Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Lets hear it for the women's Tour de France - by Donnons des Elles au Velo!

In exactly a month's time the Tour de France professional race will start, from the sunny town of Nice. Today, a group of around 13 women complete with support staff and team bus will set off from exactly the same place to do the same route of the Tour de France. This is the sixth year that the Donnons des Elles au Velo group are doing this challenge. Normally the stages are ridden one day ahead of the professionals, with the ride being known as J-1. However, with the issues around Covid-19 pandemic the ride is taking place one month ahead of the Amaury Sports Organisation race, and is known as M-1.

This crew of women will be tackling the route of this year's Tour de France

So the women have ahead of them around 3,500km of riding to do all around France over the next three weeks. Their ride is a way of showing solidarity to women's cycling, and is also part of the campaign for there to be a women's Tour de France.  

A women's Tour de France took place between 1984 and 1989, where the likes of Jeannie Longo, Maria Canins, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, and Mandy Jones competed. The race happened at the same time as the men's event, with them racing stages over the last 60km of the men's stage ahead of their arrival. They didn't race all 21 stages, as only selected stages were included in the women's race. Also the women were not professional racers, so many were not sponsored and did the racing more as a hobby. When I recently interviewed Maria Canins and Jeannie Longo for an article I wrote for Rouleur magazine they both had fond memories of that era.

After the women's Tour de France ended it was replaced by a 10-day women's stage race around France, given different names - notably La Grande Boucle Feminine. However, those races were no longer part of Amaury Sports Organisation, and given that these races took place at a separate time of the year from the professional Tour de France race, women's racing happened largely under the radar.

So Donnons des Elles au Velo, by doing this M-1 ride are joining the chorus of people from different corners who would like to see a women's Tour de France be restored. At the moment, there is a one-day race, La Course. This year that will take place on the first day of the Tour de France, in Nice. However, many feel that having a stage race would be a more positive way for ASO to show its commitment to women's professional racing.

So, here we are in Nice with a group of motivated women about to ride their Tour de France feminin. It hasn't been an easy ride for them.

The route: 21 stages; 3443km; 6000m of climbing - a bit more than doing Surrey Hills!

Bear in mind that France went into lockdown for two months and they lived through a proper lockdown. People were only allowed to go out for one hour per day, and couldn't be more than 1km from their home. So that didn't bode well when trying to get in training rides.
A lot of rides were done on Zwift, plus a lot of Crossfit, virtual body toning classes, and a little bit of running. But admittedly, none of this can really replicate the 6,000km+ that people do as part of their preparation.

Furthermore, some were directly affected by the Covid-19 crisis as they were working on the front-line; or they even suffered from coronavirus themselves. Claire, the team leader lost her sense of taste and smell and experienced psychological effects from the disease too.

One of the team members, Caroline who lives in London managed to make the trip across to Nice, but her bike had still not arrived in France the day before the race! 

But despite all the various impediments and measures in place, the women finally made it to the start line, all rearing to go.

I will be following the fortunes of Donnons des Elles au Velo as the wend their way around France. I too, would like to see a women's Tour de France - though the form it would take would need to be carefully considered. My main motivation for following this M-1 ride is my interest in seeing how this group of women are able to inspire people through taking on such an onerous challenge against the inherent obstacles of a 3-week stage race plus the additional issues that we have today. 
The women come from all parts of France, and beyond, including the UK

You can follow the women's progress on their Facebook page. On their website you can find out more about them and sign up for free to ride individual stages with them. I will also be catching up with them to hear how they are getting on.

Photo Credits: Mickael Gagne and Marie Istil

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Saturday, 18 July 2020

Cycle route: Local gravel ride around South London-Croydon suburbs

Following on from my previous routes on road in the Kent/Surrey lanes, and a traffic-free route into Central London, I thought I would go off-road and share a route I like to do into the nearby trails. It is nice to get in a ride on some off-road trail, and some of them are nearer than you think.

An off-road ride need not be all about doing epic adventures along the South Downs or through the Surrey Hills (though admittedly they are fun). 

Sometimes, when pushed for time a ride just on local trails hits the spot for me. It is a kind of sweet spot as the trails are not particularly challenging technically, and even though I don't go far I can work up a sweat as there are usually one or two climbs, which can be a proper work-out if taken at pace.

And of course there's always an added bonus of riding around in nature, away from built-up areas and traffic. Funnily enough, the local trails are only within a couple of miles of Croydon but you really wouldn't know it.

One ride that I do goes out to Croham Hurst, on the edge of Selsdon, South Croydon. I start off from home and very quickly am in South Norwood Country Park and Nature Reserve. This is a place that was previously waste land, and sewage farm, but has been significantly spruced up in recent times. There are lots of walking and cycling trails, as well as a lake, popular with anglers.

