I am Gökhan - a writer, recreational cyclist, tennis newbie, soon to be a wine expert hopefully, and street photographer, taking care of SEO and some online marketing tasks at Standert. Born in Istanbul and blossomed in Italy.
What was your journey into cycling?
Apart from the times I spent on my bike as a kid, I’ve been cycling since 2012. It all started when I used to work at a travel agency and bought an urban bike to commute. I really liked riding it and then I turned this urban bike into a tour bike, planned some small tours in Turkey, and then a ten-day bikepacking tour from Oslo to Copenhagen with a friend. Later on I bought a road bike and started to dig into the details of cycling in order to have a better understanding of the culture and races.
Then I got bored of my job (laughs). In tourism you see people moving around and you obviously need to organize everything for them, but in the end all you do is sitting at your desk. I wanted something more dynamic, and ended up working at Specialized Bikes in Turkey. When I was done in the office, I used to go to the store, observe the questions people were asking, and study their purchasing behaviours. I noticed that they were always asking the same questions. When I searched online, I realized there was not enough sources for their questions in Turkish language, so I started a blog to answer them. I wrote product reviews of everything I was buying and using back then, and started getting a lot of emails. That was the moment when I understood there was a need for this. Therefore I improved my blog and started to write more and more about cycling.
You lived in Italy for some time. Was that to pursue your blog and the world of cycling further?
The political and social circumstances in Turkey were not good and the economic situation was getting worse. Cycling is a luxury hobby in Turkey, and people cut their budget on hobbies when things get bad. It totally makes sense, but I understood that for the things I wanted to achieve in cycling, Turkey wasn’t the right place.
My roots are from the Northern Greece so I wouldn't say that I felt completely attached to Turkish culture anyway. I always felt like I needed to travel more and more or settle elsewhere. It was the time when I was just absorbing the concept of world citizenship. Cycling and writing became my motives. Italy is one of the main countries for road cycling, and I always loved the culture there. I sold my furnitures, TV and everything, left my cats to my family, took my bike and luggage, and moved to Italy without any certain plan.
I lived in Bergamo, a tiny town, two Family Guy episodes away from Milano and only ten minutes away from the surrounding hills and mountains. My time in Italy helped me a lot in order to have an understanding of what road cycling really is. With the motivation and inspiration I've got, I managed to finish both my books there.
Berlin can’t exactly compete with mountains ten minutes from home, what brought you here?
I call myself a restless soul. In a good way though! Moving shapes me a lot. I always wanted to live in different places because being a tourist was not good enough to feed my soul. The world is too big and it is not enough for me to anchor in only one part of it. Experiencing the culture where I live is one of the key elements for the inspiration I have. Just before the start of pandemic, friends told me that Berlin is a city that would enrich my mind and open new horizons. I visited and fantasised about whether I could see myself here. And I could. I was impressed by the ease with which you can meet new people in Berlin and the size of the international community. This is something you won't find in any Italian city.
Did you know much about the scene here?
We had lots of customers from Germany in Italy and Germans love the high quality Italian-made bikes. Of course Berlin is not comparable with the experience of cycling there, but it has its own culture. Riding in the city isn’t so famous in Italy like in Copenhagen or Amsterdam but I can say that Berlin is definitely going that way. In Italy it’s more a competition and challenge I'd say. In Berlin you see every kind of rider. In the end, as long as it’s bikes, it’s inspiring to me.
I’d like to chat to you about your writing. Do you have a first memory of words being important to you?
When I was in primary school we had to write essays on one topic given to us by our teacher. I was always the kid asking for more paper (laughs). We were supposed to write one A4 sheet, and I’d always ask for more because there was always so much going on in my mind. I’ve always been good at expressing my feelings. In high school and university it was the same. Yeah, I was always writing too much!
I guess it’s paid off, you’ve published two books now. What are your novels about?
The first book Cloud Factory (Bulut Fabrikası) narrates seventeen short stories about living in a big city and its dilemmas. It was inspired a lot by Istanbul, but also by the big cities I travelled. I wanted to make this book somehow connected to cycling, so in each story there’s something related to bikes. In this way I wanted to put bikes in people’s bookshelves. It's a book almost like a Trojan Horse filled with bikes! (laughs) A few months after getting published, a theatre firm in Istanbul contacted me and now it’s played as a theatre play ten times throughout the country.
The second book Leaving One's Comfort Zone: The Story of a Move to Italy (Türkiye’den Gitmek: İtalya’ya Uzanan Bir Göç Hikâyesi) explains why I decided to move, my expectations, what happened in reality, how I job-hunted in Italy, the cultural differences between the places, and the experience of leaving my comfort zone. The second part of the book is my diary notes, untouched and totally honest ones though. While people see the nice sides of moving – Italian culture, beautiful cities, the mountains – there’s a lot of unseen things that don’t look nice on social media, such as the bureaucracy there. The book also tells about my inner world, my family and childhood experiences. In the third part of the book I open myself, and I think this is the reason why people really like it. So many people contacted me after reading my book and some of them literally left Turkey with the motivation they've got from my book. As a result of all this, it also has been adapted into a theater play, named "Köksüz" meaning rootless in Turkish.
