MARKUS STITZ has lived a life full of variety but his passion for cycling now spans 15 years and goes back to his days at university.
At the end of last year he set himself the challenge of cycling around the world and currently has two-and-a-half months left of his once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The thing that makes his journey even more remarkable is that he is doing it on a singlespeed bike – a bicycle which has no gears.
Markus found the time in his busy schedule to talk to us about his passion for cycling and to explain more about singlespeed and the challenges and benefits it offers to cyclists.
Read on to find out some of the highlights of his round-the-world ride and learn more about this motivational man and his wonderful life.
When did you start cycling and what made you become so passionate about the sport?
I didn’t really start properly cycling until I went to university, that was about 15 years ago. I cycled as a child, as most kids do in Germany, but never more than 15km in one go. The place I studied had brilliant mountain bike tracks around it, so I worked for summer and bought my first mountain bike. It was then when I started riding longer distances, as there was a brilliant route to my parents’ place, 125km back then was a proper challenge.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2006 that I did my first longer trip, cycling across the Scottish Highlands and Islands, carrying everything in a backpack. I did that with a friend and we had an amazing time, that’s when I got hooked.
I then worked and toured around New Zealand, and started getting seriously into mountain biking. After coming back to live in Scotland I started cycling massive distances on the weekends, back then a friend and me called it race touring. I always thought that just touring was a tad too slow for me, I love being on the bike for many hours – eat, sleep, drink, cycle. And the same again. And I loved the freedom that cycling gave me. Scotland has many places you can’t get to by public transport, and the bike was a great option. The longest I cycled in a day was 424km from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye.
What have been some of your biggest accomplishments and challenges you’ve completed in the sport to date?
Possibly the biggest is designing my own bikepacking route around Edinburgh, which got amazing feedback from riders and was awarded one of the best new routes from www.bikepacking.com. And finishing the very same as fifth came as surprise for me, as I have never been a keen racer, but somehow I managed to go fast.
I’m also one of only three people that have finished the Highland Trail 550 twice, once on a singlespeed and second on a 29plus bike. I’ve never been a racer but started riding 24-hour races for the social side of them, and I finished a few of them as well.
As already mentioned, the longest I’ve ridden on a single day was 424k. The longest I’ve ridden in one stretch was about 505km singlespeed. That was from the middle of Germany to catch the ferry in Amsterdam, staying awake overnight was tricky.
What made you choose to predominantly ride singlespeed bikes and could you tell us a little about what they are like to ride?
I love the simplicity of singlespeed bikes. Cycling is the purest mode of transport after walking, but with loads of technological innovations the industry has somehow managed to make it complicated to ride a bike. There are all sorts of different standards, kind of bikes, the choice is bigger then ever before. With that came the rise of singlespeed bikes, there are a few of us who’d like to keep it simple, and know a thing or two about riding bikes. Those are the people you’ll normally find on a singlespeed. I like to grab my bike, ride it, put it in the corner and that’s it.
Living in Scotland means muddy conditions throughout winter, and I didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg for maintaining my bike. I’d much better invite my girlfriend for dinner. So I used my singlespeed cross bike for commuting and converted my old hardtail into a singlespeed as well. And as I couldn’t be bothered to buy another touring bike I did my long distance touring on the same bike as well.
Riding a singlespeed makes you a much better rider, I don’t like to use the term cyclist anyway, so I’ll call it rider. Especially off-road you need to use your body more, pick the best line on the trail, understand when you’ll have to pedal and when not.
Riding singlespeed requires a lot of pulling from the upper body, it’s a proper workout, but there’s also no chain bouncing around, no derailleur to break, it’s simple. That’s why I chose it for going around the world, the less you worry about your bike, the more you can enjoy the surroundings, and that’s been very important to me. I’m riding bikes because they are great door openers to me meet new people, and I guess only having one gear gets people talking even more.
Tell us about your challenge to cycle around the world and what you’re doing it for?
