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Norwich bike mechanic enjoys world of adventure

Tom Donhou working on a bike frame in his Norwich workshop

Tom Donhou working on a bike frame in his Norwich workshop

Archant © 2011

Many people travel the globe in an attempt to 'find themselves' and never get the moment of clarity that they are searching for.

But for one Norwich man, that moment came thousands of miles from home on an epic 8,000-mile cycle trip from Mongolia to Singapore. Tom Donhou, of Waterloo Road in north Norwich, had been working as a product designer in London, designing a range of products from perfume bottles to toys, but wanted more from his life.

Then the opportunity arrived at his door and the journey that would completely change the direction of his life began to unfold. “Me and my friend Dominic Yard got a place on a charity rally called the Mongol Rally in 2009 which has about 400 cars leave for Mongolia every year, most from London but some from Madrid and Rome as well,” he said.

“We had a Skoda Felicia pick-up truck and it took us a month to drive to Mongolia and the idea is to drive a banger because you donate the cars to charity when you get there.

“We drove through Europe into Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, through Russia and then into Mongolia. But I took my bike in the back of the truck because I had always wanted to ride from here to Singapore because it is the furthest you can cycle around the globe.

“So I thought this was probably the chance to do it because I would be halfway there already.

“I took my bike, we got to Mongolia and donated the truck and then put the bike together and I went off across the Gobi Desert to China.

“I left Ulan Bator, which is the capital of Mongolia, towards the end of September, just when the Gobi was starting to cool down but not before it got too cold, so I had a bit of a window. It was a bit of a shock because I had been with my mates tearing through all these countries and then headed out into the desert on my own.

“I went all over China, through the Himalayas, back into Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and then finally Singapore.

“I didn’t have a lot of money. We raised quite a lot of money for the rally and were sponsored for that, but then I was basically a hobo once I was on my bike, sleeping on the side of the road.”

It was the peace and quiet of his solitary journey on his bike that make Tom realise what he really wanted to do, open a custom bicycle workshop back home in Norwich.

He continued: “By the time I got to Laos it was then coming up to Christmas and I had been away for a while so I was probably ready to come home by then.

“I had already had the idea to start building bikes when I was in China and I was really excited about getting back and getting started. It just kind of made perfect sense. I’d been making things all my life. I studied design, I worked in design and I had always loved bikes so it just was like, why haven’t I thought of this before?

“But I think it took going away like that for me to figure it out and it just made the perfect combination of my two loves really.”

Now 29, Tom is working as a custom bicycle frame builder at his workshop on Duke Street and he feels privileged that he gets to work in an industry that he is so passionate about.

He said: “Basically I’ve been keeping my business on the downlow until Christmas last year, when I launched our website, and now I’m really looking to push it as far as I can. I’ve grown up with bikes, I used to race cross-country bikes in Thetford and then I went on to do downhill racing at a national level on mountain bikes and did pretty well with that.

“I don’t think people realise how much effort goes into making custom bikes, it can be crazy the amount of work. But it has gone really well and people who have had bikes have loved them. There’s a lot of heart that goes into them and I like to involve the customer as much as I can in the design of their bikes and that is really where they got a lot out of it.

“Every bike is built, there’s no batch production of any part, the bikes are all built one piece at a time to how the customer wants.

“Business is picking up. I had to invest money in specific tools for bike building at first, and they aren’t cheap, but I’m starting to come back from that and things are going good.”

Find out more about
Donhou Bicycles at www.donhoubicycles.com or email tom@donhoubicycles.com.

Are you embarking on an epic adventure, or have you just returned? Contact David Freezer on 01603 772418 or email david.freezer@archant.co.uk.

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