An open letter to the RedBull Foxhunt: why we should be encouraging all women to ride mountain bikes, not just the under 25s.
So the RedBull Foxhunt mountain bike event, in which 300 female riders are chased down the course by World Champion Rachel Atherton, is charging younger women (under 25) a lower entry fee (£65) than the older competitors (£75). According to the Cranky Betty site, Redbull have done this is to ‘encourage as many young people as possible into sport and help promote a healthy lifestyle.’
The event has, I think, sold out and its laudable that Redbull is supporting one of the most high profile mass participation events in women’s mountain biking. It’s great that they want more young women to take part too. But you only have to look around a trail centre car park to realise that mountain biking isn’t exactly awash with women of any age, and a ticketing strategy that favours some women over others is hardly fostering inclusivity in the sport. I’d also point out that turning 25 doesn’t mean you win the lottery. I’m sorry to break this to the youthful organisers at the Redbull Foxhunt office, but you can be skint at any age.
Like many others, I would love to see cycling become a viable and enjoyable option for all women. A few weeks ago I organised a talk at Look Mum No Hands called Letting Ourselves Go – the aim was to celebrate older women who ride. The idea came about because of my work as cycling journalist. Over and over again, I find that it is older women who have all the best stories to tell, from pro rider and Hour record breaker Bridie O Donnell (a record she smashed aged 41), to amateur riders including Roz Harper (aged 63) who rides Enduro having survived cancer and a double knee replacement, and Diana Montgomery (aged 64), a grandmother who represented GB in the UCI Gran Fondo Worlds and matched the time of her 25 year old team mate. Its jaw dropping stuff, and a lifetime away from stereotypical ageism about taking it easy, National Trust tea rooms and aerobics in the village hall. But while women are now enjoying a higher profile in cycling, older women who ride still largely remain invisible. To be fair, I don’t think many of us are secretly yearning to appear on the cover of Cycling Weekly – but it was great to be able to get together and acknowledge that, when it comes to cycling, older women are pretty bloody good at it – and that age is no barrier to participation.
It was a fantastically well supported event, and the room was packed with older women who love riding bikes. I was joined on the panel by Alex Feechan from FINDRA, Julie Rand from Cycling UK and Belinda Scott of SW London women’s cycling club Bellavelo CC so we had a well-informed debate, but the best part of public speaking is always the ‘any questions?’ session with the audience: no matter how much research I do ahead of the event, sharing in the audiences experience is always an opportunity to learn and this evening was no exception. The discussion ranged from the need for a wider range of age categories at races to why its important to encourage all women, whatever their age, to ride.
“I’m not the fastest rider and I quite often have to get off on hills…” began one woman, sitting with her husband and both of retirement age. Was she about to ask about building fitness? Bike handling tips? Self-confidence advice? None of those things. “However I have just cycled around the world…”. Having grabbed the attention of everyone in the room, she continued “and tomorrow I will be waving my daughter off as she sets off on her own adventure. And what I want to say is that we owe it to our daughters to set an example of what older woman can do.”
And there we have it. Women need many and varied role models in mountain biking – from Rachel Atherton to the riders who turn up at trail centres on a Sunday morning, we need to see women of all ages, levels of experience and ability on bikes.
It’s okay to be slow or fast, to be brave, to pootle around, to ride in groups, to ride alone, to favour cross-country or DH, to be old or young. We need to encourage everyone to take part, across the board. We need to let everyone know they are welcome and equally – and not hit some of us with a bigger bill because we happen to be over 25.
You can watch the full talk on the Wheel Suckers Podcast here
How a magazine advert and the wrong type of bicycle got me into mountain biking and changed my life.
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.
From invisible to awesome! ‘Letting Ourselves Go’ at Look Mum No Hands is an event to celebrate older women who ride bikes. Here’s why, and how you can join in…
I’m really excited to be part of this event which will turn the cycling spotlight on older* women who ride. I’ll be joined on the panel by Alex Feechan – mountain biker, fashion designer and founder of FINDRA who will be flying in from Innerleithen especially for the evening, and Belinda Scott, road cyclist, bike shop pro and founder of BellaVelo, a women’s cycling group based in South West London.
(*We’re not specifying a ‘minimum age’ for this event and everyone is welcome, though if you are over 40 you’ll be in good company!)
What are we hoping to achieve?
While women are generally enjoying a higher profile in cycling, older women tend to still be an invisible generation – yet many of us are out there leading active and diverse cycling lives with no intention of slowing down or taking it easy.
