Photos by Walter Oberbramberger. Find out more about him at: www.oberbramberger.at
We are introducing the team! This edition features Franz Oswald, bike courier of Eurofins Genomics in Vienna, Austria. Franz cycles 400 km a week to deliver oligos and genes, and to collect samples for Sanger sequencing from labs, institutes and companies all over Vienna. He talks about his work and responsibilities at Eurofins Genomics and gives some interesting personal insights.
Hi Franz, welcome to the interview.
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Tell us a little bit about you. How long have you been working for Eurofins Genomics?
For around 1,5 year now.
What is your education?
In my youth, I did an office administration training programme. However, quite quickly it became clear to me that this was not what I wanted to do even though I had a talent for it. Working in an office annoyed me. So, immediately after I finished my training, I started to work in a woodwork and furniture props company, where I physically worked really hard. And this was what I liked a lot. Since then, I always had jobs that involved physical work.
Does this motivate you for work?
Yes. I go by the motto “challenge accepted”. There is a lot of work and I know it will be hard. But when I tackle it properly, it is done in no time.
What are your responsibilities at Eurofins Genomics?
My core tasks are to collect samples for Sanger sequencing and deliver oligonucleotides and synthetic genes to various institutes, labs and companies all around Vienna, Austria.
What is a typical working day for you?
I usually get up at 6:00 to 6:30 in the morning. As my work officially starts at 11:30 am, I have plenty of time for maintenance work of my bikes, to run some errands, read newspaper and so on.
Once I am in the Vienna Eurofins Genomics office, I have a look at the deliveries for the day and specify the delivery route according to the addresses, distance I have to cycle, and additional errands, so I can do it all in one go. It is important that I factor in additional time for potential issues with my bike, so I will not be late for the deliveries. If my route is 40 km for example, I usually plan for 2,5 hours plus the time I need to get back to the office. I usually try to have a break at 3:00 pm before I start my collection route in the afternoon.
So you have a delivery route and then a collection route.
That’s correct. For my collection route, I go to institutes, labs and companies all over Vienna to collect samples from their DropBoxes. This route is around 35 km and always the same. Here, it is very important to stay on time, as the specific DropBoxes have specific collection times. I cannot collect the samples before the time that was agreed upon.
Anyways, I then bring the samples back to the office for further delivery to the Eurofins Genomics labs, where they are sequenced. Usually, my work ends at 6 pm.
How was cycling on Vienna’s roads during the COVID-19 restrictions?
Usually, there is always a lot of traffic in Vienna. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, there was almost no traffic. I cycled with an average speed of 25 to 30 km/h through the city… sometimes 35 km/h and more without even noticing as nobody was on the streets. I did not have any reference points for my speed. This was very unusual and under normal traffic conditions quite dangerous. However, cycling on the road without any cars became very boring.
How fast do you cycle now without the COVID-19 restrictions?
Now that the restrictions are lifted, I usually cycle with an average speed of 20 to 25 km/h through the city centre of Vienna… maximum 30km/h. This speed it is not risky and I still reach my destinations quite fast.
Overall, how many km do you cycle per day?
Typically, around 80 km a day and 400 km per week.
That’s a lot. What motivates you to cycle that many km per week?
Plain and simple, I have to do it. It is my work. As I said before, I go by the motto “challenge accepted”. No matter what the route or the weather is, I just work my way through it. I like the physical effort and that at the end of the day I can tell what I have accomplished. This is what drives me.
Some time ago, there was a hurricane with peak wind speeds of 80 to 100 km/h. I knew what was coming and mentally prepared for it. Then I just did it. These different conditions make my job exciting. The struggle against the weather.
First of all, I find out what the direction the wind is coming from and I plan my route accordingly. Therefore, I know the section of the route where I need to be cautious.
I also choose easier gears so I do not have to give a 100 % when there is a gust of wind. I wait for 1 or 2 seconds before I continue to pedal and I also do not lean into the gust of wind so, when it passes, I do not fall off my bike. These are just things you learn with time. The street is a merciless teacher and when you make a mistake you could get hurt.
What kind of bike do you use?
I have several bikes. For work, I have a pure racing bike that is very light, and a more robust racing-mountain bike hybrid that I use for rainy weather and snow.
What is your opinion on E-bikes?
I think the available battery technology is not suitable for bike couriers yet. The batteries simply do not last long enough, especially when you have to cycle 80 to 100 km a day; including the way to and from work. I cannot afford to stop in the middle of my route because the battery does not tolerate -4°C in winter or is empty faster due to the cold. Then I would have to cycle on a bike that weighs 25 kg instead of 12.5 kg. This would make a really big difference in energy expenditure.
Do you have any advice for cycling in heavy traffic?
Definitely. Never cycle faster than you can see. That is the most important rule to prevent accidents and injuries to yourself and others.
The second rule is to be self-reflected enough to realise your physical and mental condition. Your physical condition varies from day to day. When you realise in the morning that you are not that fit or unfocused, then cycle slower and rather look twice at the street and things that happen. Stay between 20 and 25 km/h instead of 30 km/h. It may be a bit boring to go slower but necessary to reach your destination safely. 10 years ago, I would have laughed about this advice but my experience taught me otherwise.
It is the wisdom of age *laughs*.
*laughs* I increasingly become aware that I am getting older. But you have to gain experience so you know what is important.
Tell us a little more about you? How do you spend your spare time?
During the week, I like to go to the Irish pub with friends and colleagues to play some billiard or to watch football. We do this maybe two or three times a week. I am a fan of the Austrian Football Bundesliga. We have a lot of fun watching the games. In summer we like to meet in the Vienna Prater or other spots and listen to music.
Do you play football yourself?
I stopped playing football due to my work as a bike courier. For me, football is an accident-prone sport. I cannot afford to be injured due to my physically demanding work. I haven’t played football since 10 years.
What books did you enjoy reading and would recommend to others?
I enjoy reading books very much. Sci-fi and Fantasy are my preferred genres. At the moment, I am reading Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The book is about the future after humankind destroyed planet Earth. They travel through the universe looking for a suitable planet. Humans released a virus on a distant planet and the virus was supposed to speed up the evolution of apes that were released on it. However, the evolution of spiders was accelerated instead. And now there will be trouble. The book is great.
Blackout, ZERO and Helix from the Austrian Sci-fi writer Marc Elsberg are also fantastic, as well as David Eddings’ Belgarath saga that is brilliant fantasy. It is about wizard, witches and a prophecy. I recommend it.
Thank you for giving us a little insight into your work and your life Franz.
You are welcome. It was fun.
Photos by Walter Oberbramberger. Find out more about him at: www.oberbramberger.at
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