Category: lifestyle

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

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.

 

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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

 

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.

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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