Karly Millar / Keep keeping on

Karly Millar is no stranger to challenging cycling conditions; an innate hardiness helping her ride year round in Scotland where she lives and works. That being so, she clearly remembers a certain sense of trepidation when signing up for the 2017 Rapha Manchester to London; an event that involved riding north to south on a demanding 220 mile route sandwiched between Peak District climbs and the rolling hills of the Chilterns.

Back for 2019 with a revamped format and registration now open, in her own words Karly reflects on that Sunday in September when she left the Manchester Velodrome at dawn and rode south to London in a single day. An honest account of a physical and emotional journey that tested her to breaking point.

I wanted a challenge. Something so big that I wasn’t absolutely sure I could do it. An 80 km club run would leave me totally empty and eating macaroni in the bath with a bottle of flat coke to recover; so I genuinely didn’t believe I would make it all the way to London.

I’d tentatively floated the idea quite early in the year; initially to myself before discussing it with friends until the more times you mention something the greater the social contract that says you should probably follow through on what you’ve been talking about.

In terms of preparation I just kept on riding. I think subconsciously pushing the distance but my biggest ride before M2L was still only 120 miles. Well short of the 220 mile total that I would be riding on the event. But I remember talking to a friend about long distance cycling and him suggesting that once you reach a certain point – as long as you’re putting fuel in the tank and you keep turning your legs – then it’s different. It’s all mental.

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In the final few weeks running up to the start date I felt a little bit sick if I thought about it too much. But as the weeks turned to days I grew calmer. What would be, would be. I couldn’t change anything; couldn’t train any harder. My only concern was letting down everyone who’d sponsored me. They’d been so generous and I didn’t want to feel that I might fail them. But my partner pointed out that simply rolling up at the start line was big enough. And I kind of found my peace with that.

At the pre-ride party you could feel a real sense of nervous energy in the Manchester clubhouse. The magnitude of what we were taking on suddenly hitting me and that I was part of it. And then standing on the start line at the Velodrome; actually feeling very irritable with the degree of faffing around in my group but more likely because I’d been up since four in the morning after only a couple of hours sleep.

The ride itself I broke down into the feedstops. Manageable chunks of effort. And I felt really good when we rolled into the first at Carsington Water after completing a hilly 50 miles through the Peak District.

By the second – 90 miles in – my mood had definitely dipped. It was the first time during the day that I actually wondered whether we’d make the time cut-offs. It had started to rain and I was feeling the pressure of all those miles ahead. But we pushed on, into the headwind that had dogged us all day and it was a special moment when we reached the halfway point.

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I can picture us pulling into the third feedstop at this grand stately home but the rest of that section was rather a blur. I knew I hadn’t eaten enough and what lay ahead would be tough. In hindsight we should have taken a little longer to eat the hot food on offer rather than grazing on snacks. That would have been a wise investment in time.

You’re physically tired but more so mentally. And as we set off once again I was steeling myself for the hard slog into the night. Running on absolute fumes, I knew we still had 77 miles to go and the thought of carrying on made me want to cry.

But we worked together – following Simon Mottram’s [Rapha CEO] advice to ‘just keep on keeping on’ – until we finally reached the last feedstop. Feeling absolutely broken but with a realisation that this might actually happen.

On that final 25 mile stretch I was bargaining with myself when I was allowed to press the backlight button on my Wahoo; trying to guess how far we’d gone from the last time I’d checked. Mind games to ease the passing of those last few miles until, almost without warning, we were out of the dark country lanes and riding under street lights. Crossing the line in tears; a mix of emotions that I’d never experienced before and I wonder whether I ever will again.

And although I felt such a huge sense of accomplishment, it took until the next day’s train ride home before it all sank in. When I sat down with my helmet on the table in front of me and the passenger opposite asked where I’d cycled from and I answered Manchester and the look in their eyes when I told them it was in one day. I’d spent the past 48 hours in my M2L bubble and this was the first proper acknowledgement from the outside world. That we’d finished. That all the doubts and soul searching were now behind me.

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Experience has since taught me that if you put your mind to something you can do it. And I think, previously, I’d underestimated myself and I walked away from M2L with a far stronger ‘can do’ attitude. I don’t feel like I need to prove myself anymore. We did good.

As for highlights? Riding as a team; each looking out for the other. The guy who rode it in an Elvis costume. Those random acts of kindness from the helpers at each feedstop. And if I had to advise anyone contemplating signing up for this year’s L2M? I’d tell them to do it. 100% commit because you will never know unless you try.

And just remember to eat. Eat all the time.

Now in its sixth edition, following last year’s ‘win’ by the North the route will reverse and for the first time riders will set off from London; just one of the new changes introduced for the 2019 Rapha London to Manchester.  More information and sign up can be found here.

Image of Karly arriving at the 2nd feed stop with kind permission of Jess Morgan

Karly Millar

 

A Safe Harbour / Rapha Copenhagen

For many the summer of 2018 will be remembered for endless days of clear skies and soaring temperatures; cyclists living in Northern Europe enjoying the luxury of riding without recourse to a rain cape and overshoes. But seasons come and go with autumn giving way to the cold and grey of winter months. And as individuals return from a ride seeking shelter from the elements, the warm welcome offered by Rapha Copenhagen carries through to the clubhouse emblem having an historical allusion to a ‘safe harbour’; a reference that clubhouse associate Karl Owen understands all too well now that he’s experiencing his first Danish winter.

‘We’ve just enjoyed one of the best summers in living memory but when it does turn cold and wet then it’s important to have somewhere to go where you can get a cup of coffee and warm up.’ This comment best illustrated by his description of clubhouse light fittings regularly festooned with drying helmets and gloves when a wet ride returns. ‘The Danes,’ he continues, ‘are very, very good at gritting the roads because everyone is pretty hardy and still wants to ride even when there’s a deep frost or snow falling. All that salt and grit means bike maintenance costs can be high but you can ride year round.’

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With the clubhouse located just off Strøget – one of Copenhagen’s busiest shopping streets – it’s conveniently situated as a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city centre yet still only a 15 minute ride from the outskirts of the city. And as many members use the clubhouse on a regular basis, there’s grown a close-knit community of Danes bolstered by international members either based in Copenhagen for work or those visiting who want to take advantage of the bike hire scheme. ‘What’s nice,’ suggests Karl, ‘is how the clubhouse encourages all these individuals to meet and interact. The Danes have a reputation as being a little reserved – as do the Brits – and whereas inhibitions are often eased over a drink I like to think that a shared love of cycling replaces the alcohol in allowing people to get past any initial awkwardness [smiles].’

Originally based in Manchester, Karl got to know his future colleagues on regular visits to Copenhagen before finally taking the plunge and relocating. Having now experienced cycling in the Danish capital he’s come to realise how differently he rode back home in the UK; taking a primary position and almost behaving like a car. So much so that it took a while to transition into the Copenhagen way.

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‘Very often you ride separately from the cars using the extensive network of bike lanes and there’s a very definite set of rules. You overtake on the left after looking behind and often there’s room for three cyclists abreast so it acts almost like a motorway. And it’s because there are so many cyclists that you’re expected to adhere to these nuanced set of rules. There’s not the free for all that you find in some other major cities. The pace is generally quite consistent and it can be really beautiful in the sense that the city simply flows.’

