The Spokesmen Cycling Roundtable Podcast
The Cycling Roundtable Podcast

15th April 2024

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 351: Andy McGrath — God is Dead 

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Andy McGrath



Carlton Reid  0:12  
Welcome to Episode 351 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Monday, April 15 2024.

David Bernstein  0:28  
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you're commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That's t e r n to learn more.

Carlton Reid  1:04  
I'm Carlton Reid. And today's show is the first of two episodes with bike book authors. Later this week, I'll share the chat I had with potholes and pavement author Laura Laker a book so fresh, it's not even out yet. But today, I talk with William Hill award winning author Andy McGrath about his 2022 book, God is dead biography of Frank Vandenbrouke the wunderkind who died a mysterious death in a grungy African hotel room. 

Liège–Bastogne–Liège has been staged since 1892, the oldest of cycling's five monument races, and this year's race will be staged at the end of the month, Sunday the 21st to be exact. Now, Andy, it's 25 years since a certain famous victory of that particular race. So tell us about that. 

Andy McGrath  2:10  
This was the edition of Liège–Bastogne–Liège where the great Belgian cycling hope Frank Vandenbrouke seemed to be fulfilling his immense potential. And he did it in his own unique way. He told anyone that would listen in the days for the race, you know, teammates, DS's, rivals and other races and media, where he was going to attack to win the race to make it stick, a bit like Muhammad Ali used to do before his heavyweight fight. And he'd went out for a 20 minute puto, a few days before the age best on the age. And it's covered his teammate saw him come back to the hotel, you know, barely a blink of an eye later. And he told him, that's all all I need, I feel good. I'm going to win lift some of the age. And he was in a state of grace that day, he attacked on by ODU, which sounds different course back then. It finished in an industrial suburb over the age. And the Cordilla. Redo was about oh, at 90k from the finish. And he, he he wrote up in the big room, he tacked up in the big green, which is I could barely walk up it when I was researching the book, which is a astonishing and slightly sinister thing when you really get into that era of cycling. And he was already clearly the best, you know, he he accelerated pass the defending champion makayley Bartley like it was nothing and then he just let the rest catch him up, basically. And he did attack, you know, if we're going to split hairs slightly later than he said he would you know, or maybe earlier actually, I think it was early. And he said he would you know, a few 100 metres earlier. Because

Carlton Reid  3:55  
Because that's in your book, isn't it? Yeah. It's a very detailed book and you you're knocking on doors, and you give the exact door that he actually did attack on and not the one that you said he's going to attack on? 

Andy McGrath  4:06  
Yeah, the thing is, I actually knocked on the door of the house number he said he would attack which was 256. You know, hoping for some kind of journalistic intrigue and it was a little bit disappointing that I think people that answered the door were very nice, but it was someone looking after their elderly parent and they said they didn't like cycling, they didn't know about it. So so so I was like yeah, that's there's that avenue gone in the book. But no abandoned Brook road away from the last remaining rival Michael Burgard on the court to send Nicola outside the edge and road to victory just like he said he would and you know, a country that was already in thrall to him was an even more rapturous, you know, Eddie Merckx was extremely impressed. You know, the Eddie marks the greatest and that was really, I think it was 24 Back then van of work, and it wasn't so normal for providers to break through in their early 20s, which is what he had done. He was the exception. And it seemed like that, you know, the cycling world was gonna fall to him. You know. During the book research, I kind of ascertained that he could probably have won almost anything apart from a grantor, you know, he was a strong climber, but didn't have the consistency or the or the mentality to do it over three weeks, but everything else was, was fair game. But that was a very brief high point, you know, that was that was paradise. And he was soon into purgatory. And then how, you know, within a year, which kind of summed up his his life and his career trajectory.

Carlton Reid  5:41  
And, and spoiler alert, the kind of the title of your book tells us that Frank is no longer with us. But you did refer a few moments ago, almost to the fact that this is an EPO era. So he's going up in the big ring, that's kind of Superman stuff that, you know, Nietzsche, God is dead stuff. So clearly he was he was deeping, he kind of admitted he was doping. This is the EPO era. But then what everybody was saying at that time was, well, everybody was doping. So we're all equal. Do you buy into that? Are you if everybody's taken EPO at the time, and he's such a wonderful rider? Let's give him those victories, because everybody was on this stuff. person.

Andy McGrath  6:27  
I mean, they're all saying at the time, and I was partly what bothered him, you know, 5, 10 years later that he felt that he was being scapegoated. What we know now, is that essentially, you know, let's be the what's the word diplomatic here? Legally, most of the bunch, we're, we're doing it, there's been lots of admissions. Do I think that makes it okay, in a level playing field? No, no, I don't think so. That's too simplistic, you know, that comes down to you know, things like science and natural amount of creates and how much room you have to dope, you know, or to get up to the rudimentary UCI testing limit of 50, which it was back then, you know, which was, like a broken speed Camry on a motorway. It barely stopped cheating. If you are caught over the 50, like, image credit limit you are. I think you were given a small fine, and you couldn't race for two weeks? What kind of, you know, what kind of punishment? Is that really what kind of thing to stop? Anyone from having huge gains, really, that can change, change everything? So no, no, it wasn't fair. Like it's not fair. And there are a fair few riders who were probably in, in the minority who chose to be clean, you know, to ride on bread and water, as they say, who didn't make it who had to take other jobs who. And that was the kind of that's always a sad thing about doping in a way, you know, that. I don't think anyone who's has a positive for doping, who's cheated. When they get into cycling, they don't want to put a needle in their arm or have their blood transfused or whatever kind of ghoulish thing hopefully went on, doesn't go on now. But along the line they get, they get sucked into certain culture and you know, you invest so much time and energy and sacrifice into something you love, and you have to love it. That you realise, well, this is the kind of Faustian deal that many of them thought I had to make that they thought that they didn't do this, they would finish in the last group or second class group and they wouldn't, they wouldn't get the contract renewed. They wouldn't even be close to winning, you know, to fulfilling their childhood dreams. And you have an abrupt turn turn pro in 1994, which was really probably the worst the worst possible year to turn pro maybe in cycling, because EPO was, that was the year that it was about to get ramped, and if it wasn't already ramping.

Carlton Reid  9:00  
And then Cofidis wasn't exactly the cleanest of teams.

Andy McGrath  9:04  
No. I mean, this is Vandenbrouke. He was on Mapei who were the Italian super team. You may see their products in your local homeware stores you know, they still make I think it's grouting Yeah, ground

tiles, tile, yes. tiles.

things are still popular. I still smile when I see them and and b&q and all other good stores, but they were the best number one, and they really complimented in hindsight, complimented Vandenbrouke perfectly because often, you know, in in the classics of old classics, he won and he won a fair few, you know, scale the price hit Volk, obviously Liège–Bastogne–Liège. He could be the attacking foil or tactically to say Tom Steels, a sprinter or Johan Museuw, who was a permanent cobbles rider. But anyway, after three, four years, which were the most stable, far and away the most stable years, results wise and maybe mentality wise over his whole career. He has acted in he he wanted to be a contract. He wasn't ever patient with very much ever. And he he chose good to French Team Cofidis for double the money basically. And they gave him he could pick, you know, his friends, his his teammates, so, pick several of those. And it started off well, but yeah, it transpired that they had they had a kind of sleeping pill and drinking culture. And that's not a good combination. You know, even one thing. One of those dumb two accesses is bad, but they'd be on training camps, you know, in winter, this is how Vandenberg got hooked in the winter of 98. You know, they'd be it'd be bored you know, you do your training in the sun somewhere in Spain and then a radical Philip go mom, who I think one gateway will give himself. This strong, strapping Frenchman, you know, said why don't you take this and we'll have some drinks and what happens is you kind of you have a euphoric high. That's beyond you know, extreme drunkenness. You know, often you don't remember what you do when you're on under the influence of still not an alcohol, you know? And they go out partying or they're still the team campervan. And it's kind of thing you wouldn't believe it happened then, let alone now.

Carlton Reid  11:28  
So what is Stilnoct? It's in your book loads. So just tell us what Stilnoct is.

Andy McGrath  11:34  
It's a sleeping pill with various different brand names. I actually think Anglophone listeners might know it better as Ambien. I think that's alright. Okay. Yes. Australian kind of version of it. Yes, it's a sleeping pill. And you know, normally, I think it's used for insomniacs. And if you, you take one you wait 20 minutes, and it should pretty much knock you out. But they will take festivals, you know, handfuls at the very least. And if you resist if you fight the urge to sleep with alcohol, then you you push through to this strange blankness and euphoric high. And David Miller also has some stories, I think in his, his autobiography of strange things, and I'm the influence, you know. And, you know, it's kind of a reminder also, that professional cyclists, young freshmen, cyclists are very suggestible. They're, maybe not quite all of them fully formed as adults, you know, when they turn someone like Vandenbroucke turn pro, at 19. He was more brought up in the sporting culture than really, as a human being, as an app was an adult human being it and kind of influenced by that. So they're very fragile. And that's the other thing, you know, we've covered it. So there was a lacking duty of care, you know, in terms of the management and, you know, they seem to know what was going on, but they didn't do much about it really like they, they hired a psychologist to do a to have a talk with with the riders who basically laughed him out of the room. So you know, hindsight is 2020, but it was not a good team for Benbrook to band with a good culture.

Carlton Reid  13:21  
Andy, let's let's dig into you, because you've written this book. And we will we'll we'll talk about it, tonnes coming up. But this is before your time in effect, certainly before your time as a journalist you've started working from what I can see from your LinkedIn profile. You started working for Cycling Weekly. And then you became the head of Rouleur, which many people wouldn't want men will know both both titles of course. But this is in effect before your time. Was this before your were You were you like a big cycling fan? From a you know, a youth? 

Andy McGrath  14:00  
Yeah, I mean, whenever its heyday was before my time in terms of cycling fandom, I really got into it, you know, the Lance Armstrong years 2002 was the year that I you know, discovered this fantastic and strange and exotic sport. And I you know, I did come across Vanderbrouke but by then he was really really on the down slide you know the downfall. I do remember his 2003 Tour of Flanders at the time you know, I remember it. It being this remarkable comeback story where you know this guy who was ranked outside the top 500 in in the UCI standings came second in the tour Flanders out of nowhere. But you know, he was kind of the figure of fun the kind of the fallen hero then. But yeah, he was kind of trying to see I didn't think much about him when I was at cycling weekly as a staff writer and then you know, joining ruler like, later on I to my first book was about Tom Simpson. I I published back in 2017 lovely kind of mix of contemporary photographs and stories from those who know Thompson best with Rapha, you know, one of their first books. And I was very fortunate that won the sports book of the year prize that year, which was a huge boon. Yes.

Carlton Reid  15:22  
What did you do with 30 grand Andy?

Andy McGrath  15:25  
I bought a Colnago Carlton, which possibly wasn't seeing us, I don't like to ride it in, you know, winter, or spring, sometimes autumn. So, you know, in the UK, I don't ride a bike to get too messy. And then that really leaves you two or three good months of cycling. So that was, that was my dream bike, you know, when I was a teenager that that was a bike. But funnily enough, that was a brand that I saw in all the cycling magazines, and I obviously, cycling journalists are not the best paid people in the world, sorry to disappoint their any young listeners. But that was, I mean, that was a life changing amount of money for me. So I did go ahead and bought a Kona Argo. You know, that was the that was the main thing and the rest went boringly in the savings.

Carlton Reid  16:11  
Now, I kind of threw that in there a to be rude, and see what you say. And so you know, is it wind, wind? And so on? No, it's a bike. Okay, great. But also, that was a big deal to win that, that, yeah, that's a big cash amount. And that's a big deal to win the William Hill sports book of the year well done on on that. You're basically your your, your, your, you've been writing about people who were from a different era, in effect. So these these are these are almost not united to me, Tom Simpson is isn't a contemporary, obviously. But Frank Vandenbroucke is certainly somebody I would be very, very well well aware of when I was, you know, in into, in writing about cycle sport I was, he was around at that point. So you're writing about people in effect from from from history. So you're almost a historian, not just, you know, not just a biographer, you're digging into past history,

Andy McGrath  17:13  
I never really thought about it like that, that's an interesting way of putting it maybe I should put historian on my LinkedIn profile. It feels like quite recent history, though.

Carlton Reid  17:22  
It really isn't, you know, when you look at this, this is 25 years, that's a good time away, you know, for for somebody to still be talked about, and for books to be written, etc. That's, that's, that's a federal what it is history.

Andy McGrath  17:36  
That's also what I like, because, you know, in a way, you know, Vandenbrouke, and Simpson both have, have had books written about them already. But I had the kind of maybe the naive hunch, which I would have told my publishers that I can get new stories, you know, there's more things to be said, by different people, which I which, which I believed in, you know, turned out to be true. You know, there's, there's deeper perspective says revisionism to be done, there's new things to be discovered. And, to be honest, I think I've found with, with slightly older people, you know, when you're talking about the people around Simpson and Vandenberg, and in general, and in cycling there, they've lived long lives, you know, so they have more more stories, more life, experience, more more regrets, you know, more successes. But they also, yeah, that somehow they're just that appeals to me, you know, they, they're certainly more open, generally speaking. You know, compared to, for example, let's say, if I was trying to write the, the biography of Matthew Vanderpool who, who won the Tour, Flanders, you know, very recently, there will be a whole circle of people around him that comparatively, it will be very close, very hard to get close to him. And very hard to get intriguing things now, you know, in 10 years time, maybe it'd be a different story. So I think that plays as a kind of advantage in a way to be going back rather than rather than always working with, you know, present champions,

Carlton Reid  19:14  
the people you've written about in their books are clearly flawed heroes. So both both legendary, both died, that that kind of helps if you're going to be a biographer, when somebody is no longer here in many respects, but they're both flawed. So So is that something that naturally attracts a biographer because if you if you're floored by de facto you're kind of more interesting. You know, you're you're you're there's there's chinks in that armour. There's the stuff that a journalist stroke historian can get their teeth into. And most sports people tend to be kind of flawed anyway, you know, there's many psychological studies which show that you know that the absolute top achievers have had some sort of formative bad experience in in their earlier life, which is then forced them to become these, these super men in terms of you know, male sport. So is that something that attracts you the fact that these are flawed heroes you can you can really talk about a flawed here and more than somebody who's squeaky clean.

Andy McGrath  20:34  
Well, firstly, I think we're all flawed. You're no one's perfect. But the Yes, I completely see what you're saying that these these are top athletes are people who push things to the extremes who, you know, can be quite flawed or extremely flawed, you know. And that's more the thing, but it, there was no middle for Vandenbroucke things were either going fantastic or his confidence was 100%. Or it was the opposite, you know, there seem to be, you know, they will see a sixth gear or a neutral with him. And I think we're all drawn to, to people who push limits that regular human beings wouldn't normally you know, push. Who wouldn't, you know, we we wouldn't want to take you know, 10 sleeping pills, and then down some glasses of wine on a night out, but so there's a kind of, I think there's a slightly vicarious fascination sometimes. But Vanderburgh was also I wouldn't say he was escaping from something, you know, a kind of traumatic incident in his childhood, but it's definitely worth noting that his father was his uncle. He was part of a second dynasty. So his uncle was dubbed the John Louis mercs as Frank would be. Sean Luke, that's right. Race for Persia had some great results. Never quite lived up to that moniker, who Ken and his father who was older than John Luke. So John's brother, John Jack. He was on the cusp of being a pro site because he just signed his his contract. When hit, their father died and he became guardian to John Luke, and John Paul. His brothers, his younger brothers, so his history was snatched away from him before he could do anything about it, and he had to he had to sell off his his father's Frank's grandfather's his basins and toilets and sinks because he was a kind of plumber handyman to shut down the business. So there was a kind of element of his Frank's Father John Jack being being a real driving force for positive and for negative through his formative years, you know, he pushed him so hard, you know, he would, he would follow training with a stopwatch praise was kind of few and far between shows of shows of kind of love work, not not regular at all. And, you know, Frank felt that sometimes you've treated too much as a cyclist and not enough as a son you know, as a as a person. And they had, you know, they had fallings out throughout Frank's life. And, you know, there was also a depression that John Jack had. Or John Paul, maybe it was actually his younger brother. And Frank had that too. So there's a kind of there's a, there's a kind of site genetic, I think, vulnerability to two of, you know, mental health problems that was on show here. So there's that extreme too. And this is what I kind of also find fascinating about not just pro cyclists, but people in general, athletes in general, that when we see them, just seeing when we see them in the Tour de France or tour Flanders, whatever, we're seeing 1% of their life, you know. And for Frank, you know, when he was on the bike, that was a kind of safe place, really, when things are going well. That was his refuge. And it was really like when he wasn't on the bike when he was by himself. And you know, he couldn't be by himself, really, he loved being around people need to be around people to be supervised sometimes. But when he was alone, that was when the problem started, when he had time to think or to do certain misdemeanours or wrong things. That was a problem. And people don't think about that, you know that. Everything really needs to be going well, and in the 99% of your life outside of the bike pace for the bike race to go well.

Carlton Reid  24:46  
So you mentioned father, son relationship stuff there, which can reminded me that when I was looking at the emails of when we've interacted before, and when you were editor of Rouleur, you actually published I'm getting more into you about, you actually published a ride of my son of coming back from China, in Rouleur, and this is now four or five years back when he did that ride and you, you, you published an account of that ride. But you were with Rouleur for about five years, four years editor?

Andy McGrath  25:23  
yeah, yeah, every year for nine years and I was here to for five years, you know, which was that was a dream. That was a dream, you know, I was in my mid 20s When I became editor, and I just loved hearing their stories where I'd actually been at cycle sport, which is part of cycling weekly part a part of that IPC Media Group, you know, 15 years ago, that was where I was kind of under under the wing of Ed Pickering, who, who's now the Rouleur editor, you know, I was around all these great writers like Lionel Birnie, and, you know, just learning from them, you know, either by by osmosis or by asking stupid questions, which is a kind of great way to learn. But I've really found I was drawn to longer form storytelling, you know, articles, over 2000 words, long interviews, you know, two, three hours sometimes or, you know, spending a whole day or, or, you know, to with a pro cyclist to really, truly get under their skin, you know, because that's also the media landscape in increasingly at the moment, sometimes, you're given 20 minutes, 25 minutes in a hotel lobby, to write a long feature that's supposed to you know, be chapter and verse about the cyclist. And that's not you know, that's not sufficient. I really was kinda like an entry kind of opened the doors you know, ruler when you said you with ruler that kind of had a special effect, they knew you were gonna do a very thorough, well researched, well written job, which I think really helped. And this is also the last landscape we're in that was, you know, I joined over 10 years ago, and slightly magazines, were more plentiful, were more more profitable. And I still read paper, by the way, I'd never read a Kindle course. And I'm, I'm kind of 35 going on 65 I just like, you know, I'm looking at a bookcase with about 200 books right now. And the same goes for magazines, I just, I'm a magazine guy. And I don't see that changing. And I'm kind of proud of that, because I'm slightly scared that in even in 10 years, Time Magazine might go the way of a vine on and be a collector's item when it really shouldn't be

Carlton Reid  27:42  
well, Cycling Weekly is older than Liège–Bastogne–Liège. So that was that was 1891. So that presumably, has has a place in the market, almost guaranteed a lot of the other magazines, maybe not so much, and ruler has a place in that is long form. It is something that, you know, the pro riders as well as cycle sport fans will love and look up to because it does go into immense detail and great care, and the quality of the paper, all that kind of stuff. So it's I guess, it's the magazines, in the middle, that that fall between those two kind of different models that are going to suffer.

Andy McGrath  28:28  
Perhaps, you know, the Rouleur owner told me a few years ago that there was there was going to be survival of the fittest and you know, he's turned out to be right. I think it's also the care you know, the photography and in rural areas, you know, top top notch I think people like that baby surprise, you know, sometimes have little feedback I got as editor, you know, that I could just see the, you know, often the subscription numbers rising and you see the sales figures and I like to think there's a very happy silent majority. And maybe the numbers pull that out that, you know, some people on social media will either go on there to say how fantastic something is, or how appalling it is or that their magazine never arrived, you know, and that's fine, you know, but that's, that's the world we live in. But I'm not even sure about cycling weekly, I've got a huge attachment to that magazine sentimentally. But it could be that that ends up being being an online only presence in 10 years time or you know five years time and I really hope that isn't the case. But that more and more people are reading things on their phones or their tablets. So you know, papers printed so as a find its its place you know, but realised yet definitely one for the connoisseur. Um, and we do crazy thing crazy fun things. You know, I remember taking a crew of photographers and writers to Paris-Roubaix, which is my favourite race. Because Because I said next year we're going to do a whole edition of Rouleur just around Paris-Roubaix. And we designed it with a kind of cobblestone font. And we kind of you know, each story was a sector basically and we did it you know, we were there for a week. We worked bloomin hard. And I think we saw six sectors on the day, which for goes from south to north, took some driving that pushed the limits of the highway code. But it was you know, we, we just had carte blanche to do pretty wild things like you know, we had a Gonzo writer called Mort not bow, who was Danish, who, who who divided opinion, you know, but I've never seen anyone write like that in cycling media, let alone sports media like and he always got the interview, he always ingratiated himself with the biggest names in cycling, you know, and that's what I loved was like different styles make make a magazine, for example, you know, Morton was meant to Morton and Jakob, who we call the crazy Danes is right of geography in a combo for several years, so we're meant to spend two hours with Lance Armstrong in the height of his, you know, scandalous air, I think was 2013 2014. And they ended up spending two or three days I played golf with him, you know, and it was just, yeah, like, the one thing about Rouleur that we wanted to change was that to make it not seem so stuffy or serious, because because we were having a lot of fun making it and we all love cycling, and there's a lot of, you know, humour to be had with it. You know, you might look at the black and white photographs. And you know, think it's been ernest but you know, we tried to change that every now and then. It's

Carlton Reid  32:01  
clearly it was it was founded in a party in a Guy Andrews but partly with Simon Mottram of a Rapha, so it's like, A, in some ways, like a Rapha, journal it had that certain had that, you know, in the early days, certainly had that Rapha you know, aesthetic. And, and power to its elbow for having that aesthetic, because Simon, you know, absolutely went in it, I can say this into the veins of cycling at that time with with with, you know, a very beautiful magazine. 

Andy McGrath  32:40  
Yeah, he was, you know, he was pivotal to its founding like, along with Guy who, who was the founder, you know, they they saw they saw something different. And they, you know, they put in the money in the effort fearing that no one would buy that first issue which now goes for hundreds on eBay. And, you know, in many ways, it was similar to I think Jacque Waterlase courir magazine in the 50s and 60s, you know, that style and that aesthetic and you know, Guy didn't want any reviews. He wanted to show the cycling that you know, that he loved that also a child with the Rapha aesthetic and their values. And basically, the Rouleur blueprint that he laid out in those first issues is still what Rouleur is, you know, it's you know, in depth interviews, it's photography with a difference. And you ever heard is actually coming up for nearly 20 years. I think it'll be in a couple of years time. And

Carlton Reid  33:42  
Rapha is 20 years old this year. So that makes me feel old. Because now, I was the first person to report on Rapha's founding on in would have been, it would have been online, I would I probably did a story on on this, you know, strange aesthetics based, cycled clothing manufacturer, you know, coming in from the advertising world. So I broke the story of Rapha coming in into cycling, and then now it's that 20 years or so their current PR you know, emails me and says, Oh, would you like to do a story on on Rapha being 20 It's like, oh my god, they're 20 and I did a story on them, you know, and it doesn't feel 20 years away. So it's history, as well. So we're kind of coming full circle on on history there. Now on on LinkedIn, you actually say you're one of your career highlights is actually writing for Bicycling. So what why was that a career highlight highlight?

Andy McGrath  34:50  
Did I say that? Oh, that's good. I just I just wanted to write for you know, one of the tops like a magazine. I've been seeing it all my life. You know, when I went freelance two years ago, that was basically my chance to write for whoever I wanted. And yeah, I'm a fellow fellow news. Now fellow went online. So I just saw this kind of this prestige of writing for for an American publication who, who I always thought, you know, did some really good journalism. And they do. I mean, it's most rigorous fact checking process I've ever had, and they did some beautiful photography, it was a long profile of Peter Sagan in his retirement. Yeah, and I went to Slovakia to see, you know, his family with old friends. And I went to Spain to interview him. And it kind of felt like old school journalism, you know, also that they back you to do that, you know, both in terms of time, word count, and paying expenses.

Carlton Reid  35:56  
And paying, because that's why I like writing for American magazines is they pay five times more than any British magazine.

Andy McGrath  36:06  
Yeah, I'm not sure if we should be advertising that this is true. Yeah, saying the Americans taking out lucrative stores. But no, absolutely. Like, that's the thing that I'm not sure why it's five times more. So I understand, you know, the, the kind of living costs, generally speaking, in the US in cycling friendly pockets is probably higher. So, so they were charging more, but five times more. You know, word rates for journalists, and in cycling identity have changed for 20 years, you know, since Rapha's inception, which is kind of sad. It's more of a labour of love than it ever was, and it was still a labour of love 20 years ago. But yeah, like the bicycling and you know, writing for cycling class I've written for basically every Anglophone cycling title in my not so young career now I'm 35. And it's just a pleasure, you know, that something that you know, the teenage me will be super proud of, and you know, that, don't me, it's, it's still proud of, you know, it's something really nice to go in my bookshelf. And it's always new stories and new angles, and well, not new sci fi magazines, really. But I kind of live in hope that I can keep doing that mainly around cycling, but I am you know, one slightly sad thing is that I'm trying to diversify slightly and you know, write about different sports, as well as cycling.

Carlton Reid  37:39  
I see you on art substack. So that's really diversifying.

