Journalist Neale Bayly has traveled through 65 countries — 45 on his motorcycle — in the past 35 years. He once bought a bike in Florida and rode up to Alaska. He then sold it for $400 and hitchhiked to California, flew to Asia to tour several countries, and then spent the last of his money on a one-way ticket to Australia. He arrived with only $22 in his pocket and wound up living there for 12 months. Years later, he wrote about zipping through the Alps with the lead singer of Hoobastank for Motorcyclist magazine. Bayly and I meet, in less dramatic fashion, at his Ballantyne-area apartment to discuss his latest endeavor.
He will star in the new, three-part travel series Neale Bayly Rides: Peru, set to premiere on the SPEED channel June 9 at 9 p.m. He and three recreational riders rode 1,700 miles from Lima to Monquegua, Peru, over eight days. Their goal was to bring awareness to Wellspring International Outreach, a nonprofit Bayly started in 2008 to help abandoned children at the Hogar Belen Orphanage in Monquegua. Any donations that come as a result of the show will go directly to the nonprofit. The kids from the orphanage are featured at the end of the three-part series.
"My end game is to bring attention to the kids," Bayly says. "I don't know that too many people are putting these types of kids on television and I guess we've done it."
Bayly grew up in England at a time when unemployment was high. At 7, his father left and his mom, now 85, mostly stayed home but took odd jobs. He and his sister used to huddle together under blankets when it was freezing in the wintertime because they didn't have heat. The only bright spot in Bayly's childhood was traveling. He had been to Italy and France by the time he was 12.
He started riding motorcycles at age 16 and at 19, he and a friend prepared two small motorcycles so they could travel the world. They went broke and returned home in a week, but the experience hardly phased Bayly.
"It wasn't like I just stepped up and said, 'I'm going to get a BMW and become an expert rider,'" he says.
Bayly filmed the pilot for Peru in 2010 and shopped it around to many major networks without success. Executives said it was too fluffy or even too smart. The SPEED channel eventually picked up the show, an alumni network for him since he had a previous five-part motorcycle travel series set in Europe, Trippin' on Two Wheels.
"I saw Neale as driven and passionate," says the Rev. James Johnson, who accompanied Bayly on the Peru trip, of when they met before their excursion. "Some six months and a bunch of miles after our initial meeting, my view of him hasn't changed much. I still see all of those things, except maybe with greater intensity."
Even though the 51-year-old Bayly seems to live an exotic life, he is practical when he's not on the road. He lives next door to senior citizens and families in a modest apartment complex outside of Ballantyne. He owns a bicycle and a small motorcycle.
"I've never wanted to waste money on cars," he says, adding he has only spent $10,000 on them in the last 16 years. "The greatest skills I learned out of [traveling around the world] were how to hustle because you had to get by. We sold bikes, we dealt drugs, we stole shit, we all grouped together ...You always have to have an angle."
Bayly came to America at 21, earned his GED and took journalism and business classes. He followed his ex and their children to Charlotte.
He admits he faced an uphill battle getting the show on air. But even if it's a commercial failure, he still values the process.
"Maybe it isn't successful and maybe I don't make any money and maybe it's the greatest thing since sliced bread, but the fact is I did it and I had a vision and I wanted to do something," says Bayly.