From there I go around the Croydon Athletics Arena to go through Ashburton playing fields and Spring Park, which have a mini trail for cyclists. The first mini challenge is the climb up through Pine Wood where there are some tree roots to negotiate, though you can always wheel your bike if it's a bit too technical. 

At Croham Hurst

Opposite this area is Addington Hill, locally known as Shirley Hill. This is a great area for off-road riding and was previously used as a cyclocross venue in bygone days. However, there are some special pebbles on the ground among the heather which means that it is banned to cyclists. So I just make-do with going around the edge of it. Sometimes I do have the odd rebellious moment and ride over to the viewpoint, which has great vistas of London in the distance. It's worth the excursion, I'd say!

Once on the other side of Addington Hill the route drops towards Selsdon along a bridleway behind residential property, to then climb steeply to reach Croham Hurst.

This area of woodland is not very big, but there is a lot going on there, with many species of bird, insects and ancient woodland. So it is designated as a Special Site of Scientific Interest. When here, stick to the bridlepath and you'll be fine. Sometimes people from the Friends of Croham Hurst get a bit annoyed with cyclists who ride all over the trails. If in doubt just follow the horse poo, and you'll know you're on the bridleway!

Going up Conduit Lane

From these woods there's the option to turn round and return home via the steep bridleway known as Conduit Lane, and then pass through Coombe Woods and Lloyd Park. That makes for a short spin, but you do burn calories - especially when riding up Conduit Lane. 

It's not a given that I would be able to get up that path, especially as it can be a little loose or muddy, and require that bit more effort to get any forward motion on the 12% incline. One good thing about this is that it doesn't last long as the slope begins to level off just as you start thinking it's excruciating, and thereafter the bridleway is either flat or downhill. Then at the end, there is a cafe to reward your efforts and replenish those burnt calories!

Bear in mind that the ride through Lloyd Park is also slightly uphill so take your time over your break (if you've got time)! Once out of Lloyd Park the ride is in its closing stages and the route passes once again into Ashburton Playing Fields before returning to South Norwood Country Park. Given the size of this area and the abundance of trails you can extend your ride by doing a few loops of this area if you suddenly feel the urge to stay out for longer, without being too far from home.

Back in South Norwood Country Park

So in a nutshell, that is one way of getting in a 60-90 minute ride while burning a few calories, being in touch with nature, and away from the London hustle and bustle.

There are other variants for extending this ride, like going on to Little Heath Woods, Selsdon Nature Reserve, or on to Three Half-Penny Wood. I detail those routes in another post in the future.

This route, along with other local routes can be found on my Strava feed.  


Related posts

Cycle route: South London to Surrey and Kent Lanes

Cycle route: South London to Central London (mainly traffic-free)

Bike review: Canyon Grail WMN AL 7.0

Lockdown London brings out large number of cyclists

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Review: Just doing things with Rapha + Outdoor Voices jersey

It's all about just doing things

The latest offering from Rapha is a range of clothing that's a slight departure from the traditional designs. After a chance meeting with the American activity clothing company, Outdoor Voices while on a trip to Mallorca a couple of years ago, the two companies decided to collaborate's and design this cool range, Rapha + Outdoor Voices

Rather than the cycle wear that evokes hardcore bike riding (and suffering) on epic climbs in the Alps or ultra-distance rides from Paris to Brest, the Rapha + Outdoor Voices range is about doing more "normal things" like fun, recreational things and chilling with your mates.

In these times I haven't been doing much chilling with mates, but I certainly like to do leisurely things. I'm averse to suffering on my bike! So this range seems right up my street. I was sent a lightweight jersey (medium) and a support bra (large) to try out. 

Lightweight jersey

The jersey has a slightly rustic-looking terracotta shade, peppered with black and yellowish specks - something I associate more with doing leisurely things rather than hard-core racing. For me, the overall colour is soft on the eye, and probably a garment you can wear even when not cycling.

There's taping on the sleeve ends and pockets to help preserve the jersey's shape. I particularly like the layout of the pockets. There are the usual three rear pockets, with the middle pociket having additional capacity - a see-through pouch for a phone or other small item, and a detachable mini purse for coins.

On top of all that, you can unzip and open the whole of the pockets section to store a larger item like a waterproof jacket. It's very cleverly designed, with the idea that people have practical lives and aren't just nose to the handlebars racing. Yes, sometimes people want to stop, buy an ice cream and enjoy the scenery.

Rapha have kept their form of putting little slogans on the fabric, so inside this large pocket there is a tag saying, "Don't forget pump, tube, tire levers, snacks."!
All overarching this are the excellent wicking properties of the polyester/elastane fabric, which works well for me and kept me dry when things got a bit sweaty for me!

I found the lightweight fabric just right for the season. It felt soft on my skin and I could move around quite easily in it, especially on those moments where I had to stop and pick up or wheel my bike on certain trails.

