Two brothers, Ryan and Colin Pyle set the Guinness World Record in 2011 for a 65 day, 20,000 km motorcycle ride around China. Insight from their incredible journey has been captured in this interview.
What inspired this motorcycle challenge? Which brother initiated this wild adventure?
Colin was looking for a change. After spending years working as a currency trader in the financial services industry in Toronto, he was interested in seeing and learning about other parts of the world. So, he quit his job and sold his house and wanted to do some traveling. He suggested he come to China and travel around with me, after about an hour of discussing some options we decided that we should ride motorcycles all the way around China. I would say that Colin initiated the idea for coming to China and doing a trip, and we both decided that the idea of motorcycle riding would be fun and it was definitely my idea to film and document our journey to share it with a wider global audience.
How did you map out where to travel in China?
The goal from the beginning was to visit China’s most remote regions. We wanted to circumnavigate China around the periphery and explore the border regions and really capture a sense of the diversity of people and landscapes in China. After that, based on my extensive experience in China, we were able to plan a route that took us through some of the most stunning landscapes available in China. It was really a remarkable adventure.
The Middle Kingdom Ride route map beginning in Shanghai.
There were a number of obstacles you faced while traveling, ranging from floods to accidents. What was the biggest obstacle you faced while riding around China?
The biggest obstacle with regards to these kinds of long epic journeys is Mother Nature. No matter where you go and no matter what you do, the weather and your natural environment around you will be the biggest challenge. The heavy rains and floods that we encountered during our tour in China were incredibly challenging, as was the altitude sickness and freezing rains. The traffic and minor accidents can all be dealt with, but Mother Nature is the great unknown and it surprised us on a daily basis.
Traveling through extreme weathers from hailstorms to deserts, did you expect these severe climate changes and how well were you prepared?
We did not really expect to see as much insane weather as we encountered. I’ve spent a decade traveling around China and never had I encountered such violent shifts in weather as I experienced on The Middle Kingdom Ride. As for preparations, we did have some warm weather gear but we were simply un-prepared for the amount of rain we had to travel in; out of our 65 total days on the road we encountered rain on about 25 of those days, and that lead to a lot of misery because there is nothing worse than riding a motorcycle in the rain.
What kept you motivated during some of your toughest situations?
I think the simple desire to finish our journey was our single motivation. Colin and I were both aware of how difficult a task we had set for ourselves. We set the bar very high in what we wanted to accomplish and our goal was simply to finish it, no matter what. We both grew up in a household where our parents always told us to be sure to “finish what you start” and that has always stayed with Colin and I and its something we carry with us in our careers today.
Motorcycles in the mountain pass. Original photo on www.mkride.com
What did you do when you faced mechanical failures while being out in a mountain pass or rural area? Did you bring all the spare parts and equipment with you?
This is a great question. No matter how well built your vehicle is, either car or motorcycle, at some stage on such a difficult trip you are going to have mechanical problems. You can’t push so hard each day for 65 days and not expect a breakdown. So, in response to your question, we did have a few flat tires and breakdowns and we were carrying a lot of spare parts but there was one instance in Tibet where my motorcycle had a mechanical problem and we had to get the bike on a truck and transfer it to the nearest big city and then ship spare parts from outside of China in to China. This set us back a few days.
I understand that there was a military interference at one point during your journey. Could you elaborate on what happened there?
Anytime you decide to circumnavigate a country along its borders you are going to run in to a lot of military personnel, this is inevitable. The issue with our tour in China was that the Chinese military personnel that we did have encounters with just didn’t understand what we were doing and why we were doing it. This concept of adventure motorcycle travel and making television about it doesn’t really exist in China so every time we were stopped a checkpoints along the border regions we always had a lot of explaining to do, and in the end we were almost always allowed to carry on.
During your journey, what types of visual changes and developments in China did you see?
China is such a diverse and rapidly changing country. Colin and I always joke that if we did our Middle Kingdom Ride again, everything we witnessed the first time around would be totally different the second time, even though it’s been such a short time since we finished our journey. I think the element that surprised us the most was the high quality transportation infrastructure that exists in China, meaning simply that the roads are brilliant. Having consistently good roads means that you can really plan out your days and plan out your filming schedule and be efficient and effective with your time. And because of the good roads we were able to focus our attention on the changing landscapes from the mountains of the northeast to the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, to the shifting sand deserts of Gansu and Xinjiang.
It seems that the two of you made some strong connections with the local people during your trip. What were some of the strongest and most meaningful encounters you had with them?
