When he was just 21 years old, Ben King set off to become the youngest person to motorcycle solo around the globe. One year later and he’s enjoying it so much that he’s decided to ditch the world record and focus on just enjoying the ride. Bryn Davies spoke to him to learn more…
When Ben King was 21 years old, he set off on a Honda CRF250L to ride around the world. He’d spent two years working tirelessly to save up enough money to get him going, and he plans to spend the future indefinitely on the road. I discovered Ben when I stumbled upon his Facebook page, King on the Road, and his infectious enthusiasm, genuine good nature, and brilliant story telling had me hooked. I reached out to him to see if he’d like to tell his story to the readers of Adventure Bike Rider, and he was thrilled, so here it is.
Who are you and what are you doing?
Hi, I’m Ben, I’m 22 years old from London, currently unemployed and spending my days constantly falling off my motorcycle as I attempt to ride around the world! Yesterday [13 August], was my oneyear anniversary on the road and I’ve only managed to ride from London to Pakistan. I just keep falling in love with every place I visit and meeting the most amazing people and subsequently get stuck (which certainly isn’t a bad thing). I have no timeframe, never make any plans and just take each day as it comes, so it looks like I might be in my mid-thirties by the time I finally return home at the rate I’m going.
Where are you currently?
I’m currently in Lahore, Pakistan and I was hoping to ride up to the north of Pakistan tomorrow morning to explore the Himalayas and ride the KKH (Karakoram Highway). However I’m currently sat in the waiting room of a hospital waiting to have my leg x-rayed as I came off my bike four hours ago while I was riding some trails with a group of local bikers outside the city.
Today is the 14 August, which is Independence Day here in Pakistan and I was invited out by the TLC biker club in Lahore to join the guys on their annual ride out of the city. I was having the best time navigating my way through the small villages and fields of Pakistan, and everything was going well until I headed down a slope into a deep sand patch, didn’t give it enough throttle and my front tyre dug into the ground and threw me off the bike, which then preceded to fall on top of me and crush my leg.
Luckily, we only had four hours of intense off-roading and one river cross ing on a small raft to reach the nearest hospital… All while unable to use my rear brake as I couldn’t move my foot. It was certainly a challenging ride back, but such a fun adventure.
Tell us a bit about your bike. You’re riding a Honda CRF250L – why this bike, how’s it performed, would you change for something else if you had the opportunity to?
I’m travelling on a Honda CRF250L. When I first started planning this trip I instantly went towards the big BMW GS, like many do after seeing Ewan and Charley, but I quickly discovered that it was too big and too expensive for me (as I am a super skinny and weak guy) and it’s just not the most practical bike for the kind of trip I want to do. Even the F800GS and Tiger 800 were too big for me.
I realised that I could buy a smaller bike and travel half way around the world for the same price as a big adventure bike and still have money to spare, and I’d much rather spend my hardearned cash actually on the road enjoying my travels. So, I started looking into smaller bikes and then my friend Austin Vince, who is also a RTW rider introduced me to the CRF250L.
It’s a very affordable bike (almost £10,000 cheaper than a brand-new BMW R1200GS), it’s also a very light bike (which means I can actually pick it up), it’s easy to find spare parts on the road, it’s reliable (as it’s a Honda) and it’s very cheap to run. It ticks all the boxes! I wouldn’t ever change this bike, even if you paid me to (unless you’re offering loads…)!
What made you decide you wanted to ride around the world?
It all began over five years ago. When I was 17 I was involved in a car accident which was completely my fault as I was an awful driver and going too fast. Luckily everyone was okay, but it really shook me up and opened my eyes to how precious life is and how short it can be (it sounds really cliché, but it’s true).
I’ve worked really hard since I was 10, being a gardener, handyman, paper-boy, tennis coach, sales assistant, barista etc. and I didn’t have the luxury of rich parents to fund my travels, so with my hard-earned cash decided to quit my job, leave school, delay university and head to South-East Asia alone.
Long story short, I somehow became a Scuba Diving Divemaster on a small island in the Gulf of Thailand where I lived and learnt to ride a moped. I absolutely loved the feeling and the freedom that it gave and decided to leave the island and treat myself to a Minsk on the mainland for $300 and just set off with no plans. Looking back now, I’m still not sure why I thought it was a good idea to buy a motorcycle after just surviving a car crash, but it has completely changed my life for the better and I’m so glad I did.
I ended up riding from Singapore to Hanoi (Northern Vietnam) and had become obsessed with life on two wheels. After a year I was keen for more adventures so decided to head to South America with plans to ride from Colombia to Argentina. I didn’t quite make it the whole way after crashing my bike firstly in Colombia and again in Bolivia.
