End to end

Deloitte Ride Across Britain

September 2015

Kaveh and I, alongside 788 other cyclists, recently completed the 969 miles journey, which was organised by Deloitte’s Ride Across Britain (RAB). Here is a review of my experience with RAB, including my training, equipment and my personal take upon finishing a series of epic rides. This review aims to shed light on the event with as much detail as possible. Hopefully, after reading this, you too will feel inspired to take up whatever cycling challenge you have ever dreamed of.

RAB divides the 969-miles journey into 9 consecutive days, which averages at over 105 miles that need to be covered each day. Moreover, the route is not the traditional End-to-End one: it is around 100 miles longer and is designed for its scenery, safety and the quietness of its roads. After the first day of the ride, you realise that, although there are no mountains like those in the Alps or Albors (the mountain range in North of Iran , where I am originally from) in this country, there are no shortage of hills in Britain! Throughout the journey there are 15,000 ft of climbing to do, which is 13 times the Alp d’Heuz, and just shy of climbing Everest twice!

Each year 800 cyclists register with RAB. The riders’ abilities are quite varied. This year’s riders ranged from British Olympians, who had squeezed in this ride as part of their training for Rio next year, all the way down to folks who showed up in their trainers, T-shirts and hybrid bikes at the starting line! This is one event that, regardless of experience and fitness, you can use as an opportunity to improve your fitness and cycling form. You can join the strong groups and push yourself to challenge Strava sections, if that’s what your aims are. Alternatively, you can take it at whatever pace you are comfortable with and finish the challenge stronger than when you first started. Nonetheless, 93% of people managed to complete the ride, which may not be the most important thing here but it is encouraging.

RAB provides you with everything you need, which leaves you with only the cycling bit to worry about. In a typical day, you wake up at around 4:30-5.00 a.m. in your tent. Breakfast (loads of options, including cooked) is served in a huge marquee, which is erected the night before. You then collect your laundry from either their official laundry service provider (they do it over night  for you), or from the drying tent, should you have washed your kit yourself. You return to your tent, put on your cycling kit, pack your stuff and hand in your bag to a DHL van which is waiting for you nearby. You then pick up your bike from the bike stands and off you go to the start line!

The entire route is clearly signposted and there are medical and mechanical support vehicles en route. Furthermore, there are ushers to organise and to encourage cyclists into riding in groups, while making sure that any weak or inexperienced cyclists have been well looked after. There are 2-3 pit stops around 35 miles apart where food, snacks and sport nutrition are provided. At these pit stops, there are also medical and mechanical stands, should you have encountered any issues. Throughout the day, you can choose your own pace and join or form a group with your friends. It is entirely up to you how fast or slow you want to go; you have 12 hours (7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.) to finish the ride, which is ample.

Once the ride for the day is over, you enter the camp, which is already set up and in full swing. You are then directed to where your tent is located for the night. You can also register for a 15-minutes sport massage if you have any medical or physiotherapy needs. The DHL van has your bags ready to be collected near your tent again, and you can go and take a shower; they provide fresh towels every night and the portable showers are excellent with plenty of hot water and high pressure. Then, it’s time for the best part of the day: food. They use a catering company which use portable kitchens and cook with only fresh and local ingredients; they served us some incredible food and deserts every night. As a foodie, I could not have been happier with both the quality and the quantity of the meals! After dinner the briefings for the next day are given, as is a motivational speech by an ex-Olympian or an adventurer (for example, one night we had Mark Beaumont, who actually cycled with us the next day too).

RAB provides a training programme starting from November until September, which was forwarded as monthly e-mails. This training manual is very detailed and is divided into 3 sub-programmess for beginners, intermediates and advanced cyclists. The training manual tells you how often, for how long, and to what intensity you should be training every day of the week, and how often you have to take days off and rest. Having said that, I found the programme hard to commit to and I opted for a routine of 4-5 rides a week for around 1:45 hours during the winter. In the spring, I switched from my heavy winter bike (a 15kg touring one) to a lighter set up and added interval training. Moreover, in order to increase my threshold, I would do 5-6 laps around Arthur’s seat on Fridays, before showing up at a 9:15 a.m. club ride on Saturdays with Ronde. Finally, there was a bit of core and stretching that I would do every now and then. This strategy worked fine for me and I was fit enough to cycle and finish the route everyday in good time and enjoy myself. The only problems I had were a sore ankle because of the pedals (which can be sorted by proper stretching or changing to a different make of pedals), and a sore neck, which I have to work on now.

Signing up for an epic challenge gives you the best excuse to indulge yourself with the best equipment you can afford. However, what I learnt during this ride was that the most important factor to consider here is the bike fit. The weight of the bike is totally irrelevant since time is no issue. You have 12 hours to finish the distance, which is more than enough with even the heaviest bikes. However, if there is any discomfort due to a poor fit, which can be overlooked on a short ride, this will only be amplified on a long ride and it turns your bike into a “torture machine”, as one of the riders who was suffering from saddle sores remarked! The fit of the bike and the contact points are what makes or breaks it here. In other words, you need to find out what combination of saddle and bib shorts, handlebars, tape and gloves, pedals and shoes works best for you. 

As the length of this post suggests, I have had a positive experience with what was provided by RAB and I certainly recommend them. On a personal level, completing this challenge could not have been more rewarding either. However, the sense of accomplishment did not come as ticking yet another box on my ‘To do’ list; it came as a sense of contentment and a positive outlook on life in general. Perhaps the long days, day after day, on the saddle unconsciously brought me into a somewhat meditative state, in addition to all those endorphins, the fresh air and the awesome scenery which were constantly unfolding in front me, helping me to put things into balance and perspective in my head.

Finally, I would encourage each and every one you who are reading this to sign up and do the ride. It may look monumental and scary at first, but there is more capability in all of us than we think. Every impossible task, once broken down into smaller ones, becomes possible. Each and every one of you already has the necessary training, fitness and equipment to finish this ride, but you may not yet know it. My last word of encouragement for those of you who may still have doubts about your ability or whether you will be able to finish the task for whatever reason: the accomplishment is in the experience and not in the completion! As Hemingway said: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Happy Riding

Words and photos provided by Kayhan Jafar-Shaghaghi