Amateur Photograph & Peaks Tour Sportive

Amateur Photographer

It’s so easy to get lost in a new place you’ve never visited before. Where you live you sort of get accustomed to what’s around you. You don’t notice the history and the stories there as much, but going somewhere new leaves the place open to your interpretation. Needless to say, whenever I visit somewhere new I’ll very quickly get lost in what’s around me, which normally involves me capturing it with a camera. Some say to experience moments rather than capture them to tell the story, but for a creative like myself that’s quite difficult to execute. Behind any photo I take there will normally be a story, regardless of whether that experience ends up on my blog or in a notebook.

Winnats Pass, Peak District

Heading to the Peak District I was very quickly taken aback by it all. The only way to describe it being large expanses of rolling hills. Granted you get this in Wales, but hills tend to be swapped for mountains so you normally have to walk quite a way to see the view. Any place will naturally have its good days and bad days, but I was definitely in the Peaks on a good day. The golden Autumnal light that makes me love this time of year.

Winnats Pass, Peak DistrictWinnats Pass, Peak District

After winning a competition I noticed Amateur Photographer were running, I found myself in Winnats Pass with camera equipment lent out by MPB waiting for cyclists to ascend the infamous Winnats Pass. A winding road that follows the valley making a climb for cyclists of 20% gradient at times. The sun bent its way around the hill tops casting a shadow on the route of the Peaks Tour Sportive, but it was the sun rays that made me want to take a photo.

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I had the opportunity to use a Canon EOS R camera body with a 24-105mm lens. My first time using a mirrorless camera, there were a few fancy features to get to grips with like the touch screen on the back. There was the simple fact I needed to get familiar with mirrorless too. I gave it my best shot and the photos in this blog post are the result.

The fact the camera was small and light made it easy to carry around all day, which was a stark difference to when I’d be on my feet all day at Weddings with heavy camera equipment. The Weddings were my first experience of using Canon, which is why I asked MPB if I could try a Canon camera. I’ve used Nikon for years, but loved the Canon’s I use to use. I thought I’d take to the Canon EOS R (and accompanying lens) like a duck to water, but I’ll be honest I’m not completely sold on it. The focus seems a little off and the photos just didn’t seem all that sharp. Now I hold my hands up, it might have just been the person operating it, but I can’t say I’ll be heading to the camera shop to get one. Not for cycling photography anyway.

Winners Pass, Derbyshire

When we’d finished on Winnats Pass we made our way to a quaint little village called Monyash, Derbyshire. With a church, pub and cafe it almost felt like you were on some sort of television set. The houses were quiet and everyone congregated outside the tiny Old Smithy Tearooms. I love going to these villages only accessible by country lanes that stretch out for miles purely because of the characters you meet there. Their way of life is different and its almost inspiring. It brings me back to every photo having a story. There will often be a reason I press the shutter.

Monyash, DerbyshireMonyash, Derbyshire

The dog below was curled up basking in the sun next to a bench on which sat two older men chatting about a sketch book in one of their hands. They were completely lost talking about painting techniques and it took them a while to notice I was even photographing their dog. Meanwhile, their dog couldn’t care less at what was going on around him. It’s just little moments like that you don’t forget. They keep these little hidden gems of the world stuck in your head wanting to go back and explore further.

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Easily distracted, a lot of the photos I took in Monyash weren’t actually of bikes like was intended. I wandered down public paths and through farmer’s field, just to see what I could find. I was naturally drawn to other dogs in the village two, one wanting to make sure his presence was known where as another was quite happy doing pirouette’s.

Monyash, Derbyshire

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I suppose I should actually talk about the sportive itself run by UK Cycling Events, which is named the Peaks Tour Sportive. From the name you can imagine it’s no easy challenge, especially when the cyclists were barely warmed up they were tackling Winnats Pass. If they weren’t warm before the climb, then they certainly would be after. Routes covering 50, 75 and 100 miles you had varying abilities tackling the route, but all in good spirit. It was certainly different from photographing criterium and road races.

