Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Race Day Adventures: 2017 Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival

I'm going to start off this Race Day Adventures post by saying there is truly something special about attending Chequamegon 40- either as a spectator or race participant. This was my second year participating in Chequamegon, and Travis' first year. Our friends, Stego and Kenzie came to spectate for the first time, too. Several of our other biking friends from Decorah came to race or spectate, and that adds extra fun to the whole adventure!

I know I mentioned last year, and I'll mention it again- the event is put on well. There are plenty of course markings, a lot of helpful volunteers, pirates with rum (yay!), and in general- a whole lot of fun. Chequamegon is one of those events where you somehow make new friends while you pedal your way thru the beautiful scenery of Cable and Hayward. I got to meet a woman I interviewed for my blog: Sara Johnson, and got to say hello to a fellow from last year who remembered me!
If no one else remembers me on the route this year, I know one fellow on Fire Tower will be able to say he saw "Decorah Girl" climb it.

Anyways, let's get started...

Was I ready for Chequamegon? The answer is "No."
Several factors were against me when it came to my idea of accumulating training miles this year. One of those was my IUD debacle. It took me long enough to get it sorted out by waiting until things had gotten to the point of being so intolerable, I couldn't emotionally stand it anymore. I had 3 races where I probably could've done better physically and mentally had I gotten it checked out sooner. June will be my "Independence Day" from the aforementioned birth control. I can't get over how much better I feel without it; it was too little too late for proper training this season.

Second, I went gung-ho with FWD - Fearless Women of Dirt activities. I was excited and passionate about having events and special rides. Take that on top of being busier this season, I squashed out a bunch of riding time that could've potentially helped me prep for Chequamegon. Do I regret my decisions? No. Will there be changes next year? Yes. Without a doubt, yes.

However, the biggest change I noticed was my feelings towards the event. I was excited- the kind of excited you get on Christmas Eve knowing that the next day you get to open presents. (In my case, I got to open presents on Christmas Eve AND Christmas due to my parents being divorced, so Christmas Eve was always extra-exciting for me.)
I found a lack of pre-race nerves, more I had a sense of calm about it. I was going to do this, I knew it would probably suck for me- but I was excited for some time off from work and an opportunity to ride my bike with Decorah and Chequamegon friends.

I was as ready as I could be with the lack of riding under my belt. I'm one that if I pay a race fee, even if I don't feel ready, I'll show up and do my damnedest to do the best I can under my personal circumstance. In that case, I was ready.

Our drive to Hayward to America's Best Value Inn was uneventful. Once we got checked in and the truck unloaded, Stego and Kenzie arrived. They came with us to registration, something I wanted to get out of the way as quickly as possible so we could go eat supper. It was quick, efficient, and attacked my nerves with lots of stimulation because of all the people. It's fun and infectious. Because of our timing this year, we managed to secure a table at the Sawmill Saloon, easily, for supper. I had been recommended to try the potato barrels (not sure what they are called, but basically giant tater tots that are far superior to tater tots. Amazing texture and flavor! Bacon! Need I say more?)
As typical for pre-race supper, I had fish. It seems that 1. Fish is hard to screw up. 2. It is light and is protein. 3. It's good. I ate everything off my plate with gusto and washed it down with Squatters Double Hop IPA (I call it Hop Farmer due to the label.) I felt good. I was ready to go and chill.
Before going back to the motel, we stopped at the grocery store kitty corner from the parking lot, which has an impressive beer selection. You can do a Mix-A-Six or purchase 4 or 6 packs off the shelf. Great stuff, and my second favorite stop to make besides Woodman's. I acquired some of my favorites and then a couple new ones to try. You could tell a biking event was in town as there were several folks there (all men) buying beer. I felt really proud of myself, walking up to the register with three 4-packs and two 6- packs, ha! (I took all but 1 bottle of this precious bounty home with me!

Back to the motel to hang out and eventually sleep. For the first time prior to a race, I could say I slept well, which typically does not happen. Especially on an unfamiliar bed, in a room that isn't home, without a cat snuggling me. Either way, sleep found me and I was grateful.

The next day we got up early, Travis went to Kwik Star to get some breakfast stuff- coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and milk for the cereal he brought. My goal was to eat a breakfast sandwich and keep it down. I typically do not eat well prior to races (last year I ate a couple Skratch cookies I baked.) Success! I ate the whole thing without feeling too barfy. After breakfast, we took our bikes to the start to put them in the lineup. A helpful person gave me some positioning tips and also aided me in getting to the proper gate. I parked my bike next to a bike who had a Decorah Bicycles water bottle next to it. "Who is this?!" we wondered. I figured if someone had our shop water bottle, then it would be easy for conversation.
Back to the motel to get ready, calm my nerves, and wait for Stego and Kenzie to arrive as they would be our truck drivers.

Mark this day as the first race I have not had to take a swig of Pepto.

It was time to get to the start. I managed one stop at the Port-a-Potty, questioning myself if once was enough. Every time I thought to jump back in line, the line grew. I gave up. It was at the 10-minute mark to be at your bikes, so we walked over to the gates. Travis stood with me for a little bit before he went to his bike. We discovered that the person who owned the bike I was next to was our neighbor, Kent! How fun! I felt more at ease.

The wait for the roll out seemed to take forever, but not. I was excited!

The roll out is an event of its own. The hum of the tires on the street, all of the people cheering you on, keeping a good line, making sure you're aware of the folks around you- it's a rush!

We had quite the slow roll into Rosie's Field and it was pretty intense. I made sure to have myself in an easy gear by the time I hit the grass, then it was just making sure I wouldn't get behind someone who was in too hard of a gear or folks who were off their bikes.

I wondered when Travis would catch up to me as he was in gate 7. Next thing I hear is "How's it going?" and Travis pedals his way past me! I tried to catch up, and I was finding it wasn't very easy. Travis fell back and asked if he should ride behind me, I told him he could do his thing. I spent a good while trying to catch my carrot. I struggled, but I'd eventually catch up and feel accomplished.

Travis made the decision to fall back and ride behind me, he could tell that it wasn't going to be easy for me to stay behind him long. I felt frustrated that it was so difficult to keep up- I wasn't upset at Travis but at myself and my own physical ability. So for the rest of the event, Travis was on my tail while I rode and pushed myself as hard as I could. 

I have to say, on some of the fire roads/gravels, you had the most beautiful scenery. Fall colors were showing and leaves gracefully fell to the ground as you rode by. I wished I could take some pictures!

I appreciated having the 28t oval chainring, the climbing range it gave me was awesome and I had plenty for the flatter riding. I was also riding on flat pedals with my Five Ten Freerider Contact shoes, I wanted the stiffer sole, in hopes it would help reduce foot fatigue.

The next eventful moment for me was coming up the Pirate hill. Yay for rum! I really enjoyed the flavor and the warmth it put in my belly. I continued on...eventually coming to a hill that I thought for sure was Fire Tower. I was ready! Then I realized I was ready too soon and it was just the hill prior to Fire Tower. Man, I wanted to get it over with. 

Well, the moment came soon enough...we were there. This would be my biggest challenge yet- one I was hoping to accomplish.
I followed another rider in and rode behind him until he spun out. I was so grateful to have Travis there, he'd call out a rider was coming. Other folks were helpful, too, and would announce my riding up so others could move out of the way. I had a couple spots where I was worried I'd spin out, but managed to stay mobile.
Then the biggest "Oh sh*t" moment came when I was next to a tandem. I knew the line I wanted to take and was trying to get there, but the tandem riders also saw the line and moved to the left in front of me. I was able to stay in control and rode behind them. I made sure to keep an eye on their rear wheel, and good that I did because they spun out. I made my announcement and cut in front of them, I feel barely making it, but I did! At some point a fellow said "Go Decorah Girl!" and Travis said, "and on flats, baby!" I would've laughed if I wasn't breathing so hard- but I think I did crack a smile. I was thrilled that Travis got to see this happen.

