You may have seen some unusual things being handed over the checked luggage at an airport, but a red London Santander bicycle has to take the biscuit.
Meet Chris Astill-Smith, the 24-year-old Wiltshire-born man who managed to smuggle one of the bikes, affectionately known to Londoners as a Boris bike, onto a plane in order to take a three-week whistle-stop tour around the world, riding the bike all the way.
In January, he undocked a bike at Westminster, packed it into a suitcase, and along with friend and filmmaker Alex Tyrwhitt, boarded a flight from Heathrow to New York. The friends visited seven cities across four continents, including Dubai, India, Rome, Paris, and San Francisco, with Tyrwhitt filming him riding the bike throughout the journey.
“I was really nervous, because [in London] everyone knows what a Boris bike is, but strangely no questions were asked at Heathrow,” he told Business Insider.
“However, when I arrived in the US, there were so many questions — why do you have it? What kind of bike is it? I managed to convince them it was just my bike, and I was taking it around to do some filming.”
It wasn’t just a daring stunt, but an effort to raise £25,000 for the charity Dreams Come True, which aims to fulfil the dreams of children and young people with serious and life-limiting conditions.
His footage was turned into a video that built support around the main event in his fundraising: In August, he plans to swim 35 km from England to France across the Channel.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities in my life — travelled the world, opened a business — and these kids don’t have these opportunities,” he said. “I know how powerful a dream is.”
Last year, Astill-Smith opened the nutritional supplement company Nutristrength with his brother, Adam Hutchin. He now lives and works in London, and told Business Insider that he funded the trip himself.
“I wanted to make a big impact on a small charity rather than an average impact on a big charity where the money goes to admin costs,” he added.
He wanted to create something that would go viral in order to grab the attention of the public. “It’s such an iconic piece of London, but nobody has ever seen it outside of London before,” he said.
The friends took the bikes to all of the big landmarks around each city, lugging it to and from the airports and through busy crowds. He said that in India, everyone was shocked by the bike.
“Nobody could understand what it was, and the traffic was mental,” he said, adding that although it was his favourite place on the trip, it was also the most difficult to get the bike around.
“They wouldn’t let us shoot the bike next to the Taj Mahal because of the high-security levels, but I managed to find an area of land at the back and bribed the people on the security gates to let us through for £10.”
So far, Astill-Smith has raised £8,500 out of his £25,000 goal, largely from strangers who have seen the video.
The training for his next mission has been vigorous — he swims six days a week, clocking 25 to 30 km, and is at the gym two or three times a week on top of that.=
“I’m not a professional swimmer, but I swam when I was younger and stopped when I was 18,” he said. “I decided I wanted a challenge in my life and decided to swim the channel,” he said. “It’s time-consuming, both mentally and physically tiring. But now the weather has come out, it’s a bit more motivating.”
He added that he has given himself “a window between August 14 and 20” and will do the swim on one of those days, “depending on the weather.”
And, in case you’re wondering, he did eventually return the Santander bike to a docking station. “We gave it back, so it was just borrowed for a long period of time,” he laughed.
See Astill-Smith’s Santander bike journey below, and visit his fundraising page here.