I love travelling, experiencing new cultures, but I like to explore countries on my own speed, not from the window of a car or bus. That’s why I’m cycling around the world. Since I lived in New Zealand I had the thought in my head, and last year I handed in my resignation and started thinking about the trip. I also do a lot of photography, so there’s a chance I pursue that once I am back, the trip has taken me to some amazing places.
Where are you currently and what have been some of the highlights and any major struggles so far?
I’m in Erzurum in Turkey now, with two-and-a-half months left I’m on the way home through Europe soon.
I wouldn’t say I had any major struggles on the bike, a few bits have been challenging, but I coped pretty well so far. I guess the biggest blow was losing my dad to a bike accident in December, three months after I set off. He was in intensive care for about three weeks, so I went back to Germany for a month to be there for him, but getting back on the bike was not easy afterwards, especially as I was facing wintry conditions in the middle of New Mexico. But I had great support and got over that, and with that in mind everything from there was easy.
Crossing the Nullarbor in Australia with a 32/18 gear ratio that’s suitable for mountains means pedalling like a maniac, I stayed in roadhouses there so I had to pedal up to 210km each day, which over two weeks is tough. But again I had great support, particularly from my friends Pat, Charlie and George, they reminded me that I simply need to keep on pedalling. That’s what I did.
Most recently I faced the biggest heatwave since records began in South East Asia, but again I learned to cope and got over it. I would say the past three weeks in Iran and East Anatolia have been amazing, riding a bit of the journey with my brother and camping under the stars in high altitude was simply amazing. It meant slowing down, but then I didn’t set myself the goal of breaking or setting a record for that very reason.
Climbing to 3150m with one gear is possibly something not many people have done, and the friendliness of the Iranians was great.
How can our readers get behind you and support the cause?
They can follow my trip on my blog at www.markusstitz.com, there’s a page where they can track me as I’m riding. I’m not the best at updating the blog, but my social media channels are pretty up-to-date, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @reizkultur, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fearlessandunique, on YouTube at www.youtube.com/Reizkultur and on Flickr at www.flickr.com/Reizkultur. Oh, and if someone happens to live on my route, feel free to get in touch, I have met so many amazing people through social media and had coffee with them, stayed with some or simply met them on route, I am always up for a good chat.
What can we expect from your website and blog and how important is it to you to connect with like-minded people across the internet?
I’ll focus more on the blog once I am back, as it’s hard to write such long days and update everything in the evening. There’s a good lot of video blogs on YouTube, which in my eyes represent the journey very well. And Instagram is a great place to get a flavour in pictures.
Tell us about your other interests in life and the careers you have led?
I’ve had a colourful life so far, and it’s not just about sports or cycling. I worked as DJ for about 12 years before founding and running an outdoor music festival. In between I worked briefly for a children’s television station and studied communication and management in Germany.
After finishing my studies in 2006 I worked in Wellington, New Zealand, as the marketing manager for a theatre and moved back to Edinburgh where I worked for Underbelly at the Fringe Festival beforehand.
After a few more marketing roles in Scotland I felt it was time for a change in career and started working for Scottish Swimming, my most rewarding role so far.
After the success at the Glasgow Games I felt it is the right time to make space for new ideas and people and moved on to focus on cycling, before that my major task was to secure sponsorship for the organisation, so I went in good spirits and also had a good transition into my new project, as I had to secure some sponsorship myself to make the trip happen.
Are you planning more challenges in the years ahead and do you have any other exciting projects in the pipeline?
I will have a good think when I am back about which direction I would like my life and career to move. There’s one project I would love to realise, which is cycling Scotland singlespeed from South to North unsupported in one go. And the Capital Trail at the end of September, a two-day bikepacking event I started last year as part of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. That’s how far the planning goes. Of course, I would love to tell people about my trip in talks and I am also thinking about writing a book, but first I would love to concentrate on getting over the finish line of this adventure, after that I will think about the next steps.