World Class


Acclaimed mountain biker Lee Craigie is a serious contender at this year’s Commonwealth Games.

Back in 2009, Richard Rowe interviewed women’s cross country mountain bike champion Lee Craigie. Read how she got started in the sport and how she began helping socially-excluded children through cycling.

I started to ride mountain bikes as a way to escape school and would often ride in the Campsies with male friends. We normally skipped French. I regret that a bit now.

My Dad [rifle shooting], Mum [squash] and sister [rugby] have all represented Scotland in different sports. Although there is no real pressure from them, there is an underlying competitive thing – particularly amongst the women in the family. It spurs me on.

I moved to Edinburgh in my early-twenties just as Glentress [the mountain bike trail centre] opened. That’s where I really got the bug.

It wasn’t until I moved to Inverness that I entered my first race. It was in the ‘fun’ category, but I beat the times of all the women riding in the sport category.

After that, I thought I could do well at the sport, although knew there would be a lot of hard graft. The technical side of my riding was good, plus I had a competitive streak and the necessary screw loose not to fear the downhills.

lee-squareThe fear thing is funny, because I get freaked out when doing other things like rock climbing. There is a lot of ‘what if?’, but there is none of that on a bike. You don’t have time to think about it.

Being a top rider is 80% in the head. You must be very determined and focused but also keep a level head to retain some kind of balance. It is easy to get obsessive compulsive about training and I probably did during the early days.

Competing at the top level is about fractions. There are times when you start to doubt yourself and the race is gone.

There have been moments in races where I have thought ‘oh look, a chanterelle mushroom’ when I really should have been concentrating.
The season runs from March to September. This year, I rode in the Scottish series which sees seven races in different locations around the country. For elite riders a race usually involves four laps of what is generally a seven-kilometre course.

The British series of races is another step up, although I don’t ride in many of those because of the expense of entering and travelling down south. Although Square Wheels Cycles in Strathpeffer have been very good to me over the past three years, I now have a new sponsor [TORQ/Kona] which will be able to invest in me more next year.

lee-peakThe more you ride, the more you realise it is psychological. There is so much to explore on that side while, physiologically, it can take female endurance athletes 10 years to reach their peak, so I still have a way to go.

I’m quite a powerful rider, with good technical ability. A lot of elite riders who come from the road racing side of the sport leave me behind on the long straights, but I do well on the short sprint up hills and technical descents.

In Scotland, there is a small core of female riders at elite level and then a bit of a gap. However, we do have a pool of impressive young riders coming through that are being mentored. We really need to try and keep them in the sport.

I do labouring when I need cash to compete in races. I am helping someone convert a garage into a bakery at the moment.

In December, I head to the Sierra Nevadas in Spain for winter training. I built a yurt last year and will take that to live in while I help a friend with his guiding work. For me, winter training involves a lot of road riding to really get the miles in before doing more off-road power stuff when I get back home.
I don’t want to be away too long as there are other projects on the go. I trained as a child and adolescent psychotherapist and have just started a venture called Cycletherapy working with socially-excluded children.

Cycling can engage people in so many different ways, from just learning to ride to trail-building, bike mechanics, or improving body image and confidence. Exercise has an emotion-regulating effect and it can really help build a child’s confidence when they find they are good at something.


The feeling I get after doing well in a race is like no other: it’s intense and addictive, but also very self-indulgent. Working with young people provides much more substance than anything I can achieve personally.

Being on a bike is about freedom – that feeling when you are out on a big hill, completely in control of your movement and charged by the elements. If I ever stop feeling that when racing it will be time to stop.

This article first appeared in the winter 2009 edition of Scotland Outdoors magazine.

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