Category: fashion/beauty

FINDRA & 5 things I learnt about mountain biking in Glentress…without riding a bike

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!

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Lee Craigie from The Adventure Syndicate flying up a hill in full FINDRA!

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!!)

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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.

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What I wear on my mountain bike

“You must be the best dressed mountain biker in Britain,” joked my ride buddy as I got on my bike at Afan, wearing my third mountain bike outfit of the weekend.  While she may not be entirely accurate, as someone who gets to review a lot of kit here’s a round up of the stuff I really love at the moment.

 

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First, a very brief history of women’s mtb gear….when I first started writing about women’s cycling there wasn’t much women’s mountain bike gear to mention, never mind co-ordinate into a matching outfit. There was plenty of road gear though, which was what I originally wore when I started riding fourteen years ago, but women specific mountain bike gear was mostly conspicuous in its absence. Mind you, there weren’t that many women riding then: perhaps it was because there was nothing to wear.*

*joke.

Mountain biking on the Barry Knows Best trail in Surrey women's cycling

Me in the olden days: not mountain bike gear – and riding the wrong line, I note.

Thankfully the 650b plus wheels of progress have rolled on and we now have some great gear to choose from, both from established brands and start-ups such as Flare and Findra (both started as women’s specific brands, incidentally).

I’m lucky to have had first hand experience of a lot of this kit because I have been asked to review it for various cycling sites, and inevitably that means keeping it (the time a journalist colleague was asked to return a pair of zip-crotch bib shorts – despite the fact she had worn them – has gone down in ‘review horror stories’ history).

So, here’s the disclaimer: almost all of this gear was sent to me for review, or as part of my Cotic brand ambassador project. I like to think, therefore, that it’s kind of a level playing field to choose a few highlights from. 🙂

Flare Clothing

UK based, fledgling brand with a great range of slim fit technical (short sleeve), Enduro (mid sleeve) and downhill (long sleeve) jerseys to choose from as well as super endurable Downhill shorts and lighter weight (but still very endurable) Enduro shorts. No prizes for guessing that this is a range made for and by mountain bikers: they’ve thought of every detail (4-way stretch, reinforced seat, water repellent, adjustable closure). There is a really great range of colourful designs, and sizes up to XL.

I’ve ridden miles in this kit since I received it in February and it has been supremely comfortable, hard wearing and easy to care for. The only downside for me is the velcro fasten on the shorts – because other garments stick to it in the washing machine (velcro- fasten gloves are also guilty of this).

Anyway, Flare have a sale on right now. A good time to pay a visit, then.

Findra

A Scottish mountain bike and outdoor brand for women that specialises in merino knitwear. Superb quality, surprisingly hard wearing and very comfortable (merino’s ability to regulate body temperature is legendary) – but so good that I almost feel its wasted on mountain biking. I’ve had a couple of Findra merino tops and worn both off the bike, and been complimented on them. I should also mention the merino accessories – neck warmers and arm warmers – which I wear A LOT for winter rides and which are so comfortable you don’t want to take them off afterwards.

My Findra mtb shorts https://findra.co.uk/shop/shorts/relaxed-bike-short-french-navy/are a thing of beauty – tailored fit (with a button fasten!), contrast zip, and two-way stretch for comfort. I wore them a lot for riding last year, and they are still looking good despite some long, hard rides and frequent washing.

Visit Findra here.

ION

ION started life making watersports gear (and still does), which would explain the surf influence to the designs (lots of bold, bright options although they have more muted colour combos too). There are three women specific lines to choose from – trail, all mountain and free ride (there is also a limited unisex downhill line). It is all made from highly efficient technical fabric and is therefore remarkably comfortable to ride in, even in hot conditions (which is why I wore it a lot while riding in Spain last year). It’s very lightweight and quick drying, but surprisingly robust and has a sanitised finish to help keep you fresh. They do great gloves too. I hadn’t really known about this brand until I was asked to review it, but I was blown away by how fantastic it is to ride in. Find out more here. 

