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The Life Cycle South America

by James Marr 04 Jul 2020

Author - Kate Rawles

Website - More info at

The Life Cycle biodiversity bike ride

Woody hung in mid-air; panniers fully loaded. Watching as the crane arm swung the bike up and over into the cargo ship was a truly hair-raising moment. Not just the fear of panniers plummeting into the murky harbour water, but the big question mark lurking in my head. Would this bike, that I’d built myself, from bamboo, never having built a bike before, cope with the conditions that lay ahead as I attempted to ride the length of South America, off and on road, in all sorts of weather conditions? Would it hold together at all? It was an interesting question to have in mind as I set off.

The aim was to use the ride to help raise awareness and inspire action on a major environmental issue. The Life Cycle was a follow up to my previous ‘adventure plus’ bike ride: from Texas to Alaska, following the spine of the Rockies and exploring climate change in two of the most oil-hungry countries on earth. That journey was called The Carbon Cycle and led to a slide show and book of the same name. This time, the adventure involved following the spine of the Andes – the longest mountain chain in the world - from Colombia to Cape Horn (or as close as you can get to it on a bicycle.) The environmental focus was biodiversity loss, an environmental challenge as serious as climate change but one that gets a lot less press.


Woody and I rode through an astonishing variety of landscapes and ecosystems; from Pacific Ocean coast to high Andes páramo, from cloud and rainforests to Bolivian salt flats and the Atacama desert. En route we visited a wide range of projects and met some truly inspiring people. From a school whose entire curriculum was based on turtles to a group of young people standing up against one of the largest gold corporations in the world; from a former CEO of an outdoor clothing company who bought millions of acres of Chile with her own private fortune to turn them into nature conservation reserves, to an organisation protecting endangered monkeys by showing local people how to earn money by turning waste plastic into fenceposts rather than by catching monkeys for the illegal (but lucrative) wildlife pet trade

I couldn’t help relish the way medium and message came together as I cycled my even more than usually low impact bike (the bamboo came from the Eden Project in Cornwall, so Woody is probably the UK’s first home-grown bicycle) across South America, having crossed the Atlantic by ship rather than plane, in order to search out information about biodiversity and why it is so important while pedalling a bike that used to be a plant.

By the time we rolled (Ok crawled against a battering headwind) into Ushuaia thirteen months and 8288 miles later, that question mark had been well and truly dispatched. Not only was Woody a super comfortable long-distance ride, he was as tough as hell. In all those miles I had barely a mechanical issue - undoubtedly the most reliable bike I’ve ever owned. And definitely the most distinctive. All loaded bikes are people-magnets but if you rock up with a loaded bamboo bike you’ll find that magic magnetism multiplied many, many times.

Woody is currently taking a break while I work on The Life Cycle book. Once it’s done he’ll be ready for the tour….


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