We catch up with Josh as he recovers from a traumatic incident in America where he was hit by a car travelling at about 70mph. He has just a few weeks to get fit again and finish his round-the-world cycling challenge.
At what age did you start cycling?
I started cycling aged 23. I used to ride a bike when I was a wee boy aged three or four, but then I got into football when I was five and that took over my life for most of my childhood. I forgot about cycling until I was 23.
What inspired you to start cycling?
I started cycling because I was majorly depressed. I was looking for something to help me feel better and help me turn my life around. In 2015 I split up with my long term girlfriend, and this led to a very dark and depressing period of my life. It led to me attempting suicide in May 2015 by intentionally crashing my car at 70mph on the motorway near my home.
After surviving this attempt, I knew I had to do something different and try and turn my life around. I attended a talk in Edinburgh where Sir Chris Hoy was speaking. Sir Chris’ story really inspired me, and I decided I would get into cycling and try and cycle around the world. This was how it began.
What do you enjoy most about cycling?
There are a million things I love about cycling. But my favourite thing is going fast. I love speed and continually trying to go faster and faster and faster. I’ve not started racing yet, but once I finish cycling around the world, that’s where my future lies. I can’t wait to start racing and working towards winning on the biggest stage.
Aside from that, I also love growing and progressing as an athlete. I love the science behind cycling, and I love studying all of the data and analytics surrounding my training. More specifically, I love trying to improve, and I love trying to improve my numbers as much as I can. I love tracking all of the data and analysing it and trying to understand it all.
I’m very geeky with it all now. I love nothing more than finishing training and then spending hours poring over my spreadsheets and analytics to see where my numbers are at—how they compare with previous rides and previous periods of my cycling career.
Is there anything you don’t enjoy about cycling?
Being injured and being unable to ride as much as I’d like to. Which is my situation right now. But I have to just accept that is part of what I do and something I have to deal with.
Tell us about your favourite place to cycle?
The Scottish Highlands are pretty special for me. Scotland means a lot to me, and I’m madly passionate about where I come from. I very much feel Scotland within my heart and soul and riding around the Highlands has always been deeply special for me.
I did a big tour around Scotland in 2016, and when I arrived up North and cycled through the Highlands, I felt a profound connection to the land up there and could really feel that this was my country—and where I was from.
How important is cycling to you?
It’s everything. Cycling is my entire life. It’s my job, my career, my business, my hobby, my passion, my lifestyle, my identity, my mindset. Everything in my life revolves around cycling. It’s my sun, and everything else is like the planets that orbit it. Everything in my life is geared around how can I be a better athlete and cyclist. Cycling is the purpose of my life and the thing that I am very much dedicated to. Quite simply, it gives me purpose and a reason to wake up every day.
What’s the biggest cycling challenge you’ve faced?
The biggest challenge has definitely been my own mind. I’ve taken on some big challenges on the bike and have set myself some huge goals for my cycling career. Because of that, I have experienced a lot of fear and resistance at times. It’s something I’ve had to push through and conquer. I’ve started and stopped cycling many times, and it’s always been related to this. Sometimes in the past, it’s got the better of me, but I’ve gotten very good in the last year at just moving forward and not letting it defeat me.
What are two of the most common problems you have on your rides?
Mechanical problems are always the biggest. I’m not very good with my hands and not that great at fixing the bike. I’ve gotten better compared to when I started cycling. But it’s still a significant weakness for me. So having any sort of mechanical problems while on the road is always one of the toughest challenges. This is especially true in some of the countries I’ve been in where English isn’t spoken. You’re unable to communicate with anyone and explain the problem.
I’ve had some sketchy situations in some far-away places like China and Kazakhstan. I’ve had a few times where I’ve been stranded in the middle of nowhere and unable to fix the bike. In those moments, I’ve always been saved and rescued by kind-hearted people driving by.
Last year when I was in America, I got stranded in the desert in Arizona. The roads there are terrible, and I punctured four times in one day and eventually ran out of spare tubes. I’m counting down the days until I’m a pro and have a full support vehicle and mechanical assistance at all times!
What are the essentials you wouldn’t leave without?