Andy McGrath  37:45  
That's not That's not for profit. That's just for me. I just wanted to ride this is, this is something that I started this year, just going to local galleries and doing short, short reviews, you know, with just to learn about art, and to see what I like what I don't like, you know, I always, you know, I've kind of thought that modern art is a bit pretentious, but I've never really been to see that much. So I thought it could be fun. And it's proven to be fun. But the irony is that my my work deadlines are kind of impinging on my art reviews to the point that I haven't posted anything in about two months, but I will soon for my 20 substack followers. No, it's just fine. You know, you can live in deadlines. And with a bit of stress for so long that it's a nice kind of thing to try to do to, you know, flex some different writing muscles, but also learn about something totally away from sport, which is really the thing that I love.

Carlton Reid  38:49  
So I want to dig further into that level of  cycling and into God is dead, your book. But right now I'd like to go across to my colleague David, who will give us a short ad break.

David Bernstein  39:06  
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Carlton Reid  40:24  
So we are back with Andy McGrath and Andy is the well as he's been telling us in the the before the ad break that he's been telling us about his career trajectory through cycling into into now doing an art substack even for the for the fun of it and the hell of it and the learning of it. Which Which sounds fantastic, because I should do that too. I should learn new stuff. But the thing we started this podcast with was with the the anniversary coming up to 25 years since since Frank Vandenbroucke and we can we call him VDB Do you think we can we can really Yeah. Yeah. Or should we say Frank goes to Frank because really it is it's like it's a it is actually an unknown nickname for other people in Belgium isn't is not not just something that's pertinent to him.

Andy McGrath  41:23  
That's right. There's lots of bands you know something? Yeah, Vanda

Carlton Reid  41:27  
something. Okay. So VDB we can we can go with that, as we kind of use a shorthand gumming up. So your book 2002. This came out, and he and it's the rise and fall of Frank Vandenbroucke cycling's great wasted talent is the subhead to God is dead. Now God is dead is clearly a Nietzsche reference. Also a reference to when he was coming up when when Frank was coming up through the sport, lots of people treated him as a god. And then in his autobiography, he talks about not being a god, but the very fact that he's saying he's not a God means kind of other people were saying he was a god. So that's, that's a hell of a provocative title for a book. Andy Yeah, absolutely.

Andy McGrath  42:25  
I just correct you there. It came out in 2022. If it came out in 2002, I would have been 14 and

Carlton Reid  42:33  
I'm sorry, sorry. 20222. Sorry. Yeah. No, that would have been deep military. Yes. Yes. Yes. Sorry, kind of literal, you

Andy McGrath  42:39  
know, the spoiler alert as you pointed out earlier as sports which makes it a kind of backwards who done it or you know, what happened to his life when you know, beside nd and also, you know, his friend contemporary or when I went on to wrote a song called Cody is dead. So I just thought it was too there are too many, you know, perfect similarities to not have that title. It does, I suppose it you know, catches the eye, as well, as you know, telling you what happened. And it intrigues and it should stop people in their tracks, you know, make them think, you know, who was this? Cyclists because most people most passing people in bookshops, for example, wouldn't have heard of Frank Vandenbrouke, some people at the time, you know, very briefly, he he was on the cover of pro cycling in the UK, for example, he was in the top three of the world rankings, he was going to be the biggest things since sliced bread on 11 speed. And then and this is the thing that half the book is really the rise of a sporting talent, exceptional sporting promise, despite all his problems, you know, that he had the human for example, he was involved in a in a crash with a rally car when he was four years old. Of all things, you know, in the country lanes where he grew up, and that meant that after a long, long recovery, his left leg was always two centimetres shorter and thinner, and the right leg which you would think will be problematic for for a pro cyclist and it proved to be problematic. You know, often during his career, he was always fighting these knee injuries. But anyway, he he rose up at a time when the stars were older, you know, they were 30 Plus, and they were quite bland in comparison to him. You know, we had Indurain, Rominger, Museuw, and Frank Vandenbrouke was this 20 year old counterpoint who said good things to all the Belgian media and was handsome, you know, he was good looking kid. But he raised with such panache. And he won unusually early unusually often. And for someone that yeah, when he was a junior, he won half his races which is ridiculous for someone who who wasn't a great sprinter either, you know, he he had to attack really to win most of the time.

Carlton Reid  45:14  
So it's an awful lot of is not just legacy but at the time was he just looked so beautiful on a bike I mean there's there's a little bit of you know, homo-eroticism going on there but he's just he just looked wonderful with you know those those as you're saying those those the legs being shorter and thinner. I hadn't actually noticed that but it just it looks so beautiful on a bicycle. He's just like the dream rider.

Andy McGrath  45:42  
Yeah, and that's the way that we the most of us wish we could you know, pedal that's like pedalling and in a dream. It's that the French word souplesse. It kind of describes the way that he pedalled you know, with, with no, either body barely moved, didn't move when the back was still when he kind of cycled it was like ballerina esque if that is the right word for a male ballerina probably is. And it was so incongreous, too, because his legs was so thin. You know, they were like pipe cleaners. Really. They weren't particularly muscular. But they were tanned and yeah, like it. It is funny about cycling isn't all Pro Cycling that sometimes it we don't just admire the best riders. With my style, we My grace. For example, I still remember this Russian writer called Mikhail Ignatieff who won a few Olympic goals on the track. And he didn't win any anything of any note, you know, in Tour de France, all the all the big leagues of road racing, but his pedal stroke was just gorgeous, just like you know. I imagine there was no human around years of you know, Russian training in the Velodrome but

Carlton Reid  46:55  
so that you're definitely getting back to that kind of Rapha aesthetic which, which Simon Mottram tapped into, you know that it's not about always winning. It's sometimes about just looking good and being stylish and having panache. You know, that Tom Simpson also taps into that with his suits and his writing style.

Andy McGrath  47:17  
Yeah, absolutely. Like, it's not about winning always. It's about how you make people feel. It's about how you bring the fans along with you all, all the media. And there's some riders in their 30s. Now, their favourite cyclists was Frank Vandenbrouke. That 999 the age pastorally. Age is the race of their dreams. I think I'll have an arson who's a former Belgian champion, said he watched it 200 times on replay I feel it was your bet. The great Belgian bike racer, idolise Vandenbrouke, that and there's something it wasn't just results like we can all have, well, not all of us, pro cyclists can have a page on Pro Cycling stats or whatever results. Software, you use that, that shows you what you've won, but it doesn't say anything for how you want it, you know, like with, with daring, long range attacks, like Vandenberg sometimes did, or what you said to the media afterwards, you know, giving them great quotes. And that's part of his charm. And you know, why people wrote books about him in Belgium, although that said, you know, if, if he hadn't been a kind of fatal hero, if he hadn't died so young, it would, it would be a happy a different story. Because

Carlton Reid  48:37  
there is that Amy Winehouse, you kind of mentioned that, you know, that Marilyn Monroe that kind of that here, who's a die young they stay heroes. So there's there's that element of and Africa somewhere else in your book where you talk about how people couldn't have imagined him getting older anyway. You know, there was that that there was almost a fatalism there. That this is somebody who is, you know, the Icarus figure, you know, burning bright climbing high, that will probably come a cropper like almost wasn't a surprise to many people, the way his his life ended. 

Unknown Speaker  49:15  
Absolutely. I think sometimes that's it's not easy to say that, you know, 10 years after he's died when, you know, after the fact. And the problem was that he had all these issues, he had depression briefly and he became addicted to, you know, cocaine and amphetamines. But he will always find a way out of it that I think a lot of people thought that he would eventually find a way out of his problems, you know, the 10 years from the age when the end of his life in 2009 We were just roller coaster teaser kind of cliche like, but he would always drag himself out. So that's the sadness and and they were under a lot of pain. April, he said to me, there was some regret, you know, in the quotes that his agent pulled the gator that said, when it came to his drug addiction that they were, he compared it to a kind of sinking ship and said that, you know, when they were bailing the water out, they should really be plugged in trying to plug the hole which was quite a kind of poignant quote like I thought so and so one more thing, too We, of course it gets into sad tragic territory, but you know, it's not the kind of misery misery fest biography No, and I found them bro was loved by so many people and charmed and joked around with so many people like, he was a great impressionist, he, he was like a bouncy teenager, really, at the age of 35, still, you know, like, messing around with his roommate, and putting toothpaste on the bathroom mirror. And he had this kind of universal boyishness that people found it very hard to be mad at him, even when he did, you know, quite bad things or selfish things or acted vainly, which he could do. So there's, you know, at the core of it, it goes much beyond the cyclists into this human being who could be lovable, but can also be very frustrating and, you know, do some bad things.

Carlton Reid  51:26  
So the book is, yes, it's not, you're right. It's not all doom and gloom. But there's an awful lot in there. You can't get away from this about addiction, doping clearly. And then mental health care or lack thereof, in in, in not just in cycling, but in probably in society as a whole. Yeah, like, I

Unknown Speaker  51:46  
kind of think that. If we look back, even 10 years alone, 20 years, the duty of, of care for professional athletes was really lacking. You know, I think it's really sad that there were top level riders not just Vandenberg, who were going to psychologist or psychiatrist, but we're keeping it strong, you know, because it was seen as so shameful, you know. And to me that shy, that taps into the old school soccer mentality of, you know, the way they used to be the way they used to train, you know, do 300k Drink very little, eat very little. Ride harder, don't complain. And that could work for some people. But that is not a caring way to look up to most people. You know, that's, and that can come back to by many athletes, you know, and I think that's what happened. Vandenbrouke's psychologist probably helped to help him to live longer. You know, that's what he said in his his autobiography. Actually, Vandenbrouke

Carlton Reid  52:52  
That's Jeff Browers?

Unknown Speaker  52:54  
Yeah, exactly. And, in fact, he was probably an early kind of adopter of this help that he needed, you know, not just for, you know, the cycling was one thing, but they were trying to cure his kind of addiction problems and is show him that he he was loved, you know, even though he felt abandoned often. And that's the crux of it, that, you know, this need to be loved that I kind of thing most of, well, pretty much all all of us have, whether it's conscious or subconscious. And he always felt unloved or abandoned, despite, you know, the obvious legion of fans that he had and everything else. And that was a tragedy, there are human tragedy.

Carlton Reid  53:37  
So in your in your book, there's a kind of murder mystery, and to the book, murder, mystery, suicide, whatever. So Jeff, Browers was the psychologist about it, he basically told you that he thinks it was it was it was suicide, because he was, as you've just said that he needs people around and he was quite alone in that grubby hotel room in Senegal. But then other people, family obviously blame the people he was with and don't want to have that association. With with suicide, you don't really come you don't come to a conclusion because you can't really come to a conclusion, especially as it happened in Senegal, where it's kind of difficult to come to any conclusion anyway. But there's, there's various people give their their opinions weighing all that up. What's your opinion?

Unknown Speaker  54:40  
I don't have to give one you know, like, if it isn't clear, factually, and I can't be certain, but I've laid out you know, that's the job of the biography is to talk to everyone that was close to Vandenbrouke around him at the time. He was actually you know, basically there and include what they said Um, but no. I think that there could be something very well and what you have for hours says, you know, the psychologists who, you know, he was a man who spent hours with him and in that in that room I can see why he would say that. But one of the great, one of the great, strange things about this is, is that mystery like that, you know, Vandenbrouke had never even been to Africa, and he decided to go to Senegal, ye. And this filmic ending, you know, where, whereas you say, a prostitute was the last person to see him alive. So maybe he wanted it to be, you know, clouded in some kind of doubt that it could never be be definitive. But either way, you know what, like, whichever way that he died, it was pretty tragic that that he died, you know, and he's not the only one from that era, either. He had Pantani, you had Jose Maria Jimenez, you know, and I think it's, it's partly a kind of symptom of the doping culture that what they were taking to perform in bike races made it much easier to get into recreational drugs. And both of those things, mess with your mind and your body. And probably your, your, your soul, you know, the core of who you really feel you are and what you're doing, you know, whether you think it's cheating or not that moral maze, it, it can't be easy. I'm there must have been a hot a horrible time to be a pro cyclist.

Carlton Reid  56:41  
People think of these things doping is a black and white issue. Yet, there's a spectrum here, you know, is I mean, the UCI classifies too many coffees, too many espressos as doping. But, you know, four or five, okay. You know, marginal gains, you know, all these things, which which you can legally do, and yet you somehow trip over a line, if you take this other thing. And the other thing is, is meant to be this evil thing. And that's clearly you know, the wrong thing to do. But vitamin supplements and you know, creatine, all of these things are performance enhancing, why did they not get the stigma that EPO get? So it's a spectrum and addicted, it's very difficult to say this as a black and white thing, when there are many things that can make you better on a bike, including EPO, but then you know, just your energy gel makes you better on a bike, should we be adding energy gels, it's there's very little nuance gets into it talking about doping, it's just black and it's white. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker  57:57  
when really if you're saying is that it's basically shades shades of grey, you know that the modern game does you're in the peloton is ketones, which are not banned, but they seem to be ethically questionable. And my rudimentary understanding of the science around it is also that no one knows how, how it can affect the career in a few years time or five years time that we might be seeing some writers already suffering from not using them in the right way or overusing them. Well,

Carlton Reid  58:35  
my wife is a is a diabetes doctor. So she knows about ketones, and she knows about insulin, as well. And insulin was, was clearly one of the things that Frank used to basically say he was going to kill himself and he's going to use insulin to do so. So potentially that was, it's very hard to trace insulin as if you're going to kill yourself with insulin. So potentially, that's, that's, yeah, you're gonna kill yourself insulin is a pretty good way of doing it.

Andy McGrath  59:11  
Yeah. And you know, why would you why would you take that to Senegal? Or how would you source it? You know, what? He wasn't a diabetic, you know, so. Yeah, I won't give away you know, the ending or, you know, what everyone said about the ending, but, you know, several people were pointing towards suicide, certainly in the book, but yeah, like, I just going back to the grey area of crime doping. I just hope it's a bit more nuanced. Now. The way that people regard dope is like I even think that you know, 10 years ago. It it's really hard. It's very hard, isn't it? Because they have cheated. They have done something wrong, and they've done it knowingly, you know, in probably 99% of cases. Despite the numerous They can excuse.

Carlton Reid  1:00:02  
Yes, there have been quite a few good ones. False twin

Unknown Speaker  1:00:10  
Yeah, false twin, pigeon pie, weeks from a Colombian grandmother. It's got

Carlton Reid  1:00:17  
I bought it for my dog. Okay.

Unknown Speaker  1:00:20  
Yeah, well, that was bingo. So on the one hand, they are not above appropriate, you know, the rider. They are number one, you know, anything that turns up in their body knowingly or unknowingly, if they're positive, that's that's on them, you know, that's how it is. And I totally get that. But on the other hand, it still seems to me that the culture around doping IE, you know, the people that help them or, or facilitate, you know, people like team doctors, team managers, people in the know, people who are still in the sport, you know, nowadays seem to get away with it, pretty much, often quite, quite scot free. And that's not okay. And I've had, you know, cyclists who were pros in the 80s through to, you know, the last decade, you know, saying a similar thing, but that's a thing that needs to be changed that needs to be snuffed out like the right is kind of like the symptom of a wider problem. And of course, if we knew the answer if the UCI or Wilder knew the answer, you know, anti doping foundations famously have much smaller smaller budgets and maybe even the biggest cycling team in the world they're always fighting kind of a chasing battle they're always you know, one step behind maybe against the latest wonder drug or the kind of latest cheats but I think I can save some some confidence Pro Cycling is is cleaner now than it was in Vandenbrouke's heyday. But I also fear that it'll never be totally clean partly because of human nature partly because of the money was going up and up and partly because of this bizarre kind of will to win this drive is addiction

Carlton Reid  1:02:13  
Yeah, can even amateur races you know, people have been caught doping that will to win

Andy McGrath  1:02:22  
Yeah, I mean, that's that's sad in my opinion, you know, if you're, if you're doping to win a category three cap for race. What's the point? You know,

Carlton Reid  1:02:32  
do you race have you written Have you raced

Unknown Speaker  1:02:38  
I did a few time trials when I was up at university in York. Beautiful place to ride around there Oh, and I did someone's teenager with the Addiscombe in Croydon that's where I'm from. no great shakes, Carlton. I've never meant to be the next Frank Vandenbroucke much better at writing than riding my bike has put it that way. But

Carlton Reid  1:03:08  
yeah, you're a rider. Not a racer. So that that that that Colnago that you bought is something that you would ride on a nice day with no mud around so what you're writing normally what's what's if you're not running the Colnago what you're writing 

Andy McGrath  1:03:33  
it's a time XRS I'll steel a nice bike from now not a pub bike.

Unknown Speaker  1:03:38  
It's a decent bike it was just it just keeps going and it gets me around town if I want to ride in the autumn or winter on the road so I'll use Quickstep used to ride it back in the day me 20 years ago you know Palpatine and all that

Carlton Reid  1:03:57  
which did you pick that up in your in your magazine days then is that was you kind of like you somehow acquired it back then.

Andy McGrath  1:04:07  
Well, the thing about me is I'm I'm not I'm no techie I'm really good people that would have seen me trying to fix a puncture back in the cycling weekly office 15 years ago would have realised that immediately now I'm there because I like riding my bike. I just to be completely honest, like I don't know much about bike tech and isn't the most interesting thing about cycling for me, you know, I'm the people that ride the bikes, you know, the pros and all their you know, differences and their opinions and personalities. That's much more interesting to me than say this bike weighs eight kilos or this carbon one weigh 7.5 But that's that's just me, you know, each have their own. Yeah, I'd much rather you know ride a bike then. do the legwork for it, you know, which is but actually need to get better at you know mechanics and changing chains and that kind of thing and maybe on a warm summer's day, I'll just practice doing

Carlton Reid  1:05:13  
that. That's what bike shops are for. That's my opinion. Now I'm with you. I'm with you on the I'm not fussed about technical stuff I've never really been happy writing about the technical stuff doesn't excite me writing about technical stuff or weighing things and yeah, it's the people that is all the stories that are around it that that are from me, personally. A more interesting.

Andy McGrath  1:05:40  
Yeah, absolutely. Like, I find it hard to rhapsodise about tech, you know, whereas I can. Yeah, like I kind of wish I was more intrigued by it, but I'm just not, that's just my personality. And the funny thing is, as a former tech magazine, Ed editor, you really you do have to slightly balance the editorial side with not keeping advertisers happy, but keeping them onside. And there was a slight tech element with Rila. But we we did it in our own way with basically treating the bike or the other kit, like a like a model, you know, hanging on trees or oversea wall, or all kinds of crazy sheets.

Carlton Reid  1:06:29  
So if people want to and we're now wrapping up here, Andy, if people want to get your book and be maybe getting in touch with you or find out what you're doing, where do they find you on websites on on social media?

Unknown Speaker  1:06:44  
They can find me on X formerly known as Twitter before Elon Musk made it even worse. Yeah, at Andy McGrath, that's a n d, why. MC Gra? So, take off the th basically for my surname. Yeah, they want to buy the book, just any online bookseller, really from from Amazon to Waterstones to Blackwell's to whoever, whoever you like, it's on there. And I'll put

Carlton Reid  1:07:19  
your art stack substack link in in the show notes. So people can also you know, if they're not interested in cycling, they could they could follow you for your, you know, your your opinions on Anthony Conway says

Andy McGrath  1:07:31  
the next step comes from me being an expert, what's your, what do you think?

Carlton Reid  1:07:39  
Well, I guess if you're not into the techie side, you know, and you're just looking at maybe just the people behind these things, rather than the art itself? I don't know. Is that do they? Are you looking at the art itself? What's going to interest you?

Andy McGrath  1:07:51  
I am mainly looking at the art itself being and that ties into their lives and the era they were in. It's a bit of everything really, you know, if it's modern art that I'm likely to question, you know, how did this make me feel? You know, what do I feel? What does this elicit in me kind of understand how much work is took or, you know, the literal art artistry behind it? That's one element. But, you know, I just went to see Frank Howell back. He's at the Courtauld in London. He's basically the last surviving artist from that Lucien Freud. Francis Bacon set in the 1950s. And I thought it was fantastic and but it's only black and white because he didn't have the money for pain in 1950s, which I've become a pain which is also an insight into a different world, you know, that I'm very fortunate to not be in you know, post World War reconstruction. But anyway, we we digress. Any followers are welcome.

Carlton Reid  1:09:02  
Yes, no, I'll put that link in. For sure. And to your other things. So Andy, thank you so much for for talking to us on me, us.

Andy McGrath  1:09:11  
Thank you. Absolute pleasure.

Carlton Reid  1:09:15  
And that's it for today's show. Thanks for listening to Episode 351 of the spokesmen podcast brought to you in association with Tern bicycles, show notes and more can be found at As I mentioned earlier, the next episode, dropping real soon, will be a chat with cycling writer, Laura Laker. But meanwhile, get out there and ride ...


Direct download: The_Spokesmen_351.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:51am MDT

8th April 2024

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 350: AA's Think Bike Redux 

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUESTS: Chris Boardman, Jeremy Vine, Edmund King



Carlton Reid  0:12  
Welcome to Episode 350 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Monday 8th April 2024.

David Bernstein  0:28  
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you're commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That's t e r n to learn more. 

Carlton Reid  1:04  
I'm Carlton Reid and on today's super short show we hear from Chris Boardman and Jeremy Vine, plugging that from today, the AA is relaunching its 10 year old 'Think Bike' campaign. This nudge-like promo encourages drivers to fit small Think Bike wing-mirror stickers to remind them to look out for those on two wheels. Back in 2014 the AA printed a million of these stickers and distributed them to members promoting the giveaway with a YouTube video featuring a good-looking naked cyclist appearing in wing mirrors demonstrating that if people chose to truly look before manoeuvring, there'll be fewer casualties out there. Did the campaign save any lives? Impossible to prove either way, of course. And some might argue that 10 years down the road the feral attitude towards cyclists in particular from some motorists is worse than ever. But that a motoring organisation is still going out of its way to promote a critical road safety message is something that's to be applauded.

The concept for a wing-mirror sticker came from AA patrolman Tony Rich after his friend was killed in a motorcycle crash. The idea was then championed by AA president who's not only an arch motorist but also travels around London on a folding bike. Edmund cycles recreationally, too ... I know that because he often sends me photos of him riding his mountain bike wearing the ipayroadtax Lycra jersey that I sent him ages ago ...  So before the sound bites from Chris Boardman and Jeremy Vine here's Edmund King ...

Edmund King  3:01  
It is now 10 years since we launched our Think Bike sticker campaign. But unfortunately, the message is still as relevant today as it was a decade ago; far too many people are being killed and seriously injured on two wheels,  whether cyclists or motorcyclists. So we will be spreading the message again, to all drivers to think bikes. 

Chris Boardman  3:26  
It's hard to believe the Think Bike sticker campaign launched 10 years ago, and I was there when that happened, the idea to make drivers just a little bit more aware of the vulnerable road users around them. Really glad to see that the AA is reinvigorating the campaign. And I'll be glad to join in and help.

Jeremy Vine  3:43  
And I'm so pleased to see that the AA is doing this because if you're on two wheels, you do feel quite vulnerable. And I always think when you're in a car, and I drive too, you don't always see that that person on the bicycle is a mum, a sister, somebody's son, someone's grandfather, maybe even their great grandfather. So thank you AA for thinking bike. 

David Bernstein  4:07  
This podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles.  The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you’re commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That’s t e r n to learn more. This podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern understand that while a large cargo bike can carry oodles of stuff, many of us prefer something a little more manageable. That’s why they’ve come up with the HSD e-cargobike for folks with big aspirations to go car free, delivered in a compact size, with its rear shock, 280 kilos, and a combined hauling capacity of 180 kilos. The robust new HSD is stable and easy to manoeuvre, even when under load. And with its Bosch eBIKE SYSTEM tested and certified to meet the highest UL standards for electric and fire safety you’ll be able to share many worryfree adventures with a loved one whether it’s your kiddo or Nan. Visit www.ternbicycles. That’s t e r n to learn more

Visit www.ternbicycles. That’s t e r n to learn more.

Carlton Reid  5:06  
And that's it for today's show. Thanks for listening to episode 350 of the Spokesmen podcast, brought to you in association with Tern Bicycles.   Show notes and more can be found at   The next episode, a rather longer one, will be a chat with cycling writer Andy McGrath, author of God is Dead and other cycling books .... meanwhile get out there and ride ...


Direct download: The_Spokesmen_350.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:54am MDT

17th March 2024

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 349: Turn on Strava for everyday journeys, it could reshape streets for the better 

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Tom Knights, Strava MetroLINKS:


Carlton Reid  0:13  
Welcome to Episode 349 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Sunday 17th of March 2024.

David Bernstein  0:28  
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you're commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That's t e r n to learn more.

Carlton Reid  1:03  
I'm Carlton Reid. On today's show, I'm talking with Tom Knights. He's the senior manager of partnerships and marketing for Strava Metro. This is a super-useful active travel city-making dataset-service from the athlete tracking app. And if you bristled at the word athlete, because you think there's no sport in transport, listen on ... 

Strava metro was very, very

insistent in 2020. About how successful cycling and and walking in all active mode because of the pandemic and the blog posting was, you know, we're very pained to say this. However, you know, it's really, really, we're going crackers with the amount of cycling as you know, the bike boom, yeah, what did go amazing. Now, the bike industry right now is famously and woefully massively down in the dumps. So what have you seen with usage? So what has happened since 2022? actual usage of bicycles not just, you know, we know the sales are bad. Is the usage bad also? 

