Interview: Round-the-world record holder Mike Hall talks round-the-world record kit
His Lycra is now baggy and even his feet got thinner, but nine chains later he's back home and talking to Mat Brett
Mike Hall arrived back in Greenwich on Monday, smashing the record for cycling round the world by a fortnight. We’ve now had the chance to catch up with Mike to reflect on his extraordinary achievement.
When we say ‘extraordinary’, check out a couple of quotes from Mike that illustrate just how astonishing this feat is.
“I got across Europe and onto Asia Minor without a puncture. Then I got my first one about 50 miles outside Ankara [the capital of Turkey]. I got one or two in India and then I didn’t get any more until Sydney. Then I got three in about half an hour and I stopped counting after that.”
He says it in a matter of fact way, as if he has spent a week touring in Scotland. He’s done 18,000 miles in three months. Unsupported.
Then there’s this… “I used Shimano R191 shoes. They worked well except I had to move the buckle because my feet got thinner.”
When was the last time your feet got thinner mid-ride? It’s just… nuts.
We really wanted to find out about the equipment that Mike used – that’s the focus of this article – but when you talk to a bloke who has just ridden around the world in record time, there are a few other questions that you just have to ask first, such as whether it was more of a physical or a mental challenge.
“At first there were quite a lot of aches and pains although not particularly tiredness; it was more tendons pulling and me having to stretch constantly and manage my saddle position,” says Mike. “I was constantly chasing these ailments around my legs. When I got to warmer countries that was less of a problem.
“Then later, as the ride went on, it was more mentally tough. I wasn’t feeling very well in Australia. I stayed with a friend in Melbourne and had half a day out there and got reset a little bit and was much better after that, but in America it was one long slog. By the time I got to Texas I was really losing my way a little bit and you end up with time just slipping through your fingers.”
It’s the scale of things that’s so hard to comprehend. For most people, five hours in the saddle constitutes a big ride. Riding around the world… it’s impossible to get your head around the idea.
“If you have a ride that’s 20 days, say, for two weeks you’ll be fired up and on it, and the next few days you can tough it out because you’re near the end,” says Mike. “But it was 32 days in America. You get two weeks in and you’ve lost that initial urgency. You can’t tough it out for another two weeks because it’s too long. You just sort of ride at a sustainable rate.
“The biggest thing I’d done beforehand was the Tour Divide [2,745 miles off-road across North America] and that was 19 days. You know you’re falling to bits but because the end’s coming it doesn’t matter. But when the end isn’t coming, you’ve got to keep yourself going.
“I had my comforts in America. I was staying in motels because they were cheap and you could find them pretty much everywhere. That helped because I was able to get better recovery, although it slowed me down in some instances because you find it harder to get out of bed in the morning.”
18,000 miles. That’s the thing. 18,000. Almost 200 miles a day for weeks on end. Obviously, Mike’s sick of the sight of bikes now and won’t be getting back in the saddle again any time soon. Um, not quite, actually…
“I didn’t ride the day after I finished because we were traveling back to Yorkshire, but I rode yesterday. I borrowed a time trial bike to do the local TT last night but it was rained off, unfortunately. I’m going on a mountain bike ride with some friends this afternoon and I’ll be mountain biking at the weekend. I’m looking forward to riding my bike for fun and not really worrying about it. I’ll go out today and ride around for as long as I feel like it and come home.”
There are so many questions to ask but we’ll limit ourselves to just one more before turning to the equipment: how does it feel to be home after such an epic ride, such a huge endeavour, such a massive achievement?
“Things have been pretty normal since I got back. The only weird feeling that I have is that I should be feeling different… and I’m not.”
A down to earth sort of a bloke, then. Let’s crack on with finding out about the kit he used.
The bike is built around a Dirty Disco carbon cyclocross frame from On-One, stablemates of Yorkshire’s own Planet X. Mike has used this on big rides in the past and decided to stick with it.
“Over the past few years I’ve become a proponent of carbon for longer rides,” says Mike. “I’ve found that I’ve cracked any metal bike over a long period of time. Steel, alu or titanium, I’ve cracked them all through long-term use. If you look at fatigue tests, carbon frames perform better. A bad carbon frame will fail, of course, but I’m a fan because it’s a more damped ride.
