Jumping on a motorcycle and roaring through a foreign landscape might not be everybody’s idea of the best way to gain intimate knowledge of a country and its people, but Ryan Pyle (BA 2001 NEW) often takes the road less travelled.
“I don’t think you can be a global citizen just because you have an Internet connection,” he says, midway through an epic 14,000-kilometre ride, circumnavigating India with his brother Colin. “The world is a big and beautiful place… and if you really want to understand what’s going on you have to go there.”
But why by motorcycle? “You feel every bump in the road, you smell every smell,” Pyle says.
The brothers made their first epic two-wheel journey around China, filming the ride for a TV series (still to air), produced through their own burgeoning production company. That 65-day trip earned them a Guinness World Record for endurance motorcycle riding (an accident, Pyle says, but a happy one) and opened his eyes to new and unexpected views of the rapidly changing country.
The hundreds of hours of footage of their India trip will also become a TV series. Besides chronicling the gruelling weather, dangerous roads, vehicle breakdowns and days-long traffic jams that have made the brothers closer, Pyle hopes to show the value of being “in front of something that you’re trying to tell a story about.” For example, he says, “I think the most powerful moment of the trip so far, for me, was at Amritsar and seeing the devotion of the people visiting the stunning Golden Temple.”
Driven by a thirst for adventure, Pyle, 34, left his hometown of Toronto more than a decade ago. His studies in international politics at U of T sparked his wanderlust. He describes a second-year Introduction to Modern China class as getting him hooked on China; three years later he was living in Shanghai.
Based in China ever since, he’s made a name for himself as a photographer – for the New York Times, Time, Newsweek and more. On-the-ground reporting is an increasing rarity in a news media that’s slashed international coverage under the pressure of shrinking budgets, but for the self-taught photojournalist, “the idea that someone can report on some news or have an opinion about something without having actually been there just boggles my mind.” For example, Pyle’s image of a couple mourning at a backyard shrine they built for a son killed in a factory explosion is a vivid illustration of the costs of rapid industrialization.
He hopes his work will help fill in more of those gaps. He wants The India Ride, like The Middle Kingdom Ride before it, to present a more sustained view that short-term, drop-by news coverage just can’t capture. He concedes the motorcycle-ride series are as much entertainment as they are educational, but as he develops his TV work he hopes to go deeper, as he’s done in his still photography.
And other than the germ of an idea – to return and explore his own country by motorcycle – Pyle doesn’t expect he’ll ever come back to his quieter Canadian life. The plan instead is to keep exploring, and finding ways to tell the longer, bumpier story.
View a gallery of images from the Pyle brothers’ India Ride.
Readers who enjoyed Ryan’s India pictures may want to check out his book, The Middle Kingdom Ride, about his 18,000-kilometre motorcycle trip through China.