I was relieved once we came out of Fire Tower- a goal, a huge goal, was accomplished. Now my next one was to see about bettering my time from last year which was 3:18:39. My original goal was to knock off 5 minutes off my time. I was feeling hopeful about coming in at 3 hours, maybe, possibly under! Until....fate came into play. I felt a twinge, something that isn't familiar to me, but I knew it would be something awful. A cramp. Damnit! My right calf muscle tensed and the next thing I knew, the inside portion of my calf was (well, I think it was) dented in. envisioned myself falling off my bike if I couldn't get my muscles to stop seizing. I quickly ate some Salted Watermelon bloks and drank more water. I think that was my downfall in the first place- I was too conservative with water drinking for a hot day. I reached down and smacked my calf a couple times, shifted into an easier gear, and subsequently did not attack some climbs like I hoped I would. (Fun note: It took until Tuesday for my calf to not ache!)

Not long after, we were riding uphill past a fellow who had cramped so bad he had fallen off his bike. I felt awful. My leg had stopped being a turd, but I didn't have enough salted chews left to be helpful. I thought some good thoughts for him and hoped he'd find relief. Cramps are not fun, and I was lucky I only had what I did.

The rollers came, until we finally crested the final hill and saw our friends! I was so happy, I had tears welling up and a huge smile on my face. Now, it was time to haul to the finish!
Thankfully conditions were dry, so I was able to blast down the hill and around the corner without fear of wiping out. I shifted to an easier gear because you have a surprise climb to the finish. Someone on the sidelines yelled "Go Josie!" Yes for rad women! That made me feel like a superstar for a couple moments- thank you!

Crossing the line with Travis was fabulous. My legs were tired, my muscles in my calves, especially my right one, were so tight. I was relieved to know I could walk and I wouldn't collapse to the ground! (Big worry right there!)

I went to get myself an Angry Minnow Rye IPA, which by the way, tasted awesome. We socialized some with our friends and went to see the results.

I crossed the finish line at 3:10:19...I totally made my first goal a reality and then some.
Officially I was 901 out of 1829 riders
I was 7th out of 16 women in my age group (Last year I was 10th out of 17!)
I was 49th out of 147 women.

I was very proud and surprised- there will be another blog post about my 2018 goals. I came to the realization that I have them, and I have to give myself the chance to attain them. This year was fabulous, but now I have a mission...and for that...I need time.

We met up with Stego and Kenzie. A shower was needed and then, a visit to the local rock & mineral shop! Also...glorious FOOD!!
Supper (early supper) was at Angry Minnow Brewing where I had a BBQ grilled cheese with the most amazing, tender pork and delicious, crispy cheese coating. Again, my plate was annihilated- but I had room for a store-bought mini-pie and some light reading brought to you by Mountain Bike Action magazine. (Yeeeeah!)
Then back to the room for movie watching and chilling the heck out. What. A. Day!!!

Sunday we got up and met Stego and Kenzie for breakfast at the Norske Nook- which I will say the food was excellent and well worth the wait. Then we hit up Seeley Pass for some non-Decorah-style singletrack! We had about an 11 mile ride for our out and back, which I'll admit was plenty for what my legs were feeling like. Then we had our drive home.
I really, really, super really enjoy Chequamegon. Like the Borah Epic I went to this year, everyone is super awesome, friendly, and the event is done well. Hayward and Cable feel almost like a second home! The area is great, there is amazing food to be had, beer to buy, and new friends to make. It's fun, because once you do Chequamegon, you have an "in" with a group of people you don't even know! On the Tuesday prior to Chequamegon we were up in Onalaska and a fellow noticed my Chequamegon sweatshirt and asked if we were going- he had one it about 20 years ago!

Thank you to all the volunteers at Chequamegon who make the event so fun to attend. Your work and dedication is awesome and greatly appreciated.
Thank you to those I meet at Chequamegon, maybe we say hi, maybe we don't- but you're rad. Keep on kickn' ass!

Thank you to Travis for doing the hard part and riding with me, you pushed me, encouraged me, and sacrificed time to stay with me. Who knows what we'll do next year, but at least you got to see me kick Fire Tower's butt!

Thanks to the folks who own businesses in Hayward, Seeley, and Cable. Your hospitality is top notch.

See you in 2018, with bells on!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Jessica Strange

My name is Jessica Strange, I'm an avid multi-discipline cyclist living in South Wales with my amazing fur baby (cat), Gomez Thunderpaws and I'm the deputy editor of Total Women's Cycling.

What types of cycling do you enjoy and why?

While I enjoy riding all disciplines of cycling, mountain biking is where my heart is.

I love all venturing out on mountain adventures with its stunning landscapes, quietness and tranquillity.

For me, mountain biking is the ultimate combination of adrenaline and meditation.

Tell us what helped you find a sense of belonging with your fellow cyclists-

Being a female mountain biker automatically invites you to be a part of a wonderful minority group of riders. It feels more like a family really with a sense of comradery which I've never experienced before.

It's an awesome feeling to ride with people who share the same passion for cycling. Regardless of age or skill, everyone is there to enjoy themselves, share experiences and make friends.

Have you participated in a cycling event? If so, what did you enjoy most about your experience?
I've entered races and sportives over the past couple of years which have been physically tough and mentally challenging, but extremely rewarding at the same time. I absolutely love the atmosphere at cycling events, whether I'm racing or just cheering on the other riders.

If you have participated in an event do you have any tips/suggestions for those who have not participated in events?
The best advice to those thinking of entering an event is simply to give it a go.

Whether you win, lose, or come dead middle - it's really about taking part, getting stuck in and seeing how you really perform under race conditions. I find I definitely push myself harder at an event, and I'm not even very competitive!

Clips or flats- what do you enjoy and why?
Clips on my road and cross bike.

Bit of both on my mountain bike. It all depends on what trails I'm planning to ride. Clipping in is great for long days on the trails, where there's likely to be a lot of pedally sections and climbs. However, I still rock the flats if I fancy a quick blast around the trails or if I'm trying to refine some techniques in the skills park
Tell us about some of your favourite cycling-related products and why do you love them?
It's so hard to say! Aside from the bike itself, I find it the utmost importance to have a good padded short and saddle combo. I'm currently riding in Madison Flux shorts with ASSOS women's chamois cream, on a comfortable Pro women's saddle.

For apparel, I've always been a big fan of Giro. Both their MTB and road products are some of my favourites for not only being stylish but designed with some innovative and performance driven technologies.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Rock gardens were my nemeses for a while. I would tense up, grip hard and end up getting bucked around, quite often resulting in failure.

One of the best things to help me overcome these obstacles was breathing and relaxing my body. Putting faith in my bike and myself has been the most important thing I've learnt.

What do you love about riding your bike?

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Genesis Vapour cross bike which is awesome for some rough road riding and cyclocross racing.

For my mountain adventures, I have a Canyon Spectral which can take on anything I throw at it. It's comfortable, fast and fun it's given me heaps of incredible riding memories.

What do you enjoy most about being involved with Total Women's Cycling?

The women's cycling scene is growing at a rapid rate and it's an incredibly exciting time to be a part of such a strong movement of inspiring women. It's a wonderful feeling to be a part of this and helping in any way I can to nurture this growing movement.

Total Women's Cycling is a fantastic title to write for, one that works hard to promote and encourage women's cycling which is a cause I feel very strongly for.

