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It snowed, I rode.

I love the snow – and I love mountain biking in it too.

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So when I woke up to a winter wonderland in the Surrey Hills this morning I didn’t waste any time (because let’s face it, British snow can’t wait to melt).

Not that I got out of the door first thing as getting dressed for a snow-venture takes so long. Two pair of socks. Leggings. Shorts. Four layers on the top (three merino, one fleece lined jacket). Merino neck warmer. Superwarm gloves. Helmet. Fivetens. And the bike – it would be foolish to forget that.

 

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Then I rode/walked down the road (v.v. icy) shivering and wondering if I should have worn another jacket, before mounting and starting the first climb…and immediately over heating, of course.

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Wardrobe issues aside, the creaking of the fresh snow as the wheels break through it is quite wonderful to witness, and its surprising how much grip you have too (“You’re brave to be out on a bike!” commented a passing walker, clearly no expert on the properties of mountain bike tyres).

 

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There wasn’t enough snow today to get the true “I’m skiing…on a bike!” sensation going down hill, but it was still a lot of fun that was not to be missed.

 

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So if anyone wants to fly me out to Finland with a fat bike, just get in touch. 🙂

Photos: Paul Mitchell

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Best of 2016: Remarkable women who ride

Need a little inspiration to kick start the new year (or just fancy a good read with a cup of tea, what with it being cold and dark outside)? Meet Ness Knight, Jill Kintner and Lora Turnham.

A while ago I posted about the Remarkable Women Who Ride interviews that I had been working on for Evans Cycles: the series had featured some truly amazing women riders, including paralympian Lora Turnham. Six months on and there are some wonderful new women riders to catch up on in the series including adventurer Ness Knight and gravity rider Jill Kintner, both of whom have really inspired me both to build my riding skills and to broaden the horizons of my ambition.

If I were to write anything as grandiose as a ‘review of the year ‘ featuring my own work*, then these three women would be the top of the ‘highlights’ list. Each was a privilege to interview – for different reasons – and I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I enjoyed writing about them.

(*dont worry, I’m not going to!)

Links are here, so put the kettle on and prepare to be inspired!

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Adventurer Ness Knight just blew my mind – I could have written about ten posts about her travels, not just one. I hung on her every word from start to finish (the bit about the lions! Oh my!!).  Read Ness’ story here.

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As a mountain biker, it was fascinating to interview one of the world’s most talented and versatile gravity riders, Jill Kintner. I have carried this piece of advice with me on every ride:

“Learn to read the terrain as you would fall lines with skiing (high to low, low to high, looking ahead to go straight, linking things together), open up corners to carry more speed, and work on braking and cornering drills for timing (like grass slalom with cones). Also learn to pump and jump over stuff (timing).” Read Jill’s interview here .

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Finally, I interviewed Lora Turnham ahead of the Para-lympics and she gave me a fascinating insight into her life. Read my interview with Lora here:

Footnote to the above: In Rio, Lora went on to win a gold medal in the Pursuit with partner Corrine Hall, and a bronze medal in the time trial. On returning home, she married her partner Neil Fachie…and was awarded an MBE in the New Year honour list.

Oh, I do like a happy ending.

 

Findra merino armwamers

Christmas presents for cyclists #3: the female mountain biker

Here’s four things of which I am a huge fan: armwarmers, merino, mountain biking and Findra, who design women’s mtbike apparel. So I guess we can describe these arm warmers for mountain bikers made of merino from, erm, Findra, as my idea of mtb wear heaven.

 

Findra merino armwamers

Findra merino armwamers

Why the perfect gift for the female mountain biker?

Well, here’s three reasons…

1. Despite their rather odd appearance (sleeves with no jumper attached/gloves without fingers), armwarmers are a cyclist’s very best friend when it comes to comfort and convenience. Pop them on when you set off and they keep you snug during the warm-up stage. Then when you start to work hard and don’t want to stop you can simply slide them down. If you remove them you can stuff them in your pocket, where they weigh very little and take up hardly any space. Stopped for a break and got chilly? Pop them back on again. Need to answer the phone/adjust your bike/eat a bit of cake? Not a problem as your fingers are free! Brilliant.

