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.


All images @openautograph


Sarah Prince / W100

In March 2016, Sarah Prince was approached with the idea of leading a fortnightly women’s ride out of Rapha Manchester. Encouraged by her guidance and enthusiasm, word quickly spread with growing numbers of both experienced and individuals new to cycling meeting at the clubhouse for a pre-ride coffee. A little over a year later, city centre shoppers are now regularly treated to the sight of a neat peloton disappearing down Deansgate en-route to Cheshire lanes or Peak District climbs.

Part of the Rapha Ambassador team, it’s fair to say that Sarah has played a key role in encouraging more women to ride their bikes in and around the city with over 60 registrations for the Manchester rides of the Rapha Women’s 100 a clear indication that female participation has never been stronger.

Returning to the clubhouse after leading the ‘hilly’ route out from the city centre towards Ramsbottom and the iconic 25% ramp of the Rake – a prize on offer for the day’s fastest Strava time – Sarah took a moment to explain what it means to encourage other women to get out on their bikes.

Why, on a personal level, do you ride?

It’s the sense of freedom; you, the bike and the road. The exhilaration of being outside in all weathers and knowing that you have the abilities and confidence to deal with whatever is thrown at you. And then you combine all that with the camaraderie and spirit of riding with other people. The smiles as we arrive back at the clubhouse; the feeling of, ‘We’re all in this together, let’s crack on.’

What’s it like cycling in and around Manchester?

Within the city centre it can be challenging but we address these issues and explain about positioning yourself properly when riding and that confidence is the key. Not letting the cars squeeze you into the curb. And once we’re out into the lanes, which doesn’t take long, then it’s just brilliant.

A favourite route?

I do like my hills so the Hayfield loop is a good example. There’s a few short, sharp climbs and a delightful little tearoom where we sit down after 25 or 30 miles and talk about what we’ve just achieved.

What do you find are the most common concerns for riders new to cycling?

I’d say coping with the traffic. But I find that once they understand how riding in a group gives them a presence on the road – a feeling of protection – then their confidence soon begins to build. And I always do a pre-ride briefing so everyone knows where we’re going, what to expect and to look out for each other. Riders that joined us in the New Year – some of them initially very nervous and apprehensive – are now passing on advice and encouragement.

What are your goals or ambitions for women’s cycling out of Manchester?

When I first took up this role it was simply to help more girls enjoy the sense of freedom that riding your bike can provide. It’s now grown to a point where they’re organising themselves through our group chat and planning their own rides. Our women’s Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) membership is also growing so we have more mixed rides on a Sunday which I personally feel is a healthy sign of the way we’re moving forward in encouraging female participation.

An important role that Rapha plays?

Events like Braver Than The Elements and the Women’s 100 really help in celebrating women’s cycling on a global scale. And the female specific kit that Rapha is designing in response to our feedback is so encouraging. For me, though, what really stands out is Rapha’s sponsorship of the Canyon-SRAM professional women’s cycling team. Days leading up to this year’s Tour de Yorkshire we had team members Hannah Barnes and Mieke Kröger visit the clubhouse before we took them out on a ride. So inspiring to share the road with such strong female cyclists.

It’s clear you feel very passionate about your role?

Sometimes, it can be the little things you notice. Someone turning up at the clubhouse on a Saturday morning wearing trainers – very apprehensive and nervous about that first ride – and then they show up two weeks later in a pair of cycling shoes with cleats. We’re all on a journey and to play some small part in helping to encourage another female rider; well, that’s a privilege that I value enormously.

To view the Rapha Manchester Women’s 100 ‘hilly’ route.

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



GLS and #tcrno5

Rolling out from Geraardsbergen in Belgium on Friday 28th July and with a finish line in Greece, the Transcontinental Race is a challenging event for even the most seasoned of long distance cyclists. First time entrant and Rapha Ambassador Grace Lambert-Smith took time out from her planning and preparation to discuss what’s inspired her to compete.

I’d like to take you back to the talk hosted by Rapha Manchester in November 2016 during which Emily Chappell reminisced about her experiences racing the Transcontinental.

The registrations had opened not long before and I’d got my hands on the race manual to take with me that evening. So I was already kind of interested but maybe sitting on the fence. After listening to Emily, hearing the enthusiasm in her voice, it very quickly snowballed into me submitting an application for a place.

What reactions do you get when people find out you’re racing the Transcontinental?

If you tell people you’re going bike touring across Europe you get a fairly standard, ‘Oh, that sounds fun.’ But when you add that it’s a race you get quite a different reaction. A colleague at work recently asked what I had planned for the weekend and I told her that I was riding from London to Copenhagen for a training ride. She looked at me like I had three heads. But equally, there are friends from Rapha Manchester where I ride that totally get why I’m doing it.

