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Bikes, Bantz and Belly Laughs
Words // Aneela McKenna
Photos // Finley Anderson
What makes a women’s ride out so different from any other ride? We laugh as much as we ride. We don’t take ourselves seriously and we all love the connection through sharing our lived experiences. This is what the FNY Collective is all about - a womens MTB charity that I co-founded back in 2018 with my close friend Emma Neale.
Long before it was officially constituted as a charity, the FNY Collective’s mission was clear: to increase women’s participation in mountain biking whilst creating a fun and inclusive environment where women could be the best version of themselves within what was a predominantly male domain - mountain biking. This was our vision right from the start. It’s still at the core of everything we do as a charity and the FNY Collective enjoys seeing a growing collective of badass women join us from all over the UK.
I look back and think about how my own riding has progressed through the connections I have made with other women who love to ride mountain bikes. When I started riding, it was mostly with my husband Andy (who introduced me to it) and his mates. There were very few women on the trails back then (in the late 90s). My only female riding buddy was Shona Carnegie, the other half of Willy - Andy’s best pal and riding buddy. Shona, like me, had been introduced to the trails by her partner and thrown straight in at the deep end. We would always be at the back either petrified or laughing until our bellies hurt, constantly trying to keep up with Andy and Willy and the wild mountain rides they used to take us on
These memories will always stick with me, but it was only when I moved to the Tweed Valley in the Scottish Borders that I met a few more women who I began to ride regularly with. Now, with the skills/knowledge I’d gained from Andy - I felt able to share with other women and encourage more women to get out on the trails. Feeding off the buzz of other women’s progression, I undertook my professional MTB leader qualifications in 2016, one of the scariest things I have ever done, knowing I would be the only woman on the course and afraid that my ability wouldn't match those of the men in the group. I had serious imposter syndrome at the time. I was so pleased when I found out I had passed and celebrated way more than when I got my university degree!! With that, I was eager to use my skills to get more women onto the trails, and to create an environment that gave them the self-confidence to ride more technical terrain in a way they felt safe, included and not judged.
That’s when ‘Afternoon tea at the Golfy’ was born: a combination of techy fun trails followed by posh afternoon tea with a herd of muddy female mountain bikers of all ages and skill levels. The ‘golfie’ is an infamous trail-riddled hill in the Tweed Valley (adjacent to the local golf course…surprise, surprise!) with over 40 km of hand-built trail and ridden in world class events like the Enduro World Series. Its reputation is huge and I was nervous about no one turning up but you have to give things a go sometimes otherwise you’ll never know. Fifteen apprehensive women signed up to the first one, then twenty, then thirty and so this confirmed to me that there was a need to provide a space like this for women’s mountain biking (and cakes, scones and tea of course!).
That’s when Emma and our pal Zoe stepped in and we got together in my kitchen one evening and said ‘let's do something BIG’ that brings women together to celebrate our love of mountain bikes. There were lots of racing events at the time but so few women were competing and there wasn't really a place where the women’s MTB community could come together. Our vision was to create something fun, non-competitive, that would be welcoming to riders with a range of abilities. That’s when we came up with the ‘Fanny Hunt*’ - a treasure hunt in the forest on bikes. Over 80 women joined us all in fancy dress looking for clues all around the forest. It was quite the spectacle for other riders!
With no experience of organising large scale bike events, the three of us couldn’t quite believe what we had achieved. From all the positive feedback received from participants we knew we had to do it all over again the following year. With myself, Emma, Julie and Suzi now sharing the reins, the Fanny Hunt celebrated five years in 2022, where we saw 100 riders taking part in this glorious celebration of the awesomeness of mountain biking and sisterhood, all supported by more than 20 incredible volunteers and with mega support from Juliana, local business and brands who just love what we do. We could not be prouder and I’m getting a little misty-eyed as I tap out this blog.
The Fanny Hunt is more than an event. The FNY Collective is more than an event organiser. We’re now the only women’s MTB charity in Scotland. We run regular bike events, coaching, winter fitness programmes, dig days and guided rides. With over 300 female participants in the last year attending our events, we’ve created a strong community where women feel they belong and have the space to grow, feel nurtured and connected.
The best thing about FNY’s evolution for me is to see women expand their MTB horizons by being a part of the FNY Collective - whether that's to race, head out and do epic multiday rides, or, just find the joy of riding mountain bikes with a new group of friends. It’s incredible to see the increasingly high standard of women riders in the Valley - that's largely down to having so many other female role models and an inclusive, encouraging culture to share what’s achievable.
Our growth has been a huge success but there’s more to be done. As we continue to bring more women into our tribe we need more professional MTB leaders and coaches. ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. Women make up only 22% of all mountain bike leaders in Scotland. This is slowly improving, however, it is nowhere near the number of women represented in the UK population. This is why in 2022 we made it our mission to grow more leaders and were awarded funding to develop our very own leadership programme to qualify six more women as British Cycling MTB leaders. More female leaders means more women riding and means more women joining our tribe from all over the country.
When you look back at the FNY Collective, it’s gone from steady growth to a huge spike in the last two years. This has all been down to the desire for and from others to be a part of the FNY crew - it’s contagious. Our motto is ‘Bikes, Bantz and Belly Laughs’ and if we can make people feel good about themselves through riding bikes, we’re doing our job.
Words on screen can only tell a small part of the story - so watch this little edit of our most recent Fanny Hunt at Glentress, November 2022 instead.
And wherever you are, come join us next year. Save the date - October 28 & 29, 2023 - for the next Hunt!!
*fanny: West of Scotland slang for crew/buddies/amigos