Round the world cycling record

Alan Bate Midnight on 31st March 2010 marks yet another attempt on the record for cycling round the world, or circumnavigation to use the fancy word for it. This time it's Briton Alan Bate (left), a professional racing cyclist who's aiming for a time of just 99 days. The Guinness record of 195 days is held by Scotsman Mark Beaumont, though Londoners James Bowthorpe and Julian Sayarer have since recorded 176 days and 165 days respectively. Cornishman Vin Cox is part way through his attempt.

It's a British thing, it seems, and it can raise strong feelings. On his blog, Julian Sayarer described Mark Beaumont as a lifeform some way inferior to the dead skin that accumulates in the seat of his crotch after three weeks of cycling a desert without washing. This public remark is singularly offensive to most cyclists and does nothing to promote the cause of British cycling, nor the joy of it in its many guises from sponsored competition to touring to day trips to utility cycling.

If Julian despises our 'political system' and 'the big companies' and 'state of modern society' then why not vent his anger on corrupt politicians and greedy capitalists instead of a traveller on a bicycle? As he says himself (in another context): "They both ride bikes, I think that a good thing, and that's enough."

Mark Beaumont Julian has since apologised after a fashion. His main objection to Mark seems to revolve around his role as 'ambassador' for a major multinational bank. By coincidence, yesterday evening my son Nick (inset, far left) and his friend Si Turner had their photos taken with Beaumont after one of his Cycling the Americas lectures. Si, incidentally, has cycled to Rome and also from Canada down to Mexico. They both said Mark is a very nice bloke. But then Julian Sayarer is probably a nice bloke too. Mutual respect is preferable between fellow round-the-world cyclists, celebrities or not.

Fastest circumnavigation by bicycle

No-one actually cycles round the world. Guinness World Records has produced a General Rules of the Record Breakers' Pack and some guidelines on how to comply with their definition of the FASTEST CIRCUMNAVIGATION BY BICYCLE. Artificial though it is, it does at least provide a way to compare the exploits of cyclists who choose the Guinness yardstick, as Mark Beaumont did.

The Guinness rules

The Guinness guidelines state the journey should be continuous and in one direction (East to West or West to East), that the minimum distance ridden should be 18,000 miles, and that the total distance travelled by the bicyle and rider should exceed an Equator's length, i.e. 24,900 miles. They also state that: "Any considerable distance travelled opposite to the direction of the attempt must be discounted from any calculations of the overall distance travelled," and that the route "must be ridden through two approximate antipodal points."

There's an important distinction between distance ridden and distance travelled. Travelling includes the parts of the route when rider and bicycle are in transit from one landmass to another, as must inevitably happen at least twice. The wording is perhaps a bit vague, but you're not allowed to transit back and cycle the same longitudes at a different latitude. Or to put it another way, you can't, say:

  • (1) Cycle West to East a few times across easy USA until you've done the cycling miles (discounting your flyback miles), then
  • (2) fly West to East to an antipodal point and cycle a few more miles, then
  • (3) continue flying West to East to the starting position and claim your route.

Julian Sayarer apparently doubled back from Shanghai to Bangkok and was able to miss out Australia. He claims the record but is still waiting for Guinness to verify it. Another point at issue is the deduction of transit times. The official rules state that: "Riding time is defined as the time that elapses between periods when the bicyle is being shipped, and includes overnight stops and any other breaks taken." Mark Beaumont and James Bowthorpe haven't deducted their transit times but Julian has, and there are suggestions he must have deducted waiting times as well – over and above what is strictly allowed as 'in transit'.

James Bowthorpe James Bowthorpe (inset) will probably become the fastest cycle circumnavigator of the world to date, once Guinness approves the correct deductions for transit. It will all prove academic in the near future. There are now professional racing cyclists already en route (Vin Cox) or about to start (Alan Bate). Furthermore, Guinness doesn't distinguish between supported and unsupported attempts on the round-the-world cycling record. There hasn't yet been a supported attempt. When there is, it will be faster. Around the world in 80 days, maybe.

