“I’m a very competitive person,” says Anna Riddell. “I’m not going to deny it.”
Denial would be useless. Sean Hardy’s images provide documentary evidence of her competitive instincts.
Riddell’s eyes are locked in concentration on the trail ahead. Her knees and elbows are bent in the style of one accustomed to moving with the bike, rather than fighting it for control. She swings her machine over sharply and lays it low to scythe through the various twists and turns that litter the trails near her home in Moray.
“I’ve taken women who were complete beginners, and now we go riding together, and compete together in Enduros.”
“I absolutely love racing,” she says of her regular appearances in the Scottish Enduro Series and elsewhere. “I’d do it every weekend, if I had the time and money. You never go as fast as when you’re racing.”
Last year, she rode in the top 10 in a ‘fox and hounds’ race against world champion Rachel Atherton and more than 200 women, and this year is targeting a coveted podium finish in the Scottish Enduro Series. The thrill of competition inspires her.
“You really push yourself. It gets quite emotional. I’m getting quite a reputation, with my crazy red hair! I’m jumping for joy and overly-excited one minute, and then lying in a heap on the ground, almost crying, the next. I find it hard to hide my emotions.”
There is nothing emotional about her riding when Hardy arrives in Moray, only textbook demonstrations of technique. Riddell shifts her weight far over the back wheel as she dives fearlessly into drop-offs, and points her knee directly at the apex as she banks hard through corners.
All of this is to be expected. Riddell is a coach, as well as a racer. Demonstrations of good technique are her bread and butter, and who better to inspire a clientele comprised in large part of local women?
“The coaching came about through having kids.”
Coaching has formed a natural extension of Riddell’s renewed love of riding. She worked for 10 years as an Active Schools Coordinator; a period in which learning new skills and, critically, helping others to learn them, was her stock-in-trade. Sharing knowledge and passion for a subject is hugely rewarding, she says.
During her career, she acquired a host of skills, including golf (“and I hate golf!”). When she left the job to focus on her family, it was the aspect of her professional life that she missed the most.
“I absolutely love racing. I’d do it every weekend, if I had the time and money. You never go as fast as when you’re racing.”
“I’ve got so much from sport, especially in recent years, where I’ve transferred from being a comparatively free person, without the responsibilities of a parent, to being a mother-of-two. Mountain biking has been my salvation in recent years.”
Coaching has added a further dimension to her enjoyment of life on two wheels. The ability to transform non-cyclists, especially women, into serious mountain bikers, some even racers, is one she cherishes almost as much as her passion for racing.
Casual conversations in the pub have led to coaching sessions and, later, encounters on the trail with the same woman, now dressed from head-to-foot in technical clothing and riding a machine costing several thousand pounds.
“It’s surprised me that I’ve taken women who were compete beginners, and now we go riding together and compete in Enduros together. I’ve taught them how to brake and pedal stood out of the saddle. Three years on, they’ve got a £3,000 bike and all the gear and their lives revolve around mountain biking.
“That’s quite cool. I’m really proud of that. I love empowering others, especially mums. They say, ‘I can’t ride a bike’ and I say, ‘Yes you can! You’ve done it before, and you’re coming out with me!’”.
“I’ve always been a knobbly tyre girl,” Riddell says, reflecting on her earliest days as a cyclist, when riding adventures meant exploring the backstreets of Edinburgh with “a sack load of drugs”.
To clarify: the drugs in question were prescription items and their recipients the occupants of old folks homes dotted across the Scottish capital. Riddell’s ‘boss’ was no one more sinister than a local chemist. Still, it makes a great story and provided a welcome introduction to the adventure of riding a bicycle.
“Regardless of what’s happening with the weather, you can always go on a bike ride. I started to fall back in love with cycling and its sense of freedom and escape.”
“Every day after school, I used to drop in, be given a list, and fill my rucksack full of drugs. The round would take an hour-and-a-half and I’d get £3 for it. I realised that in Edinburgh a bike can get you everywhere. It was the first episode where I specifically fell in love with bikes. I loved the freedom and all the places it took me.”
It would take her to Edinburgh University’s Kings Building on the edge of the city, where she studied reproductive biology. In the late nineties and early noughties, Edinburgh was less congested, but not as safe for cyclists as it is now, she reflects.
“Edinburgh has always been a city of course, but it was probably less safe to ride in, with fewer cycle lanes and bus lanes. Sustrans and Cycle Scotland were not as big as they are now, and as more people ride, cyclists are given a bit more respect. I was really naughty on my bike. I used to run red lights, race buses; cut in and out. Now I have more responsibility.”
Riddell and her husband moved to Moray to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, especially surfing. But as any surfer will tell you, the sea isn’t always prepared to deliver the longed-for waves. To allocate time is to approach the task from the wrong direction; the sea decides when surfing takes place, not the surfer.
Spontaneity is critical - the would-be surfer must be free to rush to the water when conditions are right - but the responsibilities of parenthood mitigate against spontaneity. Trails, by contrast, are not so capricious as the sea.
“I would love to say that the family comes and cheers me on, but realistically it’s boring for them. What three-year-old wants to stand on a hillside, waiting for mum to ride past?”
“When we decided to settle in Moray, it was because of a love of the outdoors and surfing. Living by the sea, it’s easy to hop in when there are waves. But when you have kids, you can’t be spontaneous any more.
“I became frustrated with surfing. Often, there were no waves and conditions were bad. I started to hop on the bike again. Regardless of what’s happening with the weather, you can always go on a bike ride. I began to fall back in love with cycling and its sense of freedom and escape.”