‘I feel there’s a worldwide understanding that the Copenhagen way works,’ he continues. ‘You can fit 10 bikes into the space taken by a single car so the result is a city centre that isn’t choked with traffic. The box turn takes a little getting used to but this avoids the need to cross the road in front of moving vehicles. Here you put your hand up as you approach a junction to indicate that you’re slowing before turning 90° and crossing with the lights.’

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In terms of clubhouse riding, a typical route sees riders setting off north towards the lakes before heading up through Nørrebro to Mosehuset; a traditional meeting point if you’re not starting out in the city centre. ‘From there you can head out towards Gilleleje on the northern coast before turning towards Helsingør with the sea and Sweden on your left shoulder. On a good day very beautiful indeed,’ Karl confirms.

‘Saturday sees a couple of differently paced open rides heading out with a training ride on a Tuesday that includes intervals and is aimed at more advanced riders. Wednesday has two alternating rides. The ‘Look pro, go slow’ that sees riders wearing their best gear and riding out at a very social pace for a coffee or ice cream depending on the season. Or there’s the ‘Find it in 50’ which, as the name implies, involves a 50 km route ending at one of Copenhagen’s many craft beer bars. Both, perhaps unsurprisingly, very popular rides [smiles].’

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The explosion of the gravel scene is also reflected in the number of rides now offered that include off-road tracks and trails with Hansens, a local ice-cream manufacturer, organising a 130 km gravel ride during the summer months with ice-cream at every feed stop. ‘One of my favourite day’s on the bike,’ Karl comments. ‘And during winter when the wind picks up and temperatures drop it’s nice get off the road and seek the shelter of woodland paths.’

With an active social scene complementing the clubhouse rides, in summer when evenings are drawn out it’s common for RCC rides to start with a loop before ending with the riders sitting out on a grassy corner with a couple of beers. According to Karl, very much a Danish way of doing things and another aspect of Copenhagen cycle culture that he’s learning to understand and appreciate.

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‘I’m still trying to work out some of the more idiosyncratic references. A couple of minutes turn on the front, for example, is described as ‘Swedish shifts’ and I love the fact that almost everyone – even if they’re riding a super expensive race bike – will have a bell. Very useful when you consider it’s quite acceptable to be travelling at 40 kph in a bike lane and there’s so many other users.’

This mention of the bikes his members ride prompts Karl to confirm that lightweight carbon bikes are extremely popular but with a move towards fatter tyres and a mindset of having a single bike that can cope with a variety of terrain and surface.

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‘There’s this Scandinavian concept of Jantelagen which basically boils down to not showing off. And maybe this accounts for fewer individuals going down the custom steel route and why you’re far more likely to see one of our members riding an understated black bike. Even to some extent influencing what items sell well out of our clothing range. Our customers tend to favour monochrome kit so we rarely sell a Rapha-pink jersey [laughs].’

In terms of other clubhouse trends, a cortado or flat white are the most common coffee orders with spicy tuna or avocado a popular choice of sandwich. And out on the road, Karl is often tempted by a tebirkes; a pastry filled with sweet marzipan and covered with poppy seeds. ‘Not particularly easy to pronounce,’ he adds with a grin, ‘so even when I’m in a bakery and pointing with a finger at the same time as asking, the sales assistant will still look quizzically at me.’

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‘What’s fun about riding out of Copenhagen is getting back to discover you’ve just done 200 km at a healthy average speed. It’s flat which helps but our cycling infrastructure means you don’t have to stop and start quite so much as you would in other countries. And then there’s the view across to Sweden from Strandvejen; a road that hugs the coastline north south out of Copenhagen. This proximity to the sea that, in the summer, let’s us finish a ride with an open water swim. And what’s not to like about that.’

All images with kind permission of Erik Jonsson

Rapha Copenhagen

Karl Owen

 

Ride Like A Girl / Race Series

Amy Cuthbertson (pictured right) and Elle Haigh are both fairly new to the sport but have big ambitions for where their cycling journey is taking them. Responding to the current provision available to women wanting to give racing a go, these passionate individuals sat down to discuss the reasons they ride, why they’re both tired of ‘mansplaining’ and how this in part led to the launch of @ridelikeagirlrs

Amy

Until just shy of two years ago I hadn’t done any cycling since my paper round when I was 10. I got the hump because my other half signed up for a Leeds to Manchester charity ride and didn’t even bother asking if I wanted to do it [smiles]. My first ride after deciding to buy a bike was a whole 3 miles before I stopped for coffee and cake and then went home. But since then I’m joined some clubs, worked at getting stronger and started to enter time trials and hill climbs; discovering in the process that I’m actually quite competitive.

Elle

For me it was all on a bit of a whim. I was looking for a way of fundraising for a charity and everyone knew I didn’t particularly feel comfortable riding a bike so I decided to sign up for a mountain bike ride across Kenya. It initially didn’t go that well – I went down a couple of days early and managed to break my hand – but I still had the best time before realising when I got home that I didn’t really know how to cycle on the road. So in April this year I bought a bike and went out on my first ride. I’d already decided to join a club so that I’d be motivated to keep riding and within the space of a couple of weeks I had an effective fitness regime and a whole new group of friends; especially important as I’d just moved back to the UK.

Amy

And then you decided to ride from London to Paris just a few months after getting your first road bike [laughs].

Amy climbing Holme Moss

Elle

Rather a baptism of fire as I kind of threw myself in at the deep end but I’d already decided to be a cycling ‘yes’ person and then find solutions to the rides or events I’ve chosen to do.

Amy

For me, riding my bike is all about the exhilaration of exertion. I’m a project manager and I’ve worked from home for the last six, seven years; doing absolutely nothing with my day beyond getting up and walking to my desk. I snowboard and cycling takes what I enjoy about that – being outside with my friends – but on a day-to-day, year-round basis and without the need to fly out of the UK in search of some snow. When you’ve been sedentary for so long, the physicality is a really addictive feeling. That sense of tiredness; of pushing on and making your body do what it’s meant to be capable of doing.

Elle

In some ways it’s been a little overwhelming. My life has changed quite dramatically since I’ve started cycling. I’ve made new friends like Amy and I’ve discovered a place where I can be myself. I climb onto my bike, I clip in and even if I’ve had a particularly rubbish day my mind clears. I sleep better and generally feel uplifted.

Amy

We’re both members of the Rapha Cycling Club and I very much appreciate the opportunity to go out on women’s rides that are a little stronger and faster than what I’ve previously experienced. A lot of female-specific cycling is focusing on getting more women on bikes and I wouldn’t be here today chatting about my riding if it wasn’t for those initiatives. The RCC also offers this same provision of introductory sessions but with the progression of more challenging rides.

Elle

The discipline within the RCC is good as well. Everybody rides how you should ride on the road; everything is kept really tight which is nice because it gives you that security blanket that comes with working together. If someone’s new to road cycling there’s plenty of friendly advice and support to overcome any initial worries or concerns. And because I spend so much time travelling through my work as transatlantic flight crew, I find I have this instant friendship group at whatever clubhouse I visit across the world. I can easily rent a great bike so I don’t have to lug my own along with me and I know I’ll be riding with a like minded group of people. There may be different languages and cultures but they all share the same connection of wanting to ride their bikes.

Amy

And there’s coffee at the clubhouse before we roll out [laughs].

