Heather Irvine

Heather Irvine has recently been appointed as Editor for Total Women's Cycling. Prior to her role over at TWC, she has written for The Times.

Heather’s main passion lies in adventure racing which can require long stints in the saddle and some technical mountain biking sections, which are always the highlight of her race. She has competed in Ireland, the UK and in recent years, further afield too – a high point being a 50-hour non-stop race in June 2013. Heather’s passion for bikes doesn’t end there though, she can often be seen out on her road bike - for fun more than anything else - but has been known to enter the odd triathlon from time to time. She is also a hardy-year round commuter, and can be seen whizzing along the London streets on an uber-stylish folding bike.

“I have the mind of a racehorse but the body of a mule,” announces Teena Gates, a broadcast journalist turned adventurer from Ireland. Not one to be deterred by the limitations of her body, Gates probably has the most determination of any person I have ever met. Just over three years ago, Gates weighed 23 stone and could walk for no more than one minute on a treadmill at a time.

Gates, however has since showed that anything is possible, shedding 13 stone and becoming an adventure junkie having trekked to Everest Basecamp, completing one of the toughest marathon kayaking races in Europe, becoming a year-round sea swimmer and generally never turning down any challenge thrown at her. She is a force to be reckoned with.

One of the pivotal factors contributing to her transformation was taking up cycling. Gates became a year round commuter – riding 15km to and from the office every day, no matter what the weather. Bit by bit, the bike gave her a new found confidence and strength both mentally and physically. She says that cycling has been the biggest gift she has ever been given. She has since ridden 200km in Africa, completed an adventure race and even thrown her hand to a spot of mountain biking.

She is living proof that cycling is a sport for everybody from elite athletes to adrenaline junkies and give it a go heroes. And that is something that we hope is reflected across Total Women’s Cycling.

As Gates proved, commuting by bike to work is a great way to kick start a love affair with the sport. But it is so much more than that – it has such a huge effect on physical and mental health and is infinitely better for the environment and our wallets. I found it discouraging that a recent EU poll showed that the UK placed 24th out of 28 countries in the EU with just 4% of the population cycling everyday and 50% not cycling at all. One cannot ignore the role that government inadequacies play in this. The lack of cycling infrastructure across the country’s major cities and the associated safety concerns of potential commuters has placed a barrier to entry where there shouldn’t be one.

With 44,000 people signing up to the Cycle to Work Scheme in 2013, it is clear that the desire to commute by bike is there, but to really make the most of our cycling space and therefore reap the associated benefits of mass participation in cycling, we need to make our cities safer places – with a better infrastructure of bike lanes and more stringent policing for both cyclists and motorists on the roads.

In addition to this, there is a lot we can do from a community perspective too. Starting at a grassroots level, we can encourage the population to get involved in this wonderful sport by removing some of the barriers to entry. I think we can especially learn a lot from initiatives such as Cognation’s mountain bike shuttle bus service in Wales.  What a fine example of stepping up to the mark and taking action!

My favourite cycling memory

One Friday evening in summer, as part of our training for an upcoming adventure race, we decided to head out for a spin after work. I was working in Dublin city centre at the time. We left the office at about 5.30pm, heading for the Dublin Mountains, about a thirty minute ride away. It was a balmy evening, we rode for about three hours before stopping to take a break to watch the sunset over the city beneath us. We then continued to ride right into the early hours of the following morning. We explored the surrounding mountains right into the neighbouring county, taking in some nice technical sections along the way. I remember thinking how thankful I was that a friend had introduced me to mountain biking a year earlier - it has given me so many incredible adventures ever since.