So essentially I went to the Peak District with Amateur Photographer to use some fancy cameras equipment, but its the places I got to see I’ll remember the most and probably go back to. I met some amazing photographers on the day too who were great to chat to, some just as interested in cycling as I was.

 

Bringing Back Your Childhood Memories

Bringing Back Your Childhood MemoriesLike cycling, swimming is one of those things you do as a child. Whether that was jumping in a river in the summer, or having it forced upon you in P.E. at school. (How cool would it be if cycling was part of the curriculum at school though?).

You may not do either seriously, they’re purely a recreational activity. Yet both can open up door to adventures that haven’t been accessible to you before. With cycling you can cover that little bit of extra distance. With swimming you can enjoy the sea on holiday and see things from a different perspective. Some of my strongest memories as a child are water or cycling related. Long jump into the pool on holiday. Bobbing up and down in the sea resting on a bodyboard in the sea at Pwllheli. Looking up at my neighbour after I’d landing head first in his hedge after a race around our street went slightly wrong…

Combine the two sports and you get a whole host of new adventures available to you. Ride up a mountain, then jump in the lake at the top. Go bike-packing in a foreign country experiencing new cultures, then cool off in the sea after covering so many miles.

Both offer the opportunity to escape. Pushing off the side of a swimming pool wall, like the pressure of the water on your shoulders taking all of the stress away. The adrenaline rush following a downhill section on a mountain bike, where there’s no time to think about anything but the trail ahead.

Mountain Biking

Sometimes it feels like the rush of cold water over your body is required to relax. Other times it requires hammering the pedals on a trail ride. To completely switch off I don’t think there will ever be one solution. The variety has a greater impact and puts a smile on your face. You’ve just got to go wherever your mind takes you.

Open Water Swimming

Some might find comfort in repetition of only ever doing one sport, but honestly? I find everything so much more exciting having a go at whatever comes to mind. Yet cycling and swimming will always be something I come back to. They take me back to my childhood and both are invigorating in their own ways. And living in Wales it means I can do both in so many different places. You’ve just got to know where to look.

MTB Meet Up 2019

Check me out…actually riding a mountain bike!

MTB Meet Up

It’s certainly been a while, but I think I’m slowly getting the mountain bike bug again. I’ve bought new mountain biking kit and everything…ha!

When I saw MTB Meet Up was coming up at Llandegla, I thought I’d head up there. Rolling up to the cafe it was marquee galore taking up pretty much everywhere near the cafe. Marquees full of expensive bikes to demo, but I resisted the temptation to try bikes I’ll never be able to afford. Because naturally I was eyeing up the Hope bikes ha!

We started off as 3 women hitting the trails to ride bikes. The trails were obviously busier than normal so we found ourselves getting overtaken (rather aggressively at times) by multiple E-Bikes. I have nothing against them, but do they really need to barge past when there really wasn’t a gap there? I’d rather not eat part of a tree branch thanks to being pushed to the side of the trail, but hey we’ve got to share the trails right…

With the bonkers heatwave the UK has been having you’d expect me to be say I was riding in blue skies and a vest top. Yet it was drizzly and overcast. The sort of weather I love the most when riding in the forest. Blue skies and dust are great, but nothing beats the forest when it’s damp and muggy. That’s probably the Welsh blood in me though.

MTB Meet Up, Llandegla

Riding down the trails I’ve ridden since I was 10, it’s almost like muscle memory riding there now. No matter how long it’s been, I still know them like the back of my hand. Memories came back even more so this week after building up my old Scott hardtail for Ryan’s little brother. It’s been given a new lease of life and he loves it just as much as I did by the sounds of it!

Doing a mixture of Red and Blue, 3 riders grew to 5 after bumping into 2 who wanted to avoid the Black trail.

Rolling back to the centre I queued up for the bike wash, which had kindly been paid for by Fenwick’s. I left with my bike cleaner than when I arrived ha! Fenwick’s is the only cleaner I’ll use on my bike if I’m honest.

MTB Meet Up, Llandegla

Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to an uplift soon too. I got rather jealous when I saw everyone’s photos from National Champs the other week!

