Sunday, 12 March 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 7: Michelle Webster

On a recent skiing trip to Chamonix-Mont Blanc, France, while I was trying out some cross-country skiing in the Bouchet Wood I came across a couple - Michelle and Phil - who were riding fat bikes in the snow along trails. It was great to come across biker types even during that trip. We got chatting, and I arranged to catch up with Michelle a couple of days later in a bar in the centre of Chamonix. It turns out that Michelle is originally from Hawaii but has lived in Chamonix for nine years. Phil is from not quite so far away - Hertfordshire, UK. After all these years they now consider themselves to be locals of the Alps, and enjoy the outdoor lifestyle it brings.

Michelle Webster, aged 31

Lives: Chamonix, France

From: Maui, Hawaii

Freelance copywriter and copy editor

I grew up riding motorcycles from when I was five, and my grandmother got me into golfing from a young age. Even though I grew up in Hawaii I didn’t surf until I was 16 – go figure! My dad would do up vintage motorcycles, and he and my mum raced them in Colorado, and in the desert. So it was natural that I got into motorbikes.

I only got into cycling eight years ago, a year after I arrived in Chamonix. Myself and a friend had been travelling around Europe on a three-month trip, but the exchange rate was so bad when we arrived that it literally halved my savings and we ran out of money after about a month! 

My friend had been working here as an au pair and suggested we go to Chamonix where she knew people who could offer us work for a couple of weeks to keep our trip going. I had never even heard of Chamonix before, but when we got here, within 30 minutes I loved the place. People were paragliding, climbing, and going down the river in a raft and everything, and I just thought – I’m not leaving this place! So we spent the remaining two months of our trip here. I went back to the States for a couple of months, saved up more money to return here in the winter, and I have never left Chamonix since!

Not long after arriving in Chamonix I met my partner, Phil, through motorcycling and golf, and he got me into mountain biking. I had heard a bit about mountain biking but I didn’t really know what it was.  Phil was a mountain bike guide so he really encouraged me to give it a try. We went out one day, and I sort of got hooked immediately, even though I felt like I was gasping and dying, and feeling terrible! Phil said I did very well (!) and I had good positioning on the descents - probably because my skills from riding motorcycles. 

Then three months after I started mountain biking I did the Tour de Mont Blanc. It’s a five-day trip around the Mont Blanc on various trails. The total amount of ups and downs are the equivalent of riding up and down Ben Nevis every day for five days. 

Nobody rides the whole thing, as some parts are just impossible – either too steep up or down, with rocks and steps. I trained by practicing all these really uncomfortable climbs along jeep tracks, which meant climbing for an hour and a half – almost on the limit of what I could keep doing. I got through the ride, and it was amazing. The second time I did the Tour de Mont Blanc it was much better and I felt more confident as I knew what I would be up against.  

There is a good little cycling community in Chamonix. However, the trails are geared towards walkers and the local authority doesn’t really encourage mountain biking. Here, we have the Aiguille du Midi which a lot of tourists come to visit. The Eiffel Tower is the only other monument in France that gets more visitors than the Aiguille du Midi. So Chamonix doesn’t really need the money from mountain biking! They put in a couple of downhill trails, but that’s not really what I’m into. I prefer more single-track, technical stuff. 
I’ve got a friend, Angie, who’s 52 years old, and up until she got hit by a snowmobile last winter she was riding incredible stuff. She’s a really great rider, really fit, and just so lovely. Hopefully next summer she’ll be able to get back on the bike.

There is a 24-hour race here where you have a relay team and you ride for 24 hours around a flat track. I have thought about doing races but I have not done any yet. It’s something I might look into in the future, but as things are now, I would be relying more on my technical skills than my endurance.

In the summer I try and cycle at least a couple of times a week. It’s really challenging in Chamonix as there are lots of roots and rocks. It’s literally just up and then down for pretty much all of the riding and we’re doing 500-700 metre-climbs and sometimes it’s just at the limit of what you can pedal up. I learned mountain biking here so I don’t really know anywhere else, though everyone who comes here says that it’s super-challenging, so I take their word for it!

If you are coming here to visit and you are not familiar with the area there’s a great valley ride that is challenging but not crazy. It’s a Chamonix classic, the Balcon (balcony). The Balcon consists of the trails that run either side of the valley.  It sort of gives you a taste of everything that Chamonix has to offer. The trails are a bit steep, a bit rooty, a bit rocky, and it goes up to Argentiere, and then back down the other side. It’s a great ride, with challenging single-track, and nice flowy stuff.

