Women on Bikes Series: Tina McCarthy (Wheel Women)

After a career as a graphic designer spanning 25 years, Tina McCarthy has had a total career change. Now trained as a Level 1 AustCycle coach, Tina set up Wheel Women at the end of 2012 and now works full time running rides and teaching women to be safer and more confident cyclists. 

Having experience running her own design business, many of those skills have carried through into building Wheel Women into one of the most talked about women's cycling groups in Australia in just 2 years.

Motivated by a loss of fitness and too many years of inactivity, Tina returned to cycling in her late 40's after a health wake-up call while riding with her son. 

Though once a very fit part time running coach and veteran of many 10km fun runs, returning to cycling and then taking up the challenge of being a cycling coach seemed almost a natural progression. But it took a lot of rides and a lot of learning before Tina realized she needed to ditch the design and get on the bike as a full time coach.

Tina lives in inner city Melbourne, Australia with her husband, teenage son and 2 lovable rescue dogs!

Check out Wheel Women on their WebsiteTwitter, and Facebook!

When did you first start riding a bike?
I first started riding a bike before I can actually remember. I'm the youngest for 5 kids so I've seen lots of family video of me sitting on a tiny trike. But I remember my first bike was this gigantic 3 wheeler in blue and white - I could hardly reach the pedals! I had one and my brother who is 15 months older had one - we rode those things into the ground and ended up playing 'smash up derby' on them. We would tear around our driveway and crash into each other - I still have the scar on my leg to prove it!!

But my first ‘real’ bike was this gorgeous red 20” two wheeler – I LOVED that bike and it was the first of many bikes I would own through my life. 

I was kind of lucky because the next 3 oldest in our family were boys, so there was never really a hand me down to suit – I always scored the new bikes!

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I rode a lot as a kid because we lived in a such a great area – there was a park across the road, all my friends lived close by and school was also just a 5 minute ride away.
But as I got older, even though I always owned a bike, it stayed in the shed or storage. When I had career I kind of forgot about it. But when our son was born there was a period there where he was on the baby seat, then graduated to a tag-along, then of course had his own bike. But when he had his own bike he was too small to go very far.
It wasn’t really until he was in high school and he decided to do the school camp on the Great Victorian Bike Ride (https://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/racv-great-victorian-bike-ride/) and as a good parent I decided to do the training with the kids. I suddenly realized that all those years off a bike had caught up with me and I couldn’t cope – slow, unfit, put on weight. It was a bit of an epiphany on how much I had let myself go.
So its really my teenage son who inspired me most to get off my butt…if it weren’t for him I’d still be sitting on the couch!

Have you competed in events? If so, what were your reasons for competing?
No, only recreational sportives – nothing serious. In fact, I never even bother about checking my times really on those events – I ride for the fun of the ride. I don’t care about how fast I am – it’s the thrill of being a part of it that excites me.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
Because I don’t compete, I’ll say the Tour de France. I just love the late nights with my husband as we sit glued to the tv watching all the drama and skill. It’s always on during winter here so it’s kind of cozy cooking up a nice warm meal, then the Tour is on tv and we watch with a glass of wine while it’s freezing outside! Love it.

What kind of riding is your favorite? 
I love a long ride through the country on open roads with quiet traffic. I could sit in the saddle nearly all day so the long distances don’t bother me…100km is a nice distance. But when you combine that with some undulations, maybe a small climb and then the countryside I just love it. We have some amazing places to ride here in Victoria (Australia) and one of my favourite spots is on the Great Ocean Road – totally stunning!
But last week I was out riding with a group of high school students I volunteer for (so they can do the Great Vic Bike Ride) and as we were riding not far from the city, a mob of kangaroos was hopping in a paddock beside us. That was fun! The jokes about a ‘joey’ burger for lunch were questionable!!

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride? (If not a mountain biker, how about a first commuter ride, paved trail ride, gravel, etc.)
I remember when I was a backpacker travelling through Denmark I was lent a bike from some friends. My sister lived there at the time and she was at work, so were all my friends, so I was left with not much to do. So one day I grabbed the bike and just rode…I ended up going for a really long way (about 50km, which for me at the time was monumental). But I clearly remember the incredible euphoria I felt that day – TOTAL freedom. Riding beside the beach, sun shining, the wind blowing a gale but I was having the best time. I think that day flipped it for me with bike riding – I discovered how much fun it REALLY is. But I let it slide when I returned home and it wasn’t until a few years back I rediscovered that ‘moment’ when my husband bought me a second hand bike! That lighter bike after my 22kg mountain bike was a treat.
I’ve never been a mountain biker, even though I have one, and it is FUN, but road riding is really my thing now.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I think the nerves came from not understanding what I had to do on the road, combined with not feeling at one with my bike. It was heavy, hard to change gears and the brakes were probably questionable too. But with a lighter bike that worked well, and going out on the road following my husband I became pretty comfortable – It think it was having someone to shadow when I was starting to get back into it that made a difference.

That’s why at Wheel Women (the group I run), we always try to shadow our riders on the road as much as possible so they get a little more comfortable with what to do and when to do it.

It goes without saying, having a partner who understood my fear and encouraged me, as well as a few other guys I know who kept telling me to keep going – it gave me the confidence that what I was doing was good, and valuable, so I should keep going. Thanks fellas…you know who you are!!

Do you use clipless pedals? If yes, what are some tips/suggestions for beginners that you would share? If no, are you thinking of trying it out at all?
Yes I do use clipless…silly name really!! I have several types, but started on a single sided clip (flat pedal on one side, clip on the other – Shimano 530). But because I teach I found that clipping in and out so many times I was getting very sore knees and ankles. I needed something lighter but didn’t want to use just my running shoes.

