“Still biking Grant?” is a question I’ve been asked many times throughout my life, by friends or different people that I’ve met along the way. Riding a bike has been such a big part of what I do, it’s hard to imagine it not being the case. I think it’s the momentum, freedom and just being outside that I love so much. Although I started off in MTB, road cycling has become the main focus in recent years. Along with Emma (my sidekick for 14 years), our passion for road riding and the mountains has grown and grown since our first ascent of L’Alpe d’Huez in 2004. We’ve developed what we like to think of as a cycling partnership and we hope that “Still biking?” is going to be a question that we’re asked for many years to come.
What is Stillbiking?
Stillbiking is simply a place that allows us to share our cycling related experiences in words and pictures. We love reading about what other like-minded folks are up to…..cyclists, lovers of the outdoors, foodies, athletes etc. So we hope it will help to create ideas or inspiration for rides, places to visit etc. We’d also love to hear about other people’s experiences, so feel free to leave comments on the blog posts.
Cycling has enabled us to either meet or learn about some fabulous people. There have been many instances when a ride has become a little longer, or a new climb visited due to being inspired by friends, or someone embarking on what seems like an incomprehensible challenge.
The stabilzers (training wheels) had gone from being on both sides of my tiny blue Raleigh bike, to one side only. Within a week or so, I was at the point where a steady hand from either mum or dad was all that was needed to create the momentum, and catch me if the balance disappeared. I can still remember the damp summer evening in a flat, quiet country lane when the skill of balance clicked and I was off down the road with my mum and dad jogging along behind me. I was on my way……
My early stages of cycling were quite different than a lot of my pals. A close friend of the family was an avid road cyclist, so I assume this prompted my mum and dad to buy me a road bike, or racer as they tended to be known back then. Mine was a black Peugeot with ten gears. I was about seven at the time, and was full of enthusiasm to head out with my dad and his friend, cycling into the local lanes and even to the edge of the Peak District, where the steep climbs started in earnest.
Time moved on, trends changed, and I was lucky enough to win a Raleigh Burner in a competition run by Weetabix breakfast cereal. I was so excited about this prize and it seemed to take forever to arrive. BMX was what kids did, and I loved it. The obsession involved either riding, bike fixing, collecting various scars, and finding places to practise tricks. BMX Action Bike magazine was my fuel for inspiration, and I would scour the pages looking for Freestyle tricks to learn, or components to save for. It was a fabulous time.
The desire to cycle ebbed away for a few years, until I found the need to create something that I could do myself without planning or arranging anything, I knew cycling could give me this. A ride can be so enjoyable and it’s simply grab the bike and go. To make it happen, I bought a second hand mountain bike. It turned into a little project, I sanded the frame, my friend sprayed it purple, and few new parts were added. It broke a lot and was quite useless, but I loved being out and about finding as many trails as possible, within any bits of woodland and countryside close to home.
I was getting keen again, and was riding a couple of times during the week and doing a longer ride at the weekend. One weekend I bumped into a couple of guys who were looking to ride the same trails I was heading for. We did the ride together, and this was the start of a longstanding friendship. This prompted trips to different locations and the occasional organised event. A group of cycling friends had now formed and I had replaced the rather creaky “purple pile” with a fantastic Cannondale Delta V mountain bike. I was beginning to develop a real love for mountain biking.
Although my family did not have a great deal of money, they always seemed to find a way of creating weekends away or holidays. My dad is also quite nomadic, so watching the world go by out of the back of a creaky car or camper van was part of growing up. Maybe these were some of the ingredients that created the desire to visit, what I think are wonderful places.
There have been times when I could not see a way of achieving some of these ambitions, and frustration would sometimes set in. Thankfully the potential to blend Mountain biking and travel had taken shape, and there was now a basis to create some adventures. A lot of the inspiration for places to visit was from Mountain Bike Magazines published in America. A good friend had a similar desire to ride some of the trails we were reading about. The mountains of Canada and America beckoned.
The first mountain bike trip was to Canada in 1998. We headed to Vancouver, and visited its North Shore, A forest area that had become known for its own style of Mountain Biking. We also got to ride in Squamish, and had exploring some of the trails in the area around Banff. The whole trip was created by myself and Phil, a good friend who I had met as my mountain biking developed. There were things we did not get quite right, but overall, it was a fabulous experience and fuelled the desire for more.
Further mountain bike trips followed. These focused on America, and Phil and I rode in Moab, Brian Head, Durango and Crested Butte. With a little bit of careful planning, we were also able create sight seeing visits to places like the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Las Vegas and the Arches National Park. Sometimes the bike rides and travel felt exhausting, but as soon as a moment came to reflect on the experiences, I recognise that they were fabulous. I am so thankful that the opportunity to head out and do these things arose.
