A bicycle really produces happiness hormones. I immediately agreed with this statement of Solveiga Dambrauskaitė-Bakutienė. It would be hard to object when you can feel that elemental bustle in the city centre with your whole body. After all, it is difficult not to notice how lively and warm Kaunas and its people are in the summer. That is how, in my view, is Solveiga. The interviewee, who is responsible for Like Bike Kaunas and Minam kartu bicycle routes, has plenty of arguments for choosing the bicycle. “I want to contribute to something beautiful,” she says.
Having loved transport since childhood, today Solveiga talks about it a lot and boldly. It is interesting to listen to her stories, first of all, because the ambassador of Like Bike Kaunas (an initiative aimed at making Kaunas the first city in the Baltic States, fully adapted for cyclists) plans bicycle routes. In addition to that, she represents the cycling community in Kaunas City Municipality in planning bicycle path infrastructure development and organizing bicycle trips. Cars also play an essential role in her life. Twice recognized as the best Lithuanian driver, she actively shares tips for drivers and creates content for Woman Behind the Wheel webpage.
And the recently published book 100 Tips for Passing the Driving Test was written by none other than Solveiga. Naturally, I have a question: how can one person manage to do so much? But the answer is straightforward, “The more you aim to do, the more you manage to complete.” Solveiga’s mind is constantly full of new ideas and dreams. And there is a reason why she jokingly said that a spaceship was the only vehicle she hasn’t tried yet.
It’s not enough for me to drive from point A to point B.
All these activities are linked by one goal – the desire to share knowledge and encourage people to try something new. Solveiga leads by example and encourages people to take action. One of her aims is to promote the use of green transport. This has led her to pay more attention not only to the benefits of the car but also to the damage it does to the environment. However, she says that there was no lack of passion for driving in adolescence, as for many young people.
“Maybe when you’re a teenager, a car seems cool. You fill the tank with gas; the car burns five litres, so you can drive around the city, burn that gas, and it doesn’t cost you anything. Back then, the car symbolized freedom, entertainment, trips. With age comes the understanding that purposeless driving around the city doesn’t contribute to the global good. I do not want to leave such a big negative impact; I want to contribute to something beautiful. Cars are my passion, but I don’t want to encourage the frequent use of cars and increase that consumerism,” Solveiga said.
After Solveiga started travelling around Lithuania and her beloved Kaunas with a bicycle, she found countless forgotten or yet undiscovered spots. The attitudes and ideas of those around her about travelling being only possible in good weather and in distant lands have encouraged her to share her travels on social networks and show that Lithuania is an excellent place for relaxation and inspiring discoveries. She selected two bicycle routes recommended for Kaunas residents. From Kaunas Castle to Lampėdžiai Lake or Panemunė Pinewood. They connect perfectly with each other, and the views together with the great bicycle path, make all the hard work worth it.
When talking about the benefits of the bike for the person, Solveiga’s face was lit by a smile. Without thinking twice, she laid out a whole list of things that make it worth choosing a bike. A bike not only contributes to ecology, physical health, and good emotional well-being. Utilizing this vehicle for more than a trip from point A to point B, you can discover many beautiful places, choose a park with beautiful scenery and fresh air instead of a traffic jam. Old friends and new acquaintances often become another advantage of cycling.
“Because a bicycle… It really produces happiness hormones. Movement, fresh air, just a good feeling. In the summer, you ride, the wind blows. You can feel the cold air with your whole body, your hair blowing in the wind… You can’t feel that in a car,” she assured. Solveiga also disproved the sceptics’ beliefs about weather conditions or luggage while riding a bike. In her own family, everyone uses this means of transportation. And it’s not just mom and dad going to work on a bike. The little one also feeds her curiosity while on a children’s seat at the back of the bicycle. According to Solveiga, her trips with a child show that you can not only find room for your belongings on the bike but for another person too.
Today, the project Like Bike Kaunas is inseparable from Solveiga’s everyday life. Biking trips, route planning, the development of cycling infrastructure, and the promotion of eco-friendly, sustainable mobility is her voluntary work and passion. “I got involved in the same year that the Like Bike Kaunas appeared. I said that it was made for me. It’s just my field of interest because by then, I have already been engaged in the promotion and development of cycling in the city. That is how I became the Like Bike Kaunas ambassador. I participate in workgroups where we talk about infrastructure development; I am an advisory voice to the municipality when planning new bicycle paths and bicycle lanes. I advise what to do when the lanes need to be wider, narrower, and the like,” said the interlocutor.
Solveiga knows that routes and bike rides encourage people to move. Once they try and leave their comfort zone, they see what hides in their city and feel the benefits of the hike. It’s contagious and encourages you to come back again and again. “Seasons don’t exist for a bike,” she adds when people ask when they will ride again or when the season starts. To the delight of Solveiga, more than 1,000 people take part in bike rides each year with similar mileage. Of course, the pandemic has affected it too. Due to the quarantine restrictions, the trips had to be suspended. But that did not stop people from cycling; rather, it encouraged them to do so individually. During the pandemic, throughout Europe, bicycles remained the only available hobby, and Kaunas was no exception.
Designing a bicycle route is not always an easy task. Some routes can be put together in minutes – if you know the area and certain aspects, a map is enough. However, there are cases where the routes are unknown. You must go there and check, mark the obstacles and detours, explore and question the locals to see if there are any hidden treasures for cyclists. “Why do we need those routes? It’s not enough for me to drive from point A to point B. If I’m going to work, I don’t want to just go forth and then back. Too boring, I want to see something, discover new places in Kaunas. And after that, you also want to show that to others, to share, and point out that, look, by riding five or ten kilometres here, you can discover so many things,” Solveiga said.