My phone is the most essential thing out-with the bike itself. I do almost everything on my phone. Planning routes, checking the map, taking photographs, capturing video content, updating social media, writing my diary, recording my rides on Strava, finding accommodation, finding bike shops, communicating with my sponsors, my coach, my support team and logistics manager.
Almost everything for what I do is planned and managed using my phone. So I would always need that. Battery packs are always essential as well for making sure your phone is charged. I have just got a new bike but, which has been sponsored by Shand Cycles, and that new bike has a dynamo hub on the front wheel which can charge all of my electronics. So battery issues will be less of a problem for me now going forward and I’m excited to get back on the road and make the most of that as that will make a huge difference to day to day life on the road.
Beyond that, Elixinol’s CBD has also been a massive help to too. I’ve found CBD helps with my overall physical fitness and more specifically, my recovery. After doing 200 miles on the bike each day, recovery for the following day is one of the most important things. I always find that when I’m taking CBD, my recovery is generally better and faster than the times when I’ve not had it. Aside from the physical benefits, I find that CBD really helps me mentally, and I always feel a lot more relaxed and chilled out after taking it. I do have quite a busy mind, and I’m a guy who lives life pretty fast at the best of times, so I find that CBD just helps to bring me down a little bit and I feel more grounded after taking it.
Do you have a dream cycle route you’d like to complete?
My biggest dream is to win the Tour de France. That’s my next mission once I finish cycling around the world. Once that challenge is complete later this year, I’m going to start road racing, and my goal is to go pro and get signed by one of the big professional teams. Then I want to start working towards winning the Tour and becoming the first Scottish winner of the Tour De France. That’s the ultimate dream and goal for me over the next few years.
Do you listen to music when you’re cycling?
I don’t listen to any music. I don’t listen to anything when I’m cycling. No music or podcasts or audiobooks or anything like that. When I’m on the bike, I like to use that time to focus on cycling and keep my head clear, and I find that helps for my headspace.
What do you carry with you?
I travel ultralight now. On my last trip towards the end, I was incredibly minimal and didn’t even have any panniers or bags on the bike. When I first started, I used to have four panniers on the bike and a huge camping bag on the rack. But at the end of last year, I had no panniers, no camping equipment and all I had was three small saddle bags attached to the frame of the bike.
I wouldn’t carry any spare clothes with me. All I had was the clothes I was wearing: cycling shoes, socks, leggings, jersey and light windproof. I would carry some food in the back of my jersey—usually a couple of bags of Haribo to fuel every 60 minutes on the bike. Then every 45 minutes I would stop at a McDonalds for 20 minutes to have a big meal and then straight back on the bike. Aside from that, the only other things I had was some bike tools and spare tubes which went in a small bag underneath my seat. Then one other small bag with some chargers, my power banks and my passport and bank cards.
What kind of bike(s) do you ride?
Last year I rode about 15,000 miles on a Genesis Tour De Fer which I loved. But this bike was destroyed when I was hit by the car in America. I now have a new touring bike which was sponsored and given to me by Shand Cycles. This is the Stoater model but was custom built for me and has my custom graphics on it which include the name ‘Robert the Bruce II’ and also my motto ‘Keep Moving Forward’
Where do you sleep on longer journeys? Do you stay in hostels or hotels on your bike rides? Can you suggest any good ones?
I’ve stayed in almost every different type of accommodation over the years. But I’m fortunate now that I have a really big sponsorship budget from Elixinol. So for the majority of the last year on the road, I’ve been able to stay in hotels. I have done a lot of camping back in the early years, and wild camped all over Europe and Scandinavia.
I even camped in someone’s garden once in Norway without telling them because it was getting dark and I had nowhere to sleep. I knocked on the door to ask them if I could camp, but no one answered so I just pitched my tent in the garden and then left as early as I could. Sometimes on the road, you do what you have to do to survive and get through each day. I justified things like that to myself because I knew that one day there would come a time where I would be able to repay a favour like that to someone needing my help or somewhere to stay.
