A LIFE LESS OR­DI­NARY

Meet Juliet El­liot, the blog­ger, for­mer snow­boarder, model and rocker who’s tear­ing up the Red Hook

Urban Cyclist - - Contents - WORDS JAMES WITTS IM­AGES JESSE WILD

“I RACED UP HERE ONCE,” says fixed-gear star Juliet El­liott of Park Street, Bris­tol, the 200m 10% as­cent whose fin­ish line is the neo-Gothic Wills Me­mo­rial Build­ing. “It’s nice, Bris­tol. If I was to live some­where less re­mote, I’d like to live here.” El­liott races ev­ery­where. She’s a part-time ath­lete with a full-time race cal­en­dar, who also blogs, runs her own web­site, is a moun­tain-bik­ing coach, writes and rep­re­sents nu­mer­ous high-pro­file brands. Der­byshire-born El­liott’s in town for our Ur­ban shoot and to talk about her am­bi­tions for 2017 – a year in which she’ll head to Brook­lyn (29 April), Lon­don (22 July), Barcelona (2 Septem­ber) and Mi­lan (14 Oc­to­ber) for all four rounds of the fast, fu­ri­ous and fixed Red Hook se­ries, in search of top-10 over­all in the se­ries [a feat achieved by Brit Keira McVitty in 2016, who fin­ished a su­perb fourth]. “I’ll also race the Rad Race Fixed42,” El­liot adds, the un­of­fi­cial fixed gear world cham­pi­onships in Ber­lin on 18 June. She’ll fur­ther sa­ti­ate her com­pet­i­tive ap­petite with myr­iad of non-fixed cy­cling races. But that’s for an­other time (well, later in the fea­ture) as there are more strings to El­liott’s bow than just rac­ing. El­liott’s In­sta­gram ac­count verges on 26,000 – size­able in the world of fixed gear – at­tract­ing the likes of As­sos, Vans and Fox. Un­til this year, she also rode for Charge, the ar­che­typal sin­gle­speed­sters.

In search of free­dom

Her charm­ing and vi­brant per­son­al­ity – El­liott’s words-per­minute rate matches her fixed-gear ca­dence max of 150rpm – has pro­jected her as a fig­ure­head for em­pow­er­ing women, and seen her rack up a truly eclec­tic CV that lists model, pro­fes­sional snow­boarder, top BMX racer, moun­tain biker… and mem­ber of a rock band. In El­liott’s world, if you’re not liv­ing on the edge, you’re tak­ing up too much room. So where does this ad­ven­ture-seeker cur­rently re­side? “I’ve caught the train from Ab­botsker­swell,” El­liott replies. Ab­botsker­swell. You at the back – heard of Ab­botsker­swell? We thought not but this his­toric town is the gate­way to Dart­moor, Devon, and has seen its

We couldn’t afford to make use of all the cool stuff Lon­don has to of­fer. So we thought sod it, we’re out­doors peo­ple, let’s move to Corn­wall...

pop­u­la­tion me­an­der from 100 in 1086 to the cur­rent mark of 1,267. Wikipedia de­scribes the vil­lage as be­ing ‘sur­rounded by fields’. It’s an in­con­gru­ously gen­teel back­drop for a rider who’s known for gen­er­at­ing ex­treme power out­puts around the bang­ing in­ner-city crit Red Hook cir­cuit. “My hus­band, Dave [Noakes], and I were bike mes­sen­gers in Lon­don,” El­liott ex­plains of how she ended up in ’ Ker­swell. “Dave was also a youth worker for Kids’ Com­pany. Ev­ery­one hates them now but, at the time, peo­ple thought they were great. Be­tween us we earned a rea­son­able amount of money but were still skint. At the week­ends, we es­caped the city to BMX and re­alised we just couldn’t afford to make use of all the cool stuff Lon­don has to of­fer. So we thought sod it, we’re out­doors peo­ple, let’s move to Corn­wall…” …which didn’t hap­pen. Dave, who’s also a pho­tog­ra­pher, headed to the north coast of Ker­now, driv­ing through their roset­inted dreams to a re­con­nais­sance mis­sion shrouded in wet and grey. “The houses we could afford were just bleak. But on the way home, Dave had a shoot with BMX dirt jumper Kye Forte, who lived in New­ton Ab­bot [near Ab­botsker­swell]. Dave told Kye about our sit­u­a­tion – we had one week left on our Lon­don rental – and Kye said why not move down there. We’d know at least one per­son. So Dave called me from the Great West­ern he was stay­ing at. I said, why not!” Ac­tu­ally, that bunny hops the one caveat El­liott had – that the BMX trails, which she spent most of her free hours on, were suit­able. “’ Were they Pro­line?’ I asked Dave, hop­ing that they weren’t. Dave said I‘d love them but, when I checked them out, they were huge,” El­liott el­e­vates her tone to match the steep­ness of the jumps. “Thank­fully I found some smaller ones.”

