Category: lifestyle

Cotic Flare: my year of mountain bike adventures

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.

My Cotic Flare on New Bike Day! 🙂 

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.

First ride on my Cotic Flare!

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.

‘the scenic route’ up the mountain

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.

My favourite Swinley trail

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!

Actual Redbull Rampage rider, admiring my bike and dispensing excellent advice.

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.

The Flare feeling very much at home in The Alps!

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.

Chatting to other Cotic riders in one of the queues.

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?

 

 

Advertisements

FEAR AND MOUNTAIN BIKING

How to cope with fear when mountain biking (because we don’t talk about this enough).

Recently I read Meg Hine’s excellent new book Mind of a Survivor, which explains how the instinct and skills needed for survival can be applied to ordinary lives. Hine is an expedition leader and bushcraft expert who works with Bear Grylls. She is also a keen mountain biker whose earliest adventures were often on a bike.

The book is broken down into chapters which explore issues such as intuition, acceptance, curiosity and creativity, empathy, preparation and resilience, along with Hine’s own often hair-raising adventures involving predators, rapids, bad weather, and lack of food in far flung corners of the planet. It’s a great read.

It was the chapter on fear that really got me thinking about what scares us when we ride. As well as my own fears – hurting myself again,  messing up a technical section and beating myself with the misery stick for not being as good a rider as I think I should be, a fear of contempt from those who ride with me – I’ve also read, over and over again, comments from other women who regularly bring up the fear of being the one at the back, or holding people up, or looking silly. We even apologise for ourselves by saying ‘I’m really slow’ before we know how fast every one else rides.

It seems that while one half of the internet is leaping over jumps and getting air like a badass, many riders are really struggling with fear.

Although it is ultimately healthy and natural to feel afraid, it can also be debilitating if it gets out of hand. In other words, a companion we’d prefer not to have to ride with all the time.

I hate this root.

I, for instance, hate this root. Its on a short, steep climb with no run up and I can’t get enough speed up in order to weight the bike properly and get over it. But that isn’t why I hate it. The reason it makes my stomach turn is because a more experienced rider tried to help me and another rider to tackle it, and I gave up (my friend managed to do it, of course). And now whenever I ride past it (or walk up it – I’m still nowhere near seeing how I will ever get over it while actually on a bike) I just remember feeling ashamed of myself.  I’m also convinced everyone on that ride remembers me as the one who gave up (though in reality they’ve probably forgotten all about it).

‘No amount of top of the range kit will save you if you don t have the right frame of mind’ says Hine.

So while its fairly unlikely that any of us are going to be faced with hungry lions whilst nipping around the local trail centre, we do have to call upon our inner resilience – and a positive, informed mental attitude – if we are going to get round in one piece and with a big smile on our face.

Ultimately when we ride we are all chasing ‘the flow’ fix – those moments when your mind and body connect and riding becomes instinctive and effortless “it’s the most beautiful, almost spiritual feeling: a kind of physical enlightenment’ says Hine. But this means pushing ourselves to our limit, and when fear takes over (which it does for me fairly often!), we freeze, don’t think clearly, and are then in more danger.  Reassuringly Hine explains that fear is an evolutionary response to a perceived danger and there is nothing impressive about not being scared because that means you don’t know you may be in trouble. Fear is your body’s way of saying something is wrong. To move forward, its important to control your fear – perhaps using visualisation (I have found this very effective, though it takes practice!), or by pinpointing the cause, accepting it and putting it ‘into a box’.

Obviously if you’re faced with a visible danger – an off-camber, wet, rooty drop for instance, where you can stop and look for the line or follow someone more experienced, then it is easier to apply these skills. But no one is going to pretend this is quite so straightforward when its a fear of being excluded or feeling humiliated that you are dealing with. However that doesn’t mean these skills aren’t transferrable, so long as you identify what it is that you are actually frightened of. But ultimately, and with practice, learning to manage your fears could become your most important tools in your mountain biking skills set.

Flow not fear – this trail at Swinley Forsest always puts a smile on my face

 

How do you control your fear when mountain biking? Please share below – I’m really interested to hear how others deal with this issue.

You can find Mind of A Survivor by Meg Hine 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.

Cotic

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!

img_6034

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.

img_5938

img_5940

 

img_5920

 

img_5944

 

img_5937

 

img_5929

 

img_5921

 

img_5915

 

img_5913

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.

tcg2-20170130120734604-1

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:

tgc

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 🙂

tcg4

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.

untitled-60

 

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.

 

img_3235

 

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.

untitled-27

 

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).

 

untitled-55

 

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.

 

untitled-85

 

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!

magda10

Mountains!

Forests and mountains

Forests, mountains and blue skies – all together!

 

Snow, obviously.

Snow, obviously.

 

Wildlife.

Wildlife.

 

magda16

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…

img_2642

Story of my life.

 

…and so do check out the rest of the range if your gift-ee rides further afield!

 

ridden8302

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