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Perfect for keeping cosy at the coffee stop

2. Crafting these armwarmers in breathable merino is a double whammy for comfort. If you are new to joys of merino wool, then let me explain: ‘breathable’ is fashion speak for pure wool’s ability to allow air and moisture to circulate so that your body temperature stays consistently – and almost miraculously, infact – comfortable. All wools do this but merino does it best because it is so soft against the skin*. Don’t let the fineness of the knit deceive you either – it packs a lot of warmth for its weight and is hardwearing too. One more advantage of merino’s breathablility – you don’t have to wash it as often as synthetic fabrics as it wont hold on to the sweat that causes body odour. So, it’s easy to care for too (though its best to use a wool-friendly detergent at low temperature when you do wash it).

*cashmere is also good – but super pricey.

3. Findra is a Scottish brand who make bike wear and outdoor apparel specifically for women. The range is ‘ performance driven and fashion led’ – which means you can ride in it and look good at the same time. It’s pricey, but the quality is outstanding. Don’t be deceived by the ‘too good for mountain biking’ appearance of these garments: founder Alex Feechan sent me some shorts to try over a year ago and I’ve ridden in them almost every week – and they still look like new (even after a ride as they are mud resistant!). My merino jumper and neck warmer feel good to wear, fit well, wash well and don’t ‘bobble’ (or pill, which is the official term).

Shop your lovely arm warmers here – see more.

See more Findra loveliness (this time without arm warmers as i didn’t have them at the time!) – below!

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Comfortable even when you’re out-of-the-saddle climbing

 

Works downhill too!

Works downhill too!

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Beautiful quality, great fit. 🙂

End of the ride - still pretty clean!

End of the ride – still pretty clean!

 

 

Magda and the Great Divide

Christmas presents for cyclists #2: the adventure cyclist (plus epic Great Divide photos!)

A wonderful t-shirt or the Great Divide adventure ride across America? You decide!!

This fantastic t shirt was created by adventure cyclist Magdalena Schoerner *. Her designs celebrate cycling adventures near and far, and this one is dedicated to the Peak District (which, coincidentally, is near where I grew up and where I got my love of the great outdoors!)

Peak District Peace t shirt from Back of Beyond Cycling

Peak District Peace t shirt from Back of Beyond Cycling.

On a practical level, this t shirt is top quality and a great fit – no making do with men’s sizes here – and priced at a Christmas present friendly £20. You can see more of Madga’s t-shirts – and buy them – at Back of Beyond Cycling.

* Now, while researching this post Magda sent me a link to photos taken on her epic adventure this summer when she rode the iconic Great Divide bike route from Canada to Mexico – a journey of approximately 2,770 miles. Do have a look because they are fantastic, but be warned – they will have you itching to start planning your own trip. So, who fancies a plane ticket to Canada for Christmas…

Magda and the Great Divide

Magda and the Great Divide

 

Not the M25.

Not the M25.

 

A bit Thelma and Louise.

A bit Thelma and Louise.

 

Forests!

Forests!

 

Blue skies!

Blue skies!

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Mountains!

Forests and mountains

Forests, mountains and blue skies – all together!

 

Snow, obviously.

Snow, obviously.

 

Wildlife.

Wildlife.

 

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Roots – there’s always roots.

 

 

Hello!

Hello!

 

Mountains.

And another amazing view, just to rub it in.

 

This.

This.

 

Magda

Magda.

 

 

Tempting, isn't it?

Tempting, isn’t it?

 

Our conquering heroes!

Our conquering heroes!

 

 

 

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Christmas presents for cyclists #1: the mountain biker

Over the next few days I’m going to post some fab Christmas present suggestions for the cyclist in your life! Or yourself, of course!!!

Barry Knows Best - the T shirt!!!

Barry Knows Best – the T shirt!!!

First, here’s something for the mountain biker in your life (assuming that a full carbon downhill rig is out of budget!).

