It’s a Rally, Not a Race: The People Who (Pennine) Rally

Already in its second year of glory, Rapha’s Pennine Rally has easily made its name as a worthy must-experience off-road event here in the UK. Respectfully inspired by the Second City Divide route, the Pennine Rally covers 500 kms of the best unboring, mixed and testing terrain that this (middle-ish) part of the UK has to offer. This special event runs over five days winding, climbing and descending its beauteous way from Edinburgh to Manchester.

Thanks in no small part to the magnificent Louis, the rally’s beating heart, and his socially conscious approach to its organisation, the 2022 Pennine Rally attracted a whole host of keen shredders, many of whom are doing rad things in their communities, and it shows. The Pennine Rally embodies its tag line of ‘its a rally not a race’ and the event as a result is a magnet for many of the change-makers who are working to create a UK cycling scene that is more inclusive, wholesome, and socially active.

I haven’t been hanging around in the UK for very long, but it’s clear that there is a unique scene here and it only feels right to shout about it, so I decided, as part of my own participation in the event, to photograph some of these folks, describe their endeavours and in doing so to some way capture a feel for what is going on here. Please behold and be inspired by this selection of the following incredible humans who make this magic happen.

Louis (he/him) | Rapha

This is the guy who makes it happen. Louis is the creator of the Pennine Rally and responsible for this gathering of lovely people. Passionate about the wonderful world of ultra distance racing, he wanted to provide an experience for riders who craved a taste of the ultra life, without the terrifying edge of actually racing one. In providing a reassuring structure, informative pre-event Q&A, supportive control points and feed stations, and emphasising the ‘rally not a race’ core, he hoped to quell pre-ride nerves as best he could and deliver an accessible and feel-good adventure for those hungry for it. As the UK Activation Manager for Rapha, Louis is well aware of the issue of cycling being a predominantly white, male sport and hopes to be part of the solution in helping to cultivate wider representation in the cycling community through things like his unwavering commitment to an equal gender balance in participants.

Kitty (she/her) | Steezy Collective | DotWatcher | North London ThunderCats

Kitty is a co-founder of Steezy Collective. She spends a lot of time encouraging people to ride, race, and do events and/or cycling-related undertakings that they wouldn’t normally try–such is the foundational goal of Steezy Collective. Kitty races for the North London ThunderCats and commends the Cats for pioneering their ungendered racing categories of ‘Thunder’ and ‘Lightning’ creating a more inclusive race space for non-binary and trans folk. Kitty is the Managing Editor at DotWatcher, running day-to-day happenings and social media story-telling.

Vee (she/her) | North London Thundercats | Steezy Collective

Vee is a complete bundle of glee. She got asked recently if she was a ‘seasoned bikepacker’ and she reckons that she is finally there! Vee races for the socially active London-based race team, the North London ThunderCats, is a MTB captain on the Steezy Collective committee, and is a member of the Women of Colour Cycling Collective. Vee is a cardiovascular biologist. Having three separate loved-ones affected by cardiovascular diseases, she rode the Pennine Rally to raise money for the British Heart Foundation who she also works for. Vee is awesome.

Ruby (she/her) | Rapha | Steezy Collective

Ruby is always looking to expand her bikepacking experience and connect with other like-minded individuals. Ruby is a Rapha employee, and a regular at Steezy Collective rides. She is a rideleader for RCC, leading some of the new open and sociable 101+ sessions, designed to provide an inclusive and welcoming space for new riders to get comfortable riding in groups. She also leads Rapha Women’s laps which she celebrates as successful in getting more women on bikes in London.

Leonie (she/her)| New Forest Offroad Club

Leonie is responsible for leading longer and speedier rides for the New Forest Off Road Club and aims to encourage more women to find their offroad happy places and get excited about sleeping outdoors. She sang success stories of women gaining confidence and finding a home in the cycling community through NFORC; a community working to increase representation in the outdoors through guided matriarchal experiences based in the gravel-bountiful New Forest.

Aandy (he/him) | Ultra Distance Scholarship | The Bike Side

Aandy is one recipient of the 2022 Ultra Distance Scholarship which means he was on the startline of GBDURO 2022 (serious race alert) in August as his first ultra race. Aandy works as a manager and mechanic down south in his local friendly bike shop called The Bike Side. He first found community and positivity in cycling when he decided to ride 3,500 kms around the UK raising funds for mental health and suicide prevention charities and sharing his own story of mental health and cycling.

Alice (she/her) | Lakes Gravel Gang

Originally from Newcastle but finding home in the Lake District, Alice is no stranger to the Pennines. Alice got into gravel riding a few years ago and hasn’t looked back since leaving vehicular traffic at the metaphorical curb. She ride leads and takes photos for the lovely Lakes Gravel Gang, a riding community for all women and non-binary folks on two wheels based in, you guessed it–the Lakes.

Nik (they/them)| Gendered Intelligence | Stayer Cycles

Nik is a singer, artist, DJ, and cyclist. They rode the Pennine Rally with support from Stayer Cycles to raise money for Gendered Intelligence, a charity committed to supporting trans people in everyday life. They are rediscovering the joy of riding in groups through Bristol’s inclusive cycling community and beyond. Nik sings loudly about the importance of queer and trans friendly cycling spaces (ones with actual queer and trans people present) adding that cycling is an important outlet for mental health and connection with one’s own body. You can donate to their cause, here.

