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Lynne Armstrong – “Watch what happens, it could be awesome” – Singletrack Magazine

Lynne Armstrong – “Watch what happens, it could be awesome” – Singletrack Magazine

Everyone we feature in our Inspiring Women interview series has been nominated by you, the readers. The person we have the most nominations for by far is the queen of Scottish freeride, The Clan and Air Maiden, Lynne Armstrong. And why? Over to Heather McCann – aka Redsnail:

Heather: “I did an Air Maiden coaching event last year with Lynne and her team at Chicksands. Her positivity and enthusiasm for getting women into mountain biking is fantastic. She’s not just encouraging women of all ages to ride, but to push themselves just that bit more to really get the most of riding. The respect riders have for her is apparent in those who come to the sessions as well as her fellow coaches.”

Lynne started riding in 2002 when she was in her mid-20s and looking for something to do outdoors. It didn’t take much riding around the Glasgow local trails to get her hooked and, as is the way, the purchase of an ill-fitting second hand bike followed.

In the beginning

Lynne “Being an adrenaline junkie I loved the downhills. After progressing to my first full susser [after about a year of riding], I entered a round of the Probikesport Winter Wet and Wild Downhill Series at Innerleithen. I rocked up in my combats, a hoodie and full facer and was pretty intimidated by the sea of matching rider kit.”

More racing followed but the downhill trails of Scotland were just the beginning as Lynne headed out to Whistler and British Columbia. “I soon found that I loved the thrill of hitting bigger jumps and drop offs and got into what used to be called freeriding. I travelled the length and width of British Columbia to find more scary lines. I wanted to push myself in a different way to downhill racing by challenging myself with the bigger features and lines and learning tricks. I scared myself stupid forcing myself to hit bigger gaps and drops.”

Air Maiden – the bigger the event, the bigger the jump

After spending some time in Canada, Lynne returned to Scotland and became a member of The Clan where she rode and performed with Danny MacAskill and others (“I learned a fair bit from those guys”).  As The Clan’s only female member and around ten years older than the rest of them she was dubbed Old Spice. Despite the fun and success of her time with The Clan after a few years Lynne was ready for her next challenge and Air Maiden (and her three children) were born.

The next generation

Lynne “I started Air Maiden because I wanted more women to jump with. There were way fewer women riding back then, and trails were being built in the Tweed Valley that were very influenced by the flow trails, freeride tracks you find in Whistler, so there were more challenging features but hardly any women hitting them. I met a bunch of women in North America doing the same as me who had started women’s freeride events and I thought it could work in the UK.

 “We had the freeride park at Glentress on our doorstep so it seemed a great place to host an event. The Air Maiden event was created to encourage more women to try them. The idea being we provided quality coaching to introduce women to jumping and drop offs followed by a fun competition to push them and also to serve as a showcase of the talent that already existed. It all grew from there in an almost accidental way.”

Air Maiden – girls, women and Storm Troopers of all ages

Unless you’re lucky enough to have learnt how to do it before you realised how much it can hurt or had any life responsibilities, you’re probably put off by getting airborne for fear of breaking yourself and/or forever trying to live down your crashes. As lots of women come into mountain biking when they’re a bit older (and possibly as they’re a bit more sensible/responsible), fear of injury seems to be a bigger barrier for them than it is for men. My previous misadventures make me painfully aware of my own fallibility so particularly keen to get Lynne’s take on how to conquer my fears as a female in my 40s.

Lynne: “I think women traditionally have less confidence in themselves and so our goal is to increase that confidence in order to convince women that they can ride some of these features. I was 26 when I started riding but had the advantage of being around male dominated sports and jobs for some time before so was less intimidated than most. Nevertheless, I felt that my own self-belief and confidence in myself, in all aspects of my life, increased dramatically after I turned thirty. I hear this from other women too; we become way more comfortable as we age.

“Air Maiden’s skills based approach helps women overcome these fears, by increasing their confidence by giving them the specific skills. We also use psychological techniques that encourage women to focus on things like positive self-talk and visualisation so that when confronted by a feature or challenge on trail, they can tap into those keywords and skills and so focus on those instead of the fear and negative thoughts.

Air Maiden on tour at Chicksands

 “The other thing that works really well is by having women’s specific events and camps where women are inspired by each other and are able to see us coaches and their peers riding the types of things they are intimidated by. When they see a 40 year old woman ride a steep techy line they think maybe they can too. It’s a very powerful thing to see other women feeding off their fellow riders and encouraging each other and progressing together and it’s applicable to other aspects of their lives too. We are really proud of our approach which comes from years of experience as riders and instructors on what works for us and in our professional practise.”

Crankworx and beyond

To get more women into riding at all levels, top level competition to showcase the sport is vital. Women’s races are well embedded in the top downhill, Enduro and XC scenes but women’s fields still aren’t included in many freeride events. This is slowly starting to change with a new Jump Jam competition at Crankworx although the course and format means that it’s not an equivalent to the men’s Joyride event. That makes me wonder whether its inclusion is a good or bad thing. As a judge at this year’s competition in Whistler Lynne got a good view of things.

“The Jump Jam was good in that it was at least a start in terms of providing an opportunity for those women who like to push themselves in this side of the sport, but not ideal. The lines were either too small to trick or too big, with only a couple of competitors being able to do so. There wasn’t enough practise time and most of the women hitting the big line spent the whole time trying to clear them, with no time left to try tricks. I personally know that there were plenty of women who have some pretty awesome tricks, but these jumps unfortunately did not provide them with the best opportunity to showcase that. Having said that it was at least a start and hopefully slopestyle for women can grow from there.

On the jumps

 “We need a purpose built slopestyle course with at least a decent sized line of jumps that allow women to showcase their talent with style. Sadly the financial backing is just not there yet and it all comes down to money and exposure these days so we are still banging our head off a brick wall with this a little bit.”

Until this year’s Crankworx I’d never seen any women’s freeriding/slopestyle competition, rather proving the point about the lack of competitions and showcasing. Are the financial backers right that women’s freeriding isn’t as exciting as men’s?

Lynne: “There are clear and undeniable physical differences in strength between men and women, and confidence is a big part of it too. But skill and ability wise I don’t believe are so different; women just haven’t had the opportunity to progress in this field. There is a worldwide community of women pushing this side of the sport quietly under the radar and have been for years, it’s just nobody bothered to take any notice.

 “There’s no argument that women could compete on the same slopestyle course that the men ride currently, those features are way too big. Having attended women’s-only freeride events in North America and organised them in the UK, I know plenty of women who can not only hit pretty big gaps and drops, but who are doing so with style and trickery.

 “But we need the right course. We can’t ride the Joyride features, they’re too big and we certainly aren’t there yet. With the right course, with decent sized jumps, we could put on quite a show and not only showcase women’s freeriding and dirt jumping, but also inspire a whole new generation of riders.

 “So why not give us the opportunity to join in? It’s not a case of waiting until we are good enough, it’s a case of build us a course that facilitates that progression and watch what happens. It could be awesome.”

And Lynne is right. After delving into women’s freeriding in the name of journalistic research (via the safety of the internet of course) I have started to realise that these things are within the reach of the mortal (and older female) rider like me and not just the preserve of the fearless, indestructible and reckless, male Instagram generation. It just might be that for some of us the amount of air between our tyres and the ground is rather modest.

Who should we speaking to next? Which female mountain biker is doing inspiring things or who is doing great things to inspire women into riding?  Let us know in the comments below who we should be talking to for the next Inspiring Women interview.


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