What motivates the long-distance cyclist?

Following in the footsteps of Beaumont and Bowthorpe

These days it seems like there’s an unstoppable snowball of round-the-world record breakers, long-distance cycle tourists and charity challengers gaining pace.


In this media-savvy age we can instantly pinpoint the exact whereabouts of hundreds of cyclists who are pedalling doggedly in far-flung corners of the globe – and, through their blogs, find out where they’ve been, what they’ve eaten and what they’re playing on their solar-powered iPod.

Some are doing it for laudable causes, some with an agenda, others just for themselves. BikeRadar takes a look at who’s doing what, where and, more interestingly, why?

Dedication’s what you need

Anyone who’s ridden a bike from point A to point B has probably dreamt of making point B just that little bit further away. There’s a joy to be had in riding a linear rather than a circular route, and if self-supported and beholden to no-one, is there really a better way to travel and see the world?

That said, it’s quite a jump from spending a couple of weeks riding the Loire a Velo in France to pedalling the length of the Continental Divide solo or angling for that oh so attractive round-the-world record. Different pedal strokes for different folks?

In the current crop of long-distance cyclists there seems to be as broad a variety of purposes, justifications and goals as there are differences in routes planned.

James Bowthorpe (www.globecycle.org) has attributed his success in breaking the circumnavigation world record to his commitment to raising money for his chosen charity, What’s Driving Parkinsons? For him, it was ‘always about the charity’.

Julian Sayerer (www.thisisnotforcharity.com), on the other hand, is still out on the road, currently travelling along the east coast of the US, pursuing his own world record and due to arrive back in Rouen, France on 6 December. 

If he arrives on time, he will have beaten Bowthorpe’s record by 11 days, and yet his manifesto, controversial to many, has been ‘This is not for charity’.

Speaking to Sayerer, his motives for the ride are not entirely clear. He claims a desire to fly the flag for the purity of the ride adventure itself, to embrace and enjoy the process not ‘endure it’, and to reject the commercialisation of long-distance riding, rather than being against charity rides per se.

What is abundantly evident, though, is his respect for Bowthorpe’s achievement, charity-driven or otherwise, and he admits that his focus on the record has waned somewhat in light of this.

Julian sayerer: julian sayerer
Julian Sayerer

Julian Sayerer is circumnavigating the world for the sake of it, not for charity

Cricket and CVs

While these two seem to embody opposite ends of the spectrum of motivation, there are a number of other riders out there already, or who are about to embark upon their own two-wheeled odysseys, each with their own unique reason to ride.

Oli Broom’s journey from London to Brisbane, where he hopes to arrive in time for the Ashes cricket series (www.cyclingtotheashes.com), started just a few weeks ago. As passionate about cricket as he is about cycling, Oli was bitten by the travel bug long ago but set it aside for a few years in favour of a career and steady money.

But it was an itch that just wouldn’t go away, and Oli is now travelling through Germany, before going on to Africa and across India, then down to Australia. He’ll be playing, promoting and teaching cricket as he goes, as well as raising money for the British Neurological Research Trust and The Lord’s Taverners.

For 21-year-old Sean Maher (www.ridingouttherecession.co.uk), who began his solo Cornwall to Cape Town ride a scant week ago after several setbacks, the trigger was a complex one. Sean’s plans started to develop when he found it impossible to get a job after graduating from university this year.

Instead of flipping burgers until something better came along, he decided to take his destiny into his own hands and use a challenging long-distance ride to enrich both his life experience and CV, and carve a new and hopefully brighter future for himself. At the same time he also hopes to raise funds for charity.

Sean maher’s ride was inspired by trouble finding a job after leaving university :
Sean Maher

Sean Maher’s ride has been prompted by difficulty finding a job after leaving university

A life less ordinary

Kevin Shannon (www.becauseitisthere.co.uk) is honest about his trip. The fundraising opportunities for his chosen charity Combat Stress are incredibly important to him, but were not the reason he conceived his plan to cycle around the world, using sailing to link up ocean crossings into a hopefully zero-emissions final route.

For him the journey is about total immersion in the cultures he’ll be passing through, for an in-depth understanding of the world. “I remember as a kid staring out of plane windows at all the small villages and lone houses, and being fascinated,” he said. “Who are these people? What do they do? How do they make a living?

“When I first started thinking about travelling after university, I knew I had to find a way to travel the globe that would allow me to find these small villages. The bicycle is the perfect way for me to explore this fascinating world we live in and visit places not necessarily in the guide book.”

Joshua Silvarajah (www.longandwindingadventures.co.uk) is setting out from Christchurch in Dorset, UK to pedal to Christchurch, New Zealand next year. Inspired by Mark Beaumont and Alastair Humphreys (see below), he is looking forward to embracing the experience for its own merit, although he does plan to raise money for charity as he goes.

‘We are so lucky to be blessed with living on this little sphere and it would be very very easy just to stay home and watch TV,” he said. “I know it’s been said a thousand times in a thousand different languages but our lives really do become enriched by being open to every new experience and, in turn, we can’t help but affect those with whom we share our adventures.

“I know there will be tears, doubt and a whole plethora of emotions as the wheels go round and I get further away from home, but ultimately being out in the world will have far more positives than negatives.”

Veteran round-the-world cyclist Alastair Humphreys (www.alastairhumphreys.com) has some thoughts on the motivation that leads to such journeys. For him, an epic four-year trip kickstarted a new career as a motivational speaker and author, enabling him to not only continue his own adventures, but encourage others to do the same.

While he did raise money for charity as he went, it wasn’t the reason he set out. “I think the current spree of bike rides and round-the-world speed dashes are all great,” he said. “But I think that people must remember that there is a hell of a lot to be said for just getting on your bike and doing it, and doing it for the hell of it.”

Alstair cycling through siberia in winter: alstair cycling through siberia in winter
Alastair Humphreys

Alastair Humphreys struggles through a Siberian winter with his trusty bike