Lily (she/her) | Women in Tandem | Steezy Collective

Lily has been dabbling in bikepacking over the last couple of years thanks to Steezy and what she considers the addictive qualities of the sport. Lily humbly runs and is the founder of Women in Tandem, an influential women’s cycling collective and Community Interest Company. Women in Tandem work to get more women confidently riding bikes, offering maintenance workshops, group rides, adopt-a-bike-programs, other educational opportunities and full repair services out of their workshop in the city of Nottingham.

Dalila (she/her) | Steezy Collective | Canyon | Shimano Gravel Alliance

Dalila is an original Steezy Collective member and a cyclocross rider with Dulwich Paragon, who she notes have been doing good work to welcome women and minority groups. She is supported by Canyon and a member of the Shimano Gravel Alliance. Dalila is an advocate of volunteering and does her fair share of marshalling, setting up courses, offering a helping hand at events and races and would like to remind any readers that many events rely on and function off of the generosity of passionate volunteers.

Jo (they/them)| Steezy Collective | Routing For Ya

Jo is another one hailing from the strong Bristol cycling community. They are into adventure and long distance cycling and always looking to push themselves further. They are a member of Steezy Collective and also enjoys rides with Routing For Ya. They mainly ride a gravel bike, sometimes their fixie, and special occasionally, their 90s steel road bike.

Claire (she/her) | Routing For Ya | Steezy Collective | All Terre Gang

Claire is fresh off the back of Komoot’s confidence-building 2022 Women’s Montañas Vacías Bikepacking Challenge. Claire describes her cycling community as massive and wonderful. She is part of the Steezy Collective and co-founded the Bristol-based cycling group, Routing For Ya, organizing fun and social entry-level rides, celebrating community, inclusivity, and snacking. She is also involved with the New Forest Off Road Club, benefitting from their current mountain bike leadership training initiative, and just started a new venture of her own, called All Terre Gang.

Alice (she/her) | Apidura | Steezy Collective | Fixed Witches

Alice is an original co-founder of Steezy Collective, and has been integral to helping grow the women’s and NB cycling community in London and the UK at large over the last two years. Alice works as the Community Manager at Apidura, striving to bring Steezy vibes into the global ultra cycling and racing community (no small feat!). She races for Fixed Beers Race Team and helped to start Fixed Witches, a London-based group running regular fixed gear rides for all women, all NB, and all trans riders who want to ride fixed or try it for the first time.

Zara (she/her) | Ultra Distance Scholarship | Routing For Ya | Bikepacking Buds

Zara vibrates at a life-affirming frequency unlike anyone you have ever met, and it is contagious. Zara is a bike mechanic in Bristol where she has just moved to and already begun to find community. As a recipient of the Ultra Distance Scholarship, Zara was on the startline of GBDURO ‘22 last month as her first ever ultra. Over the last year the scholarship has shown her a whole new world in cycling that she didn’t even know existed. Zara is participating in local CX sessions, is an alumni of Bristol’s School of Rocks, a rideleader for Routing For Ya, and a volunteer with Bikepacking Buds.

Ruby (she/her) | Queens of Pain

Ruby co-founded the Edinburgh-based group, Queens of Pain, which was when her cycling community transformed from only male friends into a diverse group of supportive women. Contrary to the name, Queens of Pain (named after a book!) is a beginner-friendly, party pace group where women and non-binary folk are welcome on weekly confidence-building group rides. Queens of Pain was responsible for perhaps the largest turnout for a women’s alley cat race (maybe ever??) organised for their 1-year birthday this past April where up to sixty-three riders participated. Impressive and wicked as heck.

Harriet (she/her) | Rapha | Steezy Collective | Fixed Witches

Harriet works in Customer Relationship Management for Rapha and was responsible for expanding the 101+ beginners program in London. She shared unique stories of different women finding their confidence through cycling because of these rides. Harriet aims to extend the welcoming energy she has found in her communities to anyone else looking to find their place. Harriet races fixed crits for Fixed Beers Race Team and helped to set up Fixed Witches in London.

Laura (she/her) | Ordnance Survey

Based in the Forest of Dean, Laura is part of a strong community of mountain biking women, teachers, and coaches there. Laura felt that there weren’t enough opportunities for all of the amazing women working in the cycling industry to meet up and compare notes, so she created her own annual Women’s Bike Industry Meet Up with organised rides, workshops, yoga sessions, general networking and knowledge sharing. She also started an infamous Women in the Cycling Industry WhatsApp group where many important issues, opportunities, requests, and stories have been shared. Laura works as the Senior Partnerships Manager for Ordnance Survey looking after OS Maps and is a freelance writer and creator.

Carla (she/her)  | Ultra Distance Scholarship | Women of Colour Cycling Collective

Carla is part of the Women of Colour Cycling Collective where, to her excitement, she first found other black women to relate to about cycling. She is passionate about inclusive cycling spaces for minorities in the sport. As an Ultra Distance Scholarship recipient, Carla’s cycling community has rapidly expanded in the last year but she first found friendly people to ride with through the Yorkshire Roses, a women-led, women-only cycling club in Sheffield. Carla started the Sheffield Vegan Cycling Club, and is proud to ride with Peak Queer Adventures and Peak Gravel Gang.

I hope you have enjoyed these snapshots of awesome people who ride bikes. Capturing them has certainly made me cherish my cycling community and all of the awesome things happening here even more.

If you’d like to try the Pennine Rally for yourself, keep your eyes on the Rapha UK Instagram. Applications will likely open in January 2023. A special shoutout goes to Luke from Outdoor Provisions who designed the original Second City Divide route which this event is largely based off of. Thank you Louis and Rapha for creating this special event which has clearly brought together many important communities. Here’s to next year and beyond.