I love the snow – and I love mountain biking in it too.
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.
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.
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).
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.
So if anyone wants to fly me out to Finland with a fat bike, just get in touch. 🙂
Photos: Paul Mitchell
FINDRA REVIEW: Muddy fun vs stylish cycling wear.
Performance sportswear brand FINDRA make stylish mountain bike shorts as well as innovative merino outdoor apparel for women riders. Their Ms-Mo Relaxed Shorts look great – but how will they cope with a mud-splattered soaking on a typical winter ride? There’s only one way to find out!
‘Just ride straight through the middle of the puddle”.
I’m halfway along one of my favourite trails, riding it as I have done a thousand times before – only this time I have a photographer in tow – and I’m trying to soak the shorts that FINDRA has sent to me in mud, in order to give them a thorough review. But despite the fact that conditions are distinctly wet, I’m not getting the result I expected.
Ride a slippery, muddy, puddle strewn trail without a mudguard and you end up with a bum covered in mud, right? Not in this case. While the bike looked as if it had been spray painted with sludge, the shorts seemingly refused to get as dirty. And any splatters of mud that did settle could be wiped away. No matter how hard I tried, these shorts resisted. Even by the end of the ride the water repellent fabric was still remarkably mud-free.
While this may be tricky for photography, it is a bonus for mountain biking in wet conditions. A soggy bum is a sure fire way to spoil your ride and it was lovely to be able to get round in comfort instead. So, thumbs up for that – unless, of course, you regard a muddy backside as a must-have badge of honour in which case, and from personal experience, I suggest you try lycra shorts.
Performance in mud aside, I also love the look of these shorts – and not just because the orange contrast zips coordinate with my bike (actually that’s not quite true – it’s a major reason why I love them!). I also love this navy blue shade – a really nice alternative to black. They are also available in Chocolate (the colour, not the confectionary!), and Indigo Denim with white contrast stitching. The branding is subtle but stylish, which makes a welcome change compared to the gear offered by many mountain bike ranges.
The two-way stretch fabric feels quite lightweight but is plenty tough enough. I will layer these shorts over tights in the depths of winter, and then wear them as they are for the rest of the year. The stretch makes them very comfortable to ride in and there is plenty of room to pedal.
The cut is streamlined – they are not all baggy, so no chance of looking like a 12-year old school boy in them – and shaped at the hip for a more tailored look. Lengthwise they finish at the knee but fit over my knee pads easily. Finally a word about the tailored waistband: it is super smart compared to an elasticated version, but, thanks to the stretch, just as comfortable.
Like many mountain bike shorts, Ms-Mo Relaxed shorts are not padded. I wore mine with padded pants (link) but you could just as easily wear a padded liner beneath.
Verdict? Best looking mountain bike shorts I’ve seen, with performance to match.
£90, exclusively from Wiggle.
Read my review of Findra’s merino range (and see more images of the shorts!) here.
Photos: Paul Mitchell
Beaches, sunshine – and every type of trail you can think of (except mountains!).
The Cami de Cavalls is a 185km ancient path that follows the Menorcan coastline (so closely that at some points you’re almost in the sea). You can hike, run or horse ride around it (it was originally designed for defence and was patrolled by soldiers on Menorquin horses), or you can ride a mountain bike.
It is an extraordinary trail featuring gullies, rocks (so many rocks), valleys, wetlands, sandy coves, short, steep rocky climbs and – what goes up etc. – steep drops. It is also a constantly changing landscape: Menorca has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and you experience almost every Ecosystem in the Mediterranean world as you ride. So, you are riding boulder strewn headlands one minute, then rooty trails, sandy beaches and board walks the next.
We took four days to do our trip and everyday was an adventure mostly centred around a) staying on the bikes and b) staying on the trails, most of which are pretty remote. However get yourself to civilisation and Menorcans are super friendly and always happy to point you in the right direction or help out. A special mention for the restaurant owner (and mountain biker) who put in a call to the bike hire shop for us when a tubeless tyre, several inner tubes, mobile reception and our ability to master mountain bike terminology in Spanish all failed. Restored by good will, coffee and new inner tubes, we were soon back on our bikes again.