The medium size fitted me okay, and medium is what I normally wear in Rapha jerseys. But I think that the cut in this range is slightly smaller than other Rapha jerseys, so I think a large would have given me a looser fit, which is how I generally prefer to wear jerseys. The lightweight jersey is available in dark green, pale blue and terracotta. £120

Support Bra

I took the large size support bra as I take a D/DD cup in bras normally. That was the right fit for me. However, bear in mind that having ample breasts doesn't always equate with ample size trunk/rib cage and so the bra covers the bust well, but may not be tightly snug around the trunk. So it might actually be better to get a size down if you are looking for that snugness. It comes down to personal preference. 

I like the fit of my bra, and I felt confident that it was doing it's job, even on those occasions that I cycled across rugged, bumpy terrain. The nylon/elastane/polyester fabric gives it excellent wicking properties, and the back-cut straps allows good freedom of movement. It also pairs with the bib shorts, though I don't have those, so I'll take their word for it! The bra is available in dark green and pale blue. £40

Overall Impression
To look at the clothing you wouldn't know that it is Rapha, unless you see the Rapha + Outdoor Voices branding on the inside seams on the neck or when the jersey is unzipped - or if anyone gets sight of the support bra in its full glory.

This has been a deliberate move by Rapha as a way to give a brand essence that is less intimidating for women who would like to get into cycling but without doing hard core, high performance activities. I think that's a good move as there is definitely a growth in the number of women cycling, and the profile of women cycling. So it is good to have something that can have a universal appeal.

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Friday, 26 June 2020

Bike review: Canyon Grail WMN AL 7.0

Following on from the Cube Nuroad gravel bike that I tested and reviewed for Cyclist, I have tested another gravel bike, the Canyon Grail women's bike. The Canyon Grail was first launched in 2018 as a carbon fibre version. Since then an aluminium version has become available, making it a more accessible price point, at £1,699, than the carbon fibre bike. The thought of a women-specific gravel bike was something to look forward to, particularly from a company that prides itself in researching women's geometry. 

However, I must say upfront that the geometry of this bike is no different from the men's bike, which is now referred to as a unisex bike.

The colours are different with his being silver, and hers being claret, and there is a women-specific saddle, the Sella Italia X3 Lady. A  comfortable saddle is useful, I guess.

Canyon marketing department have said that from their research, women riding a unisex gravel bike is less detrimental in its handling than when riding a road bike. When doing gravel riding the technical and changing nature of the terrain, as well as constantly changing speed means that the positioning and the handling on this bike varies, so a women-specific geometry becomes less important than on a road bike. 

As a company they have taken women's measurements across a wide range of women of varying shapes and sizes, and have found that the unisex measurements caters to this range. So the stem of the bike is shorter than would be expected and the reach for a man and a woman of the same height would be the same, where normally the women-specific bike would have had a shorter reach.

So, that's the explanation regarding the lack of women-specificity in the women's Grail. It's not so much a case of shrink it and pink it, but just be bold and burgundy.

That aside, the fit of the Grail was fine for me when I took it out on my local trails and I found that the reach and the width of the handlebars were perfectly fine. 

The bike came with 40mm tyres on 700c wheels, which is standard for gravel bikes. 

The frame does allow clearance for wider tyres though, if you prefer something fatter to allow for lower tyre pressures and a more comfortable ride. 

You can also put on smaller, 650b wheels and get even wider tyres on the smaller sized frames. This also avoids the possibility of your toe overlapping the wheels when negotiating twisty trails. 

It is recommended that to get the best fit with tubeless tyres it is good to have the same make of valves and rims - in this case DT Swiss. And the Schwalbe G-One tyres seem to be the most popular tyres used on these types of bikes and in the Canyon Grail this is no exception. 

Still on the subject of wheels, the rims come ready to fit tubeless tyres - recommended when doing gravel riding as punctures simply repair themselves and there are no annoying interruptions to deal with punctures during the bike ride.

When pedalling along I was struck at how smooth and reactive the bike felt. At 9.37Kg the bike is lighter than the Nuroad that I tried, but is not the lightest gravel bike. It is more mid-range in terms of weight. 

However, the groupset on the bike, a Shimano GRX810 helps in the pedalling and smoothness of the ride, as this new groupset is specially designed for gravel bikes. 

This gearing is an 11-speed 11x34 cassette with the double 30/46 chainring. That's a good range of gears to get up the short sharp ramps that I crested on local trails in Surrey and Kent.  

As mentioned earlier, the saddle is the cut-away Selle Italia X3 Lady. For me, this saddle was comfortable and did the job. I would recommend it, but I know that saddle comfort is a personal thing for each rider. 

There are mounts to put on mudguards if you don't want too much of a splattering off-road or on-road.

The one gripe that I do have is the lack of means to carry luggage. Bike packing is quite fashionable, and so with that there is space to put a rack - though it is limited space. One rack that is recommended is the Tailfin, though it would be a case of shopping around to see what other racks fit. 

