You’d think that embarking on a three-year trip cycling around the world would involve a huge amount of planning, training and continuous dedication to the sport. You’d be surprised then, to hear that in Jonathan Kambskard-Bennett’s case, his trip Cycling the World happened completely by accident…
Jonathan and his bike had never travelled more than 10 miles together but after setting off to see how far east he could ride, he ended up doing a 50,000km lap of the planet – all because he wanted to “get out of his comfort zone” and escape the monotony of working life.
We spoke to Jonathan to understand more about his motivations and some of the amazing experiences he had.
For me, cycling has always been for function. I never used to ride for pleasure or for exercise, it was just a convenient (and cheap) way to get around. When I was cycling around the world people often laughed when I told them I didn’t really like cycling that much. I loved the way in which cycling enabled me to see the planet, but I never really cared that much about the actual act of sitting down and pedalling all day.
A large part of the appeal for this trip was about cycling the Silk Road and exploring Central Asia. The only road I really knew I wanted to cycle before leaving was the ‘Pamir Highway’ from Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan, so much of my initial planning – albeit minimal – revolved around getting there.
Most of it was pretty ‘go with the flow’, but you’d be surprised how much of it makes itself up for you when you start looking at the map. For example, crossing from Europe to Asia isn’t as straight forward as you’d think and I actually ended up only being able to pick one road I could travel on. This was because:
- Riding through Pakistan/Afghanistan isn’t very safe and you’ll probably be forced to take a police escort. So, if you want to ride every metre (like myself) it’s not an option.
- If you want to ride across Russia you’ll find getting the visa and freedom pretty tough.
- If you go ‘through the middle’ and cross the Middle East in Iran you need to get through Turkmenistan to get into Central Asia, but the Turkmen will only give you a 5 day ‘transit’ visa, which doesn’t give you a lot of time to extensively travel the roads!
So, I ended up traveling through Turkmenistan and choosing the one road I wanted to cycle along to get into Central Asia.
Gear-wise, initially I threw a lot of stupid stuff into my panniers. When I say ‘stupid’ I mean stuff like jeans (heavy and take a long time to dry), a smart shirt (that I would only wear once in a blue moon) and a monstrous coat (I should have invested in a lightweight, down jacket). Over time my possessions became a lot more streamlined and I learned what items that I could get rid of while still feeling comfortable.
This was all the bike gear I had for my trip: (amazingly I didn’t get a flat tyre until I’d pedalled nearly 10,000km after 6 months on the road)!
Dawes Super Galaxy Bicycle
Brooks B17 saddle
Schwalbe Marathon Plus 1”40 tyres
Carradice Super C panniers (set)
Decathlon frame bag
Decathlon seat cover (stored under seat)
Garmin Edge 200
The quote goes ‘difficult roads can often lead to the most beautiful destinations’ which is 100% true. The only part I disagree with is ‘often’ – I think it is ‘always’! The most rewarding roads I travelled were the hardest to reach and the most strenuous to pedal. They were always the lumpiest dirt roads in the most remote corners of the world.
I camped nearly every night of my trip – when you need a place to sleep, anywhere becomes a potential spot. I went through an odd faze of camping underneath motorways in China and often pitched in abandoned buildings. My two rules for wild camping are this:
- Either camp where no one will possibly find you
- Or camp where people know you are there.
The one thing I never wanted was for strangers to find my tent in the middle of the night (although it occasionally happened)! If there was nowhere totally private to camp I would ask locals for a place to pitch. The best places were the most beautiful ones. Although I had lots of memorable nights camping amongst locals and making new friends, the best part of camping is to get lost in nature.
For me, the beauty of bike touring is the way it forces you to interact with people in the places you travel. Anyone can get your attention and stop you with the wave of a hand. This does make you more vulnerable, of course, but fortunately the world is generally full of pretty wonderful people. It was these chance meetings that turned into the most special times on my cycle around the world. It was because I was travelling by bicycle that the Romanian granny could invite me into her house for Easter lunch, that I got to hang out with the Kazakh military and that I got to welcomed into a Naxi wedding in a remote corner of Yunnan, China.
If my adventure has proved one thing, it was that you don’t need to be an expert to start. There is so much information online so you can be very prepared before you even leave home. Still, no matter how much you read, nothing will totally prepare you for the unknown. Learning on the job is certainly a steep learning curve, but absolutely the most beneficial. You will make mistakes at first – but that is all part of the experience.
Click here to read more about Jonathan’s trip cycling around the world.