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Elle

Getting to know Amy, pretty much one of the first things she mentioned was her determination to race before explaining that she couldn’t find the right platform to achieve this goal. As a friend I found this really frustrating as I knew she was a strong rider and had been competing in local time trials and hill climbs. But in terms of road or circuit racing, she couldn’t find a 4th category only event. There are 4th category fields entered in races alongside the elite 1st, 2nd and 3rd categories but our gut instinct is we’d just get in the way and it would be massively intimidating. And even if you have the self-confidence to enter a mixed category race you need to finish in the top ten to score points and that’s potentially against elite riders assuming enough sign on and the race isn’t cancelled.

Amy

Every time a race day arrived and I asked why there was a men’s 4th category race but the women were all lumped in together, I pretty much got the same response: there’s not enough interest and women don’t want to race.

Elle

And we both know incredibly strong riders that compete in triathlons – mastering three disciplines – and have the mental toughness to enter these gruelling events but baulk at the thought of racing on a circuit. So we decided to launch @ridelikeagirlrs and explore ways that women can give racing a go.

Amy

It can be a question of confidence. I had something similar myself a couple of weeks ago when I said I was going to enter my first crit race and people – actually they were all men –  suggested that maybe I should work on my skills first; that it was too dangerous. And I honestly don’t think a man would have had the same response. It would have been, ‘Cool, go for it.’

Elle

Elle

There is this problem of ‘mansplaining’ to women. Very patronising and something we’ve both come up against throughout our lives. Especially when you’re young and you hear comments that you run like a girl, throw like a girl. This derogatory term for a girl being worse at something than a boy and it’s usually a boy that’s saying it. So we’re turning that back round by saying that if I ride like Tiffany Cromwell, Hannah or Alice Barnes, Marianne Vos; then, hell yeah, I ride like a girl. And a lot of people have responded really positively to this idea because they understand where we’re coming from.

Amy

It’s all snowballed really quickly with a Q&A session planned for the end of September providing an opportunity for women to ask anything and everything about bike racing. Off the back of that, once everyone’s hopefully had their questions answered, we’ll be organising coaching sessions before we run our inaugural race that’s pencilled in for November 3rd. This will involve a 60 minute coaching session followed by a 20 minute Go Race around the Brownlee Centre’s cycle circuit. And because it’s a Go Race event with no points available there’s also no need for a race licence but we do have a friendly commissaire who’s volunteered to run it in the same format as a 4th category race so riders can understand how everything’s organised. Time trials and hill climbs are all well and good but it’s that first across the line feeling that we want to address.

Elle

That’s the whole point. It’s for anyone who’s ever considered competitive racing whether that’s for her own fitness or to satisfy an urge to test herself against other women.

Amy

In the same way that you have a social ride run by your cycling club, it’s not always about being the fastest but taking part in something a little different. An opportunity to learn a new set of skills and have some fun alongside a great bunch of women.

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Elle

As individuals, we sometimes talk ourselves out of stuff but as a group we’re really good at building ourselves back up. So I think our message with this @ridelikeagirlrs campaign is to just give it a go.

Amy

To be honest the response has been a little overwhelming. You can expect a degree of interest from friends and fellow club members but within the first few hours of launching our Facebook page we had hundreds of requests from people we didn’t know. Responses from coaches; even from British Cycling themselves saying they want to get involved. And what’s also exciting is the messages we’ve had from race organisers to tell us what they’ve done, that it’s not worked before asking whether we have any ideas of what they can change. We’re not setting ourselves up as experts but there isn’t a massive number of women fighting for women’s racing and we both want to be part of that journey.

Elle

We’re building this network of women that want to race, can support each other in doing that and if race organisers want to tap into that interest and work with us that would be perfect.

Amy

Currently there’s a huge focus on getting women on bikes which is just brilliant and there’s fantastic things happening in professional women’s racing with the Tour of Britain and other high profile events. But it’s the gap between the two that we’re looking at. What do you do once you’ve got all these women on bikes? So in one sense it’s me being selfish. I wanted to race but couldn’t find a suitable event to race in so we’re creating our own.

Elle

And this isn’t our job. We’re not doing it to make money. It’s born out of a passion and in some ways it’s kind of an experiment but with the knowledge that if we go out to achieve something together we’ll be totally fine.

 

For more information on the Ride Like A Girl // Race Series

@ridelikeagirlrs

Vincent Engel / Lines on the landscape

Offering endless possibilities for capturing a moment, it’s perhaps fair to suggest that photography has the potential to tell a story in a single image. But what if this ability to frame and then reflect on the world we inhabit is used as a fulcrum for personal growth; a mechanism for change that involves doing what you like the most in a creative response to earning a living? Questions currently concerning Amsterdam-based Vincent Engel as he seeks to live life with a camera in one hand and the other on his handlebar.

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There’s a sense of boundless space that pervades Vincent’s images of his native Holland. In many ways a man-made landscape – architecturally graphic in the angles of the waterways, pathways and pylons – the painterly quality of his work references the rising mist and falling rain; the sun’s shadows and the light off the sea. Subtle layers that draw the eye to the details of the riders framed within.

‘I sometimes get good-natured teasing from my friends when they want to see more close-ups of themselves in my images,’ comments Vincent with a grin. ‘But I find it interesting to see the riders as an aspect of the landscape. To view this relationship in context to where they’ve been riding. To set them against a broad brushstroke of land, water and sky.’

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Not that people don’t frequently feature in Vincent’s work; in part due to his involvement with Rapha Amsterdam since returning from a 10 year stint living and working in Saudi Arabia where he founded his design & build company Orange Identity.

‘My interest in photography originates from my background as a designer. I used to do 3D renderings to visualise architectural plans; taking the pictures of the textures I needed – wood, tiles, brickwork – to use in my computer-generated models. So I was pretty obsessed with my surroundings; how light is reflected and patterns are formed.’

‘The change from using the camera purely as a tool to one where I was making an emotional connection to the subject happened in Saudi Arabia. There was only me, my dog and my bike. And if I had some spare time I’d jump in my Jeep and head out into the desert and shoot landscapes. Capturing the solitude of the moment before I gradually began to combine these wide open spaces with a moving object.’

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‘Interestingly I find photographing people far more difficult than those architectural images,’ Vincent explains. ‘My original pictures felt very mathematical but there’s an emotional element to shooting someone riding a bike that I find more challenging. Landscapes in a sense stand still and yesterday, for example, I went for a ride with a couple of friends and I shot over 100 images but they didn’t quite work. I suppose I’m too much of a perfectionist [smiles].’

After selling his company in 2015 and a subsequent return to the Netherlands, Vincent immediately fell into riding with Rapha Amsterdam; feeling such an instant connection with his fellow riders that he describes them in terms akin to a family.

‘For me, it just feels so comfortable. I came to cycling from a racing background but it’s not all about speed and we enjoy our coffee stops. There’s such a variety of routes that we have on offer. Out to the coast, local loops from the city centre or gravel adventures. Riding with a range of people from different backgrounds but there’s still a connection. We do the same rides – we suffer the same – and Rapha makes it possible for this to happen on a number of levels.’

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As there’s no escaping the impact of water on the Dutch landscape, Vincent acknowledges that the weather too can bring its own challenges with winters that are cold, wet and windy. Conditions he argues that only make you feel more alive when out riding; to such an extent that he prefers to shoot in the rain rather than bright sunshine.

‘The weather has a significant part to play in the realisation of the images I create and I guess it’s about telling a story by contrasting all these individual elements. Which is why I rarely take a close-up image of someone on their bike because it’s the landscape that informs the narrative as it frames their movement.’

