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
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?
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
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.
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 Twitter, Instagram 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
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.
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!
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’m always on the look out for ‘good news’ stories that promote the joy of women’s cycling – and these amazing images fit the bill perfectly. They were shot by photographer Dan Monaghan and capture the agony and ecstasy of The National Hill Climb Championships, which took place last weekend, in a stunning photo-essay.
The event was held at the appropriately named Bank Road in Matlock – an 834m slog with a maximum gradient of 20%, and an average of 14%.
I love the timeless quality of each image (and by the way, riders choose not to wear helmets in order to save weight).
I also love the total commitment on the face of each rider, capturing their absolute effort as well as the total exhaustion that these incredible athletes experience as they push themselves to the limit.
These women are a wonderful reminder that this is how we are when they ride a bike and give it our absolute all: 100% awesome.
Thanks to Dan for allowing me to share these images – and I recommend you take a look at the rest of the images from the event, including the male riders, at Cadenceimages.com – there is some serious self-inflicted suffering going on!!
P.S. Initially I was unable to find out who these riders are – thanks to everyone who helped out with comments here or on Twitter so I could amend the captions!!
I am really excited about the launch of Casquette, a new quarterly print magazine and website for the discerning female cyclist.
I’m always keen to report good news stories about women’s cycling and the media. I also love magazines, having spent much of my adult life working on everything from Just 17 to Marie Claire as a beauty editor and, more recently and at a complete tangent, writing about mountain biking for Singletrack.
So, I got my hands on a copy and also had a quick chat with editor and founder Danielle Welton.
“The content is a balance of inspiration, good humour and style and includes the fun, sociability, coffee culture and freedom that comes with cycling.” Danielle Welton, editor.
Danielle tells me that she set out to create a magazine that she wanted to read but that did not exist – and crucially it is one that she believes there is a readership for.
It is aimed at women who ride and those who would like to, and deliberately puts a decidedly positive spin on the whole experience.
The theme, aptly, of the first issue of Casquette is #JFDI (Just F***ing Do It!). There is a choice of two covers – Emily Chappell or Nicole Cooke – and the Emily cover kicks off with a boldly placed quote ‘ Back yourself: How to look fear in the face and win’. The editor’s letter on page 3 – on what motivates female cyclists to make stuff happen – includes the words ‘peeing it down’. So, it’s not Woman’s Weekly then.
Instead Casquette is kind of cycling’s version of Stylist or Glamour – a slick, pro-women lifestyle read with aspirational photography and a clean, confident design. This is, however, most definitely a cycling publication – so when they refer to ‘Brad’ they mean Mr Wiggins and not Mr Pitt.
This issue kicks off with a Lust List spread of cycling accessories – basically a cycling centric mix of everything from the fantastic Grand Tour Cookbook to a limited edition Ass Saver.
There follows an interview with blogger and cycling girl-about-town Jools Walker, before moving on to contributions from and interviews with inspirational women who ride including Alicia Bamford of Queen of the Mountains, Kimberley Coats of Team Rwanda, Emily Chappell, Nicole Cooke and British Cycling coach Holly Seear. There’s also a piece on Drops Cycling with some great photography by JoJo Harper.
The features are interspersed with more usual women’s magazine content, although all of it skewed to cycling: style, recipes, fashion and beauty and travel all get a look in, as do lots of lovely road bikes.
It’s not easy or cheap to get a magazine off the ground so its good to see the following advertisers supporting this new venture: Assos (yes them, the brand who have gone from bad to badass!), Neals Yard (I use their rose facial oil to make my own moisturiser, but that’s another story), tokyobike, Chapeau!, Brooks England, Vulpine and Condor Cycles.
If you love women’s cycling then I urge you to get your hands on this first issue before they all get snapped up. It is a good looking magazine, a great read and a great big confident leap forward for women’s cycling.
Casquette is available for free at selected stockists or by post with a small p&p charge. Check it out on line or find out where to pick up or order a copy of Casquette here.
I’ve been working on an ongoing project for Evans Cycles Coffee Stop blog recently, for which I am interviewing a series of women who inspire us to ride. I’m thrilled to be part of it because I believe that highlighting the positive energy in women’s cycling is as important as discussing the not-so-good stuff that occasionally knocks us back. Every single one of these cycling athletes is awesome – and each in different ways. These are my favourite quotes from each interview (although to be honest it was very hard to choose!).
My first interview in the series was with former The Hour world record holder Bride O’ Donnell who told me:
“I wish we were braver in our 30s and 40s, and worried less about ‘what if?’ – our children need to learn that women’s bodies are strong, capable, resilient and fast; that being a mother or a wife doesn’t mean your physical and mental health and wellbeing needs to be discounted.”
You can read the full interview with Bridie here.
Next in line is British and European CX champion Helen Wyman:
“I have basically given up my career as a physio and possibly the whole family thing, possibly the expensive Bahamas holidays, newest car etc. But I don’t really see this as much of a sacrifice. Sure I have had moments when I have had to sell stuff to pay my rent or when I didn’t know how much money I have to spend on food that week, but I have also had the most amazing experiences a person could ever have.
Right now I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I get to ride my bike every day, travel the world, meet incredible and inspiring people – and do all of this alongside my husband – while calling it my job. Seriously who wouldn’t want that? My life is hugely rich in experiences and for that alone I would say I haven’t really sacrificed anything just switched philosophies!”
You can read the full interview with Helen here.
I spoke to British Downhill Series champion Manon Carpenter who gave this excellent piece of advice on braking (and yes, I am certainly guilty of this when I ride!!):
“Have fun and, once you are confident in your skills, trust yourself and let go of the brakes: comfort braking will slow you down, tire you out and make the ride rougher, so only brake when you need to.”
Read the full interview with Manon here.
Paralympian Lora Turnham gave a fascinating insight into her life as a professional athlete, as well as her relationship with her tandem pilot Corrine Hall:
“As soon as Corinne and I got on a bike we just clicked. We’re similar I guess but we also have slightly different strengths which compliment each other. She is an extremely good bike handler and also very good in a race environment as she has done it all her life. I sense her confidence and this reassures me.
Although we are good friends it is important to confront any problems we have straight away so that it doesn’t become an issue. We spend so much time together that we are like a married couple at times: we can finish each others sentences and also at times will say exactly the same thing. It’s also good to respect each other and recognise when we just need a little space or sometimes a good talking too and I think we’re both good at this.”
Read the full interview with Lora here.