Women on Bikes Series: Zara Kane

I'm Zara Kane, I'm originally from the Isle of Bute in Scotland. I'm a 3rd year student at SRUC in Ayr studying Outdoor Pursuits Management. I started riding mountain bikes at the end of 2013 so been riding for just about a year and a half. 2015 will be my first season of racing DH after racing the Scottish Champs at Glencoe last summer.

You can follow me on Facebook  and Instagram

When did you first start riding a bike?
Well I'm pretty sure I was about 5 or 6 when I first rode a bike. Mountain Bike-wise I started when I was 22 so just under a year and a half ago. 

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I have always been a self-conscious person - particularly about body image, and mountain biking provides me with a kind of freedom from that. As soon as I put a full face helmet on it's as if I'm a different person, all I'm focused on is what I'm doing and I bloody love it! I'm the sort of person who has to work really hard to be good at anything, I don't pick things up naturally, but mountain biking for me just feels right. I don't drive so unfortunately don't ride my bike as much as I'd like to. 

What inspired you to start competing?
Like most of the girls that race, I'm just a naturally competitive person. I love the extra buzz I get when I know I'm in competition as opposed to just riding recreationally. Seeing other girls, like Rebecca Kennedy, ride the way they do really does give me that extra push to be better. The encouragement/abuse you get from spectators makes it even more fun. 

What goes into entering the world of competitive mountain biking? Have you been surprised by anything? Challenged?
When I entered my first race at the Scottish Champs last year at Glencoe, I honestly was in over my head. I completely underestimated the track and the level of the other girls riding, as well as maybe misjudging my own ability. I thought I was going to get heaps of abuse from the boys for slowing them down in practice or getting in their way but they were really encouraging. Everyone I spoke to said the same thing; You have to start somewhere. Anyone considering entering the world of racing should acknowledge that their first race will probably feel uncomfortable but it's a huge learning experience that everyone goes through. 

What would be your favorite competitive biking event so far?
By far my favourite event so far has been the Red Bull Fox Hunt. Massive bunch of awesome ladies, variety of ability/ages/background/disciplines all there to do the same thing and have fun. The track was long and fun, my bike at the time was having some major mechanical issues so I ended up having to run up the climbs and ride the downhill chainless. Nevertheless it was an awesome experience. I cannot wait for the next one!

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
My first mountain bike ride was at the Cycopath All Girls Race Weekend, which is just a fun event where girls help each other out on the Cycopath tracks in Yorkshire. I did not realize how difficult it was to manage a mountain bike over the rough terrain. I struggled but felt really determined, and at the end of the weekend I felt I had accomplished so much. So my first mountain bike ride went through a range of emotions including fear, joy, frustration, relief and excited. 

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I had a lot of nervousness, but the girls helped a lot with that as did Stef Reeves who runs Cycopath Cycles. They were impressed with my riding considering I had zero experience of mountain biking, jumped straight into downhill and chose a race weekend to start my riding too. 

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?
I ride clipless only on trails I'm confident with at the moment although I would like to where them more often. Seeing as I'm a beginner with clipless myself the best advice I can give is before you go riding anywhere, practice clipping in and out over and over and over again. I can pretty much guarantee you'll still fall over clipped in without even being on your bike yet. It's hard to remember to twist your foot not lift if you're panicking so just try see ahead of you where you might need to get ready to unclip and relax. 

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I used to do long distance running from the age of 20, but from that I've developed IT Band Syndrome which causes me a lot of pain if I'm running or if I'm constantly pedaling, which is why downhill is perfect for me, because it's more about carrying your speed than pedaling non-stop. I seen a physiotherapist for a while but when you're a student and a racer there's little to no money left to pay for physio. It does get emotionally challenging as I want to go out and train on some xc loops but 5 minutes into the first climb and I'm close to tears with pain and frustration. I roll my leg on a foam roller most days and do several stretches and exercises to try overcome the problem but it looks like it's here for the long run. 

