Middle Kingdom Ride

Canadian brothers Colin and Ryan Pile were eating sandwiches in New York’s Central Park earlier this year when they had an idea – circumnavigate China, by motorcycle.


Word: Ryan Pyle. Photos: Chad Ingraham
, except title shot (by Mark Aitcheson)


by Editor ‘Arris.

Canadian brothers Colin and Ryan Pyle were eating sandwiches in New York’s Central Park earlier this year when they had an idea – circumnavigate China, by motorcycle.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Both brothers had ridden bikes for years (Colin an R1200R and Ryan an F800GS) and both were looking for a good excuse to hit the road together for the first time since they were kids.

While Colin’s experience of China was limited to Toronto’s Chinatown, Ryan had been living there for the last decade, building a career as a documentary photographer. He’d also circumnavigated the country once before – in 2001, only that time he’d done it by bus, train and truck.


Colin Pyle (left) and brother Ryan (right) just before the start of their adventure.

This gave him the know-how to not only get all the required permits and documentation to explore what is normally a restricted country, but to also get everything he needed to make it happen.

Everything quickly began to fall together. The route was set, a couple of BMW F800GSs secured through BMW China and a film crew assembled to document the whole event – a Long Way Round, only limited to China.

But they both lacked the necessary experience of riding off road and so at the end of July they found themselves stumbling, dropping, and crashing their way through a grueling two-day training session at BMW’s Enduro Training Center in Hechlingen, Germany.

Thankfully it taught them what they needed to know and just two weeks after that they hit the road, accompanied by a support truck, cameraman and plethora of spare parts.


A burnt out clutch and a flat tire. Passing truck saves the day in Tibet.

The trip wasn’t without its problems. Ryan managed to burn out his clutch in remotest Tibet, causing an unwelcome delay while they waited for the parts to be shipped in, only to have all 200 of the local villagers come out and watch his every move as he put the bike back together.

Then there was a refusal by the Chinese authorities to allow them to ride through eastern Tibet due to “disturbances” In the region (they had to truck the bikes and fly themselves across), as well as frequent stops by the police.

In the end the trip was more of an odyssey than a vacation, but they rolled safely into Shanghai on October 17th, 65 days, 17,674 xdkm and a whole load of Chicken Foot stir fry later.

But enough on the build up, here’s a summary of three of the more interesting moments from their Journey by Ryan Pyle …



by Ryan Pyle


Glacier fed lake in Tibet.


Our journey north from our starting point of Shanghai through crowded Eastern China was challenging in many respects. The worst being that we had 35+C heat for the first three days of riding which is never fun when stuck in traffic wearing full protective gear, plus the fact that motorcycles are not allowed on the expressways, forcing us to meander slowly out of the sprawl that is modern Shanghai.


Quench your thirst with a nice cuppa (apparently this guy is something to see at the urinal, too).

It got so hot that Colin and I were praying for rain, but we should have been more careful about what we wished for because when the sky finally opened up it didn’t just rain, it poured for five straight days on us.

The rain got so intense that several rivers in northeastern China breached their banks. The main one in the area is the Yalu, famous for making up much of the border between China and North Korea, and well known for its ability to flood and wreak havoc on villagers.

It was through this landscape, the worst flooding in that region for the last five years, that our MKRIDE team took to the streets and the back mountain roads and tried to navigate through a natural disaster that required as many as 50,000 people to be temporarily evacuated.


They prayed for rain and got a landslide …

The rivers were fast, powerful and dangerously flooded, the water in many cases had seeped over on to the roads and entire villages were engulfed. And so we tried to stay on the high ground and avoid landslides and other potential disasters.

I can honestly say that I’ve never been more wet and miserable in my life, but I couldn’t feel too bad about my own condition as I saw houses in small villages getting flooded, and local farmers lose their crops.

After seeing how the rain was devastating the local communities, doing a few hours on a bike in some cold rain was not the end of the world, and it wasn’t; we survived and were able to keep our spirits high, but what a way to start a journey.


everest.jpgEverest! It doesn’t actually look that tall, until you realize that here is already at 5,200 meters above sea level!

Colin and I have spent a long time talking about this day, and we’ve both agreed that it was our most exciting and challenging day of the trip, as well as our most memorable.


