Fran, our longest serving VeloVixen, has become something of a cult heroine through her unrivalled breadth of cycling experience and her amazing ways of helping and advising other cyclists.
Quite simply: you won't anyone with a more generous, straight-talking knowledge of cycling and all its facets.
So every week we're asking her for a Top Tip. This could be a new piece of cycling kit that she loves, but it could equally be a gripping book, a breathtaking route through the Dolomites (or Chilterns), or her latest favourite gin.
She assures us that she's worth paying attention to - we reckon you might agree!
October 23rd 2020
My read of the autumn
I'm an unashamed bookworm. I plough through books, often several a week. Unless there's worthwhile cycling to watch the telly rarely gets switched on in my house.
So it takes a special book to really move me. That's why I just have to share Blood Orange with you.
It's an absolutely gripping, fast paced thriller. A young lawyer's life spirals out of control as she is given her first murder case... “a damaged marriage. A toxic affair. A dark obsession”. Read it now, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
October 16th 2020
My secret thrill - and chill!
I have a secret way to get my kicks these days that doesn't (for once) involve pedalling! Open water swimming. Have you tried it? If not you must.
It's been my extra way to stay sane, invigorated, and smiling through this tricky year, and I'm not stopping now. I'm planning to keep going through the winter without a wetsuit. I know it sounds bonkers, but don't knock it till you've tried it!
Yes, by this time of year it literally takes your breath away, but there's nothing else quite like it to get those endorphins flowing. I've even been getting Liz hooked - nobody is safe!
To find out more, go to Swim England's Open Water website here. You won't regret it.
October 2nd 2020
What I wear on these tricky Autumn rides
It's a tricky time of year to know what to wear for your weekend ride. So here's what I wear on my top half, in case that helps!
- I always wear a base layer - see last week's post below! Long sleeved ones like these are ideal on chillier days.
- I team that with a thin long sleeved jersey - I'm a big fan of the Bodyline range from Stolen Goat.
- Finally, I swear by my trusty Castelli Idro jacket - an incredible piece of gear that's worth every penny (and I bought mine before I even worked in cycling!). It's ultralight, and keeps you totally dry in the rain whilst breathing so you don't get sweaty on the inside.
Team all that with your choice of accessories, depending on the day - gloves, arm warmers, leg warmers, neck warmers... and you'll be good to go!
September 25th 2020
Why I wear a base layer in all conditions
I always wear a base layer. Yes, on hot summer days, Baltic winter ones and - maybe most importantly - between-seasons days.
Why? Because they help control your temperature. Contrary to what you might think, a thin, sleeveless one on a hot day actually helps air to circulate and avoids your jersey sticking to you unedifyingly. A cosier, long-sleeved one can help make even the coldest rides enjoyable in winter.
And at this time of year, a sleeveless or short-sleeved one means I never get too cold or hot, whatever the weather decides to do.
Plus, the ones these days look so good you can wear them on their own for your next session on the turbo trainer!
September 18th 2020
The most under-rated accessory in cycling
People often ask me what the biggest secret weapon in cycling kit is. And I always give them the same answer: arm warmers.
Why? They're just SO versatile. They make a disproportionate difference to how warm you feel on a chilly morning, in changeable weather or at the top of a climb. But they roll down tiny and unobtrusive when you warm up.
Plus they give you an extra way to express yourself - either go for muted ones that go with anything, or spice up any outfit with some really loud ones. Call it 'arm doping'!
For a full range of arm warmers, click here.
September 10th 2020
My all time favourite film
If you're anything like me, sometimes you'll get back from a long ride and need the perfect film to collapse in front of. Post-ride stretch be damned!
Inception is a film I watch every few months and simply never tire of. All about infiltrating people's dream, it completely transports you away. It's mega. Watch inception and that lactic acid in your legs will vanish.
Whatever your taste in films, I totally recommend it. And with Christopher Nolan's new film Tenet now helping reinvigorate cinemas, I'm planning a breathtaking double bill...
August 28th 2020
CAMS Tifosi Ride - 19th September
There's a great sounding ride coming up next month that I think you should hear about. If you're anywhere within sensible distance of Buckingham or Milton Keynes, check it out.