Shortly after returning home, a close friend of mine, India, sadly passed away at only 22 years old from Ulcerative Colitis. I really wanted to do some good on this trip, so I decided I would ride from London to India to raise awareness and money for Crohns and Colitis UK.
I set off from London with the intention of attempting to break the world record and becoming the youngest person to circumnavigate the world solo and unsupported, but quickly realised once on the road that traveling the globe on two wheels is the most incredible, rewarding and humbling thing I have ever done, and I’d much rather take my time and enjoy every single minute of this once in a lifetime adventure. The experiences I’m having far outweigh having my name in a book.
Where has been your favourite location so far?
Iran as a whole has been my favourite country so far, and in particular Hormuz Island, just off the coast of Iran in the Persian Gulf. Iran was the one of the countries on this trip that I was most excited to visit. The media portrays a very negative view of Iran, and especially in recent weeks with the nuclear deal involving the US going on this has been amplified. It was my goal from the outset to show the world what the real Iran is like through my daily video updates, not the distorted view that is shown on TV.
As soon as I crossed the border and entered into this wonderful country I was overwhelmed by the kindness of the people.
Often at border crossings the police and border guards are very serious and unfriendly, but in Iran they are the complete opposite. Due to a lack of planning on my part, I stupidly arrived on the final day of my visa and if I didn’t cross the border from Azerbaijan into Iran before midnight I would have to reapply for a new visa, which would take weeks to obtain. When I reached the border in the late afternoon, I was informed that the border had closed early for the day, and after explaining my predicament to one of the officers he made some calls and the customs and transit officials all came from their homes, in the nearby town of Astara, specially to open up the gates and offices for me to allow me to enter into Iran!
From there on out, I was constantly blown away by the kindness and hospitality of the wonderful Iranian people. I was inundated with requests from people all over the country who wanted to host me and welcome me into their homes, and I loved it so much that I extended my visa three times and spent almost three months exploring the incredible country.
And your worst?
Some of my toughest days were riding through the Balkans (Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria) and Turkey in the middle of the winter. I didn’t actually plan my route through Europe at all, I just knew that I was headed for Turkey eventually. People kept asking me where I was going to settle down while I waited for winter to pass, but I naively didn’t realise just how tough crossing this part of the world in winter would be and continued on. I didn’t see another tourist, let alone another biker for months, it was incredible. Some of my toughest days were riding over these snow peaked mountains, in particular in eastern Turkey.
Yet, as I’ve always found, in the toughest of circumstances and when things seem to go ‘wrong’ the best experiences happen. And while I camped numerous times in these freezing conditions, I was also often welcomed in by locals who cooked me a warm meal, gave me a cosy bed for the night and made me forget about the harsh winter outside.
Have you got yourself into any scary situations while travelling? If you have, how did you resolve them?
I was hoping to cross the border from Turkey into Iraq then into Iran and continue my journey east. However, when I finally reached the Iraqi border I was turned away and told I could not cross as they had closed it due to conflict in the area.
So, I decided to head north to Georgia. After having my bike searched and my passport checked by the Turkish military every 10 miles, I finally made it to the last checkpoint of the day. As usual, the soldiers didn’t know what to do with me or whether or not I was allowed to be there. They told me to park my bike at the side of the road next to their armoured truck and then grabbed me by the arms and ushered me into their secure compound.
They took me into a small room where the officer in charge of the base and his two scary assistants sat me down and started asking me questions in Turkish, which I did not understand.
It was the strangest interrogation ever as it was conducted using Google Translate, which doesn’t always translate accurately. I was trying to keep a straight face and not laugh at some of the odd translations it came out with.
They then started searching my bags and repeating the same questions for a couple of hours.
I started to wonder if I would ever see my bike or daylight ever again. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared. Then I suddenly remembered I had the phone number of a Turkish biker who’d contacted me on Facebook, so I gave it to the officer and told him to call the number. Sure enough, my Turkish biker friend, Zafer (who I’d actually never met before and later found out was a Colonel in the Turkish Army and the head of Special Forces unit in Eastern Turkey), was able to speak to the officers and confirm who I was and explain to them about my world bike trip. After he hung up the phone the atmosphere suddenly changed; one of the officers rushed out to bring me some tea and the other kept asking if I was hungry and wanted some food.
They took me into the army canteen where hundreds of soldiers were sat down having dinner, got me a tray, put me in the middle of the table and started pouring food onto my plate. One minute I thought I was going to be arrested and the next I’m eating dinner with all the soldiers.
It quickly went from being one of the worst to one of the best experiences of my trip!
How long do you plan to stay on the road for?