Tom Knights  2:21  
Yeah, that's a really good question. And actually like to say the kind of the free, the free, free call to Strava Metro kind of suddenly going free was actually very well timed, unfortunately, under very difficult circumstances globally. One of the reasons like I say, we kind of made Strava Metro free wasn't actually because of the pandemic and the looming kind of crisis. And obviously, this switch to human powered transportation. It was like, almost like an unfortunate timing, but but obviously beneficial for cities and all the planners that start to use this data. So yes, we definitely saw this huge boom during the kind of 2020 21 era. And thankfully, because a lot of cities and a lot of regions and governments had the foresight to start investing in protecting cycle lanes in safe routes, which we know is one of the biggest barriers to people actually kind of picking up a bicycle. Lot of those initiatives have stayed, and we hope that they've stayed because actually, they've been able to see some of the Strava activity straight through Strava Metro, and then use that against other data sources to start to understand actually, is this being used in terms of trends, and overall, we've definitely seen more of a normalisation but again, what we are seeing is obviously, people looking for alternatives to either commute, and then well, kind of 2024 the word commute looks a bit different than maybe it did in 2019. But anything that's a utility trip, and essentially through safe and accessible infrastructure. That's what we know. And I'm sure you know, from all the kind of conversations you've had over the years, that's the biggest driver to people, making it feel safe. So, long story short, yes, we've definitely seen a normalisation now, in terms of growth 

Carlton Reid  4:06  
Normalisation, that sounds like quite a bit of a euphemism for, for what? 

Tom Knights  4:12  
So I guess the new the new normal as it were, so we've definitely seen that growth. And then now what we've seen, like I say, as people who are consistently cycling now, and then obviously, we hope that through infrastructure improvements into society into communities, that will then also encourage even more folks to pick up a bicycle on that front. 

Carlton Reid  4:33  
I'm gonna carry on digging here, because I think it's quite important. So that graph that was on the Strava Metro, I remember it well, the human powered transportation one Yep. Yeah. So I mean, that was that was great. But, you know, so when you've been normalisation, is that graph, it went up like crazy. And do you mean by normalisation that it went down so well usage is down or has


Tom Knights  5:00  
so not I mean, it's difficult to say but I wouldn't say plateau because we're always seeing kind of growth. And that's what's so exciting a and I can't necessarily kind of say a lot more about the Strava core Strava world because of course, that's a different kind of department as it were. But in terms of the Metro world, and what we're seeing in terms of cycling, in general, we've just seen that spike from 2019 to 2020, that continued growth into 2021. And now what is is probably more of that kind of continuous steady growth. As opposed to that, we I wouldn't say we've definitely seen any kind of drop off as it were on that front. 

Carlton Reid  5:34  
So it's interesting, because we now have metrics that we just didn't have, you know, 10, 15 20 years ago, from an industry perspective, used to be able to track

sales of number of bikes, and but you never knew whether, actually people even though a few bikes sold, actually, people might actually be riding more, potentially. So now we have metrics from from people like you, where you can not only track the number of bikes sold, but you can also track roughly whether people are using those bikes. So that's fascinating information from a market point of view. And the way I'm going from on that is

you've got some high end holiday companies, you know, Glorious Gravel going to Sri Lanka, Namibia, all these amazing places with people who got clearly a lot of money and a fair bit of time. Yeah, still getting out there cycling. So when we haven't seen that end shift at all. But no, that's the rarefied end, isn't it? That's like, Yeah, from from a metro point of view.

Tom Knights  6:42  
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I in terms of, you know, think travel and tourism, that is obviously a kind of luxury. And, you know, for kind of people a having the kind of means to kind of jump on a plane or to kind of visit and take the time off. And that's great, though, for kind of seeing that, that boom, because we want people to kind of get an introduction to cycling in general. And if that means discovering it on a holiday tour, fantastic. Hopefully, that then translates into cycling into work maybe two or three days a week, or suddenly dropping a car trip once a week, because they've discovered the joy of cycling. But I think January what we're hoping, though, is we see this bike boom, fueled by better and safer streets. That's, that's our kind of main concern is that, if you build it, I know, you've heard this phrase a lot before, you know, if you build it, people will come. And we know that from Strava Metro data, when you look at the kind of streets where there's been investment, the Before and After Effects is amazing. See this kind of increase in trips. Now, of course, you might say, Well hold on Strava growth. But actually, what we're seeing is that Strava Metro data alongside Eco-counter or Telraam data, you can start to kind of normalise and build a model. And I think that's what we're we're hoping that people can start to, as you mentioned, all these amazing datasets start to pull these together, and then really build this picture to kind of tell a different story than perhaps maybe the negative stories are saying in terms of, you know, cycling booms over or no one's using this bike lane, etc. 

Carlton Reid  8:10  
And this is an obvious question, okay. And this is a question that I'm sure you are incredibly well used to batting away, and you know, you're gonna get it. And you, you could almost do it yourself. So that is in your documentation. It's all about athletes. Of course, when you put that into Strava Metro, you're talking about non lycra. I know you discuss this on your blogs, but just just tell me now, why I would be wrong to suggest that Mamils, women on bikes and lycra why the data is robust, even though you talk about athletes? 

Tom Knights  8:53  
Yeah, no, you're quite right. And it's a, it's a really good point. And I suppose, from the data point of view, we're not looking at,

we look at those as activities and people and trips so that the athletes is more of a kind of Strava kind of communications in a playful way to call our community athletes, and you've probably seen various different messages over the years about, you know, if you're an athlete, you're on Strava. And, and essentially, there is a lot of truth in that, you know, we want anyone who moves through human powered transportation, or through moves and find their joy in discovering movement ways we would define as an athlete, you know, anyone who is doing that, now appreciating the world of transportation planning and bike lanes and commuting, you might not think, you know, cycling across the Waterloo Bridge in the morning at 830. You're an athlete, but essentially, from a metro point of view, what we're looking to do is see these community based trips as data points, like say that can be used for improving infrastructure on that front. And I think the way that actually I would position it personally is often thinking, well, everyone who uploads a ride on to Strava is a human powered counter, because through through Metro

That's going towards some kind of better cause in terms of funding and reviewing active travel investment.

But I do understand your point about you know, Mamil. And you know, a lot of drivers growth in the early days was fueled by that amazing core set of athletes. And you know, I grew up in this town called Dorking, which you're probably familiar with, from the classic ride, sorry, and I'm very familiar, you know, the weekends kind of seeing, you know, the the kind of, I say the kind of more sportive rides coming through the town. But actually, what that served is actually an inspiration for more people's go. Actually, that was quite fun. I should try that. And I think the data we're seeing through Year in Sport that we've done anecdotally, through Metro data, that actually we've got a lot more 18 to 34 year olds, who are now also discovering the joy of active transportation.

And again, Metro data is telling us that it's not just, you know, the weekend, you know, the Saturday morning at 10am, in the Surrey Hills or on the the kind of Yorkshire Dales it's actually taking place on the streets of Manchester, or the streets of London, etc. And I think that's what we're hoping is that story through community or athletes, as you know, we're calling it that that helps planners to see that trend is is not just, you know, the kind of Lycra

brigade Who are you know, cycling and I would all use what the same people that are cycling at the weekends, you know, on the kind of right sorry, classics or up in the Yorkshire Dales are also the same people that are using bike lanes. And equally as important when we're thinking about counting.

Carlton Reid  11:30  
Of course, you're not getting

the invisible in American terms, it's called the invisible cyclists. So these are often Latino.

Basically poor people on bikes, who are definitely not going to be using Strava. But going to using bikes, and then they call them invisible cyclists, because

they're not on bicycles that perhaps

an enthusiast would ride, but they are using bicycles and all power to their elbow, but power to their knees. Now, you're not capturing them. So if you're not capturing a significant number of people who are using

the roads, does that not suggest that you're missing an important chunk of people who are not using? You just can't capture everybody? And how important is that?

Tom Knights  12:27  
Yeah, really, really good point. And I guess a couple of bits on that is that

essentially no data set, you know, the world is accurate, you think about a, you know, a bicycle counsellor on the embankment or, you know, in the middle of Manchester, or even in the rural area, you know, if someone doesn't go through that specific kind of counting station, as it were, you're not being picked up in the count. And I think that's what Strava Metro is really kind of aiming to do is essentially colouring the map with all the blank spots that aren't being picked up. And being free, which is, again, one of these kind of opportunities to kind of get this data into the masses, allows transportation planners allows Safe Streets advocates, anyone who's focused on transportation equity and environmental racism to dive into that data and go, Okay, looks like actually, there's people going through this counting station here. But actually, Strava Metro is also showing us that people are going down this route. So what's interesting what's going on there. And again, you're quite right to call out that the heat map, for example, in, you know, maybe underrepresented areas, or places that don't necessarily have the same political will have, you know,

more affluent areas who have perhaps built cycle lanes or made their streets more attractive from things like heat islands, you think about kind of cities outside of the UK that suffer a lot from high temperatures, you know, the streets are not necessarily designed for being walkable and bikable. That's what we're really hoping we can also use the Strava data to show what's not happening, as well as what's happening. And again, a lot of the work that Metro is involved in is ties back into this kind of social impact piece. It's not just, you know, we obviously want this data to be used by, you know, transportation planners, but we're also hoping we can start to, you know, work a lot more with, you know, say advocacy groups, anyone likes easy, bold environmental racism and transportation equity, to really kind of look at that data, and metrics looks, it's been designed that anyone including myself, I'm not a geospatial professional, but I can see, you know, through a map and looking at certain areas where people are cycling and when they're not cycling, but also we want to build a product and I can't really, you know, say I'm not necessarily holding the Strava product side, but we want to build an experience, which is all encompassing for everyone on there, but I definitely understand your point about the barriers to entry, you know, just in general, you cycling you need to have a bike to join Strava you need a mobile phone that supports you know, obviously your Strava although we do have connections with lots of fitness devices, but again, that comes at a cost, but hopefully, the more people that learn about

Metro and the authenticity and the kind of the fact that it's free. The fact that Strava is free to join, it gives people a sense of empowerment that actually, I can change something that's happening on my street. And that's a big part of the messaging that, you know, I'm working on, and certainly have been working on for the last five years, because as you say,

maybe the association with Strava is it's just for athletes, or people who are doing k runs, and Q RMS, etc. But actually, what we're seeing is that more and more people are turning to Strava, to kind of log their activities, and hopefully through when they learn about Metro, they'll realise that they're actually changing their communities, because that data is really kind of playing a part in helping to shape your better infrastructure or, essentially, build a political case for more investment. 

Carlton Reid  15:45  
Good point. So somebody like me, who's been a Strava member since 2013 I discovered by looking into my profile this morning, 

Tom Knights  15:53  
and then thank you for your long term membership. 

Carlton Reid  15:57  
I would say, I'm not a frequent updater. But I should be, shouldn't I? So what you're saying is people like me who have it on our phones, don't use it, you know, because I don't consider myself an athlete. Yeah, that should be turning on, for even everyday journeys, because it helps.

Tom Knights  16:18  
So I've been, you know, I'd have that in writing. And, as it quite, you know, when we kind of go out to advocacy kind of events and talk to kind of people because I think, as you've just said, you know, the more people that discover about this, you know, cycle of like Strava, being free and then wanting to make streets better. And then Metro, obviously, enabling that, we think there's a really compelling story. And I genuinely there's, this is such a passionate thing to kind of work on. And I think we're very lucky, you know, part of the metro team to be able to have these conversations with partners all over the world. And I think we are we've met at Velo-city a couple of times before. And the one thing that comes up all the time at these conferences is, you know, how are we measuring it? Or how do we win the case for safer streets? And, you know, this is our answer to that and to say, well, let's come together and bring all these amazing datasets that are available out there. You know, let's build a case and get people to see that this is available. 

Carlton Reid  17:12  
And those datasets, the expectation is, from your point of view, that a transportation planning department will be using multiple sources, they won't be just using Metro. They'll be using their own counting devices, hopefully, if they've got them. And they'll be plotting everything. And they'll have some sort of, will they have a desktop with everything on? Or have they got like a look at lots of different screens? 

Tom Knights  17:40  
Yeah, so what we hear from from foreigners, they use a lot of geospatial kind of software, you know, there's obviously various different enterprise kind of grade level software and data analytics tools where you can always ingest multiple sorts of data. So we make extracting the data from from Metro, which is, I'm sure, hopefully, everyone realises completely anonymized, obviously, and then also aggregated, we make that very easy for partners to essentially download, and then upload back into, like, say, all of this data planning tools.

And obviously, you know, there's multiple data sets out there. And largely, like I say, we use the same mapping tools as well. So OpenStreetMap is really important, you know, in terms of, actually, how do you paint a picture of your infrastructure in your area. And like, say, planners will then use that to build reports to kind of maybe produce research, and then essentially come up with this kind of our number, which says, you know, for every X number of trips on Strava, you can say that there's 100 trips of normal, non non Strava usage, for example, send your Strava.

But, and we've seen a couple of examples that, you know, the Office of National Statistics have done that, in rural remote areas, Transport for London, have been using it to kind of model traffic lights through London and the timing that you get on green times, you know, and it's not just Strava D. So you don't want to build cities just around one particular user. But that's why being like I say, a free tool to do that allows us to kind of

plug into all these other datasets. 

Unknown Speaker  19:12  
Let's let's go backwards a little bit into

Carlton Reid  19:16  
that, that I'll use your term, the athlete, so you basically got a rider? Yeah, going along. I'll use like, even though I'm like to 50 miles away. I'll use London as an example. So going along the Embankment. Yeah, yeah, yes, you've anonymized all the data. So this is not you know, you know, you don't know this particular person on a bike at all. You can't track anything. But you can see at a granular level, whether they are on the road or whether they are on the Embankment cycleway, and you can see where they make that you know, sudden turn like there's a there's a few turns on the embankment where you've got to make quite a shift to get on to the cycleway. So you in Strava Metro, you can see that too.


Tom Knights  20:01  
Exactly that so we can see, like I say the, I think there's something like 420 million edges in the whole world. So edge is referred to as streets on OpenStreetMap. And if you've got some enthusiastic mapping listeners on this podcast, hopefully they might be able to write in and correct me in some tell me how many exactly edges there are. But if you think about the world as all of these kind of different edges and routes that are built up, where there's been a Strava activity gone over the top of that, and, of course, where there's been a minimum of free, which allows us to kind of aggregate those activities, we can exactly that show you where people have turned left, how many trips went off, on a certain direction? Was this route busier because of a road closure one week? Or was this route more improved year on year because of a safer kind of passageway? You know, I appreciate we're talkinh about cycling here. But if you think about running and walking, you know, was this improved? Because there was better lighting? Or were more people using this pathway, because, you know, there was a kind of nice new path put down. So I think this is like it's this kind of colouring in the map with all the other kind of datasets that are available. And then Strava can kind of tell you that picture of where, you know, there has been activity. 

Carlton Reid  21:12  
So when Nick Ferrari goes on the radio and says, I got stuck behind a cyclist on the Embankment, they should be on the cycleway. You could or anybody could go to Strava Metro, and say, well, actually, that must have been just a completely

unusual person. Because look, 99.9% of of cyclists are going on to the cycleway. And here look, we can show you the heat map where that is happening. That's what you can do? 

Tom Knights  21:42  
Exactly that. And like I say you want one colour, I would say is it's not anyone. So that was one of the caveats to the authenticity of the kind of Metro project. And I know that word authenticity thrown a lot you know about but that the only reason Metro works is because the Strava community buy into this idea that the data has been used for something good, not for commercial purposes. So not anyone can access Metro, but TfL can access it, for example, in your example of the bike lanes in London, London cycling campaign could access this because of course, you know, they're involved in advocacy work.

Unfortunately, LBC wouldn't be able to access this, because obviously they're using it for other purposes.

But actually anyone involved in safe infrastructure, and we hope that this is it, you know, when the the transportation teams, all these different medical authorities or local authorities can actually go, actually what we have seen on the street is that X percentage of people are using this bike lane on there. And that's, that's what I think it's going to take to kind of not win the argument, but really convinced people that bike lanes are being used, and they're a good investment. They're just incredibly efficient, because you never see anyone in traffic. And then yes, people are constantly moving. 

Carlton Reid  22:53  
Yes. Now, I know you're not on this side of it. So it's a slightly unfair question to ask, but I'd like one I'd like you to tell me about anyway. So at the end, not not now. But at the end, I'd like you to go through and just tell people how much it costs to, you know, go the full fat version of Strava. But before you do that, and that's going to be the end anyway, just let's just, you know, just confirm this right now, you do not need to use Strava Metro for is free for transportation planners, anybody else. But you don't need any, you're not going to get hassled to become a pro member.

To be one of these people like me who just want to do good for the community by turning metro or Strava on for our normal daily rides, you won't be charged for that you can get a free membership that will do everything apart from all the pro level stuff that you don't need anyway, if you're just one of these lapsed people?

Tom Knights  23:56  
Yeah, it's possible. And so, you know, Strava is like has always operated on that kind of freemium model, as it were, that you know, at its simplest, you can download the app, join the community upload rise. And then if you've made that road public, so I should have added that caveat as well, that will contribute to metric because of course, you know, people might want to hide the start or the end of their journeys, they won't count. Some people might want to also hide a certain route. But hopefully, like say when they hear about the project and go actually, this is a pretty good idea, I should start uploading my routes and maybe, you know, further down the line as they kind of start to explore Strava they want to kind of look at a route or they want to kind of go oh, that could be quite a good tool to have because I've got more into my cycling journey, then yes, of course. Strava is open for them. But at its source and Metro, they are both free. 

Carlton Reid  24:46  
Mm hmm. Okay. At this point, I would like to cut away to my colleague, David who will give a short break. 

David Bernstein  24:56  
This podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles.

The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you're commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That's t e r n to learn more.  This podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern understand that while a large cargo bike can carry oodles of stuff, many of us prefer something a little more manageable. That's why they've come up with the HSD e-cargobike for folks with big aspirations to go car free, delivered in a compact size, with its rear shock, 280 kilos, and a combined hauling capacity of 180 kilos. The robust new HSD is stable and easy to manoeuvre, even when under load. And with its Bosch eBIKE SYSTEM tested and certified to meet the highest UL standards for electric and fire safety you'll be able to share many worryfree adventures with a loved one whether it's your kiddo or Nan. Visit www.ternbicycles. That's te r n turn to learn more

Carlton Reid  25:57  
Thanks, David. And we're back with Tom Knights of Strava Metro, and I was looking at your LinkedIn profile. And as you do when you when you want to talk to somebody and you want to find out their background, and you've kind of similar background to me, in that you did classics you did you did like nothing to do with what you're doing in your day job. You did like it will tell me what you did it was Exeter University exactly what you did. 

So I kind of found found myself essentially looking at degree subjects where, you know, I was interested in more the kind of anthropological aspects of history and actually Classical Studies, and I'm always very much told by classic students that classics versus Classical Studies is a very different subjects. Obviously, one focuses heavily on Latin language in Greek texts, whereas Classical Studies is more about, you know, the discovery of what was going on during the Roman Empire in the Greek Empire period. So that was always a passion of mine about kind of understanding society, and maybe what was the kind of political kind of themes at the time and, you know, fascinated about some communities on there. And, of course, the story for the dad joke, but like, most people, when you study history, there's no future in it.

I'll use that.

Tom Knights  27:24  
But yeah, obviously, you know, that allowed me, you know, I suppose to back in the kind of early 2000s, when I was at university, you know, it was a very privileged time, when they weren't necessarily crippling university fees and structure. So it allowed me to kind of study a subject, which was more of a passion project. But of course, you know, didn't necessarily elude me into kind of a specific career working in British museum or on an archaeological site in antiquity.

And actually, in hindsight, I think geography would have been more of my passion, because that's ultimately what's kind of landed me in this area of transportation and maps and bicycles. Geography was always my kind of first passion. 

Carlton Reid  28:04  
But you're a man after my own heart, because I did a degree, that was nothing connected to what I eventually did. And that was religious studies and comparative religion. And I did Hebrew, as well. So I did do a not a classic language, but I did a language that was known to antiquity. I'd say, yeah, we've come similar backgrounds. But then you've if you look at your career progression, it went very quickly from something that's completely useless to and affect your career. If I look at your career arc has been certainly tech. So from the very first it was you went from classics, blummin' heck,, to tech, that's that's a leap. And then you've carried on that, that that trajectory. 

Tom Knights  28:45  
Yeah, definitely, I think that kind of, you know, almost juxtaposes the kind of interest in history, but I think a lot of my friends maybe went into, you know, in the early 2000s, like most people kind of found their way going into financial services, I'd always kind of been more interested in the world of tech and technology. And then working my way up through various kind of research firms and kind of people teams in that world of headhunting and kind of early days of, of search, when it comes to kind of jobs and careers. Allow me I suppose just to suppose learn a lot more about the world of tech, and then actually through interviewing people and and candidates and helping people on their search journey. That then opened my eyes into this whole world of kind of software, which again, early 2000s was really interesting, and then tied into that passion for sports and maps and mapping, landed, actually initially at a company when I lived in Hong Kong for five or six years, which was doing event registration for marathons and five K's and stuff like that, which is obviously very relevant to the Strava world nowadays. But it was when Strava Metro came along and said that they were looking for someone to essentially grow the community on Strava Metro in Europe. It was too good an opportunity not to kind of put my CV forward so

You know, tied into all my passions around mapping and transportation.

Carlton Reid  30:04  
And, and getting out there and doing stuff. As in Yes. Being an athlete if you want to use that term.

Tom Knights  30:11  
Exactly. And you know, that's a it's an interesting point to kind of call up. But essentially the the advice, actually the CEO at the time, who was a gentleman called James, and actually Michael Hogarth, the founder of Strava, they said, The most important thing you can do in this role at Strava Metro is get out there and see bike lanes and infrastructure, or really understand what the kind of partners are doing. So over the last five years, that's kind of allowed me to get involved and actually see some of these projects. And you know, one of the best moments of the year or certainly at conferences, or events we go to whenever there's a bike parade, and I've never had a bike tour or a technical tour around the cities that you can visit, and you can really start to see the, you know, how those numbers come to life, actually, in the physical world, because, again, we've focused a lot on on this talk, we talked a lot about the Embankment. But actually, there's a whole multitude of examples around the European continent, and also across the world of bike lanes, which we visited and gone. Gosh, that's really interesting, what innovative design and oh, look at how that impacted this number of people. 

Carlton Reid  31:13  
Tell me about your day them. So you've got somebody flagged out that yes, sometimes travelling around a bit. So what what do you do, Tom, scribe, what you actually do to people who don't know what you might be doing day to day? 

Tom Knights  31:28  
I love it. So my biggest kind of responsibility is to grow the awareness of Strava Metro. And obviously, the more people that hear about Metro, hopefully, from listening to this, the more people might go, okay, that's really interesting. I didn't know that. So essentially, that's our, our main focus is to speak to the folks that active travel England through to the city of Paris, and obviously, the, the onset of zoom and online meetings has made that a lot more accessible now, which is great. So as much as I'd love to go visit all these places, a lot of them are done by kind of video conferencing, which is allowed us to scale and obviously tell the story in a kind of much more scalable way. But where possible, I'll always try and visit partners and learn about what they're doing on the ground. And then actually, one of the biggest kind of

tasks this time around is to then how do we communicate these back to the Strava community, and then get all these 120 million athletes who are on Strava, to actually learn about these projects that their movement has contributed to, because that's going to be the power of when they understand that your cycles work, even though it's providing you with your exercise or your means of transportation. It's also having a big impact on how, for example, you transport Greater Manchester or Transport for London to building your roads and your cycling. So if it helps with that extra bit of motivation, to get out of bed on a kind of cold January morning to kind of, you know, get cycling or walking to work, then, you know, we've done our job. 

Carlton Reid  32:57  
Isn't there an argument and I am playing devil's advocate here a little bit, council employee, a transportation but oh, maybe a councillor could actually use your data, which shows us lots and lots of people using a certain road? At a certain time? Yeah. And you would say,

to a council?

Officer? Well, look, we need to improve this route. Because look, how many cyclists are using it, we need to improve that. So it's more comfortable besides blah, blah, blah. But, you know, a councillor could use that exact same argument and say, Well, why do we need to improve anything? You're just telling me there's loads of cyclists using this road? Great, job done?

Tom Knights  33:44  
Well, I think the answer that is the kind of the theory that maybe, you know, a lot of highways and motorways around the world have used, which is what more lanes will fix it. And what did what happens when you get one more loan, we'll fix it, you get more cars driving? Well, I think the principle for that applies in terms of, if you keep fixing and increasing the number of cycle paths and bike lanes, then you'll see an increase in even more cyclists on there. So that would be my kind of caveat to say is, you know, the same way that we saw, you know, mass growth of roads and kind of infrastructure around the country, the same way that you could, if you keep investing, you'll, you'll see those increases come even more, as well. So it's just the start. I think this is the kind of the key point. And, you know, this has only really been what I've been in the industry for what five or six years intended, specifically around the world of transportation planning. And I've, I've read your in as another student of history, read your history of bike lanes, and what we're seeing is nothing new. You know, this obviously happened in the 1920s, as you've written about, it's happened, you know, the early 1950s. And we hope that obviously, this bike boom is going to continue, but we know that the secret to that is obviously infrastructure, but the extra secret sauce and I'm gonna say this with my Strava hat on so apologies is that you know,

other people keep other people motivated. And that's where Strava comes into it as a motivation machine. 

Carlton Reid  35:06  
So that game, gamification of it almost. Exactly, which is a good segue, thank you very much into my next question, which will be at the White House. So that's a that's a gamification, so, so just tell me exactly I know it's not UK, but this is a, this is a podcast that goes ... it's very popular in America. So Strava, not Strava Metro, but Strava is working with the White House on something. So just tell us what what you're doing. And then the gameifacation angle of that? 

Tom Knights  35:34  
Yeah. So from obviously, my understanding internally of the team that's been working on that is very similar to other kind of projects or campaigns, or let's say gamification, or challenges that we would work on this time, though, there's obviously a social impact cause attached to it, I think what's happened and from what I understand is that the White House, obviously have a campaign or a kind of cause that they're looking to mobilise the community on, they had a commercial partner in work, which is, you know, obviously, kind of, I suppose, helping to kind of measure that through the through the wearable side. But the White House is partnering with Strava, to support physical activity, as part of its challenges to end hunger and build healthier communities. Now, as part of the social impact strategy, let's say the call to action is to raise awareness of that campaign through movement. And obviously, that movement there is on Strava. And it's very similar to lots of other campaigns that we might work with, from brands, but also also other charities, you know, that might want to also mobilise their community on Strava, through that kind of challenge format. 

