One-on-One with Bella Biccicletta
1. What is Bella Biccicletta
Bella Bicicletta is an annual bike event hosted on Vancouver Island where 100 women set out to ride 100 km along the west coast shoreline of the Comox Valley.
The event was created in 2014 by dear friends, Gillian Clayton & Kelly Mackenzie, who wanted an excuse to ride together & find a few other women to join them. In 5 years, the event has grown and more importantly, the community of women cyclist on Vancouver Island has strengthened.
2. Describe yourselves briefly.
Gillian : I’m a mom of two energetic boys, an Ironman Canada 2012 Champion, and a road runner trying out some new roots in ultra trail running. I’m also a tea and cookie enthusiast, and brunch is my favourite meal :)
Kelly : I am an exercise physiologist who specializes in working with those with chronic health conditions. I’ve been an avid cyclist all my life (mostly road & track) and I love helping others find ways to improve health through activity. I love a post-ride beer with friends and like Gillian, think brunch is absolutely the best part of a weekend!
2. When/how did you discover the joy of riding?
Gillian : I started riding as a way to cross train for running marathons as daily impact can be harsh on your body. Then I realized how far I could get on a bike and I was hooked. But of course, I grew up riding bikes, especially mountain biking - and probably have always taken for granted how amazing our forests and land are for riding.
Kelly : I started cycling at a young age as a means of transportation! Early in university, I got into competitive road & then track cycling and spent years riding around in circles! Now, living on the coast of Vancouver Island, I get to spend my time riding through forests & along ocean shorelines! It’s pretty great!
3. Why do you use Strava?
Gillian : I only recently joined Strava this year when I was getting a little more serious about logging my training. I feared being too much of a data nerd but now I really like its features - and I’m probably just on the tip of the iceberg of figuring it all out. But the planned route functions, share-ability and connectedness of Strava are super cool.
Kelly : I love sharing route ideas with other cyclists & discovering new-to-me roads. Strava is also a nice way to acknowledge someone’s efforts – the “kudo” is like giving someone a pat on the back! It has also been very helpful in connecting our cycling community of Bellas so they can get out & ride together.
4. What are you most proud of as a cyclist, what is your biggest accomplishment?
Gillian : As cyclist, I am most proud of my Ironman Canada race where I basically redlined 180km to catch up to the women’s leaders in the race. That was hard and I thought, impossible for my body, until I did it. I think my larger community accomplishment however is in co-organizing the Bella Bicicletta with Kelly. That has an impact far more important than my own personal achievements. But, both are important.
Kelly : The success of Bella Bicicletta! Five years ago, our idea was to see if we could get a handful of women together for a ride. Now, we have to cap the ride at 100 women & we sell out in hours. For me, the success piece of Bella is not how popular it is, though. It is moreso that we have helped build a community of female cyclists. Every year, we have such a diverse group of women show up at the start line: competitive athletes, recreational riders, inspired newbies and ranging in age from 20s to 70s. The best part is everyone is there cheering the group & celebrating achievements. Friendships are made. It is pretty special.
5. Did cycling teach you a lesson? If so, what is it?
Gillian : Cycling has taught me a lot about my freedom as a human being in our wonderful country. I can go to so many amazing places, while respecting our earth and being a role model to others as well. It’s also reminded me that it is such an important tool for young people, especially girls, to push limits, be brave, work hard, and get great rewards.
Kelly : The hardest lesson I had to learn on the bike was how to fall in love with it again. After 4 leg surgeries, my fitness suffered & my competitive spark had fizzled out. I was scared to get back on the bike & find out exactly how much I had lost. It was both a physical & mental battle, but eventually I set my bike computer aside & rode for fun with no comparisons to previous performance. This took the pressure off and finally, I was able to ride freely & learn to push new goals! The bike taught me to not be so hard on myself and to enjoy the freedom cycling can offer! And it taught me to celebrate what my body can do!
6. What are your projects for 2020?
June 23rd, 2019 was our 5th Bella Bicicletta - and now we’re on summer vacation! We are always trying to reach out and connect, and build our community’s cycling scene for women and girls. We would like to do more development for youth as we know that gaps occur later in life because girls drop out of sports in their teen years & rarely return to activities later in life. Breaking this trend can have positive life-long impact. This will definitely become a 2020 and beyond project!
7. What motivates you to always keep going forward?
Gillian : Which other way is there to go? Ha! I love setting new fitness goals and challenges - life is messy and not linear and I think we all have our ups and downs sorting that out. So now, especially as a mother, workouts are a treat for me! It’s my time, my expression of self, and the instant reward of how good you feel as your training progresses is so rewarding.
Kelly : The pure joy of seeing our Bellas realize their potentials & experiencing the support of 99 other women is pure magic. It is what keeps me coming back year after year to offer this event. The connections that I, and others, have made are priceless. Plus, Gillian & I do our best planning over brunch, so that also keeps us both engaged!
8. What advice would you give to a girl who wants to set herself goals and challenges in 2019?
Gillian : Do it! Don’t second guess yourself. Pick something ambitious. Don’t be afraid to mess it up a little along the way - that’s the stuff that adversity and strength are built upon. If you don’t have anyone to come along with you, do it anyways and soon they might follow you. Be a leader. Don’t look back. I never thought I’d get where I got in sports - but I liked the process and I kept plugging away and eventually, some good things happened.
Kelly : Dream big. But also dream small. Yes, the big goals are important but never lose sight of the smaller accomplishments that happen along the way. Celebrate those more! And 100% have fun along the way. Challenges should be hard, but they also need to be rewarding and make you smile.
9. Why did you want to be a PEPPERMINT ambassador?
We really like PEPPERMINT’s women led approach. We love that it represents Canada on the world stage of women’s cycling apparel. We think the work they are doing to build community across the country should be applauded and we found it really heart-warming that they would want to support our little (well, not so little) ride. PEPPERMINT’s values aligned so closely to ours that we wanted to showcase them to all our western Canada Bellas ! We are so appreciative of PEPPERMINT’s support of our event.
PS: We love that the fabrics are amazing and the designs are strong and vibrant.
10. What is you favourite PEPPERMINT product?
Gillian : I have a wave jersey and the classic green bin shorts and I love them both. I have my eye on a long sleeve jersey as my next purchase. There are so many amazing products I couldn’t list everything I want ;)
Kelly : Oh, so hard! I do love the look & feel of a complete kit (& I have a few!) but the short sleeve jerseys are so luxurious and are so fun! They are the winner for me. But since I can’t choose a pattern that I love the most, I keep ordering more!
11. What crazy idea would you suggest to PEPPERMINT?
Oooh, we love crazy ideas – that’s how we got started with Bella Bicicletta. We can come up with a few!
- Set up a Bikefest on Vancouver Island!
- Start a national cycling initiative for women!
- Create larger sizes so more beautiful women can look awesome on their bikes!
- Create a children’s line so we can help promote girls on bikes & provide the feeling of being connected to a group of PEPPERMINT women across the country!