Escape By Bike book

My new book, Escape by Bike; Adventure Cycling, Bikepacking and Touring Off-Road’, published by Thames and Hudson, is now available to buy!

I'm so excited to finally get this project out into the world. It’s hard to describe just how passionately I feel about bike travel, and what it’s done for me over the years, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share some of my experiences in this book.

Using the narrative and photos from my year-long ride from London to Hong Kong in 2015, Escape by Bike is split up into five chapters: Forests, Deserts, Mountains, Tropics, and Cities. It’s partly a travelogue of my own journey, and partly a practical guide for negotiating these environments by bike, anywhere in the world.

With advice and insight for every stage of an adventure, from dreaming up ideas, to making them happen, and experiencing them to their full, I just hope that it does what it was created to do, and gets more people out and exploring the world on two wheels.

Special thanks to publishers Thames and Hudson, art director and designer Andrew Diprose, and illustrator Chris McNally for all their help in putting the book together.

Where to buy

Thames and Hudson - Amazon - Waterstones - WHSmith - Oliver BonasTelegraph Bookshop - Rough Trade

& all lots of fantastic independent bookshops.

Press

Thames and Hudson - The Guardian - The i Paper - Pannier.cc - Red Bull - Mpora - Pebble Magazine - Advntr.cc

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Camille McMillan: Un-Lost

I was recently fortunate enough to work on a photography exhibition by Camille McMillan. 

The Un-Lost project is Camille's documentation of the Transcontinental Race, and in December 2017 the exhibition was launched in 13 locations around the world. Capturing the 4,000km race’s journey from one corner of Europe to the other, Un-Lost uses the vast and unfamiliar landscapes of an entire continent to document the rider condition. There’s something to be said for being lost and finding your way again, and Camille’s exhibition aims to reflect that.

Read the feature

Un-Lost: "It's About Looking" 

Watch the film

See the images

New work with Avaunt, Cyclist and Team Giant-Alpecin

It's been a busy summer, and as such there's been a varied pool of work with my name attached to it. In the latest issue of Cyclist you will find a profile piece I did on Richie Porte after going to interview him before the Tour de France with photographer Alexander Rhind, as well as a feature on Daniel McLay, a young British rider, and his experiences at his first ever Tour de France. 

 

Away from road cycling I teamed up with photographer Camille McMillan to produce a piece on The Transcontinental, and how its modern technology is enabling a return to early, primitive forms of bike racing. You can see the piece here: avauntmagazine.com/the-transcontinental

Finally, I've been involved with Team Giant-Alpecin during the past few weeks too, running the communications for both the men's team and the women's Team Liv-Plantur, writing press releases, race reports, and managing social media profiles for both as they competed at races such as La Vuelta a Espana, GP Plouay, Cyclassics Hamburg, Tour of Norway and Route de France.

New work with Cyclist, Bikes Etc and Pannier

Another month has gone by, and as well as keeping the cyber world happy with my usual contributions to www.cyclist.co.uk, my profile feature on John Degenkolb has also appeared in Cyclist magazine, while an on-location bike test for Bikes Etc and some product shots for Pannier.cc have also been published. 

 John Degenkolb feature:  Cyclist magazine . Photography: Chris Blott

John Degenkolb feature: Cyclist magazine. Photography: Chris Blott

 Budget Tour bikes test feature:  Bikes Etc.  Photography: James Oaten

Budget Tour bikes test feature: Bikes Etc. Photography: James Oaten

New work with Men's Fitness, Tracksmith, Pannier and Bikes Etc

April and May have been a busy couple of months, but I'm happy to say also productive as I've been able to lend a hand - both in writing and in pictures - to pieces for Men's Fitness, Meter by Tracksmith, Pannier and Bikes Etc. 

'Men's Fitness Manual - Cycling' written for the July issue of Men's Fitness.

  London Assembly League  - shot for Meter magazine by Tracksmith.  You can read the full article and see accompanying pictures here.

London Assembly League - shot for Meter magazine by Tracksmith. You can read the full article and see accompanying pictures here.

'The Big Bike Test - Bargain online bikes' written for Bikes Etc.

