So far we’ve featured quite a different range of people in our Inspiring Women series. From Rachael Walker in the bike industry at Hope Technology, to the 75 year old downhiller Pat Horscroft, to MTB coach Ally Campbell and finally Amanda Tanfield who is the force behind Ladies Do DH at the Forest of Dean.
This time we have the internet sensation Michelle Haigh. Now, you might think a MTB internet sensation is some young shredder with thousands of Instagram followers who knocks out rad edits and appears to spend all the rest of their time partying with lots of beautiful friends. But it’s also possible to do more productive things on the internet like be responsible for the popular and ever growing Facebook group MTB Chix and Trails as Michelle has done.
Nominated by our own Hannah who said “It wasn’t until I went to Red Bull Foxhunt that I really discovered the existence of MTB Chix and Trails. Finding it was like lifting a curtain on a whole world of amazing shredding women. Women flying over gap jumps, women riding with daughters, mums seeking advice for young daughters, total newbies and brand ambassadors. They were all there forming one big community, and the impression is that it’s really supportive, with everyone egging each other on rather than putting anyone down. There are no stupid questions, and there’s plenty of willingness to give advice – it’s a credit to Michelle who set it up.”
Before finding out more about the Chix and Trails group, I started chatting to Michelle about her riding.
[RS] What kind of riding do you do?
[MH] “I’ve been biking about five or six years, my ex was a mountain biker and he got me into it. I love getting out, especially cross-country type stuff although I’ve never been particularly brave.
“I love getting out into the countryside. I know it’s a really old lady thing to say, but it is beautiful being out there and I much prefer getting away from where it’s busy. For me it’s about getting out with friends too rather than just getting Strava records and stuff like that. The best rides for me are those when you’re out with your friends and just having a laugh, it means you don’t even notice when you’re climbing.
“My ex [who got Michelle into riding] wasn’t particularly encouraging so I got a really bad impression when I first started to go out. I used to only go out with him and his mates, and they were always trying to outdo each other, get down the fastest and doing the biggest drop. Even when we rode as just the two of us he just wanted to get down as quick as possible so I just always felt left behind and it gave me a really bad experience of riding with men. So I just started going out a lot on my own, just for the peace and quiet; no stress, no rush. Now I mainly ride with women as I feel much more comfortable with them.”
Do you think it’s more about finding people who want to ride in the same way as you do or is it a male / female thing?
“It is how different people ride, but the men I have ridden with have tended to race off and leave me behind. Having said that, I now know other men who don’t ride like that and there are plenty of my [female] friends’ partners who are much more patient. There are also girls that I’ve ridden with who make me feel really slow! I now have a nice group of people who I like getting out with, who aren’t in a rush and who all like riding for the same reason and in the same way.
“Now when I ride with slower people then I’m quite happy to hold back and stick with them, I know what it’s like to be that person! I would rather that someone was enjoying themselves and I was going a little slower than they were miserable and I was just waiting at the top.
“That was the reason behind the Chix, to be encouraging. I’m part of another group but there are so many arguments and fights and taking the piss out of each other. You couldn’t ask a simple question like “What tyres for…?” without people coming back with stupid comments like “round ones”. On the Chix it’s much more positive stuff, we wouldn’t let anyone be negative. I’m not a “rad” or “awesome” mountain biker, I just wanted it to be about normal women riders being able to find other normal women riders. Some of our members are fantastic riders, and some are more normal, we all have to start somewhere. Some people don’t know how to change a tyre or don’t know what sort of bike to get but it’s a place you can come and get a sensible answer. And if you have had a bad ride or bad week there’s someone to say, “I’ve been there, you will get it back” and to offer to meet up for a ride or to session stuff. And that’s exactly what I wanted from it, to encourage normal women to ride.”
Was the Chix group set up as a local group or did you start more globally?
“At first it was mainly for women around Hamsterley, it was a group where women could find other women to ride with without any grief or hassle. I was already friends with some other girls who are now admin of the group; Dawn, Ash and Sarah, and with them I started the group from there. We started sharing it with local riders by word of mouth and it went from there. We meet people at races or when we were going other places so got some flyers printed to spread the word. As more people get to know about it the more people have joined the group. Now, because of some of the people we have in the group, we get mentioned much more.
“We started in January 2015 and now have over 3,000 members mainly in the UK but all over the world too. It’s a bit weird really how many members we have and where they all are.
“Whilst it’s mainly a mountain bike group of course there’s loads of stuff in there which is applicable to all sorts of cycling: saddles, chamois cream, riding at different times of the month; so we don’t discourage any types of cyclists becoming members.”
As admins, do you have to do much to control who posts what or does it just reflect the attitude of the group?
“Last week there was a discussion about cyclists getting registered and insured and no-one agreed with it, and she deleted the post and said it caused bad feeling but I disagreed, it was good discussion and we want that. As long as it doesn’t get personal and nasty we’re happy for people to discuss bigger things. I think we’ve only ever had problems at the beginning when someone was quite negative about others’ posts and we stepped in then but since then people have just got a feel for it being a friendly group. Of course, sometimes people do disagree, and we will step in if it gets personal or nasty but it rarely happens.”
Are there any MTB Chix and Trails rides or events?
“No, it’s just an online group. People arrange groups and meet ups through it but we don’t organise anything ourselves. We’ve had to be quite careful about this and have a disclaimer on the site. I’ve had some good advice from one of the group members who is a solicitor about protecting ourselves from any challenge if someone has a crash or something when they’ve gone out on a ride which they’ve organised via the group. Our disclaimer states that we’re not responsible for the rides that people organise through the group and people meet up and ride at their own risk.”
Away from talking about the group, what bike do you ride?
“A Trek Fuel in the same light blue as Rachel Atherton although I had mine first! I absolutely love it, I’ve had it about four years and can’t bear the thought of changing it. In fact, I won a day riding with the Athertons in Wales about three years ago and she asked me about my bike then. The day itself was pretty scary, it was mainly downhill and I was a bit out my depth. It was that day that I asked Rachel to join the Chix which she did. I was really excited when I saw the request that she wanted to join. I don’t think that many people know that she’s in the group though [until now – Ed].”
The MTB Chix and Trails group supports and encourages lots of women, but who inspires you?
“I think all the British women riding in the downhill world cup, the fact that there are so many British women up there and winning these titles. Even my non-cycling daughter had a great time when we went to watch the DH World Cup at Fort William. Just watching the women doing it motivates you to get out and ride, it would be great to see more of them become role models for us all.
“After Rachel Atherton’s injuries it’s great to see all the rest of the competition and seeing riders like Tahnee Seagrave coming through. People like Manon Carpenter doing great things after stepping down from the racing is really great too. It’s really easy to get put off looking at photos of people riding big drops and jumps so for someone to step down saying they can’t do it either is really encouraging, it shows that it’s ok to say no to things but still do plenty of other riding that they do feel safe doing and enjoy. It’s a refreshing change from seeing people launch over things without any problems.”
What would your advice to women mountain bikers be?
“Everything on line looks cool and amazing but that doesn’t reflect real life, we all have bad days and some of us will never do the big drops. I think my advice is don’t be put off. Some of us do just want to ride and our wheels not leave the ground, some of us do just want to ride cross-country and not fly down a hill. It’s about going out and enjoying your time on the bike, it doesn’t matter that you’re doing different things than you commonly see.”
Thanks to Michelle for speaking to us and, of course, looking after MTB Chix and Trails. Our Hannah nominated Michelle but we want to hear from you as to 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.