Global Bike Launch: Specialized Stumpjumper and Rhyme FSR

Covering the global launch of a bike you’d dream to ride, by a company at the top of their game, is a cycling journalist’s dream. The mercury in the dream status meter blows right off the measuring chart when that launch is in a location that most riders choose for their holidays.

When Specialized Bicycle Components contacted me about covering a mystery new trail bike in Rotorua I read the email a few times to make sure it was real. While bike launches are one of the busy perks for in-house journalists, it’s highly unusual to invite a freelancer, particularly a female one. This speaks volumes about the priority Specialized place on making sure informed stories on their products are reaching a growing global audience of lady riders and readers.

The itinerary was split over two separate camps so journalists from top cycling publications around the globe would have a chance to get to know the series of products on offer and experience them on the wide variety of trails offered in this location.

I found the opportunity to get to know these other riding writers and Specialized staff as valuable as the opportunity to trial and report on the new 150mm women’s trail bike, the Rhyme, and associated new equipment: the Ambush helmet, Atlas knee pads and the women’s SWAT vest, a mesh undergarment with pockets to stow your riding goods.

The comical side of attending the launch as a freelancer is pitching articles to different publications prior to knowing what products you’ll be covering. A reputation for polished work on a wide range of subjects makes a big difference in this regard, as does an ability to go beyond the obvious to cater to different interests and audiences. The list below shows the variety of outputs from the trip.

Links to features and product reviews for BikeRadar (UK, USA and Australia)

Specialized Rhyme FSR Expert Carbon 650b – first ride review. (The first online, in-depth review on this bike for an English language audience.)

Women’s cycling products: what matters and why? (An industry overview on cycling products for women and the research that informs them. This article includes interviews with cycling industry staff from Specialized, Trek, Liv, and Yeti, and elite cyclists, Peta Mullens and Tiffany Cromwell.)

Specialized Women’s Mountain Liner Vest and Shorts with SWAT. (Review on cycling undergarments with secret storage compartments).

Links to features and pieces for SBS Cycling Central (Australia)

Inside insight: Specialized Destination Trail media camp. (Behind the scenes of the camp and reflections on working in cycling media today.)

Interview: Specialized Amira women’s road bike. (A chat with Specialized Global PR Manager, Katie Sue Gruener, about women’s road bikes and the research and feedback informing them.)

Out of my league…and so happy about it. (An opinion piece on a steep and muddy ride in Rotorua, after the camp concluded, and before product embargoes were lifted.)

Other articles

No pack? No Worries! (A short, newsy piece on the women’s Mountain Liner vest for Bike magazine, Australia.)

“Equipment, Innovation and the mountain biker’s taskscape.” In H. Thorpe & R. Olive (Eds.), Women in Action Sport Cultures: Identity, Politics, Experience and Pedagogy. (Forthcoming). Palgrave Macmillan. (Insights gained from this trip helped to inform an upcoming academic book chapter on the behavourial and social implications of cycling equipment designed for female riders.)


Stage Race Season in Tasmania


The summer vacation months saw two high-profile mountain bike stage races unfold in Tassie. The inaugural AvantiPlus Hellfire Cup took place in November half an hour east of Hobart, while January saw riders flock to the west coast for the Pure Tasmania Wildside.

One was almost completely rained out while the other, which almost always has a day or two of quality mud, turned on the sun (and the wind and a total fire ban by the final day).

The quick changes in weather are part and parcel of the unique Tasmanian landscape. To experience it in such extremes, on two wheels, surrounded by like minded people made both journeys exceptional experiences.

Having never visited the southernmost state before, I was excited by the new riding experiences, as well as the chance to cover both events for Flow Mountain Bike.  I developed a series of race stories, interviews and destination content on two of the state’s must see trails as part of these trips.

Watching local riders respond with so much warmth and enthusiasm to this content was a thrill to witness. Seeing people from interstate and overseas share this content around grows the strong sense of pride Taswegians have in their community even further.

The story on Mt Wellington’s North-South Track had the biggest response in this way. I loved watching the social media trail as local riders shared their enthusiasm for this iconic, purpose built, locally funded project, with other keen mountain bikers from all over the world. So much positivity, all from a few carefully chosen words and images on a 10km section of dirt.

Links to content created from these trips are below.

Links to web articles for Flow Mountain Bike:

Trails: Mt Wellington’s North-South Track

Trails: Hobart’s Clarence and Belbin’s Road

The AvantiPlus Hellfire Cup: Sharing the Holler (preview written with Duncan Giblin)

Come Hell or High Water: The AvantiPlus Hellfire Cup (event report)

Interview: Duncan Giblin, One Hell(fire) of a battle

Racing: Counting Down to Wildside 2014 (preview article)

Racing: The Pure Tasmania Wildside

Interview: Wildside Winners, Ben Mather and Rowena Fry

Images: Log ride, Simon Townsend. Others, Kath Bicknell.

Destination South Africa

In May 2013 I was invited to join a group of mountain bikers on a tour through South Africa. Our itinerary was handcrafted by South Africa Tourism and built around the 270km Nedbank Sani2c stage race from the Drakensburg mountains to the coast near Durban.

We saw life in the big cities, rode up high in the mountains, were chased down the road by an elephant during safari, and ate delicious three course meals everywhere we went.

Before the trip, the tour group fundraised $43,000 for a South African organisation, Hearts of Hope. The funds were used to build a preschool in the remote Emseni community. To visit Emseni and help paint the interiors of the school was an important time to exchange stories and thanks.

I worked on the articles for this trip with a broken finger after an up close and personal incident with a tree. A six page feature on the bike race was published in Flow Mountain Bike issue 4, brought to life with stunning helicopter images by Kelvin Trautman.

We complemented this with a destination piece I wrote and shot for the web. This detailed the other riding and experiences we had in a format that lets more overseas readers share the article with the click of a mouse.

A third story, Beyond Biking, looked at the work of Hearts of Hope. It’s nice to see more stories out there that show how life on the bike impacts life off it.

Links to web features for Flow Mountain Bike:

South Africa: Just Go. Feature article on three iconic South African mountain biking destinations – Cape Town, Franschhoek and the Drakensberg Mountains – and the people who call them home.

Beyond Biking. Feature article on the work carried out by Hearts of Hope and Sani2c Oz Tour participants, who raised $43,000 to build a preschool in the Emseni community.

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized S-Works Fate Carbon 29. First impressions of the mountain bike being tested in South Africa and how it’s suited to the demands of the trip. (Link broken after website update.)

Tested: Specialized Women’s S-Works Fate Carbon 29.  Full review of the women’s 29 inch mountain bike used throughout the trip.

The Nedbank Sani2c: an experience as much as a race. Web recap of the Nedbank Sani2c stage race in anticipation of the magazine feature to be published later.

Link to PDF of print article for Flow Mountain Bike magazine:

Pushing the Boundaries in Africa: The Nedbank Sani2c. Magazine length feature article on the Sani2c stage race.

Additional stories:

Riding as a team at the Nedbank Sani2c for

Images: Kath Bicknell