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How to cycle around the world on a tandem and break the record

How to cycle around the world on a tandem and break the record

Emma Cole

20 Dec 2022

Cyclist talks to the UK couple that smashed the world record for circumnavigating the globe on a tandem

Stevie Massey and Laura Massey-Pugh have ridden around the world on a tandem in 180 days, beating the existing record by 83 days.

Circumnavigating the globe on a bicycle is no easy challenge.

The fastest man to ride around the world, Mark Beaumont, completed the feat in 78 days and was heavily supported, while the fastest woman Jenny Graham did it in 124 days unsupported.

Add in a steel tandem and things get slightly more complicated – and impressive.

The pair, who are from Derby, set off on 5th June from Berlin and returned on 1st December. For their efforts, the couple raised over £10,000 for three charities – Vetlife, Sustrans and Mind.

The minimum distance that qualifies as ‘riding around the world’ is 18,000 miles and Stevie and Laura completed this challenge unsupported.

Why ride around the world on a tandem?

Inspired by the female tandem record set by Rachael Marsden and Catherine Dixon in March 2020, Laura and Stevie set about planning their own trip.

It took about 18 months of planning overall, from poring over previous routes and working out the quickest, most efficient and safest way, to the hours of training, and trialling out kit.

‘You put everything into this one trip, no matter what the outcome sort of thing. You’re literally going, “well, that’s all your life savings… and more”. It’s quite a big decision,’ says Stevie.

‘This was our Everest,’ adds Laura.

How do you train for such a big challenge?

Training for such a mammoth challenge might seem daunting to some, but the pair are avid cyclists and Stevie is a seasoned ultra-cyclist and long-term member of the Audax UK long distance cycling club.

‘We knew we needed to be sustainable with our output so we made sure we had done enough daily and weekly riding so as to not get any repetitive strain injuries,’ explains Stevie.

‘Even so, I did have problems riding in sandals, which we needed to do for the heat. We’d never had the spring weather to really trial out SPD sandals so I picked up a bit of a left knee niggle which was down to getting used to the different footwear. So that was almost a mistake but I got over that with elevation and a bit of ice.’

Testing out kit was a key part of the preparation and as part of this the pair did a ride around Wales.

‘It was an eight-day circumnavigation,’ says Laura. ‘Fitness was a massive part of that but also trialling out all our kit and working out how we were going to manage each day.’

What were the major challenges?

With such a big trip comes inevitable tests, but even more so when a tandem is not as manoeuvrable as a normal bike.

‘Southeast Asia was a bit Kamikaze to say the least, with the use of motorbikes as a main form of transport for nearly everyone,’ says Stevie. ‘It seemed to be lawless and it was very, very difficult for a tandem as you can’t manoeuvre quickly so you’re not as agile as a solo bike.

‘That was when we had our one and only horrendous accident. A motorbike drove into the back of us and sent us flying. The panniers on the righthand side acted as airbags as they were sheared off. We were airborne for a few seconds and luckily had a soft landing.

‘But Laura was injured, crushing injuries on her ribs from the back of the bars and my back. I was relatively unscathed.’

‘We had a day off assessing the damage to the bike but the problem was we were on such a tight schedule,’ adds Laura.

‘I had a day off, and then took pain relief, and then I had probably three or four weeks with very sore ribs.’

Animals also played their part – fending off packs of dogs is a well-known issue amongst ultra-cyclists in Europe but luckily the pair had a secret weapon.

‘Laura was very good at sounding scarier than the dogs,’ says Stevie.

‘For a while we were carrying a stale baguette in my middle back pocket ready for Laura to launch at them.’

‘We were very aware of the bears, particularly in the Rockies, so we were careful not to camp,’ adds Laura.

‘In India we got warned about riding at night because of the elephants on a certain stretch of road, as they had already caused chaos and stopped a bus.’

What about the challenges of riding as a couple?

‘We had a set routine and set roles so we always knew what the other one was doing. And because we knew if both of us didn’t get through, there would be no record. So it was unless we supported each other and made sure the other one got through, the whole thing can be a failure,’ says Laura.

‘We’ve been together coming up to eight years, so you don’t get sick of the sight of each other you just get sick of what you’re doing.

‘We had very separate jobs, for instance I was in charge of looking after the bicycle and Laura would be doing the blogging and social media.’

Would they ever do it again? ‘No’ (said in unison).

The record is still awaiting official verification.

The record-breaking tandem spec

‘We chose a custom-built tandem with a chromoly steel frame which is a lot better for comfort and also repairability if we had a knock,’ explains Stevie.

‘We also needed special couplings so that the bicycle could split into two, which meant we could box it as two solos for the for the multiple flights. We would rebuild the bike at the other end. The disc brakes were very important, the rotors were extra large and wide, and the most powerful brakes we used so they really did stop a heavily laden expedition tandem.

‘Wheelsets have come on so much for tandems, we had amazingly strong wheels and we only broke one spoke which I think is pretty impressive.’

  • Tandem: Co-Motion Java – Co-Pilot (1 set of couplings)
  • Brakes: Hope RX4 hydraulic calipers, E-Hope 203mm rotors and Hope sintered pads
  • Wheels: 32-hole rims on Hope Pro4 Hubs with DT 2.3mm stainless spokes, DT Prolock nipples, Hope Freehub (lasted 17,000 miles)
  • Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 700 × 50 with Schwalbe Aerothan inner tubes.
  • Transmission: KMC chains and Shimano XT 11-42 cassettes, Hope Stainless bottom brackets, Shimano GRX 810 levers and derailleurs, 50/34 drive cranks, Gates Carbon timing belt
  • Saddles: Brooks B17 carved (standard and short/ladies)

All images credit: Stevie Massey and Laura Massey-Pugh 

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