Jess Duffy, Devon, England

Photography by Neil Bedford  |  Art Direction by Jack Saunders & Gary Bradnick  |  Styling by Lee Holden
Interview by George Tyson | Jess Duffy @lapsandlanes

Working hard to breathe new life into women’s cycling in her new home of southwest England, Jess Duffy dedicates as much time as possible to riding, racing and growing the sport she loves. A freelance brand consultant and marketer, Jess recently came to Rapha HQ to speak to Survey and model the new Rapha + Liberty collection.

You recently moved out of the city. How has it been?

London is a really expensive place to live, and after I came down to Devon a few times I fell in love with the greenery, the space, and how beautiful it was. My boyfriend grew up a stone’s throw away from Dartmoor, and the freedom that I felt living here could offer was too tempting. It’s a double-edged sword, because I miss all the fantastic things about London. When I visit for work and get off the train, it feels like I’m coming home. But the riding in Devon and neighbouring Cornwall is incredible – I can be riding a gorgeous, rolling coastal road less than fifteen minutes from leaving home, and the views are breath-taking. I’m definitely spoilt in terms of cycling.

Tell us about how you started cycling

Cycling was something I picked up in the city, simply as a way to get from A to B. A lot of my friends were getting into it at the time and building up their own bikes, and I was really into that. I dove into the deep end pretty quickly – less than a year after I started riding a bike, I trained as a cycling instructor and started teaching at my friend’s bike cooperative. I then taught people to cycle for Hackney Council for about two years. There’s absolutely nothing better than seeing someone’s face when they manage to ride a bike for the first time. It’s like sheer joy.

You’re also involved in brand consulting?

After my friend’s bike cooperative, I started working in the mechanic side of things and learned to build up bikes for customers. Cycling companies began asking me for feedback on their products and, before long, I was consulting for brands and giving advice on their women’s lines. There weren’t many women’s products around, and a lot of companies were scared of investing too much, because they were worried about getting a return. The women’s lines they had were really limited, so if they could only offer something in one colour, their default was always going to be pink.

But things have improved hugely in the last few years. Brands are now improving the cut and quality of clothing for women as the demand has grown, and the women’s cycling community has become more vocal about what it wants. The choice out there has grown so much and people have become less afraid of doing things differently in terms of styling and photography.

What do you think about the Rapha + Liberty collection?

It’s so great that this collection is purely for women. I love that there is now a dedicated women’s print, and I’m so glad that it’s not floral. Liberty has such an extensive design archive beyond flower motifs that we don’t usually get to see. It’s subtle and quite different, and translates well into cycling. It looks really good, and the quality of each piece shines through.

As well as teaching cycling, you also race.

Racing is a massive part of my life. I started last summer while still living in London, and had a go at a few races in Hillingdon [Cycle Circuit]. I loved it, and shortly after we moved down to Devon, I decided I wanted to be part of something bigger.

I was aware of what Ricky [Feather Cycles] was doing with custom built steel bikes, and the racing team he had just started, and I was so intrigued by racing on a steel bike. I started racing in Feather kit, and took part in a few National Women’s Team Series races this year and did fairly well. Another girl recently joined the team, so hopefully we can get a full women’s team racing next year.

You also help organise races, alongside competing.

Nothing in this sport happens by magic. There are so many volunteers that give their time and energy to make races happen and to bring on new and young riders, and a lot of people don’t really appreciate that. For me, I know that I’m already too old, and will never get to be a pro cyclist. But I can help support the structure locally that will enable younger junior riders to get there.

I do a lot of cycling event organisation, but at the moment I’m investing most of my time in developing the women’s racing scene in the southwest. I go to British Cycling meetings, and approach race organisers to work with them. I do a bit of everything really.

How is that going?

As a woman in the sport, you always start on the back foot. It can get tiring constantly asking why there isn’t a women’s race. When you get the answer: ‘it costs money and no one shows up’, it can be frustrating knowing that other options haven’t been explored. You run the danger of spoiling something you love by getting too involved, and it worries me, but you just have to get the right balance. It can be demoralising, but it depends what kind of person you are. It just makes me more determined. It may take some time to develop the ideal scenario for everyone, but women’s cycling is going to keep on growing regardless. There are some really inspirational people out there, pushing the boundaries at both the professional and grassroots level. It’s an exciting time to be part of it.

Rapha + Liberty
Two Tone Bomber

Rapha + Liberty
Merino Sweatshirt

Rapha + Liberty

See the Collection