‘In the Netherlands,’ he continues, ‘I’m always looking for strong lines in an image and I thought before travelling out on a recent trip to Switzerland that I would, through necessity, be taking a different approach. But then I began to notice how the mountains overlap and bisect the horizon with strong diagonals in the foreground formed by the roads, trails and even the tracks we made in the snow. So I still had all kinds of lines that draw your attention to the detail in the image [smiles].’

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Since returning to his homeland, Vincent now has the time to pursue photography on a more commercial basis and the past 6 months has seen him commissioned by a number of different clients all sharing the same admiration for his photographic style.

‘I’m still learning how to really direct people because I don’t naturally feel happy to be in the spotlight. By me telling someone what to do on a shoot I’m taking myself out of my comfort zone. But I enjoy working to a brief because it implies a certain level of trust from a client and I can take on-board their needs before going out and putting my own interpretation on the content. And I’m just as critical – more so – with my commissioned work as with my own. It’s kind of like my signature on an image so there’s more pressure to deliver. Pressure that I put on myself.’

‘It’s all about a happier life,’ Vincent concludes, ‘and that’s my biggest challenge at the moment. To find something that makes me happy that involves a creative response to cycling. In the past I’ve been fairly financially driven but money isn’t everything. Cycling has always been a constant in my life – since I was very young – so to combine that with photography was an obvious next step. They’re both great passions for me and it feels kind of like an exploration. Finding the new Vincent; making a bigger picture.’

11speed.nl

All images with kind permission of Vincent Engel

Hiroki Mitsui / Rapha Tokyo

Visit any city for the first time and there’s a period of adjustment as you stand and take your bearings. Often at the exit to the airport terminal – leaving behind the recognisable architecture of the arrivals hall – you’re immediately faced with a multitude of sensory clues to your new environment. The sheer sense of scale when arriving in Tokyo – home to 13 million – might on face value make this process of acclimatisation more of a challenge but according to Hiroki Mitsui there’s a sense of order and calm to be discovered that balances the busy city streets.

In his role as Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) Chapter Coordinator and with a 35km commute by bike from his Funabashi home in the Chiba Prefecture, Hiroki is perfectly placed to understand the rewards of cycling in Japan’s capital.

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‘When you’re living in Tokyo,’ he explains, ‘you can do everything by bike. It’s faster moving from point to point than by car. Even if you decide to take the train, you can reach your destination just as quickly by cycling. And when riding you get to enjoy all the interesting architecture and everyday Tokyo streetlife. Our Rapha clubhouse is located close to Harajuku; a district popular with young people due to its shops, cafés and karaoke bars. But there’s a hidden aspect to this area if you start to explore the narrow side streets where it’s very quiet and peaceful.’

Not that Hiroki and his RCC members eschew public transport altogether; finding trains useful if they’re planning a longer ride outside of the city centre.

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‘We tend to travel for an hour or so out into the countryside before starting our route. We call this ‘rinko style’ in reference to the nylon bag that you need to cover your bike so the train carriages are kept clean and safe for other passengers. It’s a legal requirement but also shows good manners. We’ve been collaborating with Fairmean to produce a super lightweight version that’s easy to use and it’s surprising how stylish and beautiful a bike looks when it’s covered and sitting on the train platform [smiles].’

Although the suburbs and open countryside offer quieter roads, Rapha rides in Tokyo are not restricted to the city’s outskirts and Hiroki is viewing with interest the proliferation of new bike lanes in preparation for Japan hosting the 2020 Olympic Games.

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‘You can take a train out to the Boso and Hannoh areas as these both offer routes with plenty of climbing and beautiful scenery. Or there’s the Arakawa river-side bike path that winds its way out from the heart of the city with car free cycling and even distant views of Mt. Fuji on a clear day. If you prefer to ride from the clubhouse there’s a night ride we do that passes through the Meiji Jingu Gaien Park before skirting the Imperial Palace and crossing the Kachidoki Bridge; colourfully illuminated with views of the river and the city skyline.’

‘The Imperial Palace along with neighbouring Akasaka Palace,’ Hiroki continues, ‘are also the locations for Wednesday night laps and there’s a strong racing scene with crits especially popular with our RCC members. Winter brings the cyclocross season which offers racing for all abilities and there’s a lot of interest in long distance cycling alongside our regular social rides.’

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Like other Rapha clubhouses, Tokyo is open to all with customers calling in for a coffee or lunch; Hiroki hosting a popular monthly RCC social evening that gets an average of 40 members attending.

‘Our members are from a variety of backgrounds but all share a love of cycling. Mainly they ride on the road because they don’t want their beautiful bikes to get too dirty and the gravel in Japan is much rougher with a mixture of large rocks and stones so it’s not for everyone. In terms of the weather there’s a rainy season during June and the mid-summer temperatures require us to escape to the higher mountains where it’s cooler. But for the majority of the year we can ride really easily.’

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The vending machines outside convenience stores are another aspect that characterise Rapha Tokyo rides; Hiroki including them in his routes so his members can easily replenish their ride supplies without the need for a long wait. ‘These vending machines are found everywhere; even in the remote countryside where you can get a can of hot coffee in mid-winter. But cafés are a popular feature on city loops,’ Hiroki comments with a smile. ‘Although our riders rarely order an espresso. We tend to want to stay for longer and chat over a latte or flat white.’

Cultural considerations that imbue any visit to Rapha Tokyo with a richness of experience in part deriving from the delicate balance the city holds between both contemporary and traditional values. A vibrant cityscape that embraces technological innovation yet still functions daily according to an unspoken set of social rules. A contradiction not lost on Hiroki as it even extends to the official cycling laws that are arguably ignored on a daily basis but stipulate a potential 20,000 Yen fine for riding two abreast.

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‘Our rides – especially on the busier city streets before we reach the suburbs – can seem quiet because officially we can’t ride side by side. You follow the person in front and when you stop at the traffic lights you catch up on your conversation. But you can see from what they post on their Instagram feeds that they enjoy the social aspect of riding with other members. We might be quiet in our pace line but there’s plenty of laughter and smiles when we stop.’

All images with kind permission of Lee Basford

Rapha Tokyo

Hiroki Mitsui

 

Maria Olsson / Determination by design

In the early summer of 2017, Maria Olsson sat across from her doctor following emergency abdominal surgery to remove an 8cm diameter cyst. After listening to a description of the procedure and the requirement for a biopsy to confirm the growth was benign, Maria began to ask whether an upcoming cycling challenge would affect her prognosis for recovery. The event in question was the Rapha Cent Cols – a brutal 10 day trip with an average daily elevation of 4000m – and the determination to even consider attempting the ride post-recovery indicative of an individual well-versed in pushing themselves to breaking point.

‘The doctor was looking at me like I was insane,’ reflects Maria. ‘Everyone else knew I had to pull out but I wasn’t prepared to accept the fact. I was totally in denial and just burst into tears. In a way not even considering my health concerns but worrying how I was going to tell my family and friends.’

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We’ve arranged to meet in the exhibition space of the Rapha Manchester clubhouse where the previous evening Maria delivered a presentation on her role as the London-based brand’s Design Manager. Stylishly understated in dress, although her English is fluent Maria’s accent still reflects her Swedish roots with occasional hints of an Aussie twang that references the time she spent in Sydney studying a degree in fashion & textile design.