Karakol Lake, Xinjiang, China shot last year, and included in the Kyrgyzstan-Pakistan portion of the latest Pannier.cc journal entry.

As ever, my regular contributions to Cyclist.co.uk can be seen here too.

Outside of work, I've been practicing what I preach and have managed to get out to Bo in Norway for some climbing and bouldering at the annual Ballestein Festival. The Wideboyz were there and on hand to both show off their climbing skills and have a few too many beers, but Norway itself was the real jewel, showing itself to be a place that I'll be endeavouring to return to. The weather over the May bank holiday weekend was celebrated in a similarly outdoors fashion, with a micro cycle tour of Sussex, mixed in with a hike around the Ashdown Forest and two nights of wild camping. Let summer begin...

 

Ballestein Festival, Norway

Returning to work in the UK

During 2015 I took a year out from regular work, put my life on hold, and cycled from London to Hong Kong, and while I'm currently working on ways to retrospectively document the experience - as well as finishing my blog on pannier.cc - I've also knuckled down with some more familiar work.

Before I left I was working as an editorial assistant on Cyclist at Dennis Publishing, and I'm reacquainting myself with the team there by spending a lot of time at the Cleveland Street London office, contributing to the website, www.cyclist.co.uk. Some highlights over the past few weeks having been interviewing Sir Bradley Wiggins, as well as his former Team Sky teammate Geraint Thomas, which you can read here and here

I have also been featured in the current issue of BikesEtc, with some pictures and a few words to run through a few of the highlights from my London-HK trip. It's great to see some of my pictures in print, and appears to have been met with a good reception from readers. 

Coming up I have a few features with some less 'bikey' publications, and will be making a trip up to the Peak District to give a talk at the Pannier Dark Peak Weekender. While the talk will be about my trip, the last time I spoke in public about it was at a primary school in Tajikistan, so I might have to change up the Powerpoint a bit...

After I get booed offstage I'll be sure to let you know how it goes. 

Cycling Eurasia - Burmese Days

This is a retrospective blog, and should really be posted on joshcunninghamcycling.co.uk, but due to some technical difficulties that's not possible at the moment. Before my London-Hong Kong bike ride recedes too far into the past though, I've resurrected the blog here to tell the rest of the story. The previous post had left Pete - my travelling companion - and I having just crossed the Bangladeshi border back into India after one of the most stressful weeks of the trip...

 Being raced out of Bangladesh by truck. Click  here  to read the backstory. 

Being raced out of Bangladesh by truck. Click here to read the backstory. 

For the third post in a row, the opening sentence will again contain the word India. But rather than this post's predecessor, where the backbone of Hindustan, its lowland plains and seething cities, were the subject, this will be more like the first. I mean this in the sense that like the far north west, where the coagulation of mountains and disputable borders disrupt the flow of ethnicity and culture to the extent that it feels like a quasi-Tibetan region, so too does the north east feel distinctly un-'Indian'.

These forgotten states, separated from the main triangular peninsula by a tiny channel of land - the Siliguri Corridor, or 'Chicken's Neck' - running between Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, are largely inhabited by the Naga people, who are of Mongol descent and were bizarrely converted en masse to Christianity by some Italian monks in the earlier part of the 19th century. The terrain is an endless sea of minor mountain ranges, packed dense with forest and with only a meagre network of roads joining the valleys; the food blends South East Asia, India and China. As Chris, an American cycle tourist who I met in Dushanbe said when Nagaland came up in conversation: 'It's a pretty cool part of the world, man.'

 Agartala - Silchar road

Agartala - Silchar road

 Little and large

Little and large

 The ethnic mix of Nagaland

The ethnic mix of Nagaland

Despite the originality from a touristic point of view, the going on the bike was tough. The roads were often terrible, and never of a gradient that allowed for relaxed riding, but all the 'road less travelled' proverbs were coined for a reason, and some of the scenery was a real joy to ride through. 