Skoda UK Cycling Academy with Storey Racing

Skoda Cycling Academy

Rolling up to the pringle shaped building that is the Lee Valley Velodrome, the weather was still as grey as when I was last there before the hustle and bustle of the 2012 London Olympics. On a school trip with school, my eagle eyes were out for olympic athletes, but at the time the Olympic Park was still in construction so unfortunately I wasn’t very lucky! We’d gone to the top of the Olympic Tower glad to be inside spotting all the Olympic Buildings.

With the London Olympics having left a big stamp in history, everywhere felt rather quiet when hoards of people would have been there a few years before. Another stark difference being the Skoda branded signs around the main entrance, because I was here for the Skoda Cycling Academy.

A few weeks ago the advert popped up in my feed thanks to Skoda Ambassador, Juliet Elliot, giving it a share. With a spot on Storey Racing being a possibility after the academy, I had no expectation whatsoever on getting a spot on the day at Lee Valley Velopark. After luckily not missing the ‘Congratulations’ email in my Junk inbox (thanks email inbox…this email was certainly NOT junk!), I confirmed my attendance to the day. With the women I race with on a regular basis, I did not feel in any way good enough to take part! Yet here I was, a second trip to London this year, signing on and picking up my number 4 that I would later pin onto my jersey.

I’ve not even been back on my bike that long…how was I going to cope with fitness testing on one?!?

Nerves aside, there was a certain changing room I had to go to as they’d split us up by surname. So I walked into a buzzing changing room with a few of the other girls eagerly getting into their Skoda Le Col jerseys and peeking in the Skoda bags full of goodies, me paying particular attention to one that will become rather useful when out mountain biking!

Skoda Cycling Academy

Jersey numbered up and cycling kit on, we all made our way to the Velodrome. Our bikes were dropped off at a secure container, as the first lot of testing was going to be on Wattbikes. With an introduction from Skoda UK and Dame Sarah Storey, thanks to being number 4 I was one of the first to head over for the 12 minute test! Out of all the tests, I for some reason got it in my head that this was the one I didn’t want to mess up. I wanted to ride consistently for the 12 minutes rather than go off too easy or too hard. When it got tough I took myself back to running down the Mall in April. I think that will also be a memory that sticks with me as motivation when the going gets tough. With injuries, I’d mentally endured those 6 months of Marathon training, so I could get through 12 minutes. I also battled the Welsh hills for 57 miles a week or two previously for Welsh Champs, a lot of it solo, which would have been unthinkable last year. I was getting through this 12 minutes!

Skoda Cycling Academy

Arms on the TT bars, my head kept bobbing up to see the Wattbike screen, battling to keep my average power over 200 Watts. I knew it was possible, I just needed to dig deep to get there. My eyes were closed. Sweat dripping off me from quite early on. Even breathing felt like it wasn’t helping with the air being so dry.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…STOP.

Thank god.

I looked up to the Wattbike screen and there was an average power of over 200. Possibly 207 Watts? My head was such a mess I can’t really remember ha!

I’d done it. The adrenaline started pumping as a result after doing what I’d set out to. Week by week I’m gaining confidence in my mental ability to push myself on the bike. Running round London in 4 hours has benefitted me more than I thought!

Skoda Cycling Academy

There was a quick chat to Cycling Podcast about cycling, whilst trying to get my breathe back, I was talking at a million mph, so I’m surprised any of it made sense. With all the questions, it made me realise just how much I’ve accomplished in cycling now. From the events I’ve organised to racing downhill, to now standing in an Olympic Velodrome with so many amazing women.

So yea, to the Cycling Podcast, I hope even just a small amount of what I said made some sort of sense. I enjoyed chatting to you!

It was a good while before the next lot of testing, as they had 40 women to get through the 12 minute test. Then it was a 3 minute test followed by a 6 second peak power test. After some time chatting to the other women, who hopefully I’ll be able to organise some rides with soon, I was called up for the next lot of testing. For any of the riders reading this and want to come on a ride, just drop me a line! There were so many amazing cyclists there, I really hope we can all stay in touch.