‘I grew up in a family where my mother and grandma were always knitting and cooking. We never had a lot so it was all about having the skills to complement our budget and we were very hands on. I do remember drawing a lot but at school I was always driven to focus on the sciences: biology, engineering and other technical subjects. I’d decided to go to university in Sydney and originally applied for a degree course in aero-engineering but there were problems with funding and I kind of fell into the fashion & textile thing. As it turned out – possibly rather fatefully – it was something I really enjoyed and was good at.’

After completing her degree course Maria returned to Sweden and a design role working on alpine and cross-country skiing ranges; an office visit from Fabian Cancellara and the Schleck brothers prompting her to consider the challenges of designing cycle-specific clothing and a change in focus that would eventually lead Maria to Rapha Racing. But not before she burnt out, took 6 months off to live in a cabin by a lake and occupied her time with freelance work until the next opportunity came along; a multi-faceted design position that Maria feels encouraged her to look at design problems from a range of perspectives.

‘And then I saw that Rapha were advertising for a designer. Instantly knowing I had to apply; that this was my dream job. So I sent in my portfolio, submitted an application and then, when they did offer me the position, it was a no brainer and I immediately accepted.’

That was back in 2015 and prompted a move to London where she enjoys a sometimes fractious relationship with the capital city: ‘London doesn’t feel like home but, when I’m at work, that kind of does. It’s the people that are around me that make me feel I belong. Much more so than feeling attached to a place.’

‘I love Sweden,’ Maria elaborates. ‘That’s where my heart is. And London can be fun and is full of inspiration. But I grew up in the countryside and the city’s quite a hard place. In a way it lacks empathy and it’s very easy, if you don’t have those people around you, to feel very lonely.’

Maria hands

The challenges of city living aside, it’s easily apparent from her frequent smiles that her design position is more than simply a job and is clearly influenced by her own riding. Describing how she arrives on many of the insights and ideas that inform her designs whilst riding her bike – problem solving determined by weather conditions or performance considerations –  interestingly it’s her background in the sciences and engineering in particular that play through in the approach she takes to her craft.

‘Sometimes it’s just an idea. I’m out riding and it hits me. But the way I work, it’s usually about the engineering and how we can apply this to solve problems. The fabrics we have available and how we design the cut and fit of a product. I don’t get super excited about fluffy fashion but I’ve always been really driven by technical aspects. Marrying form and function to make items that are not only beautiful but also user-friendly.’

A passionate approach to her professional life that proves difficult to balance as Maria admits – with a wry grin – that she’s always more or less on. ‘I have to force myself to switch off. Sometimes through cycling as it acts as a kind of therapy or sometimes by watching really stupid things on TV. I need that occasionally otherwise I’m worried my brain’s going to overload.’ This need to distract and unwind perhaps in part prompting the quote from T.S. Eliot* on her blog and the reason she decided to consider the Cent Cols Challenge in the first place?

*[Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go. — T.S Eliot]

‘I’ve always felt quite different from everyone else in my family and I think, because we’ve had to overcome a lot of obstacles, this made me want to find my own path. I’m naturally quite independent and not afraid to push myself. Always super stubborn. And in everything I do, I commit to it. All or nothing.’

As it turned out, it was Maria’s own body that called time on the Cent Cols; the hurt of that decision still lingering on a year later and offering an insight into her younger years when she played football and danced.

‘I’ve always enjoyed feeling strong. I like the adrenaline and physicality of sport; the challenge of how far I can push myself, how good can I get. But I guess in the past I’ve been a little selfish in the way I’ve treated my body. Because I’m so determined – stupidly so – I’ve been guilty of pushing myself too far and all the issues I now have with my knees and feet are testament to that. I kept on going when my body was telling me to stop. And it gave me lots of warnings. But if my knee was completely fucked I’d still assume that the next day it would be better. I’ve done two Manchester to London rides like this where I literally couldn’t walk when I climbed off the bike. Believing that if you can just push through that barrier you’ll go into shock and the pain will lessen. But I feel that now, as I get older, I’m finally learning to be more respectful of my body.’

Maria email

Listening to Maria describe her attitude to pain and suffering – almost at odds with her slight build that still has a dancer’s poise – I wonder how this mental toughness translates into her everyday life? Whether it influences her interactions at work and how she negotiates?

‘I try to listen and I’m not one for pitching ideas if I haven’t really thought them through. I’ll have done my research before sketching it up and maybe getting a prototype made to actually see if it works. Sometimes it fails – probably 50:50 – but you never stop trying and you can always learn from these mistakes.’

As Maria’s designs are obviously influenced to a large extent by her own riding, working for a company that encourages its staff members to spend Wednesday mornings out on their bikes is just another aspect of her role with Rapha that she appreciates and feels is fundamental in delivering the company’s ethos; these midweek social spins balanced by weekend riding and the challenges of commuting by bike in the capital.

‘It’s not easy and the rare times that I don’t want to ride at a weekend is usually after I’ve commuted the full week by bike. You spend too much time concentrating on not getting killed for it to be an opportunity to unwind after a busy day at work and I suppose that’s why I come up to the Peak District so often to ride. I love Manchester. The people are really friendly and it’s so much easier to get out of the city and into the countryside.’

Happiest when riding her bike up a mountain with some good friends or visiting the very north of Sweden where she relishes the sense of emptiness – Maria suggests that it’s so quiet you can hear your own heart beat – these moments of blissful detachment are perhaps telling when considering the personal losses she suffered at a comparatively young age.

‘I was handed this big chunk of pain with the loss of my mum that has scarred me forever but doesn’t hurt every day forever. And I think I would have been a different person today without that sense of loss. It was a consistent period of hard times but it has helped me achieve a good perspective on life. That it’s not all shiny and sparkly. And I certainly don’t give a crap about the small issues that used to worry me.’

‘Material things mean very little. In my work, by necessity, I’m super organised but outside of that environment I’m very chilled about stuff and tend to go with the flow. That wasn’t always the case [laughs]. I remember when I was still at school and I had every waking hour planned. But now? Maybe we need to be with someone that’s the opposite to ourselves? If you’re a thinker – as I am – you need to pair up with a doer. It’s important for me to see solutions to problems rather than the problem being the endpoint. And people have a tendency to sweat the small stuff when, if you step back, you realise that on the scale of things it really isn’t that important. It’s like this obsession with Strava. I don’t record everything and if it’s not on Strava it still happened [smiles].’

As it’s time for Maria to head home – she fires off a final few emails before packing away her laptop ready to ride to Stretford where she’s based when visiting the city – I ask about her plans with Rapha and what her next career move might be.

‘I guess I have some kind of vision but I try not to plan too far ahead. I’m taking it as it comes because I love my job with Rapha and my life as it is now. So, we’ll see. Who knows what the future holds?’

@maria.t.olsson

Rapha UK

Images by @openautograph

Wim Jan Petersen / Dutch Mountains

Sitting over a coffee in the Rapha Amsterdam clubhouse – tucked away in the ‘9 Streets’ canal district of the picturesque city centre – Wim Jan Petersen took the time to discuss his role as Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) Coordinator for the Benelux region, how his members ride and where you need to go in search of a hill to climb.

A typical Wednesday morning loop would see us riding south out of the city centre into the surrounding farmland. Canals and rivers; very green with open views. And then there’s the Ronde Hoep; probably the most popular route as it’s just under 40 km and really easy to get out and back in an hour or so. Super convenient and you get all levels of cyclist from beginners to high level racers.