 Imphal - Border road

Imphal - Border road

Not quite so enjoyable was being moved on from a campsite by the military (India's borders are crawling with men in uniform) , and told to ride 5km further up the mountain pass I was on, to their barracks, where I would apparently be able to sleep. After an initial welcoming and promises of a bed and food from the squaddies, word filtered back from the chief that I wasn't allowed to stay. I was told of a hotel at the top of the pass and sent off into the night, but after a few km I found myself in the pitch black jungle, with not a sign of light anywhere on the pass or an ounce of motivation to continue. I put up my tent on the road, tying the ends to my bike and kit to keep it up, and settled in for the night, only to discover my stove had terminally broken. Instant noodles soaked in cold water it was, and more of the wariness towards officialdom that this trip was continuing to perpetuate. 

To get into Myanmar through the north eastern Moreh-Tamu border we had had to prepare a special permit, which had been verbally confirmed with an agency after paying a cool $100 and setting an exact time and date that we would cross. Armed only with the telephone number of 'some guy', we arrived at the border and were told to sit under the foreboding words of the dated customs buildings signs. 

 Burmese customs

Burmese customs

A man duly appeared on a motorbike after being telephoned though, and after some transaction between him and the officials we were rushed through. 'Enjoy Myanmar,' he said once back outside, before hopping back onto his moped and careering off, leaving us slightly suspicious about the legitimacy of our permit fees. But regardless of whose back pocket the money found itself in, we had gained entry and had a over a thousand kilometres of the country now ahead of us.

Up until very recently, Myanmar's internal struggles have meant that travelling within its borders has been a severely compromised, if not impossible endeavour, but in 2013 the regulations were relaxed and areas outside of the main tourist sites of Bagan, Mandalay and Yangon were effectively opened up. As a foreigner travelling overland, with a  reputation that doesn't precede itself, as is the case in a lot of other South East Asian countries, the experience certainly felt quite genuine. More refreshing still were the smiles that crept over people's faces - universally painted by the yellow brush strokes of thanaka, a sun-protective mixture, with teeth stained scarlet from betel juice - upon the sight of Pete and I riding unannounced through the daily rhythms of their town, village or paddy field. Waves and cries of 'Mingalaba!' abounded, and after the stern looks that had sometimes swept across us in India, it was a welcome change of mood. Frequent sights and sounds, such as the bands of women walking around singing and handing out gifts, or the megaphone-wielding cars that drove slowly around deserted towns between 4 and 6 in the morning, blaring clamorous voiceovers and traditional Burmese music, were two such peculiarities that remain as bewildering now as they did when we were first exposed to them. Friendly and also completely bonkers; what wasn't to love?

 We were in Myanmar during the run up to the general election in November. The NLD (National League for Democracy) supporters were seemingly sure of Aung San Suu Kyi's victory long before the results came in. 

We were in Myanmar during the run up to the general election in November. The NLD (National League for Democracy) supporters were seemingly sure of Aung San Suu Kyi's victory long before the results came in. 

 We were mobbed and kitted out with bandanas. Memories of the sign at customs had clearly paled. 

We were mobbed and kitted out with bandanas. Memories of the sign at customs had clearly paled. 

 This lady made us some lunch in Kale. Didn't stop laughing, either. 

This lady made us some lunch in Kale. Didn't stop laughing, either. 

 A woman of the Kayan tribe in northern Myanmar - her identity given away by the apparently 'stretched neck'. Notice the betel and tobacco stained teeth. 

A woman of the Kayan tribe in northern Myanmar - her identity given away by the apparently 'stretched neck'. Notice the betel and tobacco stained teeth. 

 A Kalewa girl wearing a face of 'thanaka', a paste made from ground bark used as a protective measure, but which is often applied decoratively. 

A Kalewa girl wearing a face of 'thanaka', a paste made from ground bark used as a protective measure, but which is often applied decoratively. 

Pete was unfortunately not feeling too spritely though, and after dragging him out of the tent one morning, before watching him nauseously stir his noodles and fail to ride his bike faster than 10kmh, the pair of us found ourselves at the side of the road hailing down a vehicle and hashing out a plan for a future reunion, as he was in no state to be cycling.

After a series of truck and boat rides Pete ended up in a hotel in the town of Monywa, which lay at the end of the main Burmese northern road head. Travel further north, apart from the Indian-built border road we had so far been enjoying, is generally made by water or air. But firmly tied to my method of transportation, the obligatory alternative was a 200km stretch of road that from what I could figure would be the last real unpaved sector of the trip.

