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The Dangers of Riding a Bicycle Around the World

Search “distance bicycle” on the website for “Officially Amazing Guinness World Records” and you will retrieve over 800 results leading to the conclusion that in terms of riding a bike a certain distance in a certain time frame there are simply no more types of categories possible—simply no more heroic challenges.

This also means lots of records to challenge, one of which Juan Francisco Guillermo, 47, a Chilean cyclist was well on his way to besting when he was killed on a highway near Korat, Thailand about 140 miles northeast of Bangkok on Saturday, February 21st, 2015.  Media reports say that “a speeding pickup truck driven by Tiwarat Ratchaipidet, aged 64, scraped [Mr. Guillermo’s] bicycle on the roadside.”  Mr. Guillermo’s wife was on another bicycle with their two-year-old son and while she suffered a slight sprain in the accident, Mr. Guillermo was thrown from his bicycle and died at the scene.

Published reports say the truck driver, who was unhurt, has been charged with “careless driving resulting in death and injury.”  Having started in November 2010, Mr. Guillermo was attempting to set a Guinness record by cycling 250,000 km (155,350 miles) over five continents in five years, thus scheduled to end in November 2015.  One report detailed his undertaking and the end result by noting that while he “overcame 795 flats, 328 tubes and 120,000 km, …[he] could not overcome a bad driver.”

Despite the lofty stature of many a Guinness record, the ‘fun factor’ endures.  Record challengers are, after all, motivated self-starters with an eye on their own glorious place in the sun.  In photographs, Mr. Guillermo, a T-shirted and helmeted young man with an open face is broadly smiling.  Media reports of his death also refer to the crash in 2013 on a Thai highway east of Bangkok that killed a British couple—Peter Root and Mary Thompson, both 34—engaged in their round-the-world cycling odyssey chronicled on their website, http://www.twoonfourwheels.com/ and in engaging video blogs.

Before arriving in Thailand, the British couple had cycled through Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and China.  Reports say that Worapong Sangkhawat, the 25-year-old truck driver who hit them was seriously injured and told police he lost control as he reached down to pick up a cap from the vehicle’s floor.

Although it may seem like another extravagance of the present time, long distance bicycle touring has a long history starting back in the early 19th Century when bicycles at first were ‘hobby-horses’ pushed by the feet rather than pedaled.  As bicycle technology advanced, so did the journeys undertaken.

In April 1884, for example, Thomas Stevens, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, equipped, in addition to his bicyclist clothing, with only a money belt, a revolver, two spare shirts, and a rain cape, set off around the world riding a 50-inch (wheel diameter) Columbia bicycle.  The articles he wrote about his two-year journey became a two-volume 1,021-page book.  In those days the reliability of the machine and the rigors of country life were the challenges.  Today, even in rural areas, sharing the road with cars and trucks is the riskiest part of the endeavour.

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