We’ll share ways that bike riding enhances our lives, careers and well-being, discuss barriers to participation and, of course, how to get more women’s (older) bums on saddles! From road racers and mountain bikers to the rise of e-bikers, we will also be discussing why its time to ditch the tired stereotypes and embrace the joy that comes from riding a bike, whether you choose to use it for a Gran Fondo or a trip to the shops for a pint of milk and a Kit-Kat.
What does ‘letting ourselves go?’ mean?
When it comes to older women, ‘letting yourself go’ is usually interpreted as giving up – particularly regarding appearance.
However, and in total contrast, ‘letting yourself go’ can also mean losing your inhibitions, taking risks and living for the moment. In mountain biking, ‘letting yourself go’ – at the top of a drop off,or start of a technical trail for instance – is the moment when you trust your skills and intuition, push your boundaries, and get to relish your endorphin-pumped rad-ness as a result. Or ‘letting yourself go’ may mean allowing yourself time to escape on a long road ride, or enjoying the moment when you take your feet off the pedals and free wheel down the road, yelling ‘Weeeeeeeee’.
So, as women who ride, ‘letting ourselves go’ certainly isn’t about giving up – instead it is about going forward and empowerment.
Want to join in?
We want to hear your experiences as an older rider too – both in terms of achievements and participation or ways in which you have struggled, as well as ways to inspire other women to ride – so do leave a comment below as every story helps us to create a more inspiring and complete picture. On the night we will be opening up the discussion to the audience too, and if you can’t get to London then the event will also be shared on Facebook Live via the LMNH FB page and you can comment there.
I hope you can to join us!
Letting Ourselves Go – 7pm on April 5th at Look Mum No Hands! 49 Old Street, London, SE1.
Entry is free but spaces are limited so you do need to register here
It’s January. It’s freezing cold and sunshine is noticeable for its absence. And all of a sudden ride buddies are scarcer than hen’s teeth and we all have a hundred and one reasons not to ride. Which got me thinking about motivation – and not those fluffy #inspo mantras on social media, but what really moves us to get out on a bike. And I have come to the conclusion that is about connection – both with each other and the outdoors.
Here’s why connection matters.
This epic photograph of the legendary Tracy Moseley chatting to a young fan was shot at the Hope Women Enduro last year (thanks to Hope Tech and photographer Roo Fowler for this image!). I love it because, like all great photographs, it tells a wonderful story – and not just that girls who wear glasses (as I do) can ride bikes. I don’t know who the little girl is, but I so want to believe that she is meeting her hero here. It’s a heart melting moment of trust and friendship – and it throws up as many questions as it answers. Because it occurs to me that the little girl may not be the only person in this image who went away feeling inspired to ride: I wonder if the mighty TMo felt that too?
And it made me think – what motivates Moseley to get back on her bike when there is no race to train for? When it doesn’t really matter if she stays in by the fire instead of braving a cold mountain side? When she doesn’t really feel like it? The opportunity to be a champion to young riders like this one must be a huge incentive for her to stay awesome on a bike.
And then there is this. In 2018 ultra-cyclist Paula Regener and bikepacker Lee Craigie of The Adventure Syndicate will be working with five schools across Scotland in their Inspiring, Encouraging and Enabling Schools Project, funded by the Sporting Equality Fund. The team will use bike packing adventures to engage teenage girls and help build their self-esteem, resilience and confidence. These amazing images, stuffed with glee and achievement, capture the spirit of a previous overnight adventure that the team led. None of these girls had ever carried everything they needed on their bikes, nor cooked and slept outside before. I don’t think I have ever seen a bunch of riders who are so connected with the experience and each other.
I heard Lee and Emily Chappell from The Adventure Syndicate speak at the NEC bike show last year, and took away my own golden nugget of motivation. Endurance rider Emily explained how she keeps pushing when she’d really rather pull over to the side of the road (and, if she was me, have a sulk) by connecting with her ‘invisible peloton’ – a place to go when ‘you don’t have any strength of your own, so you start borrowing other people’s’.
It’s a wonderful concept, originally thought up by adventurer Sarah Outen, that I’d like to return to in a future post but for now, and to get me out of the door and on my bike, I’m connecting with my own invisible peloton of inspiration: absent friends, those I’d like to ride with in the future, those I can’t ride with again because they are no longer with us, and Lee, Paula, Emily, Sarah and TMo. And maybe Tom Hardy.
And the sun has come out. So I’m outta here.
Who inspires you to ride when its January and you’d really rather not bother? Let me know and, inspired by Emily and Sarah, build an invisible peloton of your own!
