Fastest circumnavigation by bicycle

What does it take to take on a challenge as demanding as cycling around the world? 

Well one man who should know is Mark Beaumont who holds the Guinness World Records title for the fastest circumnavigation by bicycle (male) with a time of 78 days 14 hours 40 minutes.

In fact Mark has pedaled his way around Earth on two separate occasions, first when he was 22 and more recently in 2017 when he entered the record books and achieved "his Everest".

Growing up on a farm, where he was also home-schooled, Mark has always been outdoors. While other kids were in primary school playgrounds and kicking footballs, he was outside riding horses, skiing and camping. And while his parents weren’t adventurers, the nature of his upbringing helped Mark develop that spirit himself.

"I think it’s the connection with the outdoors and being quietly encouraged. Not that they pushed me into it," he explained. "I’ve got children of my own now, and ideas aren’t your own at that age. 

"If you say you want to do something crazy and your parents say 'no', it’s no, and you forget you had the idea. Whereas as an 11-year-old I want to cycle from John o’ Groats to Land’s End and my mum said 'why not try something smaller?' and we built up. 

"I guess those acorns of ideas are quite precious and they got bigger and bigger for 10 years until I cycled around the world the first time."

Mark completed that ride across his native Scotland, before getting to cycle the length of the UK mid-way through his time at high school.

Mark Beaumont cycling

"Adventure, the outdoors and journeys were my thing and that was very precious to me."

There are other aspects to adventure cycling that he enjoys beyond just the riding and pushing himself.

"I enjoyed with those early journeys going door-to-door raising money for local charities then afterwards sharing my story in the local paper. 

"It's that entire cycle from having the idea, to telling the world about it was something I got a real buzz from as a teenager. Especially when I found high school difficult because I didn’t go to primary school, so I was socially inept and found high school a bit rough."

Mark Beaumont Brisbane

These all helped serve as Mark’s apprenticeship ahead of his first circumnavigation at the age of 22, 12 years before his second, record-breaking ride.

This is a period he credits as key in part of his training towards that 2017 journey. 

"Something I believe in is 'shoot for the stars' but do your apprenticeship. In a world where people think they can fall out of bed and climb Everest or fall out of bed and cycle round the world, I say to anyone, do these things but learn your trade. You can’t expect to break records if you haven’t practiced."

This involves building up mental as well as physical strength to take on those long distance challenges that test you in every way possible. It’s not an overnight process.

"A lot of people if they’re racing, they can put themselves through hell knowing it will soon be over. When you’re doing ultra-endurance, you can’t."

Mark Beaumont

"You’ve got to be motivated by what you’re doing, not that it will soon be over, and I think that freaks out a lot of athletes. I saw it rowing the Atlantic where you’ve got these top river rowers who were physical specimens but the sheer never-ending nature of it freaked them out.

"When you’re going 18,000 miles around the world, when you’re starting out from Paris [the start and finish point of Mark’s record attempt], you’re not thinking about Paris. Even in Australia when you’re 9,000 miles in, Paris just doesn’t seem real at all."

That mental resilience means coping with thoughts on all sorts of things; from focusing on the attempt to thinking about the past. 

"You’ve got time to think, deeply think, and be absorbed in the world around you and there’s nothing else I’ve ever done that gives you that incredible amount of head space."

It’s a sentiment echoed by Jenny Graham who holds the female circumnavigation by bicycle record (completing her journey in 124 days 11 hours).

Fastest circumnavigation bicycle Jenny Graham

Instead of feeling lonely (thanks to modern technology allowing her to keep in regular contact with her friends and family), she found a freedom that is hard to achieve at home.

"You’re going through every emotion possible and you’ve got the freedom to explore it. When you’re at home and you’re surrounded by people and going to work, you can’t really do that. You’ve just got to fit in with society but when you’re out there there’s no hiding from them. It’s very real and you’ve got to work through it. I liked getting to know myself."

Then afterwards comes the question: what’s next?

Attempting to cycle around the world in under 80 days was the ultimate for Mark, a chance to see how quickly he could power himself over such a vast distance.

That kid inside him still inspired him to attempt things not done before.

"I’m still inspired by first and fastest than entering a race and just trying to beat people around me. I prefer that idea of pioneering spirit."

Fastest circumnavigation by bicycle crossing the finish line

The "good problem" though is not being labelled as just a cyclist. People may expect him to get back in the saddle and ride "another silly distance", but that’s not necessarily where he’ll go.

"It takes real confidence I think to take that same energy and passion but do something completely different.

"If it was up to the public and press you’d just do another big ultra-endurance cycling record and I’m quite passionate about things that take me in a different direction but fill that sense of wonder about what’s possible."

For a while that could have been trying to circumnavigate the globe by cycling across land and rowing the oceans to complete the 24,919-mile journey. 

Fastest circumnavigation by bicycle header

In 2012 Mark was part of a team taking part in the Atlantic Odyssey and aiming to row the Atlantic Ocean in under 30 days.

However, 520 miles from their destination, their boat capsized. 

But, surprisingly, the near-death experience isn’t the main reason you won’t find Mark doing any ocean rowing journeys anytime soon.

"Being completely candid I didn’t find in ocean rowing what I found on my land-based journeys. So, my open swimming, cycling, fell running, you can be in an incredibly tough moment but there’s an unknown. Every day is different. 

"The excitement is the world is changing around you whereas ocean rowing, it’s big waves, little waves. It’s purely the physical and psychological. 

"There’s no sense of change, no sense of interest. It’s purely about the physical and mental. 

"Forget the capsize and nearly dying bit, I didn’t find why I do adventure out there."

Mark Beaumont Edinburgh

And this, rather neatly, brings us on to his advice to anyone who wants to attempt a record, especially one that’s so demanding.

"Rule number one is you’ve got to enjoy it. It’s allowed to hurt, it’s allowed to be difficult, but you should be doing it not because you’re going to get famous or it will pay the mortgage but because you’re passionate about it."

According to Mark, it’s also important to realise your own possibilities.

"I think that’s the big thing with Guinness World Records, until you’ve done it you think it’s for somebody else. If you’ve built your experience and are in a unique space in what you do or you fancy your chances, almost anyone with something they’re passionate about can have a crack. But it’s not spending your life thinking it’s for other people."

What will your adventure be?

Feeling inspired to attempt a Guinness World Records title yourself? Discover your Spirit of Adventure by finding out more about GWR Day, including how you can get involved on the day itself (Thursday 14 November). We realise everyone’s adventure is different, so whether it's taking on a new challenge, fulfiling a desire for adrenaline or perfecting your existing skills – there's a record waiting for you.