Jessica Strange is a mountain bike journalist, guide, mechanic, outdoor enthusiast and trail runner based in the United Kingdom. In 2015, Jessica launched the website Velo Me, a space dedicated to encouraging more women to step out of their comfort zones and get active with mountain biking. The momentum from this venture gained a great deal of traction online, via social media and in the UK mountain bike community. Additionally, Jessica has worked as a staff writer and Editor at Total Women’s Cycling, a leading online magazine for women, while also contributing to other publications such as Dirt Mountain Bike Magazine. Be sure to check out velome.co.uk to find a list of Jessica’s social media profiles and follow her to keep up with all the mountain bike antics!
Can you tell us a little bit about your background, including what led you to create Velo Me?
I actually started off as an economist working for the UK government, which is totally far from what I’m doing now. Basically, I kind of was working in an office, so, for really long hours and it was a little bit soul destroying for me. I decided to actually move away from that kind of public sector work and took some time out and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so much, so I decided just to try a bunch of new things and try and get some new skills and in that was mountain biking.
But it was mostly to start off as a hobby and I just got really into it. I got more into it when I learned that there weren’t very many women mountain biking in my area. I kind of just started Velo Me as really a blog to kind of talk about mountain biking and about why I like it and reach out to other women in my area and also in the UK who I could speak with. It just grew from there. It was quite a really happy accident, actually.
How long was that transition between the work in finance to being immersed in the mountain biking community and starting the blog?
It was probably about two years. I worked for the government for a few years and then I took about 18 months off. I did some contract and freelance work in that time, but I just wanted to really give myself a bit of breathing space to find something that I was actually passionate about, that I actually enjoyed, and I didn’t realize that mountain biking would go from being a hobby to a career, but basically once my website Velo Me took off that opened up a load more doors where I was getting spoken to by magazines and people wanted to work with me and that actually landed me my first writing job at Women’s Cycling Magazine in the UK. That’s where I started and found my feet and then, yeah. That was five years ago now. Yeah, it’s just gone from strength to strength, really.
At what point did you realize, “I am an influencer.” When was that a-ha moment?
To be honest, I’m not really sure what the definition of influencer is by today’s social media standards. But I think it’s more that whenever I do any product testing or review or personally, I really like writing about health, women’s health and cycling and how to work with, say your menstrual cycle, how to work with the bike, saddle comfort, all of the nitty gritty stuff I really enjoy. I think for me, it’s when I get responses and comments from my readers saying about how I’ve helped them to find a really comfortable saddle or how that they picked up something new that I’ve written and they’ve taken it on board.
Or even if they’ve just seen me wear some like really nice riding clothes, and then they’ve said, “Oh, I’ve got that because they saw you wear it.” Which still actually shocks me because I guess I don’t really see myself as an influencer in that mainstream way, but it’s always really lovely when people do pay attention to the things that you’re putting out there, especially when you’ve helped them in some way. It’s the best feeling, really.
Absolutely. I wish I knew about your resource a couple of years ago when I first got into cycling, because I asked my cycling shop, “What’s the most comfortable saddle?” And they said, “There isn’t one.”
Yeah, that’s true. The hardest thing about saddles is that men’s and women’s anatomy is totally different between each others’ in genders, but also just variation within genders. It’s also things like, for the women, it’s about whether you’ve had children or you’ve not had children. There’s all these angles and kind of distances between your pelvic bones and your sit bones. There’s so much science in it, but it’s one of those things that as soon as you find a saddle that works for you, it completely transforms the way that you ride and how you feel about riding bikes. It’s something that I always tell people to persist with, always just keep trying to find that saddle that works for you.
What is your approach to product reviews? Specifically, how has your approach evolved over the years?
I think for me, I always tried to look at what I want to see from a product review. I’ve watched a lot of product review videos in the past and I’ve read a lot of articles and then sometimes I’m left with questions where I’m thinking, “Well, how did that actually test over a long period of time?” or “How did that jacket come out of the washing machine? Did it come out okay?” I’m always thinking about what I want to learn from product review.
