Lessons from a three-time RAB-er

Participant Stories

To celebrate the launch of our 2024 Golden Jersey, we sat down with three-time RAB participant and 2022 Golden Jersey recipient David Walsh to discuss his RAB journey, and what it is that’s kept him coming back to the Babble Ride Across Britain.

If you’re completing your third Babble Ride Across Britain in 2024, you can claim your free Golden Jersey now. Your jersey will be presented to you during the event.

When did you get into cycling, David?

I was involved in a car accident in 2001, my last year of university, which forced me to stop all sports for a long time. Before that I was into cricket, but I snapped nerves in my right arm, which stopped me playing.

Fast forward eleven years and I was living in London. I used to walk to work, which took me about 45 minutes every day until, partly inspired by the London Olympics and of course the Tour de France, I bought a bike, which cut my journey down to 10 or 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, my first bike was stolen – but I bought a slightly better one the next spring. Then, at the end of the year, I took it a bit further and spent a bonus on a pretty decent carbon fibre bike. After that I thought I’d better get my money’s worth, so I took on London to Paris in 2014. That was my first big cycling event.

When did you first take on the Ride Across Britain?

I took on my first RAB in 2017 – the year of ‘four seasons per hour, every hour’!

I’d always wanted to do Land’s End to John o’ Groats, but I always wanted there to be a challenge about it. I could’ve done LEJOG in two weeks and, for me, it would’ve been relatively easy. Even doing it in ten or eleven days would just take the edge off, but doing it in nine days I thought would be the sweet spot between being ‘too hard’ and ‘not quite hard enough’.

I ended up being correct. On London to Paris, I’d average about 75 miles a day, but I found that step up to 100+ miles a day a real challenge. It’s only a third more, but it feels like 50%. Plus, a lot of the days on RAB are 105, 106 miles, so you get to 100 and then those last few just seem to take forever!

The ride itself was fantastic, though – the food was great, the logistics and support were awesome. I’m not one for carrying my bags, I need a lot of medication and stuff, but everything was set up so that all you have to worry about is riding your bike.

“I felt nothing but pride when I got to the end.”

What were some highlights the first year you took part?

Too many to number! The scenery is beautiful, and I loved watching the way the architecture changes as you go from county to county. Just the way the houses are built, it subtly morphs.

One early highlight was finally waving goodbye to Cornwall! It’s just brutal. There’s just no flat riding, and it’s very hard to replicate that kind of riding unless you live in Cornwall. Thankfully, you get it out of the way early. The hardest days are the first two (and then 7 & 8 due to the accumulated fatigue.) But throughout, there’s so many spectacular moments – the electric atmosphere at the top of Cothelstone Hill; getting up and over Shap fell; the Commando Memorial in Inverness. The last two days were perhaps the best, when I knew that I had dealt with the worst and could just ride and enjoy what I had achieved. And of course, getting to John o’ Groats was a real highlight – I felt nothing but pride when I got to the end.

Aside from the route itself, the camaraderie and support were a big highlight. The sense of just having nothing to do but ride your bike – people talk about the ‘RAB bubble’, and it’s really true, you just get away from the world, especially all the mobile phones all the time.

“It’s hard to put into words unless you’ve been part of something similar, where everyone has the same goal.”

You’ve now taken part in RAB 3 times, earning your Golden Jersey in 2022 – what’s kept you coming back for more?

The RAB bubble, for sure. It’s hard to put into words unless you’ve been part of something similar, where everyone has the same goal. It feels as if everyone is 100% invested in the aim of getting everyone to John o’ Groats – from luggage handlers to logistics crew, catering teams (shoutout to Lulu – her cooking was a major reason for coming back each year!), and of course Magic Sue and her team of real heroes. Together, everyone can push themselves further than they would do on their own.

How would you describe the Ride Across Britain in three words?

Epic, immense, inspiring!