Monday, March 19, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Sarah Cooper

Photo Credit: Eddy Rayford
I am a mother of four and former cardiology nurse practitioner. I began cycling as a commuter in college but didn’t pick it up as a competitive sport until my late 30s when I started racing triathlons in 2008.

I made the switch to ultra distance cycling in 2013, and have been fortunate to race and win events all over the United States.

In 2016, I won overall in the 928 mile Race Across the West, and this year I was the top woman finisher at Race Across America.

You are putting ulta-endurance rides/races on the map! Tell us what inspired you to take on the ultra-scene?
Opportunity, and the desire to travel once my kids were a bit older and more self-sufficient. I started looking on Google for cycling events and opened a Pandora’s Box of potential adventures. I found the local options for cycling races not terribly interesting, and the idea of riding my bike someplace exciting like Death Valley or across an entire state appealed to me more than say riding in a circle for 45 minutes. I’ve since come to appreciate the strategy and intensity of shorter bike races, and I truly love a good time trial. But when it comes down to the choice of what I like to do for fun, the idea of hundreds of miles will make me laugh out loud and say, 'hell yeah, bring it on’.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?

Starting as a bike path riding triathlete, I’d say every handling skill was a challenge. I was hit by a car crossing the street on my bike when I was in my early 20’s. From that moment on, I lived in fear. Fear of crashing, fear of cars, fear of going too fast, fear of venturing out on my own... Fear on that level is a hard thing to live with, and it’s nearly impossible to ride well when you are afraid to take chances. I finally grew tired of it, and tired of sucking so bad. I left the bike trail and began riding on the road with friends, and eventually alone. That was a huge step in developing actual handling skills and confidence in managing myself in groups and in tricky situations.

Years ago, I had an opportunity to go west to California with my husband on a business trip. I rented a bike and proceeding to ride myself up a 10-mile switchback climb to the top of a mountain, where I then realized I had no idea how to safely get myself down. I survived that trip, and returned every year with my husband on that same business trip and rode those same mountains, alone, over and over again. I routinely would have to stop and pull my mental act together and would have nightmares the entire week we were there. After years of this, descending finally no longer scared me, and that opened up an entire world of cycling events I was then confident enough to try. I wouldn’t say I’m the most confident of descenders, or the fastest, but I can handle my bike at over 50mph, and routinely top 40mph here in Iowa descending large hills on gravel roads. If you ever have the opportunity to watch me descend a mountain, you can tell that I’m a self-taught Iowa gravel rider. I won’t get any points for style, but it works.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being in motion. I love that I can see so many more miles in one ride than I could ever accomplish on foot. I enjoy the scenery and the random conversations I have with people I meet as I train in rural Iowa. I love the challenge of dealing with bad weather and variable road conditions. I love the purity of focus that it takes to get through a long trainer session without losing my mind. There’s a lot to love about cycling, I could ramble on all day.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I’ve sold off most of my road racing bikes and wheels, but still have one road bike and a time trial bike. I used the proceeds from my sales to buy a Specialized Diverge, and a Specialized Epic. I plan to use the Diverge for both gravel and paved road events; it’s a do everything bike. I’m pretty excited about the Epic! I’ve always wanted to mountain bike, but the risk of injury was too great while also preparing for ultra events. The last thing I needed to be doing was risking an injury doing a non-essential cycling activity when I had crew and sponsors relying on me to show up to race fit and ready! Now that I am beyond RAAM and have recovered most of my hand strength, the door is wide open to new adventures.

You have accomplished some amazing rides this year, like the RAAM. Can you tell us how you prepared yourself for the distance and what you learned about yourself from the experience?
Preparation for RAAM was a three-year process of training, racing, and logistical preparation. RAAM is said to be the toughest bicycle race in the world, and I don’t disagree. Anyone can get lucky and have a good 200 or 500-mile race on sketchy prep and a lot of determination. 3000 miles in less than 12 days requires a significant amount of discipline, experience, and sacrifice. I have done little else for the last three years except take care of my family and prepare for this race. I can’t say that I loved every minute of the preparation, but I loved the purity of discipline, the pursuit of a goal, and the passion it took to get through this event. An entire community of people threw the weight of their support behind me to get me to the start line in Oceanside, and 10 friends gave their all to get me across the country under very difficult circumstances. It was an incredible experience.
What I learned about life and love in pursuit of a RAAM finish could fill a book. When you go in search of your limits, you have to be prepared for what you will need to do when you find them. I knew... I believed in myself, and my crew believed in me. While I would never have wished for my race to go as sideways as it did (I had a lung infection, altitude sickness, several pounds of edema, and a small tear in the paraspinal muscles of my neck) it was an opportunity to test my strength in a way that I never had before, and may never have again.

