Cotic Escapade & the WTB Road Plus concept

Getting to grips with the Cotic Escapade and the WTB Road Plus concept (because everyone asks about these wheels)!

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Cotic Escapade with WTB Road Plus

There have been so many rides on my road bike where I’ve fancied turning on to a favourite off-road trail but knew I’d be shaken to pieces and effectively brake-less, and mountain bike rides that took in a road or gravel track where I’ve almost spun my legs off trying to pick up some speed. So when Cotic loaned me this Escapade with WTB Road Plus tyres and hydraulic disk brakes – a ‘road bike without limitations’ – I was intrigued to find out if it could be that elusive happy medium.

Cat with daffodil, wondering about those Road Plus wheels.

The Cotic Escapade uses the WTB Road Plus concept: and everyone who sees the bike immediately asks about it.  Road Plus uses 650b rims, paired with big volume, 650 x 47 tubeless tyres (smaller rims and bigger tyres thus giving a similar diameter to a more usual 700c road wheel), which you run at 35 psi. The combination delivers a cushioned, smooth ride and grip on rough surfaces and mud due to the wider contact patch, yet features a tread pattern that rolls fast on smooth roads. It isn’t a new system (I believe it was popular with French roadies in the ’60s!) – but it is quite niche, and enjoying something of a revival.

WTB Road Plus wheels

So is a combination of ‘mtb style’ 650b wheels, tubeless Road Plus tyres and hydraulic disk brakes with ‘road’ drop bars and compact chainset really a dream scenario of #dirtydropbargoodness? 

Rolling through the deep (sand).

My first rides were spent trying different conditions off-road: mud, stony tracks, roots, climbs, descents. While the Escapade may not have the ‘armchair’ comfort of a full suspension mtb, the Road Plus wheels deliver a smooth, sure footed and fast ride on forest tracks, mud, and and over roots. It can handle singletrack too, making light work of berms and roll-down drops. My only ‘I’m slightly out of control here’ moments were while descending over some very loose stones (thank goodness for those disk brakes as we reached the bottom!!).

Soon I was taking full advantage of the Escapade’s nimbleness and willingness to accelerate up the fire roads and, thanks to its compact chainset, powering past mountain bikers who did a double take as I sped by (needless to say this is a lot of fun, in a slightly smug sort of way).

On the road it offered a smooth, quick ride, and round the back streets of my local town it was decidedly nippy and quick to pick up speed. It may be slower than my road bike, but it’s pretty hard to tell without resorting to Strava (this is me road testing Vulpine’s new fitness range btw, which I blogged about here).

Road testing Vulpine’s new fitness range

On my fourth ride I entered the Surrey Hills Gravelcross CX sportive – it was chucking it down with rain (and I was driving up North in the afternoon) so I limited myself to the 30km category and was very happy (amazed, in fact) to come home as the fastest female in the category. Even in slippery, deep mud the wheels worked really well – although there was one mud-chute descent that we slid down instead of rolling, but I hung off the back and we stayed upright. The tubeless tyres came into their own – as you can see from this post-ride picture. As a mountain biker I know all about the joy of a tubeless set up, but back at the event HQ it was a source of endless fascination to some of the roadies – especially the ones who had punctured a couple of times during the event and had to swap inner tubes in the pouring rain.

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WTB tubeless tyres, doing their job

What are the limits? There are definitely some mtb trails which I will detour around, largely due to lack of skill and a sense of self preservation – though I’m sure there is someone out there who rides their Escapade round Bike Park Wales in a blindfold.  But for a quick blast round the lanes, bridleways and fire roads, a trip to town, a long ride down to the coast on a mix of terrains, or for just turning right on a road ride and having a lot of off-road fun … then yes  – it ticks all the boxes.

 

See more on the Cotic Escapade here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY NEW ADVENTURE WITH COTIC #gritandsteel

How ‘ordinary’ riders like me can fly the flag for mountain bike brands – and why I’m going to be an ambassador for Cotic bikes in 2017.

First ride in the Surrey Hills on my Cotic Flare

First ride in the Surrey Hills on my Cotic Flare

I’ll admit that I’m not the typical choice for a mountain bike ambassador. Unlike most ambassadors that are specific to mountain bike brands, I’m not a man. I’ve only ever won one mountain bike race (and that was distinctly local!). I’m not particularly brave nor exceptionally skilled at riding. I’ve never ridden across America, or Siberia, or even Surrey (which is where I live) for that matter. In fact the closest I have ever got to being an ambassador for anything before was handing round Ferro Rocher chocolates at an office party. Ha, ha.

Instead I am a journalist and a middle aged mum who happens to love riding my mountain bike. I also love talking about it – as well as issues that surround women’s cycling – on TwitterInstagram and in the cycling press (and on this blog, of course). I’ve spoken about women’s cycling at the Cycle Show and Look Mum No Hands. I’ve been interviewed about women’s cycling by the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times. Happily, other riders seem to want to share in my experiences. Someone who knows about such things told me that I have become an ‘influencer’.

I’ve kind of made my own mtb trail of life, if you like, and its fantastic that Cotic want to come along for the ride.

It’s really exciting that Cotic are prepared to step off the very well worn path of conventional mtb marketing and have me on board (alongside an ambassador team of far more able riders, I hasten to add!). And I hope that what I lack in spectacular photos of me ‘getting air’ off the top of a kicker will be made up for with lots of relatable, inspiring, and entertaining insights into my ‘ordinary rider’ life. You juggle your rides in-between school runs, work deadlines and emptying the dishwasher ? I’m your girl.

