Neuron in Sardinia. Join us for part one...
Standing outside Tunbridge Wells station, I answered a call from Kerstin (Canyon’s MTB Manager). She was walking her dog and began telling me about a mountain bike shoot happening in Sardinia for the new Canyon Neuron. I laughed and wondered if I’m best fit for a mountain bike shoot. I told her that I'd ridden my Canyon Exceed, a XC hardtail mountain bike, down black graded downhill trails in Scotland before.
We agreed that it will be a hell of an experience if things fall into place.
First things first: paperwork
As I hold an Indian passport, I had to arrange a Schengen visa in order for me to get to Milan where we had planned to meet. It’s a pain in the ass and requires more documents than those a British citizen needs for their passport application. But, my passport is full of stamps and throughout my childhood and adulthood (so far), I’ve had the privilege to apply for several visas to travel far and wide.
To get to Sardinia, my entry point in the Schengen region had to be in Italy. However, the Italian embassy didn’t have any interview slots open until after I was meant to already be in Italy.
A friend in Helsinki offered me an invitation letter (and indeed any further paperwork), so I decided to apply for a Finnish visa instead. Three days later, I attended my interview and handed my passport in. I requested the officer at the agency grant me a decision on an urgent basis and she told me that it wasn’t in her hands. I suggested hand writing a letter to the Finnish embassy. Long shot, but it worked!
Much to my surprise, they made a decision on my visa and my passport was on its way back to me only two days after the interview. The next day, I got my visa, with less than a week left to go.
Having never been to Italy, or in fact on a mountain bike shoot, I obviously overpacked. I spent the entire journey reading anything and everything I could find about Sardinia. Beautiful beaches with turquoise waters, big mountains, rocky and loose trails. Bronze Age structures called Nuraghi scattered across the island, caves and vastly better weather than the UK...
At Milan airport, I met Daniel, a Colombian-born Spanish mountain biker, as we waited to meet the filming team. Google Translate became our best friend when we realised just how much my lack of Spanish affected our conversation. It occurred to me how long it had been since I last interacted with different people from different nationalities. I cherished the novelty of that as we made our way to Genoa, from where we took a ferry to Porto Torres. After a brief confusion with tickets, we eventually managed to get on board. Shouty traffic controllers entertained us, followed by the mental maths of just how much weight was being shipped across the sea to Sardinia.
After a few more hours of driving, I ordered my first ever espresso. Everyone watched the sheer disgust on my face from the bitterness despite having already added 3 sugars to it. I pretended it was Sambuca and gulped it in.
For the next few days, that’d become a norm. We made our way to the first location where we took some shots of us setting up the camp. This was on Kerstin’s truck, with a roof top tent. It took much longer than I anticipated, often forgetting that I was on camera. I tried to remember to keep smiling and limited my loud self-talk.
Setting up the Neuron
When it came to setting the suspension up for the bike that I was to use, I had to try and remember how much I weighed. I’m obsessed with trying to understand how stuff works. I was quite fascinated when Paul explained how the rear and front suspensions work together to absorb the hits from rocks and holes. I soon realised that the rear suspension meant that I won’t get spat out from the g-force when I ride down from somewhere steep to somewhere flat. That said, I’d be lying if I said that I understood anything beyond the basics of how to actually set the suspension (or sag as it’s known). My main interest was learning the “how” and “why” of rear suspension and what it meant to have an air system versus a coil system.
What's a photoshoot without great food?
The meal times in this part of Europe are vastly different from the UK. The concept of breakfast is pretty much non-existent. Everyone grabs a croissant and a few shots of espresso before getting on with their lives! My appetite demanded muesli with a bunch of fruit. Outdoor Provisions bars and nut butters came to the rescue most days. And so did leftover dinner!
We ate later in the afternoon for lunch complete with delicious starters and a big main course. Starters consisted of a typical Mediterranean smorgasbord of olives, fresh bread with olive oil, and bruschetta. Main course was various kinds of pastas with some creamy fillings and tasty sauces.
Dinner time was well past my usual bed time (even with UK time zones considered) but more often than not, it was well worth the wait. It was a huge deal to have something decent for dinner and I quite enjoyed the hype for savoury food. I had to wait slightly longer for my first authentic Italian pizza. Two days in and I got used to the odd meal times and wasn’t falling asleep in front of my meals any more!
And now to test the bike...
Our first location was a loose, dry and loamy descent with a 90 degree flat right-hand corner. We had to climb back the same way which was very steep and technical. When I heard that the guys were asked to go down, all fast and loose, I was keen to give it a go too. At this point, I felt pretty accustomed to the bike and could get my body in the right position to make it all work. Everyone was ready to go, and I really didn’t want to be the slow one.
About the author
Vedangi Kulkarni was born in India in 1998 and currently lives in the UK. She’s an adventure traveller, endurance athlete, public speaker, writer, expedition manager and a business owner. In 2018, she rode 29,000km around the world in 160 days, mostly solo and unsupported, at the age of 19/20, becoming the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe on bike. When she’s not riding her bike or floating on her back in some body of water, you can find her reading non-fiction books (mostly philosophical, nature writing or reflective adventure stories) or surfing the web about anything and everything related to the Arctic.