Nowadays, comfort zone is a popular term. Everyone talks about the pros and cons of stepping out of the comfort zone but I’m not sure about their understanding of it. Here's my two cents' worth: Doing same things with same people in same places for too long, is a comfort zone. It’s like putting our brains in energy-saving mode. ''Once you stop learning, you start dying.'' says Albert Einstein. When there aren't any new encounters or challenges to deal with, our brain simply stops its evolving process. These new encounters can be anything: Learning a new language, starting to play a musical instrument, going for a long trip around the places you’ve been wondering, adapting yourself into new cultures, doing some sports you’ve been afraid of trying.. You name it. Leaving your comfort zone doesn’t have to mean leaving an actual place. It might be also leaving your old habits which don’t take you anywhere, being more curious about other cultures and lives and discovering more and more about both yourself and the earth.
You’re handling SEO at Standert. This requires creativity and data-driven work. Do you see any connection between writing and SEO?
When I started my cycling blog in 2012, I wanted to give people exactly what they need with tight packed articles. I've probably created more than one hundred cyclists in Turkey, who saw what I was doing and thought 'Okay, this is exactly what I need.' You put something out and then someone sees it and feels that it's for them. It's about connection: connecting people with what they need.
I like the connection between writers and readers because when the readers see something related to their own experience in the book, they understand the writer very well and both of them somehow feel connected without an actual conversation.
It's what happens with SEO as well, because SEO is about giving people the exact information they need. Take for example the urban bikes we sell – we are trying to reach people who are looking for a city bike meeting their needs in the city. When you create effective SEO and write a clear description about the product you sell, you can reach an audience who is looking for this product. You can see it as an intersection where people and brands meet. So both sides are happy.
Yeah, it's interesting even psychologically and the way that you're speaking differently to people through these different decisions you're making, and the strategy that involves.
Exactly. In some languages, the search trends are completely different than how they speak. I've noticed that Germans wants to see different words when they read than what they type on search engines. For example, they want to read as 'Rennrad aus Stahl,' which means 'road bike, made of steel' as the exact translation. But the stats say that when they search for a steel road bike, they often type 'Rennrad-Stahlrahmen,' which means 'road bike steel frame'. So what they read, write and what they look for is a complete different story. Though it's not completely like that in English. Long story short, you really have to understand the culture and the behavior of the customers. SEO may sound super statistical and technical but it includes writing and understanding of the cultural dynamics. That's why I like it.
Have you seen a change in the way people shop and search through Covid?
Actually, this was quite funny: In the Netherlands, through Covid-19 times people have been looking for weightlifting and workout equipment at home, whereas people in Turkey have been looking for bigger televisions (laughs). It's fun to monitor all these things in different countries but jokes aside, the cycling industry has remarkably grown during the pandemic due to the fact that bikes allow people to move within the city and at the same time avoid the crowd.
Are you better at working in the morning or evening?
I'm a morning person. I was always like that when I was little, waking up at five or six, getting food from the fridge and watching cartoons while I'd eat. Bugs Bunny, Ninja Turtles or Captain Tsubasa where a single football match would take three episodes. Actually this was the very first moment I realised about the existence of advertising and marketing. The commercials in the morning had different voices and were showing different products compared to the commercials I saw in the evening, while watching TV with my parents. Of course I couldn't name it back then, but I understood what customer audience or customer targeting was at some level.
I finished two of my books in the morning. I've never been one of these smoking cigarettes and having coffee late into the night type of people. I like getting up early in the morning, drink my super black coffee, and be super energetic to write! So I just sit at my typewriter and bleed, as Hemingway says (laughs). Yeah, I think 90% of the sentences in my books are written in the morning and I am still doing the same for the third one, which will be roughly about slow travel, flâneurs and traveling behaviours of today's people.
What's your routine generally?
After delivering the usual cat duties like brushing and feeding Zelda, I usually have little or no breakfast, and head straight to my laptop to start working. The hours when I feel most productive are the morning hours. After work I usually go running a few times a week, or go for walks in Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg or by the canal. I really like walks, looking and observing people, and dreaming of sentences of what they might say or feel. I always have my notebook with me and write some notes if I see something interesting or feel inspired. Sometimes I record voice memos with my phone, and once I'm home, I write it all down. On the days I feel like not writing, photography takes my whole time. Street photography is my passion.
Cycling, obviously, has its part in my daily routine, though it's more of a hobby, since I don't like competitions. Usually I ride my bike to work everyday and enjoy commuting through the city. In the weekend, I prefer riding solo or with few friends instead of going for a big group ride because I like stopping for a single bird's singing or for nice scenery to watch.
Apart from cycling, tennis and volleyball take a great place in my life. I play tennis three days a week and volleyball two days a week.
I also have a memory of going home from a concert and being so inspired I had to hop off my bike and record words madly into my phone (laughs).
Yes! (laughs) This reminds me of something that I discovered about myself in my mid-twenties. I used to walk with earphones and listen to music, but then I noticed that if I walk like this I'm not writing nor voice recording–there is no inspiration at all. And then when I took them out, I understood that what feeds me is actually what happens around me, even if it's chaos, even if it's pure silence; it doesn't matter. Shakespeare said "The earth has music for those who listen!" and it feels like that–the world is singing if you listen. What I see is not enough. I should also hear it. I have to let the whole thing in.
You can follow Gökhan's work on his Instagram, or purchase his book here.