Spotlight on… Rachael Walker

Rachael riding
Rachael Walker tackles the trails
Rachael Walker is an award-winning event organiser and community leader with a passion for women’s cycling and was one of our 100 Women in Cycling in 2018. After experiencing career success in her women’s cycling initiatives, she’s now taking a leap into an entirely new environment

Quick fire questions

What bike do you ride? Juliana Quincy gravel bike/Juliana Joplin 29er trail bike.

Favourite place to ride: Scotland or Slovenia.

In three words summarise your cycling: Adventurous, always smiling.

How and when did you discover mountain biking?

Like most children, I had grown up cycling near my house, playing out with other kids. It wasn’t until I was around 17 that a group of friends who I snowboarded with told me try downhill mountain biking. They loaned me a bike and pushed me down a track. I hung on for dear life and crashed a few times, but my love of mountain biking started there and then.

Since that moment, my life pretty much became about cycling. My holidays, friends and social life all started to revolve around mountain biking. I began to compete in downhill mountain bike races in the UK and abroad. Mountain bikes basically showed me the world and took me to places I would otherwise never have gone.

Why do you think it’s important to focus on women specifically?

When I first started mountain biking, I didn’t see a need at all for women’s specific projects. Due to my passion for snowboarding and the gender imbalances that existed in that sport, I had spent years just snowboarding with the boys. It was the norm.

When I started mountain biking with the boys, fending for myself and learning skills as I went along was all I knew. I thought it was normal to feel a bit inadequate, quite fearful and feeling like I lacked in skills. I just needed to get on with it. There really weren’t very many women riding, so I had no option but to ride with boys.

Things changed when I slowly started to meet some female mountain bikers. I suddenly felt a huge connection with these other women; they felt the same as I did, processed fears and obstacles as I did.

As I started to ride with women who were of a similar ability to me I felt my riding improve leaps and bounds, it progressed so much more in a few months riding with women than it had for years riding with men. I could relate to these women, I felt that if they could do something then so could I – feeling I didn’t really have when watching the men launch themselves off huge jumps and drops.

It started to dawn on me that to help encourage more women to cycle and mountain bike, we had to create environments where women feel welcome, secure: a place where they can learn, make mistakes, fall and be picked up and supported by women who feel and think a similar way.

Through support and encouragement, we can help increase the number of women cycling. Without such groups or environments, history has shown us that women are less inclined to even try cycling and even less likely to continue and make it a part of their lives.

What would you say are the key factors in encouraging women into cycling, and keeping them interested?

Accessibility, support and a welcoming environment.

Cycling needs to be accessible, not just for women but for everyone. For many women, I feel there are generally a few more barriers which stop them from making cycling a part of their lives. These barriers appear when women have lack of time due to caring for children, friends who cycle, or general knowledge about how to start cycling.

While this is a generalisation, it does ring true to an extent. In my experience, I have come across a significant number of women who lack the confidence to try mountain biking. Just getting to the car park with a bike to meet a group is a significant step.

As a cycling community, we can break down barriers, make women feel confident, make them feel less anxious about looking stupid or being last or too slow. Help the women grow in confidence with each ride. Women are excellent at supporting other women when they come together

Rachael Walker, co-founder of Date Coffee Co

I have held rides where the women are silent and anxious when setting off. When finishing the ride they are smiling from ear to ear after constant chatter and encouragement around the trails. Continuing to bring groups of women together is one of the best things we can do as a cycling community in encouraging women to cycle, and in keeping them interested.

Why are you so passionate about your work?

I think my passion for women’s projects comes from the fact that I really do care about the future of our sport. I am a cyclist, I love all disciplines of cycling. What I love the most is cycling with my friends.

A lot of women meet friends, go shopping or go for a coffee. I do these things too, but for me there is nothing better than going for a long ride with friends.

You put the world to rights, talk about anything and everything while outside, pushing each other along, helping each other improve. For me it’s the best type of socialising and does wonders for my mental health.

I know all the different benefits I get from cycling, so it’s natural to want others to enjoy these benefits, too.

What are you doing now?

Around six years ago, my partner returned from a trip to Lebanon with some date coffee which he couldn’t praise enough. I tried it and was hooked. Our problem was we couldn’t buy the date coffee easily in the UK. We tried various online options without success.

Dates have always been my go-to riding snack. We started saving the seeds from dates and gradually made our own coffee. This took a long time. We always had the idea to try and produce our own coffee. One of those ideas we talked about for three or four years and nothing transpired.

Dafé is made from the roasted seeds from dates. We carefully source our seeds from Tunisia and hand roast them in our kitchen in Surrey.

Rachael Walker was a guest on Bants, Bikes and Being Female on Friday 11 December at 13.00 streamed live on our Facebook page, and now available to watch at any time for free.

Rachael Walker portrait

Cycling UK is running a competition to win a Dafé bundle. Enter by 30 December to be in with the chance of winning a bundle of date seed ground coffee from Rachael’s start-up, Date Coffee Co.

Bants, Bikes and Being Female

Cycling UK’s women’s chat show, Bants, Bikes and Being Female, is packed to the rafters with information, top tips and plenty of laughs. Rachael Walker was a guest on the episode How to plan a route for cycling, streamed live on our Facebook page on Friday 11 December at 13.00. It is now available to watch any time.