Our friends at the CAMS Tifosi pro team - whose bikes been really popular on our site this summer until the supply dried up thanks to Covid! - are hosting. It's leaving at 10am from one of my favourite spots, Cafe Belge, under all the 'proper' Covid regulations.
There'll be two distances, 20 and 40 miles, and riders will be gathering back at Cafe Belge just in time for one of the finest dining experiences in Southern England - their Special Burger (more on that in a future post!).
If you're feeling short of organised rides this summer, this is your chance to make up for lost time - with members of a top pro peloton as an added bonus! Sign up here.
August 21st 2020
Keeping my pointy bits protected
A few weeks ago, I fell off my bike. It shook me up at the time, but with nothing obviously broken I assumed I'd bounce back within a few days. As it turns out, it's taken almost 2 months to be able to cycle more than a few minutes. I did a proper number on my knee and elbow.
So it's not a total coincidence that this week we've launched some new accessories that I've been pushing for: elbow and knee protectors. These brilliant bits of kit are designed for mountain biking, but frankly they would help in any fall.
Where once upon a time 'body armour' was heavy, inflexible and just a bit of a pain, the 2020 version is so light and flexible that you barely know you're wearing it. It actually looks so cool that I reckon it adds to an overall outfit.
One thing's for sure: next time I'm out on the trails, I'm wearing every bit I can muster! You can check out the range (which will be growing as we move into Autumn) here.
August 14th 2020
My top podcasts right now
I love a good podcast*. As a die-hard bookworm, I rarely turn on the telly - give me words any day, either on a page or through my ears.
But with so many out there to choose from, where do I go for my aural inspiration? Here are 3 of my long term favourites that I always look forward to:
1. The Cycling Podcast Féminin
Featuring regular presenters Orla Chennaoui and Richard Moore, this has become pretty much the definitive podcast if you're into female cycling. I listen regularly and love the intelligent, fun and progressive approach to all topics, from the female peloton to grass roots cycling campaigns. Click here to discover it.
Presented by recently retired pro Abby Mickey, this one covers a great range of topics, from pro road racing to gravel to health and mental wellbeing - it delves into areas that other podcasts don't always have the confidence to tread.
Originated by Aussie site CyclingTips, Abby picks great interviewees and always manages to focus on interesting events. Find out more here.
3. Feel Better, Live More
“Health has become overcomplicated. I aim to simplify it” - this is Dr Rangan Chatterjee's aim, and he does it brilliantly.
As a respected GP of many years' standing (and BBC1's Doctor in the House) he knows a few things. His podcast manages to combine stories from health experts and interesting characters who give you easy health life-hacks, expert advice.
They also debunk common myths, all of which have helped me to eat, sleep, exercise and relax better. He says he aims to 'inspire, empower and transform the way we feel' - and he's managed it with me. Find this one here.
* Never whilst I'm on the bike, mind - we all need to be able to hear other road users!
August 7th 2020
My top tip for staying cool in the heat...
We're in the throes of a proper heatwave - 30c+ for days on end. Phew.
Don't get me wrong, it's great - the kind of weather you dream of in those long winter weeks when it barely seems to get light.
But if you spend too long in a hot warehouse or go out riding unprepared, it can be too much (we wrote a special blog with advice on riding in the heat here).
So what's my top tip to avoid overheating on your bike? Wear a cap. It may seem odd to put an extra layer on your head under a helmet in these temperatures, but bear with...! As your head sweats, the cap will get wet*, and 'science' will mean it draws heat away from your head, cooling you down. Magic.
And what's my choice of cap for the heat? I love the Stolen Goat ones - they're lightweight, one-size-fits-all, and come in designs so cool that you'll feel sad putting a helmet over them.
My personal fave for this summer: the Flash, as modelled by our beautiful vixen friend above!
* Even better, dunk it in water before and during your ride.
July 31st 2020
It's been a frenetic summer at VV towers - a massive surge in cycling, new IT systems left, right and centre, and a damaged knee that's immobilised me.
Along with more sales from you lovely lot than ever, we're inevitably dealing with more returns and exchanges of products than ever.
And (badly kept secret!) it's me that deals with most of them.