I have just started fat-biking in the snow on trails that we normally do in the summer  I can’t believe how well the bike grips. I let down the tyres really flat and it’s amazing. I mean stuff that would be hard to walk up and down, becomes ridable because the bike actually grips. It’s unbelievable and you’re thinking - I could never do this on a normal mountain bike - but the fat bike just climbs and climbs. As long as you can keep the wheels spinning it just carries on climbing.

At first, the bike felt really odd because the tyres are so wide that when on the road the steering almost did the opposite of what I wanted. It was like it had a mind of it’s own and was almost fighting me. As the bike doesn’t have the full suspension like my bike has, it felt a little bit bulky. I was a little bit unsure of the riding, but once I got onto a nice narrow track, it was really amazing. It felt like it was summer again and I could ride all the snowy trails that I normally ride during the sunny months. 

We usually go for months without being able to ride our mountain bikes unless we drag ourselves down to Italy. So it was really eye-opening to just see the possibilities of keeping your summer fitness. With the fat bike it’s like, wow! The only thing is the trails are coated in snow, ice, and wet roots. I couldn’t believe how well the bike climbed. Even on the descents there were really steep parts that were dangerous to walk, but the bike gripped well and just sailed down them.

Riding a fat bike is definitely more tiring than riding my usual mountain bike. The difference is like the difference between riding a road bike versus a mountain bike but with a fat bike the tyres are four times as wide! 

Also the tyre pressures are low and flat and there’s no suspension so it bounces a bit more. It’s sort of clumsy, but what it opens up for you is worth the downgrade in comfort that you would get from a good mountain bike.

Most people know me as a golfer, as I’ve been golfing since I was five. So that’s probably more of an identifier, but for me I enjoy mountain biking more. You can never ever have a bad day mountain biking. If you crash that’s not great, but in golfing you can finish your day just wanting to crawl up into a ball. It can be so frustrating, even soul-destroying. Whereas with mountain biking you never have a bad day. It’s so much fun and it frees you.
When you’re riding uphill and you’re struggling, it’s kind of medidative. When you are going downhill you don’t think of anything! So it’s a good way of clearing the mind, which helps me for golf! 

The fitness aspect of mountain biking is also really good for golf. Golf doesn’t seem that physical but it can make you mentally exhausted, and being fit can help with that. Also you’re walking something like 7km on a course, doing this twisting motion. Every time you hit a ball you’ve taken two or three practice swings and you’re carrying your bag, or pushing your bag, so it can be quite physical, so being fit really helps for that and your agility.

I’ve got a Specialized Evo Comp which I bought this year and it’s got full suspension. It's not a downhill bike but a cross-country bike because we like to pedal up. It’s not got carbon components on it, but still it has really opened up what I’ve been able to do.

My goal this year is to do the Tour de Mont Blanc with Phil. He had been doing his three-countries tour for 17 years so he wasn’t able to do the Tour of Mont Blanc when I did it. He finally wrapped up the business a couple of years ago, so it will be great to do the ride with Phil, and for him to see all the people he’s known for so long in the ride.  

I never ride without my lip balm. You’re up in the mountains, it’s windy, it’s cold or it’s super-hot so I need lip balm! My lip balm is a comfort that I can’t do without, and not having it just feels wrong!

Chamonix is an amazing place. There’s a golf course a five-minute drive away and you can go mountain biking straight out of your house, and you’re on a trail in five minutes. If you want to go up the valley you can either ride there or get on a train and take the bikes up and ride down. You can also go to Sallanches, which is a half-hour drive away, where there are more trails. Then when you’re done you can either drive or get the train back to Chamonix free of charge. It’s amazing, and I feel lucky to have found Chamonix all those years ago.” 



Instagram: @thesubpargolfer  

Other Cycling Voices

Grace and Lucy Garner

Hannah Bussey

Carolyn Hewett-Maessen

Caroline Martinez

Niusha Doyom

Maria David

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Yorkshire Post

The year has gone by so fast. One moment we are busy watching our cyclocross heroes battle it out in the mud, the next moment we are getting ourselves ready to take part in Spring cyclosportives and debating who will win the Primavera Classica, Milan-Sanremo bike race or the Queen of the Classics Paris-Roubaix.

                                 Tour de Yorkshire (Credit:
Hot on the heals of the classics will be the Tour de Yorkshire stage race, which takes place in less than two months' time. The event, now in its third year, was inspired by the 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart.

It's the third year that the three-day event is taking place and the third year that I say I would like to go up during that weekend - but I have yet to get up there.

