years-old, living on his bike, travelling the world and setting Guinness World Records. What were you doing at that age? We caught up with Rhys Lawrey having an admin break in Buenos Aires, with Uruguay and the start his Capital Cities Guinness World Record attempt a horizon away.
What were you doing in your early twenties? Fresh out of university and looking for that first proper job? Setting up in life with your first home, weekends down the DIY store and fitting out the spare room for the impending kid? Surely not. Stuck in a shelf-stacking job playing Saturday afternoon football and blowing all your money on Jaegerbombs in night clubs? Or scraping about in any, old job and blowing all your money on dirt bikes like we were?
How many of us were ready to jack it all in and set off around the world on a bike? How many of us would trot off down to the bank, ask for a loan or two for a round world trip? How many of us would get backing from a major motorcycle manufacturer and turn the whole damn thing into not one but two Guinness World record attempts?
Say hello to Rhys Lawrey, a 23-year-old doing just that. We say ‘just’ but as much as we all carry a bit of bravado around with us when the world truly is our oyster, this is very definitely taking things a little further than the norm.
As Brake Magazine caught up with Lawrey, 41,500 miles into his round world trip, he was about to embark on a world record attempt to visit the most consecutive capital cities on a motorcycle without returning to the point of origin (to give it the full Guinness World Records title). Clutching a ‘to do’ list half the length of his arm, Rhys talked us through how the idea grew, how he nearly threw in the towel on the whole attempt for a swanky job in Las Vegas, how his Triumph is meeting the challenge and life without a shower.
Where in the world are you now?
Buenos Aires for a few days off before the next leg of the trip begins, the ‘Capital City Guinness World Record’, except it isn’t really a rest time because there’s a whole bunch of backroom stuff to sort out. Loads of admin that people don’t see. So it’s just making sure it’s all going to happen and making sure everyone knows what’s going on.
How relentless has the trip been so far?
One continuous trip, London to London, with two world record attempts within it. Where I am now is the ending part of the first record and the start of the city to city one. It’s more of a challenge from here on because it’s just about records more than anything else. Before it’s been stopping at small towns, off the beaten track and looking around. More relaxed for sure.
The biggest thing really is the boredom, just pushing yourself to keep going
Was it a record that existed already then or did you create your own record to make your own challenge?
A combination of things really. I’ve always been keen on travelling and I’ve worked in hospitality, bar-tending mainly, so I’ve travelled that way and of course my old man, Kevin Sanders, runs Globebusters so I’ve always had all that going on. I’ve always had bikes, was using bikes to travel and commute about and sort of came up with the idea to travel further and ride.
I spoke to my old man a bit about it and went from London to Bangkok on the Globebuster trip and then I thought well, why not go around the world. One thing led to another really, like a snowball effect. One idea, led to two world records, then the charity came on board (The Prince’s Trust), then Triumph and now I’m doing it.
Are records the driving force then or is it the buzz to travelling?
A lot of my passion comes from the traveller side, seeing the world and I’m quite a free spirit and that sort of drives me. But also that thing of inspiring people for tomorrow, not just to do with biking but, you know, I know people who go travelling when they’re at university and they’re doing it because their girlfriend’s doing it and I want to help people push to do things because they want to do it. To live life.
As an example I had a job offer a couple of months in when I was planning the trip at the point where it was all becoming possible. The funds and everything else was coming together, and I had this job offer to go work in Las Vegas. A full-time job, salary and all that to go run a bar in Vegas and in that kinda world that’s like the best you could hope for. A real good job and a lot of people would have taken that but I took a few weeks and said to myself ‘na, I’m doing the trip’. I’ll sacrifice the safe option to do the exciting thing. And that was the turning point really.
How are you financing it all?
It’s a combination of my own savings, sponsorship and that good old thing like everyone else, my credit cards! I was working on a good enough salary so I got a white board and started writing it all up and working out what I could do. I mean it brings with it a bit of debt, I went to three banks to get a loan but you know students go to university and rack-up a student loan so I see it in the same way. I have my whole life to pay it off but the adventure is now
I covered pretty much everything from river crossings, sticky mud, slushy mud, gale force winds riding sideways
Has it been easy travelling? What are the biggest problem areas you’ve faced so far?
To be honest I think I’ve had it easier than some people who travel the world. Touch wood, I haven’t had any problems with the bike – about 30,000 miles in and I finally got a road side issue which I had to fix, in Argentina. But it was just a valve problem. So I just changed a tube and away I went. I’ve had a couple of spills on the way in mud or slush but nothing serious, just silly things where I’ve lost my foot or something like that.
In Central Asia, because they have a very Russian mentality, I had some military dealings and document issues where I had to wait in ‘no-man’s land’ for six hours just to get into the border compound. In Turkmenistan the border crossing took overnight. I arrived in the evening and didn’t get out till eight in the morning after a lot of bureaucracy, form filling and sleeping on chairs.
Some things help inspire you forward too. I was part of a group of people to get into Thailand because it was easier to get in there that way, they had contacts to get in with a foreign vehicle. Some bikers don’t connect so well with other travellers but you know there’s a much bigger world out there.
So mental strength is more of a riding issue than any other?
I suppose that’s been the biggest thing, the mentality of the whole thing you know. I’m 22, 23 doing the whole thing and it’s a learning curve.
You’ve got to deal with those things. Those days are actually the best days, the times when you go ‘wow! I got through by the skin of my teeth!’ Especially in places like China where you are so vulnerable as a rider too, it makes you alert all the time and it sort of makes you feel alive as you’re working against the odds. Because you can almost die 100 times day, because of the way they drive over there, you’ve got to think about everything. The tuc-tucs, a billion 125s going in every direction, everything is in your face all the time, there are billions of people there you know!
