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Canadian Cyclist Rides His Bike around Town to Create Artistic GPS Doodles

Stephen Lund, a cyclist from Victoria, Canada, follows a rather unusual method while deciding his biking routes. Instead of going for the shortest route on the map to get from point A to B, he charts a complicated course that traces out brilliant doodles on street maps and records his artworks with a GPS app.

Some of Lund’s GPS doodles include simple messages like ‘Happy Birthday’, while others feature more complex drawings of animals, fictional characters, and pop icons. He’s been doing this for the past one year, creating a bizarre collection of GPS art work on an app called Strava.

Lund started the extraordinary project on January 1, 2015, as a way to wish people a ‘Happy New Year’. But he kept going after that first doodle, creating a total of 85 works over the course of the year – all of which are posted on his website, gpsdoodles.com. He begins each project by creating a doodle on a map of Victoria that he’s built into Photoshop. He then uses Google maps to find the best route that would follow the shape of his drawings.

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Then, the 50-year-old uses the map to write down turn-by-turn instructions for him to follow during the ride. When the ride is complete, he uploads the data recorded by his GPS tracker to Strava’s website. For complex designs, Lund does have to stop mid way sometimes and turn off his GPS to create a straight line, especially if he’s at an area that his bike cannot pass through. 

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“Most of the images I doodle appear to me on the map like shapes in the clouds,” he explained. “Once I zero in on a general shape, I simply fine-tune the edges and flesh out the details.”

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Despite the use of straight lines, Lund’s GPS doodles have great character – they range from a portrait of Queen Victoria, to images of a giant anteater, a nine-banded armadillo, an angler fish, a stegosaurus, and a giraffe. His largest creation so far is a portrait of a mermaid named ‘The Siren of the Salish Sea’ which took him 11 hours of cycling and 220 kilometers worth of lines to complete. This one time he made a picture of a perfect maze, which was tricky, because one wrong turn and the whole thing would have been ruined. His most popular and most requested figures is a character he calls ‘The Musclebound Thug’, who is depicted doing various things – riding a bear, wrangling a crocodile, choking a turkey, or even impersonating Santa.

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Lund has cycled 22,300 kilometers last year, a third of which were spent on the doodles. His last doodle of the year was ‘So Long 2015’, but after a short break, he recently made his first doodle of 2016. While others refer to his work as ‘Strava art’, he prefers to call them doodles. “I purposely called them ‘doodles’ because I want to encourage other people to do it,” he said. “‘Art’ can be a little lofty and exclusive.”

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And he even offers tips on his blog for others who might be interested, like exploring unfamiliar areas in advance, drawing carefully because there’s no retracing that red line, being okay with imperfection, and of course, being prepared for long hours of physical strain. “I’ve bush-whacked through brambles, scrambled over chain link fences and skidded down muddy hillsides,” he wrote on his blog. “Often, my Strava art feels more like a military training exercise than a cycling activity.”

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Lund, who is also a marketing consultant, writer, and creative director, wants to continue making one GPS doodle a week, and eventually have his series published in a book. And he has good reason to believe the book will sell, given the kind of response his work has received so far. “The response ranges from incredulous to awe-stricken,” he said.

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“Sometimes it takes people a while to get their heads around what I do, but the pictures I choose to draw – critters and dinosaurs and Star Wars characters and such – seem to appeal to virtually everyone.”

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Although Stephen wants to take his art to the next level, GPS doodles are primarily a way for him to relax and unwind. “In my professional role, my work is very much “in my head” all the time – except when I’m on my bike,” he said. “Cycling sets me free, mentally as well as physically. It’s exhilarating to travel great distances under my own steam, and it’s doubly so when I’m indulging my creative spirit along the way.”

 

“The thing I love about it is that I’ve now seen every inch of this city, and I’ve seen things I didn’t even know existed in a city that I’ve lived in for years.”

Stephen Lund is not the first person to create GPS art. Back in 2012, we featured the work of Michael Wallace, who also rode his bike through the streets to create whimsical doodles.

Photos: Stephen Lund/gpsdoodles.com

Sources: Atlas Obscura, Sydney Morning Herald

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