East Lothian with Mark Beaumont
DISTANCE 36 miles (57km)
MAIN CLIMB Bangley Hill
TOTAL CLIMB 320 metres
ACHTUNG! Start and finish can be busy with traffic
Adventurers are remarkable people, but even in the exalted company of his globetrotting peers, Mark Beaumont stands out. Travelling great distances clearly gripped him early on in life.
“When I was 12, I decided that I wanted to ride from Land’s End to John o’ Groats,” he says. It wasn’t a schoolboy dream either; he wanted to do it there and then.
“My mum didn’t actually say no, but she suggested that perhaps I should start with something a bit less ambitious. So, I rode from Dundee to Oban in three days on my own, doing 45 miles a day.”
Beaumont was hooked. He did the End-to-End when he was 14, then continued riding all sorts of long distance challenges through school until, as a student at Glasgow University, he hatched the idea of trying to break the record for riding a bike solo around the world.
When he talks about his record now it sounds so simple.
“If you can ride 100 miles a day for two weeks you can do it for six months,” he says. That’s how long his epic journey took him.
Beaumont planned to ride 100 miles for two weeks then take a day off, then repeat that until he had circumnavigated the globe in 195 days. Amazingly, he did exactly that, taking 195 days, minus eight hours clawed from the schedule. It was way ahead of the previous best of 276 days.
Race around the world
“It was a race. I rode it as a race and I prepared for it as if it was a race. It wasn’t a tour to see the world, or an expedition to discover new things. I wanted the record,” he says, before setting out from his Edinburgh home for a ride with a friend, who is himself about to take off on an epic ride across South-East Asia.
“I picked today’s ride because it is suitable for all kinds of cyclists. It’s quite flat, so it makes a good steady training session, but you can also bolt on loops into the Lammermuir Hills to make it harder and longer. The stretch along the coast has a lot of cycle trails that go along the seafront and is perfect for families with young kids,” says Beaumont.
The pair slip effortlessly through the traffic in Meadowbank like seasoned city riders. It’s the day that Chris Hoy is being paraded down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and the Meadowbank track, where he started his career, is scheduled for demolition.
Once through Musselburgh, the traffic thins out then clears completely as the pair leave the A199 in Tranent. Beaumont looks as engaged by this gently rolling scenery as he was in the far-off places that featured on the recent BBC documentary of his round-the-world epic.
He tends to talk about the project in a very matter-of-fact way, but thinking in squares was what got him through.
“You just can’t set out from Paris and look at the whole thing in one go. It’s a series of doing so much per day, of doing all the things that you need to get through that day, then linking the days together,” he explains.
Even with the right mindset, the intensity and effort were still draining. “I had bad times,” he says. “When I reached halfway round in Australia I was about at rock-bottom mentally. It was a combination of things. Having as much distance to do again was one thing. Then there was the 3,500 kilometres of headwind across the outback. Being attacked by swarms of horse flies was horrible. The saddle sores were at their worst then too.”
But, one thing Beaumont discovered was that just when things were almost intolerable, something came along to relieve them. “When the saddle sores were impossible I discovered Papaya paste, which just made them disappear. After the slog and heat of Australia came the relief of cool air and spectacular mountain passes in New Zealand.
“Even when I was tired of being abused by the police escorts that the authorities insisted I had to cross Pakistan, I descended into the Indus valley and into incredible beauty. The police were also better there, and they allowed me to stop in a hotel for the first time, instead of a police cell.”
Overall though, good outweighed the bad, and certainly good people outweighed the bad. “The people of Iran were incredibly welcoming, and when I had my accident and was mugged in Louisiana, I was able to call someone who I had only met for 15 minutes and who drove 100 miles to transport some replacement kit to me.”
Next to all that, today’s ride seems tame, although Beaumont enjoys the lunch stop in Haddington. “I’ll have to do this more often,” he says.
He’s not got a traditional cycling background, and says, “I think some people resent that. It’s like I shouldn’t have got the record because I had never raced. I’ve also had some bad reactions from cyclists because I’ve said in interviews that I’ve got other challenges and not all of them involve cycling.”
The only long hill on the ride is out of Haddington before a long swoop down to the sea in Aberlady, and the flat run west along the coast. This part is dominated by the great openness of the Firth of Forth, and a superb view of the approaching Edinburgh skyline.
Back in the city, Beaumont, who is now the face and voice of the Orange TV adverts, reflects on the irony of his life since the record. “I’m writing a book, I’ve been offered some TV presenting work and I’ve got other challenges planned.
"It’s funny really because I was going to be a fund manager and now I’m a cyclist. With the high profile cycling has at the moment, and the state of the economy, I bet this is the first time in history that it’s made more financial sense to be a cyclist than a fund manager.”
AROUND THE WORLD TECH
Beaumont rigorously researched every aspect of his physical and mental preparation for setting the record, so it comes as no surprise that he applied the same fine-tooth comb when it came to choosing his bike equipment and set-up.
When you are sitting on a bike for up to 12 hours a day, day after day for six months, points of contact and riding position are incredibly important. Beaumont made some radical choices. “I used butterfly bars, which you wouldn’t use for racing, but the variety of hand positions you can get with them made them perfect for me. Even then my hands became so numb that I lost my ability to pinch, which made cooking incredibly difficult.”
Beaumont’s saddle was also very special. “It is made by Selle SMP, and I’ve only seen them in a bike shop in Trieste. I used two. They are like two halves of a saddle split down the middle with the nose bent right down. I had no problems at all with numbness. The first one only wore out because I had to ride through day after day of heavy monsoon rain.”
Beaumont sits quite forward on his record-breaking bike, but the handlebars allow him to stretch and get his upper body quite low. “That worked for me. I found that in a classic road bike position, like on the bike I’ve ridden today, my ankles and knees suffered during day after day riding, but sitting forward eased that, although it did put a little more pressure on my hands and neck. My thinking, though, was that it was better for your hands and neck to go than your legs.”
YOUR GUIDE: MARK BEAUMONT
- Age 25, single, lives in Edinburgh
- Has a degree in economics and politics
- Other major bike treks include Oslo to Warsaw
- Sponsors include Artemis and Koga Miyata
- For further details go to: www.artemisworldcycle.com
From Portobello just to the east of Edinburgh head east on the A199. Turn right (TR) at the mini-roundabout in Tranent onto the B6371. Turn left (TL) onto the B6355. Cross the A6093 and continue to Gifford. TL onto B6369. TL onto A6093 in Haddington and TR onto A6137. TL onto A198 in Aberlady and continue on the road next to the beach, just before entering Longriddy (the traffic-free seafront trails are along this stretch too). TR on A199 and back to Portobello.