What would you like folks to know about TWC and what you do?
The TWC staff work hard to cover all disciplines of cycling, and we focus on areas of health, nutrition and lifestyle to be as well-rounded as possible. We want to promote cycling to women and help to inspire future generations of female cycling champions.

We care a lot about what our readers think, and what they want to hear. We encourage discussions and feedback so we can deliver relevant, honest and entertaining pieces for our audience.

What has been the most rewarding experience for you since being involved with TWC?
By far the best feeling is having someone tell you that your work helped them, inspired them, or meant something to them in any way. It only takes one person to make you feel like all the long hours and hard work is all worth it in the end.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?

There are indeed barriers to women's cycling but many of these are mental barriers like confidence. We've heard from readers that they have been intimidated by other riders, the costs associated with cycling and even their personal safety whilst out riding.

However, there are many brilliant cycles schemes, like British Cycling, who work hard to help break down these barriers and encourage women in a supportive and enjoyable environment.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?

There are some fantastic organisations and women's specific events popping up all the time which encourage women to ride with like-minded people. In the UK we have the Breeze Network which hosts many women's only rides, and plenty of bike parks and trail centres hold women's only days/rides and even maintenance classes.

Overall, I think participation would be greater achieved through local councils improving cycling networks, lanes and signposted routes. A greater understanding of the highway code wouldn't go amiss either! At the top-end of riding, improved media coverage of women's racing would greatly inspire more people to get involved with cycling - I know it inspires me!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

I often think about how cycling has totally changed my life for the better, and I want to share that with the world in hopes there are other women out there who may benefit from this fantastic sport and community.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm definitely turning into a crazy cat lady.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Women Involved: Hannah Myers

I started Flare in August 2013 after completing a masters in Product Design. Before that, I worked at a bike shop - as everyone in the industry has done at some point. That’s when I started riding bikes, a demo Trek Lush was in the shop and that was that!

I realized that I couldn’t find the clothing I wanted to wear so thought I would do something about it and put my design background to some use.

Now I’ve moved up to the big wheels, and ride a Transition Smuggler. My absolute favorite place to ride is in Oakridge, Oregon, despite being in the UK. Closer to home I love the Peak District, the mix of rocky tech and epic views always leaves me buzzing after a ride and ready to plan the next one.

Instagram: @flareclothingco, @seehannah

Tell us about the introduction to your current #bikelife and how has it changed your life?
Wow, where to start. My family has always cycled, after I went to university I was all ready to start teacher training to become a design and technology teacher but that’s where the plans stopped. Instead, I began working in an independent bike shop in Nottingham and thoroughly got sucked into the whirlwind of bikes, bike parts, clothing, and accessories!

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What was your introduction like?
My first mountain bike ride was a family holiday to Jordan for a semi-slick trip from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. We rented hardtails with non-working suspension the saw us mile after mile on gravel roads, but it was enough that when we got home it was straight to Sherwood Pines to tackle the red route.

What inspired you to better yourself as an off-road rider?
Riding with friends much more talented than I am. Sometimes I find it frustrating, but when there’s someone around that’s a few steps ahead of you it’s easy to visualize yourself in their position.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
In 2014 I had a bad crash that took most of the skin off my right midsection. I went off a drop onto smooth pebbles and the front wheel washed out. Although the skin has since grown back it thoroughly knocked my confidence and I’m not pleased to say that I’ve not been back to said trails since. A goal for 2017 perhaps?
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
For a long time, I didn’t have the best position on the bike - I’ve spent the last year with the mantra “elbows out, elbows out” and it seems to have stuck! I feel more planted and more stable, particularly at speed.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the opportunity to hang out with friends, I love the opportunity to see new and old places, I love being scared of something and conquering it, I love the rush of a fast descent and the feeling at the top of a long climb, I love getting changed after a long, muddy day and remembering the best bits, and I love planning the next adventure.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My main bike is a 2016 Transition Smuggler. My husband is sponsored by Transition Bikes UK and I have to say I bought mine out of complete jealousy. I was planning on upgrading the bike I had (a Juliana Roubion) but gave his a go and it gave me so much confidence although the bike has less travel. I also have a Canyon Torque FRX downhill bike, and a Trek Domane road bike.

Your introduction to the cycling industry was brought by you working at a bike shop. What was your experience at the bike shop like and what was your job?
I worked on the shop floor, and a big part of my job was to make our female customers more comfortable in the shop - although there are plenty of ‘unusual’ customer anecdotes thinking about it now I really enjoyed helping people find the bike that would see them into new and varied adventures. It was both through my own experience and feedback from our female customers that inspired me to delve further into the design of women’s products in the cycling world.

You started Flare Clothing Co. because you wanted to fill a gap for women and cycling wear, tell us about Flare and what you stand for-
Although Flare started being a women’s focused brand and we still have a very strong reputation for making cool women’s clothing (Total Women’s Cycling Best 2016 MTB Clothing Award Winner!), in 2015 we introduced a men’s collection. We’re now all about riding with friends, family, partners, clubs, going on both mini and epic adventures and looking good while you do it!

What has been the most difficult part of starting up your own business?
Finding manufacturers! At the beginning I spent a lot of time Googling “clothing manufacture” and “sports fabric” and it didn’t get me anywhere!

Any new items coming soon that you would like folks to be on the lookout for and why are you excited for them?
I’m really excited about the whole 2017 collection, we’ve worked out some of the kinks we found through 2016 and I think we’ll have the best year ever! We’re also totally stoked to be officially heading to the USA and working with a distributor for the first time.

Tell us about why you created Team Flare and your hopes for the team-
To be completely honest it's a marketing plan. We need people of influence wearing the clothes so that we have content, feedback and hopefully some new contacts within the industry. Since the beginning #teamflare has grown hugely to include Instagrammers, social riders, enduro racers, crazy freeriders, and awesome cycling mums who provide us with amazing photos and videos for our social media channels as well as friendly faces in race villages.

Why should folks consider applying for Team Flare in 2018?
We’re always looking for people who can offer something new to the team. Whether that’s because you’re a guide, you come number one in every race you’ve ever entered, or for a reason, we’ve not thought of yet! We generally hold an open application every Autumn, this year we received over 200 entries and whittled them down to 8, so it’s pretty competitive, but however many applications we receive this year I can promise that we will read and consider every one.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think there are a number of reasons - it can be intimidating in terms of courage, fitness, and skill. There’s also a lot of kit involved and it’s hard to know what’s necessary and what isn’t. Finally, if you don’t know someone to introduce you to the sport it’s difficult to rock up to a trail center without an “in” if you’re not naturally extroverted.

What do you feel could happen industry-wise to encourage more women to become involved with riding and the industry itself?
In the UK there are a lot of initiatives cropping up for women to get involved with and to give mountain biking a try. Hope has done loads of women’s rides all through 2016 and there are plenty of local bike shops and cafes (like Cafe Adventure, who are part of #teamflare) who doing groups rides both to introduce people to mountain biking and to encourage seasoned riders to explore their local areas.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Although Flare is all about color and adventure, I mainly wear grey!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Jenny (Scott) Acker

Mountain biking has been such a wonderful thing in my life and I've met amazing people through it. Being a clumsy nerdy art kid that got cut from a lot of team sports in high school, finding cycling after college was such a great treat. I could do it and be bad at it but not have it matter, it was a way for me to get out and enjoy the outdoors, escape from work, spin out the legs, explore with friends, and so much more, I feel so lucky I get to do it now.
My husband, Matt Acker, has been a great motivator and source of inspiration to me to try harder bike races and push myself further to try new skills and visit new places, mostly because I suffer from FOMO and want to go do all the races he does hehehe! I love attempting to get better at mountain biking, have such a great community of biking friends here in Grand Rapids. We have awesome buds that put on free bandit races and other great organizers that put on the best gravel/mountain bike/cyclocross races I've ever been to.