Tell us about your Gravel Worlds experience of 2017! Why is this an event that gravel-lovers should look into?
I had persistent hand numbness and neck issues after RAAM. The only bike I could safely handle at Gravel Worlds was my fat bike, so I ended up withdrawing from the Masters women category and switching to the Fat Bike category. I had a great race on very bad preparation and ended up winning the Fat Bike category and finishing in just over 10 hours, a time that would’ve put me on the Masters Women podium in second place. I ended up fifth overall on 4-inch tires, which is just hilarious. Sometimes you get lucky. The course was fun and definitely fat bike friendly. The gravel in Nebraska tends to be sandy, and the better handling of the fat bike in those tough spots made it much easier to maintain momentum through the tough spots. Overall, the gravel scene is a great community of people, and this event has a fun vibe and a competitive group of athletes. I’ll be back to race it again.
Photo Credit: Eric Roccasecca
Tell us about the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra and why you created the event-
As I started venturing out farther from home on my training rides, I discovered an entire untapped area of Iowa that I thought would make a great race course. I can’t say I really needed anything else to do, but I decided to create and host an event. I’ve always longed for more ultra-endurance events closer to home, so this is my way of providing an opportunity to my fellow athletes that I wished I had had. 2017 was my second year, and despite some challenging weather, things went very well. My mission is to provide a low cost, scenic, and challenging ultra cycling event for as many years as I am free to do so. It’s turned out to be quite an enjoyable experience for me.
I also am the race director for the Elkhart Time Trial series. It is a small, Des Moines area time trial that races the second Thursday of every month, April to August. It’s a great way for area women to get involved in bike racing, and meet like-minded people.

You've been sponsored by an Iowa-based cycling clothing company, Velorosa. Tell us why you love the Velorosa brand and why folks should consider working with them-
Being on my bike for days at a time heavily influences what I am able to wear. I cannot wear ill-fitting clothing, or clothing that won’t hold up over time and repeated use. Minor chafing can turn into a disaster over the course of a multi-day event. The Velorosa kit has gotten me through many thousands of miles of training and racing in 2017.

In my early days of cycling, I settled for men’s clothing and inexpensive shorts that made me wonder how anyone could ride 100 miles, ever. All women can benefit from a nice kit that keeps them comfortable no matter the length of their ride. How do you ever venture off for that first century ride if you are uncomfortable after 20 miles?

Why do you want to encourage more women to discover the ultra-distance scene?
There is a purity of sport in ultra distance cycling that is hard to find elsewhere. There are few races with financial reward, and it takes a leap of faith to believe that hundreds or thousands of miles on a bike is possible and worth doing. The strength that you find within yourself as you take on these physical challenges can carry over into every aspect of your life.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Encouraging women that are not already involved in cycling to take up the sport can be a difficult task. At times it seems women engage me in conversation not out of genuine curiosity and an interest in my experiences within the sport, but to offer their judgements as to how they better spend their time, how much better parents they are because they would never miss their child’s anything for a bike race, or how they perceive their sanity as it relates to mine. It’s hard to offer encouragement and inspiration to a group of people that don’t seem to want to hear it. The mommy crowd can be tough, and very judgmental. It can be difficult for women who do not have encouraging people within their life to break out of that way of thinking. Even for women within the sport of cycling, breaking out of the “I am just doing this for fun” mode and pursuing self-improvement sometimes is met with resistance from family and friends. Skipping that social bar stop ride to get in a quality training ride can take some courage, and end up being a lonely road.

There is a multitude of opportunities within the world of cycling, but getting women to be open to them feels to me not so much an industry task at the entry level, but more like something that all cyclists are responsible for. Sometimes all it takes is one supportive voice to encourage someone to better themselves, find the love of the sport, and develop a passion for cycling. I did not have a lot of supportive voices in my life when I first began to pursue the sport, but there were a few, and that was enough. We all are ambassadors for cycling.

