A day with @TheGirlOnABike, the biker getting her life back

Posted on 29/11/2016

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We were lucky enough to spend a day with the inspirational girl behind the Instagram account @thegirlonabike on some of Oxfordshire’s byways. In March 2014, she was cycling home on a normal Tuesday when a car jumped a red light and cut across her, causing her to go straight into the side at 15mph. Since the accident, she's had multiple surgeries including full shoulder reconstruction and shoulder key hole surgery, and she most recently had her hip repaired. Her Instagram is all about her recovery process, and radiating positive energy and inspiration to everybody. We caught up with her to talk about how she got into motocross, how ViewRanger helps her adventures, and her motivation.

How did you get into motorbikes and motocross?

[My husband Alex and I] decided to do it together after the accident. I had my bike licence years before - my first bike was a 250cc enduro bike in the Bahamas at 21, but I didn’t have a need for a bike. Post-accident when I was unable to cycle I got a bike to avoid traffic, I could do this during periods once injuries allowed basically! From that we were in the motorbike mode and got the Harley Davidsons! So since finding ViewRanger for the enduro riding and green lanes, we’ve also used the app to plot really nice relaxing routes on our Harley Davidsons. After my most recent surgery in April 2016 in the recovery phase I was daydreaming about getting life back and it was a random idea! Alex was pretty happy to go down the dirt bike route, so we got them and now we’re just trying to explore. It’s a really cool hobby because with the help of the app we can have a day out, absolutely blasting across the countryside, seeing all these places that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and there is really no cost other than petrol. There’s just us and the countryside.

How did you find ViewRanger and how does it help your adventures?

Alex found out about ViewRanger via the Trail Riding Federation website, when we were looking for routes. 

We were looking at a website that shows you where all the byways are that you’re allowed to ride on with a motorised vehicle. After a while we realised some of them we weren’t allowed to ride on! We were very lucky that we didn’t get caught but obviously, our source of information for routes wasn’t current. We then started thinking, ‘Right, how do we go about working out where we’re allowed to be? We know Oxfordshire is one of the top counties in the country for byways and green lanes but how do we find them?’ That’s when Alex went to the website and then we found ViewRanger - the bonus was that we were looking for a source of where we could ride and then we realised you could do so much more with the app!

Alex: Another really helpful aspect [of ViewRanger] is when we go riding with other people and they’ll be taking us on a particular route that they’re familiar with, and because we’ve covered so many miles it’ll be really difficult to know where we’ve been and what turnings we made. However, using the record mode, you know exactly where you’ve been and how many miles you’ve done. We can go back and re-drive the route on our own without fear of getting lost.

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Any tips for people who want to get into motocross?

Safety is really important. Having been hit by a car, I know how much it hurts and your gear has one chance to not just save your life, but save your skin or your bones. Wear the right safety gear and don’t skimp on it because if you buy cheap then it’ll be cheap. Don’t be intimidated by the sport, it is a fairly intimidating sport but when you’re actually at the track everyone is so friendly and helpful. Join a club, where you meet once a month and go on organised rides. Knowing someone that can do any kind of basic maintenance on a bike is always helpful, too.

It’s worthwhile using the app so you’re confident knowing you’re on a legal byway because occasionally dog walkers/pedestrians will stop you and automatically assume you’re breaking the law.

Any tips in particular for female riders/beginners?

Don’t be intimidated by male dominated landscapes! You’ll get a hell of a lot more pleasure from the outdoors than materialistic things. Get out there and enjoy the outdoors, break the stereotypes. You can still be girly and get muddy, I still put my mascara on in the morning! Mud washes off!

What kind of bike do you have? Any gear tips?

My bike is a KTM EXC 200T. Kit-wise, I mostly wear Fox clothing which includes racing boots and my trousers and top. On my knees I wear a hybrid knee brace (articulated knee braces that give you the support on an impact) by Leatt, as well as Leatt full body armour on the upper half with plates and protection across the chest, shoulder, elbows, biceps and straight down the spine. My helmet is Bell, and my goggles are ‘Ride 100%’. Goggles tend to get quite dirty when you’re riding along so you should wear tear-offs; basically a plastic shield that goes across the goggles and hooks onto the side and you can wear multiple layers. You can’t see them visually but it means once they get dirty you can tear off the front layer and you’ve got clean goggles again. When you’re riding for the whole day that helps in keeping strong visibility.

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What are your plans/goals for 2017?

I want to do the Skegness Beach race, it’s ridiculously gnarly. I want the accident in the past - that’s my biggest goal. For me at the moment, there probably isn’t an hour that goes by that I’m not aware of it, from either hip pain or shoulder pain. I want to get on the bike and not feeling vulnerable in my hip.

We want to do some awesome off-road adventures, it would be amazing to go from here to Scotland or something crazy, all off-road, it’s just finding the time to do it. We’d love to do a multi-sport holiday like we used to do. We used to do kite-surfing, mountain biking and more but haven’t since the accident, it would be great to start to do that again. Our friend has a place in Andora, which is a mountain-biking/dirt-biking/motorbike heaven, and we even snowboard there – it’s a mecca for all sports. It would be amazing to take the bikes out there.

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What keeps you motivated?

I get some truly amazing messages; people reach out to me that are in similar positions or a totally sideways position where they’re in the darkest place. I get a lot of people calling me inspirational which I find mental because people ask me how do I stay so strong and positive and I think, well what’s the alternative? I sit in the corner and cry and feel sorry for myself? No, I’ve got to look on the plus side - no matter how bad life can get, it can get worse. People are out there in even worse positions and there are always things you can count your blessings on, always positive things like just enjoying the moment, savouring what you’ve got around you - I’ve got an amazing husband. Life is good, it has been horrendous but there have been moments throughout all of that that I can appreciate. I guess you need to find and refocus where you get your satisfaction and positivity from. Before the accident it was all about sports, all adrenaline, being out there pushing my body but we haven’t been able to do that so we had to find other ways to find enjoyment and we just completely refocused our lives. The Harley Davidsons have done a lot for us, it was gentle cruising, I could manage that with my injuries after a certain point. There were definitely periods around operations where there was no way I could ride a bike. People have reached out to me on Instagram who want someone who they can see has been in a hard place, just to talk to. I get a lot of messages from people who have gone through really hard stuff, from other car or bike accidents to abusive relationships and job losses and more. I’m always really touched and always will have time to reply. One photo I posted on my Instagram - and at the time I wasn’t really sure if I should post it - was me in bed, you could only see my head with my cup of tea and teddy bear, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I said something like, ‘I’m hurting, this is shit,’ kind of thing and the amount of people that responded to that post...it’s making me emotional even talking about it...the positive energy I got from all my followers was so overwhelming…I got out of bed. My Instagram has helped me deal with my accident, it’s given me something to put my energy into, it’s given me other people to share experiences with. That particular image…they got me out of bed.

I guess the key motivation is getting my life back, I want to get back to sports and physical fitness and that’s so important to me. Eating comfort food is easy to fall into but I’ve only got one home, I’ve got to look after my body. I’m the only one that has control over my life.

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You can follow her incredible journey at @thegirlonabike.
Photographs by Alannah Lucy Messett.
View the Trail Riding Federation's ViewRanger tracks here

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