Here’s another new face for you, courtesy of Cycle Aware Wellington’s meet-and-greet series. Meet Ash.
Cool Bike Person #3: Ash Burgess
Before I met Ash Burgess, I’d heard her described as a sparkplug, champagne personified, and a smiley face on wheels. Thus, she was an easy target at the café, smiling and waving in a bright Christmas vest from a sea of monochrome coffee drinkers. She’s a woman equally prepared to launch into animated stories in quiet places as little endeavors that turn big. She’s a very energetic half of the original ride guides who ultimately formed the Revolve cycle club; although I haven’t yet met her guide partner—Marjolein—I have the sense that their combined enthusiasm for cycling would probably register on the Richter scale.
If you’re a female cyclist in Wellington, you’ve probably already heard of Revolve. You may not have gone for a ride yet (Ash would say, “we’re always waiting for you!”) but you’ve thought about it. The women of Revolve ride every Saturday—some on the dirt and some on the road. The weekly rides started almost three years ago with some gentle match-making by the guys at On Yer Bike. Nigel Welch, the owner of the shop, wanted to spur a community of cyclists. He knew Ash and he knew Marjolein and he’d talked highly of each to the other but the women didn’t meet until they squared off at the start line of the Screaming O mountain bike race in March 2009. Ash recalls her flash of joy in seeing another woman at the line: “It was rare, you know, to see another girl out there.” That the joy didn’t sour as she watched her future friend and ride partner fly away from her speaks to Ash’s character. She’s in it for the fun; it’s cool if others are speedier.
The group rides from On Yer Bike started only a couple months later—in May 2009. They’ve been free from the start. Nigel had provided a list of interested women to Ash and Marjolein but with no other promotion, they anticipated a small group for their first ride. Instead, they found 25 women waiting for them. The following week, despite the crap weather of an early winter, there were 25 more. All through the grey season, between 15 and 30 riders made it for the Saturday morning rides. Jazzed to find so much dedication among their riders, Ash and Marjolein responded to any and all requests for help. They trained their riders for Taupo, they offered skill building, maintenance workshops and then, to appease their own passion, they started leading trail rides. The group eventually evolved into Revolve and women who want to give group riding a spin can join with the assurance that “no one gets left behind.”
Ash’s description of Revolve’s progress into the Wellington bike scene mirrors her own personal journey with the group: from an initial curiosity that answered a quiet but strong demand came a steep learning curve that forced both Revolve and Ash to constantly question the motivation behind them. They want beginners to feel welcome but they want to support established racers as well. To guarantee a good time for both, they’re training more ride leaders and reaching out to the uninitiated. Ash believes the best thing about Revolve is that it thrashed “the barriers to bicycling commonly perceived by women—it was free, you didn’t have to know anyone to join, and we push confidence on everyone.” Revolve now has about 140 members and 850 on their email list. In May 2011, it transitioned into a formal club with non-profit status in order to incorporate more of the community in its decisions and its activities. (Speaking of activities… if you’re looking for new friends, seriously, word on the street is that Revolve is like a gift-wrapped box of cool peeps.)
If the euphemism about animated stories wasn’t obvious enough, Ash is another displaced American. She may be, well, a teensy bit louder than most. (I can declare this loudly because I’m just as loud and American though I suspect anyone can declare this without really offending anyone.) On Ash, it’s charming and contagious. She made me laugh and chat and laugh again. She came to New Zealand initially as a university student. She’d fallen in love with mountain biking in the hills around Flagstaff, Arizona where she attended Northern Arizona University. She studied for a semester in Christchurch, and despite its flatter aspects, she was hooked. She moved back to New Zealand after graduation. She was lonely on her bike at first, but that’s all changed in the last few years. For now, she’s here to stay and she’s got a huge pack of friends and riders who likely support that decision strongly.
As a bike champion, Ash is one of those subtle marketers. She’s not going to tell you that you need to permanently lose your car keys. She will, however, find other ways to encourage integration of your bike into daily routines. To those intrepid Saturday morning riders ready to ride to Eastbourne or around the Bays, she’ll simply say, “you can ride to the ride” instead of driving and parking. Or, at the end of the ride, she might suggest that everyone consider riding for errands during the week. “I don’t like to force anyone,” she says. “I don’t like guilt. I like potential. I like things to stick because it feels good.” For new riders, she recommends getting involved with groups and cycle skills clinics like En-Velo. She loves the idea of the Bike Buddy scheme because it’s one-on-one tuition from a normal commuter familiar with the route. “You can’t do better for learning the road conditions,” she says, but she also believes that a new commute should always be auditioned in quiet times. “Don’t jump into the morning traffic on your first go. You won’t like it.” To women considering mountain biking, she cautions, “maybe don’t choose your partner to take you out. Try Revolve first unless you know your partner is going to be very patient with you.”
Does she like helmets? “They are compulsory,” she hedged. She admitted that she’d prefer not to wear one on her way to the dairy or for quiet rides along the waterfront (she still does, however, because “it’s the law!”) but for rides in congested areas or any road or trail rides, it’s not even a question. “You got to protect your head.” And what to wear? “Wear what you want. Lycra gear can be more comfy for your bits.”
She couldn’t make up her mind on her favorite Wellington rides. “I like a small trip in Mount Vic, or up to the Wind Turbine so I can pop back to the city for a beer– all down hill to the pub!– or a cruise around the waterfront. I can be different people on my bike depending on my mood.” The common identifier between the cast of characters on her bikes (a Stumpjumper, a Schwinn Breeze named Greta the Green Machine and a road bike) is a genuine sweetness and compassion for everyone sharing their space with her. “If you ride on the footpath, you can scare pedestrians. Ride with cars and share that environment. Smile and wave.” Sure, she’s yelled at drivers but she “felt incredibly stupid afterward.” She believes “people are nice if my manner is good.”
In the new year, Ash is starting up a mountain bike tour company called Bike Wellington. She’ll offer half- and full day trips as well as samplers of the amazing trails around the region. “I’m not doing it to make money,” she says. “I’m doing it to show people around. I love it.” She’s also working on a youth mountain bike camp and mountain bike skills clinic and has recently finalized several educational mountain biking manuals to meet the NZQA standards for bike leading. Sheesh! Busy girl, but still smiling and waving.
So nice to meet you Ash!