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Entrepreneur, philanthropist, adventurer, cyclist. Richard Branson needs no introduction as one of the best known and best loved entrepreneurs in the world. As well as being the founder of the Virgin Group of Companies (now standing at over 400 since growing rapidly from the Virgin Record days of the 1970s), Branson includes a keen love of cycling in his outdoors and adventure portfolio. Always Riding jumped at the chance to chat to Richard about cycling, electric bikes, his latest projects (both entrepreneurial and philanthropic) and generally find out a bit more about what makes him tick.

AR - Many people can remember their first bike (often falling off it as they learnt to ride!). Do you have a first memory of cycling?

RB - I was very sporty as a child and have many great memories of cycling and sports in general. My earliest sporting memory was learning to swim on a family holiday. My Auntie Joyce bet me 10 shillings I couldn’t learn to swim by the end of our holiday. I was so determined to win the 10 shillings that I spent the whole two weeks in the ocean barely staying afloat. However, when we were driving home I made the family stop the car so I could have one last attempt in a nearby river. Despite nearly drowning I managed it and won the money and, more importantly, learned to swim.

My earliest sporting memory was learning to swim on a family holiday. My Auntie Joyce bet me 10 shillings I couldn’t learn to swim by the end of our holiday... Despite nearly drowning I managed it and won the money and, more importantly, learned to swim.

Richard Branson in his younger days
Richard Branson in his childhood on a pony
Branson in his youth - revealing a high level of determination to succeed from a young age. Credit: The Branson Family

AR - You’ve done some pretty serious bike rides (such as on the Virgin STRIVE Challenges) that most would describe as epic! But are there any famous rides out there that you fancy? Could you be tempted to climb Mont Ventoux or Alpe d’Huez for instance?

RB - We have certainly had a few tough challenges with Strive, climbing many mountains including Mont Blanc, Mount Etna and Mont Toubkal. In 2017 we completed one of our toughest climbs in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. I have a few climbs ahead of me this year and I’m really looking forward to the 2018 STRIVE Challenge. It’s going to be our most adventurous yet and will include cycling through Sardinia and a truly epic climb up Mont Blanc.

I’m really looking forward to the 2018 STRIVE Challenge. It’s going to be our most adventurous yet and will include cycling through Sardinia and a truly epic climb up Mont Blanc.

Richard Branson during the Strive Challenge. Credit: Adam Slama
Branson during the Strive Challenge. Credit: Adam Slama

AR - You own an electric bike for riding on Necker Island. Do you see them as an urban transport solution and what do you think we need to do to bring that about?

RB - Yes! My wonderful wife Joan surprised me with an electric bike as a gift and I think they are great inventions. As well as being a lot of fun, they have a lot of practical worth too. They could be used a lot more in urban settings to help cut commuting times and to encourage more people to leave their cars at home. They’re also great for older people who want to cycle together with younger people but aren’t equally matched in terms of fitness.

As well as being a lot of fun, electric bikes have a lot of practical worth too. They could be used a lot more in urban settings to help cut commuting times and to encourage more people to leave their cars at home.

AR - Bikes have long been associated with individual freedom and improved access to opportunities, from women’s emancipation in the late 19th century to initiatives today which use bikes to help people access education, healthcare and other key services in rural areas of developing countries. Do you think the humble bicycle still has a role to play in making the world a better place? Do you think we are missing a trick anywhere?

RB - Bikes definitely still have a role to play, I would think more so now than ever, due to the increasing congestion in urban areas.

This is evident in the popularity and expansion of the ‘pay as you go’ bicycle hire schemes and the new cycle superhighways in London. They’re a much more efficient and cheaper way of transport and can take you much closer to your final destination. Plus they help keep you fit and can be a lot of fun.

Richard Branson on the Cape Argus Cycle Tour
Branson on the Cape Argus Cycle Tour. Credit: Virgin Active South Africa

Bikes definitely still have a role to play, I would think more so now than ever, due to the increasing congestion in urban areas. They’re a much more efficient and cheaper way of transport and can take you much closer to your final destination. Plus they help keep you fit and can be a lot of fun.

Christian Wolmar - Why We Need To Start Taking Cycling Seriously
ReadChristian Wolmar - Why We Need To Start Taking Cycling Seriously

AR - You had a bad accident on the bike a couple of years ago whilst training for the Virgin STRIVE Challenge. Has it changed how you feel about riding your bike?

RB - It was a really bad accident but I was extremely fortunate to only come away with a cracked cheek and a few torn ligaments, I was ready to take on the Virgin STRIVE challenge a month later.

