MTBChix&Trails – Interview with Michelle Haigh
Since the first time I started biking, thanks to Instagram hashtags I have found the most supportive, female oriented biking group. If you are a keen female mountain biker and are looking for a supportive group of like-minded women, send your request to the group here. The amazing women behind this group are: Dawn Hopkins, Sarah Butler Vayro, Ash Stephenson and Michelle Haigh. Today I had a chance chatting with my friend Michelle Haigh about how MTBChix&Trails came around.
Cranky Betty: Where did the idea for MTBChix&Trails come from? Does it mean no guys allowed?
Michelle Haigh: Well when i started I wasn’t confident in my riding. I’m not brave or fast and I found that riding with men, or the men I knew at least, involved them all trying to outdo each other. I felt slow, and lacked confidence in that environment. They had all been riding a lot longer than me and could manage drop offs and they were a lot faster on the descents. I was nervous, and with the guys I felt self conscious. At that time most mtb groups were male-dominated and I didn’t know any other women riders except for really good ones, certainly no normal average riders like myself.
A lot of my issues were as a result of my own personality, being quite shy and lacking much confidence. And I do see now that I know more considerate male riders out there, who enjoy the social side rather than just going for fast times or the biggest jumps.
That said there are no guys are allowed in the group. We found that mixed mtb groups were mainly men and there was a lot of bickering on these pages. They took the mick if a simple question was asked, I wouldn’t have dared posted on those pages. Because the group is female only, the members can ask anything, no question too simple, we all started somewhere and had to learn. Our members also feel confident asking about female specific issues ranging from saddles, chamois cream, padded shorts to sports bras. It is not a group for matching your lipstick to your frame, although we do have some funny posts like that.
The group is so supportive, we hardly ever have issues or unpleasant disagreements. The women are there to support each other, whether it’s a beginner’s question, or a confidence boost question. We all have times where we lose our mojo, or dodge a certain feature because we are not feeling it that day, and it’s frustrating. The women can post on the page that they’ve had a bad ride and the members will be there to support and give you a boost. We’ve all been there.
CB: How did you start biking and what is your favourite thing about it?
MH: I started biking about 5 years ago as my ex-partner was a mountain biker. I started with a Cube hardtail, doing blue routes around Hamsterley. I had a silly crash on a road which knocked my confidence, so I stuck to the blues. Then after coaching I found I could do more and moved onto red trails.
I love how it gets you out in the open air, the exercise makes you feel better. I have also made lots of friends through the group so I enjoy the social side more. The best rides for me are when you are with friends and have a catch up and a laugh, not when I’ve got my fastest times.
CB: What kind of riding do you do, does it fit into one of the many sub categories, or is it a bit of everything?
MH: I started off mountain biking mainly at trail centres and the trails vary so it has never been boring. Perhaps like a lot of riders I’m not a downhiller, I’m mainly a red trail person. I tend to keep my wheels on the ground and still haven’t mastered jumps and drop offs.
Despite learning at trail centres, I like the natural stuff best. Reeth, Swaledale or Guisborough are regular natural trail spots near me. I have no sense of direction, so I don’t venture into the unknown unless I’m with someone who knows the area.
I then got a road bike for commuting and building up fitness. Road bikes have different gear ratios, so climbing is harder, this helps with mtb climbs. Then I was asked if I wanted to do the Coast to coast this year. This meant building up miles on the road bike. I got myself a cyclocross bike for the C2C as some of the route would be too much for a road bike and found I preferred this bike, mainly due to it having disc brakes instead of rim brakes. I’m not a fan of fast descents and preferred the more efficient braking, especially heading towards road junctions. Training for the C2C got me involved with riders from Guisborough who have become amazing and supportive friends. This has boosted my love of road riding and I recently did my first 100 miler, over 8 hours in the saddle.
I have just completed the C2C, 150 miles in 2 days. I also like the fact you can just head out of the door with a road/cyclocross bike, instead of having to pack the car to get to a trail centre. So you can head out for just an hour on a sunny evening after work, get some exercise and fresh air, and clear the head.
CB: What bikes Do you have? How do you have them set up?
MH: My mountain bike is a Trek Fuel 8 called Bella Rose. She is my first favourite bike, and that’s why I named her. She felt fantastic from the start and I can’t imagine replacing her, except I keep thinking about getting a slightly longer travel bike.
As far as set up goes, I make changes to my tyres for different trails, and switch positions with the suspension, but I still haven’t mastered the art of altering the shock, I don’t even own a shock pump. I don’t think I’m a fanatic enough rider to mess around with more detailed set up.
If something feels wrong then I get the bike checked by a friend or take it to the bike shop. I’m fairly easy going and just go out and ride. I do have a dropper post though, which I love and wouldn’t be without. I’ve also fitted slightly wider bars. I still rely on advice for which tyres to buy and haven’t changed anything else.
Recently though I have changed the headset bearings (thank you google and youtube!) and replaced the rear brake after I snapped the brake lever in a fall. So I am doing more maintenance and repairs.