Pro­ject­ing a strong im­age

El­liott’s be­ing mod­est – she’s an ac­claimed BMX rider – but the past few years have seen her fo­cus on MTB and fixed-gear. When she’s based at home, of course. If you’re one of her on­line fol­low­ers, in the past few months you’d have seen her tat­tooed torso rid­ing with Noakes in Playa de Mas­palo­mas, tack­ling Gran Ca­naria’s bru­tal climbs and com­pet­ing L’Etape Aus­tralia. “I was also in­vited by Po­lartec to at­tend a Gran Ca­naria train­ing camp with Al­berto Con­ta­dor be­fore Christ­mas, which was amaz­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, I fell out of shape be­cause I spent much of 2016 in­jured with back prob­lems and a bro­ken thumb from an en­duro race. That’s why I re­turned this year – I had un­fin­ished busi­ness.” It all sounds like one rather de­light­ful cy­cling hol­i­day but this re­ally is busi­ness, pro­vid­ing furtive ground for her web­site www.bikes-n-stuff.com, as well as giv­ing her spon­sors ex­po­sure. She ticks many com­mer­cial boxes: at­trac­tive, edgy and, as we dis­cov­ered on our Ur­ban shoot, open to most things. (She’s also an in­cred­i­ble track­stander, reg­u­larly tick­ing off 60sec static ef­forts on our shoot.) El­liott knows the power of pro­ject­ing a strong self-im­age and has done for many years.

“At 20, I used to snow­board pro­fes­sion­ally. It’s sim­i­lar to what I do in cy­cling – to at­tract good-qual­ity editorial cov­er­age for brands. There are many ways and plat­forms to achieve that now but back then – we’re talk­ing around 2000-2001 – it was pre­dom­i­nantly good mag­a­zine fea­tures you were af­ter and to do that you had to com­pete. I had to race the Euro­pean Open, Triple Crown Cham­pi­onships, and along­side that I’d also be filmed and shot…” A rather ex­hil­a­rat­ing life. Un­for­tu­nately, too ex­hil­a­rat­ing. “The prob­lem was, I re­ally didn’t en­joy com­pe­ti­tions at all. They stressed me out. I even went to a hyp­nother­a­pist to sort out my freaky mind. I guess it was a panic at­tack and I just couldn’t do it.” El­liott’s suf­fer­ing on the slopes eased on re­turn­ing to her Lon­don home, al­beit that Alpine anx­i­ety soon cat­walked back into her life. “I used to model,” El­liott says. “I didn’t re­ally want to.”

Model mis­be­haviour

El­liott might not have wanted to; Lon­don agency Se­lect did. “My friend worked for Se­lect and they kept scout­ing me when we’d go for a drink. I’d say I’m not in­ter­ested. But she said she’d

re­ceive a sign­ing bonus if I signed up. And I didn’t re­ally have to do any­thing. So I agreed.” As did the tifosi. El­liott had ‘ the look’ and soon en­rap­tured the at­ten­tion of fash­ion­istas based in main­land Europe. “I ‘cov­ered’ three times on Ital­ian Vogue. When I first saw the cover, I was ac­tu­ally away with friends on a snow­board­ing trip in Europe. We’d been bum­ming around in a van, rocked up to this town and milled around this huge news­stand. And there I was – Oh my god­ddd, lookkkkk. It was pretty cool, can’t deny it.” El­liott wasn’t your typ­i­cal model. Gog­gle marks of­ten en­cir­cled her brown eyes and, as she does to this day, she cut her own hair. While her con­tem­po­raries dressed in Gucci, El­liott wore skater gear. “But the real prob­lem I had was the skin­ni­ness, es­pe­cially as I re­garded my­self as an ath­lete. It was the time of grunge and waifs. I had a 24-inch waist; I was re­ally small. But the agency – sorry Se­lect but you did – gave you shit about your weight al­beit in the nicest pos­si­ble way. They’d say, ‘ Keep an eye on your weight, you’re look­ing a bit…’ and then tail off. I was try­ing to fuel my­self for snow­board­ing and uber-sen­si­tive about food and weight. I didn’t like it.” Thank­fully, mod­els in 2017 are, as El­liott says, more ath­letic. But El­liott’s love of food – bak­ing in par­tic­u­lar – is ap­par­ent. Food and plenty of it is one of the great­est rea­sons to par­tic­i­pate in sport, with smoked mack­erel stir-fry and Dave’s tuna pasta, fea­tur­ing the salty duo of ca­pers and olives, two savoury go-tos. Chef Dave’s car­rot cake’s also a favourite, edg­ing it over the orange and po­lenta slice Juliet con­sumes dur­ing our in­ter­view.