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
My biggest problem when I started out riding that I've only corrected in recent months was my body position over the bike. Like a lot of girls when they start out riding I was way too far over the back of the bike meaning I would lose control of the front wheel. I just kept trying to push myself further forward, out of my comfort zone and have other people watch me ride and tell me if I needed to be further forward or not. I kept doing this till I felt I had control of the bike and it became my normal position. So best way to change is either get someone to film you so you can see yourself what you're doing or ask someone to coach you on your position as you're riding.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I have a bit of a mental wall when it comes to drops that I'm struggling to overcome. I find it very frustrating as I feel like I am capable but once I roll up to the drop I just think I'm going to go over the bars. I'll attempt drops or at least have a good look at them and if I'm not feeling it I'll go ride something else and not let myself get too worked up about it. 

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have one bike at the moment, a 2012 Lapierre Zesty. I got this to replace my old specialized big hit after my boyfriend recommending I get something more all-mountain so I can ride xc and dh. It took a while to get used to riding downhill on the zesty as I didn't full trust it at first but I've definitely learned a lot more from riding it as it's less forgiving if you make a mistake. I definitely want to get back to a downhill bike for the 2016 season though so I can have a bit more confidence hitting the bigger features. 

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Clothing-wise, Flare is a must. Their gear is made to fit women, women with boobs and hips. I struggle to find that in everyday clothing never mind MTB kit so Flare is an absolute godsend. So if you’re a woman and you have boobs and hips, then buy Flare, if you’re a woman and you have no boobs or hips, buy Flare because the materials amazing quality and the colours are awesome. 
Bike Accessories - Uberbike Components is a girl’s best friend. Their components come in as variety of colours to match your bike, your kit and if you haven’t chipped it all off, your nail polish. Also if you’re not great at mechanics they are very informative and will tell you what you need and how to fit it to your bike. 

What do you love about riding your bike?
What don't I love? I love the sense of freedom biking gives you, it's an escape from everyday stresses. If I'm riding downhill, all I can do is focus on the trail ahead of me, there's no room for other thoughts and sometimes it's nice to get out of your own head. I love the fact it removes all of my body confidence issues, because honestly not one person cares what you look like, if you can ride a bike and have a laugh then that's all that matters. 

What inspired you to start blogging about your mountain bike/race adventures?
I felt a bit blind going into racing, and wondered if I would have been better prepared if someone else had a similar blog, showing what it's like to enter the racing world as a female beginner. I thought maybe I could give other girls an idea of what it's like so they can make a more informed decision. 

What has been one of the best moments since you started your journey?
One of my best moments would have to be riding in France last summer. Shredding these amazing trails, riding the best I’ve ever ridden and all in the sunshine. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience on my bike. My confidence was at an all-time high and Chatel was beautiful. Desperate to go back when I have some pennies saved!

What would you like to see happen in the next 5 years for women who are in competitive mountain biking?
More paid sponsorships for female racers and a lot more media coverage of female racers. The girls should be receiving the same level of support as the boys in this day and age. 

How do you plan on being a positive role model for future riders?
I plan on being a positive role model by showing other riders; it's all about having fun, and reminding people that everyone has to start somewhere. I want to show that everyone's progression in the sport is different. I want to show more of the beginning stages or riding where mostly the media coverage of biking is the top riders in the sport, which is impossible for beginners to relate to. 

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Mountain biking is a male dominated sport, there's no way around that and I think for a lot of women that's really intimidating. Also something I've noticed in the sport is women seem to be more cautious, and more aware of the consequences should something go wrong where as men seem to less worried about injuries etc, so for women it may be more difficult to get involved knowing the risk involved. 

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
I'm sure there's a lot of racers would agree. It's all about media coverage. If women see other women riding they'll become more interested. Constantly seeing images and videos of male riders just reinforces the idea that it's a masculine sport. When I watch race videos from SDA's or BDS's about 99% of the footage is of the boys, it makes you wonder if there even are girls racing at these events. 
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Riding mountain bikes has changed my life. I want more women to see what an amazing sport it is and what a friendly community the mtb world is.  
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I am petrified of the dark.