There is the one side to Mark Beaumont that is widely published: the cyclist, adventurer and athlete, who went out to break various world records.
The first time in 2008, self-supported and on classic bike touring setup. He then went on to break the record cycling from Cairo to Cape Town across Africa, before his second attempt at the around the world record in 2017 when he achieved the fastest circumnavigation the world of cycling has seen so far, in an awe inspiring 78 days and 14 hours. It was the world’s longest time trial, precisely planned and made possible with a team that enabled Mark to simply focus on cycling.
The individual stages of riding across Africa and around the world are now available on his Komoot profile with pictures, and it’s a fascinating account of those endurance feats.
But there’s another side of Mark too. The artist, the storyteller, the person that wants to encourage people to simply enjoy the outdoors. The kid that grew up on a farm on the edge of the Scottish Highlands in rural Perthshire, and aged 12, inspired by tales of cyclists riding John o’Groats to Lands’ End, embarked on his first challenge and cycled 145 miles across Scotland, from Dundee to Oban. Firmly bitten by the adventure bug, he went on to cycle the British end-to-end route at age 15.
When Mark first sent me a message in the end of October to go for a gravel ride, I had just returned from a month of working in Germany, mostly riding bikes. Scotland was in a lockdown of varying degrees, with some of us enjoying more freedom than others. We were both realistic about the months ahead and the lack of focus that cancelling plan after plan had brought. Mark had just taken delivery of a new gravel bike, and we decided to make the most of the shorter days by catching up regularly for rides. Most of them happened exclusively in the dark, as both of us had busy lives to get on with during the day, but they proved a welcome escape from winter and the reality of being stuck in Edinburgh.
Finding adventures closer to home
It was over the coming months that I got to know Mark better as we embarked on regular rides. Long night rides, often within the City of Edinburgh boundary or close to it, required a different motivation than round the world expeditions. We took even turns at creating routes for our rides, planning our rides around how we could tell a story each time. They became more than just bike rides. One evening we followed the Edinburgh city bypass, another evening we cycled the newly created West Lothian Shale Trail, and another time we tried mountain biking the Pentland Hills on gravel bikes. That’s when the idea of creating rides around the boundaries of the Scottish local authorities was born, our first big ride of 2021 proved to be a proper small-scale expedition. It took us a good 10 hrs of riding and pushing our bikes to cycle 110 km, but the experience was worth it.
Whilst plotting these route within our boundary, we started to film this, which we have just released (see above).
Here are some snippets of advice and inspiration from Mark Beaumont to encourage you to embark on some new cycling adventures, some of them featured in the film, some not, illustrated with images from joint rides.
There is more to cycling than fitness
‘I often think as a cyclist that you know there’s a number of motivations. You’re thinking, I want to do some exercise, I want to feel healthy, but there’s the other side, which is just the sheer experience of exploring places and those memories. And that’s not necessarily about wellbeing in terms of your fitness. As much as you can sit indoors and do circuits or get your miles in on the turbo, you can’t feed the soul in the same way unless you actually get out and ride. For me it’s got to be a combination: where the purpose of riding is for sure because I want to be fit, I want to be able to perform on the bike. But I also ride the bike because it takes me places.’
Quiet Confidence (and good kit)
‘One of one of the most important parts of going on harder, more adventurous rides is a quiet confidence. It’s the ability to not just go out in the middle of the summer when the conditions are perfect. I absolutely love night riding, I love night running, I love going out in the middle of winter. But it does take practice, it does take having the right kit, knowing how to keep your feet and your hands warm and dry and knowing that you can get yourself out of difficulty. Or trusting your buddies, knowing you’ve got a shared skill set to explore these places. I can be a couple of miles within town, but knowing that if it goes wrong, you have to look after yourself. Knowing what it’s like to take you to interesting places on adventure, but having that self reliance to get yourself back out of there.’
There’s more to adventure than the view
‘Whether it’s climbing one of the high hills in Scotland in the middle of the night or something else. People ask why would you do that, because there’s no view, you can’t see anything. But that’s kind of missing the point. Because the journey is your personal journey as well, it’s exploring a place with a different dimension. It’s not always about the views. Some of the best adventures I’ve ever had are lost in that pool of the floodlight in front of you from your bicycle or your head torch, and I guess that much needs to be experienced to be understood. You can stand on the top of the hill and not see anything in the middle of the fog or the middle of the night or the middle of a snowstorm, and just have the best possible connection with the landscape around you and the friends that you’re with.’
‘Backing yourself with confidence to get out there and having that deeply personal reason to want to go and explore is addictive. It is absolutely why I do what I do, and find a friendship group who I can trust to go on these adventures with. And the best thing is you don’t need to go far. Yes, you can travel around the world, but there is often adventure to be found within miles of where you live.’
‘As long as you know what you’re doing, and you’ve got the right kit, there’s no weather, there’s no time of day, there’s no month of the year you can’t get out there and explore. Often the hardest thing of getting out and exploring on a bike in winter is simply turning the thought into an action. You know when it’s when it’s snowy outside, when it’s icy, when the days are short, committing to the ride. Getting out the front door is half the battle.’
Finding reasons to ride
‘I like the idea of sometimes thinking of a journey for a reason. It’s not just because I want to push myself on the bike, but also I’m going to almost collect something on the way. It could be landmarks, it could be getting between certain hills, it could be in the city. It could be churches or murals. That idea of going out and creating a journey with a reason by giving it some sort of storyline is something I’ve always really enjoyed. And again it’s almost having fun with that concept of a bike ride, not just thinking I’m going out to get fit or I’m going out to train, but I’m going out because I’ve then got that interaction between the people I meet on the way. Or trying to explore places which are quite close to home, but you’re joining them up. And that’s when the best adventures happen. For me it’s often about trying to explore, to create memories for myself and with my buddies.’