I love using my artistic abilities and design skills to help out and make bike posters and logos (, also super stoked to get to help host an all-women International bike polo tournament here in Grand Rapids later this fall (, and also helping out Matt put together this Michigan gravel Race Series (

It's a bit of something new to me...helping put on events instead of just selfishly participating in them...but it feels good, being able to give back to the sport that has given me so much. Also very excited for a fun year filled with biking adventures coming up. Matt and I have decided to quit our jobs for a year and save up all our skrilla to go bike packing and other biking adventures all over the US, can't wait to get out there and explore by bike!

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife as it is now-
I got into triathlons 9 years ago, mostly to prove myself to some dudes who wouldn't invite me on their long rides, so I'd ride by myself and did a couple Ironman triathlons. Never was really into the spandex and expensive bike scene met some fun people that mountain biked and quickly realized these were more my kind of people. the ones that get dirty and go grab a beer after a ride together, through that group of friends I was introduced to gravel riding, cyclocross, bike polo and grew a love for all things bike. Met my husband at a cyclocross race (ok, so I stalked his sexy young beard) and then got myself a fatbike to enjoy cycling year round, now cycling is part of our everyday lives and it's awesome! 

What has been your motivation to explore different types of cycling? Why do you enjoy them?When I was doing triathlons, my favorite part was for sure the bike. But I didn't really train with too many people and mostly cycled on my own, which I sometimes enjoyed the solitude of being on the road with my own thoughts. But what I liked more about mountain biking is the camaraderie and friends and encouragement. At first, I hadn't had a great experience mtn biking, so I didn't try it again for a while. when my 26" gary fisher got stolen, I bought a 29er, and gave the trails a second shot, loved it and really enjoyed the types of people that mountain biked more. we'd all get dirty and sweaty and then go to the bar, it seemed to be more about having fun than having the most expensive bike and kit, so that really was why I started riding trails again. then I kinda found cyclocross and gravel and some of the same friends were doing those so I started with those too. then I found bike polo and that's a completely different kind of riding, but a great community of people and friends that I've made all around the world. Got into fatbiking last I'd say but have met such a wonderful group of friends and bad ass ladies in this sport too.

What was the main inspiration behind participating in events?
At first it was just a fun way to spend a day with groups of friends, braving the elements and having beers around campfires afterwards...then I kinda started developing this habit of wearing costumes while I raced, I guess I started liking the attention because although I wasn't the fastest person out there, people tended to cheer for me, so that made me happy. my favorite is making the volunteers and supporters and photographers on the course laugh. they're braving the elements to help us finish our race whether it be support or snacks or blocking traffic or lying and saying "it's all downhill from here" I really appreciate them so if I can make them laugh at how crazy I look, it makes me feel good. Plus I've made so many friends and look forward to doing a similar race from a previous year so I can see the friends I met there before
What would you say has been your most favorite event to attend?
Would depend on the bike hehehe! For gravel, I really like our local race the Barry Roubaix for it being the start of the season and just an awesome after-party reward for lots of hills that can be muddy or dusty. For bike polo, I really loved going to my first Ladies Army tournament in Vancouver with my friend Tara as we road-tripped out there and met a ton of the bike polo family. For mountain biking I really had a hoot at Single Speed USA USA up in Copper Harbor 3 years ago even though I broke my jaw, apparently I self-medicated with a game I made everybody play with me called pick-up-booze-with-your-face-game, hehehe! I had a great time and some awesome party memories. One event that really sticks in my mind for me being the one I'm proudest of completing would have to be the Marji Gesick in Marquette, It's 100+ miles of 90% singletrack, all uphill and 11,000 ft of elevation. I've attempted it two times, the first time I made it about 77 miles but didn't finish, but went back for redemption last year. The race promoters Todd and Danny and Stacy and Stacie, and all the volunteers are amazing, they really encourage everybody and will literally stay up way past their bedtime to let the very dead last finisher finish. It was a very challenging day, but I had the best time. I didn't stop to take as many photos as I did the first year, but met tons of great riders along the way. So cool that you're in it together, shared salt tabs with friends when they were cramping, got free bacon from another rider's support crew. Shared pocket burritos with the guys from the local brewery who were also riding and traded them some of my pickles, rode with some great people, and Matt, my husband gave me the best leg massage at the last aid station to get me to the end. Was able to ride the last 15 miles with a new friend Jim, and though those last 15 miles took us about 5 hours, we friggin finished, dead last but Todd and his wife Stacey and Matt and our friend Tyler were all waiting up for us, it was the best feeling! Though Matt finished the same race in about half the time, him being at the finish line at 2:30 in the morning to give me a hug as I finished was the best feeling, it's an amazing race, with awesome terrain to ride in, I highly recommend it.

Do you have any suggestions to give to folks who have yet to attend their first event?
I know I've been intimidated to do lap mountain bike races or time trial races, because I haven't felt as strong and hate feeling like I'm in the way, plus it's hard to either let someone pass you where you don't have to get off your bike, or on the flip side, have the guts to ask someone if you can pass them. I'd recommend starting with a race maybe that's more open and wide, just to get your toes wet if this is something you think you'd struggle with too. Otherwise just learning to communicate your intentions, for the most part, other racers are very respectful and will encourage you as well.
Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what kept you coming back for more?
My very first time I kinda hated it. I was out of shape and it was super sandy, I slammed on my front brake going down a sandy hill and went over my handlebars...I didn't ride that bike much on trails again after that, then it got stolen and I replaced it with a 29er. I went and tried that bike on a different trail and really enjoyed it. with the bigger wheels, I was able to roll over things easier and I really enjoyed being in the woods as opposed to the road, which is what I had been doing as I trained for triathlons. I loved being able to just enjoy the sounds of the woods and the more I rode the same trails, the better I learned them and knew how to ride them, which made me crave for different trails and more challenges. Now strava helps me come back for more, every time trying to get a bit faster and see if I can make it into the top 10

Clips or flats? What do you use and why?
I clip in almost all the time these days, it was intimidating at first, but then I realize how much extra power I seem to have, and I couldn't see myself riding on flats at all anymore.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Probably my biggest biff was at Single Speed USA a couple years ago, where I wasn't even drinking yet, but maybe riding a course above my skill level at the time. I was trying to impress the lady who was riding behind me as well as catch up to my buds who were ahead, I went over a drop and freaked out and slammed on my front brake (I blame bike polo), flew over my handlebar and landed almost directly on my chin... my shoulder got a little gooey, but I broke my jaw!!! Didn't realize it at the time, the girl behind me after she saw that I was in pain, went ahead to let my friends know. I rolled up, they gave me some whiskey and I finished the last 15 miles of the race. Didn't think anything was broken so self-medicated with more booze that night and got real rowdy crazy....didn't actually know I had broken my jaw til 3 days later, back home. after biking to work, then deciding I should go to urgent care because of my oozing shoulder, where they then suggested to get x-rays of my jaw...which at first I rejected bc I thought they were just trying to scam me outta money, but then they realized it was broken and had to sew me shut for three weeks. That's the first bone I've ever broken (unless you consider a broken toe attempting to break dance at a polo tournament, hehe!) Matt took real good care of me, other than being hungry and having fuzzy insides of my teeth, I was super grateful that a broken jaw doesn't prevent you from riding. I have tons of friends who have broken something where they then can't ride for a couple days/months/years! it sucks I was supposed to be off the bike for 3 weeks, but I think I lasted 1. I'm a little apprehensive going downhill, but I'm trying to learn to not use my front brake, ever, hehehe! I went back last summer to the spot where I crashed on Mango in Copper Harbor...and I rode that guy the proper way, totally redeemed myself, hehehe!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Practicing has been so helpful, little things at a time. standing out of the saddle to climb and starting in an easy gear first and spinning.
Using my front brake, or more so, trying to learn not to use it. I find descending to be more of a challenge for me...I get in my head and freak out, and either slam on the front brake and go over handlebars, or just get off the bike and walk down. Matt has taught me techniques, of keeping weight back, feathering front and rear heartbeat always bumps up when I actually do a steep feels exhilarating when I can do it properly.