The wheels are made up of Reynolds’ carbon Thirty Two rims – the 32 referring to the rim depth in millimetres – specially drilled with 32 holes and laced onto DMR mountain bike hubs.
“I wanted a deep section wheel for a certain amount of aero advantage,” says Mike. “At one point I was looking at a hub gear and I was looking around for a carbon rim that would lace to a 32 spoke hub gear. In the end, after looking at efficiency, I decided to go with a derailleur gear.
“The wheels were great. They were a bit out of true when I got to Salt Lake City [Utah, USA] where I went and visited Reynolds. They had a look at the wheels and said that the nipples were corroded, so they replaced them along with the spokes and trued them up. I had hit some big holes along the way.
“I probably had five or six big pinch punctures and there were two or three where I cleaned the rims up to look for cracks. You’re on a fast road and you hit a square-edged hole at 30mph; that’s a bit worrying. But the rims were always fine.”
Mike used Michelin Krylion Carbon tyres most of the time, having sent several sets around the world before setting out. He picked them up en route.
“I used Krylions because I saw a review where somebody said they were the hardest wearing fast tyre. They are lightweight too. I carried a spare tyre all the way to Melbourne, then I left the spare because I didn’t need it… and then I needed it.
“The first set lasted all the way through to Ankara. I used some 28s, some Protek ones [Protek being Michelin’s tyres with a tough rubber compound and a reinforcement band under the tread to avoid punctures] in India.
“When I got to Australia I put a fresh set on. They have more abrasive roads in Australia so when I got to Sydney the back one was wearing through. If I’d swapped the front and back tyres over sooner [the back one invariably wears out faster] I’d have got through Australia on one set no problem.
“I got some Continental Gatorskins on at Mellow Johnny’s [bike shop in Austin, Texas, owned by Lance Armstrong] because I didn’t have a tyre drop in the middle of America.
“I used Lezyne stick-on patches for punctures, and they did well. They come with a little tyre boot that I used to hold a tyre together when a two inch piece of metal went into it in Louisiana.”
Mike used cable-operated disc brakes largely because fitting deep-section carbon rims was a priority.
“There are no decent deep section aluminium rims, really,” says Mike. “They’re heavy so I wanted to use carbon. Then, to avoid using the carbon as a braking surface, I needed to use disc brakes. I didn’t really want to use a crossover to hydraulic brakes because then you’ve got two systems that need maintenance and can potentially fail, so I decided to use Shimano cable disc brakes.
“They replaced my brake pads in Mellow Johnny’s because they said they were shot, but I asked them to put the old ones back in because I wanted to see how long they’d last. They lasted me all the way to Spain – so 16,000 miles on the same set of brake pads. Even then, I only changed the front ones and that was because I wanted to bed the new ones in before I got home.”
The rest of the groupset is Shimano Ultegra with a compact chainset.
“In the end I used two cassettes,” says Mike. “I replaced it in Auckland [New Zealand]. I did everything on the same set of chainrings.
How many chains do you reckon it would take to get you around the planet? In Mike’s case it was nine.
“That was more because of where they were,” says Mike, who had sent them out ahead of time to be picked up along the way. “I changed them when they didn’t quite need replacing.
“I was going to send the first replacement chain to Croatia but a friend told me that I’d have to pay a ridiculous amount of customs charges so I ended up taking that one with me in my frame bag. That was an extra 300g so I was keen to put it on as soon as possible. That took me through to Perth; then I had a new one in Melbourne…”
Selecting the right saddle has to be an important consideration when you’re going to ride around the world, but Mike’s didn’t go with his first choice and ended up dividing the ride between two well-used options.
“I wanted to go to with a Brooks but I never got one in the end. I had this Bontrager saddle on my training bike that I’d used all the way through training. I’d done loads of miles on it and it was going frayed around the edges but I started out with that one.
“I had a mate take some equipment out to Ankara for me, including a WTB Laser saddle. I ended up carrying it across India with me thinking that I shouldn’t change it because I was doing alright.
“Then I put the Laser on and it was a lot better. I’d already done two 24-hour races on it and the Tour Divide, and the rails were bent from a crash so it was twisted. I don’t know what it’s done for my hips but I was happy with it.”
Mike did a lot of nighttime riding on his round-the-world quest and relied on lights from Exposure, topping them up from mains electricity whenever the opportunity arose.