Is it particularly poignant that Mike Hall, founder and inspiration behind the Transcontinental, sadly lost his life competing in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race?

The news was really upsetting but, interestingly, made me want to ride my bike even more. And then, looking towards the Transcontinental, it was Mike’s race so it’s going to be a really special year to do it.

Your emotions when first hearing that you’d been given a place on the race?

I was obviously pleased but it seemed so far away that I almost didn’t have to immediately think about it. The reality of what I’d signed up for hadn’t really sunk in. And then I recently had another confirmation email from the Transcontinental team that prompted a little meltdown. Me worrying that I won’t be able to do it. But I feel I kind of needed that so that I could zero everything and decide what I’ve actually got to do.

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You’ve prepared for the Transcontinental by entering a series of long distance audax events and the Bryan Chapman Memorial ride during which you covered 600km in under 40 hours. What did you discover about yourself during these rides?

You have plenty of time for self-reflection on these types of events. Particularly during the Bryan Chapman when I discovered I’d forgotten to charge my Di2 [laughs]. But despite having no gears, the overnight rain and lack of sleep; I still finished it. That taught me I can be quite tough in difficult circumstances and that, mentally, I’m going to be alright. Even if I still need convincing on occasion.

How do you manage the more extreme aspects of this type of riding?

I’ve definitely had to train my body to survive on less sleep. Taking a little 10 minute power nap in a bus shelter during the overnight stretch on the Bryan Chapman was quite amusing. But it’s amazing what a difference it can make. You immediately fall into such a deep sleep that when you wake a few minutes later you feel ready to carry on. And I’ve been known to have a little cry here and there. But that’s just because my emotions are heightened due to tiredness. I’m not sad; quite the opposite. I’m happy to be out on the road. On the Copenhagen trip I found I could manage on 4 hours each night so, as training, I’ll take that to the Transcontinental.

This was the ride from London to Copenhagen in your role as a Rapha Ambassador. What goes through your mind spending such long days in the saddle?

It can depend on the route. One of the roads that skirted the North Sea was arrow straight and devoid of any interesting features apart from 28 wind turbines. I know that because I counted each one. Anything to break up the tedium. I ended up just plugging in my headphones and listening to music.

Have you considered what will be your biggest challenge?

Riding alone. All the audax events and the Copenhagen trip I’ve ridden with other people. But I’m happy with my own company and, when you break it down, it’s just a series of long rides. Only day after day without the usual gaps.


Alongside the endurance training you’ve undertaken, how have you prepared your bike in terms of equipment?

I’m riding my Giant Propel which might be totally inappropriate but I love it. It’s lightweight –  designed to race crits – but it’s never going to do that with me [laughs]. I ordered some new wheels with a dynamo hub and a good spoke count. A bigger cassette with a 32 as I’ll be climbing with a fully-loaded bike and I’ve gone tubeless. They are the future [smiles]. I’ve done over 3,500km on these tyres and only had one puncture. All those tiny little cuts that you pick up from glass in the road; with a traditional clincher it’s an instant flat but I just get a little bit of sealant leaking, keep pedalling and I’m fine.

Has your preparation required any practical testing?

Lots of riding. Discovering what works and what doesn’t. It’s like the aerobars I’ll be using. They probably give a small aerodynamic gain but, really, they just give me another position on the bike and take the weight off my wrists. It’s all about managing these aspects of comfort over long distances.

And clothing?

Rapha brevet bib shorts – they’re amazing – and a classic jersey. It’s really comfortable and has lots of room in the pockets for what I’ll be carrying on the bike. And I’ll be wearing my RCC climbers. Super light and reflective so there’s an added safety benefit on the road.

How will you manage navigation on the ride?

I’ve broken it down to individual 200km sections that I can sync to my Wahoo Elemnt. I’ll have to add that to my ‘to do’ list [laughs]. Charge Di2 and upload routes.

Aside from four compulsory checkpoints on the Transcontinental, the route mapping is down to you. What’s informed these decisions?

I started with an atlas which might seem rather old-school but it provides a useful overview of the route before I focus on individual sections. Rather than constantly zooming in and out on the computer screen, I can get a general sense of the direction I’ll be taking. But then I realised that this particular atlas didn’t include Romania; a country I’ll be travelling through [laughs].

What are you most looking forward to experiencing?

Finishing. Having a beer on my 27th birthday as that coincides with the finishing party. I’d quite like to get there for that.




