The Adventure Syndicate are, in their own words, ‘a collective of extraordinary cyclists who happen to be women and who aim to challenge what others think they are capable of.’
Beyond their shared gender, the syndicate come from as diverse a cycling background as a former downhill mountain bike world champion through to a courier-come-adventure cyclist.
Inspiration comes in many forms; as well as running talks and workshops, the Adventure Syndicate want to inspire by doing, and sharing that experience with others. Syndicate member, Emily Chappell explains why on her blog. One of their first challenges is the recently established North Coast 500 route. Tracing 500 miles around some of the most epic tarmac Scotland has to offer, it isn’t for the faint hearted, but rewards with spectacular views, switchbacks that rival the best the alps can offer, and singletrack roads that could have been designed for riding.
The route would make a good multi-day tour, but on 14 May 2016, seven of the Syndicate riders will be attempting to ride the loop in a challenging 36 hours. 500 miles and over 10 thousand metres of ascent in a day and half. Ooph.
As well as being able to follow the team on Twitter and Facebook, and via a SPOT tracker, they are calling for company:
‘If you are an experienced road rider, get on the front and give us a break from the wind. If you are less experienced, jump on our tails. If you prefer, ride separately from us altogether or cheer us from the road side. Whatever the outcome of our attempt, do come to Inverness on Sunday afternoon to witness us all slumped in a corner of Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop eating mountains of cake. Check Twitter for our ETA.’
We managed to track down Emily for a quick chat and she spoke to us about the forthcoming challenge and how the collective formed.
Tom Hill: I’d not heard of the Adventure Syndicate until spotting a tweet in the last couple of days – what brought you together as a diverse collection of riders under the banner of the Syndicate?
Emily Chappell: Quite simply, we realised we weren’t getting what we wanted from the cycling industry as it currently exists, and decided to take matters into our own capable hands. The way women are currently portrayed and catered for needs to be a lot broader. There are beginners, and there are elite athletes, but there are also countless people in between, each on her personal learning curve, whom we barely ever see. There are so many more different ways of riding – and dressing, and being – than we ever see in the mainstream cycling media. The Syndicate athletes are all leaders in their fields, but they are also very different from each other, in the way they look, the way they ride, and the challenges they pursue. We’re united by a passion for going our own way, and encouraging other people to find theirs.
TH: Why is inspiring others such a fundamental part of the Syndicate’s aims?
EC: Because otherwise it’s just us riding our bikes! Seriously though, I think we’ve all, in our various ways, found some sort of salvation through cycling, and it’s this we want to pass on to other people. Whether it’s the confidence to travel alone, the capability to get ourselves out of a sticky situation, or the simple joy of physical movement, we want to share this as widely as possible.
But inspiration is really only the first step. Once we’ve got people all excited about their own potential, we then want to help them realise it by offering them practical hands-on assistance – in person or online – to overcome the obstacles they still see standing in their way. These might be inability to fix a puncture, or fear of failure, or simply not knowing where to start.
Also, we think it’s important how you inspire people. It’s no good portraying ourselves as a bunch of invincible heroes. The Syndicate believes that it’s crucial to show people our own doubts, fears and failures, and how they’re bound up in our successes and triumphs – proof that we are as human as anyone else, and if we can overcome our fears, they can too.
TH: What made you choose the NC500 as a challenge? Why set a target time – part of the inspiration?
EC: We chose the NC500 because as soon as we heard about the route we simultaneously thought ‘that sounds amazing’ and ‘I don’t think we can do it’. It’ll be a genuine challenge to complete the whole 500-mile route within a weekend (and ideally in less than 36 hours), because none of us have done anything quite like this before. And as the great Steve Abraham commented when we announced the ride: “Without any doubt of success, there’s no real challenge.”
TH: Am I right in saying that it will be you, Rickie, Lee, Gaby, Anne, Zara and Jo?
EC: Yes, the riders are: Lee Craigie, Rickie Cotter, Emily Chappell, Gaby Leveridge, Anne Ewing, Zara Mair and Jo Thom.
TH: You could ‘easily’ have ridden this as a team, without the call for public participation – why have you chosen to encourage others to come out and join you on the ride?
EC: Because that’s the whole point of the Syndicate – to share our challenges with other people, and to encourage them to take on their own. The inspiration will work both ways on the NC500. We hope that hundreds of people will be fired up by riding alongside us, or watching us on the tracker, or witnessing us rolling exhausted into Inverness at the finish – but we’ll also take great strength from knowing that we’re not alone, from people’s messages of encouragement on social media, from strong cyclists riding ahead of us to take the wind for a while, and from bystanders cheering us on in the middle of the night.
TH: What preparation have you all been doing?
EC: We’re all in the middle of busy seasons of racing and other adventures. Lee recently won the Etape Loch Ness and has her eye on next weekend’s Fred Whitton. I’ve been doing hilly 300km rides as preparation for August’s Transcontinental Race. Rickie’s fresh from the Tour Aotearoa and spending every spare minute on the bike. Gaby’s in the middle of a racing season with Starley Primal. Jo’s just come back from the Tierra Viva 7-day adventure race in Chile, and she and Zara are out in Majorca for the 312 sportive in preparation for the NC500’s 8,000m of climbing.
TH: What do you think will be the biggest challenges in riding as team?
EC: We’ll all have slightly different challenges, based on our experience to date. Some of us have barely ridden in a pack before. Some of us have never ridden more than 200 miles in one go. Some of us are scared of the climbs; others are more scared of the descents. The biggest challenge is going to be keeping it together as a team, using all of our strengths to support each other’s weaknesses, and getting all seven riders through to the finish.
TH: Are there any parts of the route that you are looking forward to more than others?
EC: It’ll be hard, but I think we’re all excited about the spectacular Bealach na Ba – the high point of the ride, and the greatest ascent of any road climb in the UK. We’ll be looking forward to watching dawn break ahead of us somewhere between Durness and Thurso, and most of all to the final sprint into Inverness, for tea and cake and a much-deserved sleep.
TH: What next for the Adventure Syndicate?
EC: We’ll be making a short film about the NC500, which will be hosted on our website, to share the adventure with as wide an audience as possible. And then we’ll all be heading off on our summer adventures, cycling thousands of miles in dozens of different countries, and writing about it all on the Adventure Syndicate blog. Then, over autumn and winter, we’ll be rolling out our programme of talks, workshops and training camps, aiming to bring the Adventure Syndicate’s message to as wide an audience as possible, and to get many more people pursuing their own adventures, whatever they may be.
Good luck to the team, and we’ll look forward to tracking their progress.