I was very thankful to be wearing a helmet – it probably saved my life – and would urge all cyclists to wear them.

My attitude has always been, if you fall flat on your face, at least you’re moving forward. All you have to do is get back up and try again.

My attitude has always been, if you fall flat on your face, at least you’re moving forward. All you have to do is get back up and try again.


AR - The Virgin STRIVE Challenge supports Big Change, a charity focused at accelerating the growth of social impact businesses developed by young people. It’s a powerful idea and a great initiative. When you look at the projects and companies supported by Big Change, are there any that have especially impressed or inspired you?

RB - I’m dyslexic and maybe more than most people I’ve had to rely on conversations to get by in life and in business. That’s why I am so passionate about Voice 21, an amazing charity Big Change has supported since 2014.

Voice 21 is training teachers how to teach communications skills and lobbying for oracy to be considered as important as literacy and numeracy in the curriculum.

Oracy wasn’t really a thing before 2014, and now due to the amazing work of Voice 21, it is being taught in hundreds of schools across the country and is very much part of the policy agenda too.

Voice 21, a charity supported by Big Change
Voice 21, a charity supported by Big Change. Credit: Voice 21

I’m dyslexic and maybe more than most people I’ve had to rely on conversations to get by in life and in business. That’s why I am so passionate about Voice 21, an amazing charity Big Change has supported since 2014

Another project called Frontline is a perfect case study for how Big Change works. Frontline works to transform the lives of vulnerable children by recruiting and developing outstanding individuals to be leaders in social work and broader society.

Big Change supported Frontline in 2012, with a relatively small grant and some non-financial support, when Frontline was just an idea. Frontline was then able to prove its impact and went on to receive a multi-million pound grant from government, to take its program to national scale.

Frontline works to transform the lives of vulnerable children by recruiting and developing outstanding individuals to be leaders in social work and broader society

Frontline, another charity supported by Big Change
Frontline, another charity supported by Big Change - second image
Frontline, another charity supported by Big Change. Credit: Frontline

AR - Many of your businesses and projects are in the transportation sector such as the transformation of train services on Virgin West Coast, the development of Hyperloop and in a way, the vision of affordable space travel with Virgin Galactic. With the phenomenal growth in digital technology, social media, video conferencing and the like, does it really make sense to spend billions on developing technologies like Hyperloop to connect us physically and more quickly when we have much faster rapid digital solutions emerging?

RB - I would say we’re merging physical and digital. With Virgin Orbit we will be sending satellites into space but then digitally connecting people who live in the most remote places in the world. Virgin Hyperloop One involves incredible technology which will transport people around the world in a fraction of the time it currently takes. I envisage this cutting down on the need for remote meetings and making it more convenient for people to meet face to face.

I am a firm believer that we should disconnect ourselves from our digital devices and reconnect with ourselves and our loved ones. It’s all too easy now to miss out on the important moments in life because we are too busy looking at our phones.

Richard Branson in front of Hyperloop One
Branson with Hyperloop One. Credit: Virgin Hyperloop One

However, while I love technology and I’m fascinated by how it has developed over the years, I am also a firm believer that we should disconnect ourselves from our digital devices and reconnect with ourselves and our loved ones. It’s all too easy now to miss out on the important moments in life because we are too busy looking at our phones.


AR - You are in your mid 60s now and yet seem to have no plans to slow down. What’s the secret to being able to keep going at the pace and level of energy you do?

RB - I believe now is not the time to slow down, the best years are still yet to come. Now that I have become a grand-dude to my amazing grandchildren Etta, Artie, Eva Deia and Bluey, I need to carry on being the best person I can be and to be someone that they can be proud of.

Passion, Pace and Peanut Butter... the ELF fixed crit racing team
ReadPassion, Pace and Peanut Butter... the ELF fixed crit racing team

It is incredible what the body can do and what the mind can conquer no matter what age you are. Keep having fun, take risks and look for the best in people as these people will bring out the best in you. Having a good work life balance is so important; alongside your busy days, always make time to be inspired and laugh with your loved ones.

And keep yourself active. I take part in many sports, including cycling – it’s a great way to keep fit and helps me to relax and clear my mind.

It is incredible what the body can do and what the mind can conquer no matter what age you are. Keep having fun, take risks and look for the best in people as these people will bring out the best in you.


Top banner image credit: Adam Slama
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About the Rider: Richard Branson
Tie-loathing adventurer, philanthropist & troublemaker, who believes in turning ideas into reality. Otherwise known as Dr Yes
@richardbranson
https://www.virgin.com/richard-branson
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