In Conversation: Ryan Pyle of Tough Rides on China, and Why He ATCs

ATC gets deep with Ryan Pyle, of Tough Rides to discuss China, why he travels, and what he learned from his time rallying around the Middle Kingdom. In short, ATC gets jealous of Ryan’s epic adventures.
The Pyle Brothers

Biker, photographer and traveler Ryan Pyle.

What inspired you to do this trip? Why China?
I felt like China is a very misunderstood place. I have been living in China since 2001 and I have really enjoyed my time there. So much so that I decided that in 2010 I wanted to ride a motorcycle the entire way around China and make a television show about it in an effort to show people “what China really looks like”. I thought that my experience riding a motorcycle around China would help breakdown some barriers to how people see the country; beyond the version of China that is regularly on CNN and BBC.

Biking through China sounds like it would be a tough ride. Roads are uneven, often unsafe and sometimes crumbling along mountain roads where a mere slip of the tire could mean a long, long plummet. What did you do to ensure you stayed safe on the road?
Ryan: We actually did about 19,000km around China, which is about 12,000 miles. And in some places the roads were incredibly dangerous. The main objective to keep in mind is that safety is always the number one priority; when we keep safety as the number one priority everything begins to become more clear; such as, no riding at night…..keeping speeds very slow so that we can re-act to unplanned events…..working together as a unit to protect each other on the road, especially from big and nasty trucks.


The Pyle Brothers

Canadian brothers Ryan and Colin Pyle.

In the event of an emergency, what was your evac plan?
Ryan: There was no Evacuation plan. I live in Shanghai, China which as been my home since 2001. If something was to go wrong, I would have just gone back home. Traveling around China was actually pretty fun and not too tough logistically because I’m very familiar with the country having lived there for so long.


What bikes did you take and why? Are these the best bikes for this trip, or the ones you could get your hands on?
Ryan: We used the BMW F800GS. In 2010 in China there were only 2 kinds of motorcycles, that were foreign made, available in China. One was the Harley Davidson from the USA and the second was BMW from Germany. The Harley wasn’t the correct choice for this kind of adventure, so the BMW F800GS was the right choice. At that time, we didn’t think that there was a Chinese motorcycle available in the market with a large enough engine to push us through the most challenging parts of our journey.



The beautiful BMW F800GS, ready for the road and decked out for a long haul.

In China, you’re never alone. There is never a “wild place” where someone won’t wander up. How did you deal with being surrounded all the time?
Ryan: Actually, I would disagree with you. China is incredibly wild and very empty in most places. Eastern China, along the coastal areas, is heavily populated and that is where all the big cities are and where all the development has been over the last 3 decades. But once you start moving further west, everything become more wild, more empty and more isolated. There were days and entire stretches of our journey we there were no villages and no people; with camping as our only option. In comparison, India is incredibly over-crowded and claustrophobic; but not China.


What one thing from home do you wish you could have brought?
Ryan: I wish I could have brought my wife. I know that might seem like an Anti – Adventurous thing to say, but my wife is from China and she hasn’t seen much of her own country and I think she would have loved the adventure almost as much as I did. Beyond that, China is a very comfortable place to travel and I didn’t have any real “needs” that weren’t met on our journey. Sure, camping in remote Tibet was tough, but there is nothing from home that could have made sleeping at 15,000 feet above sea level more comfortable.


The Pyle Brothers

Ryan Pyle enjoying pleasant mountain weather in China.

Aside from fix-a-flat, what gear did you have in case your bikes broke down?
Ryan: We blew out a few tires and I also destroyed my clutch….but I think that was more from rider error than anything else. The bikes, in general, took a complete beating and just kept going. They were very durable and built to last. If I had to do the adventure again, I would absolutely use the same F800GS.


What camera gear were you carrying? Filming with?
Ryan: We were filming a television series, so we used a big Sony EX3 HD Camera as well as a variety of Go-Pro cameras. All in all, it was a pretty professionally completed production and things worked out very smoothly.


The Pyle Brothers

The constant traveler, Ryan Pyle.

How did you decide on that exact route?
Ryan: I wanted to fully circumnavigate China, following a route that traveled through the border regions. I did this because I wanted to have a rural experience whereby we traveled through area’s that were less populate and contained exotic landscapes and people. So, in following that I basically drew a line around the outskirts of China and then we found our roads based on that premise, and somehow it all worked out.


Any advise for a biker looking to follow in your tire tracks?
Ryan: The key thing to remember about China is that the country is very accessible. But you need to make sure you don’t try to “import” a motorcycle; which can be a complete nightmare. Best to source a motorcycle locally inside China and then enjoy your ride. Yes, there is a lot of heavy traffic in the eastern regions so my advise is to head west and enjoy the empty open roads.

The Pyle Brothers

The Pyle brothers, geared up and on the road.

What type of caveat did you need to get the bike into China– or did you buy in-country. And how did you get a motorcycle license for China?
Ryan: The motorcycles were purchased inside China, and had Chinese registration and Chinese license plates. I could do this because I live in China. I also have a Chinese motorcycle license. For people looking to travel from outside of China, I am not too familiar with the hoops that need to be jumped through. But be sure, there will be a lot of red-tape.


Now that you’ve biked India and China, which did you prefer?
Ryan: There are both completely different experiences. In China you have wide open landscapes and vast expanses of nothingness. In India you have insane claustrophobia and chaos on the roads. But both locations have their charm. I would have to say that I actually prefer China, because I live there I suppose I am bias. There is no greater feeling than standing on the pegs and racing through the dirt roads of rural Tibet at 14,000 feet above sea level.


The Pyle brothers pose near their BMWs.

The Pyle brothers pose near their BMWs.

What one part of China did you find most fascinating, surprising or unique?
Ryan: I really enjoyed riding my motorcycle to Mount Everest Base Camp in Tibet. The journey there was incredibly challenging and difficult. But somehow it all worked out. I love the high plateau and riding a high altitudes in remote grasslands and deserts offers just the most incredible scenery known to mankind. Highly recommended.


Is there information in the book that isn’t in the series?
Ryan: The book is full of stuff that isn’t in the television series. The book offers a behind the scenes glimpse in to what really happened on our journey, much of which was not possible to film for various reasons.


Was the trip authentic, knowing you were on camera the whole time? Or did it change the dynamic knowing people would be watching your every move while in the Middle Kingdom?
Ryan: Being on camera all the time does change things, and sometimes you have to stop and do something again just to get it right on camera; that is true. But authenticity is in the people and the characters and I can tell you that my actions, my words, my emotions are authentic; both on camera and off camera. I hope you all have a chance to watch Tough Rides: China (aka. The Middle Kingdom Ride). Enjoy the adventure.

You can check out Ryan’s book, The Middle Kingdom Ride, or watch the adventure in Tough Rides China.

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