Former teacher cycles the world spreading his message of hope
‘We can all be heroes,’ Super Cycling Man says
Will Hodson, a primaryschool teacher in London, was reading a superhero book to his students one day when a thought struck him. “We were talking about how we can all do something heroic every day — open a door for someone, say something nice to someone,” he recalled. “I scrapped the day’s lesson plans and asked the five-year-olds to think about, ‘What are we all good at?’”
Hodson, 39, was good at cycling, and he ended up taking his lesson to an extreme: After saving up for two years, he quit his job, put on a red cape and blue tights and embarked on a five-year ride across seven continents to raise money for charity, including for Parkinson’s disease, which his father has. Calling himself Super Cycling Man, he tries to visit at least one school per country, to spread the message that “we can all be heroes.”
“As well as this being a fairly selfish journey” — he loves long-distance cycling — “I want to engage schoolchildren and at least teach them bits of geography, like that there are seven continents,” he said. “I ride into their assembly hall with my music blaring, playing the Superman theme song.”
Starting last May, he hit 14 countries in Europe before stopping in the republic of Georgia; he is recovering from a stomach bug there and loading up on visas for countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Russia.
At assemblies, Hodson asks children to share their dreams — the most common include being a soccer star, opening a restaurant or being a fashion designer. “I tell them that a lot of the best things you’ll ever achieve don’t come easy.”
On the road, strangers have acted heroically — Turkish gas station attendants sheltered him in the snow, and people in Serbia had a giant pizza waiting when he crossed the border.
He averages 100 kilometres a day, and travels with a small repair kit.
On low-energy days he thinks of Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky, who rode a bicycle around the world in the 1890s with a pearl-handled pistol in her petticoat. Hodson travels unarmed, choosing not to carry the six-inch hunting knife a man in Turkey gave him as a gift. “I have it pretty cushy with my waterproof this and that and my German puncture-proof tires.”
So far, he is up to about $19,000 of the $140,000 he hopes to raise for five charities, including Parkinson’s UK and the World Cancer Research Fund. He’s travelling cheaply, but expects his $10,000 in savings to run out somewhere in Asia, and hopes to raise more money by selling postcards and wristbands and soliciting grants and contributions. Antarctica, the most expensive continent to visit, is last on his list, after Asia, Australia, the Americas and Africa.
The hardest part of the trip has been “just keeping my parents at manageable stress levels. You see so much bad news in the world, but I see a very different picture — people inviting me to their houses, people pouring me drinks on the street at night.”
Along with the superhero message, Hodson hopes to show people that “life’s pretty good on two wheels” — particularly in places where cycling is less popular. Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, with its lack of bike lanes and its maniacal drivers, is the toughest city he’s seen for cyclists, but even there, young people have been receptive.
“The youth don’t want to necessarily have a big pot belly and drive around in a four-by-four.”