Then I discovered the Shimano Click’R pedal. It’s fabulous for beginners because the cip action is so light and easy, plus your foot doesn’t come out even though the fastening isn’t too tight. It is also really easy to get into because the footbed is very large, so there is room to maneuver the foot a little if you miss the clip first off. My tip is to start with those, and of course just practice on the grass to start with – I recommend these to all our riders at Wheel Women who are starting out and so far no-one has any problems at all.

I use them too for when I’m teaching, but on my carbon bike I use the Shimano Light Action road pedal – same deal, easy to get in and out of but still holds the foot nicely. It’s like a step up from the Click’R. Great for those of us with bad knees and ankles!

Have you had a bike accident? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
When I first started using the clips, and we’re talking the single sided Shimano 530’s here, I went for the first ride using them. It was an 80 km ride and I was fine for the whole distance, until about 100 metres from the car on the return leg I came off. I got spooked at a road crossing and slammed the brakes on and just didn’t get out in time. I fell on gravel and grazed my arm and knee. But it was my left hand and collarbone which suffered the most. I cut my hand through the glove and it probably needed stitches, but we were too far from any doctor so I just held it together with tape. My collarbone still gets aggravated – it didn’t break, but it was evidently badly jarred and causes some pain occasionally.

Recovering physically was fine, but the scare it gave me with those cleats never really healed. I was tentative from that day forward, so having the light action pedals suits me just fine…I don’t need falls at my age!! (I’m 51 now, but feel like a kid because I ride so much!)

Emotionally I was wounded too – I felt pretty smug that I’d done the whole clip thing and hadn’t come off. But I was with my husband and son and they laughed about it for a while…it was sort of funny, but deep down it hurt. Every time I go back to that same place I am extra careful and I’m reminded of how much that fall hurt!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have far too many bikes for one girl…but I love them all! When my husband bought me the second hand eBay (Giant CRX2) bike it wasn’t long before I upgraded to a road bike. It happened to be at the same time we were buying a bike for our son to to do the Great Victorian Bike Ride, but they had a men’s and a women’s bike on sale…I fell in love with the pretty blue Fuji Finest 2. I found it hard at first getting familiar with the race position, but pretty soon it was as comfortable as anything and I rode that bike everywhere…I still have it and treasure it. It’s an alloy frame with a slightly weird geometry…kind of touring bike at the front end, with a race geometry at the back end. It’s seriously comfortable but it weighs the equivalent of a small car!

I ended up getting a small job in a local bike store because the guy who owned it really believed in me and the fact I wanted to get a women’s group going – he employed me for just a few hours a week so I could learn more about bikes. It didn’t take long before I spotted a magnificent carbon road bike – a LaPierre Sensium 200L. It’s a gorgeous bike and very twitchy, but sometimes I feel as though I’m not in quite the right position on the longer rides. For that reason I purchased an alloy LaPierre Audacio 400L. It’s a size larger than the Sensium and I recon I’m in between both sizes. The alloy bike is the work horse and has climbed many hills for me – I replaced the rear cassette to include a 34 tooth so I could get up the long climbs.

I also have a LaPierre flat bar road bike – that’s the fun bike for zooming to the shops or going out to dinner. I also often use it in classes when I’m teaching as most of our riders have flat bars, so it makes sense to be on the same kind of bike.
I have a mountain bike too…but sad to say, it’s never seen any dirt! Not yet anyway, but when I get a chance over summer it will hit the trails and get a workout!

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Hmmm…lots to recommend! My  favourite things I tend to wear over and over again.
Pearl Izumi convertible barrier jacket – I love the wind breaking in this and the fact I can wear it as a gilet. The colours are awesome too. I love it so much I have 3 of them – pink, blue and orange!
Rapha high viz gilet – this is seriously the best high viz gear I’ve ever seen. I’m not really into the high viz look, but I love this gilet. It’s so lightweight and the reflective strips are fabulous, so it’s great in day or night conditions.
Santini Anna Meares kit – I love the look of this kit and love the colours! Every time I wear it I get comments on how flattering it is, so of course I’m gonna wear it whenever I can! But it is REALLY comfy and the soft lycra on the sleeves and mesh sides is so great on a hot day.

I always wear bib shorts or leggings because I get sick of hitching up the knicks…bibs win hands down every time for me! We have our own range of Wheel Women gear so I will of course say ours is the best in the world…it looks very cool and everyone loves the purple and aqua colours!

What do you love about riding your bike?
WOW…where do I start! Freedom, I feel like I’m flying, I love the challenges of seeing if I can do the next hill, or the fight the wind. I love that feeling of being on the open road and just zooming along! It’s awesome and there is nothing like it…the other day a little bird took off just next to me as I was riding and it flew right next to me for a moment and I felt just like I was flying with him!

Riding also gives me something that’s my own – it’s my ride, no-one else’s, I do it my way, on my own terms and can start and stop when I want. It’s also keeping me fit – keeps mature onset diabetes at bay (I am a candidate having had gestational diabetes), and helps me keep my heart strong (my dad died of a massive heart attacked when I he was 52, so at age 51 now, it’s often on my mind).

I’ve also met some INCREDIBLE people over the last few years that I’ve made riding a big part of my life. From the guys who inspired me to keep going in the first place, to the women I meet who are starting their journey of riding now, and to the people I meet who are seasoned riders with great stories to share and tips to keep you going…I Love it all!!

Of course, riding my bike has also provided a career change – it came just at the right time when I was pretty sick of being a designer. So I started Wheel Women to teach other women to get on their bikes and help them improve. I run this full time now…there is no better job!