The team behind Ridden.CC are mountain bikers based in the Surrey Hills, and their new range of t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, posters and mugs are a celebration of our favourite trails, both local and beyond – and of mountain biking in general. The t-shirt above is one of my favourites and is a homage to Barry Knows Best, the much loved descent across Holmbury Hill and down to Peaslake. It’s a trail I ride at least once a week so I feel fully entitled to wear it (and thank you, guys, for sending me this one!). I love the ‘tyre track’ trees and the suggestion of the trail running through them.

Btw, and as you can see here, the gear is not all Surrey Hills related…

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Story of my life.

 

…and so do check out the rest of the range if your gift-ee rides further afield!

 

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The Peaslake trail mug – all that’s missing is a biscuit.

This Peaslake trail mug would make a great stocking filler too  – with hours of fun to be had ticking off the trails you’ve just enjoyed, while slurping that essential post-ride cup of tea.

So, here’s the at-a-glance lowdown:

What: Barry Knows Best (forest) t-shirt £24.99 (t-shirts start at £19.99) and Peaslake Trails Mug £10.99

Who for: the clothes are probably for the male mountain biker in your life as the women’s fit options and kids sizes are currently limited. Mugs, of course, are fun for all.

Why: A win-win case of ‘Been there, ridden that, got the t-shirt’.

What else: At the time of going publishing, if you spend £25 or more at the site you can get a free poster worth £14.99!

Where: Ridden.cc

 

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La Rioja: my cycling, sunshine and wine tasting adventure!

A cycling adventure with sunshine, mountains, new friends and a lot of Spanish wine. What’s not to like?

Cycling by the Najerilla River

Cycling by the Najerilla River – this is one of the most beautiful stretches of road I have ever ridden

With the nights drawing in and everything getting a bit cold, damp and muddy, I’m looking back to sunnier rides!

Earlier this year I was invited to join Exodus Travels Cycling in Rioja  adventure – five days cycling (a manageable 250km in total, on and off road on sturdy 29″ hardtails) from Burgos and following the Najerilla river to the Rioja region and its vineyards, followed by a day in Bilbao.

 

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Empty roads, big Spanish mountains – a perfect combination and a truly awe inspiring ride. I never tired of this road!!

 

More empty roads, much sunshine.

More empty roads, hills and sunshine.

We joined a group of riders from the UK and Australia, and made some fantastic new friends in the process. To be honest before I set off I wasn’t  sure I wanted to go on holiday with a bunch of strangers – but any doubts I had had were blown away by the company of these lovely people. I also learnt some new words from my Antipodean mates – smoke-o (a tea break) and slippery-dip (a water slide) being the only two that are repeatable in polite company. Needless to say, we did a lot of laughing as well as cycling and wine tasting!

Learning to speak Australian.

Learning to speak Australian.

We also enjoyed the knowledge and support of our local (and rather handsome) guides, as well as staying in some beautiful family owned hotels.

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Our lovely guides and their very big map

 

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A big view

Northern Spain is blessed with a warm climate, lots of sunshine (though when it rains, it really really rains!), quiet roads and beautiful mountains. Consequently, as you can imagine, it was a joy to ride there.

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Vineyards, cycling, sunshine – a good combination :).

It was also a pleasure to sample the wines of the La Rioja region at the vineyards we visited. Some are small, some a little more showy – this one, for instance, was designed by Frank Gehry.

A vineyard designed by Frank Gehry.

A vineyard – designed by Frank Gehry.

 

Wine - Spanish, obviously.

Wine tasting – just the one for me, thanks

I’m no expert on wine but some of my new Aussie mates were, and the penultimate night saw us enjoy a ‘taste off’ between one of the finest wines of the La Rioja region, and a wine of similar standing that they had bought over from Australia. That, I can assure you, was a good night (and I would note which wine won – if only I could remember).

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The Guggenheim Art Gallery in Bilbao – possibly the most beautiful building I have ever seen.

Finally a day and night in beautiful Bilbao. The incredible Guggenheim gallery (again designed by Frank Gehry) is a must-see, and I really enjoyed the very moving Louise Bourgeois exhibition that we saw there. We also spent several hours exploring and drinking coffee in the old town. It’s quite a small city so you can see a lot in a day, either on foot or by hiring a bike.