We wish we had taken longer to ride the trail as there are so many sights to see – we all wanted to shop in beautiful Ciutadella, for instance (I am so going back there, and next time in a more glamourous outfit) – and beautiful beaches to enjoy and often we just didn’t have time to stop. We did prioritise skinny dipping in the sea though – it is beyond inviting when you’re two hours into a ride in full sunshine (note – we visited in October and the riding temperature was perfect).
There are no mountains – but there is one great big climb. Part of the coast is unsuitable for bikes and so the trail took us inland. We were warned that it was an uphill slog though compared to some of the rockier sections of coast we found it quite easy: certainly there are longer and harder climbs at home in Surrey (yes, really). Just goes to show how your skills are built according to what you’re used to riding. Note though – this is mountain bike territory only: I love this sign!!!
No holiday is complete without a souvenir, and we all came home with lovely thigh bruises having lost arguments with tricky rocky sections. Having had post-fall elbow surgery six months ago I count myself pretty lucky that it was only my thigh got a battering. I also got a lovely set of pedal bruises up the back of one leg thanks to the sections where I had to carry/push/climb the bike over rocky ledges and steps that my inner Rachel Atherton couldn’t quite rise to the challenge of.
Our trip was booked via specialists Cami de cavils 360 . They arranged our accommodation, bike hire – full sus Trek 29ers (so glad I didn’t take my own as its bike-batteringly rough terrain), provided a thorough briefing, map and Garmin, booked accommodation, moved our bags each day and were very nice to us.
We’d ticked the accommodation box marked ‘comfort’ – a good move, as we stayed in some quite lovely hotels. I particularly appreciated the one that had a spa within ten metres of my bedroom door. I tested it out (purely in the name of research, of course) and can happily report that is just what you need after a dusty, hot day on a mountain bike.
Exercise makes you very hungry indeed so we made good use of each hotel’s self service breakfast and dinner buffets, and ate at beachside bars at lunchtime. There are fewer of these than you might expect – Menorca is largely ‘unspoilt’ – but they were all good.
This is one beautiful island with some amazing riding. Visit soon.
I am really happy to report that, as well as writing here, I have been invited to contribute to the Velovixen blog each month. Velovixen is a UK-based women’s cycling site. Founded by Liz and Phil Bingham a couple of years ago, the site champions women’s cycling as well as selling some great kit. I am really looking forward to working with them.
Here is a link to the first post I have written for Velovixen, on a subject which is very dear to my heart – outdoor exercise! Enjoy, and don’t forget to add your own reasons for working out outdoors (I am sure there are more than six!).
The wonders of working out in the woods (and some awesome mountain bike skills).
I’m a huge fan of exercising outdoors. A gym full of mirrors is every shade of wrong when you could be gulping fresh air into your needy lungs and plugging into the delicious power supplied by the sun on your back. When you’re so fixed on nailing the next berm on the trail that you forget what your thighs look like or how many calories were in your breakfast: that’s a good place to be. The trails that I ride with my girlfriends may be less than forty miles from London, but you can forget about mirrors. Come to think about it, you can also forget about mobile phone signal and sign posts. So every ride is a little adventure, as well as a workout.
We found this jumps section recently. Despite being a few metres away from a trail we know well, we’d never spotted it before. We dismounted our bikes to have a closer look (you don’t get to do that in a spin class!) and discovered a series of ‘tiger trap’ pits built beneath it. It looked truly terrifying.
Before long, two riders approached through the woods and, without even slowing down to look, soared over it. They pulled up ahead, and walked back past us to have another go. Now, we’re not really in the habit of talking to strangers in the woods, but this is outdoor exercise so you can talk to anyone, so long as they’re doing of a version of what you’re doing. We asked about their bikes (Specialized Enduro, quite heavy – no wonder they were pushing up hill.) We asked them if they found jumps scary (‘to be honest, yes’). They jumped again, I took some pictures on my phone (above and below), said thanks and we went our separate ways.
I will never ride this jumps section for a trillion different reasons that mostly revolve around being a complete coward. That doesn’t matter. What counts is being outside on my bike, and being open to whatever experience the trails choose to throw at us. Which, in this case, is happily acknowledging that some riders are far more awesomely skilled than I will ever be, and that’s fine.