Skoda Cycling Academy

I didn’t feel like the 3 minute test and 6 second peak power test went as well as the first test, but I still gave it my all. Most of it come from not knocking that resistance level up high enough. Never mind, I still gave it my all!

Then the fun really kicked up a notch with 2 flying laps round the crit circuit outside. It was windy. It was chucking it down with rain. And I still had deep section carbon rims on my bike from racing at Darley Moor the day before, I was looking forward to the carnage that would unfold on this one…ha! If there was even a time to rely on skills I learnt from mountain biking…it would be now!

Kitted up with bikes and helmets, we had two sighting laps around the circuit from which we got wet and muddy rather quickly! Regardless the circuit was ace. Lots of ascents, descents and tight corners. I’m hoping I can go back in the future and see if there’s a race on there! See how close I can get that knee to the floor Moto GP style…ha!

Skoda Cycling Academy

I can’t say I was particularly graceful on my way round with how I was throwing my bike left to right on the sections I could sprint. I nearly decked it twice, including an up hill corner where I just kept drifting to the outside of the corner making my way to the finish straight. It was a relief when I got to the finish line without hitting the floor!

Ryan laughed at the huge grin on my face when the inevitable adrenaline came back. I was soaking wet, but grinning from ear to ear. With events I do in the future, I’m certainly considering throwing some timed flying laps in there if funding allows! It’s a great way to give riders nervous about racing a taste of what it’s like, but give more experienced riders a chance to go flat out against the clock.

Glad about the chance to change out of our soggy (slightly smelly…) cycling kit, I could get warm and grab a good cup of tea. I’d avoided caffeine all day due to having no idea how my body would respond to this sort of fitness testing. You can’t not have a cup of tea in London I guess.

With closing messages from Skoda UK and Dame Sarah Storey, we obviously finished with a group photo!

Skoda Cycling Academy

Now I’m looking back on the day, I just wanted to thank everyone for making it so memorable. I’ve never been around so many female cyclists at once, it was ace! Without Ryan I wouldn’t have been able to make it down there in the first place. Meeting Dame Sarah Storey and Storey Racing rider, Chanel Mason, was amazing. They were so encouraging, albeit a little intimidating when they’re looking over your shoulder watching the numbers you’re throwing out on the Wattbike!

One of Skoda UK’s sales managers, Alan, also needs a big thank you for giving me a lift back home, cutting Ryan’s journey back to work by over half!

I hope I can stay in touch with all the amazing female cyclists I met and regardless of whether I go onto the next stage or not, I’ve got an even stronger focus on collecting BC points to get my 3rd Cat license. Road racing gives me such a buzz, I can’t wait to get the next one booked.

Getting Back on the Bike

Getting back on the Bike

It was pretty much a straight swap after the Marathon when it came to my running shoes and cycling shoes. Both pink…of course! I had a week off hobbling round trying to function to some sort of extent. I probably only needed a basket, but had to use a trolley to get me round the supermarket! Running 26.2 miles definitely has a lasting effect on you…!

I was almost scared to get back on my bike to tell you the truth. How much bike fitness had I lost? Would I remember my old favourite routes? Finding all of my cycling kit was the first hurdle!

Ryan pushed me out the door so I couldn’t procrastinate anymore and I followed a route I’d followed many a time the year before. It was a route I could roll round, or a route I could ride hard round. The Cheshire lanes are good for routes like that. You just have to make sure the tail winds don’t lure you into riding too hard before you have to turn around and ride back into the head wind!

It was definitely an odd feeling being back on my bike. Odd being on my Liv too. It felt like I’d missed the off season. I think I rode my winter bike once. Thinking about it, I should probably check it hasn’t seized up, but that’s just something to add to my to-do list.

No sooner has I got back on my bike, I was back on a start line racing the chequered flag at Darley Moor Motor Circuit. A circuit I quite enjoyed racing at. The track isn’t anything special, but it’s the group of girls you end up racing with. There’s enough for it to feel like a race! It was also a 3/4 race, so I was hopefully not too out of my depth. My head was mush by the time I’d got there. Was my number on right? Would I get dropped? What tactics would everyone else be running?

Getting back on the Bike

Luckily Ryan stopped me from completely losing my head.

