We continue our #BalkanSpirit series where we set out to meet awesome, beautiful people from the Balkan cycling community.
Bagoly Levente, age 30, or simply Levi, as everyone calls him around here, is an ultra-distance cyclist, born, raised and based in Transylvania, Romania. Levi is a man of many trades - industrial designer, bed-room DJ (I’m actually writing this whilst listening to one of his MixCloud mixes), adventurer and ultra-distance cyclist. He has ridden many times and many thousands k’s through Europe for fun, if you can say that. Competitively, in the past two years Levi has ridden the Transcontinental Race No5, finishing 18th, and the inaugural Silk Road Mountain Race, finishing 2nd.
Levi, what did it mean for you as a kid to receive a bike from your parents? Do you see a connection with who you have become now?
Yes of course. The bicycle itself was always a very important element in my life. I remember one of my first bikes being a Pegas, just like for so many of us 90’s kids in Romania. It opened up new territories around the flat I was living. I was able to reach out to nearby neighborhoods in no time, somewhat what my racing bike does to me today, only on a different scale. :) My bikes always made distances shorter and cities smaller, and thus my whole lifestyle has developed around this beautiful invention.
You have more than three solo expeditions under your belt and tens of thousands of km through Europe. Do you remember how did it all start and what made you leave the comfort of your home and head out on an adventure?
I didn't rush into the big rides. I took all the necessary steps to reach this level of adventuring. Luckily my family was always bike centered so holidays used to involve some cycling as well. Until I became a teenager, 60 k rides were an ease for me. Then I started XC racing and even had a short period of dirt jumping as well. Then the next step was once I've moved out of my little city to the capital for Uni years. This is when things went all radical. Once I've started to use my bikes as daily commuting, I’ve realized the efficiency of road bikes over mtb's, got into the freshly developing fixed gear sub-culture, and saw the scene rising while I've felt a part of it. The competitiveness of my teenage years remained so I've always tried to beat my own PR's in the first place. Pushing my limits always further little by little. After a few amateur road racing competitions I've realized that I'm not strong enough to get good rankings in these kind of races, but I've found out that I'm pretty good in not stopping and pushing those pedals for the long hours. Riding long distances has become my thing and people around me started to acknowledge my achievements. Which felt good. From here It was just a matter of time for me to do the 24 hour challenges and get beyond the country borders as well by multi-day rides towards distant destinations.
When you’re here, in Romania, it seems you’re always surrounded by your crew, friends and family. What do you get from riding alone and do you think there’s something you can only experience if you are by yourself?
I consider myself as a sociable guy and I always like to be around my people, but when it comes to cycling it's totally different. I like to ride in my own pace whether it would be faster or slower then with any potential partner. Most importantly I don’t like to make unnecessary stops. And the larger the group the more stops. I like to ride far, alone, to be with myself, adventure to foreign places and not have to confront with anybody else. I feel free when I'm adventuring alone.
You must have tons of stories to share from your adventures. Do you remember an interaction that had a lasting impression on you until this day?
It's hard to pick just one. There are so many memorable stories I'm treasuring in my bag. Probably I would underline the story of the guy I've met in Barcelona back in 2013. It was my first destination on my first ever longer trip and I didn’t know anybody in that city. Freshly arrived to the city I was sitting on a park bench a little after midnight and this guy, Pablo walked up to me and we started to chat. Both being bike enthusiast I've found myself a few hours later on the top of his flat under the open sky where I was allowed to stay as long as I wanted. It was the best thing that could have happened to me at that moment, and ever since I'm out there alone I've always have meet people with good intentions and willing to help. It's one of the best parts of being a cyclotourist.
Two years ago it was the TCRNo5, last year the SRMRno1 and God knows what’s next. Being at the sharp end of these races, is both physical and mentally challenging but yet you choose to do it. What drives you to be competitive and put yourself through the pain?
Just as I said earlier, the competition is within myself in the first place and this has not changed since I'm taking part in official races. Riding against others is just a good opportunity to get motivated and focus on overcoming my own records and to become better and stronger. Yes, sometimes it's hard, so hard that I'm even questioning myself why I am doing it, instead of staying comfortably at home, but at the end of the day it somehow everything makes sense. Just like many other sports, endurance cycling has its own ups and downs, the thing is just how you can level these out.
We both cycled the TCRNo5 although at literally opposite ends of the race. I remember being in the race, way behind you, making my way to the Transfagarasan, where I was supposed to meet my family, when I saw this photo of you and your dad. It had a powerful impact on me and as it did on other riders and dot-watchers. What can you tell us about the thoughts and emotions that you were experiencing back then?
It was my first race of this kind and being able to meet my friends and family within the race was one of the best gifts I could possibly get. I've rushed across Romania in 2 days, but really felt like home all that time, and friends and family took a huge part in this. I remember it was so hard to carry on from that CP4, still facing a thousand km's till the finish line at the Meteora in Greece.
Mike Hall used to say that “Nothing that's worth anything is ever easy” and I see that, as many of us cyclists, you adhere to this mantra. What does it mean to you?
Although I wasn't lucky enough to meet him in person, I always felt like I’ve had a close connection with him ...I know this sounds strange. He was, it is and will be the greatest inspiration for me. This saying of his will always stay with me in my down moments, and helps me not to give up on things too early. And not just while cycling but in life in general. #bemoremike for me means to not to be a quitter, stop whining, and get to your goals even if it hurts. It's worth it.
Let’s come back closer to home for a bit. What’s your favorite place, road or climb in the Balkans?
My local climb will always be the closest to my heart. It's an 8km road to the Sugás ski slopes near my hometown. I've ridden it hundreds of times, even 'everested’ it (44reps in one go) and still can love it in every bits and corners. Other than that I really do like the Saint Anna lake climb but mostly because of the lake itself at the end of the ride. My whole local area is just the 8th wonder of the world for me and even though I was lucky enough to ride the best roads throughout Europe and see the most beautiful places, riding back home will always be untouchable by any other experience.
Choose only one. Road bike, gravel bike, fixie. Why?
This has got to be the most cruel questions. Probably I would like to choose a ‘groadie’... and even so I would probably hurt my polo bike. There's a bike for every discipline, but for now probably the gravel bike would be the best all rounder. It has almost all the efficiency benefits if my road bike but added a whole lotta roads to the map and opened up places hardly reachable till now.
Music has a reputation of lifting us up when we’re at the bottom of the energy jar. What are those songs that make you give that extra 10% you need to get going again.
At the moment I'm hooked on Óperentzia - Dubweiser, FM Belfast - Underwear Killaflaw - Set me on fire and Barbatuques - Baianá (CloZee remix)
You gave some hints about a plan to cycle around the world. What can you tell us about that?
It was just a post ride blues thing… I signed up for a race which is announced for 2020. If there will be some further information on it, I would probably still consider seriously it as becoming a globetrotter would be the pinnacle of an endurance cyclist. But as with any race the hardest part would be to get to the start line.
In closing, share with us why do you think it’s worth going out there, to explore the world but also to get to know yourself a bit better in the process. What have you learned?
For me the experience itself is the one and only thing money, time and effort is worth investing into. Experience will not lose its value over time and nobody ever will be able to take it from me. Living to acquire material achievements is like looking at books cover, the real value being within its pages.