Indoor Cycling or Spinning was something that became part of my cycling. I particularly enjoyed heading to a class when the weather or road conditions were making a ride outdoors neither an appealing or safe option. After attending a number of Spin sessions, an opportunity arose for me to instruct one of the classes, I could not resist giving it a try. The first attempt felt so exhausting, but I enjoyed it too. Presenting the classes was something I really wanted to achieve and do well. I participated in much of the instructor training that was available at the time, and went to numerous events. This was really beneficial, as I learned a lot and developed the confidence and knowledge to present classes, to different people with varied goals and levels of health and fitness. I worked as a part time indoor cycling instructor for over ten years and eventually become one of the small number of Schwinn Cycling’s Gold Level instructors.
I think a desire to be out on the bike more, and the general buzz during the Lance Armstrong era prompted me to buy a reasonable road bike. Mountain biking was still a firm favourite, but the road bike created greater potential to head out from the front door and ride in the extensive network of country lanes that we have in this area. I really started to enjoy the road cycling option, and through riding more, I developed friendships with many people with varied road related experience. As the road rides had reasonable consistency, a group ride soon took shape. This was made up of friends who cycled, and in many instances, also came to my Spin classes. I am pleased to say that this group ride has remained consistent, years on from when it began.
As my enthusiasm for road riding developed, I started buying books and magazines dedicated to this form of cycling. I also began to follow many of the televised races. This prompted a desire to ride some of the places these races visited. The mountains looked magnificent! Many of the iconic climbs that feature in the Tour de France had become well known and feature high on the list of “must rides” for many cyclists. Emma and I created a two week trip to France as our summer holiday of 2004. Our first holiday abroad together! The first week was in the Alps, the second in Brittany, where Emma’s sister lives. It was a great holiday and it really triggered a desire to head back to experience more of France’s fabulous cycling and lifestyle. Many trips have followed since, seeing us head to the French and Italian mountains to ride. The adventures to Europe’s high mountains continue to be the main focus of mine and Emma’s cycling. It’s addictive!
What I love about cycling is the number of strands of interesting areas you can add to simply riding a bike. These might be training, racing, a personal goal or event. I think this is why my passion and enthusiasm for cycling is stronger now than ever before.
Cycling and travel is something that Emma and I love to plan and achieve, but surrounding this, is creating a healthy lifestyle. We both now give more thought and effort to training, nutrition and recovery. These topics can become complex, but it may also be something as simple and fun as creating healthy dishes and desserts. We have both become quite interested in food and nutrition, this has prompted more home cooking with quality, clean ingredients and searching out healthy products to use whilst out on the bike, and to assist recovery after riding. More focus is also put into stretching and flexibility……the body seems to need a bit more TLC these days!
It’s fabulous that there are so many things learn about and improve on, I think this is probably why I am still biking……
My childhood cycling was rather limited, it basically amounted to riding round the driveway of my parents’ house on an old BMX, with my big brother! From the age of around 11, I didn’t ride a bike (at least not one that actually moved) until I was 26 years old. I met Grant at an indoor cycling class, where he worked part-time as an instructor, and this was how I got into road biking.
It was clear from the first few weeks of us getting together that cycling was Grant’s life, so along with my good friend Dawn, I dipped my toe into the world of cycling in 2002. Together Dawn and I bought rigid frame, women’s specific Trek mountain bikes, thinking back they probably weighed a tonne compared to my current road bikes!
We started riding some of the local lanes. We are very lucky in that the road network near to where we live is excellent for cycling. I remember feeling so pleased with myself for riding 15 miles! Very soon 15 miles became 35 miles, and the following year I bought my first Trek road bike. I loved it, the colour was Coastal Blue, and it felt so much better on tarmac than the old mountain bike!
I was soon riding both days at weekends, as well as some evening rides during Spring and Summer, plus Grant’s indoor cycling classes…..excellent for hill-climbing strength. Sadly my friend Dawn didn’t continue with her cycling but I’ll always be grateful to her for helping me to get started.
My mileage increased each year and in July 2004 we did our first trip to the mountains, one week staying near to Albertville, in the Northern French Alps. We tackled L’Alpe d’Huez, and let’s just say that was a shock to the system!! I made it, but after very little warm up, I hit the first switchbacks way too hard! I was gasping after the first bend and had to stop five times but I reached the top after 1 hour 42 minutes, a time I would improve on massively when we next rode it again in 2008 (1 hour 10 minutes😀).
The other major col we rode on our first trip was Col de la Madelaine, very long, very beautiful and the reason I got hooked on the mountains! I loved the ascents but dreaded the descents, clinging terrified to my brakes!
This holiday gave us the col-bagging bug, and we’ve been fortunate enough to do a mountain cycling trip every summer since then. In 2008 we decided we’d go a step further with our training, and we embarked on our first six month training plan, provided by Torq Fitness.
Every year my love of cycling has grown, as has the volume of riding. Thirty five miles seems like a short ride these days! Quite simply it’s become a way of life, and I’m pleased to say that although descending is never going to be my strongpoint, I’m no longer terrified, and occasionally I even enjoy it!!
I’m not an adrenaline-junkie, daredevil type, nor am I super-athletic, but this hasn’t stopped me from enjoying this amazing, endurance sport, and striving to improve year on year. If you’d told me fifteen years ago that I’d be spending my future summer holidays riding Europe’s hardest mountain passes, I’d never have believed it!