When the gun went the girls shot off like rockets, so my legs were pedalling frantically to not get left for dust. (Must remember to not start in my easiest gear…that only really works at road junctions on normal rides!)

Getting back on the Bike

When I managed to settle my chimp I just focussed on relying on the good ‘engine’ I had from running the marathon. I might not have been on my bike all winter, but I was determined not to let that winter training to go to waste. There were a few games played on the way round, but I just decided to sit at the back. I might have a good engine, but I had no idea what my sprint was like. I just needed to not get dropped. And that’s what I kept telling myself.

I kept spinning and spinning. I did feel anxious not getting involved in doing a turn on the front, but it was my first race of the year. I’m sure that’s allowed to get myself use to things…

Getting back on the Bike

Unfortunately being at the back for the sprint finish (which is a common occurrence at Darley Moor) meant me having the longest sprint out of everyone just to keep up with the girls. In all the chaos that unfolded in that final race, I somehow grabbed 8th. This hopefully means some points on my BC license, but the results haven’t been put online yet so fingers crossed!

Getting back on the Bike

Granted I’d not been heavily involved in the race, but I was happy coming away having been able to battle it out at the finish. That’s what I always hope for in races, that I can get involved in the action! Even if I mess up, sprints or other events in the race give me such a buzz!

Less can be said when I crossed the line of the longest Time Trial I’ve ever done on the weekend just passed. A 30 Mile TT not far from Market Drayton. Sometimes I like the idea of TT. In the end, all it is is pushing as hard as you can for the duration of the course. And that’s exactly what I did…for 30 miles! I was chucking out a stupid amounts of watts and I was only 5 miles in. I was going harder than my FTP, but instead of toning it back I my chimp decided well you’re in it for the long haul now. This would have been fine if there wasn’t new tarmac that felt like I was cycling through treacle and going nowhere!

Getting back on the Bike

Needless to say I didn’t exactly feel myself at the end! That TT did mean I got a stern look from my coach when I’d managed to increase my FTP by 18 watts…maybe I didn’t try as hard in my FTP test the other week as I initially thought…

(Thanks to Ryan for taking all these amazing photos!)

Roles Reversed

Being a Breeze Champion has been a bit of an eye opener for me really as well as being incredibly rewarding.

I quickly got involved with road cycling after a switch from mountain biking nearly 3 years ago now. I still mountain bike, but road cycling has just been easier to fit in for the past few years. Whilst my endurance has taken a while to get it to where it is, it’s easy to forget about the rides you previously struggled with.

When I first started riding with Ryan I could just manage a ride out to a cafe and back. Call it fitness or just pure grit, I just like being out now. But on a Breeze ride with Lucy today I quickly realised how the roles had reversed. It use to be Ryan pushing me up the last hill to get home. On the same route with Lucy, we were both cold and ready for a cup of tea. So close to the end, the last stretch of road is always a bugger and they chuck a deceiving climb in at the end too! All of a sudden I found me encouraging Lucy to get past the last few hurdles back to the start.

Every ride is a learning curve as a Breeze Champion. Not every ride will be perfect, but you’ll always take a funny memory away from it.

Getting to know Grade x Union

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Spanning across multiple sports, Grade x Union is the latest lifestyle and streetwear brand to hit our social media feeds. Created by graphic designer, James Webber, the union is fuelled by a love for sport, beer and good times.

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Starting with photography at the age of 16, James bought his first camera. Creative flows started and graphic design soon came onto the seen thanks to making profile pages for bands on MySpace. Fast forward a few years James has graduated from the Cambridge School of Art with a BA (Hons) in Graphic Design. Something he put into good use as he was one of two behind the Girls At Moelfre t-shirts and branding.

A degree in hand, James landed a job in Madison where he has worked his way up to becoming a Middleweight Designer for Ridgeback Bikes.

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If the love for bikes isn’t already obvious, this is where the big Grade x Union idea stemmed from. Although James is a big lover of cycling, his roots delve into extreme sports too. He grew up in the early/mid noughties surrounding himself with extreme sports. “I’ve tried it all. BMX, Snowboarding, Trials Bikes, Running, Skateboarding and Mountain Biking only to name a few!”. He had a few idols along the way like Martyn Ashton and Tony Hawk too. Who remembers the Extreme Sports channel?