It is particularly great to see that there is a woman's UCI 1.1 classified race, meaning that top international riders will be there, and there are plans to make this a two-day race in the future. So I have even more reason to be up in the White Rose county. In the last two years, the Tour de Yorkshire clashed with other things I was doing, so I hope that this year will be third time lucky.

Stage one goes between Scarborough and Whitby, two towns that I rode between via the Cinder Track rail trail last year. This was a lovely, spectacular, off-road ride. Although the Tour de Yorkshire will stay firmly on the tarmac, the route will be no less beautiful, as it will snake through the Yorkshire Wolds and around the beautiful North York Moors. I do like this area because the countryside is wild and unspoiled, with a purple carpet on the landscape from the heather. You really get a feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, even though you may be less than 10 miles from the seaside.

                    Lizzie Deignan  (Credit:
Stage two of the men's race, also the course for the ASDA Women's Tour de Yorkshire, particularly appeals to me, especially now that Lizzie Deignan will be competing. The stage goes through the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, along roads that are well frequented by the local club cyclists. Pateley Bridge has popular, if not rather tough roads to climb, and it will be interesting to see how the men's and women's races are played out.

So with these tantalising competitions taking place, and the beautiful landscape North Yorkshire has to offer, I will be sure to make a trip up there at the end of April.

Before then, I will be up in that neck of the woods to do a reconnaissance of the Yorkshire Lass Cyclosportive. The actual event takes place in August, but I will be doing a preview ride to check out what riders can look forward to. The event starts from near Thirsk, with the full 103-mile event going through the North York Moors near White Horse Bank.

I think it's great to have an all-women cyclosportive with a testing route, as you don't often see that. For some reason, organisers seem to equate all-women events with a watered down, softened up variety of cyclosportive! But in fact, there are plenty of women who like an all-women's event that has the challenges included in mixed or men's events. So I will look forward to riding this route. (Note: There are shorter less challenging options too for those looking for something less arduous!)

So with all of the above taking place over the coming months I have every reason to take my bike up North.

Related Posts
Yorkshire biking on my mind

Are you going to Scarborough Fai...Beach

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 6: Grace and Lucy Garner

At the recent London Bike Show I caught up with sisters, Grace and Lucy Garner, professional cycle racers in the Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling team. They talked about how cycling has always been part of their lives. Lucy talks about her instinct to look out for her younger sister, while Grace talks about why she doesn't always want to share a room with her older sister!

Lucy Garner, aged 22

Lives: Woudenberg, Holland

From: Cosby, Leicestershire

Professional cycle racer for Wiggle High5

Grace Garner, aged 19

Lives: Cosby, Leicestershire

Professional cycle racer for Wiggle High5

Grace (left) and Lucy Garner at the London Bike Show 

Lucy: I got into cycling very young as it was in our family. My dad has always liked cycling. He used to cycle to work and he did a bit of mountain biking, but my grandparents actually raced – both of them did time trialling. So I started cycling first and straight away I was really keen on doing it, and then my younger sister, Grace started. 

She wasn’t as keen at first, and sometimes I had to pull her along to join me on the bike rides. Then over the months and years she got more interested and wanted to carry it on and make it a career, so it has worked out really well for both of us, particularly as it is nice to have someone to train with.

It works for us, as we are sisters and also friends so if either of us needs someone to speak to, and it’s something that’s not to do with cycling for instance then it’s nice to have someone as close as your sister on the same team.

But then like all sisters we have our moments. Sometimes when we are going to a race or training camp Grace will say “I don’t want to share a room with you,” and I’m like “Oh, thanks Grace!” Yeah, sisters sometimes fight – we haven’t been in that situation this year, but I am sure it will happen at some point!

Grace: Sometimes I don’t want to share a room with Lucy. We are just too close at times! When you are just team mates you are always nice to each other, but with the added element of sisters there can be too much honesty between us!

Lucy: It's good that we are on the same team now, rather than before when were racing against each other. There’s no sibling rivalry anymore, so one day I can work for Grace and another day she works for me. So it kinda works out pretty well.

We had moments last year when we were in the same race but riding for different teams, particularly as Grace joined in some seniors races.  It was nice to see her in the race, but if I saw a big crash I would get worried and wonder if she was in it. 

Even though we were on different teams I would feel like I had to look out for her, being her older sister, and it was hard because I would have wanted to stop and help her, even though I was racing for a different team. Thankfully Grace got on very well in the races. She does know what she is doing! 

Grace: Cycling is our lives. It’s all we’ve ever done since we were children, so we’ve grown up in a cycling family. We would regularly go out on bike rides together. On family holidays we’d always take our bikes and cycle in the area. 

