CERCLE THE WORLD
Interview with Bernhard Sobotta, who not only dared to think about a touring bike in a completely new way, but also put this idea into practice.
Why does the world need another – or rather, a different touring bike?
Bernhard: If you want to go on a bike trip, get a sturdy frame with suitable gears, and brakes with good grip – and hang panniers on it. That’s a good way to get around the place. You can even circumnavigate the entire planet under your own steam! So to date, touring bicycles have in principle been based on a question that is very narrowly defined: What does a light and durable bicycle have to look like so that you can travel the world independently? That was a good and important question – and it has been answered comprehensively and satisfactorily.
But when you travel, you don’t just want to get somewhere, you also want to eat, chill out, sleep…
You keep asking yourself questions like: Where can I sit down to relax and have a snack? Where should I put the cooking stove so that it doesn’t fall over? Where can I find a place for the tent that is reasonably flat, clean, and maybe even dry? Should I leave my panniers outside today or rather bring them inside the tent so that they’re safe? These questions haven’t yet been adequately answered when it comes to touring bikes, and that’s precisely why there’s still lots of scope for further development and innovation here.
What can the Cercle do that no other bike can?
Bernhard: Broken down to the essentials, you could say that the Cercle is the bicycle that allows you to feel at home while on the move. It offers two different modes: We can get around with it and transport our belongings, and we can also “live in it”. The Cercle is a bicycle, but at the same time also a chair, clothes stand, table, cooking area, lounger, bed, tent and sunshade.
Whether we unfold our bipod stand on a beautiful sandy beach or in the depths of the forest – at heart, everything is always familiar and comfortable. The Cercle is the consistent element of every adventure that provides support and structure. If Herbert Grönemeyer was right, and home is not a place but a feeling, then the Cercle is not just a bicycle but a home.
How did you come up with the idea to expand the mobility mode of the bicycle?
Bernhard: One day in the summer of 2019, I was sitting in the kitchen of our shared flat and I let my mind wander. At the time, I was absolutely fascinated by cargo bikes and pondered how a hammock frame could be combined with a bicycle. Although I abandoned this approach a few weeks later in favour of a sturdy, fold-out aluminium bed frame, this crazy idea had enough momentum to get the Cercle rolling.
Who’s behind the “Cercle” invention?
Bernhard: If you want to put it philosophically, the desire for more joy in life and the need for more ease and freedom were the inventors. When I was 18, I decided to work and travel in Australia. That place changed me forever. I came to know and love the Zen Buddhist joy of being. Back home and back to normality, I didn’t know what to do next because of the post-travel depression.
After returning home, I felt an irrepressible urge to rediscover that state I had known in Australia. I wanted to break free from old constraints, feel freedom, be happy and live with a sense of ease. This desire stayed with me for quite a while, and then a few years later I had the chance to research a specific question as part of my bachelor’s thesis: “Is it possible to integrate overnight accommodation into a bicycle?” I followed up on this question, and I have completely reimagined the idea of a bicycle, implemented it in terms of function and design, and enhanced it with various features in the meantime.
A brilliant idea! Why hasn’t anyone come up with it before?
Bernhard: Good question. To be honest, I found it puzzling for some time. The question actually made me feel quite insecure in the early days. The Cercle did not originate from any great technical innovation – it could have been done over 100 years ago.
I think the idea of combining a bicycle and a bed must have attracted the attention of an inventor more than once.
Like the creative minds before me, I might not have dared to make it a reality if I had been put off by the headwind. On the other hand, two decisive personal experiences gave me the boost I needed. My first cycling trip took me and my best mate from Munich to the north coast of Spain, in a fit of youthful recklessness. A few years later, I set out on foot on a pilgrimage across Europe that lasted several months. I realised that I could only manage a third of the distance on foot compared to cycling. A car driver would describe travelling by bike as tedious and slow – but from a pilgrim’s perspective, the cyclists overtaking me were the kings of the road. They experienced just as much of the landscape, but in more comfort and at a higher speed. So from a hiker’s perspective, it was an excellent idea to add a few extra kilos to my touring bike for seating and sleeping space.
