Kevin and Julia Sanders: World Record Breakers
Kevin and Julia Sanders went from two backpackers meeting in an Ecuadorian bar, to holding two Guinness World Records to now running the world’s biggest motorcycle adventure tour company. Here’s their story…
In the beginning
Julia: It was a shared love of adventure travel that led to our first meeting. We bumped into each other in a club called the No Bar in Quito, Ecuador, while backpacking around South America in 1997. I didn’t have a bike licence at the time, but it sounded like a fun way to see the world, so I decided to learn how to ride and join Kevin on a trip.
Our first adventure was a ride from Miami to Ushuaia, then back to Rio. We were riding an old 1989 R80GS two-up. In the end we had to make a mad dash from Bolivia to Rio to fly home because Kevin’s dad was really ill. We covered 650 miles a day and that sowed the seed for the world record attempt.
The Guinness Records
Fastest Circumnavigation of the World
In 2002, Kevin and Julia Sanders broke the Guinness World Record for the fastest circumnavigation of the world by motorcycle, previously established by Nick Sanders (no relation) five years earlier. Riding two-up, they averaged 1,000 miles per day, covering 19,461 miles in total. The trip lasted 19 days 8 hours and 25 minutes and now stands as the fastest overland vehicle around the world because the Guinness World Records organisation no longer recognises such attempts (it would be too dangerous to try to do it in a faster time).
Fastest Trans Americas Ride
The following year Kevin and Julia tackled the Trans Americas route, from Alaska in the Arctic Circle to Patagonia in the Antarctic. They achieved it in 35 days, knocking 12 days off the existing record. The route covered almost 17,000 miles and Guinness also no longer certifies such rides as they’re deemed to be too challenging.
Why and how?
Kevin: I was already toying with the idea, but it lay dormant until that mad dash to Rio. When I looked at the average daily mileage from the previous record, I realised it was similar to what we’d covered in Brazil. We’d just got married so I told Julia it would be our honeymoon and she agreed!
Julia: I completely underestimated the scale of the challenge even though I was only riding pillion, but we’re both very determined people. The first day was the hardest because that’s when we realised the enormity of the challenge. A lot of it is a mental game where you just have to keep going.
Kevin: Riding through the night is really difficult, especially in Australia where all the advice is to avoid travelling in the dark. It actually gets very cold, it’s pitch black and you’re constantly alert to wildlife. We had massive auxiliary lights, but every time a bush moved in the wind we expected to be knocked off. Then there were these massive thunderstorms crossing the Mexican border, which stopped us temporarily. Nothing prepares you for a force of nature like that…
Julia: The rules of the Guinness World Record meant that Kevin had to do all the riding, so we segregated our roles. He did all the riding; I did everything else: food, water, night stops, massages, pictures, video, witnesses (two per day to sign our log book), navigation, freight etc. That way we could each stay focused without treading on each other’s toes. It’s a good test of a marriage. You learn tolerance, compromise and the value of supporting each other.
For more info on riding with a pillion:
Moving to Two Bikes
Julia: Our first big overland ride, where we rode two bikes, was in 2004, riding from Vancouver to Ushuaia, then to Buenos Aires. Kevin was on a BMW R1150GS, while I was riding a BMW F650 Dakar. We were testing the Trans Americas route to offer as a commercial trip. I was the guinea pig as I had much less riding experience, so Kevin used my riding ability as a benchmark.
Kevin: It wasn’t really practical to ride two-up once we started GlobeBusters. If we were both on a tour, then it would be too risky to have both of us on one bike because we’d both be knackered if one of us came off. Also, Julia was far more experienced by this stage and more than capable of covering long distances over tricky terrain than before.
Setting up GlobeBusters
Julia: We started the company in 2004 – the year after we completed the Trans Americas record. It was a natural progression. We loved travelling by bike and wanted to find a way to do that and support ourselves. After the Trans Americas, lots of people emailed asking for advice… so we realised there was a market. At the time no one was offering anything like it and nobody has ever consistently done it. It remains as popular as ever.
It’s like a greedy child that absorbs all your time and energy, but you love it anyway. I’d like to think that GlobeBusters is well established globally as one of the world’s leading motorcycle adventure companies. We get riders from all over the world joining us.
Our USP is the long distance transcontinental ‘Once in a Lifetime’ rides that we do, which are our signature trips. We’ve operated some of the longest tours in the world! In 2010/11 we did an 8.5 month ‘Discover our Earth’ expedition and our ‘Trans Americas’ expedition is around 5 months – we do that trip every two years. It takes huge amounts of time, planning, logistics and preparation to be able to successfully pull them off though.
Kevin: Our record-breaking riding days are over though. Now, it’s much more about having the time to see the places we ride through and sharing that with riders who are seeing these places for the very first time. It’s is great to see the look of satisfaction when they complete their trip of a lifetime.
Our 3 Best Tips for Travellers
I don’t keep a track of all the miles I ride, that’s not what it’s about. But, thinking about it, I’ve circumnavigated the world twice, which is 80,000 miles, ridden the Pan American nine times, (216,000 miles) and London-Beijing six times (78,000 miles). Add in European tours, Morocco, Iceland and riding around the UK for fun and it’s got to be a million miles. I’ve learnt a few things on the way, but here are the three best and most important tips I can offer big-mile riders…
- Don’t try to do it in 19.5 days! I led a trans global tour a few years back and it took the best part of nine months. That’s probably the minimum time required to give you an opportunity to experience the cultures you’re riding through and also to give you some time off the bike – that’s really important because otherwise you become a bit of a zombie rider. And remember, you’ll be away from friends and family for a long time, which can be emotionally quite challenging.
- Being spontaneous sounds fun and exciting, but lack of planning can wreck a trip. We’ve met riders who have been refused entry to a country because they don’t have the right paperwork, have run out of fuel because they didn’t realise how scarce it is in some countries and those who missed some incredible landmarks because they didn’t realise they were passing nearby.
- It’s all too easy to overestimate what you can do. You can cover big miles in a short time in Western Europe, but not in less developed countries. Putting yourself under unnecessary pressure to get somewhere ruins the ride and increases your risk of accident. Allow plenty of time for breaks during the day and an occasional day off from riding too.
Join a Globebusters tour
If you fancy joining Kevin and Julia on an expedition or tour, then check out their website for dates, prices, itineraries and more info. Or send them an email because they’re often on the road!
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