As someone who is more used to old-school panniers there are no mounts for this type of carrier mechanism, which is a shame. And putting a seatpost rack on, is not ideal given that it is made of carbon fibre.
I would therefore be interested to know how others do bike packing with the Grail. 

Overall, the "women's" Canyon Grail was a comfortable, enjoyable ride. and felt like a bike I could depend on as I went around the Surrey bridleways and woodlands. The disc brakes and smooth changes across the wide range of gears meant that I had the tools needed to deal with varied, undulating trails.

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Saturday, 20 June 2020

Cycle route: South London to Central London (mainly traffic-free)

As more and more people take to two wheels, particularly around London, I wanted to share a route I took last Sunday when going from my local area, Crystal Palace, to central London.

On Blackfriars Bridge

This is a route that a lot of people will take, particularly if are among those who don't work from home, and therefore must travel to their place of work in London. Others may even just want to go to London for a recreational visit, stroll around the royal parks, go shopping, or meet a friend - in a socially distant way of course!

Quite a lot of people talk about how dangerous it is, how there are too many cars, how cycling unfriendly London is.... Well, I took this route and I was quite happy with it. It's a route I would recommend to anyone who wants to cycle into London. It's around 10 miles, goes along quiet roads, segregated cycle paths, and through parks. You can even do the route at a leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery and landmarks that London has to offer.

For this ride I rode an E-Bike, the Liv Thrive E+, which I have been riding of late, to get around London and beyond. It's been so useful to have it - including for me, as someone who also does training rides. Sometimes it's just nice to have a bike that can give me a little bit of assistance after a training session, especially when getting out of hilly Crystal Palace while I'm a bit pooped!

Leaving Crystal Palace

The first section of the ride takes me across Betts Park in Anerley, and onto Maple Road to reach Penge. Going up through Penge is where the climbing starts. It is possible to ride up through Crystal Palace Park to reach the top of the hill, though I stayed on the main road as there is a wide enough strip marked out for cyclists, and the road is wide enough to accommodate motorists and cyclists.

The top of the road near the junction and mini roundabouts has a bus lane, and cycle paths to get you across the junction to turn right for the descent along College Road. 

In Edward Alleyn's backyard

College Road is very popular with cyclists of all ages and levels. And on this sunny Sunday there were many riders out and about. Given that part of it is a toll road, there are fewer motorists than on other roads. Just beware of the speed bumps!

Dulwich Village
College Road and Dulwich College, on that road, are two well-known features that form part of The Dulwich Estate, founded by the actor and friend of William Shakespeare, Edward Alleyn in 1619. 

This guy was big in Dulwich, having set up the Estate as a charity to provide education for underpriviledged children through its various schools - including Dulwich College and Alleyn School. 

A number of roads and a pub are named after Edward Alleyn. The Estate owns a large amount of land and property, including Herne Hill Velodrome. Between interests like the tolled College Road, income from rented properties and leased land, the Dulwich Estate has the means to keep the listed buildings of Dulwich Village and the surrounding areas looking immaculate. 

Once at the bottom of College Road I reach Dulwich Park, another stretch of land originally owned by Edward Alleyn. These days the Grade II listed park is run by Southwark Council, and I must say it's always a pleasure to stop by there. 


Onwards from Dulwich Village, my route goes to East Dulwich, where there is a traffic-free cycle path called Green Dale. It is a steady climb up to Denmark Hill, where you cross the road, go through some back streets to reach Ruskin Park - named after the artist and painter John Ruskin who later settled in the Lake District.

South London massive

Very soon I am at the large medical teaching and research centre, King's College Hospital. From here there is a distinct ambiance of being in "urban London", as some of the tall buildings of the city come into view. The route goes through the back streets of Camberwell, Myatts Fields, and Kennington, to reach Elephant & Castle roundabout.

This junction used to instil fear into most cyclists, and was sadly the scene of a number of cyclist fatalities. Thankfully, following a £25m overhaul of the roundabout, including improving the cycle lanes and quiet ways around there by the Mayor of London, you can cross the junction safely.

Elephant & Castle is the first place where you find a segregated cycle superhighway, and in fact from here on in, the route is largely traffic-free as there are various segregated cycle paths to use. This path leads to Lambeth, near Westminster Bridge, though I turn right before that onto a spur road to St George's Circus, where I reach the extensive Cycle Superhighway (known as CS6) that goes to Clerkenwell, via Blackfriars Bridge. 

This is a nice and wide that allows two-way traffic for cyclists, complete with cycle-specific traffic lights too. On a working day huge numbers of riders snake up and down this path and, dare I say it, even a bit of commuting racing going on!

Welcome to Westminster

At the end of Blackfriars Bridge a left-hand turn gets me onto another Cycle Superhighway along the River Thames to Westminster. It's an iconic stretch giving views synonymous with the famous London skyline - South Bank, the London Eye, Big Ben (once they remove the scaffolding)!