I think the strongest connection we made on our journey was with a local farming family in central Tibet. We stayed with family on our journey up to Mount Everest Base Camp and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We got to spend a lot of time with the family and learn about how they make a living, how they educated their children and what their daily lives are like; we also shared all out meals with them and lived in their home with them. It was really an enlightening experience and the hospitality they showed, as everyone we encountered on our journey showed, was overwhelmingly positive and welcoming. The Middle Kingdom Ride motorcycle journey around China was actually an incredibly powerful educational experience for both Colin and I, and we hope our television and book audience feel much the same way.
Colin and Ryan Pyle together with Uyghur natives in western China.
Colin, I believe you mentioned in your Middle Kingdom Ride trailer that it’s all about enjoying the journey and not just the destination. What part of the journey around China did you both enjoy the most?
The destination is important, but if you fly across a country and visit a tourism destination you will miss a lot. Overland travel is all about the places in-between and this helps shape your impressions of not only the important tourism locations but of the entire country itself. This is what Colin and I mean when we talk about enjoying the journey and not just the destination. As we traveled across China we actually learned more from speaking with gas station attendants and restaurant owners, who had very unique impressions and views about interaction with foreign travelers and about their lives in China, than the people you meet in big cities and tourism locations who are more regularly in touch with travelers from outside of China. I think the part of the journey that Colin and I enjoyed the most was our visit to Mount Everest Base Camp, the highest location we reached during our tour around China. This provided us with a lot of local interaction, some incredibly food and as well some of the best off-road riding experiences of our lives.
Your book, also titled “The Middle Kingdom Ride” is a best seller. What’s included in the book that won’t be shown on your television show?
The book is entirely different from the television show, and this is often the case on long expeditions. The Middle Kingdom Ride television show is a compilation of our best visual stories and best video footage from our 65 days on the road, and it’s a fast paced adventure travel production. The Middle Kingdom Ride book is more of a “behind the scenes” look at the challenges and obstacles that one faces when trying to circumnavigate such a large and diverse country like China. We hope that people who enjoy the television show will also thoroughly enjoy the book and vise versa because while the theme is the same, the stories are very different.
As you embark on your next journey to circumnavigate India, what are some of the challenges you perceive and how do you plan to overcome them?
Colin and I have actually just completed production of our India Ride expedition and television production, and without giving too much away I can tell you that the challenges were immense and much different than what we faced in China. India is a much more densely populated country and it has less developed infrastructure and these two conditions made our journey through India much more challenging and much more physically and mentally demanding than our expedition in China. If anyone would like to learn more about The India Ride you can visit our website at: www.TheIndiaRide.com.
Will you continue to conquer other parts of the world with your motorcycle?
This is the great unknown. You know the motorcycle is an excellent tool for exploration and adventure and Colin and I really enjoy exploring the world and learning more about how different people in different places live their lives. We’ll have to wait and see how our audiences and readers react to our first two productions. Only then can we decide if future ventures will be in the cards or not.
To learn more about their journey visit:
YouTube Page: www.youtube.com/productionsg219
MKRIDE Television Series: http://www.offthefence.com/detail/middle-kingdom-ride/1326834/
Please be sure to check out their book “The Middle Kindom Ride: Two brothers, two motorcycles, one epic journey around China.”
When Canadian brothers Colin Pyle and Ryan Pyle set out from Shanghai on a motorcycle journey that had never previously been attempted, they thought they had some idea of what lay ahead of them. It was a misconception that had become evident by the end of Day 1. But, despite the many challenges they faced, 65 days and 18,000 km later they’d succeeded in circumnavigating China. In an expedition of extremes, Colin and Ryan visited the third lowest point on Earth and slept at Everest Base Camp beside its highest mountain. They traveled off-road through deep desert sands in suffocating heat, traversed mountain passes in freezing temperatures that turned the moisture in their clothes to ice, and rode in torrential rain through mudslides beside rapidly rising flood waters. At the end of their remarkable journey, the brothers had strengthened the bond between them, gained a Guinness World Record, tested their endurance to its limits, and shared an adventure that most of us will only ever dream of having. In their book The Middle Kingdom Ride, Colin and Ryan take us with them as they travel through the diverse and extraordinary landscapes of China, from its border with North Korea, to the ancient Muslim city of Kashgar, across the vast empty spaces of the Mongolian grasslands, over the mountains and into the monasteries of Tibet.
Ryan Pyle: After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in Political Science, Ryan Pyle made his home in Shanghai, China, where he still lives today. Over the last 10 years, he has gained an international reputation as an award-winning documentary photographer and now author and television presenter. He is regularly invited to give talks about his work and about China at universities and institutes around the world.www.ryanpyle.com.
Colin Pyle:After graduating from Ryerson University, Toronto, with a degree in Finance, Colin Pyle established what was to become a very successful currency trading company, two years after he sold the company, he resigned in order to “see the world” and have experiences that will enable him to make informed choices about what he does with the rest of his life. www.colinpyle.com.