Then with site cycling as well, cycling equipment like helmets and clothing can be really, really expensive. It’s about ensuring that the reader has all the valuable information to them so that they can make an educated decision themselves as to whether they want to invest in something. With the product review side, I have a bit of a template now that I’ve worked on for years where I like to know a bit of history about the company. I like to know how the product came around, who was behind the design stages of the product or features or technical fabrics that they use. Then, of course, the testing which is always the funnest part, which is when you get to go ride your bike and test it out in all different kinds of weather conditions, different trails, terrain, different bikes, even.
After each ride, I make notes as to how I felt about that particular thing or how it fairs up. Then after a few weeks, that’s when I compile all my notes and then I think, “Right. I have to turn all these notes into an article now.”
What advice do you have for new or perspective riders for getting into [the sport]? Where do they even start?
There’s a lot of really great resources on the internet. If you’re looking to say, start mountain biking or road cycling or gravel or track, there’s so many disciplines of cycling as well. There’s a wealth of resources online where even just typing into Google “mountain biking for beginners” will bring up a wealth of guides, but I always find actually there are really good Facebook groups. For example, on Facebook, there’s a group called MTB Chicks and Trails. It’s for women only, but it’s for women all over the world who are into mountain biking. There’s thousands and thousands of women in this group and it’s just a wonderful nurturing group.
If you’ve got a question to say, “I’m buying my first bicycle, I’ve got a thousand pounds or $1000 as my budget, can someone help me?” There’s usually always really friendly people in groups that are willing to help. Yeah, definitely peer review, because I know sometimes the cycling magazines can be full of jargon and they don’t go into as much detail. I know that obviously bike shops can be a bit intimidating because you might think that they’re just trying to sell you stuff that may not be right for you. The internet is the best resource for doing all your research and just for talking to people as well.
Even if you reach out to someone you know who is the cyclist and you ask them and say, “Hey, I like what you’re doing, can you help me out please?”
When it comes to running a mountain biking resource, managing all your social profiles, and everything else that you do, how do you structure your average day so you can still get some quality riding and training in?
Well, at the moment, unfortunately, where I am in Wales, we’re on national lockdown, so I’m actually stuck indoors in the next two weeks. Although we can go out for a bit of exercise, as luck would have it, in Wales is absolutely tipping it down and we’ve just been having thunderstorms, lightning, sideways rain, it’s everything, so I’m not actually doing much right in at the moment. But usually, I have other clients that I work for as well so I do a lot of social media management for cycling brands themselves. My day will usually start by taking care of my clients first and then I switch to Velo Me work in the afternoon.
That will include things like planning what kind of photos I might need for upcoming articles, or if there’s like a social media video that I want to make about some waterproof socks, and I’ve got to plan all that in so that I’ve got enough time to film it, edit it, get the content that I need, and then make sure that it gets up in time. I’d say morning is for my paying clients and afternoon is for my Velo Me work.
What are some of your goals for 2021 as it pertains to your website, social media, and writing and/or running?
Well, I really hope that next year if all things kind of settled down a little bit with the global health crisis, I really want to expand on group guiding work. I do a lot of mountain bike guiding in the Valley where I live. I also work with youth organizations as well, so there’s a couple that are nearby where it’s young females who are in their teenage years and I work with them to help them get into mountain biking, show them around. I really like doing quite a lot of voluntary work with them.
But also for my social accounts, I just want to grow them and also get a little bit more video con content out there as well, and mix it up a little bit. YouTube is something that I do want to grow into as well a little bit. Unfortunately, just because of the way this year has planned out, it hasn’t really gone to plan so far. I’m having to restructure and rethink my plan for YouTube going into next year, but that’s something that I’ll be doing a lot more of.
Note: Influencer Spotlight interviews are edited for time and clarity.