I did mountain bike races when I was young, though it was more for fun. A few times when they did the Inter-regional Championships and they were short of a rider I stood in. My cycling career just continued to develop and here I am now racing for Wiggle High5!

Lucy: This is my fifth year as a professional cycle racer, though it feels like I’ve been doing it for years! I won the Junior World Road Race Championships in 2011 and 2012, and they've definitely been the highlight of my career so far.

Winning the World Championships, 2012
It was pretty surreal when I took the Junior World Championship title for the first time. I had trained so hard for it, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do on the day. 

Amy [Roberts, Wiggle High5 team-mate] was with me and we just said we would do our best, so it was amazing to get the win. 

My life changed overnight, particularly as suddenly I was getting talked about in the media.  

It was really special and a privilege to wear the rainbow jersey.

I’m gonna be honest and say that the transition from junior to senior racing was hard. It was really tough.  After I got the first year out of the way and I joined in a team – initially a Dutch team [Liv Plantur] where I learned a lot from the older riders – I got used to it and things are going really well now.

The hardest race I’ve ever done is the women’s Giro d’Italia – the Giro Rosa. I’m not very good at climbing and there was a lot of climbing there so I suffered a lot during the races – hopefully it has made me stronger. Italy is beautiful but it is very tough riding over there!

When things get tough in those stage races you almost have to zone out for the whole 8-10 days. You just eat, sleep and race and then repeat it the following day. It’s just constantly like that. You just get into a rhythm and make sure you’re eating, sleeping, and resting enough, and you just have to get through it!

Grace: I am very happy to be racing for Wiggle High5, and knowing that Lucy is on the team and has been in it for a year has not made it as daunting as it could have been, riding alongside people like Giorgia Bronzini or Annette Edmondson. 

I wasn’t so scared about going to Australia for the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Ocean Race, as I knew Amy (Roberts) as well and I had spoken with all the Wiggle High5 staff beforehand as well, so I felt that it was a smooth transition. I met Rochelle [Gilmore] in Australia and she’s been very supportive. She’s got so much experience.

Lucy: Last year was my first year in Wiggle High5. It’s really nice to be back in a British team. You feel more at home. I live in Holland and I’ve been there for four years so it’s nice to come back. I really like how professional the team is and how much they want to progress women’s cycling.

It is a British team but we don’t have a specific base, so everyone comes together in Belgium a few times a year. Also the riders are from all over the world – Japan, Italy, UK, Sweden, everywhere. It’s a very international group of girls.

We all have very different characters too. For instance, Giorgia Bronzini is the team joker, and is a really nice woman. She has been world champion in the seniors, and she’s got so much experience behind her, but she’s really down to earth and it’s really good for her to be in the team. Giorgia is the one I look to for advice. She’s always there if you need her and is open to helping the younger girls in the team as well.

I’m not just saying it because I am on the team, but the bunch of girls we have are so nice, and we all get on really well. We will be in Belgium racing together for 10 days, but we will also have a good time off the bike. That’s why I really like being on the team.

Grace with her new team kit and bike
Grace: I’m not yet sure of my capabilities within the team and it’s a completely new environment for me to be a team member. Obviously last year I was in Podium Ambition. It was good fun but we were all less experienced riders, whereas being in Wiggle High5, which has a few multiple World Champion medallists and Olympians, is crazy for me. I just want to find my place and do as much as I can for the team.

Lucy: One of the main reasons why I like cycling so much is that it is such a social sport as well. You can see a lot of places by bike. When I was younger we used to go with friends and family on a tour around Assen, Holland, biking and camping. I really enjoyed those trips. 

Otherwise, when at home you can go out on long training rides for four hours, or you can just go with a group and socialise with others, which is nice. 

I would like to do another season of cyclocross at some point, as I did it for eight years as a junior. I still do it in the winter and, being with my partner, Lars [van der Haar], who is a cyclocross rider, HHaI train a bit with him. So it would be nice to do another season of cyclocross.

Lars and I met after we started speaking over Facebook and he came to watch a few of my races because I was racing a lot in Holland. Our relationship developed quickly from then, and we’ve been together for nearly five years now. Living together we can understand what the other person is going through – though he is doing a muddier version of what I do!

Sometimes I think it would be nicer if we had the same season. For instance I’m in my off-season while he’s in his season and that makes it quite hard if we want to go on holiday together and things like that. But we have a system that works and it’s nice. Sometimes we are away from each other for quite long periods of time, but we are used to it now.

With us both being bike racers we can support each other, particularly during those difficult times. Lars has had a hard cyclocross season this year as he has struggled with injury. He did well at the World Championships this year, finishing fourth. That was a good result considering the problems he'd had.