“WHAT COULD THE MTB COMMUNITY & INDUSTRY DO TO HELP ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SPORT?”
Pinkbike posed this question in a feature posted on International Women’s Day (read it here). These are my thoughts, based on my own experience during ten years of mountain biking (because they didn’t ask me to participate: something of an oversight, obv!).
- Women don’t all want the same thing out of mountain biking. Some want a straightforward, reasonably safe, social ride in the lovely countryside. Others want to ride nothing but downhill, others want to win races. Some ride once a week, others almost every day. As fashion brands know only too well, ‘one size’ marketing will not fit all and the industry needs to target us according to our riding habits as well as our gender.
- Just a thought: when I started riding I borrowed all my kit off my partner, including his bike (too big, too pacey, fell off a lot). Many of my friends started by riding their partner’s bike. Last weekend I met a group of women who were out for one of their first rides – all using their partners’ kit. I know it’s not every woman’s way into the sport but, in my experience, it’s a significant entry point. Eventually there comes a tipping point of confidence and commitment where we step out of our partner’s shadow and decide to invest in our own kit: surely the perfect opportunity for brands to empower women (and win our custom).
- I learnt to ride with a group of women. We still ride together, every week. Most weeks we tear up and down the trails, other times we spend more time drinking coffee and chatting than we do riding. We like it like that. I have made the very best friends in the process, and that is as important to me as my riding skills (and believe me, I am very precious about my riding skills). For this reason, mountain biking does not feel like a ‘man’s sport’ when I am on the trails – however it’s a different story in the media. So….
- Women need to be as visible and at home within the industry as they are on the trails. My teenage daughter has recently started riding and I’d like her to be inspired by sporting role models doing fabulous things on their bikes, friendly faces in our local bike shops, and an the industry that is vocal about encouraging women’s cycling. And please, no more riders in bikinis promoting dodgy calendars: it is every shade of wrong.
- Many of the mountain bikers I know are male, and this is what I have observed: as a rule, the better and more confident a man is as a rider, the more generous they are with their encouragement and advice, and the more interested they are in hearing about my experience. For this, I thank them. Sadly I’ve also learnt that those men who regard me as competition (or just think I’m better than them) tend to be dismissive, talk over me or give advice I haven’t asked for. It took me a while to realise what was going on, so I just want to put it out there: gentlemanly conduct at all times, please.
- Now this is really important and I’ve learnt it the hard way: mountain biking frequently demands more technical skill from women than it does from men. This is because we tend to have less physical power available to charge up and over things, and are therefore more reliant on finely honed skills, position and accurate trail reading. I am forever pointing this out, both to women who want to improve and to men who think they know how we should ride (but actually don’t).
- In my experience, women tend to like to know how to do technical challenges on the trails correctly and safely before they will attempt them, where men are a bit more ‘ride first, think later’. Logically, this should mean that women riders will sign up for skills training at the drop of a hat: yet the women I know don’t. The reasons I hear? Too expensive /I don’t want to risk looking stupid or hurt myself in front of the group or instructor/my partner tells me how to ride (sometimes a good thing, sometimes not – see point 6). Food for thought if planning skills sessions.
- I came to mountain biking with zero mechanical knowledge: I couldn’t even change an inner tube (calm down, I can now). I’m fully aware that my safety and enjoyment depends upon riding a mechanically reliable bike and I keep on top of that, but I am never going to get excited about fettling in a cold shed. Unless you can ‘sex it up’ by convincing me that it’s what Kate Moss does on a wet Saturday afternoon, of course. Good luck.
- Bit of a sore point coming up: please don’t try to fob us off with a high-end women specific bike that has lower spec than the equivalent men’s version. We’ll do our research before spending all that cash and it’s one of the reasons why a friend of mine is currently having such a hard time choosing a new bike. Rant over (almost).
- I love mountain biking, I’ve made great friends, I challenge myself, enjoy riding in the most beautiful landscapes and have become really fit in the process. I enjoy being part of my mountain bike community and I have the greatest respect for my wonderful bike. None of this is gender specific and mountain biking needs to make it abundantly clear that the sport is accessible for everyone, male or female, if it wants to go forward.
So, over to you.