From competitive to carefree: Van Life with Charlotte Batty
Interview by Addie Levinsky | Photos by Charlotte Batty
“I’ve always been an adventure seeker, but I wouldn’t really label myself as adventurous ‘adventurous’ until I actually gave up racing."
As the youngest of four, Charlotte Batty grew up riding bikes and chasing around her three older siblings around their small town cattle farm. Those carefree childish rides evolved into a lifetime of competitive cycling for all four Batty kids. After fifteen years of racing and watching women’s cycling evolve, mountain biking became a lifestyle - not just a hobby. She started Minii Adventures, an awesome mix of advocacy, skill, and more which “provides positive and educational mountain bike experiences for people looking to gain the skills or confidence they need to have more fun on the bike”.
Over the last year, Charlotte set out on a new adventure after grappling with the absence of racing. From a life chasing start lines, she decided to start chasing trail through life on the road. You’ve probably seen and/or fantasized about the latest adventure craze: #VanLife.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Charlotte on her way back to an Canada. We waxed poetic about van life, commiserated about juggling the dueling personalities of bike racer and adventure seeker, and she talked about all of the amazing ways she is working to get more women on bikes (and helping them gain confidence to huck the gnar!)
This is a little lengthy, but I encourage anyone interested in mountain biking, living on the road, and simply chasing their passion to read on and learn from Charlotte!
PDF: You recently hung up the wheels after a lifetime of racing - how did you cope with the change?
CB: It was actually the best decision I made with my cycling career, followed by taking six months off over the winter...and basically becoming a couch potato and hanging out with my friends. The next spring arrived and I realized that I had a giant hole in my life, something was missing.
PDF: So were you ready to get back into mountain biking after those six months?
CB: Well, the owner of Trek Toronto, Barry Near, happened to be launching the local version of the Trek Women, and offered me a position to help run it... he wouldn’t let me just disappear from the scene all together. It was this opportunity that got me back on the bike, BUT six months off were the most critical decision. I think anyone that is deciding to get out of racing needs to take time and just be ‘their’ person for a bit (whatever that is). It’s a great way to come back to the bike, if you choose to, and find which path that will take you down.
PDF: That’s great advice. Going from bike racer to “normal” person and then deciding to live in a van is a pretty big jump. What made you leave your hometown to hit the road?
CB: Let’s call it a quarter-life crisis. The idea of this trip spawned just before my 25th birthday. I have been mountain biking almost my whole life, and a new trail bike purchase last year left me falling in love all over again with the sport. There had been a few big changes in my life recently that seemed to leave me feeling unfulfilled. I thought ‘why not just take a break and spend time doing what I love the most?’.
PDF: That’s the way to do it. Most people freak out about getting married and having kids by 25, but I think soul searching and chasing singletrack is a much better way to answer the inevitable quarter-life crisis. What kind of planning took place?
CB: Well, originally I was going to live out of a tent, and my car. Then a friend mentioned checking out the ‘Van Life’ trend, because it just so happens my parents had a 15-passenger van that was sitting idle. I did some homework, worked out the numbers, and decided I was going hit the road for three months on a solo soul searching trail adventure with my mountain bike.
PDF: Did you ever feel the freedom from living on the road when you were racing mountain bikes? In my experience, being a mountain bike racer is synonymous to road life (ahem, or dirt bag life…) but there is still a lot of structure that goes into racing.
CB: Hitting the road was ultimate freedom. Living in a small space, such as a van, everything has to have its place, and clutter just can’t exist. It gets very overwhelming, and easy to lose things, when your ~80 sq.ft. of living space looks like the aftermath of a tsunami. That said, it also helped me relax and just go with the flow when my travel or riding plans didn’t quite go as planned, like if the weather didn’t cooperate.
PDF: It definitely feels like life on the road is just another quirky subculture, do you think it takes a special type of person to live in a van? I mean, it definitely takes a special type of person to continually huck themselves off huge jumps, suffer up long climbs, and get lost in the woods (but we also wouldn’t have it any other way…)
CB: It’s not a lifestyle for everyone, but I definitely thrived in it after a couple weeks of playing Tetris with the van layout and getting settled in. There is no cookie-cutter layout or plan, it just has to be what feels right and works for you.
PDF: Mountain bike advocacy has been a big part of your life for a long time. Your involvement clearly didn’t happen overnight, can you talk about your approach and provide advice for those interested in becoming more involved with the sport?
CB: Being an advocate for women’s cycling is not for everyone - it takes years of passion, involvement and commitment to the sport, to then turn around and naturally promote that to others. I have taken the steps to be able to teach women how to ride their bikes better, and with Minii Adventures, given them the opportunity/platform to learn, practice and create community and friendships through that.
I have worked with and shadowed many other professional mountain bike instructors, as well as, completed various instructing and guiding courses. The PMBI (Professional Mountain Bike Instructor) program was definitely the best. It is also recognized world wide. This really brought some new insight as to how I can help teach women how to learn and grow their skills and maneuvers on the bike.
-Once a rider has learned the particular skill needed to achieve a feature, we then use progression to keep developing the skill and their riding experience.
-For any feature, either big or small, I like women to take a peek at the line they want to ride through the feature, select an ‘A & B Marker’ (the A Marker is where they are looking at to set them up on the line they want to ride, and the B Marker is where they are looking beyond the feature to keep their heads and eyes pointed in the direction of success past the feature).
-Get them attempting it without them dwelling on it (this leads to overthinking and then they often talk themselves out of attempting it).
-I offer the weekly group ride, as well as private instruction, because some women thrive in a social atmosphere, and others prefer to be a bit more solo at their approach. Either way, it’s all about baby steps, and keeping it fun and encouraging!