The world on two wheels
David Fletcher and Jason Stirling
Mapping, photographing and filming bike rides across Australia and the world
David Fletcher and Jason Stirling combined their love of cycling and their desire to make something productive and engaging and created Cycle Atlas; a website mapping and filming cycling routes around Victoria, Australia and the world. An antidote to the usual hyper competition of the sport, Cycle Atlas is focused on creating an accessible archive of rides to engage cyclists of all levels of ability.
Recently, David and Jason built on their original concept and founded media company, Atlas Media House. After picking up a couple of Go Pros and watching a lot of YouTube tutorials, the pair are now concentrating on producing promotional videos for a variety of exciting events.
With content so inspiring that even non cyclists are rushing to watch the short films and both David and Jason having recently quit their jobs to concentrate on Atlas Media House and Cycle Atlas full time, it’s an especially exciting time for this project. I caught up with Dave to talk about how the project’s wheels almost fell off, and how bikes are just the beginning.
Where did the idea for Cycle Atlas come from?
I went to Norway on exchange at the end of my Bachelor of Environments. Whilst I was away I felt like every time I had a lecture I would leave feeling disappointed, like there was a lot of talking but nothing was really changing, especially with the environment. There was so much politics involved. So I thought to myself, “Fuck it, I don’t want to be doing this, sitting around talking. I want to be doing something myself.” I wanted to create something, even if it didn’t end up working. Jase and I met when we were studying at Melbourne Uni. When I got back from exchange, we were comparing notes on our ideas. We have both been riding bikes all our lives and we came to the realisation that there wasn’t a consolidated resource that bike riders or tourists could use to find the best cycling routes around. Of course there are guide books and maps, but there wasn’t anything accessible and consolidated with great information.
Is that when Cycle Atlas was born?
Yes. We thought, let’s show everyone the best cycling routes around Victoria and see what happens. We weren’t really thinking about financials or the business side at that point - we just thought, if we get enough of an audience engaging with the content, the rest should sort itself out.
How is Cycle Atlas different to other sources of information out there?
We came up with the idea of colour grading the rides like ski runs, making the site really user friendly, updating it once a week so people would get excited and making sure there was diversity including both trail and road routes. We had the intention for Cycle Atlas to be really popular with a broad range of people and the overall goal of making an app.
How long did you build up Cycle Atlas in that way for?
This was all happening up until a couple of months ago. We were working on producing new content once a week, smashing out videos and trying to make each video better every week. We launched about a year ago. The website was going really well; we were constantly working on finding new routes. However we got to a point recently where we realised it wasn’t sustainable; we were putting in so many hours and spending so much money…
It must be tough to keep the project alive when you are passionate about what you are doing but you’re not making enough money to sustain it. What did you try to make Cycle Atlas more financially sustainable?
We looked at diversifying what we were doing by trying to work with councils. We put together a package for Bendigo Council on the basis that cycling around the area would be great for tourism and promotes a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, cash flow became a problem; the money just wasn’t coming in. That happened quite a bit - we would approach councils with this idea and they would love it, but the logistics and the bureaucracy of getting something up and running proved to be really difficult.
What else did you try?
We also tried apparel. We were getting emails from people saying “we love what you are doing, you got me into cycling”. People on the road would stop us and tell us how much they loved the videos. So we thought maybe we can build on the brand. We sold a bit of stuff but again, it wasn’t enough to be sustainable. We got to a point where nothing was really working and we were saying to ourselves maybe we have to call it quits and say we tried but it didn’t work. But then we realised, we have these great videos; maybe we could do something with them and transfer them into cycling events. So two months ago we founded a media company Atlas Media House, doing just that. So far it’s going really well. We filmed the Three Peaks Challenge a few months ago and the video got 15,000 YouTube hits in two weeks, which was great!
Are you going to keep Cycle Atlas going at the same time?
Yes, but it will become more of a blog than a public resource. When we are somewhere filming an event, we will go for a ride, film it and post the route and video. It will be similar content to the original idea, but it’s us telling a story rather than trying to make it a business.
What kind of events do you create films for?
It started with just cycling but we are going for marathons, Iron Man competitions and adventure races. We are in talks at the moment to film an event in the Amazon which is a marathon- a-day for seven days. It’s a 244 km run through the jungle.
So the videos work on two levels - they are a promotional tool for the event and they also help communicate the things that are important to you both; getting outside, traveling, and appreciating the environment?
Exactly. That is the goal – that we can follow our interests and our passion, makes people want to travel, get outside, appreciate the environment and still make money at the same time. We do that through both Cycle Atlas and Cycle Atlas Media.
What makes Atlas Media different to other people who may be documenting similar events?
The main difference is that we are both cyclists so we can relate in a different way and shoot it in a different way. When the target audience for a video are cyclists, the benefit of working with us is that we know what we are looking for. We are both quite athletic so we are happy to run through the bush to get good shots. We also have a little helicopter to film with, and there are only 40 or 50 people in Australia licenced to use them so that’s something else that sets us apart.
Story telling seems to play a big part in what you do.
I’m really interested in storytelling. There are so many people telling great stories and it’s so accessible on the internet. There’s so much good stuff out there drawing you in with different perspectives, different cultures.
This is really the goal, to tell some cool stories from a bike, with the bike as the excuse to travel. I think there’s something universal about a bike. It doesn’t matter who it is, as long as someone is connecting with us and what we do, that’s the main thing.