On The Mall - traffic-free on a Sunday
From Westminster a system of traffic lights takes me across to the different lanes on Parliament Square, and into Great George Street to reach St James's Park and Buckingham Palace. 

With segregated cycle paths either side of this Royal Park - along Birdcage Walk and parallel to The Mall you are spoilt for choice. 

On a Sunday, the day I was there, the choice was even better as The Mall is traffic-free on this day and on bank holidays. 

So you can happily ride up the main carriageway and dodge around walking tourists rather than London taxis!

My route then goes up the path next to Constitution Hill, to reach Hyde Park Corner. Some cyclists who like a challenge will ride along the main carriageway of this busy junction, mixing it with London traffic as it whizzes around Wellington Arch. However, most people will use the crossings that take cyclists, pedestrians, and horse-riders safely across the thoroughfare to enter Hyde Park.

Park Life

On entering Hyde Park you can either turn left to ride along the segregated lane on South Carriage Drive, turn left into another parallel cycle path that goes towards Rotten Row, go straight on along the shared use path known as the Broad Walk, or do what I did and take the new segregated cycle path that goes along Park Lane. This is one of many pop-up cycle lanes that were quickly built as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, designed to entice more people to travel by bicycle rather than crowding out public transport.

This path is slightly narrower than the permanent cycle superhighways in London but it is still functions well, and I must say it is better than putting up with the sharp bumps on the parallel Broad Walk. The path ends at Marble Arch, from where you can end your journey there and head into the shops and cafes nearby Oxford Street.  

Hyde Park, near the Serpentine Gallery and Lake
I'm not big on shopping so I just continued through the park along North Carriage Drive and got onto the segregated path that took me past the Serpentine Gallery and the lake, and down towards Knightsbridge.

Made in Chelsea

I exited Hyde Park via South Carriage Drive, near the opulent Mandarin Oriental Hotel, to pedal through the back streets of Belgravia to reach Sloane Square. Like Dulwich, which has a lot of places named after Edward Alleyn, this area is named after the main landowners, the Cadogan family and the Grosvenor family (surname of the Duke of Westminster). 

Quiet roads and little mews with luxury cars parked outside are the characteristic feature around here. Yes, there is a car culture, but the cars seem more for show than to actually drive around - which suits me fine when I'm trying to get from A to B on my bike! Eventually, I emerge at the bustling Sloane Square, and stop to enjoy a light snack on the benches before heading home via Pimlico, Vauxhall Bridge, and Oval.

My total distance door-to-door was just over 40 km (25 miles), though the ride from South London into Central London is around 16km (10 miles). If you don't want to ride home it is possible to jump on a train (while remembering to take a face covering or mask) at Charing Cross or Victoria Stations to get back to South London. 

This was a very pleasant bike ride for me. I feel blessed to have so many cycle lanes to take me into and around Central London, and be able to ride around some of the most famous places in the world.

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Tuesday, 16 June 2020

52 Cycling Voices (in the time of coronavirus) - 30: Elle Linton

I first got to know Elle Linton through the women's facebook chat group, Velovixen, when the women were discussing taking part in the Velobants CX in the City Cyclocross race last year. Cyclocross was relatively new to her, but she was really keen to take part. She has enjoyed it so much that she wants to get more involved, and is even hoping to become a cyclocross commissaire. Elle talked to me about how she got into cycling, and her views on having a more diverse population involved in cycle sport.

credit: Josie Copeland

Elle Linton, aged 35

From: Barbados

Lives: Loughton, Essex

Fitness professional

I always cycled as a kid. In those days it was very much a sense of freedom and was a way to get to people’s houses to hang out and just enjoy being outdoors. Then as I got older it wasn’t fashionable to be cycling so it kind of went by the wayside.

As an adult, when I was about 28 I found myself in a new role in retail and one of my colleagues cycled. Realising I was living quite close to work I figured it would be more reliable to ride than to get public transport, so eventually I got back into cycling, as a commuter.

My colleague then told me about a track day at Lea Valley Velodrome. At that point I’d never even seen a track, so when I went there I was scared because I didn’t know that it went on an incline. Although I enjoyed the experience, I can’t say that I loved it. Then my friend suggested we ride to Richmond Park. I was like, "Why would I want to do that? What’s at Richmond Park?" We we,nt anyway, but the ride didn’t go to plan as we got punctures and pedals broke, though we made it there in time to do one lap and come back. However, that sense of sharing a common interest, and having someone to guide you to explore cycling was what got me back into cycling as a sport, three or four years ago.

Our next cycling challenge was a ride to Paris by ourselves over three days, and so I needed to find other people to train with. I joined Breeze and did some of their rides.  

