The wrong bike and a random advert: how I got into mountain biking

How a magazine advert and the wrong type of bicycle got me into mountain biking and changed my life.

At my first mountain bike race in 2012 (powered by plaits, obviously).

Recently I was asked to contribute to The Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking from Halfords – and it got me reminiscing about the advert that inspired me to take up mountain biking.

It was fifteen years ago now, my three children were very small and I had a freelance writing career. Life, though wonderful, was an all-consuming whirlwind of washable nappies, deadlines and ‘Wind the Bobbin Up’, on repeat. My OH was a keen mountain biker and had recently run the London Marathon. I admired him for that (okay, I was also a bit jealous) and began to think that it was time to have a goal that wasn’t simply making it to teatime without collapsing in an exhausted heap.

I was open to suggestions…but the life changing moment point occurred when and where I least expected it – en route to a holiday, on an EasyJet plane. As I took my seat (having strapped the children in and handed out boxes of sultanas in a hope of keeping them occupied for at least two minutes) I noticed the in-flight magazine in front of me, open on a full-page advertisement for the London Triathlon. The ad featured three participants – a man swimming, a man running, and a woman riding a bike. It was that one image of an ordinary looking woman doing something quite extraordinary that caught my attention. I thought ‘I can run, I can swim, and I can ride a bike. Admittedly I can’t do any of them very well, but if she can do it, then maybe so can I’.

So when I got home, I entered the London Triathlon. I will own up her that I entered the sprint distance rather than the full tri length. At the time that felt a bit like cheating – looking back I now know that the distance was irrelevant – what mattered was entering, and what would follow.

I trained in every spare moment (which, frankly, I didn’t have many of) – swimming at the leisure centre, running on the local lanes or cycling. One small hitch was that I didn’t own a bike. A road bike is the ideal for a tri, but my when my OH offered his hard tail mountain bike (way too big for me but never mind) I decided that ‘it will do’. Despite being the ‘wrong type of bike’ for a triathlon it enabled me to train on the natural trails local to where I live, as well as on the road. So off I wobbled, and my love for mountain biking began.

Six months later and I completed my one and only triathlon – swimming in London Dockland’s Victoria Dock (green with algae, smells of diesel), running round the Excel Centre and cycling a road route on the wrong type of bike. It took me 59 minutes and 59 seconds to complete, and I finished feeling that I was no longer ‘just a mum’ but was also the sort of woman who could do sport. It is a good feeling.

I learnt many things on that day but here are three of them: swimming is okay but I can take it or leave it, running is good, cycling is addictive – and best off-road.

I got my own mountain bike for my birthday that year, and since then I have owned or been lent (thank you Trek, Specialized and Cotic!) quite a few more bikes, ridden all over the UK and abroad, made new mtb friends, stayed very fit (apart from the summer when I fell off and broke my elbow, but we wont dwell on that), used my skill as a writer to engage others in mountain biking, and enjoyed every minute of it. I still ride three times a week. I still love it.

So, to who ever it was who decided to put an ordinary looking woman in an advertisement for The London Triathlon, thank you.

Who or what got you into mountain biking? I would love to hear your stories – do share below.

Note: this is a paid for post, sponsored by Halfords. You can view the Halfords range of mountain bikes here.



  1. Cathy Debenham

    Hi Adele What a great story. It struck a real nerve for me. As a relatively new MTB leader I’m very interested in what gets people started, and part of what I want to do is to encourage more women to give mountain biking a try. I have many conversations with women who either don’t ride, or who ride on the road, whose perception of mountain biking is adrenaline and danger and I’m sure that the prevailing imagery that we see of (mainly) men going down very steep, rocky descents is part of the problem. I wrote about this recently ( I’m convinced that if we want more women to take up mountain biking we need to have more pictures of ‘ordinary women’ that others can identify with. So keep up the great work…


  2. caspriddy

    I started mountain biking about 15 years ago too, though I’d always loved cycling I’d never been ‘off-road’ before and coming from the flatlands of East Anglia there wasn’t much to cycle around except fields! Like all good ideas it all started at the pub, at our local where the landlord suggested we went out for a ride with him and that was it I was hooked! Quickly working out how I could save enough money for a ‘proper’ bike and afford the rent!

    15 years on, my life is now full of nappies with two small people keeping me busy. But managed to make it out for my fist bike ride of the year yesterday evening and it still puts a smile on my face!


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