Lee Craigie: a former mountain bike pro with a contagious love of the bicycle

The words ‘joy’ and ‘fun’ litter Lee Craigie’s language when she talks about cycling, be it racing, for transport or in her role as Scotland’s Active Nation Commissioner.

“I’ve really enjoyed using language at a strategic level that wouldn’t ordinarily be heard,” says the former mountain bike pro with a hint of mischief. She has certainly lost none of her enthusiasm for the bicycle since taking on her latest advocacy role. Introducing words like ‘joy’ and ‘fun’ and ‘creativity’, into policy discussions may seem minor but it is a significant step towards changing attitudes and opening eyes to the benefits of bike use.

And let’s face it, Scotland’s policy makers are not dealing with any old person.

Appointed Active Nation Commissioner (ANC) two years ago, Lee Craigie has a solid history in competitive mountain biking, not least British national champion in 2013, and participations at two UCI World Championships as well as the 2014 Commonwealth Games where she finished 7th.

But her attachment to cycling goes beyond the love of competition: “I’ve always used physical activity to make myself feel joy and contentment. I’ve used bike riding as a mood regulator all my life.”

Beyond her personal needs, Craigie has also been very conscious of the benefits of active travel for global sustainability, as opposed to some of her rivals during her competitive days.

“Elite level racers in my experience are pretty precious about their recovery time and don’t ride their bikes (or walk anywhere) unless it says so in their training plan. I started riding competitively at the age of 26 because I had spent a lifetime riding my bike to get places, but that is an unusual pathway into the sport,” she admits.

“I used to really struggle with the idea of flying across the world with my bike in a box to ride around in circles… I remember once, just weeks after gaining the British Championships title, I was racing in Andorra and decided to take a week to ride home rather than fly. It was the best cycle tour I’ve been on.”

Closer to home, Lee Craigie cannot speak highly enough of the benefits of using the bicycle as part of every-day life.

“Honestly, first and foremost, it brings me such joy and contentment to get around under my own steam. While other people sit in stressful lines of polluting traffic, I can sail through town centres and lock my bike up right outside where I want to be. Secondary to those good feelings are that I’m doing my bit to readdress the inequalities in our society and not contributing to climate change and biodiversity loss.”

A trained child and adolescent psychotherapist, Lee Craigie is also Director of Adventure Syndicate, Co-director of Cargo Bike Movement , an ambassador for the charity Venture Trust and is trying to find time to write a book. Despite this already busy schedule, her desire to see others benefit as much she does from daily physical activity, and to do so safely, was a motivating factor for accepting the position of Scotland’s Active Nation Commissioner. She was stepping into unknown territory.

“I’m not a civil servant or a politician, so the first year was spent trying to understand the political landscape and create a network.  I’m an outdoor instructor, a therapist, a bike racer and a storyteller. I was very naïve about the speed and scope of behaviour change on a national level, but now I feel better positioned to affect change. But I need the balance of delivering tangible things to real live people to keep me motivated,” says the outdoors lover who admits struggling with high-level strategic conversations.

“There’s a lot of anger out there when change is suggested but most of it is insecurity-based and this helps me rationalise it when it gets directed at me.

“A big part of my job is supporting and advocating the excellent work of all the organisations across Scotland making things happen. They are the people doing the real work!”

For 2021, her priorities as ANC will revolve around supporting and promoting Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, continuing cargo bike promotion, and increasing access to bikes and training for everyone.

“At the core of all this is the promotion of the joy and fun to be found in turning utilitarian journeys into mini active adventures.”

She will also collaborate with existing organisations in Scotland on a pilot “Give Cyclists Space” signage project, the establishment of a Citizens Assembly to inform on transport strategy and to continue the development of cycling networks and bike hire schemes.

In 2023, Glasgow and Scotland will host the inaugural UCI Cycling World Championships, which will unite 13 UCI World Championships for cycling’s different disciplines. Seeing this as a fantastic opportunity to push cycling advocacy, Lee Craigie sits on the board of  the event’s policy team: “I’m there banging the social equalities drum and trying to get the different policy departments to hold hands and play together!

“The UCI Cycling World Championships are an opportunity for health, transport, tourism, sport, social justice and climate change stakeholders to come together and help deliver something truly collaborative and authentic,” she says.

“My hope is that visitors will arrive in Scotland and not only be inspired by sporting excellence but also experience a public transport system that integrates and encourages bikes on it. I want visitors to be able to ride out of the city on safe, segregated cycling infrastructure to experience more rural areas without getting in their hire cars.

“Most importantly, I want the residents of built-up areas across Scotland to have access to bikes and areas to ride them safely so that the inspiration they get from the Championships can be transferred to action.”