What are your plans for 2018?

Photo Credit: Alexander Hernandezz
In October of 2017, I underwent long overdue surgical repair for carpal tunnel syndrome. In the process of preparing for that surgery, I discovered that my triceps muscle has been choking the life out of my ulnar nerve at the elbow. In addition to the carpal tunnel release, I had a more complicated surgical release and relocation of my ulnar nerve in both arms. I’ve had good results and recovery of my hand strength, but my race plans for 2018 are still uncertain. I’m committed to racing Trans Iowa on a tandem, and I’ve been invited to participate in the inaugural DKXL in June, but whether I’ll do any competitive ultra cycling events beyond that I’m not certain. I do plan to race the Elkhart Time Trial series, and probably some local brevets and continue race directing and public speaking engagements as they come up.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
My first love before cycling was horses. My daughters and I recently adopted three off the track Thoroughbreds from the HART program (Hope After Racing Thoroughbreds) through Prairie Meadows.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Julie Zias

Julie loves mountain biking and champagne and can often be found combining the two. While she dabbles in all things cycling she prefers the dirt with Moab, Rabbit Valley, and Crested Butte being some of her favorite destinations. She considers a bike skirt essential to her riding kit. She leads women on mountain bike rides all over Colorado and Utah for Petunia Mafia Cycling. On her at all times is a well-stocked med kit…not because she is a nurse, but because she crashes so much!

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it got started-
My mom taught me how to ride a bike when I was three. My brothers and I would follow her around like little ducklings on our bikes to the park.

As I got older I continued to ride as a means of transportation around the neighborhood and to get to the candy store. When everyone started driving my pink Schwinn Caliente sat un-ridden in the shed. It wasn’t until years later when I was living in New Zealand that my true #bikelife started. I was playing rugby at the time and a bunch of guys on the men’s team were doing the Rainbow Rage, a 106km mountain bike race, and asked if I wanted to join. I didn’t have a bike, had never mountain biked, but I figured I would go for it. I bought my first pair of bike shorts, borrowed a men’s large bike (I ride a small) and headed out on my first mountain bike ride. I think I did three rides before the actual race, thankfully found a sized medium bike, and while it wasn’t pretty I finished the race. I was hooked.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what inspired you to keep at it?
Shortly after my initial mountain bike rides in New Zealand I moved back to the States and bought both a mountain and road bike. On my way to one of my first rides, my mountain bike flew off the top of my car and was run over by a semi…so this led to a few years of road riding. It wasn’t until I moved back to Colorado that I took up mountain biking again. My best friend was also just getting into it, so we started learning together. Colorado riding was so different than anything I had ever done before. It felt similar to when I skied in powder for the first time…I had no idea how to do it! I had way more passion and muscle than skill. The first year I don’t think I made it through a ride without crashing, but I gained skill and endurance with every ride. I still remember the day I finally figured out how to ride a switchback. Despite initially being horrible, I loved the comrade and support of the mountain biking community. I loved the challenge and the excitement of the sport, so I kept with it.

What tips would you give someone going on their first mountain bike ride?
First of all, have fun! Learning to mountain bike is hard and it can hurt, so find a supportive community that will help you work through the pain and at times embarrassment with laughter and smiles.

Then beyond having fun…ride…and then ride some more. I got better at mountain biking by mountain biking.

Why do you enjoy leading women's mountain bike rides?
There is just something special about being out there riding with a group of women. Leading women’s mountain bike rides gives me the opportunity to pay it forward for all the women who led me. I hope to inspire confidence and build skill so that hopefully one day they feel comfortable leading women’s rides or just get out there on their own. It’s my small way to help build the women’s cycling community.

