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Peking to Paris and other grand adventures

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The 1907 Peking to Paris

Is there anyone who will agree to travel this summer from Paris to Peking by automobile?

Le Matin Newspaper - 31 January 1907

On 10 June 1907 eleven men in five cars assembled at the French embassy in Peking (now Beijing) for the start of what would become one of the most famous motor rallies in history.

Peking to Paris

The original proposal by Le Matin was to drive from Paris to Peking, but the plan was later reversed to avoid the summer rains in northern China. For the next few months the Peking to Paris raid would capture the hearts and imagination of Europe.

The entrants faced formidable challenges. It was only 20 years since the first motor-cars and few imagined such impractical vehicles could cross two continents, or go on to become the global problem they are today.

Fuel and spare parts were sent ahead by foot, mule and camel to supply the vehicles as far as Ulaan Baatar. The cars were mostly carried or pulled by animal and people over the mountain passes far as Zhangjiakou. The Contal tricycle was then abandoned in the Gobi desert as it ran out of fuel. Its two riders almost died from heat and thirst, but were rescued by a passing camel caravan. A second vehicle ran empty but was saved by some horsemen sent back with fuel from the next town.

Peking to Paris

From Ulaan Bataar as far as the Ural Mountains they were plagued with persistent rain and muddy bogs of an unusually wet Siberian summer. Rivers were usually crossed by boat. The trip almost ended for one team as a wooden bridge collapsed under the weight of their car. For a time they resorted to riding along the recently completed trans-Siberian railway line, though this presented its own difficulties.

Four of the original five vehicles eventually made their triumphant arrival in Moscow, and paraded across Europe and into Paris, to a hero's welcome. First to Paris was Prince Scorpione Borghese, Luigi Barzini and Ettore Buizzardi, all from Italy, exactly two months after leaving Beijing.

Later that year saw the start of mass production of the Model T Ford. The era when cars were carefully built by hand, and nobody knew the meaning of urban sprawl was coming to an end.

Later events

The success of the 1907 event set the scene for a much bigger event in 2008, the New-York Paris raid. This saw teams from Germany, Italy, France and the USA competing over 35,000km on three continents. Cars were driven from New York to San-Francisco, then shipped to Japan and Vladivostok. They then crossed Siberia to Europe. Charles Goddard, from the Peking to Paris raid made the starting line of this event also, though he failed to reach San-Francisco.

Possibility for further grand trans-eurasian motoring adventures were then quashed as the world slid into war. Another attempt was made just after WWII, but it failed for political reasons that prevailed for the next five decades.

In 2005 a group of Aussy and Kiwi enthusiasts organised "The great 2005 Peking to Paris expedition", taking the original route. Most of the vehicles were genuine 1907 originals, with re-built engines. The exception was the Contal tricycle, for which none were thought to be in existence, so this was re-built by hand from early drawings and photos. The event was followed by a support crew and a documentary series was made for Australian television.

2007 will saw several motoring clubs organising events. And of course to celebrate the coming era, there there will also be our carfree alternative.

Peking Paris Raid 2007
The great 2005 Peking to Paris expedition
Ettore Guizzardi

Vive La Vélorution!

Two kids, and rice
Steamed buns
Cycling Tibet
Ulugrabat Pass

The first bicycles using pedals and cranks appeared in the mid 1860's. They became popular in Paris in the summer of 1868, then spread quickly to other parts of the world.

In 1884 Thomas Stephens began the first round the world ride. He cycled from San Francisco to Boston, then through Europe, Persia, Afghanistan, India, China and Japan, before sailing home.

By 1900 bicycles had circumnavigated Australia three times, the world multiple times and been ridden from lake Victoria in the heart of Africa, to the Indian Ocean at least twice.

A century later the adventures continue. In 1996 Göran Kropp cycled from Sweden to Mt Everest, ascended to summit without oxygen or porters then cycled back to Sweden.

The world record for the most traveled man is held by the German cyclist Heinz Stüke. He has been on tour almost continuously since 1960. In that time he has explored extensively almost every country in the world.

Over 5.5 billion people currently live carfree and global bicycle production stands at over 100 million bikes per year and rising, compared to just 50 million cars. Whilst motorists sit stuck in traffic complaining about the price of petrol, we can be happily making our way across the world's most remote and interesting places.

Ken Kyfer's Bike pages
Expedition 360
Janne Corax
Tim Cope
Edward Genochio
Waltrand Schulz and Andy Heßberg
Around n over
Heinz Stüke
Vancouver to Vancouver

Ting on the Yunnan-Tibet road
Fruit selling ladie in Laos
Fruit sellers in Kunming
Family cycling in Xinjiang

Nice pictures taken from the Carfree Asia website.