We haven’t all ridden a Cercle yet, so which feeling best describes travelling on this bike?
I now feel kind of incomplete when I’m out and about without my Cercle. Frequently I’ll leave the house and forget something. Mobile phone, keys, wallet, rain jacket, seat pad, sunscreen, lighter, bicycle light… something is always missing. But not with the Cercle – I always have everything with me. Another good phrase to describe my essential mood on the Cercle is “laid-back cheerfulness”. Incredible confidence in life sets in when I’ve been in the saddle for a few days. What could possibly happen? I have everything that I need!
Is there one very special moment with the Cercle that springs to mind?
Bernhard: This might not seem remarkable to everyone. About a year after I made the first extended test trip, I realised that my idea was no longer only in my head – it was right there in front of me, mine for the taking. Full of humility, I realised: you can travel around with it, and you can also find your home in it. Even if I were struck by lightning tomorrow for some unknown reason, I would have already brought my idea into the world and scattered the seed so that it could continue to mature. That’s a great feeling.
And what do you think about when you sit on the Cercle in a quiet moment and let your mind wander?
Bernhard: How grateful I am to have started out on the project!
To what extent has the Cercle already been tested?
Bernhard: It has made the big leap – from a sheet of paper to the workshop, and then into the wild. Our first major test ride, over a distance of around 1000 kilometres, allowed us to check the features and test the bike’s suitability for everyday use. Even when travelling by bus the prototype was allowed in the hold, and when travelling by train we always found an empty space somewhere to store it, despite it being slightly overlong.
The user experience in camping mode already feels really good. The multi-purpose bed-chair-recliner-table frame that we call CampingCompanion can be quickly unfolded. It’s good for sitting on, the table is very sturdy, it’s a relaxing place to sleep, and all in all this module weighs just 3.5 kilograms.
The main thing still to resolve is the design and customisation of the tent. So far we’ve been using an old tarpaulin as a makeshift solution. Ideally, we’d like to find someone who’s interested in the project and has experience in making tents.
In terms of design, the main challenge is that you can’t currently ride in a standing position because the ring is kind of in the way. I already have a solution in mind that works with circular geometry! In any development, this basic element in design and technology is non-negotiable for me.
The concept is ready, the prototype has been built and the bike has been tested! What happens next?
Bernhard: We’re currently working to boost our reach on Instagram to make more people aware of the idea. We’ve even made a short film, which we will present soon. Since June I’ve been doing an internship at Portus Cycles in Pforzheim, and I’m looking forward to picking up lots of valuable information for my project. I can learn a lot about bicycle technology and the art of frame building from Alex, and all this knowledge will then be used to create the prototype 2.0.
In May 2022 I plan to go on a world tour with my mate William Cornwell, and of course we’ll both be using a Cercle. We’ll develop the tent in autumn 2021, and in January next year we’re planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign to improve the travel budget before we set off on 1 May 2022! It would also be great to produce a third bicycle, which we would like to give away on Instagram!
What’s your big vision for the future of Cercle?
Bernhard: With the Cercle, I want to open up a space for people to find themselves, to come to peace, to simply be, and yet not to do without a certain standard. My vision is that many people will go on journeys with the Cercle and – no matter where they travel – discover and feel the beauty of life.
To make this vision a reality, my dream is to have a small factory where a small number of handmade, customised Cercles are produced every year.
How can people help you achieve your vision?
Bernhard: By getting involved with our crowdfunding campaign. You can find us on Instagram at cercle_the_world, as well as on Facebook and YouTube at Cercle the World. We’ll keep our fans and followers up to date via social media, show them everything they need to know about how the project is going, tell them when our crowdfunding campaign begins, and of course share our travel experiences from 1 May 2022.
And everything we do follows the motto “We’d love to collaborate”!
Cercle was a community project from the very beginning. It would probably never have seen the light of day if large numbers of people hadn’t offered their various skills to help with the project. So we’d like to invite all readers: If you have a skill or passion that you’d like to bring to the project, please get in touch with us! By the way, this invitation also applies to anyone who wants to support us in any other way. Feel free to message us on Instagram or Facebook, or email us at email@example.com