Carlton Reid  36:38  
So that's a US initiative. Obviously, it's the White House as in the White House. What other stuff might you be doing UK or maybe even worldwide, similar to that? 

Tom Knights  36:50  
Well, I think ultimately, it's if if we've done our job, right, and you know, the more people that learn about these challenges for good for social impact, we hope that people will start to see Strava as a platform, where they can actually start to tell their message to what's a very engaged community. You know, like I say, not every cyclist is on Strava. But we do have, you know, in the UK, again, I'm going to correct myself on every one in seven adults has joined Strava, or something around 15% of the population. So that's not everyone, but it is a very engaged audience. It's bonkers, actually. So how many What's that in millions? Is that like 10 million downloads or something, I will come back with some specific figures. And James can help with that.

On on, on our team, but Yeah, certainly, we obviously are in the millions of users in the UK. And of course, that's a really engaged community who are using Strava a for their movement, but also then can attach that through a challenge for a social impact campaign, or brand campaign. And again, these challenges are completely optional for people to dive into should they wish to. And I think that's one of the kind of key things to get at the Strava community, you know, having that say and what they do, and that's what's probably kept people coming back stronger over time, is that they get they have a choice in what they can join. And the challenges that the the team in Bristol, who in the UK run those operations for similar to the White House challenge, they do a fantastic job of making sure that there's some really exciting challenges to come onto the platform and keep people motivated.

Carlton Reid  38:26  
So can you now tell me

the different pricing options, so people are like, they've got the free version? They maybe like me that don't.

They will now start using the free version a bit more for the reasons we've discussed before. But if you wanted to up the game, what would you be paying? And what would you be getting? 

Tom Knights  38:46  
So for UK based users, obviously Strava premium is an option and that it costs £8.99 per month, or £54.99 per year. Obviously, there's a freemium model, in terms of the kind of ability to join Strava and not have to, like, say, necessarily choose to subscribe. But again, the compelling products, and the opportunity that the product team in the US and all the amazing kind of engineers that work on Strava have built an experience that should you wish to subscribe. There's a really compelling reason to mostly through our amazing routing, mapping discovery tools, looking at new routes to explore. Obviously, like saying you've got access to

technical data, should you wish to kind of see things like your heart rate and health and kind of segments and leaderboards, etc. So there's something on Strava for a lot of folks, and of course, you know, that community element and clubs and groups is really exciting. And another way for local authorities and governments to really drive engagement back to Metro, for example. 

Carlton Reid  39:54  
And then you got things like integration with fat map so you can like do all sorts of stuff with that as well because it's

Strava. Did you buy fat map? Is that was that? 

Tom Knights  40:02  
Yeah, so there was a strategic acquisition of fat map and you know, the the, that's

the exact date has been going on for the last year. So again, all these amazing tools and some mapping tools are such a good driver for people to discover the world around them. And I think that's what's really exciting is that, you know, yes, you might go on a bike ride and you know, kind of cycle from A to B on one of the cycle highways. But at the weekend, that same bike hopefully, is being used to then go, that that route is quite interesting, or I saw my friend do that route. You know, the other day that looks like I could probably do that I've got a spare couple of hours. And it's basically just keeping people active. Again, you've probably heard this one for every minute spent on Strava, you can attribute 30 minutes of activity back to your kind of daily life. So rather than that, and that's because you could you look at heat map, you see, you're in an unusual destination, you don't you're you're at your bike, and you fire up the heat map. It's like, everybody's gone that way. That way, then is that what you mean? Yeah, essentially, you know, like I say, you might, or it might just be on your activity feed that, you know, kind of been suggested a route or suggested a, an area to kind of move through. And I think that's what's really exciting is when you get somewhere new, you know that there's a community, because obviously, we're a global community that has cycled there before. And I say you can either look at the heat map, or you might be able to see someone's route. And they've recommended it as a kind of place to ride. That inspiration you get from not just

like, say, scrolling through maybe another social network or Doom scrolling, should I say, hopefully, that movement and inspiration of people being active for something that's going to be a positive driver for people being, you know, engaged on Strava. 

Carlton Reid  41:44  
There is another active travel analogy, which sometimes gets wheeled out. And that is, you can't tell

why you need a bridge from the number of people swimming across the river. Because they aren't going to swim across the river with a bike, they probably aren't going to swim across the river full stop. But when you put a bridge in it suddenly get, you know, the heat map would go crazy. But once you put the bridge in, so is any of your cleverness your your text, can any of it can I spot? Well, if you only had something here, it would open up, you know, is this something that you can pinpoint that you can say that a bridge analogy can be used? 

Tom Knights  42:25  
Absolutely. And thank you so much for asking that, because that's something we just updated last year in our metro product that obviously the planners and the transportation teams can see. And a lot of it ties back into some of the the kind of accessibility transportation equity, environmental racism that we talked about. What we've shown is that, when you put a pin on the map, we've also been able to kind of draw almost like a kind of circle around what's accessible within say, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc. And people can see data within that kind of circle, which, again, will show you that where there's a massive motorway with no bridge crossing, that's that part of the community can't access the park on the other side of it, or where there's, for example, a big brownfield site where there's been industrial use, it's not safe to cycle through. So people have kind of diverted around it, we had a really good example, actually, recently in Germany, where, you know, there was a curb on the side of a bike lane. And you could see very clearly actually three desire lines on the on the actual grass and the verge that people were kind of going off this curb through the woods to kind of cut out maybe a mile. And again, using Strava, Metro, this German transportation team who are based in Frankfurt, actually, I'll share the example with you because it's fascinating see how even at a really small local level, these little changes can make a massive difference. And they're not expensive to do, I think it only cost them something a couple of 1000 euros to drop the curb, because they then saw that that was having an impact on where people were then cycling. So you know, the famous analogy of when it snows, you can really see the designs of cars. Actually, when you look at the design on the heat map, and then in turn, look at that on Strava, you can start to see Oh, that's interesting. And again, another great example that was Hartfordshire county council had a bicycle counsellor in one location. And they realised that the Strava count was actually higher than the bicycle counter. And they thought well hold on what's happening there. And actually, there was a kind of dangerous crossing just slightly further up from this bicycle counter. And they were able to then use the Strava data to kind of, I suppose understand that actually, people were going this way because it was a safer journey. And that's the these are the kind of insights that yes, we want to do the big high level projects and you know, make sure that we get new infrastructure and cycleways across major cities. But actually the really exciting ones when local advocacy groups or local councils who don't necessarily have big budgets for you to accessing data can make these small changes and really improve these kind of everyday life for their community. 

Carlton Reid  44:56  
Can the Netherlands which obviously every week, look

Up to is like, the absolute nirvana of cycling. Do you like do you have like, Dutch people go, Oh, we could use this. It's like, Jesus, they even removing even more, you haven't done so. So basically, can you improve the Dutch cycle network? 

Tom Knights  45:15  
Yeah, definitely. And actually, we've had some interesting conversations with the folks over in Copenhagen, and obviously, in Amsterdam, and across the Netherlands as well. So not just Denmark and Holland. But, of course, the Netherlands is such a stays a bellwether of the cycling industry, but they're always looking at new ways to improve, you know, the technology that they're using and counting data. We are in Leuven, just at the end of November for the policy network events. And again, we are understanding that the kind of technical university they are leaving, we've been using metro to kind of understand, you know, and this is a really forward thinking Belgium city, which has got great cycle access, but they still need data to understand and counter. So rather than, you know, developing another app to count people, and getting the community to download it, they've seen that correlation between actually Strava and Strava, Metro.

So again, they don't need to necessarily go and kind of reinvent the wheel, so to speak with, you know, building another kind of engagement tool with local community to get them to join, because Metro is hopefully fulfilling that service.

Carlton Reid  46:20  
Brilliant, Tom that's been absolutely fascinating. And we could go on for a good amount of time, probably on Classics literature, even while we discussed, what's your Roman Empire? Yes, exactly.

But we can't, because we people just won't listen to 10 hours of us chatting away.

Tom Knights  46:42  
I'm sure they will. 

Carlton Reid  46:43  
Now, could you tell us where people can find out? I'm sure people know where you can get onto Strava. But how they find out about Strava Metro, and and maybe how they can contact you? 

Tom Knights  46:56  
Yeah, definitely. So the best way to get in touch with myself and travel metric is on And then on that website, you'll be able to learn more about case studies about how cities how researchers, communities have used the actual kind of practical steps of the data. There's also some frequently asked questions on there about you know, privacy and how the data is used, etc. And then most importantly, there's an apply button. So you can click apply for access. And then what we ask is that a you're a organisation that is involved in working to improve active transportation. If you're a consultancy, or an engineering firm, we also accept those applications as well. As long as you're under contract with say, for example, the local government or the city authority, we know that Metro kind of appearing as a line item as it were.

And then, again, like saying, at its source, transportation planners around the world can can access, we ask that you use a work email, not a Gmail email. So normally an org or, etc. And then just a short abstract, essentially, of how you're going to use the data. And so then we know that it's being used for a positive kind of cause, and then you will give you access to the area of interest that you've selected. Be it London, Birmingham, Somerset, wherever it is, as long as there's been Strava activity, you can start to really start to see trends and patterns, then hopefully feed that into other datasets to build the infrastructure. 

Carlton Reid  48:20  
And or whatever his email address will just be rejected out of hand, that's nefarious use? 

Tom Knights  48:28  
Yeah, I reserve the right not to comment on on LBC and Nick.

Carlton Reid  48:34  
Thanks for listening to Episode 349 of the Spokesen podcast brought to you in association with Tern bicycles. Show notes and more can be found at The next episode – 350 – will be out next month. Meanwhile, get out there and ride ...


Direct download: The_Spokesmen_349.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:18pm MDT

10th March 2024

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 348: Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett of Komoot

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett


Carlton Reid  0:13  
Welcome to Episode 348 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Sunday 10th of MARCH(!) 2024.

David Bernstein  0:28  
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you're commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That's t e r n to learn more.

Carlton Reid  1:03  
I'm Carlton Reid. And this is the fourth in a five part series digging into bike navigation apps. There have been shows with folks from Ride With GPS, Bikemap,, and today it's the turn of Komoot.

although as you'll soon hear, in this nearly 90 minute chat with Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett, we also talk a great deal about travelling the world by bike. And that's before, of course, there were smartphone apps to guide you.


welcome to the show. And presumably you're you're in London,

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  1:51  
thank you very much for having me. It's a real pleasure. And yeah, I'm in London, South London to be precise on a very beautiful sunny February morning. 

Carlton Reid  2:01  
It's kind of nice in Newcastle as well. So we're blessed. Now the reason I said that was because a your name. So we can get looking we can discuss that in a second and you can show me how you're you can tell me how to pronounce your, the Danish part of your name correctly. But also because cuz because we're talking here about Komoot and Komoot is a German company. But first of all, how do i pronounce your name correctly? 

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  2:29  
My name is pronounced Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett.

And it's actually not a Danish surname. It's a Faroese surname from the Faroe Islands. So I am I a half British, my father's English my mother is Danish, but my mother is half Faroese, her grandma, my grandmother's from the Faroe Islands, and the Faroe Islands for anyone listening who isn't sure exactly where they are, is a bunch of islands about halfway between Scotland and Iceland. And on the southern most of those islands, called Suðuroyu. There's a kind of like a mountain ridge, behind the village where like my gran and her family are from called CamScanner. And that's where that name is from. So yeah, it's it's ferries surname via Denmark. Wow. Okay, good explanation.

Carlton Reid  3:26  
And because I didn't know any of that, I then didn't go back and check on your, your global world. Crossing cyclist. So I noticed that you went from Iceland? Did you go via the Faroe Islands at all? Yeah.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  3:45  
So many, many years ago. Now, I spent three years cycling around the world, which was a whole kind of story in episode in itself. And at the very end of that, I wanted to go and seek because my great grandmother was still alive at the time, and she was alive and kicking the pharaohs. So towards the end of this, this, this free journey, I really wanted to go to Iceland cycle there wasn't particularly advisable in the depths of winter, but had a wonderful time nonetheless. And from there, you can take a ferry to the pharaohs. So I did go. I did after sort of not really seeing any family for about three years. I did go and see my great grandmother, which was amazing. It's an incredibly beautiful place. By that point, I had seen an awful lot of devote the world and the pharaohs. You know, just like truly spectacular. And it was really wonderful that I got to go and see my great grandma because she passed away a few months later. So it was all kind of perfect. A really nice kind of like final stop before I returned to the UK. So

Carlton Reid  4:52  
I will admit I haven't read every single one of your blog posts from back then but I'll go backwards and I'll go back and read that one because I'm sure that Under brilliant because I hadn't spotted the Faroese part.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  5:04  
Yeah, it was a really lovely thing that I got to and then at the very beginning of my, the very beginning of this huge cycle, I left home said goodbye to my dad, my mum lives in Copenhagen. So I started that cycle around the world. I mean, at the time I had, I had no idea. It would be that big a cycle. I was just trying to see how far east I could get. But I wanted to go and visit my mum in Copenhagen. So that was kind of the beginning of the journey. So it was quite nice that I had like pitstop early on, you know, visiting family and it was quite nice that again, towards the very end, I also had a pit stop visiting fan for going home.

Carlton Reid  5:42  
That's your mum also came out and visited you like you as your beach bumming whether that was in somewhere in Indonesia or was in Thailand. Yeah, that's

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  5:50  
right. She came and visited me in. I guess I was in in Thailand, often having seen her for probably a year and a half at that point. So we had a little, very nice, relaxing beach holiday, catching up, and most importantly, not doing any cycling at the time.

Carlton Reid  6:07  
And I'm sure she's treating you as well. It was, yeah, yeah. Know that for a fact, because we treated our son when he was doing stuff like that. Right. So let's get back to what we're meant to be talking about here, Jonathan, that is Komoot. So before we do that, I mean, give us the history of Komoot, because, you know, would you have used it on your? So yeah, this is 2015 to 2017. Yeah, yep.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  6:37  
So I think I was unfortunately, I was a little bit too early. Cuz it's been around the apps been around for about a decade now. Set up by six, six friends from Germany and Austria. They have, I guess they will kind of united by a love of both tech. And also nature, they will come from the fringes of like, beautiful parts of Europe. But a very clever bunch. Yeah, excited about like the future of tech and where it intersects with, like, you know, all aspects of reality in our day to day lives. So Komoot is a German company. But going back to your your opening comment is a German company, but we consider ourselves very much a global or at least a European company, people, the people who work for Komoot are spread out across all of Europe. So we have quite an international outlook on the world, I would say.

Carlton Reid  7:39  
Was that right from beginning? Or was it very localised to begin with, and then only gradually did become international?

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  7:45  
Definitely, it was a gradual thing. I think Komoot I can't quite was before my time, the point because Komoot's fully remote. So one point switched and thought, Well, why not sort of recruit from across the entire continent instead of one country. And for a good number of years Komoot has been conscience consciously, international. So like had the app, the product translated to English a long time ago, we now have it available in half a dozen languages. So like, that obviously takes time and resources, but it's quite important for us to allow as many people as possible around the world to like, understand and interact with and interact with the app. So in terms of my own journey in cycling, I was kind of a bit too early on in the process is quite, it's quite funny actually, when I, when I first left, I really was not a cyclist. In 2015, when I left home, it all came together very quickly. And this was sort of the blogging, end of those blogging, glory years, I think around 2010 to the mid teens. So anyway, I found some resources online, and people were saying, Oh, you can buy a cycling computer and use that. I didn't really have much cash at the time. So I picked the cheapest cycling computer that looked like it might do the job. And it was this. This Garmin device, I can't quite recall what it was called. But you couldn't load base maps onto it, you could create a route somewhere and export a GPX file and then you could have this line to follow it. And I I was just following the North Sea coast coastline, on the way up to Scandinavia. And I spent a lot of time getting very lost. And after about three weeks on the road, I met someone who was was like, you know, you can just use your phone for this. And I didn't have mobile data across Europe. It was like before, it was quite so easy to connect to everywhere. But it hadn't even occurred to me that I could use my phone as a GPS device that it had this functionality, which feels a bit silly in hindsight, but why would I have I lived a sort of normal city life where I was always online at the time. And I hadn't realised that I could download load these map files from Open Street Map. And so I could kind of work out where I was at all times. So when I had that revelation, it was kind of blew my mind and things became a lot easier. And as we might discuss later, fast forward almost 10 years, it's now even easier than ever to have this these good quality maps offline and also to sync them with devices. But it's funny to look at where computers now, compared to my very rudimentary experiences, yeah, almost a decade ago.

Carlton Reid  10:30  
So the first time I came across, Komoot in certainly, you know, seared into my consciousness when my son was cycling back from China. Yeah. And I had all sorts of other ways of doing routes. But he was insistent that he was using Komoot. So all the way back from from China in some pretty hairy paid places, but parts of the world some of which I can see that you've cycled through as well. He was using Komoot and I need to ask him why he was he was using it but he did found it find it very valuable and certainly very valuable in those hairy parts of the world because it was drawing down some pretty ok maps. And it was giving him obviously really good information. So here's the pitch. Jonathan, why why use komoot? Why Why would world tourists use Komoot and why would that non well tourists want to use Komoot just you know, bumbling around the the Yorkshire lanes or the Norfolk coast towards why those two users might might wait. They want to use Komoot.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  11:41  
It's really that's really cool to hear that just used Komoot for that. I've watched his like video of that long journey. It's so amazing. And they're very nice to Komoot was able to help that little bit. And I know that you've travelled a lot by bike as well, I think is funny. You know, especially with bikes, and especially with bike touring, it's been around, you know, it's been a thing for a very long time. It wasn't really that long ago that people were relying on paper maps. But that's in the same way that people used to, you know, drive around with British people with A to Z you know, in the car. And that already feels like such a such an outdated thing. I think a lot of very young people will this is probably a fact that a lot of young people don't know how to read maps in the same way that older generations do. So I would say for bike touring, it's, it's kind of like I sometimes why would you not embrace the technology that we have now, when I was cycling around the world, I did not really do any complex route planning on my phone. But now, we have commute and some similar apps and products. It's incredibly easy. The commute app is really intuitive, the algorithms are very sophisticated, it's very easy to find multiple options, but to find very suitable options, from A to B, even in parts of the world, where some of the map data is, is less comprehensive. And you can do all of this from your phone really easily. You don't have to drag paper maps around, you can very easily forecast how long it will take to get from A to B, you can very easily find out where might be a nice detour to take. There's just a lot less guesswork involved. So for the bike tour, it's a really powerful tool. But I would also say for the recreational user popping around the local lanes in the British countryside, for example, or a beginner, we have, we have a lot of tools that make it really easy to find a suitable route based on your ability. So while we have the route planner, which is great for finding ATV rides, whether that's like 100 miles, or whether that's 2000 miles across a continent, for the casual users who are doing like, you know, regular recreational loops. On our discover interface, we have, within just a few clicks, you can find routes that are based on your preferred sport type, whether you're gravel riding or road cycling, if you like hilly, hilly routes or flatter routes, or whether you're a hiker as well, because we accommodate for, you know, hiking as well. So you have these options that are tailor made for your needs within just a couple of clicks. And you can go and someone who's cycling across a continent probably understands how maps work probably enjoys looking at them, probably enjoys the process of, of stitching a route together. But for a lot of other users. That's not a priority for them. They just want to spend the time outside, having a good time without anything to worry about.

Carlton Reid  14:55  
There are a number of navigation apps some some of which seem to you know, be very popular in North America. Akka and some that are more popular in, in Europe. So that ecosystem seems to be very, very healthy. There are a number of apps going for the same kind of thing you know, from, you know, including one man bands like So, all of these different apps that are out there, how are people choosing? Do you think people are going through a list? And they're gonna go, Oh, I've tried that one, try that we're all like this one? Or do you think they just find one? And then they just keep on using that one come? What may? How do you think this ecosystem works?

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  15:39  
Gosh, that's a very good question. And a very big question. I think for a lot of people, it's probably a question of what they used first. And that's, that goes beyond just these, like app based kind of routing platforms, if someone is very used to using was successful, use paper maps for decades, or if someone in the UK is, you know, swears by Ordnance Survey. And they've always had, you know, good experience doing that, there'll be unlikely to change unless you give them a very compelling argument or a good example. So I think a lot of people, what they first start using, becomes the thing that they become familiar, familiarity is so important, same of a lot of like tech or products that we use day to day, we're quite hesitant to change our routines. I also think within that ecosystem, people's preferences probably change quite a lot based on if they have a bad experience as well. Same with all types of different, you know, products that we consume, you know, there's probably many things that you've used day to day for years, and suddenly when it breaks or something goes wrong, you decide I want to try something different. And then I would also say the local element probably plays a significant part in it. You mentioned in like other regions, or for example, North America, the market is in a different, like perhaps different status for us or you know, different other products that are available for people, I think a lot of it depends on the local side of it has to do with your peers. So like who you explore with you trusting your your recommendation of those you go out with, or the people who give you a great experience outdoors. But also whether or not the product is is localised and translated into your language that also makes a big difference people find rightly so it's reassuring when the product is as easy to understand gives a different level of trust. So I think those are a few of the factors, that that kind of changed the state of play. But overall, I would say that it's really, it's a good thing. There are a lot of incredible, incredibly bright minds and have great innovative companies in a kind of overlapping space, often with a slightly different objective. And, you know, that's, that's just great for the consumer, because it means that we're all kept on our toes, constantly looking for ways to improve those

Carlton Reid  18:08  
variety of companies out there, some are chosen by for instance, you know, cycle travel companies. So when you go on a on a cycle holiday, they will, they will choose to partner with a navigation app company, and then they will send you all the routes on that. So you're basically you're almost tied in on that particular holiday to that particular navigation app. Good thing, bad thing. So is that something that it's incredibly important to discover who are actually giving these links out and and calm them? Because you know, you go on a North American owned psychology company in say, Italy. And even though you're in Europe, you're using in effect and American app, because it's an American company that's leading those tours. So is that something that you are you as in Komoot? Or your your, your your colleagues and commute are actively trying to partner with these key companies? Yeah,

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  19:15  
there are. I mean, there are a lot of ways that we might sort of acquire new users. And by that, I mean, like reaching people and giving them their first experience on commute, those kinds of partnerships. I guess they probably represent like a smaller percentage of the ways to reach people. But that doesn't mean that they're not important. Particularly because if that partner whether it's a tour operator, or you know, a hotel or someone who's running a hotel, or even an event organiser, if they trust in Khumbu, and you know, I would say in Europe is you're far more likely to find that stuff that information presented to you via commitment than anyone else. That's great. because it's just reassures the, you know, the user that people look for that kind of reassurance from those those kind of places of authority. So those partnerships are really important to us. And we do work with a lot of tourism organisations, maybe even like hotels, tour operators, we do have quite a lot of active partnerships. And it's great for us because we reach that audience. But it's really good for us, we put a lot of effort into the people that do choose to work with us on educational tools, so that they understand it coming inside out, and can then give their users good experience. And that remains like super important for any of those types of partnerships

Carlton Reid  20:39  
can notice. If you get a bradt guidebook, a cycling guidebook, and it's you know, to the lanes of East Anglia, or whatever have you Yeah. Well, you're flicking through this, this book. And there's a little QR code. You open that up, I know, there's your route in Komoot via the Bradt guidebook. So what else have you got? Who else are you apart from Bradt, what else you out there in like a published terms?

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  21:10  
Well, it's just a good question off the top of my head. And when I struggle to think of them, but quite a lot of I mean, of course, is difficult because we are so you know, across the whole of the continent. There are some amazing publications and magazines that we've partnered with across Germany, France, Italy, Spain. And I think one thing that's really nice at the stage that commutes that is, particularly within certain segments, in Europe, we are, it would almost be strange for the user to have the route presented to them in a different way. Because they're so familiar with commute. That's what they use for their group rides. That's what they use for the events they sign up to. That's what they do for their day to day riding. And so a lot of those partners like they will present stuff on Komoot, regardless, like we'd always like to help them present the stuff in the best kind of best way possible. But they're still going to be reaching out and using Komoot, simply because it's a really nice, easy way to share and present routes with your kind of users or participants.

Carlton Reid  22:16  
And what do you do for Komoot? So what is the community part of your job title? What is what is? What does that involve? Yes, so

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  22:25  
I'm the global community manager komoot. The global part is, well, global, but it's in particular, it's about the gaps between. So we have a team of community managers spread out. In some of the markets where we have more kind of community oriented stuff going on, we have more people. So there's, there's a couple of two or three people in Germany, we have a couple of community managers in the UK, I'm kind of filling in the gaps between a lot of the markets that are growing for us, but aren't quite at the same same kind of stage just yet. And then the community, part of it is kind of two things. One thing is our external partnerships. So that could be with events and event organisers that could be with the kind of inspiring individuals that we work with, because they have, you know, a great platform, or they have a very inspiring story to tell, or they're great at motivating people that that follow them. And then on the other side of that, I have a lot of focus, particularly these days on our core community. So Komoot is, while we're really lucky that we have such a huge audience, audience, we've got about 37 million users. So there's a lot of people. And not all of those people are, you know, active every day or using commute to connect with other people and share their stories within the community. But we have millions of people who are and I spend a lot of time, as do my colleagues on how do we give these people? Like how do we reward them for their contributions? How do we motivate them to share more? How do we make sure that people are getting fed the right inspirational content based on their preferences? So elevating our kind of, and looking after our core community is also a significant part of my role.

Carlton Reid  24:22  
So can you is it gonna kind of go slightly backwards into your background as well, if you if you are going to set out on a kind of track that you started in 2015? Are you going to do that now? For instance, could you open up Komoot and say, you know, do me a route from London all around the world back again? Or do you have to do it in stages? How would you use if you're going to be doing it again? How would you use commute?

