Meet Brett: Founder of Social Cycles

Photography: courtesy of Social Cycles

Photography: courtesy of Social Cycles

Meet Brett. Brett is the creator and founder of Social Cycles. A few years back, he set out to cycle from London all the way back home to Melbourne. Fast forward some years and Social Cycles is running bicycle tours through Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Iran, Samoa and Melbourne. 

Dorsu is lucky to be a part of the Social Cycles crew, and score a visit by the cycling team in each of the Southern Cambodia trips. We love it when people choose to travel in slower and more connected ways and appreciate how Social Cycles focus on experiencing the true version of everyday life in the countries they visit. 

Read on for an insight into how Social Cycles chooses to travel and why...

Tell us a little about you- where you are from, what you do and your role at Social Cycles.

I’m Melbourne born and bred, but spent most of my adult life in London. My professional background was in hospitality management, but there came a time in my life where the music just got too loud (read- I got too old!). Call it an early mid-life crisis, but at the age of 35, I thought attempting to ride a bicycle from London back home to Melbourne was the right thing to do. And my life has changed ever since.

Across the epic journey of over 2 years, 28,000+ km’s and 28 countries, I was in the fortunate position to have the autonomy of financial dispersion via a small charity. I was responsible for finding a good home to $12,500 across various countries, projects and NGOs along the great ride home. Packed with rose coloured glasses and a bag full of good intentions, I soon learnt that deciding how to donate the money responsibly was much harder than any hill or mountain I had needed to climb. But through simply meeting amazing people, asking questions first and learning, I was confident in donating to 13 different projects across six countries in NGO programs that were sustainable, income generating and community based.

In hindsight, despite leaving a trail of ‘good stuff’ across the world, I have no doubt that I was the biggest benefactor. My reward was the feeling of responsible giving, to local communities and supporting programs of empowerment. I felt like I had made a difference, a difference I had discovered through asking questions and learning first. It wasn’t easy, but it sure was rewarding. It completely changed travel for me. It’s no longer enough to just see a monument and a museum and think you know the city. It’s all about asking local experts about current day issues. It’s the best way to learn about the impact of recent history, and arguably more importantly, what the near future looks like.

Then I thought, everybody should be able to travel like this. So, I created Social Cycles.

Tell us about Social Cycles- what does Social Cycles do and why?

Social Cycles host small group cycle adventures for travellers with a social conscience. We engage with local experts (NGOs) to learn about social issues, challenges and strategies so that we can gain the knowledge to make a positive difference. We will test people’s physical boundaries, challenge perceptions of charity and completely open minds.

Our mission is to educate our riders about in depth cultural issues regarding poverty in developing countries through group cycling adventures. To enable the freedom of financial dispersion with firsthand understanding of NGO efficiency and sustainability, and to eyewitness differences made to beneficiaries involved.

Describe a typical Social Cycles trip to us. What's involved, who attends, the places you see and the people you meet.

A Social Cycles tour is very much a holiday, but for people who want to learn a little more than the regular tourist stuff. Each tour goes for between 10-15 days to make it accessible to the working majority. Not everybody can take two years off to go cycling! In that 10-15 days, we visit about 4 different NGOs, just for an hour or so each, and learn about their programs, strategies and challenges. We have a chance to ask questions about local issues and social impact. We don’t visit classrooms, teach English for a day or build toilets. The rest of the time it’s all about cycling through rural areas and getting off the beaten track, eating in incredible restaurants or even just lazing by the hotel pool. We find time for it all. At our final dinner, we debate our learnings from the NGOs we have seen and choose to further support one of the programs with an additional voluntary donation of $200 per person.

What impact is created on these trips? How does Social Cycles hope to spread this impact further in the future?

The impact created on the trip is two-fold. Firstly, from every tour there is a donation that supports a local community project via one of our NGO partners. This could range anywhere from $1000--$2000. Secondly, the impact that the experience has on the riders can be quite profound. The feeling of giving and fulfilment, in the knowledge that it’s done with positive impact, can have a massive effect on the riders. These learnings are then passed on to colleagues, friends and family back in their home countries.

What are some of the NGO's and social enterprises Social Cycles has supported? How has the support of Social Cycles impacted these organisations?

Our partners in Cambodia include Friends International, Sustainable Cambodia, Chumkriel Language School, Cambodia Children’s Trust, Ponleur Kumar Cambodia, This Life Cambodia and Grace House. Beyond Cambodia, we also have partners in Laos, Vietnam, Iran and Samoa.

Over the last 12 months, we have donated over $12,000 to various NGOs across nine completed tours. Sometimes the money has built a shallow well for a small village, at times it has gone to teacher’s salaries and other times it has been for ‘unrestricted use’, as the team have been so inspired by the NGO leaders that they have complete trust in that the local experts are experts for a reason.

Your website talks about two beliefs- can you tell us a little bit about these?

1. Learning from local experts to create a positive impact in the world by supporting transparent, ethical, sustainable and community based projects; and

2. Adventure travel

It’s just the best way to experience a country and the local people within it. When you challenge yourself physically, mentally and emotionally, you really do see the world through a different lens. Riding a bike through the country also ensures you find yourself in the most random and remote places, having the most interesting and incredible experiences.

Where is your favourite place to visit and why?

Super tough question! Can I say Dorsu in Kampot?! I like the 15km of dirt trail that leads to Phnom Chisaur, because when you find it, it feels like you discovered it! I like Kampot for its laid back and casual vibe (and great food!), I like cycling between Battambang and Siem Reap via the wetlands because you never know what the road/trail is going to be like and every time is a different adventure. I don’t think I can choose a favourite though!

For budding travelling cyclists out there- do you have any handy tips to get them started on their cycling adventures?

Just go! You’ll figure it out on the way! Everybody is helpful. Also, get off the main roads and don’t be afraid of getting a little lost. It’s all part of the adventure!

For more information regarding Social Cycles and their upcoming tours- email through to brett@social-cycles.com or visit www.social-cycles.com

Happy cycling!