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It was the unions these athletes had with each other in their sports that gave James the Grade x Union idea. “The Unions these athletes had amongst their chosen sport was admirable and I liked that everyone supported each other. There was no rivalry, no hatred, just camaraderie.

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Witnessing such things between athletes was where the Grade x Union mantra’s were formed. Mantra’s sounding a little like:

“Born from the Love of Terrain”

“Ride for the Same Love”

Grade x Union wants to bring “together athletes of all sports, all terrains, under one union”.

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Not just wanting to be another lifestyle brand on the market, James’ main focus is to form a union. “The creation of the union was forged by a love of terrain, as mentioned earlier. Within our various sports we tackle all sorts of terrain and different grades of it. Hence the ‘Grade x Union’. Mountain bikers shoot down their mountains and road cyclists go up them. Climbers scale their rocks. Skateboarders trick their stair sets. BMXers carve their bowls and skiers and snowboarders flow with an abundance of style down anything. The idea behind the brand was to bring people together through them all having the same love for enjoying their sport. Them taking on all terrain and loving it all the same.”

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While Grade x Union’s products will hopefully represent this, they’re also taking things that little bit further by working with the Fair Wear Foundation. “Fair Wear Foundation work hard to improve the conditions for those working in garment factories across Asia, Europe and Africa. They ensure that wages and benefits paid for a standard working week meet at least the legal or industry minimum standards. They make sure working hours are fair with safe and hygienic working environments. Most importantly, they make sure there is no child labour.”

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You might be thinking when will we start to see Grade x Union products on the trails or slopes? “We’re still finalising a few things. We want to make sure we take our time and come out with a bang and not look half done! So with that in mind, expect to see Grade x Union in early 2019! It’s safe to say we’re excited!”

Cake Power vs Steam Power

Cycling in the winter requires a huge amount of motivation! With winter upon us, finding that motivation is hard! After hanging up the best bike until next year, putting all of the summer kit away and pulling out the winter kit you get really sad that you can’t top up your epic tan lines (or show them off) for a few months. 

When it’s cold, rainy and windy all you want to do is curl up by the fire, but you have a little voice in the back of your mind reminding you that if you don’t keep riding all your hard work through the summer will go to waste. There’s the turbo option, but realistically where’s the fun in that? Besides, how many times have we promised ourselves we’d do a session on the turbo then never do!

Cycling in the winter doesn’t have to be a chore, find a buddy and just ride! You’ll soon forget how cold you are.

A few weeks ago even the thought of going for a ride in the winter months was laughable! “Do I want to go out and get really cold or do I want to sit in bed watching YouTube?” For me, riding the same roads as I would do in the summer in the winter is dull! However, since getting to know Lucy all I’ve wanted to do is ride my bike! 

This was the third time I’ve been on a ride with Lucy and it might just have been my favourite one. With two GCSE Maths exams last week for me and another busy week for Lucy, a ride was much needed to clear our heads for the following week. 

We left Alf’s at 10 then chatted about anything and everything(with the mudguards making as much noise as us!) on beautiful country lanes with the misty views even more beautiful, until we reached Old Ma’s Coffee Shop.

Even though it’s mid November, it’s unusually warm, so we made the most of it and sat outside. We both had a lovely warm drink and a big piece of cake to fuel us for the way home.

A while later, we left Old Ma’s and realised we had both come down with a bad case of ‘Post Café Legs’.

After shaking the café legs off it was more relaxed pedalling along the country lanes in the winter sun until we got back to Alf’s with just over 30 miles under our belts… I mean bibs.

Lucy is going to be putting on Breeze Rides for girls aged 16-20. Come along and meet new people to ride with. You’ll have a great time!