It's a never-ending task, and rivals tax and plumbing issues as the least favourite element for any small business.
We totally get that it's part of a retail business selling clothes - it's impossible to get every size right, especially if you're new to cycling.
For the most part, our customers are very well behaved in not buying unreasonable numbers of products simply to try then on, and in repackaging what they do send back as new - if for no other reason than to make sure they get their money back!
But it's moments like finding the sketch above that makes it more than just a grind - a customer (you know who you are!) took the time to charm us with this beautiful vixen, bushy tail and all.
Now that's how to ensure your return gets dealt with just a little more efficiently!
July 17th 2020
My sunglasses of the summer
This is the time of year when - more than ever - I don't go out without my sunglasses on. But with so many to choose from, where to start?
But at £37, these are fantastic value, really robust and not a little stylish, don't you think?!
I wear them for more than just the bike - they're great for running in too, or honestly any kind of exercise. And the fact that they come with three different interchangeable lenses means you can pick clear, tinted or light enhancing depending on conditions.
Last but not least, I love the fact that they come from just over the hill here in Oxford - I've even been over to collect stock for VeloVixen on my bike, and there aren't many brands you can do that with!
July 10th 2020
My jersey of the summer
"I've been recovering from my recent fall whilst things at VV Towers have been going a bit nuts with the re-arrival of our 2020 range. It seems there was a bit of demand for it, to say the least!
It gave me the chance to think about what I like about wearing our own jerseys, and which design is my favourite. The great thing about the Bioracer factory, where they are made, is that their pedigree in creating performance cycling gear is second to none - they make gear for plenty of the teams in the pro pelotons, both male and female, which speak volumes.
The cut and fit are great - figure hugging but with enough stretch in the fabric to keep the jersey comfortable and flattering. I'm a UK size 8 and reliably wear an X-Small.
The four (yes, four!) pockets are positioned so as to let you get at them easily,, including the handy zipped one. The laser-cut sleeves make for a really flattering finish - avoiding any hint of 'sausage arm' that some finished hems will create!
They wash well time and again, and the little details like a zip protector and having no itchy labels make them truly comfy.
And which design have I been pining for most from my sofa?
OK - my secret is out - I have a secret penchant for the Kia Ora (above). Those colours just work so incredibly together - and look fab with the shorts - which have proved to me that there's more to life than bibshorts!
July 3rd 2020
Don't fall off
Fran's been 'off games' this week. And with good reason.
Sunday saw her first major mishap on a bike in (she tells us from her sick bed) 27 years of serious cycling. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty good hit rate.
But when you hear about the multiple stitches in her elbow, beaten up knee and go-faster stripes/road rash down most of one side, we'd probably all rather it happened less often still!
Needless to say, we haven't seen her at VV Towers this week, but she tells us she was riding on gravel and simply lost the front wheel - such an easy thing to happen for any of us, even the most experienced.
The good news is that she avoided the 110kg gent riding on her wheel.
Her tip, as she convalesces in a gently sun-dappled sanatorium on the banks of Lake Como*, is to go gently on the handlebars and brakes when you're riding on loose surfaces - let the bike find its way rather than snatching at it. 'Let it run'. You can still come unstuck, but it will help your chances and aid your control of the bike.
Get well soon, Fran - we need you to rejoin the ranks of the Vixens ASAP, when we'll be presenting you with an honorary pair of stabilisers.
* She claims to be sitting on her sofa at home...
June 26th 2020
A Midlife Cyclist (Rachel Ann Cullen)
"This book was recommended to me by friend of VeloVixen Jeni Sanderson. Jeni is (among other things!) a positive change consultant and fanatical cyclist and really recommended this.
"There's something for all of us in this - whether you've suffered experiences similar to Rachel's or simply love cycling, you'll be engrossed.
"She taps into emotions that so many of us can relate to, from depression to body dismorphia, or simply the mental toll that learning that your running days are over can take.
"But rising above the hardship is an inspiring tale of how cycling can be a crutch, an inspiration, a way to see new places, make new friends and achieve new things you never thought possible.
"I found it a reminder of the pure, energising joy that cycling can bring. I think you will too."
You can buy A Midlife Cyclist (and support independent bookshops) here.