At a cyclocross race in Milton Keynes

I am not in a traditional club. That’s probably an area where I’ve struggled with in cycling – finding a club that I felt confident enough to rock up to and join. The closest I've got to riding with a club was when I joined Dirty Wknd, which is more like an on-line cycling club. As their rides took place in East London close to where I live, I did some rides with them, and led a few too. 

Dirty Wknd is an exception to the rule, as on my first ride with them there were more women than men. That was not something I was expecting, and everyone I met on those rides was welcoming and friendly, so it was a really great first experience. That’s probably what makes it harder for me to attempt to look for another club. 

Dirty Wknd attracts a diverse, non-white crowd of people, though not really any black people. I don't really know why. I guess to start with, I live in a very white area in Essex. My friends are of mixed cultures and races but the majority of the people I spend time with are not black, and my black friends do very little exercise - so cycling is not something that we would talk about.

I felt comfortable riding with the Dirty Wknd group because there were many women. I never really focussed on whether they were black or not. 
It was only when I went to organised events, where I would be the only black person there, and sometimes the only woman that I would wonder if I had turned up at the wrong place! 

Then when I was going to other similar events I became self conscious because everybody knew me – not because I was a great rider, but because I stood out so much.  It wasn't such a problem for me. In a way, I feel lucky that I have come from a background where this is completely normal for me. Being from very much a white area I think I’ve just become used to that feeling of being the only black person in the room, so I am desensitized.
credit: Josie Copeland

However, I imagine, though I can't speak for everyone, that a person of colour who is used to hanging around a lot with other black people or in an area where there are a lot of black people around them would feel a bit strange.

I enjoy the cycling world, but there have been times when I felt certain feelings after particular situations and I don’t know whether what I was feeling was because of the colour of my skin or if  I was being paranoid

For example, last September I did a cyclocross race and the whole event was amazing. The only downside was something that happened while we were doing warm-up laps and we were going over the hurdles. Not being very experienced, I got off my bike, lifted it over the hurdles and got back on. I was on the very left of the lane, this guy came careering around the corner, tried to bunny hop over the hurdles and came off his bike. His reaction was to verbally abuse me. I was obviously a little bit perturbed. I realised later that if I had reported him, he could have been disqualified.

There was an incident in another cyclocross race where they started the women one minute ahead of the men, and inevitably I got overtaken by them. This guy was coming up behind me and shouted, "on your left" so I moved to the right but he came up on the right and knocked me off my bike. 

This was my first crash in cyclocross. He jumped up off the ground, pulled me up and asked if I was okay. At the end of the event, while I was standing with my friend, the guy came up to me and asked if that was me that he knocked off the bike. And I was thinking, "well yes that was me – you mean you couldn’t tell, given I was the only black woman in this race and there were only 10 women in the whole thing?" I just don’t know what’s behind why he came up to me like that; I’m certainly not one to say he was racist, but I found it strange.

Overall, I enjoy cycling and I like doing cyclocross, especially in the winter when the roads are cold and wet. Cyclocross seems like a fun way to stay active during the winter months without having to spend hours on the bike. Last year I did a race in Campbell Park, Milton Keynes which had a record number of women - 160+ - on the start line. It was something magical. I had never seen that many people on a start line for a 'cross race, never mind a women's race. The course was challenging, but had just the right balance of technical stuff. I was exhausted when I crossed the finish line, but happy to have been involved in the day, and to have surpassed my goals.

I think with cycling, people just take it very very seriously no matter what level they’re at, and that doesn't always make it an inclusive space for others to learn or improve.

Elle is determined to be what she didn't see

What keeps me in cycling is that I’m determined to be what I didn’t see. I never had many women around to show me that cycling is for me, and that’s women on the whole – not specifically women of colour. Cycling has now become more popular with women, but I wonder why BAME women have not taken up the sport.

At school I was heavily encouraged to do athletics. I was just pidgeon-holed into athletics. Even when I tried to get into rowing there were situations that told me that rowing was not for me. It was the same with cycling, though I did pass my cycling proficiency test. 

I think one of the issues is that with cycling, and especially in areas of deprivation, schools may not want to encourage this sport because it would just highlight the inequalities of families who don’t have the money to buy their kids a bike, while those families with money can buy a brand new bike every year for their children. 

Also I feel that part of that comes down to the stereotypes that we have of what sports black kids should do, or what sports black kids are good at. I grew up thinking that me not being able to swim well was because I as black. I’ve seen all the jokes about black people being too heavy to swim. So that was not a sport that I considered doing until I was 30.

Mind you, I relaxed my hair for over 20 years and I didn’t want to get it wet when swimming. So the minute that I had natural hair, and could wash and let it dry by itself, swimming became completely feasible. So really, it’s not always down to the fact that there might be bias or racism that stops people doing cycling. There are also cultural things that are impeding black women from doing certain sports.