Circumnavigation cyclists

Round-the-world bike racers: Mark Beaumont, James Bowthorpe, Alan Bate, Vin Cox, Julian Sayerer. I hope the future round-the-world cycling circumnavigation record holders are always British, but it's not a quest I find inspiring: Planet Earth reduced to a mere race track. Ken Roberts is doing it the decent way.

Track Vin Cox cycling round the world

16 comments on “Round the world cycling record”

  1. Mary wrote:

    Really enjoyed this post, and how fab was it for your son to meet Mark Beaumont.

    Mark does indeed seem a solid sort, and I really enjoyed following James' attempt as well. In fact, I enjoyed his ride more, as you could track him using his GPS, and sort of feel, you were with him in spirit at least, he also wrote regular 'Blogs' so you could keep up with his riding. I only found out about Mark's ride, when it was mentioned on the CTC forum and finally I watched his BBC programme on Iplayer – The Man who Cycled the World. It was a brilliant and very inspiring feat, all the better for his home made film footage which must of eaten into his riding.

  2. Patrick wrote:

    Mark Beaumont's home made film footage of his round-the-world trip received a Bafta nomination, I think, and he might have received a sports writing award for his book. I don't remember exactly. His 'The Man who Cycled the Americas' three part documentary starts tonight at 10.35 pm on BBC1. He's also on BBC Breakfast this morning, although my TV is not on.

    Good luck to him if he wants to make a career from being The Man. Cyclists will say he's not exactly the first person to 'Cycle the World' or 'Cycle the Americas' but what does it matter? It's his choice and their choice. Everyone has to make a living somehow, and he's brought cycle touring into the public eye.

    I followed James Bowthorpe's blog as well. Now he's back, it's interesting to read what he says about his legs.

  3. Michael wrote:

    There will be another two riders aiming to beat the record this summer: Michael Hartleben from Germany and John Yates from the UK.
    website: http://www.challengeearth.com

  4. Patrick wrote:

    Until now, I didn't know about John Yates's circumnavigation in 2005. I'll be following your progress. Good luck to you both. Two together seems good but the Guinness rules mention: "The cyclist." I wonder if there's any reason why a peleton couldn't claim the record. A peleton is normally faster, and a supported ride is faster. So the fastest ever round the world would be a supported peleton.

  5. Michael wrote:

    It is not exactly two together. We are far too different riders to be cycling closely together let alone be drafting. Much rather it is two individuals on a joint trip, who will try to stay within eye contact range.

  6. Patrick wrote:

    A joint record is a nice idea. If it was me, I'd much prefer a travelling companion. I imagine it will be good for morale and for security as well. One guards the bikes while the other is able to deal with something.

  7. Patrick wrote:

    Alan Bate is on his way, as from today. His is a supported record attempt, unlike previous ones. Read more on Alan's Twitter page »

  8. stephen campbell wrote:

    Stephen Campbell. has done so much for charity and for Two years done an amazing Walk Around The United Kingdom in order to raise funds for community inclusion projects, outings, transport and initiatives for young people with special educational needs and the community in which they live, to help participate in a supportive community.

    I Stephen Campbell will be doing my last and final Challenge, before retiring from charity work.
    Started January 1984. Finished 2014.

    My Best Time for a Full Marathon is 2 hours 45 minutes my Best Time for a Half Marathon is 1hour 17 minutes. I have successfully completed 24 Marathons and over 100 half Marathons. Also in April 1994 I walked around Europe Covering over 4,000 miles which included a walk from West to East Germany, In 2008 I Walked 2,500 Miles around the United Kingdom the money I raised was mostly in aid of Alder Hay Children’s Hospital.

    My Challenge. Stage 1, on 29th August 2010 I will Cycle over 1.500 miles around The Republic.
    Stephen Campbell is trying to attempt to cycle around the world in 195 days six hours, the current record is 276 days.

