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 BeaumontJames BowthorpeAlan BateVin CoxJulian 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