Her life sounds like a mountain bikers dream. Based in legendary landscape of New Zealand during the European winter season, she returns to the northern hemisphere in the summer to race, ride and guide. Accompanied by her husband, professional photographer Sven Martin, she’s racing the Enduro World Series for Juliana Bicycles.
We caught up with her at the launch of the beautiful new Juliana Roubion, a bike that was created for Anka to ride the EWS and the TransProvence races on, to get the lowdown on what mountain biking means to her.
In the beginning…
Sven used to be a pro skater back in the day, so I used to just watch him skateboard and wait for him to finish. That was pretty much what my weekends consisted of; waiting for him to be done with what he was passionate about, not really having my own thing, and I just got sick of it.
I lived in Huntington Beach in California at the time so I got a hard tail to ride along the boardwalk. Then slowly I saw little paths that veered off the track, and I took them. I was like ‘Oh! You can go off-road!’
Fashion was my thing, my passion. I kinda threw all that away, and got a job in a bike shop, and started racing.
One day I met an English girl on one of these dirt trails, Maxine Irving. She used to be one of the top UK downhill racers back in the day. She became my good friend and mentor, taught me everything I knew, and I started going with her to the local mountain, Big Bear.
Every weekend the car would pull up with a bunch of guys and I’d hop in and we’d head to Big Bear for the weekend. Sven would be like ‘Where do you keep going with all these random dudes? What are you doing up in the mountains?’
It took him about a year to actually come with us and see what were doing, and then he got into biking too. It just snowballed from there, and pretty much took over our lives.
I used to be a clothing buyer, and fashion was my thing, my passion. I also worked in the advertising world as a graphic designer for many years. I kinda threw all that away, and got a job in a bike shop, and started racing.
From Downhiller to Enduro Queen
I raced downhill for about 12 years, doing the NORBA series in the US and some World Cups – I never did a whole world cup series – and some World Championships.
But I wasn’t competitive enough to be a proper racer. When the beeps start going you do your best and race as hard as you can. But I’m not like ‘Yeah, I’m going to slay those other girls! I’m going to smash them today!’
Over time, I got bored going to the same venues every year, traveling to these amazing places and never riding any other trails. Like you go for a week to a race, and if you added up all the time you actually ride your bike it’s like only 20 minutes. The runs are so short!
I wasn’t completely in love with it any more.
So when I turned 30, my goal was to do this big race in South Africa called the Cape Epic. I’d never done anything like that before, but I loved it!
It made me fall in love with Mountain biking all over again. I loved the people, I loved the vibe. It wasn’t so serious and it was super-fun.
We were also still coming to Europe and doing some of the smaller enduro races in France. They intrigued me because it was a way to get to ride an area or a region, explore new places, if you didn’t know where to go.
It made me fall in love with Mountain biking all over again. I loved the people, I loved the vibe. It wasn’t so serious and it was super-fun. But again, after a few more years I was almost ready to be done with it; I felt I’d achieved my personal goals.
Then the whole enduro thing became really popular. Companies and sponsors were like ‘Oh this is cool, do you want to do that?’ and I was like ‘well, I’ve been doing it for like the last five or six years!’ and no one was interested then. It was quite ironic; I had to giggle. This was the support I’d been hoping for and wanting for the past 15 years, and now it comes when I’m almost ready to stop!
But it would have been silly of me not to go with it because I still love it. It’s just great to actually have support now and interest for companies that want you to go to these events and promote their products and inspire other people to ride.
Women and Enduro Racing
I still enjoy the racing side of it, but I’m more and more wanting to move away from that to do guiding and adventure trips and film projects, and get some nice women’s video clips out there.
I think it’s a great discipline for women. It’s not as intimidating as downhill, it’s social, you can do it with a friend, you don’t have to have a super-high end bike, you don’t have to have a downhill bike. You can try it out on whatever kind of bike. It's fun. I think it’s going to steal a lot of women away from downhill, and why not!
I think older women have a bit of an advantage, and that’s quite cool!
Lots of the top female racers like Tracy Moseley and Anne Caro are moving into Enduro. And the other thing with those girls is that they are the older girls. The races are tough and to make it through a whole weekend you’ve got to be mentally strong. I think that will get you further than being super fit. You have to know how to pace yourself; you have to be a little bit smarter about racing. You can’t just bomb every race run. You’ve got to think ahead, look after your bike and your body.
I think older women have a bit of an advantage, and that’s quite cool! You don’t get that in too many disciplines. They’re almost mentoring the younger girls that are getting into it. It takes a while to get to that stage.
Feeling the love for Tweedlove
I’m really excited about riding Scotland! The Scottish people are such warm, friendly people. I think that’s going to be quite a social event, because we’ll be doing long liaisons, so we’ll ending up breaking into groups. We’ll be doing a lot more pedalling.
We just talk about random stuff when we ride on liaisons. Usually we won’t have seen each other since the last event, so it’ll be things like ‘what have you been doing since Chile?’ or ‘how was your run?’ or ‘what are we going to eat for lunch?’ It’s the time to catch up.
Riding for Juliana Bicycles
I’d been racing Santa Cruz bikes for many years, and I always just felt they were rad bikes. I liked representing the brand because they were cool.
Then Juliana came along, and I was a bit sceptical initially, because of what women’s brands had been like before. What if it’s kind of too girly? But they’ve done an amazing job.
The bikes are good, they didn’t change the bikes. But they’ve created this separate identity. They’re selling a lifestyle more than a bike with high end specs, so they’ve got great content and photos and video where women watch it and they see the bike. But more than just that, they see these images and say I wanna go there, I wanna see that, I wanna do that! It’s more of an emotional connection.
For me, it’s really refreshing for a brand to support you in something that you love.
What does the Future hold?
One thing that I do regret is that I just put my fashion skills aside, but it's not too late. Now seems like a good time to get back into it. I worked with SDG last year on my saddle, which has a bird design I did based on a Waka waka. That was a really fun project.
I’m in a strange period, the weird shift from racing to where I’m in more of an ambassador role, helping young girls who are getting into it and helping them develop the skills to race. And working with companies to develop fun stuff for girls.
I just want to ride my bike, and if I can get to the race and get a top ten, then I’ll be happy.
I just want to ride my bike, and if I can get to the race and get a top ten, then I’ll be happy. I don’t want to go to a gym any more, I don’t want to strap on heart rate monitors, or stop drinking red wine or eating chocolate. I used to do all that stuff for downhill. Now if I can ride by bike and have fun on it and do okay in races, I’m happy with that.
I have a mini goal for this year, which I’ll probably jinx myself by saying, but I won the Andes Pacifico, so I’d love to win the Trans Provence too.
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We've got many more articles featuring Anka Martin on Total Women's Cycling
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Cover image copyright Gary Perkin