Last month we launched a new series featuring inspiring women within MTB or people who have done lots to promote women riders and riding. First up was HopeTech’s Brand Manager Rachael Walker, intrepid rider and adventurer and force behind HopeTech Women.
We then asked you who we should feature next. Almost unanimously people wanted to hear from Pat Horscroft. If you haven’t heard of Pat perhaps you know her by her racing name, Granny McGnarly. Singletrack reader Jill Bolton summarises nicely “I only discovered mountain biking at an age when many women have already retired from the sport (52, if you must know – and that was quite a while back). I’m always pleased to meet other ‘mature ladies’ out on the trails, and so was fascinated to read of a 70-something downhill racer. Although I’ve never met Pat, or even been to watch a race, she definitely gets my vote.”
Pat took up mountain biking some 15 years ago now at the age of 60. Now 74 she’s still riding all over the UK and the world, dabbling in racing and an active member of the trail advocacy group Ride Sheffield too. That sounds like some retirement.
In the beginning
[RS] You took up mountain biking at an age most people are hanging up their tyres. How did it all begin?
[PH]: “I’ve always been into sports and adventure sports, I’ve taught sports most of my life. I was massively into skiing, I lived in Switzerland for a while, and I’ve climbed since the 70s and got a black belt in judo. We used to live in the south of England but we moved up to Sheffield for climbing. At that stage I was biking but not mountain biking, I just had a bike to toddle around on. Moving up to Sheffield I continued with the climbing but then I got a shoulder injury and I couldn’t continue with it. At that point it was like a switch flicked really and I got into mountain biking. In some ways, because I’d been climbing for such a long time, I was sort of on a plateau and not getting any better whereas with the mountain biking it’s just been all progress ever since. That was 10-15 years ago.
“I started off hardly mountain biking, riding on access roads and working up from that, riding a bike that was rigid steel. What really got me going was very early on I did a course with Tracy and Emma at Glentress. (Emma Guy and Tracy Brunger were the former operators of the Hub at Glentress before the centre was recommissioned in 2010). They were brilliant, they really set me on my way and Glentress was a great place to get set on your way so that worked really well.
“But I love natural trails, I love flowing trails, I like all the bike parks (trail centres) in Wales and Scotland, I’ve done them all and ridden abroad too. I’ve been to the Alps, which I find hard, it’s a bit steep for me. This year, my treat for my birthday in September, is we’re going to Basque MTB which I’m really looking forward to. And then of course for the last five years I’ve done the Steel City Downhill and I’m doing it again this year.
“I’ve had a Specialized full suss for 10 years. I’ve just got a new bike which is my 75th birthday present, well it will be once it is my birthday later in the year, I’ve just got a Transition Scout. I rode it yesterday, its first day out, and really enjoyed it. I’ve got a bit of work to do to get it right but that’s going absolutely great.”
Keep on keeping on
The majority of people when they get older: in 60s compared to 50s, their 40s compared to 20s tend to ride less and take fewer risks. What’s your approach to this?
“As you get older you appreciate the consequences of what you do. And there are periods in women’s lives when they take that more seriously, probably when they have young children, they do tend to take less risk because they can’t afford to take the same risk. But I don’t think that’s ever happened to me, I’ve always taken risks in sport. I don’t mean silly risks but I’ve always gone on that side of things. I’ve always had injuries over the years but recovered from them. I’ve got a new hip at the moment which is absolutely brilliant, it’s brilliant for riding and frankly brilliant for everything, everyone should have one! I think it’s in your psyche how you deal with it.”
So a lot of it is a mind-set about doing those higher risk sports?
“I think I would say it’s the mind-set that comes first and the physical side follows on. Because you can always get the fitness, the mind-set is harder to acquire. I think now, in the last couple of years, I’m more circumspect over my bravery. But that’s a good thing sometimes because you ride with more consideration about what you’re doing and what you’re trying to achieve. Sometimes it’s better than beating yourself up about something that you’re trying to do that you’re not ready for, you settle down and acquire it anyway.”
Do you still push yourself and try and develop your skills?
“I’m trying to jump at the moment. I can get onto table tops but I can’t clear them so that’s my challenge. I’ve never fancied a gap jump, it doesn’t appeal to me as a worthy cause. I’d like to be able to ride more fluidly in the Alps too, that would be something to achieve. The Alps are a long way away and I don’t get there often enough which is the problem, so I just need to ride the steep stuff here and enjoy it.”
A few people nominated you, particularly women in their 50s. Can you see that you provide that inspiration to people?
“I don’t call myself a role model but I can see the role model aspect of it. I’ve always worked to encourage other people and particularly women into sports. When I was younger, in the 60s and 70s, women weren’t encouraged into sports at all so I was always the odd one out because I did stuff and I did it with men not women, but I would say all the time ‘you can do it as well’. I don’t do that consciously now but definitely subconsciously that is a message. I am really quite proud of that, in a small way I love it, it’s brilliant.”
How would you encourage women and those in older age to get into or stay riding?
“It’s [encouraging women into riding] the same problem in other areas. When I climbed in the 70s and 80s, there weren’t many women that climbed. Then the lads would bring along their girlfriends who hadn’t done it before and put them on the climb that they were doing which patently the girl wasn’t going to get up so was completely demoralised and thought she was useless and so wasn’t interested. Sometimes that happens with riding. The men take the girls out without any thought of how long or how good they are and so how intimidating it is, so the women aren’t going to come back as they’ve had the wrong introduction to it. (Of course, this isn’t just about female riders, it applies to any beginner we attempt to encourage into riding). Now there are much better introduction courses, some of which are specifically for women, so that’s a much easier thing to get around now. There’s not an excuse not to give it a go, if riding with men is a barrier for you there are lots of women’s groups you can go out with.
“It’s great to see women like Rachel Atherton, the top women don’t look any different to the top men now. You go back three or four years and you could tell it was a women’s race not a men’s. But now, there’s parity along the line, it’s fantastic. The more women achieve the more women will achieve, they now have those role models to see what is possible.
“It’s not just women who come up to me, it’s men too who say ‘I hope I’m riding at your age’, which is a big thing. Nowadays people don’t think they’re past it at 60, there’s all that life to go after that.
“I can give most of my riding friends about 40 years. I don’t think I ride with anyone who is a comparable age. I was riding at Glentress once and got to the top of Spooky Wood and there were three gentlemen there and between us we had about 370 years, that was pretty good! I do see some older women out riding but not many.”
If you could give one tip to people to get out and ride, what would it be?
“Go out to enjoy yourself, you don’t have to go out and beat yourself up about the things you can’t do. If you want to enjoy it, you need to just go out and enjoy it. Some days it’s an easy mind set, some days you just want to pootle along, do what’s right on that day or at that time. The challenge can be working out what that is and staying there in the moment.”
Chatting to and writing about Pat was truly an inspiring experience. There are lots of things that I’ve taken away from it too: ride for the right reasons, slowing down isn’t inevitable, and that my 70 year old mother has no excuse. I hope that Pat, I and everyone else get to enjoy their riding for many, many, many years yet.
Thanks to all of those who nominated Pat. We would love your nominations who to interview 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.