Veronique Sandler marches to the beat of her own drum. It’s the kind of beat that has her rocking shiny gold Adidas windbreakers, slashing through berms on a gravel bike, and always surprising us with a new trick up her sleeve. In anything she does, she’s unapologetically herself. And anyone can appreciate Sandler’s riding because she’s only in it to have fun. Is there a better motivation than that?
Racing stopped being fun for Veronique Sandler. After five years of pouring everything she had into the UCI World Cup DH scene, Sandler wasn’t seeing any progression and more importantly, wasn’t enjoying it. Finally, she decided it was time for a change. The plan was to take a year off competing to figure out some next steps and rekindle her love for riding. Nothing more. That first year of freedom had her constantly riding with friends in her new home of Wales. With the pressure to perform gone, Sandler started learning tricks like no-handers, whips, and her iconic crank flip.
Just for the heck of it, she posted small videos of her adventures on social media. Unexpectedly her videos went viral, and it caught the attention of the bike industry. Suddenly Adidas/ Five Ten approached her and proposed a full-fledged film project called Vision. Sandler was astonished. She never expected opportunities like these to arise, especially when her only goal was to ride her bike for fun.
The film, Vision, is a female-led freeride film that follows Sandler as she tries to bring her dream mountain bike line to life with the help of world-class riders like Brendan Fairclough, Casey Brown, Tahnee Seagrave and more. Since the release of Vision, Sandler’s momentum has only snowballed. She continues to ride her bike all over the world (pre-COVID) with the pursuit of pushing herself and creating progression content. Sandler even joined TGR in India to film a freeride mountain bike expedition for Accomplice with Hannah Bergemann. As with any good adventure, nothing quite went to plan. Her visa wasn't initially cleared, which delayed her arrival in Asia. Once she made it to Northern India she found herself surrounded by mountains that dwarfed the hills she normally rides back home in the U.K. Despite feeling out completely of her comfort zone, Sandler approached the trip as she does with anything: just stoked to ride.
"Mountain biking just encompasses everything that makes me happy: being with your friends, a feeling of progression, and the rush adrenaline."
2019 seemed like a pivotal year for you. What were some highlights looking back?
Veronique Sandler: My movie Vision was definitely a huge highlight for me, but personally two of my favorite highlights were two trips I went on. The India trip was one, and then a couple of months before I went to Retallack Lodge to film a video for the Lodge and Marzocchi and that was amazing. Those two trips were big standouts for me, and I think the reason that they were so memorable was the fact that both trips were presented to me last minute. I was given the invitation for Retallack a week before the trip, and with India, the location kept changing the weeks leading up to the trip. I also had an absolute nightmare with flights and visas trying to get there, so I wasn’t even sure I would be able to make it. Of course, everything came together last minute and it ended up being an amazing experience. But the spontaneity added a level of adventure to everything.
Given the fact that you stepped away from racing to pursue your own goals, how does it feel that it has led you to these incredible opportunities?
VS: It feels crazy because when I stopped racing and started riding for fun I wasn’t expecting anything to come from it. All I wanted to do was to not have the stress of competing. I just wanted to have fun and find my love for riding again. I feel very lucky to have fallen into this situation and I’m just riding it out as long as it lasts.
Over the last two years, the support has grown immensely, but I also feel like the support for women’s freeride has grown a lot too. It’s cool to watch this community grow as I grow with it. To see people like Hannah Bergemann make a career out of it—this is the first year she’s a full-time rider—it’s just awesome to see. People like that are finally getting the support they deserve.
With India, did you know much about Northern India before going on this trip?
VS: I’m super interested in traveling and I’ve been all over, but India has never been on my list. I’ve kind ignorantly looked at it as this place with just bustling cities and never thought about riding in the mountainous region with the Himalayas. I honestly knew nothing about the zone and felt so unprepared when I arrived. It definitely was an eye-opening experience.
How would you describe the riding?
VS: If I could put it into one word, I’d say “epic.” Everything is so epic: the scale of the mountains, the scenery, and the culture. It was mind blowing. The riding itself was like that too. It was on such a blown-up scale compared to what I’m used to. Everything was huge and vast. The riding was awesome. The terrain was pretty unique. I haven’t ridden many spots like it.
I’m sure coming from Wales, you don’t have the same elevation change that a place like India has.
VS: Yeah, everything we did was massive. The runs were huge! It felt like there were endless options for riding too. You can literally pick anything and hike up and ride down it. That’s something I’m not used to. Usually, you’re isolated to particular zones.
Looking back, was there a zone that was your favorite?
