Stefan Koehler sees the world on two wheels.
Koehler, associate director of licensing for U-M Tech Transfer, has ridden his bicycle in more than 20 countries, soaking up the scenery and culture during trips that are often more exciting than traveling by car.
“What I like most about bicycle touring is that you can ride through towns and villages and talk to locals,” he said. “It’s a great way to experience the culture and see a lot.”
Koehler discovered bicycle touring when he was a college student in his native Germany. East Germany and West Germany had just reunited following the removal of the Berlin Wall, and Koehler and a friend decided to ride their bikes around the country.
“That was one of the best tours of my life, as people on the streets and roads stopped because they were so excited that we were one country. People hugged us on the street,” he said.
The bicycle tour in Germany is among Koehler’s favorite trips. He also especially enjoyed a visit to India and riding on the Pamir Highway, one of the highest-altitude mountain roads in the world, in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Koehler plans his routes ahead of time, typically riding between 40 and 60 miles a day. A tour can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Because his days can be unpredictable, Koehler usually doesn’t make advanced plans for lodging. He stays in small hotels and occasionally is invited into people’s homes. He also likes to take his tent and camp when touring a scenic and safe area.
Koehler’s bicycle, made by Oregon-based company Bike Friday, is foldable, making it easy to take on a train or airplane. He packs all of his belonging in a handlebar bag and in panniers, which are bags that attach to the sides of his bicycle.
Koehler often travels solo. Some of his friends and colleagues have told him they worry about his safety, but Koehler said he takes precautions, and that often the biggest risk seems to be traffic.
Koehler has visited Iran, Laos, China, France, Colombia, Rwanda, Uganda and many other places. One of his most memorable experiences was when he was in rural India and met a family of farmers who invited him to eat dinner and stay the night with them.
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“I was sitting there in the living room, but it was also the bedroom for the entire family where they would sleep there on the floor at night,” he said. “They offered me food. It was excellent. The lights went off a couple of times because the electricity was out. I looked to the left, and it was the same room, and there were a few cows, all under one roof.”
Earlier this year, Koehler took a trip along the shoreline of Lake Michigan from Traverse City to Muskegon, where he really enjoyed the beautiful scenery. He canceled planned trips to Japan and Russia because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Koehler said he can’t wait to go on another international bicycle tour when it becomes safe to travel again.
“I really think it’s a great way to see the world,” he said.