Your husband, Matt, is also a rider. What do you enjoy most about being able to share a common interest?
It's the best! We get to enjoy our hobby and each other at the same time! We both love doing it so it doesn't seem like a chore or that we're "letting" the other person have their interest, we both want to go to races or train for them, so it just becomes part of our day, and we get to do it together. Matt's really good at time management and realizes that he's a stronger rider than me, so he'll make time for his own real hard workouts and training, and I can still go on my own rides and "flooft" around like I call it, but it's also been nice because he encourages me to train a bit harder and gives me tips on how I can, if I want to, improve and get stronger and faster, so when I'm not being too lazy, I can do that hehehe!
Being your husband is an experienced rider, do you have any thoughts or suggestions when it comes to couples riding together? What have you learned with the "experience gap?"
Matt is super patient with me, and also a huge encouragement. Always helps me push myself to get better/faster without being pushy. He is a very determined and focus person in general whereas I'm a bit more floofty, but with his inspiration I've been able to focus a bit more, train a bit smarter and harder, and getting faster or being able to last longer, ride further, climb steeper hills, get a couple QOM's has been really fun for me.

What do you love about riding your bike?
It just feels natural to me, I love when I'm riding along and get to "look out the window" per se, I don't even think about my pedaling or breathing and just enjoy that my body is propelling me around, the fresh wind in my face, exploring new places and I get to enjoy it all. Plus the biggest positive is all the great people who I now call friends who share this same mentality.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I'm super spoiled, started out picking bikes based on my favorite colors, but have been super spoiled by Matt since we've been together and he's bought me a bunch as gifts.
I have a green Marino custom polo bike - for bike polo
green Spearfish - full suspension mountain bike, probably my favorite bike right now, pretty comfortable for the ride out to the trails while locked out, then super comfy on rocky terrain with the suspension
Salsa Beargrease -  for fatbiking and beach riding
green Twinsix Rando - for gravel rides and cyclocross
green Salsa tandem - for when I really want to be close to Matt's buttcrack hehehe
Scott triathlon bike (bought that because it was green and also had my last name hehehe) - for road riding which I hardly do anymore, or triathlons, which I've pretty much retired from
green surly single speed ogre (kinda poopy green, love the single speed, and this was my touring bike when I went to do a couple days of touring with Jill, Tara, and Emma) - I've been riding this bike a lot lately, something about singlespeed is so simple and easy and fun. I use it as my commuter and also for when I sign up for races singlespeed, because if mountain bikers are fun and weird party people, singlespeeders take that up a notch, and I feel like I fit right in.

Tell us why you feel more women should discover the joy of fatbiking!
Great people, seeing new places, it has changed my winter, one of my favorite seasons now...get to enjoy the outdoors year-round

What is bike polo and why is it rad?
Oh man, this question could have a whole story written about it. bike polo is rad because it's a co-ed team sport on a bike. It's like hockey and soccer combined, but on a bike. It takes cycling which for me was more of an individual sport and turns it into a team thing, which I was always getting cut from in high school, but it's laid-back and open to anybody willing to try. I'm actually probably not that good at bike polo, but the community around it and all the wonderful friends I've made through it is indescribable, I wouldn't change it for anything.

Tell us about the Michigan Gravel Race series and what it will entail - 
What I've loved about the great lakes fat bike series, is that it strings together a bunch of pre-existing races, and makes a longer competition about how well you do at a certain number of these races. Matt thought that with the growing popularity of gravel races, why not string together a bunch of these existing awesome gravel races in Michigan, and make a series out of it, similar to the GLFBS. It's a point series where people men and women will accumulate points based on how well they do at each of these individual races. then at the end of the season, the winners will get some award.

What has been the most exciting part for you when it comes to event planning vs. participation?
I realize how much I love participating in events, and seeing how much work goes into planning them, I think I definitely prefer participating. I've had fun having my hand in organizing a couple bike polo events, but I definitely feel the stress, it's always a huge sense of relief when the event is over and everybody seemed to have fun. What's exciting about planning is you can make it whatever you want, have prizes for costumes or make people play crazy games, but it's definitely given me an appreciation for all the work that goes into it and I, for sure, prefer just mooching off everybody elses hard work and participating in events.

Tell us about this bikepacking trip you and Matt plan to do, what was the inspiration? 
We were out riding one cold night last winter and were drinking a couple beers, and kind of jokingly said wouldn't it be great to quit our jobs and bike around the USA, we pinky swore on it and decided for our wedding that instead of toasters and matching towels that we would ask for moolah so that we could quit our jobs and do just that. I have bee lucky enough to take a year-off from work to study abroad for 9 months, and it was totally worth it. Matt's been working since he was 14, and we thought we could work work work until we're 60 and retire with money, or we could save enough to take a year off, and go do fun things on our bike while we're still kinda young, hehehe!

We're super looking forward to just explore a bunch of places right here in the good ole US of A, and spending quality time with friends and family. We'll be doing lots of small trips to different states to check out their trails, and do a couple races in Iowa and Colorado and Kansas, as well as a bunch of our favorites back here in Michigan. We're hoping to make it up to the Pacific Northwest and maybe even Alaska, and our big year end plan is to do the Baja Divide, which sounds amazing!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have triple citizenship! Mexican, Brazilian and Ohio-an hehehe!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Lauren Wolfe

My name is Lauren Wolfe and I hail from the Quad Cities area (IL/IA) and have been riding bikes since grade school, although I just got back into riding bikes in the last five years or so. I discovered mountain biking in the summer of 2014 and have been hooked since! I have been interested in sports and outdoor activities all my life (sort of a tomboy, ya know...)

My first passion was snowboarding and I got into biking after riding my commuter-style bike on the paved paths around the area to pass time during the summer months. One bike path passes near a mountain bike trail (Illiniwek Forest Preserve) and I used to look across the street and see all these bikes and see all these people riding bikes into the woods! I was intrigued because frankly, bike paths get boring! I researched online and found that we had a local mountain bike club, Friends of  Off-Road Cycling ( that builds and maintains area trails. After reading up on the internet and working up the courage, I decided I needed to ride my bike on the trails!

Of course, I  needed a "mountain bike" first and I went to Wal-Mart and bought a cheap Mongoose (that I managed to break like four times) and a helmet and set off! After struggling to bike up hills (read: walk-a-bike), being thirsty, hot, eaten by bugs, and "surely lost" I hit my first downhill and was hooked! The rest (n+1, group rides, venturing to other trail systems, and *gasp*racing) was history! I now cannot get enough of any type of biking and it gives me something to look forward to--in the summer I think about snowboarding and the winter I think about mountain biking.

My Instagram is @fewdfreak

Your #bikelife started in 2014, tell us how you feel cycling has changed your life in a few short years-
I feel like cycling has provided me with the opportunity to go out and have fun while staying fit. It allows me to get away from the daily grind, be out in nature, have fun, and set goals for myself. It is also cool to meet similar (b)ike-minded folks to share the experience with.