Looking back on a fantastic year of mountain biking as a Cotic ambassador! Here are my highlights…
This time last year I was invited to Cotic HQ in the Peak District to discuss becoming a brand ambassador and having my own Cotic Flare – a 650b trail bike with 130mm travel – to ride for a year.
It was an easy sell, tbh. Cotic are a small, British mountain bike brand who specialise in steel frames. They fight their corner in the world of big mtb brands with a range of bikes that could sit at the top end of any line up, and describe the Flare as ‘a brilliant all round trail bike, with a fleet footed feel, synapse quick handling, crisp climbing, fun descending.’ What’s more, I grew up near The Peaks, I love mtb – and they gave me a very fine lunch that included deep fried onion rings. Not that I was a complete walk over, though. After all, I already owned a not- too-shabby trail bike and I wasn’t going to give it up for a year if what was on offer wasn’t going to be a) as good if not better and b)add a new dimension to my riding. Happily the Flare has risen to the challenge with ease.
The Flare arrived at Adele Towers, Surrey, in early February, neatly squeezed into the back of Cotic’s new van for is journey down the M1. The steel frame is crafted in Reynolds 853, which is exceptionally stiff, robust and durable and can thus be used in thinner dimensions for lightness (hence the bike’s ‘skinny’ appearance). Steel is also used for the seatstays, allowing generous ankle, heel and calf clearance. The droplink suspension layout has titanium pivot fittings, while the swingarm is aluminium to allow the machined parts to fit while enabling stiffness at the back of the bike. And finally, my bike is customised with Joystick carbon bars, WTB 27.5″ carbon wheels and tubeless tyres, a 130mm X-Fusion fork, some gorgeous Hopetech bling and Burgtec pedals that have kept my feet firmly in place whatever the terrain. For the record (and those who think steel bikes are always going to be heavy) I can pick the Flare up with one hand. Also, on hills, I can overtake my friends who ride carbon 29ers (#smug).
Unfortunately and despite being New Bike Day, the trails of The Surrey Hills had never looked more dismal and uninspiring: a fest of sucky mud, wet roots, low cloud and non-existent views. We rode to take a few photos, snacked on sandwiches and coffee, and talked of better weather and future ride plans before waving the team off back up to The Peaks where, if my childhood memories serve me right, the sun never stops shining.
Thankfully on the day of my first event with the Flare – Battle on the Beach in Pembrey, South Wales – the sun was out in full force. BotB is a unique three-lap, 45km race that includes a 15km beach sprint, 15km singletrack through the dunes and 15km of fire road slog into a headwind. It’s a wonderful ride in a beautiful setting, and a great way to test the Flare – and my fitness out. Thankfully we both passed the test!
Our annual girls’ trip to Afan rolled around next: this year four of us rocked up at the Afan Lodge where we enjoyed hearty breakfasts, long rides and big dinners, and inadvertently intimidated the groups of male riders who weren’t expecting to be sharing the bar with a bunch of #radmums on a weekend away. We had a long day in the saddle after Afan Lodge’s local trail legend sent us up the mountain on the ‘scenic route’ – which I interpreted to mean ‘easier’ than the normal slog up hill, but which turned out to be just as steep but twice as long. Nice views though, he wasn’t wrong there.
On the way down The Flare galloped around the trails like a nippy Jack Russell – kept in check by super grippy WTB tyres which resolutely held on while everyone else was commenting on how sketchy the trails were feeling.
Back home in Surrey and Fox held a launch event for its Proframe helmet at the Swinley Forest trail centre. It’s a great piece of kit and testing it out proved to be a brilliant opportunity to ride flat out on familiar trails.
It also turned out to be an opportunity to meet Fox ambassador and Redbull Rampage rider Pierre Edouard Ferry. He was intrigued to hear all about the Cotic, and was more than happy to chat. Also, he is very handsome. So all in all, a great day out!
The Flare is fleet footed, fast and fun and it has given me a lot of confidence on technical terrain – but there is always room for improvement, and with a trip to the Alps on the horizon I headed off for some mountain biking tuition. It’s actually really tricky to over-ride the deep-seated procedural memory that comes from years of riding experience – and so I struggled at first to adapt new technique. However I’m a determined sort so I retired to the woods for many solo rides, sessioning my back-to-basics new skills: looking ahead, using my heel position effectively and sticking my elbows and knees out more (not a technical term). Small things, big difference on the trails though.
