Juliet Elliott’s a Red Hook Crit regular with a story to tell. Meet the former model and snowboard professional whose powers of persuasion match her pedalling prowess.
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“I raced up here once,” says the fixed-gear star of Park Street in Bristol, the 200m, 10 per cent ascent whose finish line is the neo-Gothic Wills Memorial Building. “It’s nice, Bristol. If I was to live somewhere less remote, I’d like to live here.”
Elliott races everywhere. She’s a part-time athlete with a full-time race calendar, who also blogs, runs her own website, is a mountain-biking coach, writes and represents numerous high-profile brands.
Derbyshire-born Elliott has big ambitions for 2017 – a year in which she’s already raced in Brooklyn (29 April) and will head to London (22 July), Barcelona (2 September) and Milan (14 October) for all four rounds of the fast, furious and fixed Red Hook series, in search of top-10 overall in the series [a feat achieved by Brit Keira McVitty in 2016, who finished a superb fourth].
“I’ll also race the Rad Race Fixed42,” Elliot adds. The unofficial fixed gear world championships in Berlin are coming up soon, on 18 June. She’ll further satiate her competitive appetite with a myriad of non-fixed cycling races.
But there are more strings to Elliott’s bow than just racing. Elliott’s Instagram account verges on 26,000 – sizeable in the world of fixed gear – attracting the likes of Assos, Vans and Fox. Until this year, she also rode for Charge, the archetypal singlespeedsters.
In search of freedom
Her charming and vibrant personality – Elliott’s words-per-minute rate matches her fixed-gear cadence max of 150rpm – has projected her as a figurehead for empowering women, and seen her rack up a truly eclectic CV that lists model, professional snowboarder, top BMX racer, mountain biker… and member of a rock band. In Elliott’s world, if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room. So where does this adventure-seeker currently reside?
“I’ve caught the train from Abbotskerswell,” Elliott replies. Abbotskerswell. You heard of Abbotskerswell? We thought not. This historic town is the gateway to Dartmoor, Devon, with a small population of less than 2,000. Wikipedia describes the village as being "surrounded by fields". It’s an incongruously genteel backdrop for a rider who’s known for generating extreme power outputs around the banging inner-city crit Red Hook circuit.
“My husband, Dave [Noakes], and I were bike messengers in London," Elliott says of her life before 'Kerswell. "I was a messenger for 18 months and apparently that means you’re not a proper bike messenger. That requires three winters. Those are the general messenger rules... It’s a nice scene, like a big renegade community."
“Between us we earned a reasonable amount of money but were still skint. At the weekends, we escaped the city to BMX and realised we just couldn’t afford to make use of all the cool stuff London has to offer. So we thought sod it, we’re outdoors people, let’s move to Cornwall…”
…Which didn’t happen. Noakes, who’s also a photographer, headed to the north coast of Kernow, driving through their rose-tinted dreams to a reconnaissance mission shrouded in wet and grey. “The houses we could afford were just bleak. But on the way home, Dave had a shoot with BMX dirt jumper Kye Forte, who lived in Newton Abbot [near Abbotskerswell]. Dave told Kye about our situation – we had one week left on our London rental – and Kye said why not move down there. We’d know at least one person. So Dave called me from the hotel he was staying at and I said, 'why not!'”
Actually, that bunny hops the one caveat Elliott had – that the BMX trails, which she spent most of her free hours on, were suitable. “'Were they Proline?’ I asked Dave, hoping that they weren’t. Dave said I‘d love them but, when I checked them out, they were huge,” Elliott elevates her tone to match the steepness of the jumps. “Thankfully I found some smaller ones.”
Projecting a strong image
Elliott’s being modest – she’s an acclaimed BMX rider, but the past few years have seen her focus on MTB and fixed-gear. When she’s based at home, of course. If you’re one of her online followers, in the past few months you’d have seen her tattooed torso riding with Noakes in Playa de Maspalomas, tackling Gran Canaria’s brutal climbs and competing L’Etape Australia.
