Jenni Green, founder of Bia Cycling was recently interviewed on the podcast Velo Dulce. by Lisa Steingold We thought we’d give you all a chance to get to know her better and how it was the Bia Cycling came to be.
JenJen, many people don’t know that you actually ran one of South Africa’s BIGGEST single-day sporting events. Tell us more because from what I can see, Bia Cycling started long before you had a hub in Twyford. Tell us about that.
Yes, it was in my previous life:-) So if I go back to the beginning. I actually started cycling in school. I grew up in the generation that grew up riding their BMX bikes outside. I was that kid. I love to be on my bike! I love the freedom. My dad used to ride too.
When I left university I went to do a work-study programme in the States. One of the weekends we had a break, we went off to Yosemite National Park and rented these really old downtrodden mountain bikes. We went down this beautiful mountain pass but then at the end of the day we had to ride back up said pass. Jeepers did we have to battle up that pass. I walked, I cried and I swore to myself I would take up cycling and would never walk up another climb.
And that’s where it all started!
And I begged my dad to ride with me. I learnt the craft and art of cycling and the ethos and ethics from a group of old school gentlemen my dad rode with. From there I got into the cycling industry.
If I look back now, that’s where the Bia concept of the brand started because I learnt alot about myself on that day. I learnt about the power of i about backing yourself and about finding the strength when you need it. Bia started all those years ago.
So you founded Bia Cycling and have created this home for women’s cycling but long before that and long after the US, you ran one of South Africa’s biggest races, the then called 94.7 Cycle Challenge?
I met my now wife back in 2002. She was the race director for the Pick n Pay Cycle Challenge. We got together in 2005 when I was entrenched in the industry through working for Inervit. We figured out we work really well together. She’s been the most incredible mentor for me. We created another separate entity and I wanted to target women and doing women-only events, which we eventually ended up doing.
At that stage, the mountain biking space was really growing as it was a safe space for women to start and with a passion to promote women in cycling, I took over that side of the business by becoming the race director for the mountain biking event. Then Momentum got involved and they had a keen interest in developing women’s cycling and wanted to create a women’s 1:1 UCI ranked event which brings a certain level of competition, which was fabulous. So we were able to fill in alot of those boxes which meant we were able to invite some international women’s teams out and actually create a full highlight package for them and a finishing stage, which was incredibly special for me.
So we did that for 3 years…
Can I just pause you there because I don’t think people grasp the actual magnitude of the event and what you guys were able to pull off?
South Africa is an interesting space because it has a really big cycling sport culture and to this day we lead the way in terms of the biggest timed events in the world, being the Cape Town Cycle Tour and the 947.
In its heyday, the race which was I seem to remember was 2008 where we had 33 000 people. Because we closed the roads and the highways, we could deliver a race where people did their best times. We started the pros first for safety reasons. For most events, it’s a self-seeded event but we seeded people in order to keep people safe.
It settled at about 28 000 for the road race, then about 6000 doing the mountain bike race and 2000 kids doing the kids event so it really was a festival of cycling. It really gave me a wide skillset.
If you have any inkling of 28 000 people and what it must be like to organise traffic officials and sponsors and timing chips and toilets AND all the 28 000 queries, it really is nothing short of astounding! So how from there to Bia?
Myself and Jackie Lange, a former colleague, actually ended up forming another event called the Tour de Femme in order to combine our passions for women’s cycling. We wanted to do something different because we realised that women were looking for something different. Women were looking for different challenges. The first year we did that was at Gondwana Game Reserve which is a Big 5 reserve. We were able to have support vehicles with game rangers following us. My philosophy is that where you’re a stay at home mom or whether you’re a working professional, you need someone to make the decisions for you when you’re away on your bicycle and I believe in five-star pampering. This event was the first official Bia Escapes and so began our focus on women’s cycling.
We ended up selling the Ride Joburg to the Faces Group who were able to give the race the cash injection it needed to take it to the next level. People look at races like these and think it’s just a matter of raking in the cash but actually Tan and I were having to nearly remortgage our home in order to support the event.
Selling the event left us free to really focus on Women’s cycling and our decision to relocate to the UK…