I bought a Trek 1.1 road bike for commuting and to see if I enjoyed it. It’s quite a basic model, but was good enough for what I wanted to do. I dabbled with being clipped in but found the clips made me nervous after a comedy clipped in fail, with a splat to the side. After I realised this was making me not want to go out on the bike I reverted back to flat pedals and felt a lot better. But with the C2C looming I started looking for a cyclocross bike.
My cyclocross bike is a Whyte Saxon Cross, which I picked up from a friend. She is called Audrey (Von Fufu). The past year had had it’s ups and downs, and training for the C2C was a big challenge for me, as well as a new beginning. I wanted a name which meant strength. This bike was going to do me proud, and so the name Audrey was given. I’ve changed her tyres, gone from tubeless to tubed and even got some clipped/flat pedals so I can use cleated shoes or flats.
CB: Did you ever think that MTBChix&Trails would get to around 1700 members? Why do you think it has proved so popular? Does it take up much of your free time?
MH: I never imagined the group would get 1700 members. At first we were excited when it got to 100, then 500, then 1000. I think it is popular because of the supportive and friendly members. A lot of the women have made good friends on there. There are members who know a lot about bikes, so can give advice about repairs and maintenance. But also the support is amazing. We even get the occasional personal post, where members don’t want their Facebook friends to know about something, but want advice or support. We’ve all had a varied life but most of us have had similar experiences. We can help out or just show support if one of the members is going through a tough time.
The time it takes up varies. Myself and the other admins; Sarah, Dawn and Ash, all work and have families so we give what we can when we can. We might have to step back for a while, while we have things going on in our personal life. I work full time and I am doing a degree part time, as well as being a single mother, so if I have degree work due I might have to step back a little.
We do orders for merchandise and this can take up a lot of time; following up payments, making orders and shipping them. This all has to be done in our spare time. We don’t make any profit on these items, so anything we do relating to the group is all voluntary. Luckily the group tends to run itself, although we keep an eye on posts. That said, there are times when the group does take up more time and can be quite full on, but we are proud of the group and want it to do well.
CB: Do you think there are other groups like this around the world?
MH: There are other groups like this around the world, but I don’t think there are any others this big that are specifically for women. We keep it that way so that women feel comfortable asking anything at all, especially those personal or troubling questions.
There is a group in America called Girlz Gone Riding. Wendy Engelberg, the founder, has become a good friend via the internet and has been invaluable for advice and support, especially in the early days of MTBChix&Trails.
CB: How could MTBChix&Trails expand to the next level? Do you have any plans for the group?
We would love people to recognise MtbChix as a brand. I think and hope that this is the case in the UK. We have members from all over the world, but we are mainly UK based at the moment. It would be amazing to have more members join us from around the globe, and to develop it into a bigger brand, but this involves more time and money, plus legal complications. At the minute we are happy for the group to grow organically and we are adding members almost every day.
CB: What’s on your mountain bike calendar in 2017?
MH: My mountain bike calendar this year starts with the Hamsterley Beast on the 14th May. This is a charity ride in aid of the Great North Air Ambulance. This is it’s third year and we have tried to encourage more female riders to sign up through promotion on the MtbChix&Trails page. We have close links with the Beast and Hamsterley Forest, so we can find out information and encourage more women into the event.
Next is Ard Rock at the beginning of August. I am doing the Intro ride, as the terrain can be quite technical and involves a lot of climbing. I am seeing it as a full weekend of both riding and meeting with friends at the event in Fremington. I’ll probably not be able to ride it all, but I’m looking forward to getting out on natural trails.
Lastly I hope to get a place for the Red Bull Fox Hunt with Rachel Atherton later in the year. I’ve been to the last two and had a fantastic time. The atmosphere is amazing, with a large group of women being able to get together with the World Downhill Champion, and also it’s one of the only times we all get to meet up through the group. Women travel from all over the UK to do the Fox Hunt, and tickets sell out fast. Last year’s track was a lot harder than the year before and it felt fantastic to get down in one piece.
CB: When you’re not biking what else occupies your time?
MH: I work, I study and I have a daughter at home. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else. I love cycling so much so that riding my bike is my free time. Otherwise I just like seeing friends for a good night out to let my hair down.
CB: What advice would you give to women getting into mountain biking?
MH: We all started somewhere, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Some women are naturals at it, they don’t feel fear, or at least they hide it well. There will always be someone who can go faster, or do jumps, or perhaps bigger jumps.
There are trails I will never tackle, I might never be able to jump or do black routes. I stick with what I enjoy instead of beating myself up over things I can’t do. Find riding buddies who are similar if you are happy with that, or find buddies who are faster, more confident if you want to push yourself.
If you’ve unnerved yourself with a crash, then go back to a level you are happy with until you get your confidence back. On MTBChix&Trails there is always someone who has gone through something similar. Have a rant, get some support and get back to being happy on your bike.
May 8, 2017