“I was also invited by Polartec to attend a Gran Canaria training camp with Alberto Contador before Christmas, which was amazing. Unfortunately, I fell out of shape because I spent much of 2016 injured with back problems and a broken thumb from an enduro race. That’s why I returned this year – I had unfinished business.”
It all sounds like one rather delightful cycling holiday but this really is business, providing furtive ground for her website Bikes & Stuff, as well as giving her sponsors exposure. She ticks many commercial boxes: attractive, edgy and – as we discovered on our photo shoot – open to most things. She’s also an incredible trackstander, regularly ticking off 60sec static efforts on our shoot. Elliott knows the power of projecting a strong self-image and has done for many years.
“At 20, I used to snowboard professionally. It’s similar to what I do in cycling – to attract good-quality editorial coverage for brands. There are many ways and platforms to achieve that now but back then – we’re talking around 2000-2001 – it was predominantly good magazine features you were after, and to do that you had to compete. I had to race the European Open, Triple Crown Championships, and alongside that I’d also be filmed and shot…”
A rather exhilarating life. Unfortunately, too exhilarating. “The problem was, I really didn’t enjoy competitions at all. They stressed me out. I even went to a hypnotherapist to sort out my freaky mind. I guess it was a panic attack and I just couldn’t do it.” Elliott’s suffering on the slopes eased on returning to her London home, but that Alpine anxiety soon catwalked back into her life. “I used to model,” Elliott says. “I didn’t really want to.”
Elliott might not have wanted to, but London agency Select did.“My friend worked for Select and they kept scouting me when we’d go for a drink. I’d say I’m not interested. But she said she’d receive a signing bonus if I signed up. And I didn’t really have to do anything. So I agreed.”
As did the tifosi. Elliott had ‘the look’ and soon enraptured the attention of fashionistas based in mainland Europe. “I ‘covered’ three times on Italian Vogue. When I first saw the cover, I was actually away with friends on a snowboarding trip in Europe. We’d been bumming around in a van, rocked up to this town and milled around this huge newsstand. And there I was – 'Oh my godddd, lookkkkk'. It was pretty cool, I can’t deny it.”
Elliott wasn’t your typical model. Goggle marks often encircled her brown eyes and, as she does to this day, she cut her own hair. While her contemporaries dressed in Gucci, Elliott wore skater gear. “But the real problem I had was the skinniness, especially as I regarded myself as an athlete. It was the time of grunge and waifs. I had a 24-inch waist; I was really small. But the agency – sorry Select but you did – gave you shit about your weight, albeit in the nicest possible way. They’d say, ‘Keep an eye on your weight, you’re looking a bit…’ and then tail off. I was trying to fuel myself for snowboarding and felt uber-sensitive about food and weight. I didn’t like it.”
Thankfully, models in 2017 are, as Elliott says, more athletic. But Elliott’s love of food – baking in particular – is apparent. Food and plenty of it is one of the greatest reasons to participate in sport, with smoked mackerel stir-fry and Noakes’ tuna pasta, featuring the salty duo of capers and olives, two savoury go-tos. Chef Noakes' carrot cake’s also a favourite, edging it over the orange and polenta slice that Elliott consumes during our interview.
So Elliott’s brief modelling career finished, followed soon after by the curtailment of her professional snowboarding career. “Growing up, I taught myself how to play the guitar. An old friend of mine started a band and needed a guitarist. I was back in London after the latest snowboarding season and joined up, went on tour and then missed the following winter season. That’s when I realised my heart just wasn’t in snowboarding any more.”
The band? Panic DHH – an industrial punk outfit. You might not have heard of them but over in Germany, they matched (well, nearly) David Hasselhoff in the popularity stakes. “We played a lot of squats in Germany, which were great venues. The local council would hand over these buildings to individuals who would transform them into these beautiful, cultural, artistic places…”
My industrial-punk education’s abruptly interrupted by an elderly, healthy grey-haired gentleman wandering the Bristol streets. “Were you on the train?” he asks Juliet. “I was,” she replies. “What’s that frame?” he wonders. “A sprayed-black Cannondale. The wheels are gorgeous, aren’t they?” “The whole thing looks amazing.” And then the charming old gent disappears, educated and impressed. Bike porn clearly appeals to all ages.