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  24:55  
I think I think doing a route around the world probably possible but That's an awful lot of information for for one file. So I will probably break it down into smaller segments, which is to be fair, exactly what I did when I cycled around the world, and what most people probably would. And so when I when I left home, and sometimes thinking about cycling around the world is quite kind of overwhelmingly big kind of concept to navigate. But I would break it down into really small parts. So I knew that I wanted to cycle from London to Copenhagen. I knew that I wanted to visit a friend in Amsterdam, for example. So to begin with, I would focus on how do I get from London to Amsterdam, that's a kind of more sensible, you know, if you break it down to blocks, the whole thing becomes a lot more manageable, both in terms of logistics, but also mentally. So I will do the same on Komoot. One thing that sets you apart from some similar, some similar platforms is that we have a variety of different sport types you can choose from. So if you go on the route planner, you'll see that even for cycling, there's a few variations. There's like road cycling, gravel riding, bike touring, mountain biking. And that's really important because well, even even within bike tours, people have different preferences. If someone wants to get to Amsterdam, in you know, two or three days, on a road bike, credit card, touring, staying in hotels, they might want to be thinking, you know, they want to have the mindset of a road cyclists, they want to choose quick, efficient routes, they're on 25 mil tires, they don't really want to be going down toe puffs, no matter how they're graded. So these different algorithms think slightly differently, which I think is is really important. I would personally I would, for the way I was touring leisurely, I would be on the bike touring mode. But no, that's it's just important to point out there's different types based on your kind of bike and you're writing preferences. We have a tool called the multi day tour planner, so I could pick from London to Amsterdam. And then I could divide it up into let's say, I want to do it in four days, or I know that I want to do about six hours of cycling a day, I can divide it up and it takes into account the elevation on the way. So it has like a kind of consistent breakdown, which is really helpful when you're trying to forecast when you might get to a certain location. The other tool that I would definitely would be using on the route planner. One of our features is the sport specific overlays. And then you can overlay the long distance or National Cycle routes, which is super helpful. I do this and I'm always toggling between these wherever I'm out hiking or cycling, it just means at a cursory glance, I can see the long distance routes. So for example, I was at the time following loosely one of the EuroVelo. The common which number is the one that goes up along that coast. Well, I can see that overlaid on the map. And so I can compare that against the route that I'm plotting, I can make sure that I'm like loosely following it that that makes a real big difference. Both when I'm long distance touring, or if I'm even just kind of out exploring in the south of England. So those are a few of the main tools that I would use. The final thing I would add, I wouldn't have such a rudimentary cycling computer, I would still have, I'd still have one. The Garmin that I have now is far more modern and has base maps. And we actually have an app designed for Garmin specifically. And with that, I can create the date the routes on my phone. And I can just press one button send to device and I can load up the IQ app on my Garmin device. And the route will just go bing. And here it is. And if I want to change my route, halfway through the day, I can now just update it on commute on the app on my phone and press updates. And I'll get a little notification and my route will be updated. So if I wanted to cut my day short, we'll go to a different hotel or campsite an evening. And that feature is so cool. And I think if I'd had that all those years ago, there would have been a lot less faffing involved, which would have been wonderful.

Carlton Reid  29:14  
Yeah, I use that the other day, in fact. So I had a Garmin unit and I had I was navigating with Komoot hadn't actually changed the route because I just got on my bike after 70 miles because the wind was about 50 miles an hour ahead of me. But still, I was using it and it was neat that so I agree. So the map, I've got the app open here now and in other apps, you have a choice of quite a few maps. But here I don't I see the the Komoot map. I see a satellite map but then there's no like Ordnance Survey for the UK. So because your is that because you were an international brand and that's just what on market, yeah, there's no point just offering an OS just for one market. I mean,

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  30:03  
you could obviously you could argue for it. And in the UK, a lot of people aren't really familiar with and put a lot of trust into Ordnance Survey, commutes sort of core foundation revolves around OpenStreetMap, we are such committed believers of the Open Street Map Project. And it's really at the core of everything we do. And we are constantly looking for ways that, you know, we can help to enrich the data that's there or help to facilitate improvements to it. And you're right, I think, because we are active in so many different countries, we could protect, we could try and add all of these different national maps. But the the user experience would become quite convoluted. You know, if I travel a lot using commute, I quite like knowing that I can get my head around the commute render of OpenStreetMap, which is our like, primary map, and then we have satellite map. I like being familiar with it, I like knowing that the sort of routing algorithms will give me consistent results in different places. And that's quite important to ask that we still give people like a quite a not simple, but like, you know, familiar user experience that doesn't become overwhelming or confusing for them. But we really, we really, I should stress that we like, especially in the markets where we are most active in the quality of the OpenStreetMap data is is really amazing. And it's always improving. And it always is, yeah, enough for us to give people a really good experience.

Carlton Reid  31:40  
Maybe it's it's an age thing then because I mean, I grew up with OS maps, maybe people who are younger than me and not so hide bound, you know, as you could you have seen before, you know, people are no longer using paper maps, if I've grown up as a user of paper maps, and I no longer use paper maps, but I use the Ordnance Survey maps on my, my phone, it generally tends to be if I'm like trying to visualise an area, then me will as somebody who has grown up with that kind of Ordnance Survey mind map, I would I would default to Ordnance Survey as that's how I explain, you know, my, my where I am. So to me that's like, wow, I need I need, you know, I need iOS to know exactly where I am. It's great to have the Open Street Map. It's lovely. And the commute version of it. But still like, Yeah, but where am I? And I need that something's very familiar. But that might just be you know, people have an older generation. And that that is obvious to my son to Josh, that had zero relevance. And he probably wouldn't know his way around and OS map, but you don't know his way around, you know, the Komoot map really well. So do you think that's just telling me Jonathan, is this just me? Is it just me because I'm very, very old?

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  33:00  
If I frame my answer, as well, to be careful, I think your Ordnance Survey specifically as a very particular place in the British sort of, well, the psyche of how we spend how we map the country, is equivalent in other countries. I'll give you an example because I sometimes almost feel like as a outdoorsy person who likes Grim Adventures and is British and spends a lot of time exploring the British outside. I, you know, I should be more familiar with Ordnance Survey I confess, I have grown up in London. I didn't kind of do much outdoorsy stuff at school. Honestly, I've never really used Ordnance Survey I am, when when I started to explore, there was sort of these phone based solutions available for me right away sort of 10 years ago, revolving around OpenStreetMap. I do spend a lot of time hiking and walking for leisure. And I've just never found that I that I needed it. I'm super familiar with OpenStreetMap. I'm now an expert in how Komoot works. And so it's just funny, I think it's like different types of people, for sure, especially in the UK, but I would say also globally, is just very different, like different generations who have grown up, especially have the sort of, you know, even for example of Google Maps is sort of omnipresent in our exploring of the world and navigating I'm talking about everything now from public transport to driving. And even like the sort of sat nav, the satnavifacation, I'm sure that's not a word, but how we drive a car around the world has now had a massive influence on on people hiking and cycling. A lot of people would prefer to hike with turn by turn instructions on their phone and find that far more easy to get their head around than navigating from a paper map and pen The people could argue that that's, that's not as good. But I think if you embrace, you know, the quality of the map data and you embrace it, this actually helps a lot more people explore because there are less boundaries or sorry, less. Yeah, sort of less friction points. So less obstacles for them to to get over to outside. I'm not sure that's necessarily such a bad thing.

Carlton Reid  35:23  
And let's go slightly backwards in that. The name Komoot is a pun on commute. So when it was originally developed, was it as an internal city thing? Or was it always, you know, this is meant to explore the world with or was that explore the world with just something that came afterwards and is the name a bit of a misnomer,

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  35:56  
is actually a bit of a misnomer, partly because it's actually like a Komoot is derived from, I think it's called the Valsa dialect, which is the region that the founders are from and it's just like as far as I understand it, a casual greeting means something like simple and practical. And so it's a it's actually slightly misleading, because that's the origin of Komoot, obviously, was

Carlton Reid  36:22  
Nothing at all to do with commute. Well,

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  36:25  
I don't, I mean, it's not sure if it's a good or a bad thing that they're so similar, but that's the origin of the name Komoot. It doesn't, and the sort of the product and the philosophy doesn't come from commuting at all, it's about spending time outside. Of course, you could probably interpret that in many ways. Perhaps this is an alternative way of you know, commuting in nature. As it happens, many people use commute as part of their commute within town because they want to find a more scenic way of getting from A to B. But that's not the that was never the objective of the company and and still that isn't the case.

Carlton Reid  37:05  
Right? Interesting. So I got that wrong that Well,

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  37:10  
I also had one for a very long day if that makes you feel better.

Carlton Reid  37:15  
It does Thank you very much.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  37:17  
I'm afraid now that you'll really struggle to pronounce Komoot without saying Komoot because it's only a matter of time before for that becomes a riddle itself.

Carlton Reid  37:26  
Well, of course Google isn't I think it's a mathematical term isn't it? So would have been familiar to some people but most people it's not it's not familiar terms. It's just these unusual term. So anything that's slightly unusual is better for a website you know name so the fact that you kind of spelling this and you people think it means there's but doesn't but they remember anyway so that's that's the trick just remembering it. So if it's if it helps some people doing all that must be Komoot Oh, yes, he spelt with a K. And other people's know it as a, you know, a greeting in a certain language. That's also okay. So it's however you get your name remembered?

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  38:03  
Yeah, very much so.

Carlton Reid  38:06  
So at this point, I'd like to actually cut away and let my colleague take over and we'll be back in a few minutes. So take it away, David.

David Bernstein  38:16  
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Carlton Reid  39:17  
Thanks, David and we are back with with with Jonathan of Komoot we've discovered that it doesn't mean commute and that's it you want it to mean commute. It can mean whatever you want. But Jonathan is he's the community Global Community Manager for Komoot and he's if anybody's going around the world on their bicycle or wandering around the world on the bicycle and they wanted to use commute then then clearly Jonathan would be a good guy to to learn from Andy certainly in a pretty good job for for the kind of company commute is because Jonathan, you went round the world well, we have touched on this but now let's let's explore this in in greater detail. So we've got the Komoot out of the way. Let's let's, let's talk about what where you've come from and why are you working for for Komoot? So we laughed before. Could you mention the fact that when you started, you were much of a cyclist? And I was kind of thinking, Yeah, that's right, because of what the amount of kit you took to begin with is the kind of the classic. And I made this exact same mistake when I started my cycle touring adventures many, many, many years ago, you take too much kit. So you had an enormous amount of kit. And you had a kind of an old school bike, you were you on steel, you're on a bicycle that I would have been familiar with in the 1980s, you know, a Dawes Super Galaxy,  classic touring bike of a while ago. And then you you you've, you've clearly learned a lot. In that time that you're away, but you started reading your blog, you basically picked this bike, you didn't seem to know much about cycling, and then like, a week later, you're, you're off touring the world. So describe it. Have I got that? completely correct, you were pretty much a novice, and then you went cycled around the world.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  41:18  
That is, that is pretty much it. It's almost embarrassing to admit how little preparation or knowledge I had prior to leaving, but I think I was just blessed with youthful naivety time, and I didn't have high expectations at all, I just wanted an adventure. And there are very few simpler ways of finding one than grabbing a bike and kind of just heading off without a plan.

Carlton Reid  41:44  
Or when it's classic, absolutely classic, the way the way that kind of developed. But let's let's find out what were you doing at the time? How long were you expecting to do? You didn't have any plans at all. We literally tried to go around the world, we didn't know how long was going to take? Or were you just going to cycle and see where you got to and then just what you might give up at some point. What What were you doing? How old were you and what were you doing at the time.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  42:08  
So if I rewind a little bit further, we touched upon it at the beginning of the call. I grew up I grew up in London, but my my Yeah, my father's British, my mother's Danish. We never cycled or I never cycled for fitness. I never cycled for leisure or for exploring. However, I did grow up riding bikes, it was just very much like a functional tool to get around. London is not bike friendly city. But it's a very practical city to get around and manoeuvre by bicycle. So I grew up cycling. I studied music at university. And when I returned to London, I wasn't entirely sure what to do next, like I'm sure plenty of young people. Now, early 20s have the same sort of existential crisis. I was quite fortunate that I'd been working the whole time I was studying and, and while I had an awful lot of debt, I had somehow ended up with, you know, a few grand in the bank accounts saved up so I kind of had this incredible, I was in this incredibly privileged position where I could kind of yeah, go and explore a little bit without having to take the next the next most serious steps in life. I had always travelled a lot that had been a high priority for me, I had done a bit of long distance walking, I was kind of prepared for another long hike. And then kind of had this this moment, this epiphany I suppose, where I thought well, what about cycling that could be I was really interested in human power, not human powered, rather, I was interested in overland travel. So I became kind of fixated by this idea of, of cycling and then bike touring. And, and these were, I think, a wonderful period on internet where you could find all these incredible blogs that were so relatable and so inspiring and so informative as well. And so the sort of recommendations I found online, people said, those galaxies a good bike, found one on on eBay bought it was a good pannier to take Balsam or leave panniers from Argos and got all of this around Christmas. And I left two weeks later and the plan at the time, I'd been sort of telling my peers and family I was gonna cycle to Australia, but it was it was a it was a pipe dream. But it was kind of a joke as well. It was a good way of like picking something so outlandish that people wouldn't take it seriously at all, which was fair enough given that I had never cycled further than about 10 miles. And so I I set off as I said to go and visit my mother, and I said if if this goes well, I will continue heading east and I had a fantastic first month and I continued writing to Turkey. I became very good at living, I would say extremely cheap on the road. I realised that I could probably get quite a long way. And, and yeah, I ended up going all the way to Australia, by which point I was completely broke. But I got a job and worked for a few months there. And then at that point, I, it became very clear to me that I wanted to continue and make it around the world cycle. And so I did that. And Nick got home, just under three years after having left probably having clocked around 50,000 kilometres, which is kind of a mind boggling number when I say out loud,

Carlton Reid  45:32  
huh? There's some people kind of do that in three weeks. I'm exaggerating a little bit, but they do it fast. And, you know, some Komoot users, Markus Stitz, for instance, did on a single speed, etc, etc. But you took three years. Now, it's not that you weren't doing some big mileages, you know, there was there was, you know, I read on your blog, you know, some days you're doing 145 kilometres. And then other days, clearly, you're, you're just doing nothing, because you're just enjoying the location. So you never had any plan to do it in a certain amount of time, you would just basically ebb and flow. It was just whatever the live through it you you kind of did that.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  46:17  
Yep. And thank goodness, I personally like that. Because otherwise, I think it would be overwhelming to think about and those people who cycle around the world planning on it or trying to break records, I think it must just require so much. That's no fault and pressure, I really was just kind of going for a ride, there was never any pressure, no expectation. If I went home, whenever I was bored, that would have been fine. No one would have judged me. So I was really making up as I went along. And when I left, I had absolutely no plan to spend anywhere near that long on the road knows that I have any plans to cycle all the way around the world. I am a Tura. At heart cycling at that pace is and I've done a lot of more, sort of a dyno extreme bikepacking. I've done a lot of ultralight cycling, I've even tried a few ultra endurance races. But touring at that kind of pace, for me is just the most kind of beautiful ratio in life. Hmm.

Carlton Reid  47:20  
So notice, you've done the Transcontinental. So you have done these, these, these races, but your forte is basically just pootling along.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  47:30  
Definitely. And if I if I continued to my cycling trajectory in between cycling around the world, and ending up doing what I'm doing currently at Komoot, when I returned home, having spent all of this time on the road, I actually worked as a bicycle courier in London for a short period, which was there's no better way to re calibrate and reintegrate into city living having spent so much time on the road and to get paid to cycle around delivering stuff and exploring, you know, a city even if it's your home city by bike. And I then started working at a company called Apidura. And I know that you're familiar of a producer, because I believe you interviewed the founder of Apidura in this past few years. And I was there for a few years. And that was really, I mean, obviously made sense. I had a lot of touring experience. But that was in 2018, which was really when this hugely significant kind of shift in interest from bike touring to bikepacking. Which you can interpret in many ways. But, but this this shift was really kind of about to explode, and then get even more exaggerated through the pandemic. So I, I had learned so much about travelling by bike and then I learned so much about the benefit of ultralight cycling and these new packing systems that were so different to taking for panniers on a loaded bike. And so I spent four years at the Jura did the roller coaster that was COVID 19. And and that was sort of the segue that led me to Komoot because Komoothas been so involved with bike packing bikepacking as an established but also an emerging sport in the last few years. Because

Carlton Reid  49:19  
you looking at your your bike setup. Back then with the with the Dawes Galaxy, and the bags you had on that was very much old school. And then I can completely identify with that because I'm clearly old school. And that's where I started. So you know, for panniers at least loads of stuff and caring too much, etc, etc. And you look at that now and you think no, you would have the upward Eurostyle you know you'd have the bike packing bags, you probably wouldn't be carrying quite as much Kip, although some of the place you went to. You know I'm thinking of you like your Australia video. and stuff where you're obviously having to pack. I mean, when you go across the desert, you having to pack you know, an enormous amount of water, you've got to have all of the bug kit, you know, you've got to have all of the stuff that's protecting you from the nasties. So you had some times you have gotten better how many it's not an old school versus new school thing. It's just you have to have a lot of kit in some places and and there's no two ways about that. You know? Even if you're doing a transcontinental style, you know, fast route across somewhere, you would still need a fair bit of of kit. But when you were when you started out, okay, actually good point. Did you finish on the same bike?

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  50:43  
I did, I finished on the same bike and I still ride that same Dawes Galaxy as my day to day pub, one around bike.

Carlton Reid  50:51  
Excellent. So it's but it's like Trigger's Broom, you've got you know, you've replaced tonnes of things, or it's still largely the same bike

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  50:58  
is the same frame, the same fork. And that is nice. All That Remains of the original bike.

Carlton Reid  51:05  
So that's pretty good going well done Dawes Super Galaxy. 

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  51:09  
Yeah, there's a lot to be said. Having modern bike so us so reliable in general. But yeah, I'm very much of the steel fan club. That bike has a lot of battle scars, from various sort of unfortunate collisions with other vehicles or just the road or ice. But it's still yet it's still going strong. And, and you're right, I've had the been very lucky to experience travelling by bike in very different forms from the kind of old school bike touring sense where you carry basically your entire house, to super ultra light, you know, bike travel, where you just have a bivy bag, and you sacrifice all levels of comfort. I've also done a lot of off road sort of mountain bike touring, I think the thing that I find so wonderful about bicycle travel in general, is that there's always a new way to do it. And there's absolutely no right or wrong way of doing it, I think it's very easy to get caught up in the the idea of I must be a lightweight bike packer, or I must do it in this particular way. But really, there's no right or wrong way of doing it. We're all very different, we all travel for very different reasons. And there's different ways of, of packing for it. And, and even if I refer back to commute and the way that we're set up, we give people the tools to, to pick, you know, they can pick the fast road route, if they want, or they can pick the meandering route, they can pick the most direct one, or they can pick the most leisurely one up over the mountains. I think this whole kind of space is really set up for the user to be able to customise you know, what they're doing, and how they're carrying it based on what their objectives is. And I think that's what's really kind of charming about the whole two wheeled travel thing.

Carlton Reid  53:02  
See, I'm a historian of many things, but including cycling, and Thomas Stevens, if you hadn't if you've come across that name in in the past, but he was basically a big wheel rider. So what would people would call Penny farthings. And this is 1880s. And the kit he had, the amount of kit he had and how it was packed is very much like bikepacking You know, it's the big pannier bags, that's pretty much the 70s and 80s thing, you know, really, really old and I was calling that old school, but genuinely old school. So 1880 stuff is you know, Apidura-style, incredibly lightweight, hard to carrying anything at all kind of touring. So that's that's kind of where cycle touring started. And we've kind of come full circle in many ways. And so people are going out there with incredibly minimal bits of of kit and somehow surviving. So when you did your your your your cirumnavigation, and you had all this enormous kit, where you jettison bits as you're going along. And just in case you didn't you don't really need this you pick it up basically you became an expert. Just cook you're having to carry this stuff. And because you haven't to carry it, you quickly learn I don't need that Chuck it

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  54:30  
Yeah, and I did get rid of an awful lot of stuff. I had some some very questionable belongings with me. Like I had my my, I mean, I was on quite a budget when I left and and while I was going so it's sort of just what am I sacrificing a bit of weight for a cheaper option, but I had like my, my mother's old coat which was this like not anything resembling a down jacket, this monstrous thing that took up half a pannier. I had a pair of jeans with me to wear like when I was off the bike. So much unpractical. kind of clothing thing, I even had like a sort of smart casual shirt, I thought I would like to dress up like a non bike person when I was in town for a weekend, or things that I would never do now. And I did get rid of a lot of this stuff slowly. And as time went on out kind of improved things a bit as they broke. But then there was a lot of things that I wouldn't change, like I travelled with, I mean, I had like a cutting board with me so that I could chop vegetables up when I was camping, and had little film canisters, filmed of spices and a proper source bird. And so I could like, eat well, and, and I wouldn't, again, a lot of bikepackers could turn a nose up at that and think God's this person's just sort of like a moving kitchen. But I you know, for such a long period of the bike, I wouldn't, I wouldn't change that at all. And on and I know that the sort of, especially at the moment with the sort of influences bikepacking has had on on taking existing cyclists and making them realise what they can achieve on the bike. I still am a big believer in taking a bit more stuff if your legs can handle it. And if you're not in a hurry, you know, riding up a mountain with the extra weight on your bag, it's not going to do your fitness any any disservice. If you can get up it. I think a bit of both comfort is quite okay. And while in general, I'm a minimalist these days, I think there's plenty of space for carrying a few extra luxury items whenever you're travelling.

Carlton Reid  56:30  
But did you come back? Not you but did the bike and the kit come back a lot lighter. So by the time you'd finish, because I know you you'd have to badmouth the bags that you had. But you certainly changed your your your bags halfway around because of various reasons. And other notes on your blog, you do kind of, say a few choice words about the brand you had. But did you come back with? Did you come out with a lot more lightweight than you went? On much more lightweight?

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  57:00  
I would say I might have shaved off like a kilo. Like in general, I pretty much had the same amount of stuff with me. And yeah, it couldn't have bothered me that much. Because otherwise I would have gotten rid of an awful lot of stuff. So no, I actually, I actually think I returned with a fairly similar amount of weight on my bike. That's

Carlton Reid  57:22  
interesting, because that's totally opposite to the way I did it. So when I started out, I had so much kit, I had like a wooden hammer for hammering in the tent pegs I had, like, we just get a rock, you know, I had so many things that I just I was chucking stuff you know, from the very, very start and you've kind of quickly got used to you know, what was necessary and what wasn't. And you don't know that until you're actually on the road. So I was ended up with with a lot less kit. So I taught myself minimalism, just because, cuz, whereas you're saying you don't, it doesn't matter, you can just pedal up a hill, I was the opposite as like, No, I'm not the crane brothers. Famously, when they went up Kilimanjaro and their stuff, they they would, you know, drill holes in toothbrushes, I was never that extreme. But I would definitely want to be lightweight, as much as possible. And so I am kind of interested in taking a chopping board. So I wouldn't have done that. This is interesting about how different people approach these things. And like, I have come down to the minimalist and caring such a little like I wouldn't, personally I wouldn't, not even going on like a camping trip. Now. I won't take cooking equipment, for instance, I will generally buy what I need, and eat that and then have to then scrambled to get, you know, fresh supplies. And I know it's much more efficient to take rice and what have you and then be able to boil this up. But to me just carrying any amount of cooking equipment to me in my head, just that's too much weight, I can do this much lighter. And clearly you're you're not you're a different each to their own, isn't it? It's just different people want to do different things. And that's fine. Definitely.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  59:22  
And we need to make sure that we always sort of accommodate that. Because people are so different. And and I think it's difficult, you know, in life, for example, in the cycling industry, it's a consumer driven industry, we need to convince people we brands need to convince people that they need to do things in a different way or a better way or an improved way. But really all of it comes down to like giving people options so they can do things in the way that they want to do it. And you know, there is absolutely no reason why one type of bike travelling is superior than another. They are yeah complete The different ways of doing things for different people. So ever people navigate in one particular way, if they choose one kind of route, it's not about that it's about giving people the options. And the same, like if someone wants to go on a road bike really fast with nothing on their bike, that's totally fine. And if someone wants to chuck for massive panniers on their bike, they'll probably be a bit slower. But that's, but that's totally okay.

Carlton Reid  1:00:26  
And so what are you doing now? During what what? How would you describe your riding, and your adventuring now,

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  1:00:33  
my, I still try. And when I travel, I always want to be on a bike. If I'm not on a bike, I've fully compromised a little bit. But I also like spending time walking around being a normal person, especially if I'm on holiday with my with my girlfriend. But I do try and have one or two bike trips, big bike trips a year. Over the last few years, I've developed a sort of real love for exploring, I guess, capturing the essence of a big adventure closer to home. But in general, I'm sort of a casual cyclist I like to get out for provides every once a week if I can. I think working at QMU is quite is wonderful, but a bit dangerous for someone like me who enjoys spending time looking at maps, because the list of places to visit is evergrowing. But commute has this amazing interface. We have this route planner, which is wonderful gives people all these advanced tools to make informed decisions about where they're going and how they get there. But we also have this discovery interface where you can have these these created routes for you based on your sort of parameters, the smart, this kind of smart solutions, and does have a really big impact on me, since we launched it last year, I'm much more inclined to take a train out from London to a random station and say, load it up on commute and say, Hey, I'm in a new area. I've got three hours, give me something. So while I'm going on less epic adventures, and finding new kind of creative ways of exploring familiar places. I'm doing that a lot at the moment. And I'm extremely excited about doing more of that as the weather improves.

