Meeting fellow female bikers is always exciting for me, it's like being a part of a little club in a way because as we're considered to be the minority demographic in MTB, so you don't see us descend the mountains in mass very often, which is why when you meet another girl rider, you gravitate towards them with a friendly smile! Hannah Wilson is one of these female riders who I had a blast riding with, and she works as a Brand Specialist for crankbrothers and Fi'zi:k. I met Hannah at Afan Forest visitor centre, after a brisk ride over some of the trails there, we stopped off for a post-ride cuppa, cake, cats (the holy trinity), and got down to business. I loved learning about her riding, racing and her feelings of working within the bike industry...
"I've been riding for about 20 years now. I grew up in Cheshire and when I was 13 I would cycle the country lanes up to 30 miles a night after school on my Scott Timber bike. I'd get home from school, and make myself my 3P concoction of prawns, peas and peanuts before setting off. I figured the 3P meal had all the necessary nutrients I would need to get me through my cycle, and it worked! I loved biking, it gave me a sense of freedom that I couldn't get anywhere else.
I bought a copy of MBUK once, and inside was a feature about being a new mountain biker and I knew I just had to have a go. I'd done so much road cycling, I wanted to try something a little different so I started riding local trails with some guy friends. I spent most of my time falling off, but I knew it was where I wanted to be and from then on I went off-road as much as I possibly could.
My first race was the Midland Super Series XC when I was 15 and I was wearing my school hockey kit and hockey shin pads! Oh God, I did this on my Scott Timber bike with cantilever brakes! My dad was always really supportive of my cross-country races and he'd wait at the finishing line with a diet coke and ice-cream. Seeing that I was still passionate to pursue mountain biking, when I was 16 my father helped my buy my first MTB bike, a Specialized Ground Control. I had this for about a year, but it was a 19" frame which was just a bit too big for me, so I upgraded again to a Kona Pahoehoe hard-tail.
My first real taste of mountain biking came when I went to university in Edinburgh though, and I joined the cycling club. This was a major shock to the system as I was suddenly faced with real hills. Real big hills! The guys I rode with encouraged me to get a downhill bike for an Alps trip I was going on. Apparently my Kona just wouldn't cut it. So I got a Specialized Big Hit which I called "Boris". It had a 24" rear wheel and a 26" in the front. This bike took me to the Alps where all my biking experience was really tested. I remember my first descent was on a fire road, and I pulled over to the side and cried. I was so scared! Which was silly reallybecause we were there for two weeks and by the end of the trip, I was in love with downhill! The Alps trip was a big gateway to mountain biking for me and I returned there every year for the next 12 years, even did a season in Morzine as a bike bum.
Between 2003 - 2006, I entered some downhill races and saw a lot of progress withmy speed and competency, but my cockiness got the better of me and a bad fall broke my shoulder and snapped my collar bone. I was out of action for 6 weeks, which wasn't enough time for a full recovery, but I missed my bike so much. I went out too soon, and my shoulder went again. Then in 2006, I was in a car accident which had me off the bike for two years. During my recovery time, I was working at a Specialized concept store – I couldn’t keep away from bikes!
I decided to try a different career avenue and join the police as a response officer, and I did that for three years, but I just missed the biking world too much. So I left and went to work for Halfords as a buyer in 2011 which was a brilliant stepping stone for moving into Extra in 2014. Being able to combine your passion and your career is the most rewarding feeling and I feel so lucky to have achieved this.
I was aware of the crankbrothers brand from early on, and I loved the fact the owners formed the company as a result of their own passion for biking. Their products are brilliant and built to a very high standard, so being a brand specialist for them is amazing. They pay a lot of attention to what riders have to say, and the problems they encounter as crankbrothers use their innovation to find solutions."
Being a Brand Specialist for crankbrothers must be wicked fun, What does your job have you doing?
I visit different bike shops and provide tech training on products, and sales training. For crankbrothers, I go to a lot of the UK races, like the BDS races and offer tech support there where I will service pedals and re-build them making them feel like new again. At one of the rounds of the BDS, I serviced Tahnée Seagrave's pedals, and her dad gave me a some of flapjack in return, just one of the bonus perks of the job! I have shown team mechanics and riders alike how to service the pedals – it really is very simple. I also write up technical content and try and ensure it’s understandable and engaging.
My favourite part of the job is just talking to people about the sport, about products and getting to know the riders and other companies. It's a great sense of community and I love being a part of it. I can't think of any other industry that I would want to work in!
It's not often to you come across female technicians in mountain biking. How do you find it, and have you faced any gender stereotype bias?
I like to do my hair and nails, and embrace my feminine side. But I also like to wear baggies and talk shop. I think that being a girl in a male dominated sport doesn't mean to you have to lose your feminine side, there's a balance that can be easily achieved.
Going to some shows and events does still shock me as how many people assume that because I'm a woman, I don't know bikes and tech talk. Men will look at me at the crankbrothers stand and assume I'm a helper, assisting the technicians or that being a woman, I won't do as good of a job as the boys, and I hate those assumptions. Those gender stereotypes are what need to be stamped out.
I have been asked how I feel about being one of the only female techs shows, but I don't really notice most of the time. I talk bikes with everyone and anyone, whether I'm the only girl in the room has no impact on me. There are very few women at the races offering tech support, but it's always nice to meet fellow female mechanics and it would be great to see some more women interested in the technical aspect and maintenance roles for companies.
How do you think the women's industry is changing, and which way do you want to see it go?
Women's participation in mountain biking is a growing market, and it's great to see it heading in the right direction. There's definitely a lot of opportunity there for companies to realise and now it's being considered even more, as there are more women in branding roles. It's very important for companies to communicate with women at all levels, and in all disciplines to determine where the demand is, whether it's for kit or for events etc... Female riders are spread out and are often within their own comfort zone with riding buddies. women specific events look to be a really good thing to encourage women, but they can also be intimidating at the same time.
It's super important for women to really ask themselves what they want from riding so they can have more knowledge about what bike, protection and kit they should be buying. Everyone should enjoy riding and whatever equipment helps them achieve that, is right for them.
It's a really exciting time for women's riding, it's getting more and more competitive now which is great. Within the UK we are really lucky to have some amazing role models in Rachel Atherton, Tahnee Seagrave, Katy Curd, Manon Carpenter and many others. These athletes are dedicated and passionate which has been increasing momentum in the sport. I think pro-riders have a vital role to pay for the active development of women's riding and it’s great to see all the good work they have been doing.
And Hannah, tell us a little about your current set up and what you like about it so much.
I've got an Intense Tracer 275 with 160mm travel. crankbrothers wheels, cockpit and pedals. This bike really comes to life in the corners. It takes on anything and I just love it, I have great pleasure riding it. It's got a perfect fit, geometry and there's nothing I want to change...well maybe the red decals on the forks!
It was a pleasure meeting with Hannah and going for a ride. She's got a refreshing passion for biking and the whole industry. It's been great getting an insider view of work life in the biking world, and it does shock me that there's still this stereotypical assumption about women's ability to maintain and service bikes. Speaking with Hannah has inspired me to get a little more technical with my bike and really know every nut and bolt. Perhaps more encouragement is needed to motivate women to do the same, instead of relying on the partners and shops for maintaining and fixing our bikes, something many of us are guilty for, I know I am!