INTERVIEW: HANNAH BARNES
Hannah Barnes is a still relative newcomer to the world of mountain bike racing, but over the last few seasons she's managed to add an impressive number of races and adventures to her resume. From the Enduro World Series to the Trans Provence and the MegaAvalanche, Hannah has kept busy traveling, racing, and exploring the world. We recently caught up with the Scottish rider to learn more about how she ended up being a professional mountain biker and what she has planned for the future.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – how did you first get into mountain biking, and how did you end up as a professional enduro racer?
I mainly got into mountain biking through my younger brother. Joe started riding when he was about 12, but I only started riding when I was 18. I went to some downhill National rounds and World Cups to support Joe, made lots of friends and thought it looked pretty fun…so I got a bike (a Cove Stiffee hardtail) and started to ride. I soon started doing Scottish XC and 10 hour XC races, which I did for a few years during and then after University. For a year I immersed myself in off-road triathlons, focusing on the UK's toughest off-road Tri (the Big Ben Nevis Triathlon) in which I came 5th overall and also set a new female record. Joe was sponsored by Orange Mountain Bikes and MTBcut (now CutMedia), and I asked them if they would sponsor me too and they said yes. So I was able to get my first suspension bike, the Orange Five. I did more and more races, and a variety of events such as cross-country, some downhill races, mass start enduro (Mega, Maxi-Avalanches), 10 hour marathon races, duathlon, triathlon and even some long distance road sportives. I worked as a nurse, whilst gradually doing more and more media, videos, magazine features etc. as well as more racing. I still work as a nurse when I'm at home and definitely want to keep practicing so as to retain my nurse registration. I work on the 'nurse bank', so when there are shifts available I go in and do a few days here and there. I love A&E the most, so I try and stick to working there if I can. It's a perfect balance. You did well at the inaugural Trans Savoie (a six day enduro race) last year. Do you prefer that style of race, or do one or two day races suit you better?
I really enjoy the longer enduro races. I've only done the Trans-Savoie and the Trans-Provence, and I am definitely keen to race more in the future such as Alpac Attack and Yak Attack. One big race a year is enough, I think, as they are expensive and tough mentally and physically with the racing and travel. The BC Bike Race looks awesome, but I hear there's about 2,000 racers so it would be a bit busy and hectic for me. I love the ones with fewer racers as it feels more relaxed and you get to know everyone pretty well by the end of the week. I think these long races probably do suit me better since it's as much about mental strength as physical strength and skill. It's important to be consistent, not break bike or body, sleep/eat/drink/rest well etc. Sleeping in a tent with no proper hot shower means you never feel properly rested either, so riding well with accumulated tiredness and a sore bum is one of the challenges. I love riding and racing trails blind too, it keeps you on your toes and you just have to go for it and read the trail quickly. I've made lots of great friends on these long races, everyone's having an adventure together, helping each other out whilst out on the trails, with bike repairs or if someone has a big crash. When Sven Martin had a big crash miles from anywhere at the T-P a couple of years ago, it was great how all the riders worked so well together to get him airlifted to the Nice hospital. I'm definitely looking forward to more of these races!
Word is you're planning on competing in a solo 24 hour race this fall. What motivated you to sign up for that? You've mentioned that your brother (Canyon rider Joe Barnes) helped get you into mountain biking. Do you get to ride with him very often during the season? What about at races – do you ever discuss the track or line choice together?
To be honest, a big part of me riding the race has to do with it being at home in Fort William. I have always wanted to race a solo 24 hour race, and I have done several 10 hour races in the past, and to do one in my hometown with my family supporting me is a perfect opportunity. My parents have always been amazing support at any endurance races I have done. Having them and my boyfriend John help get me through the long night hours will be awesome! Mum and Dad have had many years themselves of racing (hill running, XC skiing and sailing) so they love being involved with the races and are great to have around. What other activities do you do when you're not out mountain biking?
I love practicing yoga, and I try to do it as often as possible. It's hard finding a place to do yoga whilst traveling around in the van in the summer, but I feel great when I do it. Maybe one day I'll set up a yoga class at the races so people can do use it as race prep/recovery during a race week, that would be cool. I also play the fiddle, I've played since I was about 12 and absolutely love it. Growing up on the west coast of Scotland, and going to University in Glasgow, has been fantastic for being immersed in traditional music, and there is a such a strong music scene and culture. I play at a music session in Glenfinnan House Hotel - a beautiful remote country house surrounded by mountains and sea, it's always a wild night of music and craic in the middle of nowhere. I go through phases of hill running too, I think I got that from my parents. Dad and I used to run a lot together, we did the two day Saunders Mountain Marathon when I was 18, and also the Scottish Islands Race a few times (A 5 man team of 3 sailors, 2 runners, sailing and running for 3 gnarly days). I love reading, wandering around the shops, visiting nice coffee shops, swimming in the sea, exploring new places and seeing the world.
It's great! Although Joe is younger, he got into it first and is an amazing rider and general bike genius. He knows so much about bikes and bike set-up, and he's so patient and encouraging, he's a pretty awesome brother. I don't really ride with him much during actual races, we usually do our own thing, but Joe will always give me good advice on my bike set-up for the race and talk over the tracks. We do ride together when we are at home, and there's a good little scene of great peeps in Fort William. Over the winter you spent a bit of time in New Zealand. What were some of the highlights from that trip?