I became a Liv Cycling UK Ambassador after doing a collaboration with them, testing out some of their kit. Then I borrowed a mountain bike from them when I first got into cyclocross in 2018, which I really enjoyed. This was after I had approached them and said "I like your kit and I really feel that if you’re going to stand for women you also need to stand for diversity. I am willing to work with you guys to do that." 

I am one of those people who doesn’t mind putting myself forward like that. I recognise that not everyone is able to do that and I also don't expect everyone to even care about representation. But for those who want to see it, I am willing to put my face out there and start the conversation. 

I also started training to become a cyclocross commissaire last September. I might be the first black cyclocross commissaire in the country, which is slightly funny. Volunteering and giving back to sport had been one of my goals for last year as I realised how many volunteers give up their time to make these things happen. So becoming a commissaire seemed like a way to do that. It also just allows me to be there for any women who want to have conversations about race. The official side of cycling does lack representation from women, especially BAME women.

They say you can’t be it if you can’t see it, so I just kind of feel like there’s no reason why, especially in London there aren't people doing organisational roles in sport. I saw a statistic that showed that of the top 12 sports in the country there’s only one black person on the leadership board of all of these sports in the whole of the UK. I really want to know what is stopping a non-white person from getting there.

One of the comments raised in response to that is that people should be awarded these roles on merit and experience. I agree with that. I am not saying to just give roles to non-white people for the sake of it, but I think the deeper question is why are people not able to get into a position of having the experience or expertise? 

credit: Josie Copeland

I think that it has to start with grass roots stuff. I think if you have more kids who are transitioning to teenagers, and to adults who are cycling and encouraged to cycle, eventually you will have greater diversity in adult cycling and hopefully more people willing or able to have opportunities above just participation. I don’t think this is a quick fix. It'll take a long time to change things. 

These days I work as a fitness coach, something I am really passionate about. It all started after I graduated from university with an Exercise Science Degree in 2006. A friend and colleague encouraged me to get the practical qualifications needed to take part in a project to get university aged women active. Through that project, I found I had a passion for delivering fitness classes and it became a staple in my weekly life alongside my full-time role at the time.

My classes are varied and include kettlebells, core stability, foam rolling, HIIT, etc. I also have a blog about healthy living.

While doing my job as a fitness coach I also studied for an MSc in Management & Business Innovation at Birkbeck College. It was really difficult to juggle everything, so I had to be ruthless with my schedule and prioritise. My own fitness just about made it onto the list, and cyclocross kept me ticking over. 

Coronavirus meant that I lost my face-to-face work, but I took the initiative early on, and created my own on-line offering of fitness classes. It's meant I've been able to bring in income whilst enjoying what I love. Also, I have finally made peace with Zwift, and love connecting with riders from further afield than where I would normally meet people. 

I did get sick for a while at the end of last year, with something that felt like coronavirus. It wasn't, and I feel more normal now than I did during those months. Lockdown has given me the space and time I needed to think and allow me to go back to basics with my cycle, running, and general fitness training.   

I've had some tough moments these last few months, but overall, I'd say I've thrived in what has now become a digital world. 

Elle's blogKeep it simpElle 

Twitter: X_eLle_S

Instagram: ellelinton

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Monday, 8 June 2020

Keeping fit in the time of coronavirus - fighting off the lockdown lovehandles!

Prior to the coronavirus lockdown, which does seem like many moons ago, I would go to my local sports centre at Crystal Palace and do body toning classes and swimming. 
I also regularly went to Breeze Yoga, in Beckenham where I did a lot of different yoga and pilates classes. Doing these classes was very useful for keeping my body in shape and reducing the chance of injury from the cycling and running I do.

So, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the closure of sports centres one Friday afternoon about three months ago, the first thing I did was to dash out for one final yoga class before the centre closed.

Although there has since been an easing of the coronavirus measures, sport centres still remain closed. 

However, I have not let that stop me from continuing with my fitness regime. I refuse to let this coronavirus pandemic be a reason for a loss of fitness, or a sudden weight gain. Apparently, people have been eating and notably drinking more than usual these days, and I am determined to not fall into doing that.  

I have kept in mind the fact that this time, more than any other time is the moment to stay healthy. If all hands are to the pump dealing with coronavirus casualties in the hospitals then that would restrict the availability of doctors. (I have already had a few hospital appointments cancelled because of the pandemic.)

Furthermore, studies have shown that overweight or obese people are more likely to die from coronavirus than slimmer people. My body mass index is some way off being overweight, but in a two-three month period during these extraordinary times, extraordinary things can happen! 

In any case, a hospital setting is the last location I'd want to be in at this moment in time. I definitely want to follow the government's advice to stay home - or is it stay alert - whatever! 

So during this period I have kept a routine as much as possible and have kept fit in following ways:

Cycling - luckily, unlike other countries the government did allow us to go out and take exercise - one form of exercise per day. So I would usually do a local 15-mile loop in the Surrey lanes, or I would do a 20-mile loop in Kent. I even managed to get over to London's mecca for cycling, Richmond Park, before they closed it to cyclists.

