Mike Hall – a tribute
On Friday, the tragic news emerged that endurance cyclist Mike Hall had died. He was killed in a collision with a car while taking part in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race in Australia. Mike was well known in the endurance racing community, having won the first World Cycle Race in 2012, and founded the Transcontinental Race, an annual non-stop ride across Europe. Mike was also twice winner of the Tour Divide. He had come to endurance racing in his late twenties and had shown great skill, strength and enthusiasm for the sport.
I was fortunate enough to correspond with Mike several times while writing my book, Pedal Power, in which he features. It’s a sudden and shocking loss that has drawn tributes from all over the cycling community. Below is an edited version of Mike’s profile. The book was printed before Mike’s passing.
Mike Hall – Fastest man around the world
It wasn’t cycling round the world like many would know it, but it was my kind of race.
Many people have cycled the world and many have ended up in the record books as the fastest. But in 2012, circling the planet became an official race: the World Cycle Race. When Mike Hall from Yorkshire wheeled up to the start line in Greenwich on 18 February 2012, a passer-by said to him, ‘You look like you’re going to be time trialling round the world!’
‘I am,’ Mike replied.
Mike’s previous experience in endurance racing had been in the Tour Divide, a 2,745 mile mountain-biking race along the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico: an unsupported, single-stage event where competitors must carry all they need and the clock never stops. The lessons he learned about fuelling on the move, packing light and sleeping little were applied to the World Cycle Race – it would be essentially the same, but on a road bike and much, much longer.
In a bag no larger than a small knapsack, he carried a tent with an inflatable pole, sleeping bag, jacket and sleeping mat, waterproof trousers and a gilet. A change of clothes would have been an extravagance. The kit was strapped beneath the saddle and in the triangle of the frame, in line with his body in order to minimise any drag factor. His bicycle was made of carbon fibre. The whole thing weighed less than 18 kg.
‘I didn’t need to take equipment, I just needed to take risks. The winner will be the one who lives fast, not necessarily the one who rides fast,’ he said. His average mileage was 200 miles a day, with a century ridden before lunch and another squeezed in before bed. On most days he was still riding at 10 p.m., pushing on until he was almost falling from his bike with tiredness; sleep was snatched in bushes, at roadsides, on beaches, beneath bus shelters and in public toilets.
Initially, the biggest challenge was the physicality of all that riding: the strain, the fatigue, the sleep deprivation. As time went on, the mental side became tougher: unfamiliar terrains, alien cultures and the sheer length of the task. In other races, you can just tough it out but in this it was endless: ‘After a couple of weeks you can’t remember when you started and you can’t imagine the end.’
Despite the gruelling nature of the challenge, Mike never lacked the motivation to get up and grind out another 200 miles. Even when the weather was bad or enthusiasm was lacking, he knew it would be just as punishing for the other competitors.
‘You’ve always got to tell yourself, when you’re going through a bad patch – this won’t last. And when you’re going through a good patch, that won’t last either.’
Mike rolled into Greenwich after 107 days, a world champion. He had spent 91 days on his bicycle and ridden 18,175 miles, finishing 5,000 miles ahead of his closest challenger and coming in two weeks faster than the previous record holder. His victory was achieved on the day he turned 31.
The experience cemented Mike’s enthusiasm for endurance racing. In 2013 he entered the Tour Divide again, and won. The following year he won the inaugural Trans America Bike Race – a gruelling 4,400 miles from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic.
His passion for adventure racing led to him founding, in 2013, the Transcontinental Race, an event he described as beautifully simple yet completely ridiculous. Competitors travel across continental Europe from west to east via the Alps, solo and unsupported, with only the start point, finish point and a few check points dictated – the rest is up to the riders. Because of Mike’s enthusiasm, racing on this scale is growing in popularity: although only 30 people registered for the first edition of the race, over 1,000 people applied in 2016.
His passion led him to compete in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race in 2017, which would be his last ride. Tragically, Mike was struck by a car and died. But his legacy lives on: inspiring thousands of others to experience the joy of endurance cycling.