In June 2018 Inverness-based 37-year-old adventure cyclist and mother of one Jenny Graham will attempt one of the greatest challenges possible — setting a new women’s record for cycling round the world.
Back in January we spoke to Jenny Graham, who had completed an incredible four-day Land’s End to John o’ Groats ride over New Year with Emily Chappell and Huw Oliver. Now we can reveal that that challenge was actually just a test ride for something even more awesome: this June, Jenny will be setting off on an attempt to take the women’s record for cycling round the world. Coffee Stop’s Matt Lamy spoke to Jenny to find out more.
“I can’t believe it’s coming round so quickly!” Jenny Graham laughs. “My friend said to me the other day, ‘It’s only three and half months until you set off.’ And I realised, oh yeah, it is! It’s not long at all.”
For 37-year-old adventure cyclist and mother of one Jenny, this is a challenge that’s actually been years in the making, even if she didn’t necessarily know that her increasing passion for cycling would culminate in a round-the-world attempt.
“My son was getting to the age where I was having more and more time that I didn’t have to be home — I was having a little more freedom — and then I was going through quite an obsessive stage about bikepacking and exploring, and looking at how far I could ride each day. I’ve been pushing myself and my cycling quite a lot in the last few years,” Jenny says.
“Then, a year ago, I got a place on the Adventure Syndicate training camp. We worked with a coach called John Hampshire. I’d never worked with a coach before and I don’t think I would have ever thought about hiring a coach because — even though I’ve always wanted to be really good at cycling — I’d always felt that it was just a hobby. But working with John for a week, I could tell him everything I was planning and what I wanted to achieve with my cycling, and it all came out really well.
“When I got back to Scotland from the Adventure Syndicate camp, John emailed me to say he’d love to work with me for a year for free, as an experiment to see what I could do. There was no pressure on me, but from that minute last January I felt I had to do something special with this opportunity to have a coach — to me it felt like such an incredible opportunity and if I didn’t make the most of it, I would have kicked myself. So from that moment onwards, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about riding the world, but that’s when I started thinking big and doing something that would push me mentally and physically,” Jenny says.
Riding by her own rules
And there’s certainly no bigger or more demanding cycling challenge than riding round the world. Jenny will set off from Berlin on June 16 and head eastwards, through Eastern Europe, Russia and then onto Asia, before cycling across Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, Canada and finally back to Europe.
Guinness World Record rules dictate than round-the-world cyclists must ride continuously east to west or west to east, with only a small variation allowed. They have to ride for 18,000 miles in total and, with connecting flights included, they have to travel the actual distance of the Earth’s circumference, which is 24,900 miles. They also have to pass through two antipodes — two points on Earth that are diametrically opposite. The Guinness Book of Records doesn’t distinguish between supported and unsupported cyclists, but for Jenny’s own satisfaction, she’ll be riding unsupported. That means, even if people come out to join her on the road at times, she will always be riding at the front or beside them, and she won’t be accepting any assistance. It also means Jenny has to organise where she sleeps.
“Sleeping arrangements will be the area I play with most, depending on what sponsors come on board and what budget I have to play with,” Jenny says.
“Ideally, I’ll sleep out two nights and the get accommodation on the third night. In reality, it won’t happen like that, but if I can budget to sleep one night in accommodation out of every three, that will give me a chance to recharge, to wash, and get a better sleep so I’m stronger for the following day. There will be bits of the world where that won’t happen and I won’t be able to find accommodation. But the areas where I think I will be most often staying in accommodation will probably be New Zealand, which will be in the dead of winter when I get there, and Australia as well. Other places, such as in Asia, it’ll be warm and I’ll only stop to catch up with washing, more than anything.
“Otherwise, I’m going to be sleeping in a little single-hooped bivvy bag. In terms of other kit, I’m getting a Shand Stooshie that’s being built for me right now, which is exciting. I’ll be using Apidura kit, such as frame bags, and I’ll also be sponsored by Endura clothing.”