Rapha Nocturne

As a medieval thoroughfare, Cheapside offered a conduit for farm produce to enter the city from Smithfield Market. Now superseded by digital ‘traffic’, this street in the shadow of St. Paul’s has nonetheless lost nothing of its commercial vigour. And on Saturday 10th June, the cowbells echoing off the shop and office frontages may have harboured a memory of Bow Bells but were calling the faithful to a more secular spectacle. The Rapha Nocturne was in town; bringing cycle racing to the very heart of the city.

Whilst the expectant crowds cheered the competitors under a cloudless blue sky – the running order drawing to a close with the floodlit elite men’s race – perhaps few would appreciate the 24 hour transformation set into motion after months of preparation and planning.

As the title sponsor, Rapha had a significant visual presence on the day. And as closing roads to traffic is understandably a time-sensitive task, the process of turning city streets into a race circuit began at dawn with the whole area once again cleared after the last competitor crossed the finish line.

After waiting for the ‘all clear’ from the event contractors tasked with placing barriers and laying power cables – takeout coffee, breakfast rolls and bike games helping to pass the time – emerging from two carefully packed vans was all that was needed to construct a pop-up clubhouse adjacent to the finish straight. With boxes of stock, display rails and shop fittings; the Nocturne t-shirt clad Rapha team set to work and kept on working. Right through to the van doors closing a little after midnight and the day’s end.






Conversation: Cath Litherland

Ride ambassador for Rapha Manchester, British Cycling employee and daily commuter by bike; it’s perhaps not an overstatement to suggest that cycling looms large in Cath Litherland’s life. Back at the clubhouse after leading a Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) group out to the east of the city centre in search of hills to climb, Cath explains why see rides.

Today’s ride was called ‘Yorkshire Hills’. Two words important to you?

Absolutely. I grew up in Holmfirth and know a good few hills in that neck of the woods. So, naturally, if I’m leading out of Manchester my default setting is to head east as I like a lumpy ride. Good hills, good company and a beeline for a cafe. Always a winner.

What is it about challenging yourself on the bike that’s so important to you?

I like to know what my limits are before pushing them a little bit further. In the hills, as I came to cycling from running, I understand how to be patient on a big climb and manage my effort.

Your toughest ride to date?

Paris Roubaix. Unquestionably. There’s nothing quite like it. The cobbles are so hard to ride and it’s just relentless. Sector after sector; you try and recover before hitting the next one. It’s brilliant and, 100%, I’m going back next year.


You regularly lead rides out of Manchester. Has joining the RCC changed how you ride?

My husband Ross and I both feel it’s made us stronger, better riders. We like the dynamic of a group that rides well together.

How would you respond if someone said they were nervous about joining the RCC?

I have been asked that. People I work with at British Cycling that cycle regularly but worry that the club will be too hardcore. And I had the same apprehensions. But I came down one Saturday and realised that it’s actually just a bunch of people that enjoy riding their bikes in a social setting. There’s a real mix of abilities and no one should worry about giving it a go.

As you’ve led rides such as Rapha’s Braver Than The Elements, what’s your take on the way women’s cycling is developing in the UK?

I know from my role at British Cycling that there’s continued interest from women new to the sport and I think this reflects the work that’s been done by the professional side of things in terms of supporting races, increased media coverage and equal prize money. And events such as Braver Than The Elements; they create opportunities for women to ride and provide a pathway for individuals, once they’ve got on a bike, to continue to grow and develop their skills in a supportive and social setting.

And riders that inspire you?

As I’ve ridden the spring classics quite recently, I respect anyone that can ride those races well. Those at the back of the race just as much as those taking the win. It’s an all round tough day in the saddle.


What bike do you ride?

A steel Genesis that’s perfect for the daily commute and a couple of Specialized – my brand of choice – for the weekend. I’ve got one of the new Roubaix bikes that I rode on the cobbles but it’s just as good if the road’s a little rough. Such a good bike.

If you had to sum up quite simply why you ride?

To push myself, really. I very much enjoy the social side with the club but I also like it when a ride gets difficult. I suppose that’s why I enjoy climbing hills so much. They’re not always easy but I get a lot of satisfaction and self-confidence from giving them my best shot.

View Cath’s ‘RCCMCR Yorkshire Hills’ route here


HOTN ‘up North’

Riders from Rapha Manchester rolled out on the morning of Sunday 9th April to pay tribute to Paris Roubaix. Taking in a mixture of gravel paths and cobbled lanes to the south of the city, the 50 mile ride included the iconic climbs of Swiss Hill and Beeston Brow before returning to the clubhouse in time to witness the race leaders enter the Roubaix velodrome.