Read about it here Breeze rides I’ve been on here:

Breeze Poppy Ride

Breeze Ride to Hill Climb in 7 Days

 

Breeze Poppy Ride

Breeze Poppy Ride bpMeeting up with Lucy for the start of the ride at Alf Jones Cycles, we were pretty swift to get out on the roads. With a ride planned just short of 20 miles, it was a relaxed ride on country lanes and a lot flatter than the rides Lucy was use to doing. Setting off at half 11, it gave us chance to take part in the 2 minutes silence for Remembrance Sunday.

For mid-November it was surprisingly warm, so I didn’t need to pull out my thick Winter Mavic gloves like I did on our last ride over towards Llangollen.

Having not seen Lucy since the Horseshoe Hill Climb a few weeks ago, it was good to catch up and hear if she’s managed to get back on the bike since and how she felt after her first Hill Climb. With an exam looming on Monday, the ride out was a well-deserved break from all of her Maths revision.

After a quick coffee at Cleopatra’s Coffee Shop, the country lanes soon brought us back to Alf Jones Cycles. A relaxed ride in the Winter sun is the perfect way to clear your head for the following week.

I’m going to be making these rides, which are aimed at 16-20 year olds, a regular thing, so if you want to hear about future rides just drop me a message. Otherwise, you can follow me on social media to keep up with what rides are coming up next.

Is Cycling as a sport the problem, or the people in it?

Is cycling as a sport the problem or the people in it

When rally fever hit Wales, I couldn’t have been happier as the low rumbles of rally car engines returned to our forests. In the lead up to the rally I attended the Rally Forum, which is organised by Broughton-Bretton Motor Club. Big names from the rallying world attended to get interviewed on their season and their thoughts before the big rally took place. The reason I’ve mentioned the rally is because some of the things talked about in the Rally Forum got me thinking about cycling too.

A question that came to mind was;

Is cycling as a sport the problem, or the people in it?

There’s been lots of upheaval in the cycling industry recently, particularly on the road cycling side of things. There’s been teams folding left, right and centre leaving a lot of riders looking for team spots for the 2019 season. JLT Condor and One Pro Cycling just to name a few.

Something mentioned at the Rally Forum was how it is possible to reach the top of rallying as a sport if you’re willing to put the effort in. Someone quoted “if you speak to some of the top football players, they weren’t necessarily the top players on their team when they were young”. It just takes a lot of work to get there. It got me thinking that this is the same across any sport, including cycling.

There’s news articles daily about how cycling is underfunded, that it isn’t fair women get less than men…you get the idea. Big names are always saying “we need to get cycling as a mainstream sport”. And it brings me back to my question of is cycling the problem, or the people in it?

Growing up through the grass roots of racing I’ve seen riders with potential fall out of love with the sport and move on to other things. Others question why they’re not getting sponsorship despite a strong string of results throughout the season. But my view on the situation is that results simply aren’t enough anymore.

Being around many different sports growing up, I don’t have the cycling blinkers on. Keeping on similar themes for example, look at rallying as a sport. The top drivers will be expected to push their sponsors and their team by doing things like ‘Meet and Greets’ with fans and wearing team jackets covered with team sponsors when their not in the car. The teams that have the best relationships with their fans are those with the biggest fan base. The teams that will like ‘tweets’ when fans tag them in pictures. The teams with drivers who will take the time to talk to their fans. A team can have the best results, but if their drivers refuse to speak to anyone, the dream might not last very long. From a business point of view, the fans are who buy the tickets and team merchandise, so they’re what’s bring the money in.

We’ve all been there. There’s a rider we idolise and after a good experience talking to them, we all of a sudden want the products they’re using. Take Coryn Rivera for example, a cyclist who is regularly on social media in team-branded kit finding the positive in every situation. She’s one of the smallest riders in the peloton but was strong enough to take the win at the Tour of Britain, but was extremely humble about it when she did. All of a sudden I loved riding my Liv road bike that little bit more.

Then you look at the likes of Trek Drops Cycling who did something totally out of the blue setting up a British women’s development team, but had one of their top sponsors as Every Can Counts, who they still have to this day. The difference with Trek Drops and their relationship with Every Can Counts is that I know what Every Can Counts is because their riders promote the company and their products. It’s a very topical company since they encourage recycling and even encourage me to turn to cans as aluminium is continually recyclable, unlike plastics.