She admits that the sense of escape and connecting with nature also exists with surfing, but for the reasons described, it is an escape made infrequently. That said, pleasure is often heightened by scarcity (as with the Sunday lie-in, for example), and, besides, with every passing year, the children become older.
“My youngest kid is three, so it’s getting much easier to surf. This summer, in particular, I’ve got out a few times, with my husband being a school teacher and at home with the kids during the holidays. Surfing is still really special, particularly when there are fewer chances to do it.”
Mountain biking has given back to Riddell a small part of the freedom and spontaneity she thrived upon before her children Flynn, aged seven, and three-year-old Rosa Mae were born. Racing provides a temporary escape from the responsibilities of parenthood; besides, birthday parties are more appealing to a child than watching mum race.
“I would love to say that the family come and cheer me on, but realistically that’s boring for them. What three-year-old wants to stand on a hillside with midges, waiting for her mother to cycle past? I don’t want to smother them with something that they might not be in to,” Riddell explains.
“There are so many benefits with the SingleTrack shorts. It feels like you’re wearing lycra, they’re so comfy and stretchy.”
“It’s also important for me to have some time to relax and not wear my ‘mum hat’. Rushing them here and there - to nursery and school and everywhere else - is exhausting! I like the wee escape.”
An average day in Riddell’s life is certainly full-on. Mornings are spent with “firecracker” Rosa Mae, at swimming or mums-and-tots groups, or enjoying activities at home. At midday, she delivers her daughter to nursery and heads out on a two-hour ride or coaching session. From there, she rides directly to Flynn’s school to collect her son.
“He finishes at 2.30pm, so I arrive at the school gate in all my biking gear; I’m quite famous for that, always covered in mud. All the other mums joke about it, but it’s quite fun. I’m in my biking gear then until bedtime.
“When I’ve picked up my son, we’ll go and get my daughter. Then it’s home and snacks, and off to their activities: swimming lessons, and gymnastics clubs, and beavers and dancing and stuff, so I spend the rest of the day to-ing and fro-ing between that.
“Some evenings, I coach, so I scoot away early when Al comes back from work. Other nights, depending on what’s happening, I’ll go for a ride or a circuit class or something. All the housework and the chores fit in around that.”
Riddell’s riding and coaching is done in Endura clothing. Her feedback is proving valuable. Who better to report back on the qualities of a Scottish manufacturer’s offering for female mountain bikers?
“I’m just absolutely blown away by how good the kit is, actually,” Riddell says. “When the jackets came out earlier in the year, I thought, ‘Oh, I like them’, and in February my husband bought me an Endura jacket for my birthday.”
“You really push yourself racing. It gets quite emotional. I’m getting quite a reputation, with my crazy red hair!”
Things have moved on. Riddell is now part of Endura’s Ground Division programme, an initiative to support grassroots riders whose passion for cycling reflects Endura’s own. Riddell - the Enduro racer and mountain bike coach, who fits riding around family commitments - could scarcely be a better fit.
On the subject of fit, Riddell has much to say about the Women’s SingleTrack short, and her words come tumbling out at a speed similar to that at which she approaches the downhill sections of an Enduro course.
“There are so many benefits with the SingleTrack shorts. It feels like you’re wearing lycra, they’re so comfy and stretchy, but you’re wearing baggies. As a woman, when you have lumps and bumps in all different places…I’m just blown away by them.”
When the MT500 Helmet with Koroyd insert comes up in conversation, we are not expecting negative feedback (it has been showered in praise from every quarter, reviewer and customer alike), and Riddell is of similar good opinion. Her feedback, born from the experience of coaching and competition, is worth hearing, however.
“The helmet is fantastic; really, really comfy. I used to dot between a full-face and regular helmet, but now I’ve not been using my full-face as much. I’m just using the MT500.”
Choose a word to describe Endura and it’s likely ‘authentic’ will crop up sooner rather than later. Much of Scotland is still wild and beautiful, as Hardy’s images of Moray reveal. It is not a landscape in which marketing spin is likely to flourish.
Riddell’s role as grassroots ambassador provides further evidence of Endura’s instinct for doing things right. It would be easy to contact a model agency, the tourist board and a fashion photographer, and then to shoot a series of glossy images in an easily identifiable landscape, with Endura products front and centre. The easy option however rarely finds favour in Livingston.
“I became frustrated with surfing. Often, there were no waves and conditions were bad. I started to hop on the bike again.”
“Anna’s commitment to mountain biking and, through her coaching, to empowering other women to ride, is one we fully support,” says Pamela Barclay, Endura’s Brand Director. “Many of our female customers will recognise the daily challenge Anna faces in balancing her responsibilities as a mother with working life and the desire to train and compete.
“Our roster of world class athletes provides us with feedback from the uncompromising world of elite competition, but Anna’s experiences of real world riding are of equal value. If she finds our Women’s MT500 and Women’s SingleTrack collections suitable for racing, training, coaching, and the school run, it’s likely thousands of our customers will too.”
It’s reassuring to know that while Endura has grown from a kitchen table in Edinburgh to a global brand, there are riders in every corner of its homeland who recognise a shared ethos, whether it be Danny MacAskill in Glasgow and Skye, Graeme Obree in Ayrshire, or Riddell in Moray. They are fine ambassadors. Their locations are fine ambassadorial residences.
It says much too for the wider Endura family that a working mother in Moray has a place at a metaphorical table alongside a Grand Tour winner from Colombia, ultra endurance champions from Austria, Ironman triathlon winners from Germany and England, and Women’s WorldTour riders from South Africa, Finland, Denmark and Switzerland.
#AllTribesOneClan, is the motto at Endura’s headquarters in Livingston. Riddell, with a red-headed clan of her own, is a welcome addition.