Stuck in a job you hate? Clock watching and daydreaming about riding? Get inspired by six women who’ve turned a love of mountain biking into a career.
Work. There’s pretty much no escaping it. It dominates our adult lives, with the average worker spending around 3,500 days of their life doing their job. Covid shifted the world of work dramatically, with sudden and severe consequences. It’s not surprising, with all this turmoil in the workplace, that a recent poll found 87 per cent of people had been reevaluating their careers.
So if you’re one of the many people who have been wondering how you could switch your career to involve working with, or riding, bikes, we’ve caught up with six amazing women – all who’ve combined their passion for riding with their professional careers – to find out what they do and how they got there.
Physiotherapist: Santa Cruz Syndicate Team
Combining a career in healthcare with mountain bikes might not seem like the easiest or most obvious fit, but Laura Robson is doing just that. As the Santa Cruz Syndicate team physio, she provides physio/medical support to the riders, helping to keep them in peak racing condition.
“I always knew that, going into physiotherapy, that I wanted to work in sport, but I made sure to cover the bases before specialising by working through the NHS. I then moved into private practice and worked on the British Superbike circuit.
“I gave up my weekends and any spare time I had to volunteer at small clubs or motocross events to gain more experience. I was then offered an amazing opportunity to work as part of a high-performance team supporting elite-level Red Bull athletes, and was introduced to Rachel Atherton at a British downhill race. I worked on Rach and remember being amazed by her scars and extensive injuries she had already been through; I have massive respect for her! Kathy Sessler asked me to be on the Syndicate Team in 2016 and that was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.
“The world of sports, especially extreme sports, requires motivated and open-minded people who think outside the box. These athletes do not fit into any ‘set standards’ or ‘physiotherapy manuals’, they are all unique and are world-class because they do not follow the rules.
“Work hard and go for it! Certainly from a physio point of view. From experience, if you put the work in and are prepared to start out working for nothing to gain experience, it will pay off. Keep an open mind, talk to lots of people and be creative.”
Founder: Vicky Bikes
After 12 years as a stay-at-home mum, Vicky Balfour knew that if she was going to take time away from the family it had to be a job that she loved and found rewarding. Four years down the line and she has retrained as a bike mechanic, qualified as an mtb ride leader, began to write and present, and last year she set up her own business.
“I wanted a job where I met people, used my hands, and that varied from one day to the next. Being a bike mechanic seemed to fit the bill. So, I spoke to my local bike shop, Biketart, and asked for some work experience. I loved the work so much that I decided to train as a mechanic. I started doing event work when a friend said that Chain Reaction Cycles was looking for a French-speaking bike mechanic – two skills I possessed.
“I set up my business, Vicky Bikes, last year during lockdown. I realised that there was an opportunity to teach online, so
I developed my Mindful Mechanics course. I have just launched Resilient Riders, which takes the ‘mindset’ concept and applies it to riding. It is so rewarding watching riders develop their skills, confidence and independence. It’s great to see people’s faces when they realise they can do something they previously thought was out of their reach.
“Really think about what makes you happy and find a way to apply that in a work context. For me it’s people, working with my hands, variety, writing, teaching and presenting. I wish I’d had the courage to leave a stable job when I was younger/pre-kids, but hindsight is easy.”
Brand Content Specialist: RockShox
RockShox is an almost universally known brand in mountain biking, and behind the scenes, Sarah Rawley can be found keeping the RockShox content machine churning out fresh and exciting content.
“I manage all incoming and outgoing content for RockShox, including advertising, social media strategy, planning and executing photo and video shoots for product launches and ambassador/athlete features, among many other admin and logistical feats.
“I love how dynamic my job is on a daily basis – on some days I am grinding through meetings, Excel spreadsheets, and emails. While others I am outside and on my bike for 12 hours producing a photo or video shoot that will be the focal point of a product launch months down the road. Above all, I enjoy the people I work with – both at SRAM as well as the talented athletes, ambassadors, photographers, videographers, industry peers, and fellow creatives who I get to interface with, learn from, and be inspired by.
“For my job, it’s important for me to be organised, creative, communicative, maintain strong attention to detail, flexible, even-keeled, and resourceful. My background in technical journalism gives me a strong foundation for writing and copy editing. I am also willing to take on almost any project, travel on a whim, and be able to pivot with a positive attitude.
