Why be normal? If you want it bad enough then set yourself unrealistic goals, push yourself to the limit and then go out and achieve it.
That’s the motto of Leeana-Kate James, an up and coming road and track cyclist that has just signed to the team WhyBeNormal? She's moving across to Milan to race fixed and road bikes, designing cycling apparel and generally doing rad stuff.
Words - Brendan Edwards
Leeana has been offered the chance of a lifetime to race for the “WhyBeNormal?” fixed gear cycling team based out of Milan. They also produce some pretty cool cycling kit. Leeana is a fashion designer by trade and when not racing bikes will be helping the team to design a range of cycling apparel, both casual and kit.
In a short space of time Leeana has achieves some truly amazing goals. She was the 9th woman in the world to complete a Hells 500 Everesting challenge and in 2015 blitzed the Melbourne track scene with some amazing reults.
Her move to Milan began with an interest in the Red Hook Criterium series. After being introduced to the fixed gear scene at the Cycle Messenger World championships in Melbourne in early 2015, Leeana wanted to know more about the fixed gear and track bike scenes worldwide and Red hook Crit just seemed to stand out to her..... It is an annual bike race series held at night on track bikes in Brooklyn, Milan, London and Barcelona.
“I was interested & intrigued by it. I was like.. that’s pretty badass. That’s the most hardcore racing ever! I want in! I started to follow it on social media and friend some of the girls that were involved in Red hook Crit. One of those girls was Corinne Price, she is also on my new team “WhyBeNormal?”. We were liking and commenting on each others FB posts.. After a while I noticed two Italian guys that were mutual friends with Corinne, liking and commenting on my track successes and my edgy style... I was wondering 'who are these guys?' I realised that they were involved with the “WhyBeNormal?" team, and discovered that two guys were actually the team owner and one of the major sponsors (Roberto Ribaud and Marcello Marino). I though 'this is pretty cool'. They’ve seen what I’m doing and they like my style.... thats a bit Rad..."
"In mid January this year, as we were exchanging friendly banter on FB, I decided to put myself out there, lay it all out on the table and approach Roberto about potentially riding for the WhyBeNormal? team.... The response that I got was pretty epic. As they had been following me for a while, they were fully aware of all my racing results, my love for track bikes, rad kits and my background in Fashion. It was decided within a week of discussing with the team and crew, that I would be The 'Aussie Chick' on the WhyBeNormal? Red Hook Crit team."
"Before I had sent the message to Roberto, my plan was to go and race the first race of the Red Hook series in New York, self-funded....I was hoping to perform well enough to be noticed and hopefully get signed to a team."
Leeana wasn’t always a Track racer. She used to be in love with the road, with a normal week of up to 500km. In October 2014, Leeana was riding with a couple of mates, one had raced track. As they were hammering along Beach Road, the track friend asked “have you girls ever done track? You girls are fast! Like crazy fast!”.
Leeana likes to tell it as it is...
So low and behold Leeana was coerced into a ride at the Coburg Velodrome.
“First of all I couldn’t let go of the fence. There’s a hilarious video of me on Facebook talking to myself, trying to let go of the fence. Knowing I was clipped in, fixed gear and brakeless, there was something just not right about it. I was totally freaking out..... But once I'd talked myself into letting go, I rode down into the sprinters lane and before i knew it, I was riding fast and turning left, and thinking.. Yeah.. ok... I dig this! The next week I bought a track bike”.
Leeana fell in love with the track scene and almost completely gave up road riding. She trains 6 days a week, and although doesn’t log huge hours or 100's of k’s anymore she focuses her training on shorter harder efforts, and more recently crit racing... It has gone from one extreme to another, having trained excessive hours in the saddle to ride 387km, including 8,878m of elevation in November 2014 to complete her Everest on TwoBays Rd, she now trains for track events, some of which are over in under a minute and crits that are over in under and hour.
Her efforts were rewarded at the Masters State Omnium in 2015. She trained hard, focused all her energy on the event and won all seven races, taking out the Gold. An amazing result considering her relatively recent introduction to the sport.
But cycling isn’t all of her life. Fashion is the other half of her love.
“Riding is all about fashion on the bike, especially in Melbourne... Every sub culture I’ve been involved with over the years has always involved fashion for me. I've always been interested in this characteristic of a scene. It’s an identifying feature that we use, to express and represent the subculture we belong to...and in Melbourne in particular, the cycling style game is strong.... I'm all about the #cyclestyle, matching kit to socks to gloves to helmet to shoes to cap, the list just goes on!!! It's a pretty fun game now that instagram has such an influence on cycling apparel, with people sharing their #newkitday and #kitgrid selections, its become an art as much as it is a sport...
Leeana knows what she wants and has worked hard on her success.
“I gave up my job as a University Lecturer in Fashion design earlier this year... as I just wanted to be a full-time bike girl for a while, working at Cycles Galleria and focusing on my training for the year of racing ahead ... However now that this opportunity has come about, I will be able to combine my skills and knowledge from both sides of the coin to contribute to the success of the WhyBeNormal? Team and Brand...."
"This is just another chapter of my story that is 'meant to be'. It’s quite ironic that the team that I’m on is called WhyBeNormal? I pretty much try to embody that statement. I’ve always strived for above and beyond the 'norm' in my own creative style, my career and my personal pursuits on and off the bike.. I always put, what some would say, unrealistic expectations on myself... But in the end... that’s what it takes to push to the limit!"
Moving to Milan will involve much sacrifice. Leeana has to leave her friends and family and doesn’t speak Italian.
“I’m going to learn Italian. It doesn’t seem that hard… All that primary school Italian is coming back to me... oh and... Google Translate (she laughs).. I feel very much at home when i go to Europe, I'm hoping to immerse myself in the Italian culture as much as the fixed gear crit scene... I love everything about my life in Melbourne but I'm very excited about the new challenges awaiting... ."
"You look back and know that you’ve put yourself through so much pain, but you’re glad you did it... I really hope that this happening to me, can inspire others to just put themselves out there, push above and beyond to achieve their goals.... Stay true to yourself, Focus, stick at it and keep riding with people faster than you! and before too long you will be the fast one..... #ridelikeaboss."