Q & A With Markus Stitz - Round the World cyclist
Between September 2015 and August 2016 Markus Stitz took on a huge personal challenge pedaling 34,097 kilometers, through 26 countries on a round the world cycle and did it all on a single speed bike! Markus now lives in Edinburgh where he still rides his bike everywhere and can often be found trialing new routes and bike packing adventures for Bikepacking Scotland.
Q. You took on a massive adventure! What made you want to cycle around the world?
I started thinking about the trip in 2009, when I left New Zealand for Scotland to live in Edinburgh. First I was planning on cycling back to New Zealand but the more I thought about the trip, the more I got hooked on the idea of cycling around the world instead, as New Zealand is half way anyway!
Q. How did you prepare for this massive adventure?
My main preparation was commuting from Stirling to Edinburgh for over four years. I wouldn’t consider myself an athlete, I cycle because I love cycling and it lets me get away with eating carrot cake and drinking coffee. My main preparation was getting the right kit for the trip, I didn’t spend much time thinking about the route at all. It turned out that the approach I took was the right one. We often over plan things. That is one lesson I learned very quickly.
Q. Can you tell us about the bike you took and why you opted for single speed?
I cycled on a Surly Ogre, possibly one of the most versatile mountain bike frames available, as it has all the mountings you can dream of. I started cycling single speed bikes in 2010 and thought cycling the world on a single speed bike would be a great idea - so I did it! The reason I opted for one gear only was the simplicity and the challenge in equal measures.
Q. What gear ratio did you go for?
I settled for a 32/18 gear ratio, which is pretty standard on single speed mountain bikes.
Q. What were the highlights of touring the world? Were there any stretches of landscape that blew your mind?
Many of them, but two that stood out were the Nullarbor Plain in Australia and the mountains of Iran. Not just because they are so mind-blowingly beautiful but also because the hospitality I experienced was fantastic.
Q. What about low points? I guess it’s pretty lonely by yourself day in day out?
It’s hard to spend a year without low points, let alone being by yourself most of the time, riding in the same gear day in day out. The biggest blow was losing my dad during the trip, who unfortunately had a bike crash and died due to his head injuries. I am very glad I broke the trip in the US and travelled home to assist him and my family going through this, but getting back in the saddle afterwards was tough.
Q. Cycling through Iran must be pretty full on?
Not at all, it is the most fascinating country I cycled in the year. It’s stunningly beautiful and the people were amongst the most welcoming I encountered on the journey. The country is very different from what we get repeatedly told in the news.
Q. The longest cycle that I’ve done was from London to Paris and we did get lost quite a few times! How did you navigate your way around the world? Did you get lost?
I got lost quite a few times indeed. I used a GPS for navigation, and Google Maps, where possible, to get a rough idea where to go. In New Zealand I followed a pre-planned route, the Tour Aotearoa, but mostly I took on local advice and made up my route day by day.
What’s your favourite cycling memory of the trip?
Cycling the Tour Aotearoa in general. But most outstanding was cycling in Iceland on a cold night, and all of the sudden seeing the Northern Lights. That was simply magic.
Q. Tell us about the kit you took to wear? At Meander we’re not big lovers of lycra one-piece and padded shorts but are they an essential part of the kit when you’re riding round the world?
Carrying so little to survive over a year didn’t leave space for anything other than technical kit, so lycra isn’t avoidable. I used Tineli kit as my core cycling kit, which is designed by an ex 24hr world champion, sometimes I had to cycle a week in bibs without an ability to wash them. In very cold conditions, I cycled in minus ten at times, super warm gloves and boots were essential. I also always wore knee warmers and gloves, for some protection. And of course a good waterproof was an essential piece of kit.
Q. Were there any scary moments when you wanted to chuck your bike and pack it all in?
I sometimes got uncomfortable. I had one scary moment when I was camping wild in Turkey, and the Military Police discovered me. It ended in getting a chocolate bar as a gift, so not being scary at all. A journey like this is a great way to face our own fears and prejudices and throw them out, that’s what I did.
Massive thank you Markus for this completely inspiring Q&A. You can read more about Markus's adventure on his website markusstitz.com and find some excellent info on bikepacking in Scotland at bikepackingscotland.com