If you can recall, tell us about your first mountain bike ride. How was the experience and what did you learn?
Wow, if you can call it a ride, LOL. More of a walk—a lot of walking hills and being eaten alive by bugs in ridiculous heat—than a ride. My first ride was mid-summer and super humid and I really didn't know what to expect. The trail system had a lot of climbing. I was by myself so I guess I felt no pressure to go fast until I encountered other riders who were flying but the people that I met on the trails were super nice and I let them pass and they thanked me so it was a good experience. After struggling up climbs I hit my first flowy downhill that I bombed and I was in love! My biggest take away from my first ride was that I needed to do this again and next time bring more water!

For those nervous about off-road riding, do you have tips or suggestions that may help them cope?
I would say just go for it, there really isn't anything holding you back but yourself. My suggestion is to try mountain biking at your own pace, maybe go out by yourself and ride the trails at "off times" when you won't encounter a ton of other traffic. Maybe do a little bit of research as well; there are a ton of videos out there for mountain bike beginners that can give you tips and tricks to help you along
that don't come with the pressure of riding with someone more experienced giving you instructions that you may feel intimidated by. Most of all though do what brings you the most fun!

You enjoy participating in mountain bike events, tell us your favorite events (so far) and why you enjoy them-
The easy answer to this would be to say the events that I enjoy the most are the ones that I finish well at! This is probably true for everyone but I think the most satisfaction I get out of races is racing in the first place! I've raced one season + one race. The races that I am most proud of are the ones where I have like a milestone--conquer a hard climb, ride a solid line on a techy course, or just feel stoked about my effort. I raced most of the Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series (IMBCS) and some Illinois series MTB races this season and have learned a lot about my strengths and opportunities. If I had to rank, I'd say I really liked the Sugar Cubed Marathon at Sugar Bottom near Iowa City. This was my first "endurance" distance mountain bike ride at a "race pace" (40 miles in 4 hours, although I only got in 24 before time was up) and I was riding it coming one day after a hard crash, it was pure agonizing suffering but I pushed through it and finished. I also enjoyed my first Decorah Time Trials even though the weather was less than favorable (read horrible!) and my biggest goal was to push through and finish even though it would have been easy to throw in the towel.
Another fun race was Wildlife Wild at Wildlife Prairie Park near Peoria, IL. The geography is unlike any other Midwest singletrack I have ridden as it is built on an old quarry (it's like you are riding in the mountains because it is sooo rocky!). I placed DFL in my class in the race due to crashing, a few mechanicals, and a pity party but I felt I rode the techy parts so well (go Strava QOM!) and pushed on hard even though I knew I was going to be last. The comradery is also a big part of mountain biking and getting to chat with other bike racing friends is fun as well and is a big part of why I race.

What originally inspired you to participate? What were your concerns and what did you learn?
My first race I signed up for was the FORC Side Thrill Ride in July 2015. I agonized about it, I wanted to participate so bad but I was scared that I would be the worst rider and people would think "why is she even here?" I practiced the course over and over and compared my Strava times with prior year’s times and felt that if I kept up a consistent pace, I could do it. The race ended up being postponed due to weather and when we did the race there were only three chicks in the beginner class. I rocked it. I still kinda feel like I don't "belong" when it’s wheels down at the starting line and you are lined up with some intimidating looking women on really nice bikes, but after making race-start small talk you get over that fear and realize everyone is out there from all levels of #bikelife and experience with their own issues.

Any tips or suggestions for folks who are on the fence about attending a mountain bike race?
Go for it! Don't worry that you are too inexperienced, don't have the right bike, are not a "racer", or are too slow. Heck, I have moved up a class and I am still slow. I had like early success or "beginners luck" in doing well at the first few races I participated in. As a result, it was hard for me when I did not do as well due to better riders, a more challenging course, or just being off my game. I almost felt out of place, like a phony or a poser when I get dropped or finish poorly. I think it is important to remember that the place in which you finish in a race does not legitimize you as a "bike racer" nor does it define who you are. I think as women we have a tendency to categorize and judge ourselves in comparison to others and it's very hard to not let that define us, especially in a competitive arena, such as racing. I like to believe that life isn't about who finishes first or results but about the journey, however, I am still trying to reconcile this in my mind 100% of the time! Let the fact that you showed up shine! DFL>DNF>DNS=truth
Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
I ride both; I started out as a beginner on flats with some horrible flexible soled shoes and rode these for a season and a half. Transitioned to SPD clips mid second season in for group rides and racing. I was blown away by the smoothness of the pedal stroke and the assist that I get in climbing but I do always have a nag in the back of my mind when riding clips that says "prepare to eject" especially on steep climbs and I gotta keep that fresh so I don't go down with the bike. This summer I transitioned to Eggbeaters because I felt they retained better on the rough stuff and were easier to clip into with crap in your shoes or pedals... they are also harder to eject out of in a crash! I got some 5 10's this summer and threw the flats back on in hopes to work on some of my technical skills such wheelies and drops.

I think I feel more confident in flats but ride better in clips. For the new rider I think it is important to start on flats to get that bike handling down before transitioning to clips and from there it's always interesting to move back and forth between the two to keep things interesting.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I started biffing early on so I guess I was able to get this mental aspect out of my head fairly quickly. My first season I had an issue with skinny bridges and log drops as in every time I hit them I would fall off the bridge or go over the bars so eventually I would dismount and walk and not even attempt. The problem is that most of our bridges are at the bottom of a ravine so I was hike-a-bike up every single hill and that is tiring and of course I was not getting any better at climbing! I watched some videos and figured things out. My biggest crash was in May of 2016 and I was mid-pack in a group ride and we were cruising down this downhill that I have bombed hard tons of time. I had just upgraded my handlebars to a wider bar and was not used to how far they stuck out I guess. I clipped this small tree with my bars going about 17 mph, jackknifed, smacked my head, and was flung from the bike. I hit the ground super hard on my hip, whipped my head back, and totally ragdolled. My bell was rung but I finished the ride, albeit slowly. The worst part was that I had signed up for a marathon bike race for the next day and still raced it but I was not at 100%.

It had a Le Mans start on this frickin' sandy beach and I could not even run. I did get back into my groove, but I remember looking down at my bike computer and at mile 14 with 26 left to go being in complete utter agony with pain in of my nerve endings from my neck to my feet. I felt good about finishing and although the physical pain goes away I still am wary about clipping that tree anytime I ride that trail! The best medicine for getting beyond a crash is getting back on the bike and regaining your confidence.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
When I was a kid (before I could drive) I rode my bike everywhere. I had a Huffy White River mountain bike and it was gnarly--only like three gears worked, the seatpost slipped, and only the front brake worked and the rim was bent so it was crapshoot if you would go over the bars or not stop at all! We rode in the grass along the busy streets and on the dirtbike trails. When I picked up riding later in my adult life, I remembered the basics. My biggest issues were climbing, speed, and endurance. Basically, practice makes perfect, every time I would ride I might make it a little further. It also helps in riding with people that are faster than you. I was nervous on log overs and skinny bridges as well--on steep downhills get your butt back behind the seat, for log overs just remember to lift that front wheel in anticipation, for skinny bridges look to the end of the feature, keep your speed up, and hold your line (yes, easier said than done).