FOX RACING ENDURO PADS

 

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I paid for these. The knee pads were purchased after I fell bare knee-first onto a pointy rock in Coed-y-Brenin, the elbow pads came a little later on. I doubt they would save me from breaking a limb (particularly as I’d decided it was too hot to wear them on the day I did actually fall off and break my elbow), but they certainly protect me from scrapes and scratches if I do come off the bike. Anyway, I always ride in them now. In winter they act a little like a knee/arm warmers, and despite what have said above, they are light enough to wear on all but the hottest summer days even when climbing. They are pliable, and never rub, so that you barely notice you are wearing them. A neoprene comfort blanket, if nothing else. Find them here

And underneath…

Urbanist Bettie cycling pants

Urbanist Betties. Sadly, this is not my bum.

I find Urbanist Bettie Cycling Pants super comfortable on all but the longest rides. However I know they are not for everyone – personal physiology as well as a well fitting saddle dictates that – all I can say is that they work for me. I love the lack of bulk: just a normal pair of pants with a little extra padding.Find them here.

Bike Nicks http://www.bikenicks.com do a very similar style, and I also have a pair of those that I wear a lot.

Bike Nicks review

No bum here either

I also love Vulpine’s merino padded boy shorts – super soft and comfortable, and a little more padding than the pairs above.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

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

 

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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Bike Nicks review: Mountain biking in a g-string

Mountain biking is too much fun to do sitting down – time to throw caution and your padded shorts to the wind! 

Possibly not the picture some of you were hoping to see.

Bike Nicks g-string: possibly not the picture some of you were hoping to see when you clicked on the link.

Those of you who read my blog will know already that I am a great fan of Urbanist cycling pants. Then recently British brand Bike Nicks sent me their new cycling g-string to try (above) – lovely lacy pants complete with a integrated and discreet pad (its roughly the same thickness as a panty liner).

Those of you used to riding in shorts with a pad the size of a rolled up bath towel may shake your head in disbelief: but, in my experience, a padded g-string could well be all that you need for most rides. What’s more, they can be worn for the rest of the day with comfort and discretion – and they add a little ‘va-va-voom’ to your wardrobe. You can’t say that for the rest of your mountain bike gear, now can you?.

Here’s why padded pants are great for mountain biking:

The key to a comfortable undercarriage isn’t just your padded shorts: it’s your saddle and your ride position.

Arguably you can get away without a women’s specific mountain bike, but you really don’t want to be riding on a man’s saddle. A good cycle store will fit a saddle by measuring the dimensions of your bum (by which I mean sit bone width) – a process that is thankfully slightly less humiliating than it sounds. They will also make sure your saddle is angled correctly. Get this right, and you will be a lot less reliant on your shorts for comfort.

And we’re not road cyclists: those ‘queens of suffering’ ride in pretty much the same position for hours on end on bikes with no suspension and hard tyres: as a result they tend to be grateful for padded shorts within thirty seconds of setting off. Mountain bikers meanwhile, are out to have fun. And this means moving around the saddle in response to the challenges that the trails throw up (and down) – and we have suspension and big fat tyres to soften the blows. The result? We spend less time in the saddle (considerable time behind it, in fact), and when we are sitting down (on the right saddle) its an altogether comfier experience.

Mountain bike shorts are often sold without a padded liner. That’s not because we don’t need one – but it is an opportunity to think about how much padding you really need (and this is a highly individual choice because we all differ ‘down there’). But be wary of too much wadding – it can get in the way when you are trying to manoeuvre round the saddle (especially if you don’t have a dropper post).

Why not just wear pants? Well, the pad isn’t just there to act as a cushion – its other function is to absorb moisture that could otherwise result in friction and chafing. That’s why you should never wear pants with conventional padded shorts.

So, what’s it like to ride in a padded g-string? At no point do I feel sawn in half or rubbed raw: I do feel more agile and free to move around. And if they get wet through my shorts as a result of splashing through puddles, then they soon dry out because there is so little fabric (compare that to a soggy chamois!).

They are also great for commuting, nipping out to the shops, and travelling light on mountain bike trips. Oh, and there’s no VPL (visible pad line). Result.

Bike Nicks thong is £26.99 and available in black or pink. Fuller cut cycling pants are also available.