Our Inspiring Women interviews have featured a wide range of people from local heroes to seasoned pros. Whatever they are doing now they’ve all had an adventure sport background which makes it easy to see how they’ve ended up mountain biking.
Our very own contributor Adele Mitchell is a bit different. As an ex-model and ex-fashion editor at Just 17 (in case you’re pretending not to know J17 was the bible in fortnightly magazine form for teenage girls in the 80s and 90s) it’s not particularly obvious how she’s ended up a mountain biker and advocating for older women’s riding. Over to Adele to explain:
Mountain biking is what I did on my day off! I used to be a beauty editor and before that I was a model so had absolutely no connection with sport at all. I don’t really class myself as sporty – I’m a writer who rides, rather than a rider who writes – but I think a lot of riders relate to me because of that. I mess things up, sometimes I’m the one at the back, I can’t fix my bike without (a considerable amount of) help. I’ve entered loads of MTB events but only ever won one. It was ages ago and I won the mixed team class in a mountain bike orienteering event, which I’d entered with my ride buddy Suzanne. We’d had to enter that class because there wasn’t a women’s team event: no surprise there. The trophy was pretty tiny – really not fitting for our magnificent victory – so we got hold of the very large trophy reserved for the winning male and photographed ourselves with that when the organisers weren’t looking, which we thought was hilarious. I’m sure everyone else was thinking “and this is precisely why we don’t want women here: too much giggling and inappropriate behaviour with the silverware”.
It makes me wonder what Adele’s friends and ex-colleagues make of her mountain biking. Certainly my non-riding friends can’t comprehend my desire to go out and get wet, muddy and bruised in the name of excitement and adventure.
Adele: Most of my current friends ride, the ones who don’t tend not to mention it because, between you and me, I think they fear triggering a glut of endless amusing MTB anecdotes. Which are only amusing to me.
Many of my ex-colleagues are still journalists so if they need to find ‘someone over 40 years old who does a dangerous activity and doesn’t mind getting muddy’ for an ‘unusual women’ story they know who to call. I know LOADS of women who will be happy to tell all!
So are Adele’s interests as eclectic as I think they are or are the bike and fashion industries just the same, selling products by telling us we will look and feel good?
Adele: I’ve done a lot of copywriting for luxury fashion and beauty brands, and when it comes to marketing I think there is little difference because mountain bikes are luxury items too. Whether it’s a pair of party shoes, a skin care cream or a set of forks, they all promise to enhance some part of our lives – and cost too much money.
Despite being an award winning cycling journalist Adele never intended to make her hobby part of her job. That is until she discovered that people were far more interested in her talking about riding than fashion.
Adele: It all started out because I used to tweet about my rides and there was often more interest in them than there was in my opinion on “the best mascara over £75”* or whatever. Then one day I tweeted about a feature that Dirt had written which I felt didn’t represent women’s mountain biking as it really is, and the editor got back to me and suggested I might like to write a piece on women’s cycling for them. And before long I was writing about women’s cycling for other titles, giving talks at the NEC and hanging around Look Mum No Hands drinking fancy coffee with cool people. I will be eternally grateful to Jenn Hill for commissioning me to write for Singletrack. Jenn was a wonderful journalist and quite simply ahead of her time. She was awesome.
*Don’t worry – no mascara costs this much so there’s no need to rummage through your OH’s make up bag in a bit of a panic thinking “she told me it only cost a fiver!”.
Similarly her role in promoting and advocating for women’s riding, especially older women, developed naturally too.
Adele: I really believe in trying to be authentic in my writing – and an ‘older’ woman who rides is what I am! Mountain biking has bought so much joy to my life and continues to do so, and I know that is the case for many women who are a similar age or older than me so I just wanted to share that – and by making us more visible I hope to encourage other women to think that riding is an option for them too. I hosted what turned out to be a fabulously inspiring evening at Look Mum No Hands earlier this year where we celebrated older women who ride: the women who came along had such amazing stories to tell.
There is plenty of research to show that older women have more disposable income than their younger counterparts, make their own financial decisions, and wish to lead adventurous lives and travel. So, lots of cash to spend on luxury mountain bikes and Bike Park Wales, then. I guess the MTB industry could think about this if sales to middle aged blokes are getting a bit sluggish.
Given this interview series features people who are inspiring women to mountain bike, I’m always interested to know who it is that inspires our interviewees to get out and ride.
Adele: This is such an interesting question and its one I’ve asked other women many times: the answer is nearly always the same, and applies to me too – my friends. I have ridden every Friday morning with a group of women riders for the last fifteen years. We have motivated each other, learnt together, shared every detail of our lives, laughed, cried, and been there for each other through out. We have enjoyed some fantastic trips on our bikes, in Europe and the UK, squashed bikes into cars without knowing if we would be able to reassemble them at the other end (“there’s bound to be someone at Afan who’ll know!!”), managed to explain that we had a punctured tubeless tyre to a Spanish mountain biker in Menorca by pointing and hissing, and driven each other to A&E when things have gone a bit Pete Tong. My friends inspire me, every time.
Before ending our chat it seems churlish to miss the opportunity to get Adele’s thoughts on mountain biking fashion, after all neither Enduro-fluro riding garb nor head-to-toe Lycra are the most flattering of outfits.
Adele: My friends find my ever changing kit quite amusing. Last time we went to Afan for the weekend they were all pretty damp and smelly by day three, while I had packed a Flare outfit for day one, FINDRA for day two, and head to toe ION for Sunday. As one of my friends observed as I sashayed in for breakfast, “Even your shoes match!”
Cycling wear for women is leagues ahead of what it was a few years back which is great but of course it’s not really about what you wear: the main thing is to get out on your bike and enjoy yourself. The greatest MTB advice I was ever given was from a Redbull Rampage rider who told me to always ride with the intention of being the rider who gets to the bottom of the trail with the biggest smile on their face. Not necessarily first or the fastest, but the one having the most fun. That’s what matters the most.
We want to hear from you about who we should be talking to for next month’s Inspiring Women’s feature? Which female rider inspires you (whether you’re male or female), or which man or woman 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 we should be featuring and why.