A new record — pure and simple
“I have a goal of 110 days in mind to complete the entire round-the-world challenge,” Jenny says. “That will be 100 days riding, cycling for 15 to 16 hours a day, covering 180 miles a day. It sounds simple, ride at 20kph for 180 miles a day — that’s my dream — but it won’t be easy. I’ve planned to take about four days to travel between continents, then I’m giving myself six days to play with in case of delays or problems. Even with those six days, it’s a very tight schedule.”
If Jenny succeeds, though, it’ll offer a welcome clarification and resetting of the women’s round-the-world cycling record, which has had something of a confused history so far.
“The current record is 144 days but it’s all a bit controversial,” Jenny says. “Juliana Buhring did an amazing ride in 2012; she was the first woman to race round the world by bike. She wasn’t even a cyclist when she planned to do it, she just trained for eight months then went off and did it. When she set out on that ride the Guinness Book of Records wasn’t including travel time, it was just including your cycling days and you could spend as long as you wanted traveling in between. So Juliana cycled round the world in 144 days but with her travel time added on top of it, that took her to 152 days.
“Then another equally amazing lady, Paolo Gianotti did it in 2014. Paola was fully supported but broke her back in a road accident mid-ride and had to take three months off in America whilst she recovered. It was amazing that she could continue, but the Guinness Book of Records stopped the clock for her and restarted it, and she has the official women’s round the world record at 144 days. With that big gap in the middle, it makes her record a little bit controversial. But however you look at it, 144 days is the time to beat.”
So why attempt to do the ride in a staggering 110 days, which wouldn’t just blitz the female record but put Jenny among the fastest circumnavigations-by-bike — and especially the fastest unsupported circumnavigations-by-bike — in history?
“When I looked at the previous records especially Juliana’s – when she set off she was not planning for the clock to run continually so I figured that she would have taken time to rest in these transitions so perhaps,, time could be saved there. Also, both Juliana and Paola rides went through countries that weren’t known for good road surfaces so a change in route could slice time off. But mostly I looked at their daily averages and from the comfort of my couch thought ‘I reckon I could do a bit more than that’ – haha – time will tell if that’s true.
Mike Hall had an unbelievable ride in 2012 with an unsupported riding time of 98days and over all time of 107.
Despite all the preparation, planning, and the genuine unknowing that occurs before a challenge such as this, Jenny is looking forward to a few things.
“I think I’m most excited about being a couple of weeks in and all the stresses of planning and doubt have gone because I’ll be on the way, I’ve found my routine, and I’ve hopefully found my mojo. Going into Asia is going to completely blow my mind. I’ve never been to Asia before, I don’t know what the food is going to be like; I don’t know much about the people, or the roads, or the language. But that will hopefully be the bit where I’ll be getting into a bit of a flow, so I should be feeling pretty good on the bike and happy with my equipment,” Jenny says.
“As much as I’m excited about Asia, that’s also the bit of the ride that I have some worries about. I have a real fear of snakes — I’m not really scared that that might kill me but I’m scared of getting wrapped up in them, or one ending up in my sleeping bag! Because I’m planning to be sleeping out so much, I’ll be setting up in the dark, and leaving in the dark, and not being able to check my surroundings in daylight with snakes around, that worries me. Mind you, there are also bears in Alaska!
“I’m used to mountain biking in remote mountainous environments where your in real wilderness, but for this ride I’ll be on the road. Even Australia, which is a big, barren place, there’s still not more than about 100 miles where there’s not a roadhouse. If you look at the Nullarbor Plain, it’s pretty empty, but you still don’t have to carry more a day’s food with you. So there is definitely a lot to think about and plan and get ready for, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Needless to say, we will be following Jenny’s record attempt on the Coffee Stop and via our social channels so stay tuned..
BEST OF LUCK JENNY!