We often head out towards the coast but as you’re fairly exposed to the elements – being so close to the sea – you have the wind to contend with. Dutch Mountains as we choose to call it. Pretty much the toughest it can get in this area and it can catch riders out. We have individuals from other countries joining our rides expecting it to be flat and easy and halfway into an 80 km loop they’re done. Completely cooked and it’s the wind that gets them every time.

The weather – especially over the winter months – can be challenging. The wet, the cold, the wind; it uses a lot of energy to keep your body warm so I often end up sharing my food with cyclists new to the area. And it’s always interesting to see the look of surprise on the faces of strong riders when they blow up. Welcome to the Netherlands [laughs].

Setting aside these weather considerations, you’re outside of the city in under 20 minutes and into a completely different world. In the centre it can appear chaotic – a lot of tourists, a lot of cyclists – but when you leave all that behind you it’s very empty and open. West towards the sea, open farmland to the south, interesting gravel tracks to the east or traditional Dutch landscapes to the north. We even have a climb called Het Kopje. Really just a big dune and not even that steep but we call it a climb as it’s the only one we have close to Amsterdam [smiles].

On a bigger loop we’ll make sure there’s a stop so we can fill our bidons, have a coffee and maybe a small lunch. Crossing the border always makes a ride feel special so sometimes we’ll drop down into Belgium but you need to remember to bring cash as a lot of the little establishments don’t take cards.

Because not everyone is always located within easy reach of the Amsterdam clubhouse we’ve developed a network of satellite cafes across the Benelux area offering access to rides and the same RCC experience. Cafes with a passion for cycling and links with their local cycling community and all providing our members with their free* cup of coffee, of course.

A typical RCC Amsterdam ride is very social and based on good camaraderie. We’ve come a long way in making cycling accessible at every level with WhatsApp groups being created so that rides can be planned and shared. That’s reflected in the members themselves; how they all respect each other and all have their own story. And because of that, they’re more keen to try new things.

I sometimes get the impression that a lot of people, when they think about cycling, picture someone on a race bike going as hard as they can but it’s so much more than just that. Maybe a casual coffee ride, a heritage tour through the city centre or a bikepacking adventure. And I feel that my role with Rapha is very much about embracing these different aspects and connecting with all cyclists rather than the few.

Rapha Amsterdam

Ride images with kind permission of Vincent Engel

*RCC members enjoy free coffee year round at Rapha Clubhouses

 

Temple Cycles Adventure Disc Review

Recently launched by Bristol-based Temple Cycles, their Adventure Disc model encourages exploration beyond the limits of paved road surfaces; opening up route planning to include bridleways, dirt roads and gravel tracks. It seemed therefore fitting to test the bike’s abilities on an appropriate parcours with Rapha Manchester’s ‘A Day In Hell’ proving the perfect setting for putting the Adventure Disc through its paces.

A tribute to Paris Roubaix – one of the Monuments of the European racing calendar and affectionately referred to as the ‘Hell of the North’ – riders left the city centre clubhouse on a testing 66.6 mile loop before returning to beer, frites and the closing kilometres of the race. With Rapha referencing this moniker in their own event branding, the cobbles of Castlefield and Hocker Lane to the south of the city offered a flavour of the continental pavé with the additional challenges of riverside gravel and dirt farm tracks. A mixture of surfaces to test both bike and rider alike.

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After the previous day’s torrential rain, it was with some relief that I woke to low-lying mist on the morning of the event but with the promise of clear skies. The Adventure Disc had been easily set up following delivery; rotating the handlebars, inserting the seat post and attaching the front wheel all that was required before the bike was ready to ride. Attractively finished with glossy dark grey paint and an elegant headtube badge, the Adventure Disc never failed to receive favourable comments on its appearance. Perhaps an unimportant aspect compared to the quality of its ride but nevertheless gratifying.

With a Shimano 105 groupset, mechanical disc brakes on handbuilt wheels and a Brooks saddle nicely complementing the brown leather bar tape, the competitive pricing reflects the direct-to-customer sales approach favoured by Temple Cycles. To such an extent that you’re encouraged to discuss your needs and ride requirements prior to making a purchase and your bike being built.

With the addition of a rear rack I’d commuted on the bike for a week prior to our ‘Day In Hell’. Whilst not exactly lightweight – a stock build on a medium frame comes in at 11.5kg – this perhaps misses the point of its intended use and I always looked forward to every ride. With each twenty mile round trip including 1,500 ft of elevation, the compact chainset and 11-32 cassette made climbing surprisingly comfortable and it’s important to remember that, unlike a stripped down carbon racer, the Adventure Disc is designed to cross continents on a variety of surfaces. It has a relaxed and smooth stance that irons out any imperfections in the road and proved an absolute delight when descending.

Although the frame has bosses for mudguards, rightly expecting our tribute route to be muddy I decided to leave clearance free and rely on an ‘ass saver’ to keep me dry. With SPD pedals in place and rolling on the supplied 35mm Schwalbe G-One tyres, I set off through the Manchester suburbs enroute to the Rapha clubhouse.

Located in the shadow of St. Ann’s Church, the bikes arranged in formation outside the clubhouse entrance suggested a good turnout; a hum of conversation carrying down the pink painted stairwell that leads you up from the ground floor workshop to the cafe area above. With coffee in one hand and a croissant in the other – this was a tribute to a French cycle race after all – discussions ranged from tyre width to who would eventually triumph later in the day at the Roubaix Velodrome.

Our start was a little less frenetic with groups setting off along Deansgate following a pre-ride briefing before we immediately reached our first ‘sector’ of cobbles in Castlefield. Once a thriving area of mills and warehouses interwoven by canals and railway sidings, it’s now home to bars and apartment living but still conveys a strong sense of the city’s industrial past.

Railway crossing

In this setting the Adventure Disc was in its element. Handling the variety of surfaces – both wet and dry – with surefooted ease before we left behind the city centre along the gravel pathway that edges the Bridgewater Way.

Approaching Sale, the canal towpath was substituted for quiet suburban streets and it was here that I paid a slight penalty for my heavier tread and wider tyre profile; riders on standard road rubber finding the going a little easier.

This however proved a temporary advantage as we soon reached the next off-road section; a delightful dirt path that wound its way through wooded copses before emerging out onto a farm track. Arrow straight and bisecting hedgeless ploughed fields; the dark, peaty soil in the still lingering morning mist giving more than a passing impression of the fields of Flanders.

Without the penalty of rim brakes collecting the heavy mud left over from the previous day’s rainfall and the added confidence of wider profile tyres, the gaps to riders ahead began to close as I chose my line without fear of slipping or sliding on the unpaved surface. An off-road affinity that was once again demonstrated on reaching Hocker Lane; a cobbled farm track located immediately after our midpoint coffee stop that I can easily imagine prompting envious appreciation from Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix [The Friends of Paris-Roubaix].

What followed was a concertina of progress as I was distanced by riders on the linking road sections before reeling them in again when the surface became more challenging. In part supporting the Temple Cycles’ premise that, although the bike is designed to embrace off road adventures, swap out the heavier tyres and you’re good to go on the weekend club ride.

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Considering the weight advantage I was giving away, not even the 20% ramps of Beeston Brow could halt my progress; the Adventure Disc taking this cobbled climb out of Bollington in its stride before a descent down from Pott Shrigley and the final stretches of disused railway lines and riverside pathways before we once again fetched up at the clubhouse. This time to be greeted by a fish & chip van; a welcome indulgence whilst watching Peter Sagan drop the hammer.

