Interview: Rachael Walker – bringing Hope to the masses.

by Rachel Sokal 6

We hope that STW is pretty good at featuring female riders, heroes, and contributors in the same way we do men, but there’s always more that we can do. So, to mark this year’s International Women’s day, rather than a one off feature, we’re launching a new series showcasing inspiring women within MTB or people who have done lots to promote women riders and riding.

But where to start? Tracey Moseley, Rachel Atherton, Missy Giove, Isla Rowntree…. Pleasingly the list of inspiring women is pretty long and there was a fair bit of debate who we should feature first. As author I had the privilege of choosing the person who most inspired me: Hope’s Rachael Walker.

Rachael Walker, Hope Brand Manager, deep in her natural environment. Credit: Rupert Fowler

Why Rachael? Well, she could qualify for being featured in this series on one of three counts: as an amazing and exciting rider (including EWS racer and intrepid adventurer), her role within the bike industry (Brand Manager for Hope) or spearheading the HopeTech Women’s programme to inspire and support female riders. That’s a lot to cover in one short interview…

The Rider

[RS] So first things first, riding. How and when did you get into it?

[RW] “I’ve always been into outdoor adventures and would take myself off with a rucksack walking and exploring places, but at 18 or so it was relatively late that I got into mountain biking. I had a group of friends who I snow boarded with and they were all keen to give it a try so I did too. It kind of went from there.

“Because of the type of riding my friends did at first I rode downhill and then Enduro. But the more I rode the more I got to know about other types of riding. Now I just love anything on two wheels whether it be XC, road riding or steep and technical stuff.”

Rachael & Julia Hobson riding the Yak Attack at 5,000m elevation. Credit: Rupert Fowler

You’ve had some pretty amazing adventures on the bike, can you choose a favourite?

“What I love about riding the most is all the places it takes you and the experiences you can have. Everything I’ve done on a bike has been great but there have been a couple of standout trips. The first was doing the Yak Attack a couple of years back with my friend Julia Hobson [The Yak Attak is a five day stage race in Nepal at heights of over 5,000m]. It’s not the most technical riding but riding in the Himalayas is absolutely amazing. Wherever you looked the mountains and scenery were just endless. We didn’t really treat it as a race but an adventure instead, so really got to enjoy where we were.

“My other favourite trip was earlier this year when I rode in the Arctic Circle in Finland. There are loads of cross-country skiing trails there that they’ve recently opened up to mountain bikes, there’s a skidoo that goes out each morning and grooms the trails. It was -32oC so unlike any conditions I’ve ever ridden in before, you have to prepare and ride differently. As you can imagine it wasn’t that technical riding, there aren’t any rocks or roots, but you can have great fun getting fast and low in the corners as it’s a lovely soft landing if you go too far. It’s such an amazing place, I can’t wait to go back.”

The Arctic Circle at -32oC. Credit Max Schumann

The day job

What about your Brand Manager role at Hope?

“Basically I look after all of Hope’s brands – that’s Hope, HopeTech Women [more of which shortly] and the Academy [a bike hire and skills programme to encourage kids into riding]. It includes all the media stuff, working with sponsored riders and organising events. No day is ever the same.

“I’ve worked at Hope for seven years now. I did a couple of months in dispatch first, packaging goods up to send out, it was a great way to get to know the products. After that I started to develop my role into what it is now.”

“More people riding is always a good thing.” Credit Matt Simpson

How have you found it being female and working in the bike industry? Have things changed much over the years?

“I know it sounds clichéd but I don’t want to be seen as a woman in the industry. I’m in the industry and I happen to be a woman. I’d like to think that I’ve earned respect by being good at my job and not because I’m a woman.

“Over the years the industry has got better at recognising women’s riding but there’s still much more to do. We [Hope] are in a great position as we don’t have an agenda to sell women’s kit or bikes, it’s just about getting more people out there riding. More people riding is always a good thing.

“Things are getting better but there’s much more that can be done. I think all companies have a responsibility to put something into supporting and promoting women’s riding, whatever their agenda.”

HopeTech Women – ridin’ and inspirin’

All present and correct and ready to ride. Credit Matt Simpson

Which brings us nicely onto HopeTech Women, tell us more.

“The idea of HopeTech Women is to try and overcome some of the barriers that women may have to riding. A lot of women come to riding later in life and lack confidence on the bike. This means they can find going out with men quite intimidating. As there are fewer female riders it’s harder to get to know people who you feel comfortable riding with. HopeTech Women aims to get like-minded women together and inspire them to what they can do on a bike.

“Hope have always supported a couple of female riders but not many so I stamped my feet a bit so we started to support some more women who were doing some pretty cool things out there. Then, three years ago, we kicked off the whole HopeTech women thing with our 5am film which was Julia’s and my adventure up and down Helvellyn. The idea was that anyone can do that. It does seem a big adventure, going up and down a mountain and it looks spectacular but it’s actually achievable and realistic. After that we started arranging rides up and down the country [We went along to the very first one, where the turnout was impressive].

