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Photo credit: Etienne van Rensburg.

How did you get into riding?

I got my first bike when I was 19 which is quite old to get your first bike. My brother who is a year and a half younger was already racing downhill and doing the World Cups. I would go to the races to cheer him on and I thought that it looked so fun. Downhill didn’t really appeal to me though, as it didn’t give you much time actually on the bike. I was more interested in the fitness side and whizzing around the woods. So I got a hardtail and started racing cross-country.

How did you progress to the riding you do now?

I was always really competitive and loved racing - I raced sailing dinghies before. Once I started riding, racing was the natural thing to do. I started with a 10 hours race and not knowing any better I rode in ordinary meshed shorts, no padding or chamois cream. You can imagine how I felt at the end, I definitely learnt the hard way! I then did some cross country races and adventure races after that.

I spent a couple of years on the Scottish cross country commonwealth team. I always felt a bit out of place with the school kids and parents, as I was at university at the time. There was no funding or support, and I realised that it was costing me a lot of money and I wasn’t even enjoying it. I just wanted to train and ride and be fit for myself, go and do whatever races I fancied doing, and go off on adventures.

After that I started looking for fun events to do over the weekends, as I was working as a nurse during the week. I always looked to the Alps and mass start enduros like the Megavalanche. This was before the Enduro World Series and Enduro had become as big as it is now. My brother was sponsored by Orange at the time, I tried my luck and asked for a bike and they amazingly said yes!

I headed off to France in my van and raced and rode all over the Alps that Summer. The next year Orange gave me some financial support which was amazing. I was working as a nurse, studying a couple of Unscheduled Care modules, and also training and racing. It was a lot to take on and looking back I’m not sure how I fitted it all in! I then spent a year riding for Silverfish UK, the distributer for Yeti bikes. That was a great stepping stone and another action packed year.

Then Gavin Noble from Specialized Bicycles sent me a Facebook message which I scanned over in the airport. I quickly read it and assumed it was a bike shop offering me a deal on a Specialized bike. A week later I read it properly, and couldn’t believe it was from Global Marketing. And here we are now!

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Photo credit: Etienne van Rensburg.

Do you do much nursing now or are you full time with Specialized?

I’m a full time rider with Specialized. I still do a bit of work in the Hospital and Health Centre to keep my hours and skills up so that I can maintain my nurse registration. I also really enjoy it and I’m really pleased that I went to study nursing before my riding career took off, it’s a great thing to have.

With your mix of international racing and trail riding, you’ve managed to turn what every mountain biker wants to do on their time off into a job. How did you manage that?

It is amazing being able to race and travel with the team, but without the pressure and expectation to win and get certain results. When I initially started talking with Specialized, I wanted to make sure that they had the right person. I was a bit worried that I wasn’t the right type of rider to fit their image, as historically they only have world class podium athletes and seem to be very corporate. With Matt Hunter and the Coastal Crew being solidly part of the brand for a while now, that shows a different side and that they clearly value a lot of different things in people and riders, which is great! I’ve also learnt that although a big company, there is very much a family feel and everyone is incredible nice and welcoming. I didn’t want to be under pressure to perform or end up disappointing anyone, but they are happy with my approach to riding and really wanted to add that aspect to their women’s brand. It worked out amazingly and I absolutely love how things are going at the moment. It’s a great company to be part of and I’m loving every minute.

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Photo credit: Etienne van Rensburg.

Do you think you got the timing right for this sort of endorsement?

Definitely. These days you can have one bike to ride pretty much anything, making the mountain biking lifestyle and racing way more accessible to people.

The rise of online and social media have also helped riders connect and raise their profile. Coming to South Africa for example, I don’t necessarily have to contact a magazine and plan to publish some pictures from a trip that happened months ago to get it out there. It’s always current and easy to connect with social media platforms. Not only do you get to share amazing professional photos, you also get to share more everyday aspects. It’s often less formal and more personal and I find that a lot more interesting. It’s still great to have print magazines, and there’s a place for both. They definitely complement each other.

You are a Fort William local. What is the riding like there?

Most people know Fort William for the downhill track, which I’ve only ridden a handful of times. The World Cup cross country has been held there too, so the trails are pretty well developed. My brother and other local riders have also built loads of trails in the woods, mostly steep, rooty and techy ones! It is a lot different to South Africa, which seems to be more flat out, fast and flowy. Riding in Stellenbosch I had to get used to getting up to speed on the fast open stuff!

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Photo credit: Etienne van Rensburg.

Do you ride with your brother (Joe Barnes) much?

Not really, even though he lives really close. We’re both pretty busy and have different schedules and ideas of what we want to ride, he is also very quiet and just gets on with his own thing. Joe will usually do turbo then ride steep mud ruts with the boys, and gym work. I’ll usually go for a longer trail ride, a run, some yoga. He is just happy to quietly get on with his own thing, so I leave him to do his training, then just go round for a cup of tea and a catch up!

What is your take on the Enduro World Series?

I think it is awesome and it has grown hugely in the three years it has been running. Each year it becomes a bigger and slicker run operation, with more and more riders keen to race, and in incredible world wide locations. I’m loving racing them and it is really cool to have been part of it since the start.

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What was your favourite EWS event last year?

I loved Ireland last year. Great weather, lush green grass and sunny, bluebells everywhere, crazy enthusiastic crowds, great trails, perfect organisation, and it was a one day race which I really like.

Do Specialized support you at EWS events?

Yes, which is amazing. This year it will be Jared Graves, Curtis Keene and myself. It makes a huge difference having a team helping you to focus on the riding, and also having great people to travel and share it all with. Paddy, the team mechanic and manager, is amazing at getting the job done and such good fun.

How handy are you with your own mechanical work?

I can keep my bike rolling and do the basics. My brother used to be a bike shop mechanic and he used to keep an eye on my bike. Now having Specialized’s support my bikes are always running perfectly which is a dream!

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Where have you ridden in South Africa and how have you enjoyed it so far?

We’ve spent most of our time in the Jonkershoek Valley, focussing on a handful of trails there for our Destination Trail video. This is actually my fourth time to South Africa but only my second time with a bike. I love the riding here, flowy, dusty and fun!

Are you picky with the way you like your bike setup?

No more so than anyone else I don’t think, but I definitely know how I like it and spend a bit of time getting a new bike to feel just right.

I rode the 650b Enduro last year and I’ve been riding the Rhyme this year. I think that the Enduro can often be overkill for most of the riding I do and I can get away with a smaller bike. I think I’ll ride the Rhyme this year except for some of the more technical gnarlier events such as Whistler.

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Photo credit: Etienne van Rensburg.

How many bikes do you have?

I have an Era, Fate and Rhyme, all women specific mountain bikes. I also have an Amira women's road bike. I’ll get an Enduro later in the year too. All of my bikes are amazing to ride and don’t take any adapting or getting used to, so it’s really easy to go between bikes depending on the ride or race. I feel very lucky to ride such awesome bikes!

Are you mostly a free agent with your riding schedule?

Within reason, yes. I talk with Specialized at the start of the year about what I’d like to do, and we make it work for us both. The Enduro World Series is great but I also enjoy doing random events in between. I’m really excited about the Yak Attack in Nepal later this year, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for years and will be a proper adventure!

So would you consider something like the Absa Cape Epic?

Yes definitely, the heat would be tough but it’s firmly on my bucket list!

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Photo credit: Etienne van Rensburg.

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