“I’d typically start riding at daybreak – any time between 4:30 and 6am – and occasionally in the dark,” says Mike. “I’d ride until about midnight. In New Zealand I rode all the way through the night. I promised myself I wouldn’t ride in the night in India although I ended up doing so on a couple of occasions.
“I took two Exposure Joysticks and a Diablo, and I had some Piggyback batteries for those that I could also use to extend the range on my Garmin. I could use the lights as chargers for the Garmin as well.
“I had enough range in the lights for five days, and enough for about three days on the Garmin. In some places I didn’t need the Garmin so I could switch it off for half a day or something.
"The back up for my Garmin was another Garmin that took AA batteries, the same as my SPOT tracker and my rear Cateye light, which is the best I've ever used for sealing and brightness - and I've used a few."
The cockpit components came from USE: a Summit carbon bar, Race stem and a Sumo seatpost.
“I used a set of aluminium aero bars to begin with but I had a crash in Albania and cracked them,” says Mike. “When I was in Australia, USE’s Australian distributor got me some little carbon stubby ones and they damped out vibration well.”
Mike took very little in the way of clothing, his objective being to travel as light as possible.
“I used one set of QuickEnergy kit [QuickEnergy being the energy supplement brand that backed Mike’s ride]. It’s on its last legs now. I used a padded short liner inside that from a pair of Altura baggy shorts that I used to have.
I had a set of arm warmers and leg warmers made from Repel with a waterproof coating, a Rab down gilet and a set of Rab Drillium waterproof trousers. When I got to Ankara I cut the legs off. And I had an RH+ jacket that was really good and just 190g, but I lost both the trousers and the jacket in California, so I bought this $35 jacket that’s now near its end.”
Selecting the right luggage was vital, Mike reasoning that a good set-up could both save weight and maintain good aerodynamics.
“My luggage was brilliant,” he says. “I spent quite a long time during my preparation trying to get people to work with me to design something. I wanted someone to make a double-ended dry-bag but it didn’t happen.
“In the end I bit the bullet and bought the Revelate Designs bags; they’re the proper job, really. I didn’t go with anything on the handlebars, but I went with a frame bag and a seat pack to align all the luggage with the rider silhouette so the frontal area wouldn’t be increased. I’d done the Tour Divide and seen how light you could get and saw an opportunity there to take the bike packing techniques and mentality from that to the road bike.
“The weight of everything was no more than 18kg (40lb).”
Mike camped out a lot and was delighted with the tent choice that he made.
“The tent was one of the best pieces of equipment I’ve ever used,” he says. “It was a Nemo Gogo Elite which is pretty much a bivvy bag with an inflatable hoop. It uses an air beam with an integrated pump.
“You blow into this bag and then squeeze the bag and it amplifies the pressure you can get, so you can blow it up in 20secs. It’s almost as light as a bivvy bag and you get fully enclosed to keep the rain and midges out.
"I took a Rab sleeping bag that had down on only one side to make it superlight and packable, the thinking being that you squash the down you are lying on anyway and you use a good air mat. I used Nemo's Zor mat."
Mike was happy with all of his equipment although he’d still make changes if he was to do a similar ride in the future.
“I’d like a less harsh fork and possibly a slightly different geometry,” he says. “There are more bikes available now that will take disc brakes so I’d have more choice.
“The On-One’s seat tube is a little too steep [for a round-the-world ride] which pitches you forward over the pedals. The pedals aren’t far enough in front to allow you to keep yourself back on the saddle. I tilted the saddle forward to get the nose out of the way when using the aerobars, so I was falling forward the whole time. That made my hands numb although it also kept the pressure off my rear end which was good for avoiding saddle sores.”
Five kilos lighter than when he set off and dressed in Lycra that’s now baggy, Mike is already thinking of his next adventure, which looks like being another crack at the Tour Divide.
“I want to go back next year,” he says. “I got injured last time. Experience counts for a lot on the Tour Divide. You learn a lot the first time and it seems a waste not to go back and use that experience. It’s the type of route that gets under your skin and into your blood.”
For more info on Mike’s round-the-world epic, go to the World Cycle Racing Grand Tour website. You can find out more about Mike via his website and contribute to Newborns Vietnam, a charity working in neonatal intensive care, on his JustGiving page.