“The biggest gig I ever played was for the Lightning Seeds,” Elliot continues, returning to topic. “I was a session player and Ian Broudie hired me for his tour. We played that famous football song [Football’s Coming Home] to 20,000 people. I wondered how an England football song would go down with the German fans, but they loved it.”
Edgy Elliott and the saccharine-sweet melodies of The Seeds is seemingly a match made in hell, and Elliott concedes "he wasn’t that much fun." “Too professional,” I jest? “Well, we’d be drunken idiots and annoy him. I think I must have a short attention span.”
Short but intensely focused. A short spell in PR followed her music career – “I didn’t like it because you’re always begging for something” – and then Elliott launched a magazine. “It was called Coven,” she says. “As you noticed in the car, I applied make-up for the shoot. But it doesn’t mean I want to read about make-up. I want to read about inspiring women, whether it’s adventurers, sports-women or artists. I knew the people at Albion magazine and followed a similar look.”
Most magazines adhere to a similar staffing model: publisher, editorial and commercial. Not Elliott – she did it all, from teaching herself desktop publishing via YouTube to writing and marketing. But, as is endemic in the publishing industry, Elliott struggled to attract sufficient advertising. “It was a shame because it received a lot of praise but, sadly, after two years I closed Coven. I still feel there’s a market for it but decided that I’d prefer to spend those long hours on the bike instead of at the desk.”
And bike she does, for upwards of 10 hours a week, much of it in the rural idyll of Dartmoor that harks back to her childhood in the village of Hathersage in the Peak District. Elliott now looks back with fondness at the serene and idyllic Derbyshire village but, as a teenager, not even the annual scarecrow-building competition provided excitement. “It’s a lovely place but I just wanted to escape. I went to school in Sheffield but, for whatever reason, the school didn’t encourage me to go to their sixth-form. That gave me an excuse to convince my parents to let me move to London at 16.”
Cue her eclectic lifestyle of the past 20 years. Elliott’s still intent on seeking new adventures but, in 2017, there’s a degree more formality to Elliott’s life. Whisper it, but that formality stretches to Elliott’s training. Yes, we said ‘training’. “Two years ago, I wrote a blog for Brooks [saddles] where I said training sucks and it makes cycling less fun – I just want to cycle for fun.
“Then I entered Red Hook for the first time and this guy on Twitter, James Scott, offered to train me for a month. I thought sod it, why not… and discovered that it didn’t make cycling less fun but that I actually thrived on it. So I’ve carried it on, albeit I now write my own training plan, sitting down on a Sunday evening to pencil in the following week’s rides.”
Elliott now trains by power, regularly races on Zwift and even implements recovery days, albeit reluctantly. Clearly the passion remains but is tempered by pragmatism. This consistency of training is why Elliott’s 2017 race calendar is packed and – not surprisingly for an individual for whom variety isn’t just the spice of life, it’s the oxygen, fuel and life force – ventures far from the fixed-gear crowd.
“For the first time I’m having a go at road racing... I’m nervous about it because I’m suited to crits, which require high power, so I'm unused to endurance. That said, my husband and I are also training for the Ride Across Britain in September and Revolve24 the same month. It’s a 24-hour relay around Silverstone. And then there’s a multi-discipline race in Sweden called Are Extreme Challenge. I’ll be completing the mountain biking leg, we have an ex-Olympian for the kayak and the European trail-running champion for the run. We want to win!”
Elliott used to freeze during snowboard races but, as she readily admits, with race results no longer the be all and end all, her nerves have thawed. Leaving London’s also centred her chi without sacrificing her career – the digital and online ventricles ensuring she remains at the heart of the urban sprawl. The remoteness of Dartmoor simply can’t conceal Elliott’s popularity in the cycling community, especially fixed-gear and the "renegade" world of the messenger.
Then, right on cue, a screeching halts our photo shoot. “Julieetttttttttt,” a flaxon-haired, grinning messenger harks as he screeches beside our café interview. And then, like Elliott storming from the Red Hook start line, he was off.