In November 1962 a 22-year-old die maker in the central German town of Hövelhof quit his job and set off on his three-speed bike to see the world. Little did Heinz Stücke know that he’d never return, instead becoming what the Guinness Book of Records has described as ‘more widely travelled than anyone in history’.
Heinz’s wanderlust has taken him all over the world, from Siberia to Africa, and from Indonesia to Alaska. In fact, between 1962 and 2010 Heinz rode more than 608,332km through 195 countries on five continents. What’s more, over those ‘first’ 48 years Heinz pedalled the same, many times-repaired, three-speed, steel-framed bicycle.
Living off the sales of licensing fees and postcards from his 100,000-strong collection of travel photos (sold from his bike), Heinz carries his whole life on the bike, free-camping wherever he can and living by the generosity and hospitality of strangers. “Thanks to the bike and the goodwill of people, I have always found help,” says Heinz. “The bike lets you approach people more easily. It’s a kind of passport; a calling card.”
Of course almost 50 years on the road translates to several lifetimes’ experiences – not all of them good – and Heinz has overcome many obstacles and near-death experiences, from being run over in Chile’s Atacama Desert, to being beaten by soldiers in Egypt, shot in the foot in Zimbabwe, and attacked by a swarm of bees in Mozambique.
Even his original bike has been stolen and recovered six times. But since 1990 the German has been riding a Brompton folding bike, whose small packing size is helping his ambition of visiting every country on earth, with another 60,000 km ridden already.
• Daily mileage 80-120km a day
• Biggest day ride 320km in 12 hours across the Syrian desert
• Most famous donor Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie ($500)
• Weight of first bike 25kg including welded-on reinforcements
• Weight of luggage 40-50kg
• Times run over 4
• Broken bike frames 16
A new book about Heinz and his travels is out, featuring his photos and diary entries called Home Is Elsewhere: 50 Years Around the World by Bike. For the book see brompton.com, to follow Heinz’s travels see heinzstucke.com