A DAY OUT IN THE PEAK DISTRICT

First ride: Cotic Flare and the Peak District

First ride: Cotic Flare and the Peak District

At the end of 2016 I was invited to meet Cy Turner and his team at Cotic HQ in the Peak District. Coincidentally this area already has special memories for me: I was born in Stoke on Trent and the Peak District was where my family would go on a Sunday to get out into the great outdoors, as well as into the tea rooms at Eyam (which is the village where the plague started, though that was way before our daytrips and the tea room, obv.). So, it was good to return and note that it really hadn’t changed that much.

I met with the guys from Cotic and over some very nice chips and a sandwich I discussed ‘the state of cycling’ until my food started to go cold, at which point I let Cy and Richard get a word in edgeways.  I also got to look round the factory (being a small British company, this doesn’t take too long) where the bikes are designed and built. And then, over a mug of Yorkshire Tea, we discussed a plan for 2017 – which is to just ride bikes and talk about it, basically.

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Cotic Escapade and tea

I also got to try the Cotic bikes that I would be riding in 2017 – the new Cotic Flare is a 650b steel trail bike with droplink suspension and 130mm travel, and the drop bar Cotic Escapade is a steel ‘life bike’ (more on that at a later date though).

NEW BIKE DAY!

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Fast forward to the first week of February and Cy and Richard drove down to the Surrey Hills to drop off the bikes. My new Flare is indeed a thing of beauty, having been custom built with some very ‘bling’  Hope components, X-Fusion forks, rear shock and dropper post,  Burgtec pedals , Joystick handlebars and stem, and WTB carbon wheels, tyres, Deva women-specific saddle and grips.  The lovely Hannah at Flare Clothing has also sent me a range of fantastic mtb gear to wear too (always super happy to get to try new women’s mtb clothes!).

I’ll let the pictures do the talking for now though, and look out for monthly updates here on my #gritandsteel journey as well as on Instagram.

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This Girl Can – new campaign empowers older women.

The new This Girl Can campaign from Sport England is finally empowering women who are over 40. Here’s why it’s so important.

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This Girl Can is an advertising campaign by Sport England to encourage women to participate in sport and fitness. The original campaign won more than 50 international media awards – however, for me, there was a fundamental flaw: it targeted women aged 19 -40 only. At the time of the launch I was very vocal on social media about the exclusion of older women. I felt it was wrong to leave us out: it made the campaign feel mean and had missed a great opportunity to empower all women, and not just some of us. Had Sport England given up on us because of our age? Did we not exist? It certainly looked that way to me. I made my point repeatedly and I suspect, therefore, that I wasn’t very popular in the This Girl Can social media department.

So I’m glad they have finally invited older women to the party by widening the target age group to include those in their 50s and 60s. Here’s why:

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Because it acknowledges a truly invisible (in the media) but very active group of women – those of us who are over 40 and who take part in sport or work out. There are so many of us – in my experience alone I can think of the group of women I have ridden mountain bikes with for the last 12 years (average age 50), the women in my yoga group who are grandmothers that Down Dog, the mtb and road cycling age group champion I know who will always be quicker than me – and most of the men she rides with, the local e-bike women’s group (my jury is out on what age is the right age for an e-bike  btw – but they’re riding bicycles and having fun so that’s the main thing), the horse riders I know with weather-beaten cheeks and hay-bale lugging strength, the spin class regulars who know all the words to the Bowie songs, the lone runner (and I mean running, and not just shuffling along arthritically) we pass in the woods each week who must be 70 if she is a day.

Do you know how strong you need to be to go against the tide of expectation?

The ‘isn’t mountain biking a bit risky at your age?’ comments, shopping for kit that is only advertised on 20 year olds, having a male rider on the trails stop and say ‘how come you’ve got a bike like that?’ about my carbon fibre 50th birthday present. But we are a tight group. We support each other. And we know the benefits – the fitness, the friendships, the sense of achievement, the joy of defying others’ expectations based on our age.
Last year I had a minor operation. As I lay in pre-op area, chatting to the theatre nurse as she did her stuff, I noticed her eyes flick to the monitor and a slight pause in her conversation. Then she asked “Do you do a lot of exercise?” “Yes…” “Oh that’s fine then. You have a very low heart rate – but that explains it”. That.

And, of course, the campaign now reaches out to the women of my age, and older, who really need to know that it’s not too late to start getting fit or take up a new sport. I have friends who are younger than me who already have health issues linked to obesity and inactivity. I know some who are locked in that ‘I’m too fat and embarrassed about the way I look’ to show up to any exercise class or just to ride a bike, or run round the park. They think they have missed the fitness boat, or at least they won’t get on board until they’ve lost that stone in weight that constantly eludes them, or had the painful knee fixed or just woken up to the fact that, despite what the media consistently tells us, there is no age barrier for fitness and the life-enhancing benefits that it delivers.

But this isn’t just a message to those who have hit middle age and beyond. Making active older women more visible encourages younger women to think of sport and fitness as a life long activity. Find a sport or a workout you love and it will pay you back for years to come, not just the six weeks it takes you to drop a dress size, get fit enough to run 5k or squeeze into last year’s bikini. Because its not about what you look like, its about how you feel. And it feels good. And that feeling never diminishes, no matter how old you are.

So a wrong has been put right. Hurrah! Although does anyone else feel a little uneasy about being called a girl? #thiswomancan 🙂

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You can see more from This Girl Can here.

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

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.

 

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!

 

 

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!