 Rural Myanmar. Temples everywhere. 

Rural Myanmar. Temples everywhere. 

 Some buffalo loving life

Some buffalo loving life

 A girl concocts some betel leaves with tobacco and flavouring for a customer 

A girl concocts some betel leaves with tobacco and flavouring for a customer 

In the sticky heat of the jungle, meandering past golden temples, decrepit monasteries, homesteads and eateries emanating the fermented fishy pong apparently synonymous with any Burmese dish, I became increasingly envious of Pete's Chindwin river voyage. There was one 40 or 50 kilometre section of cobblestones that was particularly nasty, and even had me throwing my bike on the floor at the end of a long day, after having slipped my foot and kicked the pedal back into my opposing shin. Compacted by the stifling heat, pitiful progress, hungry mosquitoes and prevailing feeling of solitude, the effect that Orwell's Burmese Days was having gradually felt very palpable, and as I collapsed in a frustrated, wincing heap at the side of the road, I could allow myself a modest glimpse into how Flory was suffocated by it all.

 On the Kalewa - Monywa road

On the Kalewa - Monywa road

 The daily 5pm skygasm 

The daily 5pm skygasm 

I eventually arrived in Monywa a day late, but Pete was feeling better and so we made our way south to spend some time in Bagan - the main tourist attraction of the country - and its surrounding temples. The hundreds of pagodas have an irresistible enchantment, with mouldy fascades, crumbling statues buried under an entanglement of vines that speak of ancient kingdoms and entrenched spiritualism. Further afield, even in the absence of temples, this is echoed only too perfectly by the streams of monks padding around in every town or village, queuing up for food donations, or standing at the side of the road - their arms wrapped around a big terracotta urn acting as a suitcase, waiting to hitch a lift. Rather than in other places, where monks might find themselves pedastalled, or on the fringes of society at large, in Myanmar they can appear to be almost as unremarkable and common asany other person.

 Young monks in the northern town of Kalewa

Young monks in the northern town of Kalewa

 Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan

Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan

 Temples of Bagan

Temples of Bagan

 Trueing a buckled wheel in Yesagyo

Trueing a buckled wheel in Yesagyo

 This cheeky duo served us some lunch in fits of laughter before tucking into their own at a popup roadside eatery near Napyidaw. Notice the purely decorative thanaka on the forehead.

This cheeky duo served us some lunch in fits of laughter before tucking into their own at a popup roadside eatery near Napyidaw. Notice the purely decorative thanaka on the forehead.

The last few days in Myanmar were tough. With the daily temperature between 35 and 40 degrees and humidity at some godforsaken height, it was hot and agitating, and every morsel of shadow that crept over the road - be it from tree, building or otherwise - was hungrily sought out, regardless of where on the carriageway it fell.

 Sweat-encrusted chamois 

Sweat-encrusted chamois 

 Negotiating the road traffic near Aba-Wa 

Negotiating the road traffic near Aba-Wa 

Darkness fell at around six o'clock, but well before then - even before we had time to finish our stove-cooked super noodles - we would be forced to seek refuge in our stifling tents. On one occasion this was because of a police tail we had picked up, who we suspected knew of our plans on breaking the law of no wild camping, but was usually on account of the swarms of mosquitoes that would descend upon us. Evenings became a daily nightmare, lying naked in one's tent for hours on end, trying to fan away the slimy coating of sweat and listening in fear for the fatal 'bzz, bzz, bzz' of a bloodsucking airborne intruder.

'You still awake Pete?' I would call across to Pete's adjacent tent after hours of solitary torture.

'Yep,' would come the immediate reply.

'I wish I was freezing my balls off in a blizzard on the Pamir plateau right now.'

'Mate, we'll be in Thailand soon. Just think; air con, nice food, cold beer. It's going to be...Oh shit, there's one in here.'

Bzz, bzz, bzz, bzz....

 Route through Bangladesh, the 'Seven Sister States' of NE India, and Myanmar, to Thai border. 

Route through Bangladesh, the 'Seven Sister States' of NE India, and Myanmar, to Thai border.