The whole trip was awesome. It's such a cool place with a great riding scene, chilled vibe and great coffee shops. It was great traveling around in a van and exploring a bit of both islands for the first time. I loved the riding in Rotorua. The trails are fast and flowy, on hard pack dirt, in stunning sub-tropical forests. There are natural hot springs all over the place for a post-ride soak, it's pretty amazing. Nelson was also cool, with some proper big hills and the chance to go on some really epic rides. The Abel Tasman National Park was also completely beautiful, and it was nice to go for a hike in the rainforest and visit some beautiful beaches! I will definitely go back but stay in one place and have a proper base, being in Nelson this winter would be pretty sweet. What do you miss most about your home in Scotland when you're on the road?
There's no place like home - being in your own bed, friends, family, our cat Minnie, playing my fiddle, being able to properly cook and bake… there's lot's of things I love to come home too. I also love Fort William and the Highlands, it's a beautiful part of the world. If only it didn't rain so much, and the midges disappeared, it would be ideal.
The Enduro World Series recently made a stop in Scotland, but based on the results it doesn't look like things went as planned. What happened?
Yeah, it wasn't a very good race for me. Probably my worst ever. That's how it goes sometimes. I don't really know why, I just struggled with the gnarly tracks and just didn't find a good flow and go fast enough. I thought the Day 1 tracks were too hard for an enduro race, especially as the downhill track was a bit of light relief. Lots of people will disagree I'm sure. It was still good times, and it can only get better. You made the switch from Orange to Yeti this season. How's the new bike working? Is there anything about your bike set up that you're especially picky about?
Before moving to Yeti, I'd only ever ridden an Orange, so I was really excited for the change and stepping on a new bike was great. The bike felt awesome from the word go, it just felt right and I instantly loved it! My dad, brother, and my boyfriend all helped out with building my SB66c. I'm still pretty hands-on during the build process, so I set it up how I like it during the build, then on the first few rides I'll tweak a few things. Once the initial set-up is done, I don't tend to change much after that. I generally like to leave my bike the same all season once I get a setup I like. Obviously I will change tires according to track conditions, and to a lesser extent suspension settings too, but as a rule I like to keep things the same. What type of training do you to to prepare for race season? Have you been surprised by the fitness level that other athletes are reaching?
I ride cross country, ride my trail bike, do some intervals, gym, yoga, swimming and some running. I'm not really surprised by the fitness levels of other riders, most people take racing very seriously and are really motivated to get fitter and faster each year so I'd be more surprised if people weren't mega fit. I'm motivated and work hard to improve my racing, but also just want to have fun on my bike and explore new places and trails all over the world. Racing is just a small part of riding bikes for me. I absolutely love racing but it's not everything. As long as I'm strong, fit and healthy and can ride, I'm happy. Do you have any heroes (cycling or not) that you look to for motivation or inspiration?
In mountain biking Tracy Moseley is very inspiring as she totally dominates and works really hard, but mainly is just really really nice, which makes her all-round awesome. My brother Joe is also very inspiring as I see how hard he works all the time, no matter what the weather he's out getting amongst it. He's also hilarious and I love his random film sketches. Ellen MacArthur is inspiring for her gnarly single handed sailing race adventures and record breaking. Beryl Smeeton is amazing, she's an all round adventure woman who died in the 1980's. After reading 'High Endeavours - the Extraordinary Lives and Adventures of Miles and Beryl Smeeton', I was so inspired to have an adventurous life just like theirs. One day I want to ride a horse across South America, and sail around the world. I suppose people who give me motivation/inspiration are more lifestyle/adventure orientated as opposed to training/racing. What does the rest of your season look like? Is there any event in particular you're looking forward to?
I am racing the Enduro World Series, a few events at home such as the Tour De Ben Nevis and the Solo 24 Hour World Champs, and some other enduros such as the Bluegrass Enduro in Sicily and the last Scottish Enduro Series. I've been feeling a lack of adventure as this year I'm only doing events I've done previously, so I'm really keen to race 'Rumble in the Jungle' in Sri Lanka in October. The only thing putting me off is the snakes and spiders. It would be awesome to go to such a cool place and do a multi-day xc marathon race. I'm sure it will be hot, sweaty, fairly unpleasant long days, but incredibly beautiful and a great adventure in a part of world I have never been before. Do you see yourself continuing to concentrate on enduro racing for the next few seasons, or do you have other plans in the works?
I don't really have a set plan. I'll definitely do more enduro racing over the next few years, I absolutely love it. I'm not challenging for podiums on a World level, but I'm definitely getting faster and feeling more at home on my bike, and having a great time doing these awesome races. As well as enduro, I can see myself getting into adventure racing in the future, and doing a few more obscure mountain bike events. It's good to focus on one thing such as the EWS, but on the other hand I also think that there's lots of sweet things to do in life so it's good to do a bit of everything and pack it in. I'm keen to not have race seasons too similar to one another and risk them all blending into one. It would have been cool if I'd started riding younger than 19, but then I probably wouldn't have lived in Alaska and trained sled dogs, crewed in Open 40 racing yacht's in Caribbean Regatta's, etc... Packing in a variety of races and adventures is what I love! Are there any sponsors you'd like to thank?
All of them! Thank you so much to Silverfish, Yeti, Bluegrass, MET, Shimano, Fox suspension, Five Ten, Oakley, E*Thirteen, SDG, MuckyNutz, Raceface, Schwalbe and Vanguard Conversions for the incredible support.www.hannahbarnes.co.uk