Carlton Reid  1:02:19  
And is that a curated thing? Or is that an algorithm thing. So

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  1:02:24  
it's a kind of a combination of stuff. commute, we have so much user data, because we have millions and billions and billions of of users, the number of recorded tours is kind of such a big number. It's it's kind of hard to get your head around. So we're able to give people these. These like personalised suggestions so I can take the train out if I'm with a no fun with friends go out for a walk at the weekend, I can look at which train line takes me to a village that looks somewhere Scenic. I don't own a car. So I can just say I'm at this station, it will see where the people who use Komoot are heading when they record their tours. So it's very easy to get a feel for where people actually walk. Where do people go for their recreational weekend straws. And it will give me a clever or suitable solution to get kind of onto that, navigate the route and then return to the train station. And it's incredibly clever how it works. If I go on where I live now and say I want to go for a four hour cycle, starting for I live. I've lived in London for a long time and I've cycled in London for a long time. I know what all of the common roadie routes are that people take wherever they're going off to Windsor or Kent or sorry, Essex and, and if I let Komoot do this for me automatically. It's kind of amazing how it basically gives me the routes that people most commonly do. But it won't just give me three or four options, it will give me hundreds of options, which means I can go out for a new ride. And I can always find something that's slightly different to what I've done in the past. And I find that really inspiring for my, like motivation to explore.

Carlton Reid  1:04:12  
And then if you were in Iran, would it do the same? Or was it does it need that you know, lots and lots of people have done this before or kind of just glower three people who've done this, okay, that'll be the route we curate for this. This person has just ended up in Iran, for instance, such as yourself a few years ago. Yeah, you

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  1:04:28  
need to have the use of data because it's based on what people actually do. So if we didn't have that it wouldn't we only want to do it when we're confident we give people a good experience. Otherwise, no one benefits from it. You can obviously still use the route panoramic, your own tool in Iran. The what I would say in certain regions where there is less user data, we have an editorial team that make it they're the the we create the content so we'll find what are the classic like walking routes based on like variety of sources, we have an extensive editorial team that will add this content. And they will add suitable highlights, which is what we call the contributions that the community creates to add on to the map. So that this is an amazing viewpoint, this is a great cafe to stop out if you're a cyclist, this is a really beautiful, rich line stroll. So we will help to populate the map so that the people who are used to kind of a circular thing, the better the map data is, the better that the attributions are on commute, the more local people will find, have a good user experience. And then the more they use it, the more they'll contributes. And that's how we kind of launch in in new places where there's less of an active community, if that makes sense.

Carlton Reid  1:05:48  
Yes, your heat mapping then, in effect, so you're you're working out where people are going, and you see you perhaps, you know, and your your fellow app. This this ecosystem we talked about before, you know, where people are cycling, you know, like the Strava, type heatmap.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  1:06:06  
Exactly. So we can I mean, it's all obviously, like, it's only when people choose to share stuff publicly. It's all like completely anonymized. But you know, we have so much data, we're just trying to harness it. And yes, we do know where people cycle we have that information that's great is quite hard to sort of digest. But if you can take that and turn it into something actionable, the end result for the user is that they can say, I'm a beginner, I've got two hours, I've got a new phone mount to go on my handlebars, I can select this tool, I can just press go. And I can head off and have an amazing bike ride for two hours. And we can be really confident that it's going to be suitable because that's what other people are doing when they, for example, select bike touring as a sport type. And the same for hiking, we won't have people won't be walking down the road, because we'll only be looking at data that's come from hikers. It's a very Yeah, it's an incredible solution is very clever. And I think it's just a great way of mobilising people, whether they're like really experienced cyclists who are just looking for something new and and bored of doing the same kind of loop over and over again, or newbies who need their handheld a little bit. And once I have a solution that they can just go off and do with five minutes of planning instead of an hour of planning for a two hour excursion.

Carlton Reid  1:07:33  
Now right now the bike and I don't know how much you know, this, but the bike industry, certainly in the UK, and in many other places in the world is is suffering just incredibly bad. It's just it is it is dire out there at retail. It's dire out there for suppliers, you know, post COVID, we basically just got a huge, huge, low a complete slump. You know, I did a story on Forbes of the day talking about how to 40 year low in the UK. You know, the last time we were as low as this in bike sales was in 1985. So 39 years. And that's that's that's pretty poor. Do. Do you recognise that? Is that something you can look at and say, oh, people aren't writing as much? Or is that just purely at retail and people still riding that is not buying?

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  1:08:24  
Is a good? It's a good question. I actually saw that Forbes article and is it's definitely bleak reading. But I've worked in the bike industry for a number of years. It's like, I know many people who share the same kind of anecdotal experiences that things are changing. It is a problem with retail and definitely like have these hangover kind of effects from the pandemic that still making it really hard for people to forecast well. And, and it's just been so unpredictable for a few years now. Komoot is lucky because we don't deal with a physical product. But we are subject to the same the same kind of you know, these kind of cultural shifts, whether people are collectively interested in exploring or cycling, we're not immune to that we might not have the same issues that a bike manufacturer has, but we still get impacted by the same changes. And it's hard for us to predict these major shifts in usage in the same way that it's hard for anyone in the cycling industry. One thing that I think is is great for Komoot. Well, I think partly compared to a lot of physical stuff in the cycling space. It's quite an affordable price point and you can do an awful lot for free. So that's less of a barrier when people have less disposable income. We are international so if one you know we have we're active in plenty of markets, but we are, I guess subject to like, international shifts in usage. rather than, you know, locked in and reliant on one particular place, and also, we have a product that is set up for different sport types. So we can, you know, we can we're not sort of reliant on we're not just a road cycling company. So if people overnight decided not interested in road cycling, that would be very unfortunate, it would be a very sad thing. But we have plenty of other you know, markets and user types. And even within road cycling, for example, there's people who've been, you know, the people who've been road cycling for many years in Italy decide to stop Well, there's an entire, you know, there's there's millions of people who are maybe new to the sport, or could become interested in the sport, if you approach them in the right way. So yeah, it's particularly in the UK is quite a bleak landscape at the moment, but I think it's quite lucky in in where we are positioned, we're not completely Yeah, stuck in the middle of that.

Carlton Reid  1:11:03  
So tell us how much it costs to go for the pro version. And what you get with the pro version, better than just going for the free version.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  1:11:16  
So I will try and do a concise summary of our pricing, you can do an awful lot on commute for free, you can find these routes that I referred to in our discover section, you can build our own routes, a lot of the functionality is there for free users. And when you sign up, you get free region bundle, so that you can explore a particular region and these region bundles, you can either purchase like an individual region, so like London, perhaps would be one that's gonna be like a one those all like one time purchases. So you can buy region for £3.99 and region bundle a collection of them for 8.99. Or you can get the whole world pack for 29.99. Same whether it's pound sterling, euros or or USD. And when you have a region unlocked you, you can then use offline maps. So you can take the download the map, or you can follow the tour without needing internet, you also get voice navigation. And you also get turn by turn navigation, whether you're doing on your phone or more on your cycling computer or smartwatch. So those are all one time purchases. And then we also have a premium, like pricing tier, which is 4.99 a month 59.99 for the year. And then we premium, you get a whole host of extra features and functionality, you get the whole world available offline. So those features I mentioned earlier, you get all of that included, you also are able to make collections, which means you can group together, either your planned tours. By that I mean that your plan routes, so you want to do hiking or cycling, or once you've completed so like if I cycled around the world, I could add all of the daily bits into one nice collection to show that my car five, I've cycled while I was away. You also get sports specific overlays, which I referred to earlier. So you can overlay the light, long distance hiking or cycling routes, you get on tour weather, which is really cool, you can see where you're estimated to be when the sunsets or when the rain arrives, or the winds looking like you get live tracking, you get the multi day planner, which I also refer to earlier. If you have a really long route, you can divide it into like segments. And as accommodation stops for each, you know, each daily part. And finally, you get 3D maps. So they're all a bunch of features that are really amazing, really cool. I guess we pitch it as for people who wants to go further, so people who who require a little bit of extra extra features, and we're constantly trying to add new features to enrich that.

Carlton Reid  1:14:07  
Great. So to wrap up, give us a URL. I mean, it's reasonably obvious. I agree. I'll even spelled out during that during the recording now, however, give us the URL, and then the URL for for where people can have now obviously put in the show notes. But where people can can follow your your adventures in 2015 through 2017. And then you've done subsequent rides and you're updating your blog for a while so so to basically give us your URL for the blog and for Komoot.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  1:14:39  
We can spell out one more time for luck. It's just On the web browser. You can also find the app on both iOS and Android. If you want to give it a go and get started myself You can find me on LinkedIn. If you can manage to spell my surname, you can add it into the podcast notes. I have a link there to my Komoot profile, should you be interested in following my adventures there? My blog is called JKB's bike ride, which is Jk B. S, my initials. If you want to read some of my, my rambling thoughts from a long time ago, all my photography from the many bike trips I've been on. And if you find me there, you can, you can find me on other social media platforms. And I would just say if you have any, if anyone listening has any questions about the things that we've discussed today, or any questions about commute, or bike touring travel in general, you're very welcome to send me an email at Always happy to hear from people and talk about adventures

Carlton Reid  1:15:55  
during this time. Excellent. Thank you very much. Now, as expected, this was meant to be about Komoot. It was it was Komoot. And Jonathan it was like this afternoon to measure exactly how much is is how much was Komoot and how much was Jonathan. But I kind of expected that as soon as you know that. I want to interview you then it's like, Okay, we're gonna be talking about bike touring. And we're bringing Komoot here and there. So that hopefully I mean, you are very clever, you are dragging commute back in as much as possible, which is absolutely fine. And good, because that's what ostensibly what we're meant to be talking about. Anyway, that's been fascinating. And thank you ever so much for for well, we recorded this and it was an hour and 16 minutes, and it flew by. So Jonathan, thank you ever so much.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  1:16:41  
That was a real pleasure. I really enjoyed. Yeah, I really enjoyed going through whole range of subjects with you.

Carlton Reid  1:16:48  
And we could have I mean, I could have gone blog by blog posts and blog posting and tell me about the flies here in Australia and stuff. But we didn't but I do recommend people go read your blog, look at your videos, and work out whether Do you really want to cycle around the world. Or maybe Jonathan's bug experiences and farting monks and stuff will will actually inspire you to go and do your own stuff. So anyway, thank you very much.

Jonathan Kambskarð-Bennett  1:17:10  
It was a good teaser. Yeah, thank you very much for your time.

Carlton Reid  1:17:13  
Thanks for listening to Episode 348 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast brought to you in association with Tern Bicycles. Show notes and more can be found at The next episode will be a chat with Tom Knights of Strava Metro. That show will be out next weekend. But meanwhile, get out there and ride.





Direct download: The_Spokesmen_348.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:33pm MDT

24th February 2024

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 347: Richard Fletcher

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Richard Fletcher, Isle of Man




Carlton Reid  0:13  
Welcome to Episode 347 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Saturday 24th of February 2020. For

David Bernstein  0:29  
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you're commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That's t e r n to learn more.

Carlton Reid  1:04  
The plan was to record this interview while riding to Laxey on the Isle of Man with cycle guide and event organiser Richard Fletcher, pointing out the roads long used by fellow Manxman Mark Cavendish, but then weather! I'm Carlton Reid, and I was on the Isle of Man for the AGM of the British guild of travel writers. members could choose a one day fam trip activity. And while others chose spa and yoga retreats or cookery sessions, all indoors, I had asked to go cycling. I brought my road bike on the Steam Packet ferry from Heysham and was eager to hook up Richard with a radio mic and then chat, as we pootled along. The driving rain put paid to that idea. And after a bitterly cold two hour ride, we drip-dripped into a Douglas bike shop. Right. And I've just seen a photograph of you there that I took on the road, and you're smiling. But there's sleet. There's rain, there's basically we're riding through it almost a river coming up through to Douglas. So that was pretty grim out there.

Richard Fletcher  2:23  
Yes, as bad as it gets over here. But yeah, you're out on your bike. And there's the worst places to be. So as long as you don't do more than an hour and a half in that sort of that sort of weather, then it's fine. Right?

Carlton Reid  2:35  
So warmed up, we had a cup of coffee, and a bit of cake in Noa's bakery, and that's Noa. And next door to that is Bike Style. The bike shops who are now sitting on very nice sofas here, in in a nice bike shop. I'd like to say overlooking, you know, the scenic wonders of Douglas, but we can't actually see a great deal. And when we were out riding this morning, you you basically you took me out to some scenic places, but we didn't actually see anything. So just describe the ride that we did this morning. What would we have seen if it would be a beautiful day? Because we're kind of going towards Snaefell, weren't we?

Richard Fletcher  3:12  
Yeah, well, the hills, the route, we went on the hills all around it, basically. So and yeah, on a clear day, that's what you see. You can you can see the island from sort of side to side and top to bottom only when you're out it's particularly if you get some height. But today, because it's hilly, you get white-out effectively. So yeah, there's quite low cloud and you don't see a lot. But yeah, it would have been a nice ride if our view wise if it had been clear.

Carlton Reid  3:42  
Because we did get pretty damn cold out there today. So the route you were originally planning to take me on would have been towards Laxey

Richard Fletcher  3:52  
We'd have gone north of the east coast of the island. And you get some stunning views on the East coast. Well on all the coastal routes on the island, and the island basically has villages and towns dotted around the coastline. So as soon as you come in from the towns, you start climbing, and you go either over a hill into a valley and over another hill and back to the coast. The island is only 12 miles wide and it's been its widest point, and 36 miles long. So you can cross from coast to coast or top to bottom in a day. But there's lots of minor roads. I think some of the roads we went on. They were most of them were single carriageway roads to the benefit that is the nicer island because they're quiet, very little traffic. But yeah, it's just today was a rough day for it.

Carlton Reid  4:42  
So if we had done that ride, which we're planning to do towards Laxey would have basically written past Cav's house, yeah?

Richard Fletcher  4:51  
Well, he's born and brought up in Douglas and Laxey still has a house in Laxey. And Laxey's got a lot of history from it was an old mining village years ago not a big population there. It's people have a possibly have an impression of Cav that because he's a sprinter the same of the Tour de France with a sprint train that he's a rider for the flatlands but the he was born and brought up over here where you there are hills everywhere you go. And in his amateur racing, I think you see that that he's used to coping with that type of terrain.

Carlton Reid  5:29  
And tell me about Dot Tilbury because Dot Tilbury you're talking about basically before when we're in the coffee shop about a big funnel of riders. Then at the bottom, you would spit out these well known riders that we've all heard of.

Richard Fletcher  5:42  
Yeah, I mean, I've been cycling for 40. More well, more than 40 years and until Dot came around, and the cycling tended to be quite insular. And people would get into cycling because their parents had all their brothers or sisters. Dot started a children's league on a Tuesday night, more than 20 years ago now. And it started attracting more and more children into it, who weren't anything to do with the normal cycling scene. And within a relatively short space of time, it got to the stage where she was getting 200, then 250. And now 300 kids would turn up on a Tuesday night and be introduced to cycling as an activity. And that's been going on now say for over 20 years. And I'd say for a small population out the Isle of Man 86,000 people, that's the most directly cause of of the high standard of cycling because you use the word then there is a sort of wide funnel of kids becoming involved in cycling. And yes, there's when they get to 14, 15, 16. And all the distractions come around or other activities come around, particularly in this day and age where there's so many alternatives to to spend your time still a larger number drop out at the bottom of the funnel than would have if she didn't run that league. And I think she's the most direct link to the success of of elite cycling over here. I remember when did that exactly set that up? I don't exactly 20, 20 something years ago be more than 20 years

Carlton Reid  7:20  
Where Where does she where's that is it's just like an off road circuit? 

Richard Fletcher  7:24  
It's on a perimeter road around the National Sports Centre. So it's about half a mile round pan flat. And it's like an oval, like a 600 metre version of an athletic track effectively, but it's tarmac. And they race round there on a Tuesday night, they start when they're almost just off balance bikes then through to when they're 16. And they that's where they get into cycling, and then as they get to the older age groups, and they then move into the more sort of traditional cycling. Dot also takes them away on trips. So they go to places like a day on the Manchester Velodrome they take part in the youth series that British Cycling runs. And we run around with that over here. So they get to perform on home soil as well. In fact that is coming up in April, this year, there'll be over 200 kids come from the UK, the best 200 Kids in the UK will come over to ride in the Isle of Man. And about 50 of Dot's kids will be in those races as well. 

Carlton Reid  8:32  
Because you're one of the organisers of yeah, they used to it

Richard Fletcher  8:36  
I recently do, the youth has been running for 14 or 15 years now. And last couple of years, the organisers sort of change over time, became involved and become involved. So Emma Dyer who has been involved for many years and organising it Rob Holden, ex professional cyclist and myself are the three main organisers but it's a big team of people that put it together and it's closed roads Yeah, we get Road Club full road closure which is one of the USPS if you like of them coming to the Isle of Man that the kids aren't used to riding on closed roads they used to running on closed circuits around parks and things like that. And we get the national escort group guys come over so it's quite a an atmosphere for the kids the it's not to to France but it's sort of to ride on closed roads with national escort and we bring Tony Barry's neutral service cars over as well so they've they've actually got a almost like professional experience that they get and I think that's why I like coming over for it.

Carlton Reid  9:39  
And one of the ways you're able to close the roads is the Isle of Man government is pretty well used to closing roads for the TT so is that part of it? You can you they are used to closing roads? 

Richard Fletcher  9:53  
Yeah, they are and there's an acceptance by the public there's always some resistance to close. as roads, whatever it's for, and we try and minimise that. But yeah, the sort of structures and the policies and laws are in place to help you do that. The TT happens has happened for 100 years. 1907. Yeah. That that's an established thing over here. What people probably don't know as much about is that at this, the bicycle TT started in the 30s. And it was, again, it was because they couldn't do it. on the Isle of Man; in the UK rather. So you had the I don't know, whatever the governing body of cycling was then. And you had a breakaway group called British League of racing cyclists. And they, they got together with the Isle of Man. And we ran one of the first big mass start races over here in the 1930s last century. And that for a time that became the biggest race in Britain for cycling, so you had top names like Tom Simpson, and all the big riders at the time came over and race the Isle of Man, the International, before in this sort of following the Second World War,

Carlton Reid  11:12  
when there was no nothing like that everybody was time trialling, yeah, famously and alpaca Yeah, you know, black alpaca going out in secret in the morning

Richard Fletcher  11:20  
Yeah, so the road racing scene was established, cycling was established then right, and then became Manx International Cycling Week, which ran through till 2003, which was a week long festival where we close roads for two the whole week for cycling. That went into decline mainly because people's habits changed. And they didn't want to take a week off from their work holidays to come to Isle of Man for cycling when Majorca and other places were, were beckoning. So now we tend to have smaller scale races, we had the we've had rounds of the British National series for seniors. So the premier calendar, we've hosted the national championships. And consistently we've run the National Youth and junior two sets around the British youth series and around the British Junior series, the Peter Buckley series, which it's still I still call it that. Peter Buckley was actually from the Isle of Man. And when the Commonwealth Games gold medal, and

you're from the Isle of Man too, so you're a born and bred Manxman 

Yeah, I spent a little bit time off the island but mainly on the island. Yeah. My wife's from the UK. And my dad was from the UK. So it's, but yeah, it's been my home is here.

Carlton Reid  12:40  
And tell me a little bit about how you sort of semi funded Cav's early career with some cash, but indirectly.

Richard Fletcher  12:51  
Yes, that's my claim. And I don't think Mark would want to know about it or agree with it. But Mark's mother. For many years, Adele ran a dance workshop, not far from this shop, actually. And both my daughters did ballet. So I spent quite a lot of money on pointe shoes over the years with with Adele. And so I say that and that was about the time Mark was getting into cycling. So yeah, I must have contributed in a small way to Yes,

Carlton Reid  13:16  
yes. And he of course had a dance background at first. 

Richard Fletcher  13:19  
I believe so. I think I think a lot more is made of it than that. But yeah, when I think he was nine or 10 or 11, I think he did some ballroom dancing. So I wouldn't be surprised if in the next three or four years, he appears on Strictly or something like that. Be a good candidate.

Carlton Reid  13:37  
And he's got a house, you said at Laxey. He's got houses dotted around, but one of them. One of them is certainly here. So he would be a known figure here. And I'm here, obviously for the the AGM of the Travel Writers Guild, and even you know, the top big wigs. And when we had our gala dinner, they mentioned Mark Cavendish. Yeah, you know, so he he's a known figure, quite apart from in the cycling scene, but he will appear and he will do local, local, right. He

Richard Fletcher  14:10  
He comes up frequently to see his Mum and Dad, who both live on the island. And yeah, when you see, he goes out with the local lads on both training rides, and you'll he'll, he'll pop up and do events as well. I run a sportif each year, and I haven't had any contact with him. But the British Cycling entry system that was used, the entries pop up in your email inbox and there's one M Cavendish OBE, who just paid his entry fee and rocked up like any other rider to it to just make a big thing about you made the day because he's turned up and he was late getting to the start and we sportifs quite relaxed. But when he got to start on when went round with the lads who were strong enough to ride with him, and he because he was They started you went past everybody in the event and it made the event all you could hear in the sort of coffee shop afterwards was because Cav passed me on this hill or Cav passed me here. So it's great, but he does. He just slots in. And I think I think I don't know, you have to speak to him. But I think he enjoys the fact you can just behave normally over here and go about his business without getting accosted for this, that and the other. So,

Carlton Reid  15:23  
So we're about on the roads before most of the people were getting with this wide berth. But we had a couple, and it was such atrocious weather. And they were coming past at speed. Yeah. And that wasn't that wasn't very nice. And you might have told one of the drivers they shouldn't have been doing. And that was it was a horrible close pass. So how much respect do you generally get? And could it be some of it down to you've got that funnel of riders, and you've certainly got somebody as famous as Mark Cavendish, that, you know, the big wigs talk about him? So might there be some, even if it's just a small bit of people's brains? Like why can't you know, close past those cyclists; one of them might be Cav and then I'm in the national news? 

Richard Fletcher  16:10  
It's a bit subjective, my gut feel, because I do do quite a lot of riding off the island is my gut feeling. I think the drivers over here are a little bit more considerate than elsewhere in the in the in the British Isles is a bit subjective. But generally speaking, I think the overall rise in popularity of cycling, whether it's here or in the UK, has also contributed to maybe people being a bit more aware. I don't I don't think it's it's not malice of people in cars. I think it's it's ignorance of, of the fact they're inside us. steel box, and you're not. So it's not something that would ever I mean, I've been cyclists for many years, it's not going to put me off cycling anyway. But I think it is the it's still the main barrier to people taking up cycling who aren't experienced cyclists. So it's a bit of culture change people's personalities change when they get in the car. And then that's, I see to unbonded really, but no, it's not too bad over here. And the roads themselves because they're not big roads, people have to drive with a bit of care and attention most people to give you plenty of room. 

Carlton Reid  17:23  
So, okay, well, a few seconds ago you said British Isles rather than the UK. So Isle of Man isn't in the UK isn't in the EU, ever. It's but it's part of the British Isles, and it's a crown dependency. There are different rules here. Because if you've got your own government and one of those rules, or lack of rules, is you can go as fast as you want in a car on certain roads. And that's partly maybe a legacy of the, the TT that's been going on. So if you've got this TT circuit, and even on Ordnance Survey maps, it says, you know, this is the TT course. But these are public roads. These are these are not not closed circuit at all apart from when it's running in June, and the roads are closed. So at those roads being no speed limits, means some drivers, not all of them for some drivers are going to be going crackers on those roads, because then you can overtake a policeman, police car 200mph nand they can't do anything about it. So does that mean cyclists avoid that, that course, that road?

Richard Fletcher  18:31  
There's only one section that most cyclists avoid. That's the what's called the mountain road. It runs through Ramsey over alongside Snaefell the only mountain on the island and drops down into Douglas. So whereas 20, 30 years ago I used to commute over that road. Most people would avoid it now and I would avoid now is because and there's a number of reasons for that. One is that yes. A lot of drivers do put the foot down when they get on a mountain road. There are safe passing places on the mountain road. If you were doing excessive speed and you took a police car, they would still pull you in because it's below there's no speed limit. It's allowing us to do art drive. Um, I'm not sure the legal definition but in a safe manner effectively. So it's not unlimited speed, it's driving to the road conditions and if you overtook them at 70 and it was misty, they put you in so it's them. There's there is some control over it. But particularly motorbikes because of the history. They like to really push it over the mountain. And it's so I wouldn't go up there on a bike now for two reasons. One, you can although we've got terrible weather today, and even in on a summer's day, the mountain in patches can be misty. So you could set off from Douglas or Ramsey in bright sunshine. And once you get above 1000 feet or whatever in the mist, and the speed differential between a car even not absolutely ragging over the mountain, and the bicycle going uphill is such that you be at risk of being hit from behind. Because the driver just wouldn't see you in time,

Carlton Reid  20:17  
Do motorists avoid it, do they also seem motorists to go I'm not gonna get that because

Richard Fletcher  20:22  
I mean, I say I lived in Ramsey and commuted to work in Douglas, for 20 years. And I could, I could probably drive the mountain road blindfold. But I do know some drivers and even taxi drivers who don't like riding, because the because it's the TT course there are no cat's eyes in the middle of the road. So it's actually quite a difficult road to drive in the mist. You need to know where the roads going up ahead. So yeah, there are some motorists avoid, as well.

Carlton Reid  20:54  
So that's a 37 mile stretch of, in effect, a triangle of roads that are marked on the OS map as the as the TT course. But the island has something like 688 miles, all other roads. So we're talking, you know, 640 Odd miles of other roads. Yeah. So that's something that right, avoid them. You don't have to sometimes use that road to link up with other things, you can always avoid it.