I give him as much support as I can, though I don’t pit for him. I am never doing that! I prefer to cheer him on from the sidelines!

Grace: I enjoy all types of cycling, though I would like to do more track. I really would, but it is just hard to fit everything in, and it is harder to do if you are not part of the British Cycling track programme. Cyclocross is fun to do here and there, but I would like to do a bit more track.

We are based in South Leicestershire and we’ve got access to a lot of nice roads. We are lucky to make it a flat ride or a hard ride, so there’s quite a mixture. The terrain we ride on, around Rutland and North Leicestershire is quite undulating. It’s not as hard as say, Yorkshire, where you are going up and down all day, but it is still quite testing.

We don’t live in a town, so we can get out onto nice lanes straight away and we see a lot of other cyclists on those roads. Yesterday there were quite a lot of people out even though the weather was horrible. We joined on the back of a few club runs, dressed in our team kit. The riders recognised us but didn’t dare to try and drop us. It was quite fun! 

Lucy: My favourite place to cycle…Well in Holland it’s all pretty much the same as it’s just flat! I like training in Holland, but I like coming back to the UK and riding my bike with Grace as she always makes up some good laps on her Garmin when we go on rides together. My ideal place to ride a bike would be somewhere warm, though not too warm like Australia.

Grace: My ideal place to cycle would be Gran Canaria where the sun shines most of the time. I like cycling in Leicestershire but it’s just not that sunny!

Whenever I ride I never go out without a banana. I always like to have a banana with me when I go out just in case you get that unexpected drop in energy. 

Lucy: I never go out without my Garmin. I just like knowing how long I have been out and how many Watts I’m doing. I don’t like riding without knowing how I’m doing.

My advice to anyone wanting to get into professional cycle racing is to be patient and believe it will come. Just see it as fun and don’t get so serious, particularly when you are young. Do lots of different things. For me, bike riding is sociable and fun. I’ve met so many interesting people through cycling, so I would say just enjoy it.

Twitter@Lucygarner94          @graceygarner

Friday, 24 February 2017

6 Favourites - Seen at the London Bike Show

Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to the London Bike Show, which was held, as usual at the Excel Centre in London's docklands.

This event tends not to be as big as the autumn Cycle Show held at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham where the 2017 models of bikes, equipment and clothing are presented. However, the handy thing about the London show is that the ordinary consumer can buy gear directly from the exhibitors - often at specially discounted prices for the show.

For me, I like to attend the event as a way to remind myself what is out there, as well as to catch up with cycle trade and cycle media bods, and of course interview the odd high profile bike rider. It was good to see the guys from Boardman Bikes, and from Scott Bikes. I was pleasantly surprised to see Nick Craig there, especially given that tragically, he lost his 15-year old son Charlie as a result of sudden cardiac death a few weeks ago.

I was also pleased to interview Dame Sarah Storey, Tracy Moseley, Emily Chappell, and chat briefly to Chris Boardman and Sean Kelly. Although I was at the event on three out of the four days it was still a struggle to talk to everyone I wanted, particularly World Champion BMX rider Shanaze Reade, and Xisco Lliteras, organiser of the famous Mallorca 312 cyclosportive. Better luck next time eh.

Anyway here are a few items on show that I particularly liked:


Got Lemons? Jersey

I must admit Primal is one of my favourite brands and I always like the lovely colours and designs that they bring out each year. The Hotness Helix jersey that is now available, which I took a shine for when launched last autumn was not actually on display at the show.

The joy of socks from Primal

However, the Got Lemons? short-sleeved jersey and some lifestyle jerseys looked pretty good too. And I can't go without highlighting their lovely array of socks which always makes me feel like I'm in sock heaven!

Hackney GT

Camou jersey (L) and Leopard Windtex (R)
Fellow cross rider, DJ and fashion designer, Russ "Straight Outta Clapton" Jones was at the show with his line of Hackney GT clothing. Last Autumn he designed the Leopard Windtex winter jacket, which has had a lot of great feedback since it keeps you warm while looking pretty cool! Also on the stand was his soon-to-be-released Camou jersey.

I like the way that Russ designs clothes using the essence of outdoor activities like mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, and even horseracing!

I am keen to support his outfit as he is a local racer and a nice guy who has branched out into what he is passionate about - music, urban culture, fashion design, outdoor activities - while supporting grass roots cycling through sponsoring the local mountain bike series, Beastway.

Hackney GT Stand

Hackney GT also supports British industry by having everything produced in the UK.


