Mel Joined Dirty Wknd for her first ride back in Feb 2017 after signing up for Ride London. Hopefully she won't mind us saying that she was 'as beginner a cyclist as you can be' when she joined, but as you'll read below, through hard work, determination and a willingness to learn, she went onto smash the 100 mile sportive a few short month's later! So impressed were we by her progress, and that fact that she always had a massive smile on her face, we made Mel our 'Ride Over The Year' 2017 (it's a very big deal!) Complete beginner to Rider of the Year in a few short month's. This is her incredible story!
Why did you sign up to Ride London?
I had been a runner for about four years but I was plagued with injury which was so tiresome and frustrating, so I was looking for something new, but I was also approaching my 40th year so I needed a challenge to mark the occasion. Cycling seemed a good option, so with very little idea of what would be involved, I entered the ballot for Ride London. To be honest, I signed up and then almost forgot about it/dismissed as I didn’t think I’d get a place in something so in demand. Then the magazine dropped on my doorstep telling me I was in!
How much cycling had you done before signing up to the event?
Well, none really.
I cycled as a child but fell off, knocking myself unconscious (no helmet!) so I gave up aged 12.
I had purchased a road bike the year before entering Ride London and did Bikeability with Kingston Council. I wasn’t even let onto the roads at first, initially during my first few lessons I was cycling on a local basketball court, negotiating cones, learning how to brake, and just concentrating on staying upright. After bikeability I decided cycling wasn’t really for me, and put my bike firmly in the shed, mainly because I had very little cycling confidence and no idea how to improve or progress from the level that I was at.
How did you feel after you got into Ride London 2017?
My partner called me at work to tell me the RideLondon mag had arrived and I was in…it was sheer incredulous horror on my part, it seemed like such an impossible task. I thought about it for a few days, I had conversations with people about whether I should just pull out immediately, I was actually annoyed with myself for even entering and taking someone elses place. So I had to either just withdraw, or get on and really commit to doing it…that’s how I found Dirty Wknd.
What made you find and join a group like Dirty Wknd?
In the days after successfully gaining a place, I googled beginner cycling in my local area and it brought up Dirty Wknd’s Richmond Park beginner laps, so I fired off a quick email explaining that I was a total beginner, and that I couldn’t actually take my hands off the handlebars, or confidently ride on any downhill incline, and waited for the response. Luckily the response was “Our beginner rides are perfect for you”.
How did you feel before your first ride with the group?
My first ride was beginner laps of RP, I drove my car to the park with my bike on the back. I was so nervous I considered going home, especially when I saw the two lycra clad ladies who turned up to lead the ride (Laura and Helena); i felt so out of place, but they were so welcoming. I was acutely embarrassed to tell them that I’d signed up for RideLondon, but they didn’t bat an eyelid at my lack of cycling skills, they were so positive that I’d improve and meet the challenge. During the first short ride they gave me so many tips on gears, body position, pot holes, as well as just chatting and showing me the best coffee stops in the park. It was fab, I loved it.
What was the biggest thing you learnt/took away from riding with a group?
So many things learnt. I honestly believe that i couldnt have done RL had I not joined Dirty Wknd. Every cyclist i met had tips and info that they were so willing to share. I learnt a lot just riding side by side and chatting to different people. One important thing I learnt…I have a small chain ring!! Ha, who knew?! Thanks to David for explaining to a beginner how all the gears work.
Also learnt that communication/signals are key and essential for safety; I’m quite happy now to shout out what I’m doing. Despite usually being nervous on the roads, I feel so much more comfortable and confident in the group.
Do you think that cycling more has helped you in normal life?
It’s been a confidence builder no doubt, and that generally transfers to other life skills. I was super proud of myself after RL, and that has definitely stayed with me.
Working and having a pre-schooler makes life busy, so taking a couple of hours cycle/catch up for coffee with cycling friends on the weekend really sets me up for the day and gives me a sense of well-being, a quick spin to the park a great stress buster, which positively impacts on every day life.
And I love that my 4-year old daughter sees me being active and is starting to ask if we can bike ride together.
Top tips for anyone training for Ride London this year (2018)?
Decide what commitment you need in order to be well prepared, then plan, and stick to it, don’t be half hearted. I knew I needed a big commitment to get to the right level, so I planned all my rides and worked them around other commitments. As Well as DW RL series, I was out cycling round RP at 5am A LOT and it all paid off.
If at all possible, ride the route or parts of it before hand, and definitely the hills. It’s mentally very good to know you have conquered Leith, Box, and Newlands previously.
If you’re a beginner and not yet in cleats, consider trying them. This was the most frightening part for me, there was no pressure from DW to swap my flat pedals and trainers, only gentle encouragement. So on the safety of grass in my local park I tried clippy shoes, I may have fallen off twice during that afternoon, but I really felt the difference on the next long ride, especially on the hills.
Top three tips for on the day itself?
My top tips for inexperienced riders;
Even if it’s going to be warm, take layers. I was absolutely freezing at 7am waiting for over an hour in the start pen; Rookie error.
Keep left unless you are overtaking other riders and don't be afraid to shout out your intentions. It works like a dream that way.
Pace yourself. The first part of RL is pretty fast and flat but keep something back for the fantastic hills in the second half.
If it helps, mentally break down the route into smaller chunks and tick them off in your head as you pass. Limehouse Link, RP, Box hill etc. Even getting to the start in plenty of time was a Ticky box in my head and every positive really helped with the nerves.
2017 was such a great year for you, what are you planning for 2018 and beyond?
2017 was fab, after RL I felt that my fitness had really improved from the training so I did a couple of duathlons soon afterwards, which was so much fun and pushed my speed over shorter distances.
This year I’ve been lucky enough to get another place in Ride London through the ballot, so if I stop a few less times to chat to fellow cyclists, I aim to complete the route slightly quicker (although I do consider food stops and chat part of the fun!)
I’m thinking of my first cycling holiday in 2018 (Mallorca hills maybe?!)
I definitely have my eye on Deloitte Ride across Britain but that will be for next year as this years event clashes with my daughters first day at school, so best to save that one!
And whilst I’m now doing things that I didn’t previously think I could do, I might also learn to swim so who knows, there may be a first triathlon in 2019.
Thansk Mel - you're a rockstar and we love riding with you! Can't wait to ride with you more in 2018 and 2019!