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky?
Even today I struggle with steep technical climbs and maintaining a "fast" pace through twisty singletrack. My latest issue is falling over backward on steep climbs. I would like to be better at wheel lifts, riding drops as well, and hitting any tech stuff at speed as I tend to slow way down on technical stuff and then it makes it more difficult to ride through.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything, LOL. Getting outside, being productive the smell, the sounds, doing something athletic, and the feeling of accomplishment I get after. Post-ride tacos and brews are pretty sweet benefits as
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I started out on a Wal-Mart Mongoose mountain bike; I rode this for about three months and made some minor upgrades until I got tired of repairing the things that were constantly breaking on it. This is when I started searching for a "real" bike.

Liv/Giant Revel-My first "real" mountain bike with disc brakes and a suspension fork and quickly became my gateway drug into n+1. Although this was an entry-level bike, it served me well on improving my technique and skills and I felt it fit me well. I purchased it used from Ebay and it was in need of some cleaning and TLC. I completely stripped the bike and repainted it (murdered out, yo!) and repaired or replaced some of the components. I learned a lot in bike mechanics in building up this bike. I eventually replaced the coil-sprung fork with an air-fork and went to hydraulic brakes. This bike is my go-to for farting around urban rides and race "training" as it is sloth-like heavy 26 incher and climbs like a pig.

Specialized Fate-My first 29er and my first carbon whip. Did not even intend to buy a new bike, was just looking around online and pricing 29ers. Wasn't even sure I wanted a 29er as I was kinda leaning toward a full squish 26er but then I saw this and was like "damn, I need that!" I got this bike a few days before my first race and it made me feel sooo fast. I have made a few changes to the cockpit but left it for the most part as is. It is a smidge too large for me so it is not the most comfortable of bikes on long distance rides but this bike climbs like King Kong on cocaine. I rode this in the time trails and the mud studs on its dawgs keep me wheels down for the most part!

Liv Intrigue-My first full suspension MTB and foray into the 27.5 world. I got this bike used this past summer after looking for something a little more "advanced" than my Revel but better to throw around (read: aluminum) than the carbon Fate (to this day as irrational as it may be, I am still kind of scared of "breaking" a carbon bike). Was kind of on the fence about going down in wheel size as I felt like such a boss on the 29er but it was hard to pass up so I loafed back and forth on two different bikes and finally decided on this as it was the women's model. I made a great choice! Although I still struggle with climbs on this bike, it kills it on the some of the more rugged terrain (if you can call it that) in the Midwest. I upgraded the drive train, brakes, and cockpit (and sharpened my bike mechanic skills!) so it is dialed. I also learned that I prefer to size down when it comes to bikes and am more comfortable on a smaller frame even though I am on the taller side.

Trek 1.1 WSD-My first road bike, I purchased this bike at a steal from a dude whose wife was planning on upgrading. It is a smidge too big for me but some of that may be me just getting used to the road bike positioning... I try to ride this outside on the paved trails prior to the off-road trails opening but right now it is currently on a trainer in my basement begging for some miles.

Giant Transend DX-A "commuter"-style bike. My first "adult" bike that I purchased in 2011 and the gateway drug into my modern day #bikelife. My mom wanted to get a bike to "get back in shape" and talked me into getting one as well. I rode that bike a ton that first year I had it and then didn't ride for about three years. I started back up again and didn't look back. I didn't ride the Transend much last year but I brought it back out this year and in hopes to repurpose it, threw some new "gravel" tires on it, and plan to get in some dirt/gravel-style long-distance rides with it.

Knowing what you know now with mountain biking and having the right tools, if you could go back in time would you keep the process the same or would you invest in a non-department bike right away?
Umm, I am kind of on the fence about this... Hindsight being 20/20, while it would have been awesome to start out on a "nice" bike I think part of the fun and excitement that I experienced was due to the struggle and my progression on the bike. If it was made "easier" when I started out by maybe having a more equip or lighter bike would have I liked it more? Less? Having an excuse to say I couldn't climb this or bomb that because of this POS bike also gave me an outlet for my frustration towards an object and not myself (when it probably was just me sucking) and then gave me a goal to improve and "reward" myself with a "better" bike. It's fun to upgrade. I am kind of an "experience" person as in journey over destination and value suffering if that makes any sense so I think is important to be forced to work hard at something #thestruggleisgood LOL. Having a janky whip also
forced me to learn how to fix things on a bike! On the flip, it is important to have a safe and well-fitting bike, this is will impact your enjoyment more than any brand, build, material, or component will. Be wary however, the bicycle addiction is real... but it's a healthy one! You can't take it with you so what else are you going to spend all your money on?

You have been adventurous with your #bikelife, traveling to other towns to ride their off-road trails- what would be your favorite trailsystems so far?
My favorite trail systems are those of my home trails--Sunderbruch Park in Davenport, IA and Illiniwek Forest Preserve in Hampton, IL. There is a nice mix of roots, tech, climbing, and of course wood berms! I also really enjoy Wildlife Prairie Park near Peoria, IL and Sugar Bottom near Iowa City, I have ridden these trail systems several times and they still challenge me. I would like to explore the Decorah trails more as I didn't get to ride them all! I kinda get paranoid like driving to unknown places by myself so I don't go out of town too often, but once I get to my destination my stress dissipates when I hit the trails!

Any events you hope to attend this year?
I hope to ride in our local bike races (Illiniwek Abermination and FORC Side Thrill Ride) and possibly a few others in IA/IL as my work schedule (and the weather) permits. I also want to do a few more "marathon" MTB races. I would like to do the Sugar Cubed Marathon again this year and maybe a few others. I plan to do the Decorah Time Trials again, although I am not in nearly as good as shape as I was last year!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I am not sure, perhaps lack of a bike, time, previous bad experience, not having anyone on their level to ride with, generally feeling unmotivated. The media showing only "extreme" mountain biking, while cool, does not enamor the sport to most ladies. Group rides can go both ways, I think they are incredibly fun and helpful, but also give me the jitters every.single.time. First-timer or veteran, no one wants to ride slow or look stupid in front of a group of peers that you may consider more skilled than you... Get past this negative thinking, everyone probably is thinking the same thing about themselves or is in the zone hammering it out, so no one is focusing on how you ride. Women need positive role models that they can identify with and some encouragement to get them out there! 

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Maybe depicting more "typical" women getting out there and slaying it? Mountain biking does not have to mean cliff drops or super fit, kitted-out race teams but just riding your bike in the woods. From what I see when I browse like Instagram there are "real" people sharing their bike lives and that is encouraging and at least gets me motivated to ride! I have noticed a departure from the overt "shrink it and pink it" women's sports marketing mentality from when I started biking (although one could say that pink has just has been replaced by teal, I digress...) but I still think that there are miles to go in encouraging the entry-level bicyclist in making the jump from pavement to trail. I do think already active women whether it be runners, road bikers, or triathletes are less hesitant to make the transition to off-road riding due in part by being a member of that active community but anyone can mountain bike. You don't have to be in shape to get in shape.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I would say like if I can do it, you can do it. There is little to be afraid of. I have crashed a lot! I have been on rides with other girls and they have crashed too, no one has gotten hurt. Crashing happens! Just get out there and try it. You may not be good at first but keep at it and it will become fun and it is good for you! You don't have to be fast, you don't have to ride blacks, and there may be times where you have to get off the bike and walk, and that's okay.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a super good memory and remember everything! I love magazines, coffee, and trying new beers. I could eat Mexican food every day. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Julia Reich

I've been self-employed for 17 years as a graphic designer/ branding consultant/visual practitioner.

I've been riding for 4 years. Although I'm not one of those women that have been riding forever and ever, I am COMPLETELY ADDICTED. I ride almost every day. If the trails are dry I'm out there, all year-round. I'm not that interested in racing. I just want to be a better rider so I can ride anything without fear. I love trying new trails, but also getting to know my favorite trail systems really well.