Clips or flats? What do you like best and why?
Good question! I ride Crank Brother Mallet/E pedals. I like being clipped in for what I feel is better efficiency and power transfer when climbing, but I also like having the larger platform for long descents (less foot cramping) and technical areas where I may ride unclipped. If I’m going to be riding at a downhill park, or doing some skill practicing I may switch over to flats, but for my everyday riding I prefer to be clipped in.
Have you had any biffs (crashes) 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 the hardest one for me to mentally come back from was when I broke my cheekbone riding Porcupine Rim in Moab. Porcupine Rim is one of my all-time favorite rides. About four years ago I was riding with a group and I let up on my concentration for a second on what I thought was an easy part of the trail. My front wheel got stuck between two rocks and I went over the bars so fast I didn’t have time to bring my arms up to protect my fall. My face struck directly on the rock. I can still remember the feeling of the impact and thinking that the right side of my face was crushed. Luckily my face was not crushed, and I just had microfractures along my cheekbone, which did not require any surgical intervention. I don’t know if it was the fact that I hit my face, but this crash shook me hard. On subsequent rides I was approaching anything technical scared and tense, so I wound up walking things I usually rode.

For me time, the support of my riding community, and going back and riding the trail again where what helped me overcome the fear I had after this crash. It took me about a year to feel confident in my technical riding again. I also got a full face helmet, which I seem to always forget to bring with me, but the fact that has it seems to help☺

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
The two things I distinctly remember struggling with were switchbacks and climbing technical rock gardens. It wasn’t until I had someone break down the correct body positioning and then practiced the skills over and over again that I became better at riding them. I highly recommend taking a skills clinic or series of skills clinics to help you work through problem areas and fine-tune your technique.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I still struggle with climbing technical rock gardens and jumping rather than dropping larger features on the downhill. My goal when I am riding is to always have fun. There are days when I get frustrated and I feel like I’m not having fun, and when that happens I have to check myself. I like to continually grow and be challenged, but when riding turns into self-doubt and judgment I know I have to get myself back to the basics and purity of the sport.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything! I love the mental and physical challenge of riding. I love the sweat pouring down my face on a climb and the wind blowing in my face on a descent. I love that with the combination of a bike and my power I can get almost anywhere. And mostly I love riding my bike because it is just fun!
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I follow the cyclist formula for how many bikes one should have: n+1! I have all sorts of bikes (including that pink Schwinn from my childhood) but have three main ones that I consistently ride.

My go-to mountain bike is a Specialized Stumpjumper 650B FSR carbon frame with an XT 1x11 drivetrain, Specialized Roval carbon wheels, Rock Shox Yari fork, and a Fox Float rear shock. Sorry I got a little dorky with that description. I felt like Goldilocks looking for the right bike for my size and riding style, so when my husband built this bike up for me it was like heaven riding it for the first time.

My back up bike, since I tend to crash a lot, is a Specialized Rhyme FSR Comp 6Fattie. This bike is a tank, but it is stable and descends like a champ.

And finally, I have a ridged steel Surly Wednesday fat bike. This is my winter go to or the bike I ride when I need to check myself and just head out for pure fun.

Tell us how you learned about Petunia Mafia Cycling-
When I moved back to Colorado I was looking for more ladies to ride with. I did not want a race team or anything with hardcore commitments, so a friend suggested Petunia Mafia. I went to their kick-off meeting and signed up that night.

Why did you decide to become a member of Petunia Mafia Cycling?
Petunia Mafia was exactly what I was looking for- a large group of women who like to ride hard (or not), drink champagne/beer (or not), and have fun! They have every level of rider, a great vibe, amazing sponsors, awesome kits, and are super supportive of the women’s cycling community. It was such a great decision. I have been on the team for 5 years. My riding has improved immensely but what I love the most are the women on the team.
Why do you feel women's cycling groups are a positive thing?
And as I said before, there is just something so special about being out there riding with a group of women. Cycling traditionally has been much more of a male-dominated sport. It can be hard for women to feel comfortable breaking into and learning how to ride in this type of environment. Women’s cycling groups help support the beginner to advanced cyclist which helps increase our overall participation in the sport. For me, anything that helps more women get out cycling is a positive thing!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Mountain biking can be really intimidating. If you didn’t grow up mountain biking compared to a road or commuter bike, mountain bikes are more complex and the gear is different. Add to that you now have to worry about trail navigation and riding over/around/through terrain obstacles and it can be scary. Just being able to ride a bike doesn’t equate to being able to mountain bike, which means you have to learn a whole new set of skills. I had never crashed on my road bike, however within the first ten minutes on my mountain bike I wrecked. I think it can be hard for women to find a supportive community where they can learn the skills necessary to grow as a cyclist.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
To me it feels like the cycling industry is starting to catch on, however, there is still room for growth. As someone who is married to a grouchy bearded bike mechanic, I always find myself saying that bike shops need to learn how to deal with women as customers. I often find the bike shop experience stressful. While I am an advanced rider, I am not a proficient mechanic, and honestly, I have no desire to be. I have questions that it seems men just can’t relate to. I would love to see more women present in the industry. If I walk into a shop that has a female fitter or mechanic I find myself more comfortable right away. I mean it’s not awesome speaking with a male about seat chaffing!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Riding has presented me with so many experiences, challenges, and relationships and I want others to have that same opportunity. Riding, especially mountain biking is not for everyone, but for those who do want to do it, I love helping in whatever I can to get them out there. Everyone has his or her own motivations for getting on a bike…the bike doesn’t judge…so get out and ride!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
When I was 16 I had bilateral fasciotomies to my calves for exercise-induced compartment syndrome. The scars are just a few in my giant collection.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Women Involved Series: Molly Hurford