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All smiles. #ColourTheRoad

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So many cycling teams have sponsors that I either don’t know about, or are just a name to me, rather than knowing what the sponsor actually does without having to search on the internet. If we want to attract companies to invest in the sport, like they do with football, we need to make sure we’re doing all we can to promote them to make it worth their while.

I only recently found out JLT are an insurance company. How can we expect cycling to grow as a sport if we don’t see sponsorship as a two way thing? We can’t expect companies to sponsor teams or athletes if they’re going to get not a lot in return. I think the cycling industry isn’t very creative either in terms of where it gets sponsorship from. Trek Drops is the only team I can think of who did something a little different. They didn’t just go to companies in the cycling industry. Cycling could grow so much if it ventured into other industries and turned the heads of people in those industries.

That’s obviously at the top level of cycling, but if we come back down to grassroots cycling, maybe young athletes can also change their approach to getting to the top of the sport.

When I interviewed World Rally Championship Driver, Hayden Paddon, a few years ago, he didn’t get an easy route to where he is today. He had a close bond with his Dad, but his Dad told him that if he wanted to rally he would have to fund it himself. When working three jobs as a teenager wasn’t enough, he started approaching local businesses for sponsorship. But he didn’t just provide results, he did demonstrations and car washes. He looked after his sponsors…he didn’t just ‘have’ sponsors.

I question what sponsorship even means anymore. People seem to drop the word into advertising to catch people’s attention, but when you delve deeper all it means is a discounted code to use on products. To me this isn’t sponsorship. It’s a marketing tool to get people to buy and promote products even though they’ve had to pay for them. I’ve seen people get drawn into ‘sponsorship’ where they’ve ended up buying products they’ve never even thought of using before. Just to say they’re ‘sponsored’.

Call me bitter, but I don’t see the point in buying kit just because you’ve got a discount code. What’s the difference between the ‘sponsorship’ code and the codes they might send out monthly in emails. To me this is supporting riders, rather than sponsoring them.

Back when I raced downhill, I was lucky enough to get sponsorship with Fridersinc. From the sponsorship I had team kit I had to wear (and loved to wear) and a custom painted helmet. Nic from Fridersinc even helped with some of my race entries. To me, that was sponsorship and I loved promoting them as a company.

Now you tend to see people drawn into ‘sponsorship’ deals just so they can look more professional by having a sponsor next to their name on the start sheet. Essentially these codes are a way of companies getting cheap advertising by people plastering their product all over social media. When I come to buying new cycling kit these days, I’m much more inclined to buy a product an established name uses. Not because someone’s got a discount code on social media. By established name, think Danny Mcaskill and Endura.

I think thats what puts me off, is you get people drawn in with a discount code with a brand they secretly don’t like the quality of, but they’ll go along with it anyway because they’re ‘sponsored’.

With the likes of Danny Mcaskill, I was more inclined to buy Endura for my brother last Christmas because he was someone who was at the top of their game and needed kit they can trust.

So back to promising athletes making their way through grassroots racing. I don’t think you necessarily need team sponsorship to get to the top of the sport. Granted, having riders you can rely on in a road race is invaluable, but just because you’re not on a team doesn’t mean your restricted to where you can take yourself in the sport.

Try and be a little bit creative.

If you look how big the blogging/social media industry is these days, maybe we can learn a thing or to from it. Brands suddenly want to work with bloggers, who are essentially a personal brand, so you need to build a personal brand of your own. Not only this, look at how you can fund your sport a little bit differently. You might need a little bit of help on the training side of things, so your first thoughts might be ‘I need to get sponsored by a coaching company’. Why not approach this a little bit differently and ask local businesses for sponsorship to fund paying for a cycling coach? You have their company logo on your kit and make sure you promote them as much as you can like Hayden Paddon did. As you grow your sponsorship bit by bit, all of a sudden you could have a handful of companies that help you pay for race entries, or even travelling to races. All of which can be the building blocks to help you get to the top of the sport. We only need to look to grassroots football teams and the logos on their kit to get some inspiration.