“Last year we did more at events like the Scott Marathon series where they are family sort of events anyway but when you’re actually riding them you don’t necessarily come across that many other women as you just ride at your own pace. We also ran the first women’s Enduro and that was pretty successful, probably more than we thought it would be.”

[Can’t see the video, head here: Hope Technology: 5am]

And for this year?

“It will be pretty much the same as last year – some standalone rides, rides alongside the Scott marathon and the Enduro in October [if you’re dead quick, you can grab one of the final entries here, all other event and ride information is over on the HopeTech Women site]. In some ways, we’ve started to have already done our job. After that first year we’ve already seen groups starting to form from meeting at one of our rides who now regularly go out together. If we never have to do an event again then that will be great, we’ve achieved our goal. But at the moment we’re really enjoying what we’re doing so will keep going.

“There are other women only events too which we can support, we’ll be at the Swinley Women’s Enduro this year with our demo bikes and  just to support the event. It’s not all about us and what we do there’s plenty of other people doing stuff which we can support.”

If you could give one tip to people to get out and ride more, what would it be?

“It’s easier said than done but try and find a friend that’s into the same thing. Some of my best adventures have been with friends. You don’t necessarily need to be the same ability, you’re not racing, and you can learn from each other – one might be a better descender, a better climber or have more knowledge about map reading – you can all bring things to the table. Before you know it you’re really pushing each other and doing these epic things that you never thought you would do.”

Find a friend. Credit Rupert Fowler

We’ve talked a lot about what you’re doing to inspire other people into riding, who inspires you?

“Tracy Moseley. She is just one of the most humble, down to earth people you’ll ever meet, and one of the most talented too. She inspires you because she applies herself so well to everything she does, whether that was when she was racing downhill, Enduro, XC World Cups or cyclo-cross. When I’ve seen her on the race course at the EWS she’ll talk to everybody and anybody and when someone needs a spare tube, she’ll give them a spare tube. You just don’t get that from any of the other pros. The work she’s doing now with young riders is brilliant. Some of the riders she’s encouraged and brought through are some of the best in the country.”

Setting off for more adventures. Credit Rupert Fowler

Having taken part in a couple of the HopeTech Women rides last year I really got to see for myself what Rachael’s work is achieving. I have been in the nice position that I haven’t felt the need for extra support to get out riding, but it is impossible not to feel inspired seeing so many people out on their bikes and enjoying themselves – many of whom would not have been there were it not for Rachael’s work. Equally, the adventures that Rachael and her friends are getting up to provide inspiration, regardless of gender, but perhaps a little more so for me as it’s women who are doing it.

I got to choose to interview Rachael to kick this series off but we want to know from you who we should be featuring next. Which female rider inspires you (whether you’re male or female), or who has done lots to support female riding? They could be a pro, a local coach or someone next door. Let us know in the comments below who inspires you and why – maybe it’ll be your nominee that we choose to include in the next ‘Inspiring Women’ feature.

Comments (6)

  1. Except my partners experience of the Hope Tech Women’s ride in the Shropshire hills last year was that they were a horrible, clique experience and left her quite upset by it all. Not by Rachel I hasten to add, but by all the other women in attendance. In her words it was a lot worse than anything she’d ever experienced going out with men.

  2. @Si –That’s unfortunate. Just because they’re women doesn’t mean your partner will have necessarily liked riding with them. I was at the Hope Tech Women’s Enduro last October and the inclusive friendly vibe made it really stand out from any other mtb event I’ve been to. A disappointing individual experience doesn’t make the whole programme bad.

  3. I think Rachels comments that she is doing what she does and just happens to be a women rather than a women in her role doing what she does is what I believe I see the current position on MTB .
    So to make a feature highlighting it as female article feature rather than just running it as a feature which happens to feature a women is a sad endictment of where in reality it’s actually at .
    I ride with women .I ride with men .I don’t say im going on a male ride or a girls ride or a mixed ride or a transgender ride (I can neither confirm or deny the latter sexuality in the group but I have my suspicions sometimes :).we just go for a ride .
    Whilst I appreciate there is the need for women’s/ female group rides days groups special events I’ll have to live with the catch up of the media to what in reality is my works .which is were all equal .
    Brands have only just got round to fpdropping pink or at least adding alternative colours to pink onwomens specific MTB items .
    Good article nether the less though

  4. My world not works ….. apologies

  5. I nominate Rachel Norman from Cafe Adventure in Hope, Derbyshire.
    The cafe holds regular Wednesday night rides, both mixed gender and women’s only.
    Rachel has probably done more for women’s riding in the Peak than she realises. Lots of friendships have formed since Cafe Adventure Women’s Riders was established.

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