I’ve never actually had a time frame set for this trip, however, I initially thought it would take me around four years to ride around the world, including stopping in Australia, Canada and South Africa to work for a few months to save up for the next leg. It’s taken me over a year to reach Pakistan and I still have a very long way to go, so at this rate I could be on the road for another 10+ years. The beauty of travelling in this way is I have nowhere to be and have complete freedom, I love it!
What is the most important thing about motorcycle travel, for you?
There is no better feeling than waking up in your tent in the morning, alone in the mountains, getting on your motorcycle and hitting the open road. Every day is an adventure and you never know where you’ll end up, who you are going to meet and what challenges you are going to face.
Riding a motorcycle is an experience like no other; you’re not trapped in a metal box like you are in a car. As you climb higher up the mountain you get colder, when the rain falls you get soaked, when you increase your speed you feel the wind stronger against your face, and as you ride through a field in the spring you smell everything. Every single emotion you feel is enhanced when you ride – I love it!
You’ve been extensively documenting your journey on your social media pages, but you recently disappeared for a month or so. What happened there?
The past month has been crazy, where do I begin… After an amazing few months in Iran I headed for the Pakistan border and bumped into Paolo, the first overland adventure motorcyclist I’d met in almost a whole year since leaving England!
The ride to the border should have taken around an hour, but it took us over eight as we had to stop every few miles while we waited for the next escort to take over, and when we finally reached the border it was closed for the day and we had to spend the night there. The next morning, we successfully crossed into Pakistan, but were told that we could not leave the border town until 4am the next day when the Levies (Pakistani special police) would meet us and escort us through Balochistan.
Paolo and I had to spend the whole day and night in a local prison (luckily the prisoners were all locked up in different cells to us, and they were also surprisingly friendly). The next day, we headed off early onto the 430-mile long desert road towards Quetta, the capital of Balochistan.
By late afternoon, and after pushing my bike hard to keep up with Paolo on his GS and the escort, and riding in 40+C heat for over 250 miles it all become too much for JJ (my bike) and she started to suffer. We tried to fix it, but we couldn’t figure out what the problem was, and it seemed to be an issue with the electrics.
We finally reached Quetta after a 17-hour day of riding and were able to rest. We had to get a document signed in Quetta, called a NOC (non-objection certificate), which allows you to travel freely once you leave the Balochistan Province, without an escort. As we had arrived on the eve of Eid the office wouldn’t be open for six days. The police took us to a hotel which we were not allowed to leave until we had the NOC document, and over the course of the next 10 days dozens of local mechanics and electricians came to look at my bike to try and get it started but to no avail.
Eventually, the chief of police told me I had to sell my bike in Quetta. They wouldn’t allow me to transport my bike out of Balochistan Province and said this was the only option.
I explained to the police officer that that’s why I had a carnet de passage, and also explained that ditching my bike was completely out of the question, however, he said it was out of his hands. After getting in touch with the British Ambassador’s office and Consulate and arranging a meeting with the Foreign Ministry in Quetta, they eventually granted me permission to put my bike on a train to Lahore, as they clearly wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident!
A 30-hour train ride later, I finally reached Lahore. I couldn’t believe it, after almost three weeks stuck in Quetta, unable to go anywhere or see anything, and with no proper connection to the outside world and unable to update everyone on my situation, I was finally free!
For anyone who’s seen you on your journeys, they’ll know that you’re a smiley, happy, positive and enthusiastic chap, and this comes across in heaps in everything you do. Behind the scenes, are there times on the road where you do feel a bit down? How do you cope with these, and what usually picks you up?
For almost two years I was stuck working multiple jobs and over 100 hours a week in London to save up the money to fulfil my dream and ride around the world, and it was absolute hell. My body started to shut down from exhaustion, I didn’t have any time to spend with my friends or family as I was working so much and the only thing that occupied my thoughts was this trip.
When I finally stopped working and set off from London I couldn’t actually believe that I had succeeded, and I felt so blessed that I was in a position to do what most dream of. I told myself that no matter how tough things got I would always keep positive and appreciate the amazing opportunity I had and, as I’d learnt from my previous motorcycle trips, everything will always turn out okay, and often the best experiences happen when things don’t go to plan.
What advice would you give to any of our younger readers who are looking to do what you’re doing?
When I was 17 years old I left England and went on my first big adventure to Asia. Since then my life has never been the same. I know people say this all the time, but if I could do it, as a small, shy, scared, naive kid, who’d never been further than France before, with little money, no travel experience, no mechanical knowledge and having never even been on a motorcycle before, then you can definitely do it too!
How can we keep updated on your progress?
You can follow my adventures on Instagram (thekingontheroad), Facebook (/benkingontheroad) and YouTube (The King On The Road). I have recently started a new YouTube travel series where you can enjoy weekly episodes of my adventures (and if you can’t find my channel head to www.bit.ly/KingontheRoad)!