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And the views in Bilbao are pretty good looking the other way too.

We spent the evening by the river too, enjoying a Festival of light and a lot of delicious Pintxos (the region’s tapas!) – this time washed down by lots of Spanish beer!  By the way, the food here is amazing and, compared to the UK, eating out is relatively inexpensive.

What a wonderful adventure, stuffed with so many great memories: if you haven’t ridden in this area or visited Bilbao, I recommend that you do. 🙂

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Festival of Light, Bilbao

 

The Guggenheim in Bilbao at night.

The Guggenheim in Bilbao at night.

Photography by Paul Mitchell, holiday by Exodus Travels, enjoyment of Spain, cycling and wine by me.

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The dangerous allure of the new Vulpine trenchcoat

The new Vulpine women’s Luxury Winter cycling collection will have you pedalling hard down the road of retail temptation.

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I may be a former fashion journalist with something of a fondness for shopping but this season, with an eye on my somewhat squeezed budget, I thought I had finally got my occasionally rampant spending habit well under control. Admittedly there was a slight slip up when I happened upon an Alexander McQueen tux in a second hand shop, which would have been a bargain had I not then bought a new pair of stretch leather trousers to go with it, but it was my birthday so, obviously, that doesn’t count.

But now it’s all gone horribly wrong. For just one glimpse of the new Vulpine Luxury Winter collection has induced a raise of my fashion eyebrows, a quickening of my heart rate (think 20% hill climb and a very strong coffee) and a deep sigh of longing. The reason? This trenchcoat.

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Now, unless you’ve been locked in the shed with your turbo trainer for the last four years you will be well aware that urban cycling is both HUGE and very fashionable – so much so that even the staff at Vogue cycle to work – so creating a cycling version of an absolutely classic coat and labelling it luxury is a very smart move by Vulpine.

vulpine-5rsAnd this one is a cycle-friendly corker – so much so that, over in my fashion fantasy world, I have convinced my easily swayed self that ownership of this coat would go hand in hand with a glamourous job in South Kensington, should someone like to offer me one.  I can wear it for my cycle ride into the office every day and be the girl in these pictures. “Love your coat, honey” they’ll say as I swan into the office with perfectly coiffured non cycling-helmet hair and a chai latte. “Is that from Vulpine’s iconic 2016 collection or is it another vintage McQueen find…oh and by the way Mario wants to know if you’re still okay for lunch”. I HAD THAT LIFE ONCE, YOU KNOW.

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Why is this Vulpine trenchcoat so fabulous? It’s super-chic, cut for ease of wear on a bike (shorter length, pleated shoulders for reach), made from showerproof fabric by Lancashire based British Millerain, features a reflective tail split, corozo (a nut!) buttons, snap closure pockets, and a rear flapped pocket for your phone. It’s available in classic stone or equally classic dark navy, both with a tartan lining. It’s made in Britain. Need I go on?

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Oh, why not.

I would, of course, accessorise my Vulpine trenchcoat with the new Vulpine British silk scarf (see second image) –  as Vulpine say, it is ideal for graceful city cycling superlight, breathable, quick drying and warm. And, as I say, you get to look a bit like an air hostess without having to hand out hot towels.

When it gets really cold I would switch to a Vulpine merino winter collar (below), Vulpine merino socks and even Vulpine merino pants for the ultimate ‘luxury bottom’ experience. Mr Hussey, you are truly spoiling us with your luxury fashions!

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Unfortunately for my aforementioned budget, this trenchcoat of my dreams costs a super spendy £395. It is what fashion folk like to refer to as an ‘investment piece’. And alas, I already have a trench coat – sadly it’s just not quite this lovely. But stop weeping everyone because I’ll get through this and be fine, honestly. If I say it often enough, I’ll be okay. Really, I will.

However if you don’t have a trenchcoat yet and you do want a really versatile and smart luxe urban cycling coat that you can GUARENTEE will never go out of fashion – then here it is. I’m jealous already.

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