Nick Sanders Interviewed
Interview by Ian Mutch - The Road Issue 12 - September - October 2007
Madman or Lunatic?
Ian Mutch asks the questions of a man who has ridden an R1 around the world in 19 days.
IM What drives you ?
NS Having done this for 26 years it's not just money and fame, it's the love of doing it. When everything's working well and the weather benign. I've had rare moments for example in Madagascar with no ex wife nagging at me, no kids biting at my heels, I'm just a bike rider riding my bike, complete freedom.
IM Do you get fed up with riding toward a target all the time?
NS The pressure is enormous and as I get older people still want that performance from me. There will come a time when I'll slow down.
IM Which of your trips do you like best?
NS There are defining projects in any career and for me going round the world in 1997 on the Triumph Daytona gave me an insight into being a biker. As a career move it was good, the film sold well the book sold well and it gave me an audience. The second defining trip was going round the world in 19 days, that was the 'journey beyond reason' and it propelled me forward massively, I enjoyed the purity of that experience.
IM There must have been times when you thought this is barking mad - maybe the time on that run when your head exploded and blood burst out of your noise as you were riding?
NS Do you know I don't think what I do is mad. I'm so in tune with it and do it so often its all I know. I don't work and do adventure on side, this is what I do for a living, its normal I've normalised it.
IM Was this something you wanted to do when you were at school?
NS From age 18 I wanted to be a professional cycle racer. I've never filled in a p45 or worked a day in my life conventionally. Competitive sport teaches huge focus. Making an 80 mile bike ride and coming back starving taught me how to suffer, it enhanced my endurance capability hugely.
IM Are you a masochist?
NS Not in the slightest, that's an obvious thought but no. I'm capable of taking the pain but I don't like it. Sleep deprivation is used in torture and I don't think I'd be a good candidate for torture, but I like what this lifestyle gives me. I like the feeling I can travel anywhere in the world when I want to. I've created a situation where I make a good living from this and I like the audience response. I have a fan base of people who empathise with what I do and how I do it.
IM You're a bit of a performer?
NS It's a key element of what I do. I'm not saying "look at me I'm better than." I'm saying "look at me, let me entertain you and help you look at life in a different way." I get a lot of pleasure from that.
IM What's your worst fear on a trip?
NS I've never thought of dying. It can happen anywhere of course, it won't necessarily happen when going round world, actually it's less likely then as you're so focussed and at one with a dangerous environment I hardly ever, never in fact, have near misses. I do fear I may not be able to create around my trip. I fear not being able to write a book or make a film that people will want to see.
IM Do you get writer's block?
NS No, the best thing you can have to write a book is a large overdraft. A book needs to be written it can't just be something you want to do. I'm quite an ordinary normal bloke actually.
IM What did you say?
NS I'm normal, I've got a mortgage an ex wife, a 180 failed relationships. I have issues with my children, neighbours, business colleagues, in that sense there's nothing extraordinary about me. I work hard at normalising what and who I am. If other people put me on a pedestal that's OK so long as I don't it myself.
IM OK Mr Normal, this Timbuktu guided trip, what about all the complaints?
NS I think one has to manage expectations. Crucially that was what I learned from that trip. In Timbuktu 2, which is happening in Jan 2008 I'm going out of my way to tell people what's on offer. If they don't like it then don't come with me. You get to an age when you say "this is who I am and this is how I do things and if you don't like it then go and find someone else to do it with." That said, what I do offer is a very unusual way of doing things, we get into the heart and soul of Africa in way that I don't think anyone else does.
IM So what were the complaints about?
NS About 5% of the riders complained. The other 95% thought they had had a fabulous time. We had to ride at night which some thought was too dangerous in Africa . I don't agree. Certainly where we travelled there was no wildlife crossing the road and very little traffic. With adventure journeys you can't guarantee what time you will get through customs and that can dictate how much night riding you have to do. In truth there was very little but people remember parts they find uncomfortable. When they look back they'll remember the sublime parts and think "did I do that, wasn't that remarkable, how lucky am I?"
IM Is there something else you'd like to do besides bike tours?
NS I'd like to do less tours, I've done it for 8 years but it's taken me from my original plan as a solo adventurer, going off on a bike alone and making films and writing books about it. The Timbuktu 2 film is available now.
IM What outside of bike trips do you want to do?
NS I don't know. I'm a professional balloonist and have taken canal boats to the Black Sea and cycled round the world. My natural inclination is to do other things. I'm a father. I have 3 kids between five and nine years of age and I'm here to be their father not their hero. I've taught them focus, to work hard, to be compassionate and to be happy.
IM Do the cultures you've passed through rub off on you?
NS Yes, take today, the Algerian cafe. (I found Nick in the cafe at the end of my street chatting to the locals IE Algerians). I didn't know where they were from when I pulled up but I can immediately and instinctively connect with where people are from and have some idea of the spirit of what it's like to be Algerian, Moroccan or Mauritanian. You can build knowledge from travel but to have an instinctive awareness of spirituality is far more useful.
IM Is there any nation you don't like?
NS No, I don't like smug pretentious arrogant people, and I don't like people who say they're going to do things and don't.
IM Do you find poor people are excited or envious of the rich gringo?
NS It's a combination of the two. You are money on legs outside Europe and you exploit each other in a nice way. I don't know mega rich people but I've met people who have absolutely nothing and I wonder if it will ever change.
IM Do you ever feel guilty in the face of dire poverty?
NS You can ask what does travelling round the world on a motorcycle achieve? I suppose to an extent we're ambassadorial and there will be kids who've never seen a white man and for them I'll be the first white man they've met. It will be something they never forget and I hope when they look back on it they will remember it as a sweet experience.
IM Do you have a favourite country?
NS Maybe India. I've been 20 times and it has such a wealth of rich culture. The people are so friendly and it's a relatively small place if your used to travelling round the world. I can cross India in 2 days and ride the length of it in 3 . I feel at home there. It takes a lot longer to cross the Sahara when there's nothing there. Take the concept of time away from travel and a big country can appear small and a small one big. There's a lot of nothingness in the Sahara but India has much to occupy the senses, it's like a busy day that passes quickly. In a different way I find Mauritania which is mostly Sahara, quite beautiful and Mali is exceptional.
IM You're not bored crossing the Sahara?
IM Do you daydream?
NS I've found a way to put all my daydreams into action. I plan things in my head at times. I want other riders to think when they read my books. "ah yes he's put his finger on the nub of the issue, that's how I think. The way to write is the way to be. The way I write is the way I am.
IM You never seem to break down do you?
NS In the last 5 years on Yamahas I haven't had a single breakdown so mechanics don't come into my field of view, there's nothing to write about.
IM Why the shift from Triumph to Yamaha?
NS Triumph were great to me but they didn't want me anymore, they dumped me and Yamaha snapped me up. We're presently negotiating a deal that will keep me with them for next 3 years.
IM Why an R1 rather than a trailie or tourer?
NS At the start my association with the R1 was naive but when I sat on one it just to ride round the world on, I mean everyone else goes round on a GS and grows a beard so I turned all that on its head and this helps the whole experience cross boundaries.
IM Does it amuse you to witness people's incredulity that you use a sportsbike for this job?
NS Yes but the truth is it's such a good bike for it.
IM Your wrists don't get tired?
NS No, you find a flotation point, you just position yourself to minimise stress.
IM Have you ever run out of petrol?
NS In 1997 30 miles south of Calais.
IM That was a bit silly wasn't it?
IM When are you going to join MAG?
NS Just as soon as . . .
IM What was that you were saying about blokes who say they're going to do things?