Anyway, how about throwing yourself in at the deep end with a bit of Alpine mountain biking fun? A mix of family holiday with flooded valley rides, accidentally riding black runs (punched the air at the end of that one!) and delicious – and very strong – beer at the end of a stunning cross-country ride: we had an amazing week in and around Les Gets.
We visit Dartmoor to ride each year. We have friends who live in the heart of the National Park and we can ride from their door, and return later in the day to eat unfeasibly large amounts of local cheese. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the highlights of the year. The Dartmoor National Park is beyond beautiful and appears untouched and wild – in fact, and in order to keep it unspoilt, it is tightly managed. That means trails are limited but well maintained, and a lot of fun if you like riding over rock-strewn moorlands and hopping over aristan-crafted stone drainage ditches. Its old-school cross-country riding with big hills so leave your long travel bike at home and be prepared to get a little bit lost.
Another favourite day out is the circular ride from Poole via Corfe Castle. It’s true Famous Five adventure stuff (though there were sixteen of us in total), with a trip on a ferry, cream teas, huge climbs and legs-out descents along the cliff tops and down to the sea. In a slight detour from the normal route, some mentioned that the swanky hotel The Pig On The Beach was en-route and so we popped in to ‘just to have a look’: several rounds of drinks and outdoor-cooked, flatbread pizzas later, we made our way back to the ferry, (over) tired and happy.
As you will have realised by now, I’m happiest on long rides with big hills and fun descents, so when I decided to enter Swinley Enduro – the first one I’ve ridden – I did so for the fun and the experience, rather than to get placed. It was one of the friendliest events I’ve ever ridden: the 30 women taking part agreed we’d prefer to start together rather than in age categories, and we moved round the route laughing, chatting, sharing tips and supporting each other. It was a really special atmosphere and (almost!) helped settle my nerves! I also spotted a couple of Cotic riders in the mix too – always good to say hello.
Mostly though, I am enjoying the Flare on the local hills and in the woods. Apologies for the lack of images of me riding there: often there is simply no one on hand to take a picture – perhaps Cotic could add a selfie-button to the 2018 model?
My trip to FINDRA Outdoor Apparel HQ and flagship store in Innerleithen to meet the team behind the brand and local riders left no time to ride, but here’s why I will be returning with my bike!
FINDRA Outdoor Apparel is one of my favourite cycling garment brands. I’ve reviewed the kit before, but this was the first time I had gone ‘behind the scenes’ at brand HQ, where I had been invited to speak about how to deal with fear when mountain biking.
FINDRA was founded by Scottish fashion designer and keen mountain biker Alexandra Feechan because she was aware that there was little available for women who ride to wear. Her subsequent – and award winning – range of top quality tops, beanies, neck and arm warmers stands out for its use of colour and cut. The garments are crafted in merino wool, renown for its warmth, breathability, durability and comfort.
FINDRA also have awesome mtb shorts – not only do they look great, but they’re really durable. I’ve ridden miles in mine (they’re the same as the ones Lee Craigie is wearing in the image above) and they’re still going strong. Findra bobble hats are not only super cute, but also knitted by a real Scottish nana. You don’t get much more authentic than that!
Following on from the brand’s success with mountain bikers, Alex is widening the reach to appeal to adventure loving hikers, horse riders, skiers and boarders. She has enlisted an awe inspiring bunch of brand ambassadors to help spread the word including Emily Chappell and Lee Craigie from The Adventure Syndicate and survival expert Meg Hine, whose book inspired my original post on mountain biking and fear (and which was the reason I was invited up to Scotland to speak).
My flying visit didn’t allow time to ride, but by taking the trip and talking to local riders I met at the talk, I gleaned quite a lot about riding at Glentress and Innerleithen. I look forward to returning, this time with my bike!!
This is what I discovered:
- It’s closer than you think – even when you live in Surrey!
From the Surrey Hills trails where I live and ride, you can fly from Gatwick (half an hour drive) to Edinburgh (an hour and a half flight) and then transfer in an hour to the world famous Glentress Forest trail centre. If all goes to plan, you could have (early) breakfast in Surrey and be on the trails in Scotland by lunchtime!
- Glentress Forest has 60km of trails from green to black level, and you can hire a bike there too – but book ahead, and be warned that smaller sized bikes appear to be quite scarce!!! Innerleithen – six miles down the road – is renown for its downhill riding so you can easily make a weekend of riding in the area.
- There is also lots of reasonably priced local accommodation – I stayed here and it was great, a spa hotel, and something called a ‘Scottish Breakfast’ – no need to ask if that is sufficiently calorific to fuel a morning on the trails.