I'm a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When I'm not outside, I'm writing about being outside, travel and all things cycling-related on, or interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete Podcast, which I co-host with my equally-active (cycling coach) husband. I also write for magazines: Outside, Map My Run, FloBikes, Nylon and a bunch more.

My main goal is to get girls and women interested on adventure and wellness, especially cycling, and Peter (the husband) and I host a lot of talks and coach clinics and camps for cyclists, many of them women-specific.

I'm also the author of multiple books on cycling and nutrition, including my women-specific "Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy" guide to all the awkward questions new and veteran riders have about chafing, saddle sores, hormones and more. My most recent project, Shred Girls, is a young adult fiction series and website/brand focused on getting girls excited about bikes. (The first book in the series is out next winter with Rodale Press!)

IG and twitter: @mollyjhurford 
IG: @shred.girls

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-
I’m Molly Hurford—I write books (mostly about bikes) and ride bikes—pretty much any kind. I’m a little bike-obsessed, to be honest. My most recent book was “Saddle, Sore: A Women-Only Guide to You and Your Bike,” and focuses on all the awkward questions that women have but are often too afraid to ask when getting started with riding. But my most recent—and most exciting—project is the Shred Girls series, and the first book of that will be out with Rodale next Winter. It’s a series about a group of girls who find friendship and adventure when they discover cycling, and between that and the website where I feature “real life” Shred Girls, my goal is to introduce cycling to girls as early in life as possible!

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
My first mountain bike rides were admittedly pretty miserable. I was a cyclocrosser and bought a super heavy, super old mountain bike off of my teammate as a way to work on my technical skills. As a former triathlete, my power was there but any time there was an obstacle, I was toast. So, mountain biking became a way to work on that without destroying my ‘cross bike. As it turned out, I eventually fell in love with mountain biking, but not for a couple years after that. I moved to Massachusetts for a year and met up with a crew of rad ladies who invited me to ride with them on the local trails. And it turned out, riding with super cool women was actually fun. I realized I had been miserable simply because I was riding with people way more talented, but not interested in slowing down or teaching me. These women were crazy talented but had no problem dialing back the pace or sessioning parts of the trail where I was struggling. By the end of that year, I was helping lead the beginner rides—and loving it. That amazing community is what did it for me, 100 percent. I never found that in triathlon, and while it was there in cyclocross, mountain biking was the first time I connected with other women riders, and that completely was life-changing for me. Flash forward a few years, and my husband—a mountain bike skills coach—has helped me even more, and while I’m still not incredible at sailing over logs or floating over rocks, I’m a million times better than I was!
Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
As someone who came to MTB with a cyclocross background, clips were automatic for me. I’ve always been a fan of CrankBrothers, and I like the Candy pedals for MTB since if you don’t manage to clip in immediately, you still have a bit of a platform. But recently, I’ve gotten into playing with flat pedals to work on skills. I find that it’s a lot easier in some ways (less fear going over stuff knowing I can put a foot down) but also a lot more challenging, since you don’t have the easy ability to pull up on the pedals.