Mu­si­cal youth

So El­liott’s brief mod­el­ling ca­reer fin­ished, fol­lowed soon af­ter by the cur­tail­ment of her pro­fes­sional snow­board­ing ca­reer. “Grow­ing up, I taught my­self how to play the gui­tar. An old friend of mine started a band and needed a gui­tarist. I was back in Lon­don af­ter the lat­est snow­board­ing sea­son and joined up, went on tour and then missed the fol­low­ing win­ter sea­son. That’s when I re­alised my heart just wasn’t in snow­board­ing any­more.” The band? Panic DHH – an industrial punk out­fit. You might not have heard of them but over in Ger­many, they matched (well, nearly) David Has­sel­hoff in the pop­u­lar­ity stakes. “We played a lot of squats in Ger­many, which were great venues. The lo­cal coun­cil would hand over these build­ings to in­di­vid­u­als who would trans­form them into these beau­ti­ful, cul­tural, artis­tic places…” My industrial-punk ed­u­ca­tion’s abruptly in­ter­rupted by an el­derly, healthy grey-haired gen­tle­man wan­der­ing the Clifton streets. “Were you on the train,” he asks Juliet? “I was,” she replies. “What’s that frame?” “A sprayed-black Cannondale; the wheels are gor­geous, aren’t they?” “The whole thing looks amaz­ing.” And then the charm­ing old gent dis­ap­pears, ed­u­cated and im­pressed. Bike porn clearly ap­peals to all ages. “The big­gest gig I ever played was for the Lightning Seeds,” El­liot con­tin­ues, re­turn­ing to topic. “I was a ses­sion player and Ian Broudie hired me for his tour. We played that fa­mous foot­ball song [‘ Foot­ball’s com­ing home…’] to 20,000 peo­ple. I won­dered how an Eng­land foot­ball song would go down with the Ger­man fans but they loved it.” Edgy El­liott and the sac­cha­rine-sweet melodies of The Seeds is seem­ingly a match made in hell and El­liott con­cedes ‘he wasn’t that much fun’. “Too pro­fes­sional,” I jest? “Well, we’d be drunken idiots and an­noy him. I think I must have a short at­ten­tion span.” Short but in­tensely fo­cused. A short spell in PR fol­lowed her mu­sic ca­reer – “I didn’t like it be­cause you’re al­ways beg­ging for some­thing” – and then El­liott launched a mag­a­zine. “It was called Coven,” she says. “As you no­ticed in the car, I ap­plied make-up for the shoot. But it doesn’t mean I want to read about

make-up; I want to read about in­spir­ing women, whether it’s ad­ven­tur­ers, sports-women or artists. I knew the peo­ple at Al­bion mag­a­zine and fol­lowed a sim­i­lar look.” Most mag­a­zines ad­here to a sim­i­lar staffing model: pub­lisher, editorial and com­mer­cial. Not El­liott – she did it all, from teach­ing her­self desk­top pub­lish­ing via YouTube to writ­ing and mar­ket­ing. But, as is en­demic in the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try, El­liott strug­gled to at­tract suf­fi­cient ad­ver­tis­ing. “It was a shame be­cause it re­ceived a lot of praise but, sadly, af­ter two years I closed Coven. I still feel there’s a mar­ket for it but de­cided that I’d pre­fer to spend those long hours at the desk on the bike.” And bike she does for up­wards of 10 hours a week, much of it in the ru­ral idyll of Dart­moor that harks back to her child­hood in the vil­lage of Hather­sage in the Peak District – a serene and idyl­lic Der­byshire vil­lage that El­liott looks back with fond­ness now but, as a teenager, well, not even the an­nual scare­crow-

