LONDON, May 10 — He had been shot at in Zambia, stung by bees in Gambia. There had been volcanoes, arrests and accidents. But when round-the-world cyclist Heinz Stücke reached Britain, he suffered the cruelest cut of all: his bike was stolen.
It is a moot point whether the story made the headlines because of the loneliness of the long-distance biker, or as yet one more snippet of evidence that — even as politicians debate a wave of serious crime in Britain — a lesser tide of pilfering still washes the nation's shorelines.
Mr. Stücke has been pedalling, on and off — but always on the same bicycle — since 1962 when he left his home at Hövelhof in western Germany at the age of 22 rather than contemplate a lifetime as a tool and die maker.
Since then he has pedaled an estimated 335,000 miles across 211 countries and territories. In long-range cycling circles he is something of a celebrity, a kind of two-wheeled Forrest Gump who never decided he had said all he had to say about cycling. His nom de pedal is "the Bike Man."
Between 1995 and 1999 the Guinness Book of Records listed Mr, Stücke as the world's most travelled man.
In recent years, though, he has been obliged to look for ever more remote places to visit as he has filled his wish-list of visits to sovereign states and their dependencies. So he decided to head from Le Havre, France, to Greenland, via Britain.
Last Monday he landed in Portsmouth, southern England, pitched his tent, and covered his ancient bicycle with string, canvas and bungee chords, tethering it outside the tent flap.
"I even left my door open so that I could see it, but when I awoke at 3 a.m., it had gone," the Times of London quoted him as saying.
In these days of multi-speed, titanium-framed, shock-absorbed mountain bikes, it was no ordinary bicycle. It had a modest three speeds and a hub brake. It weighed 56 pounds because its frame had been reinforced against fractures, and its spokes had been thickened to cope with the rugged terrain, according to a web posting by Mr. Stücke (http://bikechina.com/ct-heinzstucke1z.html)
It had an extra set of handlebars so that Mr. Stücke could modify his riding position to ease shoulder pain. It had crossed the Syrian desert to set a personal record of around 200 miles in 12 hours "with the help of strong tailwinds." It had been to high altitudes in India and Tibet, across Afghanistan (in 1978) and above the snow-line in the mountainous African kingdom of Lesotho, not to mention below street level in the rutted tracks of less elevated Africa.
Friends and supporters had donated cash to keep him going. Even Haile Selassie, the late Emperor of Ethiopia — "whom I had the honor to meet" — was listed as a donor of $500.
"All that matters to me is travelling on my bike," Mr. Stücke, 66, told the BBC. "That bike has sentimental value. In the past I have cycled up to 100 kilometers a day on it." That's about 62 miles.
The police were concerned at the bike's disappearance. Constable Paul Jones even went through the police lost-property store and found a bike to lend him. But Mr. Stucke never abandoned hope that his trusty two-wheeler would be returned.
"I expected it to be found, because it's not a flashy one, it's not an expensive one," he said.
And it was.
An unidentified person found it abandoned in a park. And it was handed back to him, to his relief.
"It's my way of life," he said. "It's the only life I know."
It was not, though, the first — or the most in-your-face — crime Mr. Stücke faced in his travels. That doubtful honor, according to the web posting, went to an unidentified trickster who offered Mr. Stücke a lift near New York as he struggled to return to Costa Rica, where he had left his bicycle for safe-keeping.
"Not far from New York, a man picked me up. After some time he stopped in front of a drug-store in a shopping center, gave me 30 cents and said: 'Would you be so kind as to jump out and get me two cigars, Dutch Master Blond?' I said: 'Sure.' By the time I came out he had driven away with all my belongings in the car — camera, 1,000 selected slides, passport, my diary, equipment, everything."
His web posting continued: "At such a time I remembered my motto: Every blow that does not kill me only makes me stronger."