    Mark Beaumont, 25 years old from Scotland has become the fastest man to cycle around the world, taking 81 days of the previous record. Although, not officially confirmed, Guinness Book of Records said it is very likely a new record will be set. Mark Beaumont cycled the 18,000 miles in 195 days and six hours, averaging 91 miles a day.

    I am taking on this challenge with only a tent for protection against the elements, wild animals, etc., so please offer your support if you see me!
    You can also contact me through My Email: Around2500milesuk@hotmail.com and on Facebook. If you’re Company sponsors me the Companies Logo will be around the bike and Me. For Just £2.00 for a support fun sponsor you will get 2 England Car Flags.

  9. Patrick wrote:

    Vin Cox Well done Vin Cox. He completed his round the world cycle ride yesterday, crossing the 'line' in Greenwich at 3pm. It's a new world record of 176 days and he's raising money for the Geoff Thomas Foundation. Distance cycled was 19,000 miles. His record is expected to be confirmed by Guinness World Records. Mark Beaumont's circumnavigation took him 195 days. Vin is a cycling proficiency instructor from Cornwall and is now looking for a job. I would imagine he'll get one very soon.

    Alan Bate is still out there though. On the warpath.

  10. Patrick wrote:

    Cyclist Alan Bate has now completed his record attempt. He arrived at the Grand Palace in Bangkok at 3.15 pm yesterday, to record a time of 113 days (or possibly 114) for 29,000 km. To be ratified by Guinness World Records of course. Alan is British but has close ties with Thailand. If he did indeed break the record, I hope Vin Cox will also have been the official holder, if only for two or three days, so he can say he is a former round-the-world record holder.

    Guinness seem to be a bit slow on this. The official holder is still Mark Beaumont.

  11. Hilary wrote:

    Well that time has certainly put the record out of reach of ordinary mortals! In 1985 Nick Sanders rode round the world in 80 days but 'only' covered 13,000 miles. His book 'The Great Bike Ride – Around the World in 80 Days' gives the impression that he didn't enjoy it very much. Hopefully Vin and Alan had a more enjoyable ride.

  12. Patrick wrote:

    Alan Bate was supported for part of his ride. That makes a difference. From his website it's hard to tell exactly what happened, but it seems he lost the support van somewhere along the way. So I suppose that leaves the door open for a fully supported attempt to be done even faster. A circumnavigation peloton with a fleet of cars behind will do the trick.

    The reason why Guinness World Records doesn't make a distinction is perhaps because it's not easy to define 'support' in a legal sense. The whole thing seems artificial. Guinness record cyclists don't actually cycle around the world. The rules mean they jump all over the place by jet. They should make some greener rules.

  13. David wrote:

    Vin Cox was verified as the new record holder by Guinness yesterday. 163d 6hr 58min for 18225.7mi. 31 days faster than the old (verified) record

  14. Andrew wrote:

    Julian Sayarer was also verified as the new Guinness World Record holder in 169 days. It's interesting that no one ever mentions this! If you look past his strange rant at the end of his journey, his was an incredible challenge on a shoestring, aimed at being a pure experience of the world rather than being a self publicising record attempt or justifying it as a selfless act of charity. There's obviously nothing wrong with doing these things for charity – it's great to be able to help others clearly. However Julian was making the point that this has become the de-facto accepted rule for having an adventure. Even just 30 years ago adventurers were just adventurers because they were curious about the world and wanted to experience and discover new things. I think Julian just wanted to redress the balance of honesty about motivation.

    As it happens he did incredibly well, and his insights along the journey were at times extremely insightful, but always entertaining. Taken in the context of what he was trying to achieve and the entire body of writing along the journey, then his comments about Mark Beaumont made some sense, although in my opinion were highly misjudged and insensitive. Julian is clearly a very deep thinker, and perhaps that many hours alone under extreme conditions perhaps he let his thoughts get the better of him. Still think his journey was awesome and in an over media-ised world, I am more impressed he did this quietly with little support or fanfare.

  15. Patrick wrote:

    Record holder Vin Cox is organising the Global Bicycle Race beginning in London on 18th February. At least ten male riders seem set to take part, and two women.

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