The road to Everest was somewhat bleak and quite a challenge unto itself.

The day in question was when we rode from a small farmhouse near Tingri to Mount Everest Base Camp which took us about nine hours of riding to cover a mere 70 km – very much a microcosm for our entire trip.

It was some of the most challenging off-road riding we’d ever experienced, near-vertical drops, steep slopes, thick sand, gravel and river crossings; and all of this was taking place between 4500m and 5200m above sea level.

Not only was the scenery breathtaking, but the riding was physical and combined with the high altitude, was leaving us winded as there just wasn’t any oxygen in the air.

But in the end it was all worth it when we finally caught a glimpse of the world’s tallest mountain – a truly majestic site.


You gotta wonder if this Tibet woman actually knows what the hat says. Then again, what does it actually mean?

The valley on the Chinese side of the mountain is the most picture-perfect setting to view Mount Everest; as the valley walls block out the view of most of the other nearby peaks, giving the viewer the impression that they have the entire mountain to themselves.

Sadly the tourism officials wouldn’t let us ride our BMW F800GS bikes right up to the base camp. We had to park them in a big parking lot (maybe the highest parking lot in the world?), and take a small bus with other tourists up to the site.

But it didn’t matter. What a view! What a mountain! What a ride!



Videographer Chad Ingraham sets up the shot in the stunning Karst landscape of Guilin.

Any time you embark on a long adventure ride safety will be one of your main priorities, but it can be so easy to forget to “be safe” as one rides long days through stunning landscapes.


A not so subtle reminder of the dangers posed by the driving of others around you in China.

China is absolutely beautiful. China also has, statistically, the most deadly roads in the world. There are more road fatalities in China than in any other country, so it prompts the question: Why did we want to ride bikes through such a potentially dangerous country?

The answer: Amazing landscapes, stunning scenery, wonderful people and some delicious food. When Colin and I set out on this journey we fully understood the risks involved and knew that we wanted to enjoy our journey but safety needed to be our number one priority.

Of course when you are on the tail end of your trip, with thousands of kilometres under your belt there tends to be a feeling of, “I am almost done, just a few more days,” and so the speed picks up.


Colin decided to take a short cut through the forest.

While riding through northern Yunnan province in heavy rain, Colin slid out of a tight corner and flew right off the road! It was one of those moments where we were traveling a bit too quick for the road conditions, and riding a bit too confidently. It’s safe to say we were feeling a bit invincible at that stage of the trip, and that a little rain wasn’t going to hurt us; but it did.

Thankfully he was not injured, but the bike needed some minor repairs. The crash was a blunt reminder that we still had a lot of challenging riding ahead, and more importantly it got Colin and me much more focused on the task at hand; to get home safely.

tibetan_kids.jpgA couple of Tibetan kids are happy to get a Canadian memento (well, one of them is at least …).

Prior to that fall we had travelled through hailstorms, flooding, sand, water, gravel and high altitudes; and we had thrived in those difficult conditions. But we still had about 4,000km to go and we would have to navigate some of the most dangerous roads, with some of the most intense road traffic in the world.

Although we were both shaken up we survived that crash and it helped us re-focus on getting home in one piece. I am very happy to report that we didn’t have any more crashes after that and we both managed to return to Shanghai without another incident.

The more amazing the adventure, the more risk that usually exists, and riders will always have to find the right balance. We hope everyone out there can learn from some of our experiences, follow their own adventures, and above all, ride safe.


Book and film


Chad Ingraham sets up the bikes ready to document the trip.

Colin and I are currently producing a book from our journey as well as a documentary film from our adventure riding in China. You can visit our website: www.mkride.com for updates and information.

Charitable Partner

The Middle Kingdom Ride is riding to raise funds for SEVA, a charitable foundation that has, for more than 30 years, served people around the world who are struggling for health, cultural survival and sustainable communities. Learn more about SEVA at www.seva.org, and make a donation today at www.seva.org/mkride.

Corporate Sponsors

The Middle Kingdom Ride could not have happened without our wonderful corporate sponsors: BMW China, Touratech, The Tomson Group, Airhawk, Pelican Products, Kodak, Oakley, Cardo Systems, Lowe Pro & Mandarin House.


Yes, that’s a chicken foot …











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