On reflection this proved a well-organised and enjoyable event made all the more pleasurable for riding Temple’s Adventure Disc. It’s performance over a range of surfaces – cobbles, gravel, dirt – was always assured and never skittish. And with the frame having mounts for front and rear racks together with full mudguards, there really aren’t any limitations to where the Adventure Disc can take you. Factor in the numerous appreciative comments the bike receives and though you might not cross the finish line first, when you do I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be smiling.

Temple Cycles

Rapha

*Feature image by Alex Duffil

*Ride images by Martin Wilson

Frame detail by @openautograph

*With kind permission of Rapha UK

Dan Morris / Cycle Solutions

Spend time in Copenhagen and you begin to wonder whether the sign that greets you in the airport terminal proclaiming Denmark as the world’s happiest country in some part references the Danish love affair with the bike. As rush hour traffic largely comprises streams of individuals crisscrossing the city to work, school and even the nursery – toddlers sitting in large wooden boxes affixed to cargo bikes – cycling seems hardwired into the nation’s psyche. And it’s this question of whether the UK could ever see a similar mainstream adoption of the bike for everyday journeys that I’m keen to put to Dan Morris; ride leader, Rapha Ambassador and Senior Transportation Planner with Warwickshire County Council.

‘If you want to start cycling to work you’ve got quite a lot to consider. The kit you’ll need to cope with the UK climate, how long it will take you and whether you have facilities to change. Of course, if you’re riding for leisure, all of those things go out of the window. Which is why I always suggest you start riding a bike simply for fun.’

It’s easily apparent that Dan is a passionate advocate for all things cycling. From describing his professional role through to his favourite 30 mile local loop, his voice and animated hand movements punctuate the points he makes with a calm confidence. Ideal traits when communicating a message that cycling is a viable mode of transportation to organisations not always receptive to change.

Referring to the time he worked for Sustrans on a project to encourage more Birmingham based businesses to embrace cycling as a way for their employees to travel to work, he freely acknowledges the infrastructure at that time couldn’t deliver in terms of changing perceptions that cycling in the city centre wasn’t inherently dangerous. ‘I was trying my best to promote all the pluses that cycling ticks,’ Dan explains, ‘but it was a super-hard sell. Really frustrating because I understood the positive impact cycling could have on individuals and their families.’

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Things finally changed when Transport for West Midlands received a £48m pot of money to develop cycling infrastructure across the seven boroughs at the same time Dan took up a new position with the cycling development business BikeRight!.

‘After 18 months of cold-calling and knocking on doors – talking the talk but not being able to deliver in terms of persuading people that cycling was a practical and safe option – we had this joined up approach that I could sell to people as a viable means of using a bike as everyday transport. We even had fleets of bikes we could loan to businesses for a week at a time to encourage their employees to at least try riding to work.’

Finding that his role with BikeRight! involved liaising with the Transport Authority’s infrastructure team – consulting on the design of cycle routes and questioning whether they met the needs of their users – he already had close-working ties with the local authority when they advertised his current position of transport planner. Concerned that he didn’t have the usual engineering background, it was following the interview after he’d accepted the position that the panel’s requirements became apparent. ‘It turns out they already had an office full of engineers and what they really wanted was a public-facing individual to not only influence the design of local infrastructure but also engage with the public on cycle-related matters.’

Race

As he didn’t take his driving test until his mid-twenties, at the very least Dan is able to communicate this message with a degree of conviction and goes some way to explaining why cycling has been the commonality in a varied career that included a spell working in a nightclub.

‘I was finishing my shift at around three in the morning before getting on my bike and riding home. But I didn’t know anything else. I’d ride to work, to college, to see friends. And this probably accounts for why I do the job that I do. Cycling is such a massive escape for me. The headspace I need to switch off from work before focusing on home and family.’

Growing up in Leamington Spa, the West Midlands is where Dan returned following a couple of snowboarding seasons after he graduated with a Physiotherapy degree from Birmingham University. Initially starting out in the health and fitness industry led to him working within public health on a programme engaging with young people between 8 and 16 who were clinically obese. ‘Our aim was to get them active and eating well but the biggest barrier I encountered was their reluctance to take part in physical activity because of previous bullying or low self-esteem. As I loved cycling I felt this might be the perfect way to address this issue and enable them to factor in a degree of everyday activity into their lives.’

Now that he’s landed his dream job – a role in which he can marry the design and promotion of cycling infrastructure with the necessary encouragement for people to get out and use it – Dan can confidently get to grips with the key messages that sustainable cycling can address.

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‘Very often, and especially in large urban areas, if you want to get from point A to point B in the shortest time then in many ways the bicycle is the obvious choice. And when people list all the potentially negative aspects of riding a bike often what I’ll simply suggest is for them to try it. Just once and see how they get on. I’m not expecting them to ride every day but if they can find their own need or reason to do it, then that can sow the seed for longer term engagement.’

Believing active travel in the UK is currently in a good place with more workplaces opening doors to enable bicycle commuting, Dan feels local authorities are striving to enable provision but there’s still a lack of consistency between areas. Cycle lanes varying in design and colour from city to city without a joined-up blueprint to make the UK a truly cycle-friendly country.

‘We need a top-down approach that is evident in countries such as the Netherlands,’ he suggests. ‘I was over there giving a presentation about UK cycling and one of the comments I made related to our perception that Dutch motorists are so much more respectful towards cyclists. But the simple truth of the matter is that their motorists are cyclists.’

‘We need people to feel confident riding their bikes,’ Dan continues. ‘The more journeys made by bike, the greater it encourages local authorities to see that cycling is a worthwhile investment. And in comparison to what’s been spent on roads and rail, cycling doesn’t really cost an awful lot to provide decent infrastructure. But there’s the catch. As local authorities are held accountable for the impact of their spending, often they don’t think they need to invest in infrastructure because no one’s riding their bikes. But if the provision was there you’d see a greater take up.’

Dan

‘If you put me on my soapbox I say we don’t need to learn from the Dutch or the Danes. We need to look to America and learn from Portland, New York and Chicago. Car-centric cities that have turned it round and increased cycling participation. Taking space back from their existing road networks to create interconnected routes that cross the city.’

But it’s the provision of cycle training together with usable infrastructure that Dan feels could have the biggest impact. Training available to all schools irrespective of postcodes and funding bids and encouraging a mindset that cycling is the norm. ‘If you can combine this with encouraging adults to cycle – bike share schemes in all of our cities and investing in the number of segregated cycleways – then I believe we can reach a tipping point where making a journey by bike becomes your preferred option and not solely for cycle fanatics like me.’

Now that he’s a father and time with the family is precious, Dan is happy to be selective about when or if he can ride or race. To such an extent that a lot of his miles are done on an indoor trainer. ‘I’m quite happy getting up at ‘silly’ o’clock in the morning to do a turbo session,’ he comments with a smile. ‘I still absolutely love getting out and riding with other people but just need to keep all these aspects of my life in balance. And I suppose it’s because cycling plays such a pivotal role in my life – both at work and in my spare time – that I really try not to be too evangelical about its benefits. But if anyone wants to argue the pros and cons, I’m that pain in the arse individual who has an answer for everything.’