VS: Man they were all so unique! I liked the places we rode for different reasons, but the Moonland zone was insane. As far as riding goes, it wasn’t the best place we rode, but it was an unreal landscape. We also found a few playful features that we weren’t able to find anywhere else. I’ll probably never get to ride something like that in my life again.
We also got snow, which added to the whole experience. So it felt like we found this sick zone and experienced two varied conditions. That was awesome.
How was it working with Hannah Bergemann considering that your riding styles are pretty different from each other?
VS: Riding with Hannah inspired a lot of confidence in me. I think if I was alone I would felt intimidated. Because she was so confident and hyped it got me excited. She’s awesome and is the kind of person who never has anything bad to say about anything or anyone. That's the kind of person you want to have around when you’re on a shoot like this because so many things can go wrong. People who are positive are exactly what you need to get hyped, especially when you’re dealing with the cold or broken gear. She’s so sick.
Riding with her is great too. Usually, when I ride with other girls we hang out at the top and debate who should drop in first. But, with Hannah, she’ll just send it with no questions asked. It was pretty refreshing to just get things done and be pushed like that.
On top of the incredible riding, Ladakh has this rich history and culture. What were your favorite moments from the trip?
VS: Man there were so many. I’m from New Zealand, but now live in the U.K. and it just seems like here everyone is in a rush and seems stressed about something. The way of life in Ladakh is really mindful and present. It made me realize how much we need to chill out. There’s no point in stressing about all this trivial stuff!
My most memorable moment was going to the monastery in Lamayuru. There were these super cool nuns there and we sat down and hung out with them. We even let them check out the RED camera which they were excited to play around with it. The one nuns even filmed us with the camera. They were so old and spunky, and they even slapped director Jeremy Grant’s butt.
What have you been up to during COVID?
VS: Yeah, things are still pretty locked down here in Wales. It’s not really changed much. The nice thing is the area is pretty rural and there are hills everywhere, so we’re able to ride right from our doorstep. The main thing here is you weren’t allowed to drive anywhere unless it’s for the supermarket. We’re allowed to be outside for an hour of exercise every day, but you can’t drive to ride. So luckily there are trails like a three-minute ride from our house.
I’ve been doing a load of digging as well. It’s not just riding. I’ve actually enjoyed the time to dig because normally I’d spend all this time riding. It’s been cool to touch things up and build new features.
Is there a cool build you’re currently working on?
VS: We actually revamped some local dirt jumps. They needed a little love so we’ve been bringing them back to life. There’s this other local spot I’ve been digging out that has a few new jumps I’ve designed. They’re essentially things I’m keen to hit after the lockdown.
I also saw that you’re pretty into revamping vintage clothes—can you tell me more about that?
VS: Yeah! I was actually just doing that before you called me! I pretty much sew every day. It’s so much fun. Tahnee Seagrave and I got into it, and basically we’ll use this app to buy vintage clothes and we’ll rework the garments into something new. I just bought a new sewing machine and I’m so hyped. I find the whole process to be pretty therapeutic because it forces me to be calm and patient.
Can you recall your first bike-related memory?
VS: I remember quite clearly when I rode my bike without training wheels, I was four. I was just riding around the house back in New Zealand with my mom. My little brother was also there and was on a tricycle. When we took the training wheels off I managed to get it and I remember being so hyped. But then Leo decided he wanted to take his off and literally learned to ride a bike the same day. I remember being so annoyed. But looking back it’s cool that memory involves him because Leo and I ride together all the time now.
What about mountain biking hooked you?
VS: I was like 14 when I started mountain biking. I rode horses before that, and as soon as I went mountain biking with my brother I thought it was way more fun. I just loved how you can ride with your friends and all do it together. One of my friends got really into it, so it was cool to have someone else to do it with. We really hyped each other up to drop off a big curb or push ourselves.
Yeah, looking back I definitely got into it because it was so fun to do with other people. I think that’s why racing really took a lot out of it for me because it’s such an individual sport.
When did you start doing tricks?
VS: Not that long ago. Probably about three years ago. It was right after I stopped racing. The first trick I did was with my boyfriend Max and his friends. Max was just riding along in the woods and would take his hands off the bars. It made me wonder what it would be like to try that in the air. So, we had a little session and practiced no handers. That’s really when it all started, and we later found a cool step up for me to learn a few more tricks. Basically that tiny step up was where I learned the majority of my tricks.
What does the mountain bike symbolize to you?
VS: It’s definitely a sense of freedom. Even when you’re having a bad day, I don’t think I’ve ever gone out riding and came back feeling worse. It always makes me feel chill and happy. It’s a sick way to hang out with your mates that’s not just sitting around and drinking. It just encompasses everything that makes me happy: being with your friends, a feeling of progression, and the rush adrenaline. There isn’t anything else I do that I get to feel all those things at once.