Pakistan is barely on the map of great cycling destinations, and is often portrayed in the media as a dangerous place – but one man has ambitions to change all that. Moin Khan wants to showcase the best his country has to offer as part of a 100-day bike ride from one end of Pakistan to the other, and he's doing it all on a locally-made bike.
Khan is no stranger to adventure. In 2011, aged 24, he rode a motorcycle from San Francisco to Pakistan over six months, including a one-month hospital stay as a result of a bad crash.
"This journey was basically to let the world meet a Pakistani," Khan tells BikeRadar. "As i went to university in San Francisco, I felt people had many misconceptions about us. I never had to face any racism myself, but I did feel people around me would get uncomfortable when I told them I was from Pakistan and that I was a Muslim. We are peace-loving, adventurous people just like everyone else in the world."
The journey gave Khan a taste for adventure, so in 2014 he teamed up with nine other riders from around the world to explore the northern reaches of Pakistan on motorbike. The adventure was chronicled in a documentary, Rediscovering Pakistan – The Untold Tale.
Khan himself is from Lahore; after attending university in the US he returned to Pakistan. He is determined to share the positives of his homeland and challenge some of the negative portrayals of it that surface via Western media channels by showcasing its beauty, diversity and friendliness.
"Its an unbelievable country, the hospitality here is unmatched and the views are spectacular." Khan told BikeRadar. "The motorcycle community has been coming here in large numbers, and I feel the bicycle community should be given a chance to come explore this country too."
Khan has made friends along his way, stopping to help this motorcyclist on his way down from the Khunjerab Pass
An epic end-to-end ride
End-to-end or coast-to-coast cycling adventures are nothing new, but Khan's trip will be particularly hard, not least because of his choice of bicycle, more on which below. It will also involve high mountain passes, long road miles, and temperatures ranging from sub-zero to scorching hot.
The journey, which will cover over 2,000km over the 100 days, saw Khan start at the Khunjerab Pass in the most northern part of Pakistan. At 4,693m, this is the highest international paved road in the world, and straddles the border with China.
As if that weren't challenge enough, Khan admits that before this trip he'd never cycled more than half a kilometre on a bicycle, but he was drawn to it as a method of transport because of its accessibility.
"You meet more people and you make more friends on a bicycle than being in a car or on a motorcycle," he comments.
Khan started cycling in November in -18°C temperatures from this pass, riding down snow-covered roads through the mountains. His journey will take him through the centre of Pakistan, where he'll cover a huge diversity of terrain and conditions before he finally reaches his destination of Karachi in spring 2016.
The trip is being sponsored by mobile phone company Huawei under the campaign hashtag #mypakistan.
Made in Pakistan
Weighing a whopping 22kg, the Sohrab Standard Roadster bike may be sturdy, but it sure ain't light
Khan is riding a Pakistan-made bicycle from Sohrab Cycles, a cooperative founded in 1953 in Lahore. The bikes it produces are made almost entirely from parts manufactured in Pakistan, with the 2,300-strong workforce churning out around 5,000 bicycles a day. The company also produces pushchairs, wheelchairs and tricycles, with several sold as not-for-profit items.
The bicycle is the Sohrab Standard Roadster Double Bar 24", and by modern standards it's a robust bike but has several features straight from the 1950s.
On the plus side, the steel frame will be more easily repaired if it encounters any damage on its trip, and the raked fork and large tyres should add some comfort over Pakistan's rough roads.
On the downside, it weighs in at 22kg without bags, and has rod brakes – which may make some mountain descents a little hairy. Khan is also riding with flat pedals, rather than clipping in.
So why such an old-school bicycle for such an epic trip? "I chose this bike because this is the cheapest one available in Pakistan for the masses," Khan explains. "I kept it completely stock, with no modifications whatsoever. I wanted to keep it like it is from the factory to show the youth of Pakistan that they didn't need a fancy bicycle, carbon frame, disc brakes and fancy gears to go on an adventure. They could easily get a $80 bicycle and just leave their comfort zone and go."
The journey has not been without incident so far. Icy, snowy roads leading down from the Khunjerab pass caused the back wheel to drift and skid. Khan improvised, wrapping rope around the wheel and tyre to improve the Sohrab's handling.
There have also been myriad other mechanical problems. The chain broke on day two, the pedals on day three, the handlebars have come out several times and the brakes aren't working well, though luckily Khan has been able to find cycle repair shops along the way.
However, one problem in is causing Khan particular grief. 'The saddle is so uncomfortable that I actually can't explain it in words." He says. "My ass is bruised!"
Khan is also travelling with minimal equipment and possessions, carrying just a laptop, mobile phone, puncture repair kit and some clothes. However, the hospitality he has encountered has been extraordinary. Whenever he pulls over, Khan is flooded with offers of help.
"Once I was in the middle of nowhere, and out of water, when a car stopped. I asked if they had any water and they said they were out too, but asked me to wait. 25 minutes later they came back with four bottles of water for me. Its crazy: Pakistan is misunderstood all over the world yet here we have the most hospitable country in the world. The worlds needs to come and visit Pakistan once in their lifetime." he advises.
Charting the adventure
Khan is posting regular updates to his Facebook page and Twitter account, sharing his exploits and photographs, and talking about the people he meets along the way. We'll be following this story so check back for updates.