One of the ‘Monuments’ of the European professional race calendar, the race has been contested a total of 117 times since its inaugural run in 1896. Commonly referred to as the ‘Hell of the North’; this appellation acknowledges not only the challenges of racing over sections of cobblestone pavé but the First World War battlefields the route crosses.

With the Manchester tribute comprising six sectors of varying degrees of difficulty – the cobbled climbs peaking at a challenging 25% gradient – recently joined Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) member Hannah Davies reflected on the ride over a cold beer back at the clubhouse.

You’re quite new to the RCC?

I’d been riding for about two years – enjoying the Saturday Women’s Rides out of the Manchester clubhouse – but never considered joining a cycle club before.

Was there anything that put you off? A perception, maybe?

I did think that clubs looked very elitist from the outside. But then I rode the Rapha Women’s 100 last summer and everyone was so friendly that I just went from there.

And joined the RCC?

I wanted more options. More rides to go on. To ride in a mixed group with faster people so I could get stronger.

How do you find group riding?

I was a bit self-conscious at first and a little apprehensive. If you’ve not done this before it can be a little nerve-wracking but ride leaders like Sarah really help in developing these skills. You have to put your trust in the people you’re riding with. And there’s no way I would have done this ride on my own.

Were you looking forward to today?

To be honest I wasn’t, no. Just because I’d never ridden on cobbles before. I thought I couldn’t do it and I wouldn’t enjoy it. So I wasn’t keen.

But you still signed up for the ride?

Sarah didn’t really give me much choice [laughing].

And how did you find it?

It was ace. Some of the gravel paths early on, I was worried that I might come off but I was fine. And later, when we got to the climbs, it wasn’t the cobbles that were actually hard. It was the gradient.

How did you feel at the top?

I was elated. So pleased that I’d achieved it. But that’s why you ride, isn’t it? It’s a whole series of mini challenges that you complete. But I’ve never completed them all because I’m forever moving the goalposts and that’s what motivates me. I just feel I’m progressing with the club; I can see that I’m getting quicker. And cycling means so much to me. It keeps me sane; makes me feel happy.

Rapha Manchester

Rapha Cycling Club 

Rapha Cycling Club Road Race

Cars arrive after journeys that, for some, began in darkness. Race kit and bikes are unpacked as the queue for coffee starts to build; the mirrored finish of the espresso machine contrasting the worn edges and dulled paint of its mobile host. Flags are fluttering in the gusting wind and spots of rain prompt glances skywards as hopes for a dry race rest on breaks in the cloud.

In the early morning light – the sun is still low in the sky and not yet warming – figures stand hunched; bulked out by jackets that insulate the racing jerseys beneath. Drinks are cupped in both hands and conversation is quiet. Not yet the shouting of the course.

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Movement catches my eye as groups of riders, road gangs up from London, wheel to a halt. Faces fresh – the journey’s end punctuated by smiles and laughter – they dismount and layer bikes in stacks against the wall before quickly dispersing. Some joining the line for coffee, others into race HQ where their cleats clatter on the wooden floor. A table is standing at the far end bearing lists that await the re-ordering of the finish line. One name that, later in the day, will be above all others.

Riders sit in pairs, taking turns to fix race numbers, as wheels are checked and tyres inflated in the service area outside. The start draws near and a stillness falls as they retreat into themselves; thoughts turning to the race ahead. 7 laps of a rolling course the culmination of weeks of preparation. Breaks to be covered and strength conserved before the finishing line is crossed.

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The race briefing commences as marshals disperse to designated control points; they stand bright against the fields in signature pink. The finish line is measured, marked and banners unfurled. I can feel the anticipation building in the waiting spectators as the control car approaches signalling the end of the neutralised zone. And then the group is sighted, crossing the line as one but with individual goals. To last the course, to make the breaks, to finish with arms aloft. Hopes and expectations to be juggled with the whims of the road.

And then stillness again as the field disappears around a wooded bend in the road. Conversations, temporarily held, resume as we wait for another point of passing.

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As each lap is made, the field fractures as breaks form; some riders coasting to a halt – standing bent over bars with chests heaving – emptied. While others give chase – their efforts frozen in the lenses of the gathered crowd – before the ringing bell signals the final lap and one last opportunity to haul in the leaders.

And then, from around the final corner, we catch sight of a single rider. A quick glance behind to reassure before he slows to enjoy the moment; crossing the line having distanced the chasing groups. All effort temporarily eased as the sweep of the chequered flag wipes away feelings of fatigue. To then rest as others finish; groups forming at the roadside. Hunched figures – their helmets discarded – as stories are shared. Of the road and those that race.

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