Get inspired to Ride: Meet H+I Adventures
Do you find yourself longing to go on riding adventures and keen to explore new roads or trails?
Looking for inspiration for the year ahead be it with a friend or on your own?
Having met Catherine Shearer, co-founder of mountain bike adventure company H+I Adventures at the Developing Mountain Biking for Scotland conference, we met up so she could share with me her inspirational journey from city life to cycling industry entrepreneur. Now Catherine combines her career with her passion, running a globally recognised guiding business from the Scottish Highlands with her husband Euan.
Over a coffee, we shared animated conversation about our favourite topic - riding bikes - as well as reflect on the development of mountain biking in Scotland, the growth of women’s cycling and participation as well as why Scotland is one to add to the tick list for cycle tourism.
You started H+I Adventures 10 years ago. What was it that made you decide to change your career path and move to the Highlands to run a guiding company?
We found ourselves leaving Glasgow every weekend – venturing to the Cairngorms or the Trossachs to ride our bikes and get away from city life. After a while, we wondered why we were spending so much of our time driving and not riding! One of our trip to the Cairngorms sparked the idea to move to the mountains in the north. Despite never having been there before, we decided on Inverness and set about applying for jobs as a way to start the journey. We chose our location first, then took time to decide on how to build a business around what we loved to do.
I’d come into mountain biking through my involvement in the 7 Stanes Project and had worked in tourism briefly, so I knew there were opportunities building around mountain bike holidays. At the time, the concept was in its infancy and there was little by way of competition either. With no one offering mountain bike tours specifically, we thought “we can do this” and thinking it would be easy, set out to form H+I Adventures. Of course, it’s not always easy; it’s much harder than you think and it’s a skilled niche too, but if you knew it all the beginning you might never do it at all.
Can you tell me more about H+I and where you ride?
We began 10 years ago when there was no one offering mountain bike guiding trips in Scotland. Even to this day, it’s a cottage industry and mountain biking within adventure tourism is even smaller. We started just with trips in the Highlands and for a moment thought about expanding into other areas of adventure – but this is what we’re passionate about – so we wanted to specialise. At first we just went out to explore our local area and find exciting, inspirational routes to offer riders.
Progressively, we wanted to expand the depth of what we offered, so the natural step was to move into other countries. As part of a trade association we met with providers in Mexico and Nepal and so from there we now offer various tours all over the world. Doing so is a huge amount of work – entrusting your brand to other people is hard but we’ve got a fantastic network of partners around the world that truly understand what we're about and what we offer riders.
Often there are a huge mix of nationalities that join us on trips. They come from North America, New Zealand, Australia as well Scandinavia – it’s a great mix of people from all over the world. At base, we're really lucky to have our office right on the doorstep to some of the best local trails in the area, so lunchtimes always allow for a quick ride out and a break from office life.
My experience in the past as a female rider has been the desire to explore places by bike but I often found it hard to get others to come along – be it because of money, work or riding style.
It’s great to hear you have a large percentage of women that book on your trips. What is it that you think appeals to them and what advice would you give to other women thinking about a solo adventure holiday?
Yes, last year 40% of riders were female – which is a high number considering we don’t specifically market to women and we don’t offer female only tours. We don’t yet have a female guide and we feel we’d need this to complete the circle for a female only trip, but we do try to make sure the look and feel isn’t too aggressive or masculine. Not everyone is looking for female only either. The idea for us is to appeal to everyone and that’s proven to work. The guides do prefer women to be in the group though to balance the dynamic as it helps to temper the testosterone!
In terms of advice what we say to anyone is that it’s not a race; the purpose is to ride in this amazing place and enjoy the unique discovery of the area from the perspective of your bike. Coming on a tour you tend to find everyone is likeminded and you will find someone in the group you get along with. Our guides are the lynchpin and make sure everyone is looked after and enjoying the trip. Ultimately, it’s relaxed and not just about time in the saddle, but the enjoyment of the whole experience - be it local food, scenery, culture and taking time for photos.
We do get women coming on their own too so I’d say do it. Try it out and there will be others in the same position. It’s understandable to have reservations about being a solo traveller but you form great friendships with people and can find you’re even more likely to get to know others. For this reason, we don’t offer single day trips as relationships are a huge part of the takeaway – coming to the end of a trip and having shared the experience is key.
Scotland is a place with huge development within the mountain biking world and notable female riders like Hannah Barnes and Katy Winton are a great representation. How have you seen it change and for anyone thinking of making the trip over and what’s your must-do ride?
Scotland has developed a lot since we began and has become a real must-do destination for all kinds of riding. Between DMIS and the list of world renowned riders, Scotland has found itself a definitive place on the map. This is a concerted effort from organisations all over though. The trails are also improving and there’s a huge community of riders who also want to look after the trails as well as ride them. As a growing sport, it’s proven to bring increasing amounts of money into the economy as well – more so than walking and hiking, according to recent DMIS reports.
As a route to ride – the must-do is the Coast to Coast. As a concept, for so many countries this would be either impossible or just phenomenally epic, such as Canada or the USA. The experience itself is incredible as the C2C is the most technically challenging route that we run within country and equally very remote. Part of the excitement of Scotland is the unpredictable nature of the weather and all that the Highland’s might throw at you within a week. This all adds to the memories and sense of achievement! There’s a good balance of fitness and technical ability so we find it’s a great leveller for a group too.
What’s your most memorable trip and where would you like to go next?
Possibly Croatia, as we’re looking to balance out the number of intermediate trips with the number of more challenging destinations already on offer. I love travelling and taking my bike to different places so it’s about trying to fit that in as well as develop the business. That’s always the balance business owners try to strike. As we continue to grow, I’ll get more time to get out and ride!
Women’s cycling is seeing huge progression in terms of numbers participating and the range of products on offer – what’s your perspective?
There’s much more choice! When I first began riding there was a limited number of women’s specific bikes and products in general. Mostly, it was pastel colours and choice was thin on the ground. Ranges are far better now, although I’m still trying to find a brand I really like. Sizing can still be a problem even within brands though – a small in one style might be different to a small in another style from the same company.
Bikes are much better as well. Not all bikes are a female specific geometry – so at least there is the choice depending on whether you feel you want to go for a women’s fit or simply have the same frame as the men, but with a different set of components or tuning. Overall, the industry is beginning to wake up to the fact that women ride just as much and in the same way as men. More often I’m seeing bike brands use marketing to show women riding as technically as the guys, rather than just at entry level. Just look at how many incredible female riders there are now – it’s good to see more of them getting the profile they deserve.
Find out more about H+I Adventures here.
Photos: H+I adventures and Ross Bell Photography.
About Catriona Sutherland
Catriona is an avid mountain biker from the UK, favouring endurance events. She has competed in various 24 hour, marathon and stage mountain bike races around the world including the Joberg2c, Epic Israel and the Strathpuffer. Currently working as freelance marketing consultant, mountain bike guide and serial adventurer, Catriona is happiest riding her bike, drinking coffee and planning her next trip!
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