“Be persistent and willing to put in the work – day in, day out. There is a lot of grunt work and keyboard time that goes into successfully integrating passion with a career. You must truly love what you do because when your two worlds collide, there’s no parking it at the door. Like any job, a career in the bike industry has its stresses. It is imperative to remember why you ride and keep that zest for it alive!”
Director: ISEN Cycles
Switching industries can seem scary, but look out for where your skills can be transferred. This was something Caren Hartley did and is now director of ISEN Cycles, and can be found testing, prototyping, developing and making handmade steel bikes in London.
“I was a 3D designer specialising in metalwork, and I was working in the art and design industry. I realised that I no longer wanted to work in the Arts sector and that I wanted to be using my skills to make more useful objects or products. Making handmade bikes was a job that required a lot of the same skills that I already had – both technical and my experience of running a business selling bespoke art objects – so I set about finding out where the holes in my knowledge were and how I could learn the additional skills I would need to make a career change possible.
“I talk to customers, design bikes for them and then hand-make and paint them. Other people have joined the company as we have grown, so now we have each specialised slightly in what we do day-to-day. I spend a lot of time doing similar things to any job, like emails, meetings, spreadsheets, but then I also get to spend time designing bikes, working on improving component parts for our bikes, both functionally and aesthetically, spray painting, and lots of pre-production preparation, like preparing the metal for painting, sanding primer and checking and measuring etc.
“My advice is to try and work out what your skills are and how you might apply them to the cycling industry. These might be things that you do in your current job or from some other life experience you have.”
“With the cycling industry currently booming, there couldn’t be a better time to make that career switch you’ve always dreamed of. From social media marketing, to bike repairs, guiding, coaching and a thousand other roles, there’s no shortage of opportunity out there. You just have to seize it.”
Marketing Assistant: Nukeproof
The freshest recruit in our feature, Katie, joined Nukeproof during the pandemic as marketing assistant. She looks after its email strategy and support with other digital channels, internal comms, media visits and comms and helps Rob Sherratt (Nukeproof’s Marketing Manager) with shoots/media camps and team events.
“Having been a relative newbie to the world of mtb – I started riding properly around two to three years ago – I realised quickly it was truly something that I was passionate about. The role at Nukeproof came up when I was least expecting it and I pretty much hounded the HR colleague to give me an interview, slightly embarrassingly so!
“On a professional level, I love that my opinion is respected both as a less experienced mountain biker, and also as a woman – no level of input is too granular, and if you have evidence, all ideas are supported. I love the chance to meet our athletes and see how incredible they are on bikes; videos and images can’t show you how fast and skilful they are.
“If you really love bikes and you fifind yourself thinking about the industry during your regular ‘offiffice’ job, then be proactive and seek the opportunities. There are so many awesome brands that are actively looking for people to join the industry in lots of varied roles. Also, be passionate about bikes, but know that your working life (mostly!) won’t involve riding all the time, and the passion has to be for mountain biking as a whole. It’s an added bonus that you often get the chance to get out for on-bike meetings!”
Got a creative side and itching to apply it to a job in bikes? Saskia Dugon is a photographer, writer and aspiring filmmaker, shooting for brands, capturing events and adventures and even bagging an mbr front cover last year.
“While I was at university studying for my Law degree I got quite into mountain biking. But that first year of uni saw me spend more time at BikePark Wales, Afan and Clyne than at my lectures (sorry mum!). From there I headed to some races and between my race runs I would take my camera out and photograph the riders. It wasn’t until my last year of uni that I would seriously consider that I wanted to photograph bike sports for a living. I had my first proper job with Trek, travelling with Tracey Moseley and Katy Winton around Ireland and Scotland for a week, documenting their relationship, friendship and mentorship. I finished uni, packed up the car and headed out to Morzine for the season and I’ve never looked back.
“I love the variety, I love having each day different from the last, I love being able to create my own opportunities, I love being outdoors and working with riders, I love seeing new places, experiencing different cultures… the list just kind of goes on. While I enjoy editing, if there could be less time spent behind a computer that would be great. I love the creative process of editing and writing, but I’m not a fan of just being sat down so much.
“I’d say the main thing you need to be a photographer is creativity and confidence. You can learn how to operate a camera and edit, but you really just need to learn to trust your instincts and to identify and capture the important moments in front of you.”