At the Bike Show I met Alex Feecham, the brainchild behind the Findra range of women's outdoor wear. For some reason I had thought the brand was Scandinavian, given the look and feel of their campaigns. In fact it is a Scottish brand and Alex is from just outside Edinburgh.
Findra campaign

I guess there are parallels between Scandinavia and Scotland when it comes to weather, and braving harsh climatic conditions! In fact, Alex says that the designs are inspired from Scandinavia, so she has successfully conveyed that impression in the photography.

What's more, the different performance garments include merino wool which will definitely keep you warm, while keeping you dry when you are pretty active. I have not worn any Findra gear yet, but I look forward to putting on some of Alex's clothes. For the moment I was happy to take a photo of the Findra stand, which was nicely decked out.

Shand Cycles

Shand Stoater
One person I was keen to meet at the Bike Show was Emily Chappell, a cycling globetrotter and adventurer, and current champion of the gruelling Transcontinental Cycle Race No.4. I met her on the Shand Cycles stand, where she was doing a meet and greet with her organisation, the Adventure Syndicate. I had not heard of this brand before and I was very keen to find out more about these bikes.

Their flagship model is the Stoater, a bike designed to be ridden on all terrains - gravel, road, towpaths, trails. I guess they would call it an adventure/gravel bike, but Steve Shand says these bikes were being produced well before the term "adventure bike" ever became fashionable! The bikes, which have carbon fibre folks are designed for comfort and work well as touring bikes when fitted with a rack and mudguards.

Shand Stooshie
Emily did her cycling European cycling adventure on the Shand Stooshie bike, a lighter, leaner version of the Stoater, given that she was in a race in which she needed to cover around 2500 miles as quickly as possible! For those who are fans of #steelisreal these bikes are made from the high grade material, which is music to the ears of those who like to stay with more traditional materials.

Like Findra, Shand, which is run by Steve Shand, are based in Scotland and work out of a workshop where the bikes are custom hand built to the measurements you specify. You can also go up there for a fitting. This is great news as well for those who would like a person-specific bike. There's no point saying women-specific as, just like Steve says, women come in all shapes and sizes so what does women-specific really mean? Shorter torsos and longer legs than men is what is generally spoken of, but there are still many women who do not fit that mould. So the fact that the guys can hand build you a bike that fits you exactly is a great thing.


Scott Cycles showed off their high end gravel bike, the Addict Gravel 10 Disc bike and I was talked through it by Josh, a member of their commercial team. A seasoned mountain biker, he says that he can do exactly the same rides with his gravel bike as he would do on the trails with his mountain bike.

The bike coped beautifully and he was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the ride was, thanks to the all-carbon frame and fork as well as disc carbon wheels.

I would love to do the South Downs Way this year on a gravel bike but am worried about how much I will be rattled around, given my brief experience with the Raleigh Mustang Sport that I rode on it last year. However, it would be worth trying the trails of the South Downs again with another make of gravel bike and see how this one fares.

The Primal Pantry
Natural ingredients in The Primal Pantry bars

I can't go to a show without looking at food! And hear I found a good stash of it in the shape of the The Primal Pantry (not to be confused with Primal Europe clothing range).

This range of vegan paleo/gluten-free energy and protein bars are made by Suzie Walker, a woman who was really keen to develop energy bars made from real food. I am not a vegan, though I do subscribe to some aspects of paleo eating, so it is quite a refreshing thing to see bars that are developed with this in mind.

The Primal Pantry protein bars
Real food is always a plus for me too, as I can't bear to eat the same old energy bars throughout a race or a ride, and so something with the nuts, seeds and dried food found in these bars makes for welcome change. There is an array of flavours, split across their energy bars, and their protein bars which aid recovery. I particularly liked the cocoa brownie flavour.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 5: Hannah Bussey

This week's Cycling Voice comes from Hannah Bussey, previously a civil servant in the South-east, and now a journalist and mother in the North-west. Hannah talks about dealing with the lifestyle change, and how being in the cycling community really is like being in a supportive family.

Hannah Bussey, aged 37

Lives: Stockport

From: Catford, London

Cycling journalist and mother

Hannah in North Yorkshire on the Specialized Ruby  (Photo credit: Andy Jones)
"I've been cycling since forever, but I have been riding seriously for about 17 years. I got into cycling when I started working in an office in Guildford at the same time as a guy called Tim Morley, the then National Cyclocross Champion. He was very handy on a mountain bike too, so as we got on well, he helped me build a mountain bike from old parts of his bike. 

Then Tim left the company to join British Cycling, before moving to Australia. We stayed in touch for a bit and he encouraged me to ride more. Eventually, I got into triathlons, racing for Farnham Tri Club, and even qualifying for the World Age Groups Championships along with Emma Pooley [Olympic road time trial silver medallist]! 