Because I was busy writing at home and doing my freelance writing work, I treated each day like a working day, so as a rule I could not spend all day riding my bike, apart from on bank holidays. For the Easter bank holiday I cycled to Harrow via a scenic route through South-West and North-West London - a handy trip as I actually managed to find eggs, which were in short supply at the time. 

For the May Day Bank holiday I cycled to St Albans and back - the government were saying the public transport should only be used for essential journeys, so I resisted the temptation to get on the Thameslink back to South London! In any case that was a nice day as I passed through various villages and suburbs where people were having VE Day anniversary celebrations in their gardens. 

For the Spring Bank Holiday I cycled to Hampstead Heath, and did a trail run around the heath. (By then there was no limit to how many outdoor activities we could do.) Hampstead Heath is lovely, by the way. Even though there were countless people outside, it was still possible to do social distancing there as there are so many hidden areas in the woods and in the bushes! 

Every few weekends I liked do an extended ride to add a bit of variety, and have something to look forward to.

Running - at this time, the running I do would normally have been training in preparation for a big event like a marathon or half-marathon. So running without having any event in mind was a little strange. So again, I tried to vary things by giving a theme to my runs - maybe including as many parks as possible in my itinerary, or hills or combining my runs with skipping. Quite a few of my runs were done as part of my errands. So I would run to my allotment to water the crops. I would combine my run with a trip to a supermarket that had no queue, or had flour in stock. Those runs ended up being quite long! Whatever, it was a way to keep me motivated - and it worked.

Skipping - As mentioned, I would sometimes combine this with my runs. But I also do stand-alone skipping sessions. Skipping is something I have done on-and-off since I was a teenager. There's nothing like a good few minutes of jumping with the rope to get the heart-rate up, and to keep my legs, bottom and arms in shape. Many years ago, when I first lived in Paris I couldn't afford to join a gym so as a way to keep fit I bought a skipping rope for 5 Francs (It was a long long time ago!). 

I would start each day by doing a 15-minute session in the courtyard of the flats where I lived, before going to work. I did get some odd looks from the neighbours and there was a grumpy old woman who stood there cursing me because I was being "too noisy"! But it was lots of fun, and it's still something I enjoy doing today. A rope is the ideal exercise accessory as you don't need to do it for long in order to stay in shape, you need very little space, and you can take it with you when travelling. 

If we had had the same strict lockdown measures in place as what were in France, Spain and Italy, skipping would have been my go-to exercise.   

Yoga - This one was a bit trickier for me because this is a comparatively new activit for me, so I am not such a yoga connoisseur that I can remember all the moves. Also, as it was mainly hot yoga I had been doing, it wasn't something I really had access to in my home - although I do have a fire in my living room!

But anyway, using a yoga mat that was bought for me as a Christmas present from a family friend, I set about doing a few asanas that I found on-line and have managed to practice a few of those regularly - mountain pose, warrior, triangle, dancer, tree, eagle, boat, vinyasa flow. In fact doing them on my own I found that I would do them slower to make sure that I was going through the moves correctly, and I have been holding the poses for longer than I would in the group classes. It actually made me more out-of-breath than I would usually be - or am I just less fit!

Hula hooping - Like with skipping, I like to add something "fun" into the mix. I have had a hula hoop for a few years now but I still feel like I have a lot to learn about it - mainly because I was rubbish at it as a child, and had embarrassed myself doing it badly in front of others in the PE classes when the teacher got us to do it. That sort of thing stays with you. 

But now I am free to make a fool of myself with it in the comfort of my own home! I am not so bad with it now and can even manage 5, even sometimes 10 minutes of continuous hooping in an anti-clockwise direction (I've yet to learn clockwise). Just doing those few minutes though is enough to get a workout and keep my waist in shape. So I make sure to do that a few times a week. Though don't expect to see me at any group hula hooping classes once things are back to normal!
So, in a nutshell, these have been my main activities. There are some conventional things mixed with some fun, novelty things to stop it from being monotonous. I also have rollerskates and pogo stick jumping on stand-by in case we go into lockdown number two and I get bored!  
I note that many folks have gotten into doing exercises on-line - whether it's a fitness regime with Joe Wicks or yoga class over Zoom. These sorts of classes have been great for many, and proven to be really popular. But I must admit I am old skool, and just prefer to do stuff at a time of my choosing to my own music and my own rhythm. It has been a way to work on my own sense of discipline and, dare I say it, routine. In any case, I haven't got my head around exercising in front of my computer camera! And in any case I don't especially want the whole world to see my untidy living room! 

All said and done,  I am pleased to have been able to maintain a fitness regime, and I am even pleased to be among that group of folks who have actually lost weight during lockdown. So whatever I am doing seems to be working. It aint broke, so I won't try to fix it! I hope people find one or two useful tips from here.