I believe this is the first narrative book review we’ve posted on the singletracks blog and it’s long overdue! I love reading adventure travel books but it seems like the genre is dominated by climbing, sailing, and hiking narratives – which is a shame because bikes are a great way to cover a lot of ground and access remote areas. Clearly 24-year-old Mark Beaumont understood this when planning his around-the-world epic and delivers an entertaining and enlightening story in The Man Who Cycled the World.
Mark, who lives in Scotland, had enjoyed progressively longer cycling tours through high school and college and after graduation he set his sights on cycling around the world. In his research he found the world record for biking around the globe was an impressive 276 days – 65 miles a day for nine months. Mark figured he might be able to break the record and approached sponsors with the idea of doing the trip in 210 days (though secretly he hoped to average closer to 100 miles a day and complete the loop in fewer than 200 days).
After a ton of planning, kit building, and grubbing for sponsors, Mark set out from Paris alone on his bike heading east in 2007. To break the Guinness World Record he’d need to keep meticulous logs and his journey would need to be at least 18,000 miles long. His route would also have to start and end at the same point (natch) and pass through two points on opposite sides of the globe. His route would eventually take him through Europe, the middle east (including Iran and Pakistan), Asia, Australia, and the US on the way to breaking the world record.
Mark shares his journey in great detail, discussing everything from mechanical problems to what he ate and where he slept each night. I didn’t keep a count but I’m pretty sure every day of the journey is documented in this book! I also got the sense Mark was being honest about his emotions and thoughts during such a difficult ride and he doesn’t seem to sugar coat any part of it. There are a few interesting characters along the way but at the end of the day, Mark’s focus was on grinding out mile after mile in pursuit of the record and the end of his journey.
I loved reading about the portion of the trip through Iran, Pakistan and India because these areas seem so foreign, especially as seen by a westerner on the seat of a bike. Thailand and Malaysia sounded surprisingly cycle-friendly while Australia seemed un-inspiring and more difficult than I would have imagined.
As an American I really enjoyed hearing about my country from Mark’s perspective as a European. From the road it appeared to Mark that between California and Florida most Americans live in mobile home parks (!), no doubt because he encountered so many snow birds wintering in the southern states. And I literally laughed out loud reading Mark’s description of American fast food restaurants and his first meal at Hooters – how strange the US must seem to outsiders!
The Man Who Cycled the World is a fast-paced, entertaining look at what it takes to ride a bike for six months straight – from the planning to the execution to the resulting mental toll along the way. More than that, this highly recommended book provides a window into cultures around the world and will inspire even cycle-phobes to saddle up and explore! Add this one to your summer reading list now.
Available at RandomHouse.com and other online bookstores including Amazon.com.