Richard Fletcher  21:23  
And the funny part is that the when we have bike races or their motorcycle races, there mountain road, because it's very, there are maybe three businesses on the mountain, or I think you went to one victory cafe, that they were allowed actually to close the mountain road with very little resistance, because they're alternative routes around the island for motorists. And there's not many people live in the mountain road. So it's it's actually a lot, it's a road you wouldn't use when the roads are open, it's for an event, you can often get a road closure on the mountain road quite quite easily because of that. But now the other road, most of the active cyclists, they wouldn't use a TT course because they are effectively the island's equivalent of sort of arterial roads. Most of the traffic is on those roads. But it means the roads the side I mean, we went on some of them today can't learn without being able to see where we were. But they're the roads that run alongside or crisscross those roads. And the traffic is fairly light. Still, we didn't have a chance to go up to the north of the island where it's the northern plane is flat. But that's where virtually all the local racing takes place. Now because there's very little traffic it's mainly just farmland, but farms and fields.

Carlton Reid  22:48  
At this point we'll cut to a break. Take it away, David,

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Carlton Reid  23:52  
Thanks, David. And we are back with Isle of Man Mr. Cycling, Richard Fletcher. So describe where maybe Kev or Pete Kennaugh where they would have ridden where would they go? Do you think would they have a standard training ride? Or would they mix it up? 

Richard Fletcher  24:09  
No, they mix it up and I know Cav's thing that he doesn't like to repeat the same road on any training ride. I think he covered that when he did a piece over here with Matt Stevens. But they ride the ride all over basically. And you can it's for small island, there are a lot of roads, you can you can mix it up. And you tend to look at the weather and see which way the winds blowing and decide a new route then rather than have a planned route, but they will know both those two and any boys have been involved in cycling over here you get to know every road on the island basically. So

Carlton Reid  24:51  
you would link it up in your head and then just kind

Richard Fletcher  24:54  
of criss cross and go where the coffee is really

Carlton Reid  24:59  
and then Then on this trip, maybe they're just pulling our leg I don't know. But the bus driver everybody who's been talking to us on this trip has been stressing the folklore element of the Isle of Man, which I wasn't really terribly familiar with at all. So everybody is stressing, you know, you've got to when you go across the Fairy Bridge, you've got to say hello to the fairies. How much of this is would you tell that to the tourists? And how much of that is no people on the island genuinely, you know, believe in this stuff.

Richard Fletcher  25:36  
I don't know if I believe in it. A lot of a lot of the people buy into it.

Carlton Reid  25:42  
And why?

Richard Fletcher  25:44  
Because I'm I'm not one of those I'm not a superstitious person. But there is. I mean, there is a big Celtic background the history of the Isle of Man is interesting. So don't buy into all the folklore stuff. The background history of the island where the Vikings were heavily involved in the Isle of Man if you look at it geographic on a map, you can see that if you're military strategist, where would you base yourself if you want to rape and pillage all over the British Isles, you got the Isle of Man because you can bet your base here and strike out and hit violent Wales England or Scotland from it. So the Vikings were have a big influence on the islands. Longer history. And then because of that, the Scottish Lords got rid of the Vikings and then the Lords of Darby took over from the Scots. So there's a lot of not folklore that but there's a lot of good, meaty history about the island. The the other stuff? I don't know, I think it's it's the stuff about mythical creatures and fairies is, is probably because you then you've got a small island race basically. So you get myths and things from a an environment like that. But yeah, it's uh, it's, it sells a lot of gin. Yes.

Carlton Reid  27:17  
Definitely good stories. Yeah. And we've been given, you know, books of folklore. And so you've got to say, hello to the fairies

Richard Fletcher  27:25  
doesn't mean the other Celtic nations have similar things. So Irish, Irish methylene and Welsh and Scottish as well. That so there is quite a strong Celtic presence here. And there are quite, there's quite a lot of exchanges between, particularly in the arts around the Celtic side, so you've got them Normandy, Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and they do get together, particularly in the art side and, and share the same sort of music and poetry and everything else. It doesn't overlap as much in into sport. Although we've got a really interesting event coming over here in July this year, called Pan-Celtic, which is like an ultra endurance event. And I was amazing guy, I didn't know anything about the event until earlier this year. And the guy who organised a guy called Matt Ryan, who lives in north Wales, the opening entries for it and had to close them within 48 hours later because he'd filled the field and it's people from all over the world coming. We completely coincidentally bumped into a German couple on a cycling holiday and they said Are you from Alabama? We're coming for the pan Celtic this year. And so they're flying in, mins booked to Gatwick and Gatwick to here to do this event that starts does 100 mile loop around the Isle of Man and they're getting on the ferry and they go off to Scotland right around there.

Carlton Reid  28:59  
You know the route and what they what are they doing loose route

Richard Fletcher  29:03  
it's about like it's about 1500 miles in total. It's one of these ultra distance the other man is strange and it's been set as the because we got very right it's been set as the first stage they've been classed as a time trial. It's not it is a race and it isn't a race it's a it's a race where nobody wins anything is the way that if the organisers describes it, but it's a personal challenge thing so when the clock starts normally on the pan Celtic it doesn't stop until you get to the very end whereas for this year because the argument is being used the first stage they don't do a ride through the night here and then get their morning ferry over to patient and then ride I think they go north then and ride around Scotland for the rest of it. But I'm seeing the rest of the room

Carlton Reid  29:48  
because normally on the pan Celtic it's if you get to the ferry port late well you're gonna get the ferry the next day and that's that's added to your time. Yeah, where is this one? And usually they're gonna stop the times there is like a time drive.

Richard Fletcher  30:04  
Yeah, because it's a three to four hour journey over I think so yeah, they're they've got they've got a big enough window the starting at seven o'clock on Saturday evening and they've got to do better thing is boundary and five miles. So the very least 8.45 next day so I can't see anybody missing that that they should have a little bit sleep actually

Carlton Reid  30:27  
do what route they're doing actually on yeah went

Richard Fletcher  30:30  
through the route with the organiser because he we've actually got another big cycling event the next day. So we needed to avoid clashing with that. And it basically does a big loop of the island round round the perimeter mainly but they cut into they've got the participants left some interesting clients did it as well they go burn the client pool faulty will, which is effectively going up the mountain it's not the mountain road TT causeway but it's the it's a, it's a nicer if you can have a nice climb, it's a nicer climb than the TT course one

Carlton Reid  31:07  
and they are avoiding the TT course completely. There's not not not hitting it at all

Richard Fletcher  31:11  
on it for about a mile. And that's it because when you get to the top of that climb, you actually go backwards along with TT good for you then go back into the interior. But that's that's fine. It's then it's the middle of summer it'll be the middle of the night when they get there as well. So there won't be a lot of traffic on that road.

Carlton Reid  31:31  
So that's it as you're saying before there's there's there's no cat size on that road. So that's a road that maybe people avoided that night anyway.

Richard Fletcher  31:37  
Um, yeah, this well. There are alternative routes. So yes, you will, they will fit in on if there's not misty then you would go that way. Because the quickest way from north to say, most direct way. But generally speaking in nighttime, it's quiet anyway.

Carlton Reid  31:55  
So last night, we had a talk from Milky Quayle. Who's one of these guys who who averages 186 miles an hour on his motorbike as he's going around the corner, sometimes hitting 200 miles an hour. And he was one of the questions I asked him was, you would die if you hit a pothole at 30 miles an hour, nevermind 200 miles an hour. So the local authority, the government must be pumping a huge amount of money into keeping that road. absolutely pristine. And there's never going to be a pothole on that road. However, does that mean that other roads, the roads, maybe the cyclists are on? Does that mean they're getting short shrift there because they're getting roads where there's gonna be potholes, and then all the money has been pumped into that mountain road?

Richard Fletcher  32:46  
The don't know the answers are so the there's a perception certainly that the TT course will not upset from the TT course it has a priority. And it is always, as you say, perfectly maintained. And it has to be actually sculptured sometimes to accommodate the motorcycling. So the the course has probably got faster over the years, because it's been improved. There's a on the mountain road section, there's a couple of places where the road is actually been that not banked. But is lends itself to is certainly not off camber for it that way. So that there is a lot of money spent on the TT course. But that's justified by the fact that the TT races are revenue generating. So whether the, whether that means it whether that's to the detriment of other roads is a moot point. Some people locally would say, definitely, whether it's financial or just resource wise, in terms of the time spent. And generally speaking, I think our roads are fairly good. I tend to ride a gravel bike now anyway, so on You seek out rough road sometimes. So it's not as I don't think we certainly don't think we're the roads elsewhere. The roads outside of TT girls over here are certainly not any worse than UK roads now. And I'd say overall, slightly better than a lot of areas of the UK. So be it as much the time I think is nCn calm the isn't more than the money you've got limited resources to do road maintenance. So if you're spending quite a lot of that time on a TT course you've you've a limited timeframe.

Carlton Reid  34:40  
By the same token, you probably got some pretty good experts who are probably using some pretty good scientific equipment to spot potholes forming and that might benefit.

Richard Fletcher  34:52  
Maybe not seeing that but we've got the we've got reporting so you can report potholes and they do that for very quickly to them when you report them. When it's inevitable, you'll get where and turn around. Look at the weather today. It's there'll be, I'm sure when this week is out, there'll be a lot more potholes than they were last week.

Carlton Reid  35:15  
So, so far, we've talked about road cycling, and you've talked a little bit about gravel cycling there. What about mountain biking?

Richard Fletcher  35:22  
Mountain biking is is a growing thing. It's been under exploited. I think

Carlton Reid  35:26  
in that get in the bank shop here. I'm just turning my head. It some of this road bikes over there. But there's a tonne of mountain bikes. Yeah.

Richard Fletcher  35:33  
I mean, the there are 26 plantations over here

Carlton Reid  35:37  
are found they are what we would call Forestry Commission. Yeah, yeah, Department

Richard Fletcher  35:41  
of the Department of Government that looks after them and uses them for growing trees, basically, and harvesting those trees. But within those plantations, a lot of them have had over the years. sanctioned and unsanctioned trails built, they tended to be built, historically, they've tended to be built. And then forgiveness, asked afterwards, rather than permission to go and build the trails. And the government, the barn has been quite friendly in that respect, in that they generally want to encourage access to those plantations. The we tried to formalise that in the last couple of years and recognise that we've probably got as many trails and the quality of those trails and the accessibility Australia is just as good as some of the sort of identified cycling parks in particularly in Wales, Scotland and Ireland more recently, but we've never really produced a a tourism product that, and we've never really joined them all up. So there's been quite a big effort in the last two years to do that. And there's a there's a scheme, just kicking off at the moment government agreed funding in October last year, to produce effectively a, an Isle of Man trail Park. And that's taking a cluster of seven plantations that are quite close to Douglas, and joining them together, they're about they're only about four road crossings to join them together, because they either abort each other or they're, there's a road crossing to get into the next one. So that's a project that's, that's starting now. To join those up. And then I think it will be used as a as a tourism product, but also be of great benefit to local population. And then you're involved in that. Yeah, the I'm involved in advising the government on it. The the rise of gravel cycling as well, because a lot of it. Within those plantations, you have forestry, roads, fire fire roads. And so we're going out from this bike shop actually, on Saturday and on a gravel ride, and we'll take in at least two of the plantations during that if the weather improves.

Carlton Reid  38:03  
So the government is pumping money into into these plantation rides. It recognises all the big wigs recognise Mark Cavendish, or they use Mark Cavendish as something to talk to a general audience and there's not wasn't a noise of scientists at all. It's an audience of, of just general travel writers who they were talking to. So is their awareness that cycling is important to the economy and potentially could become even more important in future. Yeah,

Richard Fletcher  38:35  
it's growing thing that the Isle of Man's tourism product has changed over the years. If you go back to my childhood, it was a bucket and spade tourism, where the the mill towns of the Northwest would shut down for a week and the there was Scottish week, there was Irish week. And it was that type of holiday that fell away when the trips to Spain and things like that came about. So that was one section. Then it it moved on to basically in more niche tourism, such as around the heritage railways and things like that. And that became very popular. More recently, so last three, four years. All the studies and reports that have been done around the future tourism on the island says actually that generation is these strong say flatlining because that flood that is declining. The new demographic, a tourism want the outdoors and that's what the Ironman has got in spades. So, the activities such as I think the government does now realise that activities particularly such as walking, cycling, golf as well, there are numerous golf courses over here. And then anything, the more sort of general, outdoor and active type of activities are they will be the future tourism on the island. So cycling and walking in particular are being focused on we've got some I'm not a hill Walker at all. But the the that is as an asset over here this does access all around us there's an 82 mile coastal path, go the route route fall on them that is under use is it's not known about really, but it's there. And it doesn't need a lot of work to make it a top rate tourism product, like some of the the Pennine routes that you have in the UK. And cycling wise. Yes, the there's mountain biking has been absolutely recognised and the see the money has been allocated to do that. And I think that will become a product and I think gravel and sort of lead you into road as well. So I mean, the challenge that mean chance, I think is is for cycling is getting a bike go via

Carlton Reid  41:02  
the ferry. I mean, some people might fly but the ferry it's a brand new ship. Yeah,

Richard Fletcher  41:07  
they use those pretty friendly with the bikes. I mean that there's room yeah, there's actual

Carlton Reid  41:12  
room where you put your bike? Yes, and you hang them up. And it's like what most varies, even in fact, I don't know any ferries where there's a room where you put your bike? Well, that's come about

Richard Fletcher  41:20  
because I say about three or four years ago, there was a recognition that the future lay in those niche, outdoor active elements, the various brand new so we did a gap analysis effectively. And what's the difference between the Isle of Man and an established cycling destination to take the weather out of it because if you comparing, say Croatia to the Isle of Man or basically to the weather booked the other things, the more the more basic things are the same. It's they're having cycling friendly accommodation, which can be the most basic thing where you don't get looked at as if you're from a different planet when you turn up in lycra with a bike through to the proper cycling friendly hotels, which would have secure bike storage, maybe a little workshop, side tap to clean your bike, that type of thing. So looking at the combination in the Government Department concerned has now a registered recycling friendly hotels and gives them advice as to what they need to do. In terms of that. The very youth was another one where back in my day, the crew were really friendly, but you'd roll up down the ramp and it says sticky bike over there mate. And it'd be just put against the side of the deck where all the cars work. Now as you see the new ferry the Manxman has got a dedicated cycle storage park so it's that type of messaging if you like people coming over that actually cycling is welcome here the big ticket items are things like putting together a proper trail Park product the route became in on blinded by rain in the last couple of miles went past what's called a nunnery estate which is an older stately home and been in talks with the owners of that put a close road title circuit in it. And they're quite keen on that funding won't be an issue. But but that so there is recognition particularly around so I think that it's it's a it can become an an important tourism product.

Carlton Reid  43:31  
And when people are laughing they because maybe not in February

Richard Fletcher  43:36  
no I don't think and there's a big push to try and encourage visitors to the island in what they call the shoulder periods. But no if I was I'm blunt about these things when people ask about the Ironman and cycling cyclists more enjoyable in good weather. It's as simple as that. So yeah, you would come in the not this year the high season but he come between April May June July August September. I wouldn't I personally wouldn't do a trip outside those months I'd be them a lot of people would say well there's no such thing as bad weather just blanket but

Carlton Reid  44:14  
we had some good kit on today and we still got cold I

Richard Fletcher  44:18  
know yeah the the sort of you were you can tweak the sides a bit on now are around mountain biking because you what we tend to do with the locals anyway. On a day like this, if you were going to go out you go on a mountain bike in the plantations and you don't hear the wind and basically So building that mountain bike trail Park product could actually extend the season because yes, you still gonna get money, but you don't get score and worse because you there's just no wind in plantations. That's where I would probably do my gravel riding or mountain biking Not quite not quite as bad as this but you can extend it a little bit in that respect I think

Carlton Reid  45:05  
so people listening to this they thought right definitely not in February but in the months that you've just recommended summer basically they want to come across they want to see this this fantastic very with its dedicated bike room they want to do the same roads that cab has done and other top local riders they want to do the plantations maybe on a mountain bike How did they find out about this and how do they find out about you? So what social media and what websites can they go look at will the

Richard Fletcher  45:41  
there is a cycling website we're trying to build up quite a lot now called and that will become hopefully one of the main portals to visit Isle of Man website as well has quite a lot of information. But nowadays a loop it's not totally reliable you can easily find on Strava or rider GPS routes on the island that aren't somebody's commuter route, but they are actually a decent ride. So it's quite so much easier nowadays I think to find you yourself new routes or or you can you can hire a guide but it's small enough Island to find your way around. What where it's more difficult I think and that's why we're putting the work into is on the mountain bike side. I go out with mountain bike I'm because I'm mainly road cyclists. I'll go to mountain bikers and I'll go trails I never would have found if I hadn't gone out with the group that did the old time. So the idea with trail Park is that it will just be on trail forks are one of the products like that it will actually be very well signposted. So that you can the the network we've designed is it's about 64 kilometres of trails. And we agree right start the project actually although it might seem cosmetic, the most important thing is the signage. So people can without a guide or or necessarily GPS files that they can find their way around and find the know where the coffee shop or the toilet block or whatever on their ride. So that's it's probably going to take 18 months to complete it but the aim is we'll have that a credible product for people wanting to do that for the start of the 25 season.

Carlton Reid  47:38  
So famously Majorcar is a destination without cycling product and clearly part of the attraction of of New Yorker is nice weather yeah early season well yes or late season one and but also beautiful road but the certainly the nice weather is a is a is a pool, but here could become a cycling paradise could become either a cycling paradise in many ways already, but could become even bigger in the future, especially with like short haul stuff you having to be necessarily, you know, in the future, we're gonna have to start basically holiday much closer to home. Yeah, I don't like climate change and not flying everywhere. And taking a ferry is much more ego than flying to Majorca. So cyclists could come to the Isle of Man and not go to Majorca

Richard Fletcher  48:33  
and I think to say the weather is important factor. But yeah, it is more the hassle of I mean, I've done it all my life cycles since I was 15. Taking your bike on a plane is a faff, it's now because I'm old and grumpy when I go I do still do a lot of cycling outside of the UK. But it was hired by want to do that. Now if I go to France of France, alright, well, France is different. Unfortunately I've got a friend lives in France with a house and I leave a bike there. But I'm gonna go anywhere else Spain or Italy or further afield I was hired by because I don't like the faff of going through airports and boxing it up and unboxing it and wondering whether we'll get there. The ferry is a lovely way to do that you can just literally ride on the boat. So yeah, that that is the best way for cyclists to get the Isle of Man is to bring it to bring their bike on the ferry. That and yeah, I think it is a viable alternative is going it's going overseas without going too far.

Carlton Reid  49:38  
You're going out of the UK,

Richard Fletcher  49:41  
You are going out of the UK and the rod. There are a variety of road to get here is quite fun. That to me. The sweet spot for a visitor is about a three or four day trip. And then you can ride different roads every day and enjoy them in that way. Say they it's been record week, we spoke to a few of the tour on cycling tour operators because one of the other things in sort of gap analysis that was done is it the Arman is not on in the portfolio of a lot of tour operators. Some like there's a company that I've done some work with, they, they've got the Isle of Man because I did a trip for them, basically, and, but a lot of the larger ones don't have the Ironman as a destination. So we need to convince them that the Ironman should be a destination on their portfolio, and then put together the trips for them to do. So that's another sort of initiative that needs to

Carlton Reid  50:42  
get across here before those companies put it on and they become saturated. And it's another Majorca. Yeah,

Richard Fletcher  50:48  
it's we've got we've got lots of space that we could handle.

Carlton Reid  50:53  
Thanks to Richard Fletcher there and thanks to you for listening to Episode 347 of the spokesmen podcast brought to you in association with Tern bicycles. Show notes and more can be found at The next episode will be about the bike navigation app Komoot, but it soon veers off to a discussion of a round the world cycle trip. That show will be out at the beginning of March. Meanwhile, get out there and ride ...

Direct download: The_Spokesmen_347.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:12am MDT

20th February 2024

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 346: Monica Garrison

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Monica Garrison of Black Girls Do Bike




Carlton Reid  0:13  
Welcome to Episode 346 of the spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Tuesday 20th of February 2024.

David Bernstein  0:29  
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you're commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That's t e r n to learn more.

Carlton Reid  1:03  
I'm Carlton Reid and today's episode is a half hour chat with Monica Garrison of Black Girls Do Bike a Pennsylvania nonprofit now in its 11th year of group rides and more for black women and girls. And yeah, I should have checked out the weather map before I asked the first stupid question. Have you been riding today? 

Monica Garrison  1:28  
Oh, no! There's snow everywhere. We had a big storm yesterday. Yeah, yesterday.

Carlton Reid  1:35  
I should have checked your weather. Okay. So how much of the year can you not cycle in Pittsburgh?

Monica Garrison  1:43  
Pretty much November to March is pretty snowy and rainy, and cold. So we have a nice big offseason here, though some folks ride through the winter. I'm not one of those people.

Carlton Reid  1:57  
So you kind of come say March, April, you're kind of really desperate to get out on your bike, that kind of thing.

Monica Garrison  2:05  
Oh, yeah, the mid March The weather seems to shift and and cyclists return full force and and then we're good. I mean, we get pretty hot in August and July, you know, it's a bit unbearable and humid. So there's some time there where it's not so pleasant to be out on the bike, but pretty much yeah, the rest of the year we're riding. 

Carlton Reid  2:27  
So I really should have checked the weather. Because that was such a stupid question, wasn't it if you're deep in snow, and of course. That's okay. So the rest of the year. tell me about the rest of the year in Pittsburgh. What's it like riding in Pittsburgh?

Monica Garrison  2:43  
So Pittsburgh is notorious for its hills. It's a very hilly city. So it's not for the faint of heart. Literally. I think over the last 10 years, we've had a really good programme, Bike Pittsburgh is our local Bike Ped organisation. And they've done a really good job of creating infrastructure that connects. So there are large parts of the city that are interconnected for commuters and everyone else on bikes. So that's nice. We have what we call the gap trail here, which is a Great Allegheny Passage. And it starts here in Pittsburgh, and you can ride it all the way to Washington, DC. So a lot of local cyclists put that on their list of things to do in the spring and summer, before it gets too hot. And our we have Port Authority, which is our local bus transportation here. And they made an effort a few years ago to outfit all of the buses with bike racks on the front. So no matter where you're headed, you can take your bike with you

Carlton Reid  3:52  
Now, we're very jealous. When when we see Americans with, with buses with that on the front, we get very jealous, we've got very few services that will will do that. So I've seen photographs on your, on your website, where it's like the media images where you can get these the photographs you're allowed to use. And there's you and your kids, and there's a bike lane in Pittsburgh. So I can visualise extremely well, the bike lane that you were talking about there, but your kids. So not only are you getting women of colour, and you're getting people just generally onto bikes. You're we'll talk about your chapters in a minute, but you're getting your kids onto bikes. That's something that you wanted to do. That's something that just happened what so how have you managed to get your kids on bikes?

Monica Garrison  4:46  
I mean, when I was a kid, I loved riding my bike, so I just assumed that they would too. And I you know happened to me correct. But what I did was honestly I started them riding really early like my son and daughter for probably pedaling bikes at the age of four. And so the earlier you get them in, The more consistent you are with them wearing helmets, then it just becomes a part of their life. And so you know, when, when Black Girls Do Bike started, it was a time where I was riding my bike a lot more than I had in the past. And so I just invited them to come along, and they they kind of got bitten by the bug. I will say my, my daughter, my son is probably the one who goes with me the most these days, we'll load up the bikes and drive to like our downtown area and spend a couple hours riding around when the weather's nice. And that's really fun to do. So yeah, it's just a no, no, it's, it's a fun thing to do as a family. Cycling is great for me as a solo sport. But I also like bringing folks along and you know, showing them how fun it can be.

Carlton Reid  5:55  
So you have all these chapters across I mean, this one is the one that's in London, is that still going? 

Monica Garrison  6:01  
it's still going but we have, we have a leadership vacuum, there we are our leaders who started the group stepped down to do another project. So we're actually looking for someone to kind of step in and, you know, rejuvenate the chapter. 

Carlton Reid  6:17  
Tell me about the chapters in in the US than them and how big did they get? Which are the biggest ones? What's the chapter story? 

Monica Garrison  6:25  
Sure, we have 103 chapters here in the US. So as you can imagine, pretty much every major city here has a chapter every almost every state has has at least one chapter. The smallest chapters are, you know, a few 100 ladies and our largest chapters have anywhere from 1500 to 2000 members. I will honestly say that I we've never gotten 2000 out on a bike at once. But generally our rides are, you know, anywhere from five ladies to maybe 40 to 50 ladies.

Carlton Reid  7:04  
Is it a kind of Facebook private group organised is that? Is that how you get in touch with everybody? 

Monica Garrison  7:10  
Yeah, I think Facebook's been the easiest way. I mean, we're 10 years into this journey. So Facebook was a lot more robust 10 years ago, but it's still the best way to kind of organise people. And yeah, so each each chapter has its own Facebook, private Facebook group. And then so folks who are interested can go to and then they can click on chapters, and then they can find the nearest chapter for them.

Carlton Reid  7:36  
You've got very, very strong, bold graphics. Is that something that was there from the get go? Or is that something that evolved? Did you have members who are graphic artists? How have you managed to be really bold and distinctive?

Monica Garrison  7:53  
That's a good question. So it was always the intention from the beginning. Or I should say soon after, there'll be an increase. So the plan really wasn't to have chapters and have t shirts and jerseys and all this, these things all came organically as people began to ask for them. But, but once we started to design gear, I yeah, I think, you know, I was a business major. So I have a little bit of insight into, you know, what makes for good advertising. I'm also a photographer, so I'm visually built to, you know, built to appreciate things and design. I do most of the design myself, I usually just have an idea, and then I'll collaborate with artists who can bring it to life. And I just, I There are a couple of reasons, I think, because as a Black woman, I know that, you know, our skin tone, generally looks really nice with bright colours, it's kind of they complement each other. So I never shied away from bright colours and in, you know, variety in that respect, but also in terms of getting the message out, I think, you know, if someone's wearing a shirt, and it's visually appealing, and it catches the attention, then you're more likely to spread your message and have people ask, what's this about? You know, I've never seen this before. So I do think the the visual part of it is a huge part of our success.