@pistaboy

All images by Benedict Campbell

 

Profile: Mimi Kathrein

Growing up near Lake Constance and now resident in Vienna, the city’s cycling culture has seen some significant changes since Mimi Kathrein first began riding in 2010. At the time a closed-off world of cycle clubs that beginners wanting to try the sport often found rather forbidding, recent years have seen the adoption of a more open approach to participation. ‘Looking back,’ Mimi explains, ‘I feel the scene was influenced by the States and the UK in the way people’s riding habits have changed and this encouraged me to start a regular women’s training ride.’

But it was riding with Kelli Samuelson during a trip to LA that proved particularly inspirational; sowing the seeds for the idea of creating her own place where women could support each other in their riding goals. ‘I was still fairly new to cycling,’ Mimi reflects, ‘and felt really intimidated by the thought of accompanying such a strong rider out into the mountains that skirt the Los Angeles urban sprawl. But listening to Kelli’s story of how she founded her women’s race team which later became LA Sweat made me determined to do something along those same lines back in Vienna.’

Having already joined the Rapha Ambassador programme, this decision was further strengthened after a trip to Amsterdam during which she first learnt about the women’s cycling group STRONGHER. Excited by the prospect of founding something similar, on her return to Vienna she immediately set about launching FASTHER; a platform for women to share their experiences and develop group riding skills.

‘In this way,’ Mimi explains, ‘you can always help riders that aren’t quite as strong. They can sit in the second or third row with the stronger riders in the front and at the rear. And it’s so satisfying when you see new members understand that by riding together you can go so much further and so much faster.’

For a group that prides itself on the support it provides to new riders, it’s perhaps surprising that there’s a ‘no complaining’ rule; a concept that Mimi is keen to clarify: ‘It’s about not giving in to your insecurities. About having faith and just trying something in the knowledge that the group will be there for you. You’re free to curse when you’re climbing a mountain but it’s important to own the moment. And in some ways it’s really very simple. Some people are faster and some people are slower but it’s hard for everyone.’

Having recently discovered the joys of bike packing – Mimi appreciating the distances you can travel unsupported on a bike and the enjoyment to be found from setting your own pace – she’s at her happiest riding in the mountains. ‘The second time I climbed Mt. Ventoux I was filming with Rapha. I was riding with Jonas from Norway and we were singing all day but they kept telling us to stop because we looked too happy [laughs].’

Using her fingers to count the number of bikes she owns – her ‘Dutch’ bike and city commuter sit in street level storage but the rest are kept in the house – a background in both design and curating contemporary art means Mimi’s ideally placed working for the Vienna Business Agency. Providing programme development for the architecture, design and fashion industries in and around the city, this focus on networking and knowledge transfer mirrors her plans to establish FASTHER groups in other cities.

‘It’s reassuring,’ Mimi adds as our conversation draws to a close, ‘that there’s so many women that started with FASTHER and now have the confidence to take on a leadership role themselves. And really rewarding when you see the smiles on happy faces when individuals accomplish something they never thought possible. It’s important to remember that we’re all part of the same journey but with our own unique stories to tell.’

@lrlmimi

fasther.net/

Picture credits:

Feature image / Sami Moreno / Gallery / 1. Caro Laska / 2. Philipp Doms / 3 Philipp Schoenauer / 4. welovecycling / 5. Peter Riegersperger / 6. Philipp Schoenauer

 

 

Rapha Manchester Women: A road shared

Every fortnight on a Saturday morning – all year, all weathers – the Rapha Manchester Women’s Ride meets at the clubhouse for coffee before rolling out in search of Peak District climbs or quiet Cheshire lanes.

Since these regular rides were first launched in March 2016 the group has seen significant growth with both experienced riders and individuals new to cycling. And as another year draws to a close, in their own words the members of this group tell a story of goals achieved, encouragement given and a road shared.

‘We’re all on a journey and to play some part in helping encourage another female rider; well, that’s a privilege I value enormously. And it’s an honour to lead and ride along with such an amazing group of cyclists. Our adventures never fail to make us smile no matter what the weather throws at us.’ Sarah (group leader and Rapha Ambassador)

‘So grateful to be welcomed by the Rapha Manchester ladies. Their support  and expertise encourages me so much! Great company and routes and I always look forward to the next time we get together. Cycling with friends that motivate each other makes all the difference and it’s been an amazing year.’ Belinda

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Miriam, the group’s ‘go to’ hand model.

‘Pym’s Chair can be a breaking point for some cyclists but, for me, a chance meeting with Sarah and Belinda on the climb opened up a whole new world of cycling. I was officially recruited into the Rapha Cycling Club! I had already met them briefly a few hours earlier at a feed stop where we exchanged compliments on our kit. And since then, the Saturday rides and RCC Sundays have opened up a world of amazing people, fabulous routes and a support network that has enriched my cycling life.

Riding with Rapha Manchester has transformed cycling from a fitness activity into an adventure. Exploring the countryside that surrounds the city centre has been so very enjoyable – it’s beautiful round here – together with a social life full of coffee, cake and laughter.

I have achieved things I never thought were possible; sharing the road with amazing women. An Olympian, crit and cross racers, experienced athletes and those new to the sport. Every ride provides more tips, advice and encouragement in a way that empowers me as a cyclist. I never believed I would ever manage to ride up the Rake, complete the hilly Women’s 100 route, blast round the Cappuccino 180 or sprint down the Tatton ‘wall’ at 29mph. And I know I wouldn’t have done any of these things without the support of this amazing group of people. Thanks for finding me on Pym’s Chair and thank you team RCC.’ Sue

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Riding out of Manchester, you always need one eye on the weather.

‘Though I love cycling, I very much doubt I’d be the cyclist I am today if it wasn’t for the Rapha Manchester ladies. The group rides have built my confidence on the road and are excellent motivation. All these elements build together and push me further. Two years ago if someone had suggested I’d be climbing the Rake or heading for 2,500 miles for the year I’d have thought they were crazy. The rides are very inclusive and a great laugh. Roll on 2018.’ Kelly

‘Our riding group is the motivation that gets me out of the door when the weather is inclement. Knowing that you’re going to have a great day with a group that is fun and supportive. Taking me into the Peak District and exploring Cheshire lanes that I wouldn’t otherwise venture through on my own. I’ve made many new cycling buddies and it’s challenged me too; making me a stronger rider.’ Shelley

Braver Than The Elements
Braver Than The Elements

‘I rode the Women’s 100 last summer and because everyone was so friendly I started going out on a Saturday with the Rapha Manchester ladies. I wanted more options; to ride in a mixed group with faster people so I could get stronger. And cycling means so much to me. It keeps me sane; makes me feel happy.’ Hannah

‘I feel so lucky to have discovered the Rapha Women’s rides this year. They’ve taught me the many values of riding with a club; that perfect combination of ambition and motivation whilst not taking yourself too seriously on the bike. I’ve learnt that the way to achieve goals is to laugh through the challenges. You can then guarantee you finish every ride with a smile on your face.’ Jen

‘This is my first year on a bike and it’s been an incredible journey with many highs and even the occasional low. But after a few false starts and fuelled by a multitude of flat whites, I’ve conquered my demons and achieved goals I never thought were possible. Making new friends in the group has given me the confidence and inspiration to keep going. Even when I’ve doubted myself.’ Miriam

For more information on the Rapha Manchester Women’s Clubhouse Rides.

#ccmcrwomen

All images @openautograph