Originally hailing from the Scottish Highlands, mother-of-two and registered nurse Kirsteen Masson discovered cycling when her husband John encouraged her to register for the Townsville to Cairns Bike Ride six years ago. Since then she’s saddled-up for rides all over Australia (up to 2,600km) and Europe, using it as a way to travel, raise money for health-based charities, and meet countless inspirational people whose own illnesses and tragedies have never stopped them. While Kirsteen wishes she discovered cycling earlier, we chat about her action-packed journey so far.
“There were some fairly memorable climbs during that 2,600km ride and a 260km day where we got hit by a storm, lashed by rain and hail, and then smashed by the worst headwind ever”
What do you love about cycling? Cycling can be a social or an individual activity and it’s good to go places! I’ve used it to travel, raise money for charity and stay motivated. You meet some very special people who keep you grounded and focused.
How did you discover it? I’ve always liked trail riding, particularly when I lived on the east coast of Scotland. Road cycling was something I was encouraged to do by my husband John, who tried for a long time to get me to participate in the Townsville to Cairns Bike Ride, which I finally did in 2009 and loved it. I started in the Platypus group (20-25km/h) and we got promoted to a 25-30km/h group the following year! I have been riding in the 30-35km/h group, the Emus, since then. This ride has seen me go on to do many other long-distance events including Banish the Black Dog, Smiling for Smiddy (twice) and the four-day Poppy ride in Europe.
What’s your greatest achievement on wheels? Probably completing the Smiling for Smiddy 7:7 ride in October last year. There were some fairly memorable climbs during that 2,600km ride and a 260km day where we got hit by a storm, lashed by rain and hail, and then smashed by the worst headwind ever.
“It was topped off by riding around the Arc de Triomphe with NO traffic as they closed the road… they only do it for the Tour de France and the Poppy ride”
What are some moments you’ll never forget? Well, there are a couple that are hard to beat: The two Smiling for Smiddy events I have participated in, which involved cycling Brisbane to Townsville in 2013 and Melbourne to Brisbane via Canberra and Sydney last year. Also cycling from London to Paris with the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Ride, where we travelled through some fantastic scenery, was pretty unforgettable; but it was topped off by riding around the Arc de Triomphe with NO traffic as they closed the road prior to the laying of wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They only do it for the Tour de France and the Poppy ride. It was a very moving service to say the least. Out of the saddle would be summiting Mt Meru and then Mt Kilimanjaro with my eldest daughter [aged 16] about 12 months ago: It was truly a memorable moment for us both.
What other activities do you do besides riding? I really like walking – my parents always encouraged us to get out and about. We used to do family walks in the Scottish Highlands where I grew up which was great, particularly in summer when it was light until 10pm or later depending how far north. I’ve also recently done a Boxercise class with my eldest daughter, which is something new, I do Pilates once a week and I do a weekly session on the turbo trainer at Cycle de Vie – it’s always gruelling, but fun (did I just say that?).
“Do I wish I had started cycling years ago? Of course I do, but what’s the point of looking back we’re not going that way – unless it’s an awesome view!”
Have you always been active? I’ve had my moments! Certainly moving to Australia nearly 20 years ago has seen that change for the better. I probably whinged about all that hill-walking with my parents as a child, but I think it did lay the foundations for adventures later on in life, like hiking the Grand Canyon in a day and climbing Kilimanjaro.
What’s your favourite thing to do on a weekend in Townsville? Get out on the road and cycle, plus also go for a walk with my family including the four-legged ones on The Strand.
What activity have you always wanted to try (and what’s holding you back)? Triathlon: Let’s just say I’m not a runner or a swimmer. The only thing holding me back is me!!
What’s something we don’t know about you? I was going to marry [Scottish musician and singer-songwriter] Midge Ure… someone forgot to tell him though.
What’s your next goal? I’d love to do some mountain biking, but it’s a matter of finding the time at the moment! Last Monday – after years of contemplation – I finally took the plunge and signed up for my Nepal trek… and then the devastating earthquake and avalanche happened. It’s so sad for Nepal as they rely on tourism so much. Our group leader is confident we can still go in September and make it to the school to help out. It’s a terrible tragedy, but we’re more determined than ever to go now.
Most embarrassing moment on wheels? Probably falling off my bike some years ago at the traffic lights in town when I thought no one was around. Track standing looks so easy when other people do it…
What rider(s) do you look up to locally and further afield? Anna Meares is an inspiration but then we have some great role models here in Townsville like Tony Mills and Ruth Corset. I really admire how Ruth has managed to run a business, have a family and compete in a sport at such a high level despite the gender inequalities.
What’s your advice for newbies and those doing the TCBR or BTBD for the first time this year? If you’re doing an organised charity make sure you train for the event in the training rides: Base kilometres on the saddle will make your trip a whole lot more comfortable! If you are in a nominated speed group you should be able to sit a few kms/hr over their top speed to ensure you are going to make the distances really comfortably (that’s a tip my first ever group leader on the TCBR ride, Jill Piggott, shared – wise words). Also do consecutive days in your training: Many of us can do a 100km ride, but can you do it a few days in a row?
Make sure you cover the basics: Get your bike serviced (including checking your tyre wear), and remember your spare tubes, cleats and even a spare tyre. Get good knicks – everyone has their own preference, but quality knicks will make things better – honest!
Remember to eat and drink: Good nutrition and hydration are invaluable. Have one water bottle and one electrolyte. There are many brands to choose from so it’s personal choice. Use these on your training rides, not for the first time on the day of the event, just in case your choice doesn’t agree with you!
Listen to your group leader: They are experienced riders who have an onerous task of getting you in safe and sound. Make sure you are ‘bunch savvy’. If you are training on your own and not used to riding with others this can be daunting for you and those around you. If you have a group ride prior to your event, get in on the action: Maybe your group has a specific rotation method or no rotation at all.
Practise hills: Get used to your gears and selecting them for hills so you don’t drop your chain or break it grinding in the wrong gear going up hill. What goes up must come down! For most people new to cycling, going up hill is one thing, but coming down is another skill entirely. Ask some experienced riders for some descent tips, particularly with braking in wet weather. Here are some tips from British Olympic cyclist Emma Pooley about how to overcome the fear of descending.
Finally; enjoy your ride – make new friends and memories!
Last words? Thanks to my fellow riders who I have cycled with over the years and more recently. There have been so many inspirational people whose own illnesses and tragedies have never stopped them from achieving their fitness goals, like the soldier I met on the London to Paris Poppy Ride who had lost his leg in combat or the cancer survivors I have ridden with, and people with visual and physical impairments participating in charity rides because its a cause they believe in. It’s not about how fast they go or how good they look; it’s about their own journey and how they get there. Do I wish I had started cycling years ago? Of course I do, but what’s the point of looking back we’re not going that way – unless it’s an awesome view!
If you’re doing the Townsville to Cairns Bike Ride or the Banish the Black Dog Ride, have a look at the training ride schedules. There’s still time to sign up! Otherwise, find a regular bunch ride that best suits your ability. Either approach the bike shops directly or visit Townsville Bunch Rides on Facebook. Top Brand Ladies’ Group leaves from Top Brand Cycles every Wednesday at 5.30am.