I’ve pretty much ticked off every kind of riding really, everything from motorway to trail. I don’t go off-road proper as you might think, unless there’s something amazing to see. From here on it’s going to be capital cities and main roads all the way so not as exciting.
But it’s been pretty much everything along the way from snow to picking my way through massive road works in China where they were digging up the road. River crossings, sticky mud, slushy mud, gale force winds riding sideways, a main river which was really swollen and the whole road was slushy mud pulling the front wheel. I hit floods in Peru just recently because I arrived in rainy season, I got to Arequipa and the whole city was flooded. You sort of tick everything off when you’re doing something like this because you are so exposed.
Has any of it been boring or miserable riding in the rain and cold, or have you enjoyed all the riding no matter what?
I’m not going to lie there have been days when I have been like, ‘let’s just get in!’ I’ve hit places just at the wrong time when I should have looked at the weather report and a massive storms been blowing over. Those are the worst times really when I’m just sitting there while cars are stuck and being towed out and it’s just pissing down and miserable. Those are the times when you’re just thinking, ‘what am I doing here!’ So I’ve had a couple of moments like that when it’s been freezing cold, pissing wet and I just want to get in, get warm and find a fire.
In South, East Asia I had to change my undies every day
Have you camped out a bit or has it all been hotels?
A mixture really. Some days when it was freezing cold I splashed out on a guest house to get warm but sometimes you go three, four nights without a shower and camp. Sometimes you hope that bad smell when you get to a place isn’t you!
Slightly dull question but presumably the security issue is something you have to think about, particularly when move into the second leg of your journey and have to park up at night in big cities?
Yeah, it’s true, the amount of times I’ve spent hours riding up and down trying to find a place that’s safe to camp, park or whatever. Especially in cities. I’ve spent something like two hours riding up and down to find the right place to stay.
From some of your video blogs you’re clearly a fan of your Triumph 800 XC – you’re clearly getting on well with it?
Putting the fact aside that I’m a brand ambassador for Triumph now, it is an amazing bike. It’s gone past 40,000 miles now and every single time it turns over, every service it’s gone through fine and I’ve actually been blown away a bit by it. I have a pannier which is full of spare parts and I haven’t even touched it. I’m not a mechanic but I learnt stuff about the bike before I left because I expected to be a bit busier with that. I had a couple of bolts in the suspension come loose but that’s just use from the rough terrain I had in Asia and the continuous use day-by-day. I’ve had a few people say, ‘jeez, have you really done that many miles on this?’
What have you spent any amount of time riding before this?
I’ve always hankered after the Triumph a bit because, you know, it’s the cool one I think, lots of celebrities have them, the Scrambler and all that. I always worked with BMW there too and I grew up owning my own BMW. I’ve owned lots of different bikes, a Suzuki, I owned a Honda Hornet to commute. I took the F 800 GS out before the trip to compare it to the XC and I just knew instantly two miles down the road [the Triumph] was the one. I don’t know really what it was, maybe it’s the three cylinder engine. It just felt really cool, this is what I need for the mission. It’s something different and that’s why I like it.
There must be things you’re finding a problem with, what would you change about it?
Yeah a little bit but you get used to things. There are several things I mean the fan and the heat, because the engine and gearbox are so high the heat just comes at you and at times in some countries that’s just too much.
Maybe the suspension is something I’d change but the hand position I find about right, a lot of people change it but I find it ok.
But no major mechanical work in all those miles?
I’m kind of amazed to say I haven’t had to do too much work: a couple of minor things here, a couple of tyre changes there, that valve issue but like I said nothing really. We did the minor services at dealerships, it’s actually quite surprising how international Triumph is around the world so it’s booked in at a dealership in Cape Town for a service when I get to South Africa. I’ve had a couple of dealerships contact me and say can you come over on the way, through central Asia there are whole bunch of dealerships that wanted me to visit.
What’s the handiest tool on the trip?
Good question as I haven’t had to do too much work! The tyre levers maybe. My short tyre levers. They aren’t the easiest thing in the world to change a tyre with but they’ve been the handiest thing I’ve carried. But I’ve not even had a puncture you know so life’s been easy.
They do stink like hell and they’ll kill bats.
And what about your riding kit?
Yeah, I’ve done over 41,000 miles in this kit and I’ve been living in it since I left home basically a year ago. The Sidi boots (Crossfire 2) are performing really well, they are the same as when I left, no replacement straps, sole or anything, really good for the job. They do stink like hell and they’ll kill bats now. If I camp outside for a night I leave them outside to scare the animals away.
I’ve been using the Shoei Hornet helmet, which does need a new visor by now because it’s got a bit scratched over the miles but it’s still going strong.
The Triumph ‘Traveller’ kit is going well too. The jeans are perhaps the one thing I’d change. Going to tropical places like in South, East Asia I had to change my undies every day just because there’s no ventilation. In a lot of the pictures you might see I’ve got my trouser legs rolled up and that’s because I need ventilation to the knees.
Time will go quick for the last leg of the journey before you arrive back in London in July?
Yep, I go to Uruguay and Montevideo tomorrow, polish off a few things before setting off and from there on it’s just bang, bang, bang. My longest day is Cape Town to Bloemfontein, which is 600-odd miles so that’s as tough as it will get. I think I will average about 350 miles a day.
The biggest thing really is the boredom, just pushing yourself to keep going. That and the traffic. I think I mis-placed that kind of idea a bit travelling round more remote parts of the world. I got a bit of wake-up call coming into Buenos Aires here where it took me two hours to get in. That’s the thing about the Guinness World Record I’ve got to get into the city to a government building each time so in a place like Paris that can take a while.
Good luck man, we’ll catch up back in London!
To follow Rhys’ progress or find out more visit www.2mororider.com