Mark Beaumont speaker tour (2010)

A tour of 38 major venues around the UK – this review of his appearance at The Spa Pavillion, Felixstowe

Two epic rides recounted to make an entertaining evenings out

Cyclists have been ‘talking to slides’ since the days of the penny fathing. It is an audacious move, nonetheless, to mount a 38-venue UK tour of auditoriums with capacities of up to 1,500. That he has done so with apparent success is proof positive that Mark Beaumont is true to his commitment to take adventure cycling on to a new plane.

His format could not be simpler. Beaumont takes to the stage, on which sit three bicycles and a large screen. He talks about his record-breaking round-the-world trip for the first hour and a quarter. Then after a 20 minute interval, during which he signs books, his subject is his ride down the length of the Americas and his ascent of Mount McKinlay and Aconcagua.

Most of the illustration comes from still photographs, with three or four pieces of video footage. The bicycles serve simply as stage furniture.

If you have read his book, and seen the Round-The-World television series, then the first half does not offer a great deal that is new – indeed, even the photographs are familiar from the ‘colour section’ of the published work. There is nothing flashy, or dramatic about Beaumont’s delivery, but it is impossible not to warm to him, and his story is good enough to stand a retelling.

His account of the Americas trip is far more interesting. He had planned to spend last year on a team-rowing challenge, which was scuppered when the boat was lost at sea. The Alaska-to-Argentina venture was launched on the invitation of the BBC. Indeed, Beaumont now defines himself as ‘an adventurer and a documentary maker’. The latter is evident from his language, peppered as it is with tv speak – he was working on a ‘tail-end doc’, for which he needed to capture lots of ‘general views’ and ‘establishing shots’.

Not only that, but via a pannier-full of technical wizardry – ‘it was like a pedalling studio’ – he was able to blog, tweet, call in to radio shows and upload video footage as he travelled. At times he said, it was like having a ‘virtual peleton’ riding alongside him.

Beaumont acknowledged that doing this rather changed things. He was always having to think about capturing sufficient footage to make up film packages. To film himself, he had to endlessly double back to pick up the camera, beside which he had just ridden.

Doing all of this he is carving out new territory in both adventure cycling and documentary making – but, as he acknowledges – it radically alters feel of the journeys that he is undertaking. Cyclists planning to write up their journeys have always sought out material and kept notes, but it is a lot less intrusive than Beaumont’s brand of connected touring.

He is also drawing in a new audience. Of the 400 or so people in the audience in Felixstowe, few looked like committed cyclists and almost none arrived by bicycle.

Occasionally I wished that he had spent a bit more time working on the words – ‘the sense of space was awesome’ was his verdict on the Atacama desert – and several other places. If he wants people to listen to him, he should put a bit more work into what he has to say.

He ended by offering a response to the question ‘why does he do it’. He proffered a slideshow of brochure-quality scenes from his travels. They were beautiful to look at, but scarcely sufficient explanation for his choice to spend months on end cycling alone. Given that Beaumont comes over as personable, well-adjusted and obviously likeable, the actual answer would be fascinating – and a good place to start a slightly deeper exploration of his experiences.

TD May 10

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