My now partner realised I was better at bike riding than swimming or running, so I decided to stay with just cycling. They were great times and I met lots of cycle racers in the various events I did - criterium races and road races around the country as part of the women's team series and national series, and I raced abroad too. 

I stopped road racing five or six years ago when I broke my pelvis in a bad crash in China, during the Tour of Chongming Island, and seemed to lose my edge after that. I did try and make a comeback on zero training at the Tour Series, but quickly realised a) you can't blag a criterium race and b) I wasn't hungry enough for a win to go out and train!

Then I found cross-country mountain bike racing, which I totally loved. It was local, which is always handy, and every race was like going to a festival. It was so different from road racing. The atmosphere was laid back, there was music on a sound system, a compere, there was a vibrant, trendy feel about the events.

My favourite bike ride is going to Majorca in early spring. We usually go there every year, but for the first time in 13 years we won't be going this year. 

Since having my daughter, Kodi I have tried to race again, but it requires too much time with training and admin so have decided to let it take the back seat while she's still little.

Nowadays, I ride mainly for my job as a technical writer for 'Cycling Weekly' magazine. I get to test anything bike-related, and then write about them. This includes different bikes, so at the moment I am testing a Specialized Ruby. I also meet up with cycling clubs for a ride, and check out the routes for cyclosportives. It sounds like I do loads of riding, but I have to squeeze this all into one day a week!

The cycle journalism is something I totally fell in to! I was previously working as a policy advisor in a Government department, and this involved writing policy documents and speeches for ministers.

I got to know a few of the guys from 'Cycling Weekly' through racing. My mate James Millard, a recently retired professional cyclist who I knew through racing and training camps, invited me to join him on a photo shoot. This coincided with our whole office at the Government department being made redundant, so I said yes to more photo shoots and started doing a bit of writing for the magazine, then eventually I was offered a full-time job at 'Cycling Weekly'.

The transition was bloody hard though. It was a totally alien environment that tested me so much, and it still does! Basically, I went from rules, regulations, policy and procedures of government, to journalism - which was the total opposite! 

I've also got dyslexia, which means it takes me longer than most to write things. I have no idea how sub-editors do their job! They are like gods to me! I must say it was my days of suffering in tough cycle races in the gutter in Belgium that made me persevere with it!

In fact, although it doesn't seem like there is any connection between my work in the Civil Service and what I do at the magazine, the common thing is that both roles involve translating complex information into bite-size, easy-to-understand articles for the lay person. 

In those days I lived in the South of England, near Aldershot. Now I am based in Hazel Grove, near Stockport. The South-East and North-west are mega different!
I totally loved riding down South, but coming up here has made me fall in love with road cycling all over again. The hills and vistas are huge up here. It's more like cycling used to be, with proper club runs and mud guards etc.

Although I've got the best mountain biking on my doorstep, I do find it restrictive as I just don't know where to ride off-road and don't have anyone to ride with. Where I used to live, in Hampshire, there were trails from my back door for miles. I've lost confidence since having Kodi, and up here it seems to be a case of go big or do nothing! I need to find my off-road mojo again!

Kodi will be three in May, and has just started riding an Islabikes balance bike. She's going great guns, though we’re just letting her dictate the pace right now. We're really trying hard not to pressure her into bikes, but as cycling is such a big part of our lives, we hope she'll gravitate towards it! 

I've also just started cycling with Kodi in a trailer. I've always been apprehensive about being on the road with her, so we stay on traffic-free routes. Kodi's a spirited child, so has only just decided that she likes sitting down occasionally. I would never have got her into the trailer as a baby as she hated being put down - until she learned to walk! 

Kodi in her trailer
I didn't cycle much during my first four months of pregnancy as I'm prone to injury and didn't want to get into changing positions. Instead, stuck to running and doing a work-out until Kodi was born. A few months off the bike after over a decade of cycling wasn't a big deal for me.

Juggling cycling and motherhood is not easy at the moment. I'm an attachment parent, so don't like to leave Kodi for long. Not having childcare and working two days a week is a constant juggle. Some weeks I do six hours of cycling, but there are other weeks when I don't ride at all.  It's a far cry from when I was training 15 hours week. 

Motherhood has made me become acutely aware of my responsibility now, so I'm not willing to take risks. I get scared on the road occasionally, so stick to quiet lanes. 

Despite not riding much, cycling is still the backbone of our lives. It's how I met my partner so we’ll always have riding in our lives. I love cycling because of the freedom and head space it brings. It can give you space to think or space to forget. 

