Ryan and Colin Pyle, whose full-throttle travelogue debut The Middle Kingdom Ride details their circumnavigation of China on motorcycles, grew up in and around Toronto. Children of divorce, Ryan spent his formative years with their father, while Colin remained with their mother. Although they were only three years apart and, at one point, fellow students in the same high school, they were never fully fraternal. They were further separated by Ryan’s decision to relocate to China, where he met his wife, Jasmine, started a family and pursued a self-taught career in photojournalism, shooting images of his adoptive homeland for such outlets as the New York Times and Newsweek. Colin remained in Toronto, where he “made a substantial amount of money” through a company he started, sold and then, unhappily, worked for.
“As my bank balance increased, my soul seemed to diminish,” Ryan writes. Halfway across the world, Colin was feeling the same. As Lehman Brothers crumbled, the Pyle brothers met up one afternoon between a break in their busy schedules in New York’s Central Park. On a hill above a playground, Colin confessed, “working for the man is not a nice life.” He told his brother he was looking to resign. Within minutes, the brothers were on Google Earth at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue charting an “audacious” counterclockwise route around China. After more research, they chose a pair of BMW F800GS off-road motorcycles with Touratech upgrades to complete their “massively ambitious” tour.
What eventually transpired—despite the doubts of publishers, production companies, potential sponsors, friends and even their wives—was a 17,674-kilometer journey, documented in a self-published book and a self-produced television show that premiered on April 10 on Travel Channel International.
“We didn’t make the Guinness Record Book because we backtracked a little bit in one section and they discounted all of that,” Ryan explains from his home in Shanghai.
But the trip wasn’t about records or sponsorships or a book deal. It was about getting away from it all, grabbing “an opportunity to experience something new every day” for 65 days and, most importantly, reconnecting as brothers.
“I’ve been to so many of these places, but my fondest memory was seeing things through Colin’s eyes, the stereotypes of China being broken every day,” says Ryan. Excerpts from Colin’s diaries at the end of each chapter give the reader epistolary recaps of what is predominantly Ryan’s detailed narrative.
Colin sums up the steep hills and muddy valleys of their adventure. On Day 28, he writes, “The ride this afternoon was spectacular.” The following day, after 120 kilometers in horrible, icy conditions, a mechanical breakdown and an accident along the border with Pakistan, he begins, “Today turned out to be the new worst day of the trip.”
“We had so much difficulty trying to include our separate voices,” Ryan says. In the book, he claims to “have a tendency toward the over-dramatic,” whereas his younger brother “tends toward understatement.” This personality difference and the deep bond they share provide humor and insight.
“I didn’t want to use the royal ‘We’ because we didn’t agree on much about what we saw and how we saw it,” Ryan explains. With the help of “a very, very excellent editor, who tore it apart and helped us put it back together,” Ryan bolstered the main narrative with the many hours of video footage shot by a small crew along the way and punctuated it with Colin’s end-of-day reflections.
“I’m a shorthand guy,” admits Colin, on a separate call from his home in London. In a small book that he carried to keep track of their finances, he also noted “little points, a snapshot of an emotion or a feeling at that exact moment, to come back to, at a later date.”
An agent in Toronto eagerly pitched their project, but “we weren’t celebrities,” says Ryan. “And who would want to know about two nobodies riding motorcycles around China?”
After sponsors, “traditional television and traditional publishing turned their back[s]” because they didn’t “fit their risk profile,” the pair said. “You know what? People don’t want you until someone else wants you. It’s the same in television, it’s the same in publishing, it’s the same in anything. We’re two competent business people. We’re very passionate about this project. We’re gonna do it ourselves.”
“Our risk profile is beyond normal,” Ryan laughs. So they began G219 Productions, named for the highest and most remote highway in China, which the two “almost died on” but “loved so much.” With Ryan’s day-to-day organization and Colin’s entrepreneurial input, G219 published The Middle Kingdom Ride and produced the companion documentary. Their upcoming follow-up, The India Ride, arrives later this year.
“It’s been a long, long journey,” sighs Colin. “I don’t know what’s been harder: riding around China or getting [the book and television show] completed.”
Tom Eubanks is a writer and editor living in New York. In publishing for over two decades, he also represents authors and artists. He’s currently working with fashion icon Pat Cleveland on a long-anticipated memoir. Photo of Ryan Pyle above by
Chad Ingraham/G219 Productions.