Carlton Reid  9:20  
And I kind of guessed why I kind of surmise that you're a photographer because you've got your credit on some of the photographs. And there's obviously a studio lights going on there. There's some serious photography going on behind the scenes there. That's like some pretty impressive stuff.

Monica Garrison  9:36  
Thank you. Yeah, I think that's been one of my favourite parts of this process is I've been able to flex my photography and video videography muscles a little bit. And, you know, in terms of like posting on our social media, that's that's it's a nice way for me to be creative and not get too caught up in the day to day things.

Carlton Reid  10:01  
So before that 2013 You've been going now this is your 11th 11th. Yeah, yeah. So So back, it was 2016 There was an article in bicycling it was by Elly Blue. Elly was the person who had the idea for bikenomics. So that's me and Elly have spoken a lot over the years. So I know who Elly is. But there's, there's a quote in there, which I'd like to quote back to you. I mean, it is 2016. I'm not expecting you to remember this. But I just want you to riff on this really. And that is, so this is a quote and this is from you "know that my journey to riding may be completely different than yours. Know that my experience while riding, and even how I am perceived, while riding will be different to yours." So Monica, clearly I cannot even start to imagine what it must be like for you as a Black woman on a bicycle because it bicyclists famously kind of like we're out there sometimes when we're not the most favourite people have lots and lots of what can I outcasts in many respects, even now. So you kind of take that, and then you take the fact that you're a woman. And then you add on you're Black. So you're, you're really stacking it against yourself here. So so kind of riff on what you said there about how the perception, your perception of you when you're riding is going to be so so? 

Monica Garrison  11:44  
Yeah. Yeah, thanks for kind of breaking that down. It's, so I do remember the quote, now that you read it, it's, it comes back to me, I still believe it to be true. So you have a couple of things. So most women who are women of colour even plus size women, which is a category I fit into, we're not expected to be cyclist, right. No one expects us to pull up on a bike. So you the first thing you overcome is the expectation of from the outside world, like, where did you come from? And what are you doing on the bicycle? And we could also have those internalised things just from our community. When folks say, Well, you know, why, why do you own a bike? Or how'd you get how'd you get into that? So there's expectation. And you mentioned drivers on the road. That's a big thing. For me, I prefer not to ride on the road, I try to ride on the trails as much as possible. But that's just it's a comfort level thing. And I think it varies from city to city and because all cities aren't the same, but you know, as a woman cyclist you have, you might have men catcalling you, drawing attention to you physically when you're on the bike from from a car, as a cyclist of colour. I know some cyclist, I can't speak for all but some cyclists of colour feel less safe on their bikes. Because you know, the person behind the will, could have ill intentions for you. And, you know, an automobile always wins that contest, right? So if someone does want to do your do you harm or at least intimidate you, you know, you could be in a vulnerable, a more vulnerable position if someone doesn't appreciate you being on the road as a cyclist, but then also has a problem with the colour of your skin. So I feel like I feel like most cyclists of colour feel that pressure as well.

Carlton Reid  13:46  
Sorry, sorry. If you're in a car and you experience racism, you're in a car, you've got locked windows, you can you can kind of hide. But if you're on a bicycle, you can't hide, your skin is out there, you're really like making sure that people know you're there and that must be very vulnerable.

Monica Garrison  14:06  
It does feel very vulnerable. It's almost like you feel like a sitting duck, right? So if you put yourself in that position, I imagine you want to feel like you are equipped maybe to escape right? So physically, you may want to make sure that you have the strength, the stamina to get out of a tough situation. But yeah, when it comes down to it, as I said, the automobile is always going to win. So if someone does want to do you harm, not a whole lot you can do and that's the scary part, as a cyclist and a cyclist of colour.

Carlton Reid  14:46  
And then nothing all that I'm going to assume here that that's one of the reasons why you would want to ride in a bunch of women, Black women together because you are not going to you want to get like there's a group of you? You're no longer alone? 

Monica Garrison  15:03  
Yeah, sure, safety in numbers. If you're on the road, and they're, you know, 10, 15 of you, then you're drawing attention in the way of all the cars are going to see me. Right. So safety, but also there's strength in numbers. So if something does happen, then you have folks there who are witnesses to report it. Hopefully, the the fact that there are multiple women, or people will deter someone from doing something, you know, negative. But yeah, certainly that I mean, there are many reasons why riding together is great and there are positives, but I think that's definitely one of them.

Carlton Reid  15:40  
At this point, we'll cut from Monica to a short ad break. Take it away, David.

David Bernstein  15:46  
This podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern understand that while a large cargo bike can carry oodles of stuff, many of us prefer something a little more manageable. That's why they've come up with the HSD e-cargobike for folks with big aspirations to go car free, delivered in a compact size, with its rear shock, 280 kilos, and a combined hauling capacity of 180 kilos. The robust new HSD is stable and easy to manoeuvre, even when under load. And with its Bosch eBIKE SYSTEM tested and certified to meet the highest UL standards for electric and fire safety you'll be able to share many worryfree adventures with a loved one whether it's your kiddo or Nan. Visit www.ternbicycles. That's te r n turn to learn more

Carlton Reid  16:46  
Thanks, David. And we are back with Monica Garrison of Black Girls Do Bike. So tell me about your Sheroes. Who are they?

Monica Garrison  16:56  
Yes, Sheroes are women across the country who have volunteered their time to organise at least one monthly ride. They moderate the Facebook pages that we talked about earlier. And they keep you know, they keep it exciting. They also are plugged in, I'm plugged into the sheroes. So they let me know what folks are asking for or what things we need as an organisation or even get their opinions on, you know, designs, for instance, for cycling gear. But they're just really enthusiastic women who who our boots on the ground, they're doing the work that keeps the organisation moving forward. And they are really amazing. They're like super fans of Black Girls Do Bike for the most part. And I'm very grateful to have them working on our side.

Carlton Reid  17:48  
Now, how's the industry been with you? Because famously, the industry is pretty white, is generally male. It's kind of tech bro, but for bikes. So how has the industry? How does the industry perceive you? How is the industry maybe funded? You supported you? How have you done with the industry?

Monica Garrison  18:13  
Sure. The I think in general, the statement would be that the industry has been very supportive. I was my first like introduction to the cycling community was the National Bike Conference in Washington DC many years ago. And I was really well received there. And then over the years, we've managed to have partnerships with probably Trek Bike was our first like manufacturer that would that partner with us for a couple of years. And they you know, they help support our national meet up one year and we all went to trek headquarters and participate in the Trek 100 we've been partners with REI, who's a big outdoor supplier store here in the US. I don't know if they're overseas, but they've been a really nice strategic partner, not in terms of monetary support, absolutely. But also, you know, behind the scenes, finding out where our pain points are as an organisation and also connecting us with other orgs who are operating in the outdoors for minority groups. And, you know, for other activities like hiking and running and things like that. And then just along the way we we've had a number of other just companies who have stepped up from year to year to support us in different ways. But so yeah, overall, I think it's been amazing. I've been in rooms that I never imagined I would be, you know, answering questions and helping with things like plus sizing for women in merchandise. You know, even even with designing bikes, I've given input with that. Notoriously women have Black women have issues getting cycling helmets that fit over their natural hairstyles. And I've been involved in, you know, some folks who want to change that. So I think overall, it's been great. I've done lots of interviews through the years. And I think our message has, at least within the cycling community, I think our message has gotten out there. I think a lot of people are aware that we exist and know that we need support.

Carlton Reid  20:28  
So imagine, you know, go back to 2013, when when this first kicked off, and now, have you seen any systemic changes? So you see, have you seen anything like, oh, wow, that's so different to 10 years ago? Or is it this is going to be an uphill struggle? How do you how do you think it's gone up? There's 10 years? And how much of a difference maybe have you made? 

Monica Garrison  20:52  
Yeah, I think we've made really good strides. I think, when you when you show up to a bike event, now versus 10 years ago, there are a lot more women and people of colour at those events. I think I think obviously, we have a long way to go. But I definitely want to acknowledge the progress that we've made. And I hope that Black Girls Do Bike has been central and you know, letting people know of the concerns and issues that face our community, uniquely. But beyond that, I think, the most important thing, if you know, if we're here, 10 years from now, still doing this work, is kind of the pain point has always been having people of colour in the decision decision making chairs, right, working at companies working in the industry, whether it be racing, whether it be you know, even other types of cycling, BMX, all of all the genres of cycling, I think we don't have enough people of colour, who are working in those jobs, who can affect change from the inside. And as always, we'd love to see more bike shops that are owned by people of colour, which is a rare thing here in the US.

Carlton Reid  22:09  
Monica, it's gonna be a tough one to answer but but why is that? What Why? Why do you have to do what you do? Why Why isn't it just normal for a black person to get out of bicycle? What's what's, what stopped black people from doing this?

Monica Garrison  22:27  
That's a good one, I think, well, I'll speak for myself, but then I'll go a little bit more broadly into it. So when I was a young person, I didn't, there were no women in my family who rode bikes, I've never seen other than in my adult life, as a young person never saw my mom, you know, just casually get on a bike and ride it. So there's that there is just not a norm in our community. Beyond that, I think you won't really ride regularly, unless you have a bike that you enjoy riding that's comfortable. And to get to that point, you have to spend some money, right to get a bicycle that is, you know, essentially fit to your body and, and is comfortable to ride. And so it could be just a matter of making the investment, there are a lot of sports that black people aren't in because the barrier to entry be economic. And so here in the US, that's, you know, the, there are a lot of black people below the poverty poverty line, who will never be able to enter some of these sports. And, and I think some people are just intimidated to walk into a room where they're the only person that looks like them. Not everyone but but I think that is that can be a characteristic of people of colour, Black people. So you know, if you you may not want to show up to a ride, when you aren't going to know anybody you anticipate it's going to be all white guys who you may or may not have anything in common with, you don't know how competitive the rides gonna be. So there are a lot of unknowns. And I think that alone is enough to keep you from trying something new. So that's kind of where we come in, right? We we are pushing cycling as an activity that everyone can enjoy. But we're also giving you a safe space, for lack of a better word, to to enter into it and to try it and see if you like it. You may try it and not like it never come back. But for some people, they show up they ride and they find that it's you know, enjoyable and they and they continue to come and they discover something new. So we try to get that image intimidation factor out of the equation. 

Carlton Reid  24:47  
trying I'm trying to think if I have know the answer here, but in the Netherlands, where it's a societal norm to ride a bike, Black people ride bikes. Asian people ride bikes, you know, Muslim women in their hijab ride bikes. It's because it's a cultural norm to ride a bike, because you were saying there before about, you know, you didn't see your mom ride a bike. Well, in the Netherlands, all people will see their mom, their Auntie's, their grandmother, the bank managers, everyone on bicycles. So there's no real huge split in, in like a colour thing at all. It's just it's a cultural thing. And so, on the one hand, I'm asking you a question about being Black on a bicycle. But that question could be just as easily have asked of white people, generally, white people generally in the cultures, you know, in Britain, and in America and not in the Netherlands, but where we were out, it's not a cultural norm to be on a bicycle. So that's why people are on bicycles. And there is the colour aspect to it, of course, but it's just generally, people aren't on bikes. At the end of the day, and we are Monica, we are kind of weird.

Monica Garrison  26:03  
No, you're right, you're right. It's, it's not a cultural norm to ride a bicycle in the United States, maybe with the exception of a few cities. I think, and I've heard this argument made, and I, for now, I agree with it until I hear a better one, which is, and I don't know if this is true in the UK, as well. But here the infrastructure here is built around cars, right? So it's car centric. So there is really a safety concern with being on a bicycle and on a lot of major roads in the US. And secondly, we value as a culture, individualism and we lead tie status to our car. So it's the bicycle is secondary. The funny part is there was a time when bicycles were the main form of transportation here, right, and, and roadways were actually built a many of our fundamental roadways were built so that cyclists could get around and then at some point that that shifted, but I honestly don't think we'll ever move away from that maybe in 100 years, when, you know, cars are self driving, and it's a lot more safe. And, you know, folks, their, their definition of success has changed. But for now, with a car centric society, I think cycling will always be a second class citizen,

Carlton Reid  27:29  
just to end really, and that there's a quote, another quote, I'm going to pick up from the Elly Blue article again, this is this is Monica by you. And I'd like you to riff on this a bit if you if you can. So, you said the cycling spectrum is a beautiful one. So what do you mean by the cycling spectrum? 

Monica Garrison  27:46  
I mean, the spectrum of personalities, and literally the types of people who ride bikes, I find as a as a general bunch, cyclists are extremely kind, gentle people. And, you know, anyone who appreciates the, you know, the value of getting on a bike and in finding that relaxing, I'm willing to be a friend to that person. But yeah, and even just a cycling in general, there are many types of cycling. So you can kind of there's a phrase here you get in where you fit in. So once you decide that you like riding a bike, there's so many things open to you in terms of the kind of cycling that you do, whether it's long distance like cross country rides or cyclocross, gravel, BMX. You know, there's so many things that you can get into.

Carlton Reid  28:40  
Monica, it's been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. Can you please tell people where they can? I'm definitely going to plug the fact that you're looking for London people, but just where can people get more information? About Black Girls Do Bike, I'm kind of giving it away back is going to be a bit anyway, just give us the URL?

Monica Garrison  29:02  
Sure. is the best way to find us. And from there you can link to as it's pretty easy to navigate so you can link to our shops, check out our gear, you can link to our chapter page and see all the cities that we're in.

Carlton Reid  29:18  
Thanks for listening to Episode 346 of the spokesmen podcast brought to you in association with Tern Bicycles. Shownotes and more can be found at The next episode will be a fireside chat on the Isle of Man with Richard Fletcher. That's out at the weekend. But meanwhile, get out there and ride ...




Direct download: The_Spokesmen_346.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:19am MDT

26th January 2024

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 345: 24 hour racing with Josh Reid on Scotland's Strathpuffer

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUESTS: Josh Reid, Alfie Marsh




Carlton Reid  0:13  
Welcome to Episode 345 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Saturday 27th of January 2024.

David Bernstein  0:29  
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you're commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That's t e r n to learn more.

Carlton Reid  1:04  
I'm Carlton Reid. And on today's episode we follow my son Josh with 24 hours 24 hours of mountain bike racing on the hills above Strathpeffer in the freezing Scottish Highlands, I was support crew handing Josh his food, water and bubble-free Red Bulls from a rental Range Rover at the side of a fire road climb right on the Strathpuffer course. You'll hear audio recorded during the day when Josh was chipper, and then through the 17 hours of darkness when he was well — spoiler alert — suffering. He managed 20 laps of what's affectionately known as the Puffer. And that's quite some achievement for him because ...

Josh Reid  1:57  
it's very technical. ...

Carlton Reid  1:59  
... because he's more of a roadie/gravel rider. And that snippet of information yelled at me as Josh came past on his first lap told me he'd likely lose a bunch of time on the technical descents. Let's get rolling, beginning with some audio of me clipped from a video recorded on the long drive up to Scotland. We stopped in Glasgow to pick up filmmaker Alfie Marsh who helped Josh produce a stunning film of the event, the YouTube link for which is on the show notes at the hyphen I'm not gonna look at you, by the way, I'm going to be keeping my eyes completely focused on the road. So I do not normally drive an internal combustion engine car and certainly not one as mental as this Range Rover that I've got. But Josh needs to go to this event, we're driving on the A9 up towards Inverness, and we're gonna go to Strathpeffer — Josh can tell you exactly what the event we're doing, but clue's in the name, I guess. But to get out there to get all the kit, and to make sure we're kind of comfortable. So we have hired this car. And it's from a company called Turo. So I last time I hired a Turo in America in 2015 when I actually got a Tesla. But here, they've been in the last couple of years. It's basically Airbnb of car hire. So basically rented it off somebody into his personal so it's Gurinder's personal Range Rover. And obviously looking after it's not, you know, it's a rental so don't be gentle, no that you can look after the car. And we're going to be stopping shortly. For coffee breaks, beautiful day here in the Scottish Highlands. And Josh exactly what are we going to so Strathpeffer, what's the event that we're actually physically going to be doing? You're gonna be doing not me. So we're

So we're going to Strathpeffer, but the event is Strathpuffer, or people call it the Puffer. And it's a 24 hour mountain bike event going round a 12 kilometre circuit. And as you can see, I've got laden with bikes in the back here. So I've got my gravel bike and full-suss mountain bike. And basically the aim is to just ride around a circuit for 24 hours and not to stop at all and see if I can get on the podium. We're in just outside of Contin. Lots of big setups here. We're in a small, relatively small setup, just the three of us. And we're gonna be riding for 24 hours. And how are you feeling? Yeah, all right. Ready to get going?

It was a Le Mans start so all the riderss had to run to get to there

Josh Reid  5:16  
just in the two hours in on the third lap, and just keep on pushing. Make use of the up hill was very slow on the downhills.

I've lost track of the number of laps I've done. I think I'm on lap five just under four hours completed. That means there's 20 to go Yeah, it's starting to feel like a grind going up this hill.

Carlton Reid  5:55  
Coming back fast.

Alfie Marsh  5:56  
I can see on the tracker. Josh is literally is just around the corner. There he is. Yes.

Josh Reid  6:08  
Yes, my four and a half hours in probably about 20 to go. 

Alfie Marsh  6:16  
What's been going on with you so far? 

Josh Reid  6:18  
I feel a bit sick right now. I was like stuffing a wrap with peanut butter and jam in. And then like all the way up to last climb. Got it down on me. But like, coming down I was just like 

Alfie Marsh 
How's the riding? good. 

Josh Reid 
Oh, it's just really good. Yeah, so much fun like the top it's really tacky, which is quite difficult, considering I'm a roadie. And then the bottom is really like flowy it's very nice. I guess I'm just Yeah, keep keep on plugging away. Yeah, I think last lap I was fifth place. Yeah, last I think I might have missed out a few places. I think last time I looked through a seven Okay, which is about half an hour ago. 

Alfie Marsh 
Yeah that's pretty damn good though. Yeah, you're happy with that?

Josh Reid
Yeah, just keep on going. Yeah, you never know when anyone else is gonna stop please raise your own race. You're gonna pass people you don't know where they are. You have a clue where

Carlton Reid  7:13  
the music is by Sonder, they're next to us, and will they play music all night long? dDon't suppose so — their batteries will run out.

Sonder fella
we can always make you on Thank you. Yeah, just coffee or tea or because that'd be nice yeah, yeah. 

Carlton Reid 
Thank you. Yeah, I just want to transfer any food you want to wrap? No,

Josh Reid  7:57  
can't eat it You're good. You're good

Carlton Reid  8:05  
to what you want and then next lap right you're still back there

Josh Reid
thank you 

Carlton Reid
you need more food and there's just more and

Josh Reid  8:27  
more and you just stopped doing my pocket here? I don't hear this okay. Thank you very much.

Carlton Reid  8:39  
Next lap wrap

Josh Reid  8:50  
my head was going coming down this last year but see it's nice to see familiar tactics for the next stage. They will more often then take our sunglasses off as it's getting darker ready. Ready for 17 hours of darkness oh good and bad camera wrap. 

Carlton Reid
Wrap is here. 

Josh Reid I just need some water. Did you find the tablets? 

Carlton Reid
No, I haven't

Carlton Reid  9:28  
what do they look like?

Josh Reid
Make it okay. All right. Cool. Thank you guys so much. Pasta.

Josh Reid  9:48  
Pasta and yoghurt.

Carlton Reid  9:51  

Josh Reid  9:55  
For more much more apricot?

Carlton Reid  9:57  

Alfie Marsh  9:59  
How's it feeling in the 

Josh Reid
It was amazing to start with my first taste it was really good to start with just like fresh air it felt like a new ride. But I started to drag on now keep on plugging away I think I've stopped for about 10 minutes so far. We're about 10 hours two more to halfway to

Carlton Reid  10:30  
our next one I'm doing now how's it doing? Nothing we're doing okay now that we're found Josh's salts and he's had a look at that. So that is beautiful as pasta that we cooked yesterday or today. When did we cook that pasta last night and it's now got lovely, lovely Strathpeffer mud on it. And he's ingesting that. She's getting extra proteins no doubt from that nice mud. Right so that's his next one that's got salt in and I may as well do his next one as well. After that. I don't he might want to Red Bull while after that lightly. We're going to leave Josh in the mud for a moment and cut to an ad break with my colleague David in the US. 

Josh Reid  11:23  
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Carlton Reid  12:24  
Thanks, David. And were back in the dark supporting Giant Bicycles ambassador Josh Reid on his first stab at the Strathpuffer 24 hour mountain bike race in Strathpeffer in the Highlands of Scotland. Right here.

Josh Reid  12:41  
What I've learned I've got just chop that up. Yeah, no, he's got that one. Yep. Thank you.

Carlton Reid  12:51  
So you're sick. And you're not far away from the the four and five and six, you're all close together rallied about like 30 minutes. At the moment. Top Five is a possibility.

Josh Reid  13:09  
Can you get my Camelbak ready for the next lap? Yeah,

Carlton Reid  13:12  
it's there with the batteries the battery thing and what battery

Josh Reid  13:17  
does an Exposure battery thing in the yellow bag? But no worries are not okay. Okay, I

Carlton Reid  13:22  
got it the ... okay

Carlton Reid  13:26  
what do you want? Okay.

Josh Reid  13:30  
It's getting harder and harder to get do the techie section. Just like tiredness yes of course change and much with the place to get where bits are. I'll finish that Red Bull next lap somewhere. Yeah, for sure. For sure. Appreciate it. 

Alfie Marsh
You got this you got this. 

Josh Reid
Want to sub in for me? 

Alfie Marsh
I'd love to I'd love to have a good one, man.

Carlton Reid  13:56  
Up you know for a while.

Alfie Marsh  13:58  
What are time are we on now, Josh? 

Josh Reid
that past 11 o'clock. 11.30 maybe? 

Alfie Marsh
Do you know what lap you're on? 

Josh Reid
lost count on ap four 

Alfie Marsh
Do you know what place you are? 

Josh Reid
No. Do you know? 

Alfie Marsh
I actually don't right now. How are you feeling now? 

Josh Reid
Good. It's good to be past halfway not hopefully I'll get easier and easier. This is gonna be the hardest bit I think. next little bit

Carlton Reid  14:32  
to three o'clock. Tough one.

Josh Reid  14:36  
The laps are taking me like an hour and a half now. Yeah. Whereas it would take me under an hour before. 

Alfie Marsh
Yeah. You guys Yeah.

Carlton Reid  14:48  
Right, do you want some pasta? 

Josh Reid
Can do.

Carlton Reid
There's some sandwiches We're getting

Josh Reid  15:03  
it's almost 6am Probably another two hours before light. pretty cooked, just started to snow

How are you want to stop this keep on plugging away this take it easy and just keep those legs spinning two more hours and then I can stop

Josh Reid  15:39  
I've want some of this return yet I

Carlton Reid  15:45  
can't toast it for 10 Josh keep it up how you doing the lights? I'm

Josh Reid  16:03  
fine six

Carlton Reid  16:04  
I mean six hours

Josh Reid  16:06  
yeah but I don't I only use it on low for what about yeah I lost about one on profit

Carlton Reid  16:13  
I haven't really helmet like 

Josh Reid
It's OK I'm going slow. 

Carlton Reid
How about one of you? 

Josh Reid  16:24  
I can't get it on. Can you get it on? I'm just gonna go 

Carlton Reid  16:34  
That flapjack was really nice. So just chomp on that it's really soft

Josh Reid  16:41  
Should be light by the next time I come around ish. What? Six there'll be eight o'clock ish yeah all right

Carlton Reid  16:58  
there's one more can of Red Bull Yep,

Josh Reid  17:02  
I'm gonna have I drank three so far

Carlton Reid  17:28  
do want to establish take around with you Josh. What about more flapjack? That's quite nice. It's nice flapjack.

Josh Reid  17:39  

Carlton Reid  17:43  
Babybel here next time. Next time what else next time. You haven't had an apple?

Josh Reid  17:59  
I know one apple a horrible hurry. Okay.

Carlton Reid  18:03  
Any pasta right she got some more sandwiches? Yeah, yeah. To eat more apricot. Well, pasta I mean you first sandwiches How are you doing your water? Full full. Full. Okay. That's cool. You don't drink much water

okay. Daily, they say.

Josh Reid  18:42  
Now in the second half of the last lap 10 minutes to 10 which would be 24 hours. We have till 11 To finish the loop. So really excited to be done.

Carlton Reid  18:57  
Been a long night. It was a long 24 hours never mine a long night, Josh. And he came in at just before 10 o'clock. And he was 10th, well done Josh.

Josh Reid  19:30  
What's going on? That was so much fun. The smell of it. Yeah. Just like knowing now it's done. Well, like I was in pain on my last lap. My hands I couldn't like because all the bumps just came to me properly. I've been awake for 25 hours.

Carlton Reid  19:53  
When Josh was little when he's about 5, 6, 7 I used to do 24-hour mountain bike events. So really pleased to see Josh is carrying on the family tradition — there has been quite a big gap since the time I was riding 24 hour solos, but they are good events to do. I've never done the Strathpeffer. That was actually after my time when I was riding, but maybeI'll do it next. Yeah, maybe, maybe. It was certainly fun to be there supporting Josh. So well done to him for the 10th place. So many thanks to Alfie Marsh who was doing some of the recording there. And of course, all of the filming, which I grabbed some of the audio from from his footage. And thanks also to Turo for helping out with the the rental Range Rover and of course, to the sponsor of this podcast every single show which is Tern Bicycles. The next show will be out next month, but meanwhile, get out there and ride ...


Direct download: The_Spokesmen_345.mp3
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