Cycling really is everything to me. I have a handful of friends I met when having Kodi, who don't ride. Also my best friend is a school friend who doesn't ride either. After them, I would consider my cycling friends as family. You go through so much together and even if you no longer race together now, you're still in contact, and grow old together. 

The cycling scene is so close that you really feel each other's joy and sadness. When Charlie Craig [2016 Under-16 cyclocross national trophy winner and son of Nick Craig, multiple national mountain bike and cyclocross champion] suddenly died recently we were more than heartbroken. It rocked the cycling community to the core. I can't describe the feeling of losing him. The whole Craig family have been a huge role model for us, even before we had Kodi. In fact, seeing their lifestyle of combining family with bikes was the catalyst for us to start our own family. Charlie will never be forgotten, he really is the golden thread that runs through us all. 

I suffered two miscarriages last year, the second one happening just before Christmas, and I struggled with starting to ride again. The Craig's words of celebrating life have really emotionally moved me to start riding again and be joyful for all the small things. I could go on and don't think I've really done it justice as to what cycling means, but without bike riding we wouldn't have that almost spiritual feeling for being."  

Twitter: @Hannah_Bussey       Instagram: hannah_bussey 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Dying for a bike ride in London??

Despite the different facilities that have been put in place in London for bike riders, the number of fatalities involving cyclists on the road is not decreasing significantly.

Anita Szucs died in a hit-and-run at Enfield
We are only two months into the year and already three cyclists have been killed on London's roads, with all these tragedies occurring in the space of four days, just over a week ago.

What really brought it home was when a colleague of mine told me that one of the victims was a colleague of her Hungarian partner. My colleague said that when her partner returned home from work last Monday week he was numbed and shocked at the news that he would never again see
his colleague and fellow compatriot, Anita Szucs. The 30-year-old newly-wed had been killed by a car in an apparent hit and run incident on 6th February in Edmonton as she cycled home after a completing a late shift.

Anita's death was shortly followed later that day by the death of a Brazilian architect, Karla Roman, aged 32, when she was hit by a coach on the Cycle Superhighway at Whitechapel.

Then in the same week Ben Wales, also aged 32 was crushed to death by a tipper truck at Silvertown, Woolwich on 9th February. It was reported that he was wearing a helmet and high visibility jacket at the time.

Karla Roman killed by a coach on the Cycle Superhighway at Whitechapel
The full details of these accidents are not yet known, but needless to say one death is too many, and with this many accidents it still begs questions about how safe cycling is being made for cyclists in London. It is even more concerning that one of the fatalities occurred on a supposedly segregated cycle lane. This is not a great advert for cycling in London.

Last Saturday a "die-in" and demonstration organised by the Stop Killing Cyclists campaign took place in Trafalgar Square. As well as remembering the three cyclists (and two pedestrians) that were killed last week, activists will demand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer increases its spending on cycling and pedestrian infrastructure  to 10% of the transport budget by 2020. The government's current plan is to spend around £500M on cycling and walking projects over the same period, which will represent less than 1% of the total UK transport budget.

Ben Wales crushed to death at Woolwich
While the new London mayor, Sadiq Khan has pledged to spend £770M on cycling initiatives in London over the next four years, Caspar Hughes, organiser of last Saturday's protest does feels there is still a lot more that can be done.

Hughes said, “The same problems have been repeated for years and although the mayor has increased spending it’s still nowhere near enough." 

British Cycling Policy Advisor (and Olympic Cycling gold medallist), Chris Boardman described the government's level of spending on cyclists of barely £1 per head as "shameful".

Provisional figures recently released by the Department for Transport have shown an increase in the number cycling accidents in Britain. The provisional figures for the number of people killed or seriously injured on bicycles increased by 2% for the period October 2015 to September 2016, compared with the same period the previous year. Furthermore, when the number of killed or seriously injured cyclists for the year to September 2016 was compared with the average figure between 2010 and 2014, this showed a 7% increase (though there was a drop of 4% when looking at all types of cycling accident).

Basically, the number of cycling fatalities and serious accidents in the UK does not seem to be falling. This may be reflected by the fact that more people are being inspired to get out on their bikes but yet the government has not made a proportional increase in investment in cycle safety measures for road users.

Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling may well want to reconsider the invitation from Chris Boardman to accompany him on a bike ride, and see what it really is like to cycle on public roads in the UK. Perhaps that might (only might) make him think more about the safety of cyclists.

My thoughts are with the friends and families of the those killed while out riding their bikes.

Related post
Our dear anti-cycling Minister for Transport