Every day, electric bike lovers prove that some journeys are meant to be taken on an electric bike. One of them is David Hayles, an Englishman in his seventies recovering from throat cancer, who has made it his mission to ride around the globe.
“I’ve always fancied doing it,” says Hayles of his decision to take the trip. “And I want to do it now before I get any older. I’m now over 70, so I think it’s about time I gone on and did it.”
This can-do attitude exemplifies the man who answers my phone call, ready for our interview just minutes after arriving in his hotel room in Los Angeles. Though many people get serious about their bucket lists after a medical diagnosis, a spirit of adventure is nothing new for David. The English aristocrat and world expert on scagliola – the ancient art of imitation marble – has been traveling the world for both business and pleasure since he was a young man. Now, his diagnosis seems to have only made him bolder – and infused his drive to explore with a sense of purpose.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to actually help people who have health problems; to tell people – don’t give up and pitch out in front of the telly,” he tells me. “Carry on living and enjoying life.”
No one could argue that Hayles doesn’t walk his talk. After a radical laryngectomy which left him with a permanent hole in his neck, David is now cancer-free. But the disease has still left its mark on his life. He must get the valve in his neck changed routinely – a process he describes as a “nuisance,” and one which limits his ability to get up and go the way he would like to. When he’s in the United States, the company that makes the valves can keep him supplied. Traveling to remote locales like Uzbekistan is another story.
I’m trying to picture it: a seventy-year-old man recovering from cancer, biking around places I only hear about on the news. Doesn’t he know it’s dangerous? Will he have access to medical care? Shouldn’t he have help?
Hayles swats away my fears with a practiced ease, as if this isn’t his first time explaining his life choices to an outsider.
“Oh, I don’t care about it,” he says of my medical concerns. “I’m not at all paranoid about wherever I go. I live with a lack of fear. About 30 years ago, I bicycled down Africa and just camped out wherever. In one village, I woke up and there was this tall African chap outside my tent with his spear, guarding me.”
This is the most magnetic thing about David: he makes friends wherever he goes. Though his sponsors at Pedego Electric Bikes support him, providing him with customized vests by Arrowhere and replacement batteries, he is physically alone on this journey of a lifetime. Yet he doesn’t seem to feel alone at all.
“It’s funny,” says David, a smile in his voice. “When you’re on your own and moving at a bicycle speed, you’re no threat to anybody. People are actually too pleased to help you. And that’s the same basically everywhere I’ve been in the world.”
This spirit of community shines through on David’s own GoFundMe page, where donors from all over the world are supporting David’s journey. 41% of the profits will be donated to the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center for general cancer research. Another 41% will be donated to “Shout at Cancer” – a UK charity that helps laryngectomy patients live full lives after surgery. The last 18% will support David’s bike ride around the globe.
David informs me of a strange beeping noise. (His phone is dying). Realizing our time is almost up, I rack my brain for the perfect last question. I want to get one more quote before he leaves for Sydney, Australia – something that will encapsulate the eccentric wisdom of the man who has managed to make me feel like a lifelong friend in under thirty minutes.
“David – what would you say to someone who wants to bike around the world?” I ask.
He doesn’t hesitate before answering.
“Only the mad can do it,” he chuckles.
I hang up the phone with a smile on my face. If David Hayles is mad, I think to myself, then we could all use a little madness.