I’ve camped all over too. I’ve camped under bridges, on beaches, in abandoned buildings, on top of glaciers, at the edge of the world and at the highest point in Europe. But one of my favourite hostels is actually in Edinburgh, where I’ve lived the last few years.
One of the times I came home from travelling I actually lived in hostels in Edinburgh for a few months. I had the idea that if I lived in hostels in my city, it might feel like I was still travelling. My theory was proved right, and it really did. Not many people would ever consider living in a hostel in their own city. But in those three months, I saw and did more in Edinburgh than I had in the previous 25 years. I spent a lot of time with other travellers, so I got to see it through their eyes. I did a lot of things I’d never considered doing because it just where I lived. My favourite hostel in Edinburgh is called The Lighthouse. It’s a Christian Hostel, and it has a very close-knit community and feels like just living in someone’s home.
Did you train for this?
No. When I started cycling around the world at the beginning of 2019, it had been 14 months since I had been on a bike. I just started unfit and pedalled my way back to fitness. In the beginning, it was torture to try and do 50-70 miles each day, and I was barely above 12mph each day at the start. But by the end of the year, I was doing 200+ mile days average, and sometimes my average speed was 20+ mph.
Isn’t this really, really dangerous?
It depends on how you look at it. On one level, yes. That was demonstrated by the fact that I almost died last year when I got hit by a car in America. I was only a few days away from finishing cycling across the country when I was hit by a car in Texas. The vehicle was travelling at 70mph, and I was hit from behind and flew 50 feet through the air. I had a very long list of injuries which included a fractured skull, a traumatic brain injury, seven broken ribs, damaged artery in my neck, a punctured lung, fractured bone on my back, fractured shin, fractured ankle and a fractured heel bone.
I required multiple surges for these injuries and was in hospital and rehab in Texas for five weeks. I am still recovering from these injures now and still not able to cycle outside although I have been doing some cycling indoors on a turbo trainer. So when you consider that, I guess it is really dangerous.
But for me, the real danger would be to not do this because of the fear of something going wrong. I’m very happy to die while cycling, and if that’s how I go then, I am ok with that. The alternative would be far worse, and that is to live a life without taking any risks or chances and getting to the end of my life and being filled with regret that I never lived the life I wanted to. Because I’ve been injured for the last eight weeks, I know what it’s like to live the alternative. After this long in hospital and on the couch, I already know I couldn’t live this life, and I’m counting down the days until I can get back out there and start cycling again. I’ll never stop.
How do you cross oceans?
I usually take a boat across oceans, or sometimes planes. I cycled from Scotland all the way to Japan without taking any planes. I got a boat from England to France, Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan, China to South Korea, South Korea to Japan. Then I took my first flight from Japan to Australia. Then I also took a plane from Australia to America.
What do you do about visas?
Visas have been pretty easy for me actually. I didn’t need any visas for most of Europe. Any countries where I did most of the time, I would just get a stamp on arrival. For America and Australia, I just had to do an online form which was very simple for a Visa Waiver. The hardest visa was for China, which I had to get when I was in Georgia.
What if something breaks?
You need to find a way of fixing it. It depends on where you are really. Sometimes you can be in the middle of nowhere, and you’re stuck or stranded. Sometimes you can be somewhere where there are more shops. It just depends really.
What are the specific seasonal challenges?
I’ve ridden in every season and every type of weather. I change my mind all the time on whether I prefer being too hot or too cold. It depends on which one I’m currently feeling. In winter conditions it can be tough just to move forward, especially if it’s snowing or icy on the roads. The cold also affects your lungs, and you can’t ride as fast as you usually would. It also makes it a lot harder for accommodation if you are camping.
The coldest I’ve ever cycled in was -11, and that was in Finland. I lasted one night in the tent in those conditions before I took a train to Helsinki to fly to Paris, where it was a bit warmer. On the other side of that being too hot is also not ideal. Last year—when I was riding through the desert in Uzbekistan—it was over 45 degrees, and that was tough. Carrying enough water is one of the biggest challenges, especially in such a remote part of the world where there isn’t any civilisation. I’d probably say I prefer it to be a little bit colder than a little bit too hot. But both extremes are a challenge.