I've enjoyed attending the Midwest Women's Mountain Bike Clinics and those experiences have given me the skills to ride with more confidence!

There's a really nice community growing at Griffin Bike Park and I hope as that community grows there will be more people riding, of all abilities, ages, gender.

Instagram: @motherofcoonhounds

You've been mountain biking for 4 years- do you wish you had been introduced to mountain biking earlier in life rather than in adulthood?
Oh God yes. I’d be such a badass by now.

Tell us why age has nothing to do with whether or not you can mountain bike-
Mountain biking came into my life just as I got a back injury, and I was so frustrated. I worked hard in physical therapy to feel better again and I was so excited to have mountain biking to help me get into shape. Believe it or not, I think mountain biking is a low-impact sport (crashing into trees notwithstanding). In general, I’m at an age (48) where I need/want to push myself to exercise more.

Your introduction to mountain biking wasn't the most desirable- how did you not let those experiences deter you from pursuing growth in mountain biking?
Yes, one day my husband decided he was going to get into mountain biking and he got a bike and loved it. Then he offered to get me a bike and I knew if I was ever going to see my husband again, I should take him up on it.

So every weekend we would go to a different trail system and he would take off and leave me to ride on my own. I had no idea what I was doing and would be riding along thinking, I’m scared and this sucks.

But for some reason, I stuck with it because I love being outside. I love being with my dog, who runs with me. And I loved the workout I was getting - I wanted to be more fit.

Tell us about a moment where "something clicked" when it came to mountain biking- what was it and how did it make you feel?
In 2015 I went to the Women’s Midwest Mountain Biking Clinic in Brown County State Park, Indiana. Two and a half days of learning and sharing and practicing with dozens of other women and amazing coaches from around the country. I learned enough skills that I was no longer scared when I rode. In fact, I felt powerful. Mountain biking became a rush. I went back for two more summers, as an intermediate-level rider.

Now when I ride, I’m happy! Riding my bike in the woods makes me happy. Is there anything more fun?? Seriously.

Clips or flats? What do you enjoy and why?
Flats all the way, baby. I have these super-ugly men’s FiveTens that look like oversize orthotic shoes and together with studded pedals they are really grippy and comfy.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I crash all the time, but nothing too serious, knock on wood. As I become a better biker I continue to try more challenging things and I guess wiping out just comes with the territory.

Recently I started trying to do little drops - we have some built wooden features at our local bike park. At first, I would ride up and get scared and think “nope, no way”. I kept riding up to it until I had the courage to just roll over it. Then when I didn’t die, I tried it with more speed. I still didn’t die, and it became fun! So I kept trying it, each time trying to improve my form, to get more air and lift my wheels. I think I’ll be able to progress soon to larger and larger drops.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Just knowing some basic riding technique goes a long way - one finger on each brake lever, neutral/ready positions, bike/body separation, equal weight on the pedals, eyes scanning ahead, moving my butt back over the rear wheel when I descend.

Sometimes when I go for a ride I’ll have a particular skill I want to keep in mind to practice and try to get better at. Cornering is a big one. So is climbing.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Oh, there are tons of things I need to work on.
There’s a 48-foot long bridge at my park about 8-ft high over a ravine with a little decline section and I’m currently too scared to ride that. It’s totally mental. I know I have the skill to ride it, but I’m scared.

I’m also a pretty poor climber. I can’t seem to get the air I need in my lungs. If I do successfully make a tough climb, I’ll sit at the top gasping for air for a few minutes. Or if it’s a steep downhill leading to a steep uphill, I have a hard time getting all the way up to the top on the ascent. I know I need to increase my leg strength and maybe switch it up sometimes and go for long road rides.

I have a hard time keeping up with a group. Even if it’s a no-drop ride and no one seems to care how slow I am, I can easily start to feel defeated when I’m in the back, struggling to keep up. I try to tell myself, this is *my* ride, and I love riding my bike in the woods and exploring new trails and having an adventure. But it’s hard to get the negativity out of my head.

There are things I am good at and I try to give myself credit. I am truly getting better at technical features. One recent day I did all 4 of the black diamond trails at my local park in one ride. It wasn’t fast or pretty, but it felt really good to overcome most of my fear.

What do you love about riding your bike?

I love that I can be having so much fun that I don’t want to stop, and then when I finally do I’m exhausted and have had a great workout.
I love feeling strong.
I love the mountain bike community. Mountain bikers are awesome people.
I love having a beer with other riders in the parking lot after a ride.
I love spending time with my dog out on the trails.
I love being outside in nature and looking around.
I love exploring new trails and having different experiences, but I also love riding my home trails hundreds of times and getting to know them really well.

I love helping others improve their bike skills. This summer I became an IMBA (International Mountain Bike Assoc) Level 1 certified coach.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?

I ride a Salsa Bucksaw, a full-suspension carbon fat bike with 4-inch tires. IT’S FREAKING AWESOME. I can ride it all year round in any conditions and not worry about it being too slick or icy or sandy and I can pretty much ride over anything.

Sometimes I get some flack from others - they’ll say things like “you don’t need much skill to ride that bike” or “that bike will make you lazy about picking a line”. But the way I see it empowers me to pick a more challenging line and become more confident. And riding straight through without dodging obstacles is more efficient. Plus it’s such a monster truck, I’ve become strong in order to handle it.

I also have a 29er, a 2014 Trek Excaliber 6 hardtail, which was my first bike. It fits me perfectly and I appreciate how nimble it is, but since I’ve had the Bucksaw, I ride the fat bike 95% of the time. It’s just more fun to ride, and I’m in it for the fun - not to be the fastest person out there.

You attended a women's mountain bike clinic- why was it beneficial for you and why should other new riders (or experienced) consider going to a clinic?
I touched on this above, but I would add that there’s something really nice about the camaraderie of like-minded women. I’m eager to improve my skills but don’t often have an opportunity to do so. The coaches are phenomenal. You can’t come away without having learned new skills.

What has been something you've learned about yourself since you started mountain biking?
OK, two things:
Finding the mountain bike community and making new mountain bike friends has completely changed my life. 
When I first moved to Indiana 4 years ago, I didn’t know anyone/ That’s all changed. I can pretty much go anywhere for a ride and find cool people to share mountain biking with.

I also have a new bucket list - to ride a mountain bike in all 50 states. I’ve got 12 so far. It can take the rest of my life to reach that goal, I don’t care. It’s the journey, right?

For women who ride with their partners or are introduced to mountain biking by their partner- any suggestions on how they can communicate to make the experience more positive?
I see some couples where the experienced rider is very patient introducing the sport to the inexperienced partner and they enjoy riding and learning together. That’s awesome.

But that’s not how it was in my case! The first few years my husband needed to pile on the miles every time he went out - he needs it for his physical and mental health, and it is difficult for him to ride with me at a slow pace. I get it. So most of the time we ride separately.

If we go a trail system further away, the way we do it is he’ll ride fast to the next intersection or landmark and wait for me. Then he takes off again and waits for me.

With my skill and endurance improving, it’s more likely we have opportunities to ride together. He’s a stronger, more confident rider and he enjoys helping me learn new skills. We like to use our phones to take photos and videos of each other doing a tricky feature or whatever. Then we have fun afterward by reviewing them to see what’s working or what needs improvement.

This is how we’ve made it work for us.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Fear of getting hurt.
Fear of getting lost.
Fear of being alone.
Fear of feeling inadequate.
Lack of time; too many other commitments.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Women riding with other women who are supportive and non-critical.
Equipping more women with the training necessary to lead rides and offer coaching skills.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I want to share the fun!
I want other women to feel powerful and happy.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I lived in NYC for 15 years.