‘Mauvey’ worn by Emily Chappell

Photography by Agnes Lloyd-Platt  |  Art Direction by Eve Izaak | Interview by George Tyson
Emily wears the Rapha + Liberty Cap featuring the ‘Mauvey’ print

An ex-cycle courier and recent participant in the Transcontinental Race, Emily Chappell has likely spent more time on the bike than most. From humble beginnings as a commuter in London, her thirst for long-distance riding has taken her around the world, and she doesn’t seem satisfied yet.

Tell us about how you started cycling
Shortly after I moved to London, I decided to start cycling to work because the tube was so excruciating. Before long, I was spending all my spare time on the bike. I then found a job as a cycle courier. Admittedly I’m now an ex-courier, but it has only been nine months – I don’t think the bug ever really leaves you once you get it. We’ll see. I’ve actually written a book about my time as a courier, which will be coming out in January.

You took part in the Transcontinental Race this year
I pulled out on day eight [over half way through the 4,000km+ race across Europe, from Belgium to Turkey], after suffering mysterious chest pains. I was fine, but it meant I didn’t finish. I was the last solo woman standing. It’s a bit of a blur, and a lot of strange stuff happened. One of the most surreal moments was riding up Mont Ventoux. I felt completely alone, and then I saw this guy standing by the side of the road. I shouted: ‘Are you OK?’ And he replied: ‘Yes, I’m from German radio – do you mind if I ask you some questions?’ I was still riding, and he kind of jogged along side me and interviewed me in the dark, on the way up a mountain. I was almost finished at this point. It was the end of day three, and the tank really felt empty. But here I was, climbing out of the saddle having a conversation. He ran out of breath and dropped back, leaving me to carry on.

Looking at the list of participants, there didn’t appear to be many female names in the race
You were definitely noticed more as a woman. All the male names look the same, so with only one or two female names there, people became attached to watching the tracker online. It was comforting having people behind me, but I did feel scrutinized. There were a couple of times where I was doing something silly like taking a stupid route through the mountains, and I knew people were watching and thinking, ‘what is she doing.’ It’s nice to get home, turn the tracker off, and go back to obscurity.

Cycle courier to Transcontinental racer is quite a leap
I think it’s quite a logical step, actually. You spend the whole day on the bike as a courier. Rain or shine, whether you’re feeling good or bad, happy or sad – you always have to be out there. Touring is more of the same. You spend all day on the bike, and go through all kinds of stuff. I suppose racing just cranks it up another notch. Life is very simple: if in doubt, cycle.

That’s an incredible mindset
It fascinates me. There’s more and more people getting into ultra-distance races, and everyone seems to have a different motivation. Some people are crazy, and are running away from demons; others are perfectly healthy and just really love it. There are a lot of good characters to talk to, and I’d like to get to the bottom of why people do it. I don’t know why I do it – it’s just the right thing to do. I’m myself most when I’m on the bike.

What’s next?
I’m leaving this place [London]. It’s like the end of a relationship. We’ve been together ten years, we’ve learned a lot from each other and had a good innings, but now we have to go our separate ways. My training rides this year have included rides up and down to Manchester, and I’m tired of battling through the city to get anywhere, so I’m moving to the middle of Wales which is where I grew up. Dublin, Bristol, Cardiff are all new destinations to ride to. I can’t wait.

For ten days leading up to the launch of the Rapha + Liberty collection, Rapha will be releasing a series of Rapha + Liberty caps, each carrying its own unique print from the Liberty archive. Modeled by influential women from the cycling community in London, the caps are a nod to the shared history between fashion and cycling, and will be available on rapha.cc, and in extremely limited numbers in the Rapha Cycle Club London and Rapha Cycle Club Tokyo.