Interview: Amber Charity 2015

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This website is all about promoting female riders and encouraging more women to get out on the bike, so what better way to achieve this than speaking with a variety of women who ride, race and work in the industry! Whether they are professional racers like Tahnée Seagrave and Katy Curd, or whether they are just starting to break into the racing scene, like Amber Charity.

I’ve been following the 23-year-olds progress in racing via social media sites, and eventually, we got chatting about all things bikes and her experiences breaking into the race scene. I love Amber’s enthusiasm for riding and in such a short space of time (less than a year), she’s gone from not owning a bike to racing downhill. Now that’s inspiring! And the thing to set it all off, was when Amber attended the Fort Bill round of the World Cup in 2014…that explains a lot. Who couldn’t be excited and inspired by the riding there?! Here’s her motivational story…

I first got into mountain biking after visiting the Fort William World Cup in 2014, I saw the action and wanted in on it, I bought Myself a 2013 Ghost XC bike with 120mm travel in September last year.

Not knowing much about bikes at the time, I self-taught myself basic bike maintenance and skills. I started riding blue XC routes with the Sherwood Pines cycling club where Dee and Ruth ran women’s rides. I continued with XC until December 2014 when I had my first taste of some starter downhill tracks in Wharncliffe/Grenoside woods, still on my XC bike. After this, I knew exactly where I wanted to take my riding…and it was all downhill from there!

I started racing on a borrowed Kona bike in March 2015. My first time on a downhill bike, the first time in a downhill race, and first time on a real downhill track! So it was pretty crazy! Since then I’ve taken part in 4 races this year and one dual slalom race at the event ‘Girls at Moelfre’.

I absolutely love riding and racing bikes! It’s not just the adrenaline and buzz that gets you, but the family that comes with it. I now know so many people who support me and help me from racing, without them my confidence wouldn’t be where it is today. Especially my team, team Cycopath, to be chosen to ride for a team so early into riding felt pretty awesome and it’s nice to know someone has faith in you!

Wow, You really went head over heels for riding which is amazing! What has it been like as a woman breaking into the downhill race scene?

“Breaking into the race scene was pretty scary! I have massive respect for anyone (male or female) that decide to race. Luckily for me, I am using this year as a learning season so the pressure isn’t as high for me to do well in races as I’m not expecting any result.

I’ve found I have always had help whenever I’ve needed, people offer to do track walks with me, women in my category have asked if I want to follow them down on practice days or even talk about lines with them, so I do feel that the women’s competitive scene is a lot more friendly than the men’s. The only real obstacle I have found in my short race experience is more skilled riders being less considerate when they catch you up during practice. I do believe women have the same right to practice as much as the men (vice versa) and if they do catch up to a rider they should use the correct ways and either slow down and wait or shout ‘rider’ then wait till the person has time to pull over safely for them, however, this isn’t always the case and I believe more riders should remember they were beginners one day too.

Racing is something many of us consider doing at some point in our bike lives, but know too little about or are too nervous to really “go for it”. As a newbie to the race scene, how have you found the races themselves, and how do you feel from taking part in them?

My first ever race was a push-up race at Farmer John’s MTB park in March 2015. It was a small race, so perfect for my first ever one. It was my second time riding a downhill track, and I was riding on a borrowed Kona bike! We decided to camp over, and on a Friday night… the heavens opened! The rain and storms continued throughout the whole weekend, and to this day they were the worst conditions I have ever ridden in. Because of this, 170 riders soon became 130 and 6 of those were us, women. By the end of the race, I placed 5/6 but only because the 6th woman ‘DNS’, but it felt amazing to complete my first race!

The second race I competed in was the Hamsterley TT in which I decided to crash epically and fracture my ribs and a slight fracture my radius head in my elbow. I didn’t let this stop me racing Peaty Steel city though! I raced again on a borrowed downhill bike due to my XC bike being broken. I placed 23/29 and it was without a doubt the best buzz of a race ever, even with being injured.

I then bought myself a 2015 Mondraker Summum! I’ve since ridden Pearce cycles round 4, just so that I could practice on a harder track (for myself). I also raced the dual slalom at the ‘girls at Moelfre’ event to which I made it to the third round, but got knocked out by Claire who came first in the next round.”

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What upcoming races do you have planned?

I am planning on racing Pearce cycles round 5, Red Bull Foxhunt, Borderline round 3 and possibly SDA round 5.

As female riders, we are the minority group in MTB and because of this, we don’t have the same wide range of support, kit and exposure as the men. In your opinion, what is the biggest problem with women’s biking and where is support needed most?

The biggest problem for me is decent women’s kit (especially downhill kit) and women’s cycling recognition. I’ve not been on the scene of biking too long, however, in my short time, it does seem to be getting better already with Flare clothing now doing women’s DH kit and Fox bringing out women’s DH kit next year! More kit for women is definitely up there, we want stuff to feel comfortable whilst riding, not big men’s stuff that falls down because they don’t have it in women’s sizes!

Whereas women’s cycling isn’t publicised like the men’s, we don’t get as much coverage on events or as much on write-ups. Again, this is getting better I know of a few websites becoming more popular about women like Velo Me! Plus having more female MTB communities like MTB Chix and Trails!

So you’ve had your first tastes of racing this year and you’ve got the bug. How far do you want to take your racing, do you see yourself being future world champ?

“I could only dream of this! In the future, I would like to see myself racing at a national level to a high standard. And maybe in a dream world, I could be world champ one day, never say never, watch out Manon haha!”

How do you like to spend your free time when you’re not on the bike?

I work long hours as an outdoor pursuits instructor, however, when I’m not working, I’m either seeing my boyfriend, playing on my Xbox, at the cinema, climbing, at the gym (not enough) or converting my new van! I’m pretty laid back so pretty happy just chilling with friends, with good food and drinks in my spare time.

Chatting with Amber has been really inspiring, and eye-opening to the reality of beginners racing.

She’s so enthusiastic about biking and competing that I can’t wait to see her go further and reaching the top spot. Amber made some valid points regarding the limited availability for women’s kit, something that Bikepark Wales director, Anna, strongly agrees with, and I myself hope to see this market develop in upcoming years.

It just goes to show that anyone with a passion for riding can enter a race, and even if you come last, or injure yourself, it’s important to push on and ride through it. Don’t let the fear set in! Something I think many of us are guilty of. I’m not hugely competitive myself, but I’m stoked to be going to the Redbull Foxhunt this year, and who knows… maybe you’ll see me chasing Amber down in the future! So find yourself a race to enter, and give it a go!