A five-minute lunchtime conversation in New York’s Central Park was all it took for Canadian brothers Ryan and Colin Pyle to decide to embark on an ambitious 17,674 km (10,982 mile) motorcycle ride around China, including the remote provinces of Inner Mongolia and Tibet. After hearing that Colin wanted to quit his job in finance, sell his house in Toronto and do something epic, Shanghai-based documentary photographer Ryan had the answer.
“China has been my home for almost ten years and I wanted to share my love for the country, in all its diversity and beauty, with Colin,” he explains. “We planned the trip that same day using Google Maps at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue. Looking back, it was an amazing decision for us to make over lunch, and the trip was something truly special.”
When the brothers completed their 65-day ride on October 17 they became the first riders to fully circumnavigate China by motorcycle in one continuous journey. But their Middle Kingdom Ride was special for personal reasons, too. “Although we’d stayed in touch since I relocated to China, Colin and I hadn’t spent much time together since high school. So we decided to take this trip to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company again, as adults.”
Colin and Ryan used their adventure to raise funds and awareness for the San Francisco-based SEVA Foundation, which serves people around the world who are struggling for health, cultural survival and sustainable communities.
Already familiar with many of their locations and the terrain throughout China and Tibet, Ryan found it easy to create their schedule and the preparation time was less than a week. Colin arrived in Shanghai six days before they departed on August 14.
From Shanghai, the two traveled north up the east coast to the North Korean border, then west to Inner Mongolia’s grasslands. Their journey continued along the Silk Road to Jiayuguan, home to the furthest western section of the Great Wall of China. After a stopover in Hami, they traveled though the scenic Tian Shan mountain range, also known as the ‘Switzerland of China’. From Kashgar, they rode on to the Karakoram Highway and the Pakistan border, then the remote Aksai Chin Highway, with an average altitude of 14,700 ft (4,500m).
Their route has also included Mount Kailash, a Tibetan and Hindu holy place, a stopover at Mount Everest Base Camp and a few rest days in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. The riders continued on their way out of Tibet and travelled across southern China and locations such as: Lijiang, Guizhou, Yangshuo, Dongguan and Yongding County. The final stop was Hangzhou, before they reached Shanghai again.
Although Colin and Ryan did not have any previous long-distance riding experience, they have owned BMW motorcycles for several years. “We chose BMW motorcycles for this trip because they have a great maintenance record and we know first-hand that they are quality machines,” says Colin.
“The F800GS is the perfect bike for China, because of its light weight, versatility, speed and off-road handling. China is a rapidly developing country and we’ve hit an amazing amount of road construction, and had endless detours and unexpected off-road riding. With road construction comes sand and gravel. The F800GS is light enough to pick its way through the sand extremely well, and that large front wheel is a godsend in thicker, heavier sand and gravel. For riding in China, versatility is crucial and the F800GS delivers on all fronts.”
Their selection of motorcycles has enhanced their experience of the frequently changing terrain. “One of our highlights was off-road riding in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. We adjusted our suspension and let some air out of the tires and spent a few great hours cruising around the wind turbines on the Huitengxile Grasslands near Hohhot. It was just amazing and the handling of the bikes on the dirt and grass was equally superb. It was the right bike for the right moment, pure magic.”
Coping with the variations in weather has proved the greatest challenge for the two riders. They have faced extreme heat up to 42˚C (108˚F), as well as hail and intense rain, resulting in landslides and flooding. “China is a vast country and managing the weather variations has been tough,” adds Ryan. “It’s even tougher when you can ride 100km and have a 20˚C change in temperature.”
One of the things that has remained constant throughout their journey, however, is the reaction to their BMW motorcycles. “Everyone we passed gazed at our bikes or tried to interact with us when we stopped,” says Colin. “Although there are BMW cars and SUVs roaming throughout the cities and countryside, big motorcycles in China are rare. Many people have never seen a bike larger than 150cc before.”
Now their Middle Kingdom Ride has been completed, Ryan and Colin can reflect on the impact of this unique experience. “I think Colin will see the world in an entirely different way, after his first adventure travel experience,” says Ryan. “For me, I think I have found a great new way to explore China, and being the first to circumnavigate China by motorcycle in one shot is a rewarding feeling.”
Ryan and Colin Pyle are producing a documentary film on their journey and will also publish a book. For updates on those projects, visit www.mkride.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about SEVA, please go to www.seva.org