- No mountain bike ride is complete without a trip to a great café, and there is an awesome one in Innerleithen – No. 1 Peebles Road (almost opposite the FINDRA store!). I will be making their field mushroom and grilled haloumi on toast for the rest of my life. Possibly every day.
- There is a great community of riders here. Those who came out to hear my talk were particularly amazing a) because they sat and listened to me and b) because the discussion that followed was so interesting and in-depth. It was really moving to hear others’ stories of what caused their fear, and how they dealt with it, as well as to hear from confident, competent riders who wanted to encourage others to feel the same.
Finally this from audience member Ruby made the whole trip extra special. She posted it two days after the talk (note: kudos to Ruby for riding some rather damp looking North Shore on her very first ride!!)
Btw, I will be discussing mental health and cycling on a panel at Look Mum No Hands in London on November 7th. If you’re in or near London, do come along! Details here.
Findra Outdoor Apparel is available online and at 83 High Street, Innerleithen, EH44 6HD.
The Velovixen Women’s Cycling hub at the 2017 NEC Cycle Show hosted a line up of speakers (including me!) who got together to discuss what it means to be a woman who rides a bike. This is the second time I’ve spoken at the event and my talk was called ‘Get Over It’ and dealt with cycling and fear (I seem to be have become something of an expert on this!!). Here it is!
Being fully aware of the quality of the speakers on board, I made sure I arrived in good time on Saturday to catch some of the other women at the event. I’m really glad I arrived in time for the Q&A with Corrine Hall MBE, not only because I got to hold her Paralympic gold medal but also because she told us all about winning at Rio 2016 with tandem partner Lora Turnham, who is blind. Corinne explained that they weren’t expected to win their event and so she was thrilled when they crossed the line first but, due to the nature of her disability, Lora is not aware of how they have done until Corrine tells her – so her delight was doubled when she got to tell her team mate that they had won.
The gold medal chimes when you shake it, with different sounds for the silver and bronze medals to differentiate between the three.
At the end of the day I caught up with the talk by Emily Chappell and Lee Craigie from The Adventure Syndicate. They are great speakers as well as experts on adventure and distance cycling, and I loved their honesty when it came to discussing how demanding such riding can be. Emily described how she draws upon her ‘invisible peloton’ for strength when the going gets tough. This imaginary group of her friends and role models enables her to think about what these people would say to support her on the road, and draw strength from them. I love this idea and will definitely be calling upon my own invisible peloton next time I’m starting to flag.
Now here’s a quick round up of the talks from the rest of the weekend.
Friday –the first day – and the hub got off to a great start with a Q&A session with legendary mtb champion Tracey Moseley , a talk on the media coverage of women’s cycling by Laura Winter from VoxWomen and cycling presenter Rebecca Charlton, as well as a discussion between Julie Rand from Cycling UK, Diane Jeggo (who also compared throughout the event!) from Breeze and Liz Colebrook of Beaumont Cycles on ways in which women’s cycling is blooming. Finally Fran Whyte urged everyone to try CycloCross in her talk.
Saturday kicked off with a discussion ‘Beyond Selling Stuff’ with Lynne Bye, founder of Fat Lad/Lass at the Back, Judith Smith, MD of Primal Europe and Rhian Ravencroft, the founder of Theo. The Corinne Hall Q&A followed, and then Emily Chappell, Sarah Perry and Julia Tilley spoke about the ‘Le Loop’ TDF ride. After my talk Emily returned to the stage with her Adventure Syndicate partner Lee Craigie, to discuss cycling adventures.
Sunday included a talk on how cycling clubs can get it right for women, hosted by Kate Horsfall, Fran Whyte, Kay Young and Eleanor Pye. Also on stage that day were Anna Glowinski and Transcontinental riders Grace Lambert-Smith and Eleanor Ceindeg. There was a Q&A session with Jo Rowsell Shand, a talk on lower body power from Simone Dalley (Triathlon Age Group World Champion and Personal Trainer) and, last but not least, VeloVixen co-founder Liz Bingham spoke about the ‘10,000km date’ that led to the creation of VeloVixen!
I suggest you free up an evening, open a bottle of wine, and watch them all here
I know it wasn’t just me who felt that, compared to last year, there were more women at the Cycle Show (previously it has been a complete MAMIL fest!) and it was fantastic to see so many women (and men!) at the hub, listening to us and asking some great questions. Can’t wait for next year!
P.S. I’m on a public-speaking roll now…I’ll be giving a more in depth talk on Fear and MTB at Findra HQ in Innerleithen on October 12th, at 7.30 pm