I went to school in Sh­effield but they didn’t en­cour­age me to go to sixth-form. That gave me an ex­cuse to con­vince my par­ents to let me move to Lon­don at 16

build­ing com­pe­ti­tion pro­vided ex­cite­ment. “It’s a lovely place but I just wanted to es­cape. I went to school in Sh­effield but, for what­ever rea­son, the school didn’t en­cour­age me to go to their sixth-form. That gave me an ex­cuse to con­vince my par­ents to let me move to Lon­don at 16.”

Train­ing con­vert

Cue her eclec­tic life­style of the past 20 years. El­liott’s still in­tent on seek­ing new ad­ven­tures but, in 2017, there’s a de­gree more formality to El­liott’s life. Whis­per it but that formality stretches to El­liott’s train­ing. Yes, we said ‘ train­ing’. “Two years ago, I wrote a blog for Brooks [sad­dles] where I said train­ing sucks and it makes cy­cling less fun; I just want to cy­cle for fun. “Then I en­tered Red Hook for the first time and this guy on Twit­ter, James Scott, of­fered to train me for a month. I thought sod it, why not… and dis­cov­ered that it didn’t make cy­cling less fun but I ac­tu­ally thrived on it. So I’ve car­ried it on, al­beit I now write my own train­ing plan, sit­ting down on a Sun­day evening to pen­cil in the fol­low­ing week’s rides.” El­liott now trains by power, reg­u­larly races Zwift and even im­ple­ments re­cov­ery days, al­beit re­luc­tantly. Clearly the pas­sion re­mains but is tem­pered by prag­ma­tism. This con­sis­tency of train­ing’s why El­liott’s 2017 race cal­en­dar’s packed and, not sur­pris­ingly for an in­di­vid­ual for whom va­ri­ety isn’t just the spice of life, it’s the oxy­gen, fuel and life force, ven­tures far from the fixed-gear crowd. “For the first time I’m hav­ing a go at road rac­ing and com­pete my first one in March [12th]. It’s in Mod­bury near Ply­mouth and is around 60-70km. I’m ner­vous about it be­cause I’m suited to crits, which re­quire high power, and so am un­used to en­durance. That said, my hus­band and I are also train­ing for the Ride Across Bri­tain in Septem­ber and Re­volve24 the same month. It’s a 24-hour re­lay around Sil­ver­stone. And then there’s a multi-dis­ci­pline race in Swe­den called Are Ex­treme Chal­lenge. I’ll be com­plet­ing the moun­tain-bik­ing leg, we have an ex-Olympian for the kayak and the Euro­pean trail-run­ning cham­pion for the run. We want to win!” El­liott used to freeze dur­ing snow­board races but, as she read­ily ad­mits, with race re­sults no longer the be all and end all, her nerves have thawed. Leav­ing Lon­don’s also cen­tred her chi without sac­ri­fic­ing her ca­reer, the dig­i­tal and on­line ven­tri­cles en­sur­ing she re­mains at the heart of the ur­ban sprawl. The re­mote­ness of Dart­moor sim­ply can’t con­ceal El­liott’s pop­u­lar­ity in the cy­cling com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially fixed-gear and the ‘rene­gade’ world of the mes­sen­ger. Then, right on cue, a screech­ing halts our photo shoot. “Julieetttttttttt,” a flax-on-haired, grin­ning mes­sen­ger harks as he screeches be­side our café in­ter­view. And then, like El­liott storm­ing from the Red Hook start line, he was off.

A B OV E Juliet’s max­imised the com­mer­cial force of so­cial me­dia T O P R IG H T “No cof­fee, please.” Juliet’s been off the black stuff since the start of 2017 R IG H T Be­fore fix­ies took over, Juliet com­peted at a high level in BMX

Some­times it looks like chaos but ev­ery­one fil­ters to­gether with ease LEFT Race- ready: Juliet’s slick Cannondale and FFWD wheels

A B OV E In a past life, Juliet ran her own mag and gui­tared for a rock band

Ac­tion. Art. Ad­ven­ture

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