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 spend my life trying to overcome biffs! I even saw a sports hypnotherapist for a while to help get over my fear of obstacles on the trail (and obviously wrote an article about it, because that’s how I roll). The only really big crash I’ve had so far (knock on wood) was the second MTB race I ever did—I ate it HARD going over a log, nothing epic, just hit the wet wood at just the wrong angle and slid out, but really tweaked my kneecap. I thought I tore my ACL, which is a weirdly intense fear that I have. Ended up getting brought out on a sled attached to a four-wheeler, and it was one of the more embarrassing moments of my racing career. Honestly, though, I’m pretty glad to have at least one experience like that: it wasn’t a worst-case situation, but it gave me a lot more empathy for people who crash and have to pull out of races since that was my first DNF. Some injuries need recovery, not an HTFU approach.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Obstacles of any kind have always been and continue to be a challenge for me. I wasn’t a cyclist as a kid, so didn’t really develop any ‘roll over it’ skills playing on bikes then. And as a triathlete, I just concentrated on the road ahead of me. It wasn’t until cyclocross that I had to suddenly think about lifting my wheels and trying to actually deal with obstacles. And then, with the mountain bike, because I started with no instruction, I opted for the ‘ride into it to ride over it’ approach, which works fine on tiny stuff, but as the obstacles get bigger, it stops being so effective! So, learning wheel lifts and any element of finesse has been a challenge. I’m getting better, slowly but surely. I still surprise myself when I make it over stuff! Honestly, my best suggestion is to go to a skills-specific coach and get some one-on-one training. Trying to figure it out on your own is tough! But really, it comes down to just riding A LOT more, and sessioning tricky stuff. Even if you don’t get over something after a few tries, you’re better for having attempted it a few times versus just walking your bike over and never trying.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?

Oh yeah! I have a tough time not being the fast one on group rides, and on MTB rides, while I can keep up in terms of fitness, my lack of finesse—especially on downhills—drops me to the back when I ride with my girlfriends up here in Ontario. I admit, when I first started riding with the girls, I’d have tears of frustration from not being able to get over an obstacle that they all made it through. I’m especially tentative during our rainy season up here, since the roots, logs, and rocks get super mossy and slick! But I’ve realized that I’m still a beginner compared to my crew up here and that I have other athletic skills that I excel at… Mountain biking is still new(ish) for me, and it’s OK for me to be a newbie! More than anything, though, I just realized I needed a mental shift. Riding bike is awesome, and I enjoy it… I just need to remember that I’m there for fun when I’m getting anxious about being slow. My friend Mandy gave me some amazing advice: whenever you’re hitting a section that scares you, think ‘Weeeee!’ instead of ‘Eeeeeeeeek!’ Total mental shift.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The people, 110 percent. I mean, the riding itself is awesome, and how great does it feel when you nail a section of the trail that you never have before? That ‘weeeeee!’ moment is amazing. But really, the people that I’ve met: my best friends, my husband, the tons and tons of people I’ve met through this sport just blows my mind.

Why do you feel movement, in general, is so beneficial to us not only physically, but mentally?
I’ve started to realize that if I can’t get outside and move around, whether that’s a walk, a ride, a run, or just doing a quick set of planks or something actually outside under the sky, it helps calm my brain down. As a super type A person, I’ve actually learned that for me, the leisurely time outside is SO important. I think it’s two types of mental clarity: there are the longer, slower walks that my husband and I take where we really talk without distraction, make plans, and figure out how we’re taking over the world. On the flip side, getting out and shredding on a mountain bike on some singletrack helps completely clear out my mind. (I gave in and bought an Apple Watch two years ago so I could easily record memos to myself since it’s those moments of clarity where I get the best ideas!)

What do you enjoy most about being able to share #bikelife and work life with your husband?
Funny enough, we don’t share a whole lot of our #BikeLife together—actually, we very, very rarely ride together. He’s a lot faster than me, and we both really love riding solo, so more often than not, we start together and go our separate ways on the trail, apart from occasional skills sessions where he’s helping me improve specific things. (We run at the same speed though, so we do that a lot together. I used to try to force us riding together since we met because of bikes, but I realized that we do need to do our own thing sometimes!) And obviously, our work life is very bike-focused. We run a lot of clinics together, we write together, and we co-host The Consummate Athlete Podcast—plus we travel together and when we are home, we share an office. (He’s actually two feet away as I type this!) I love that we can talk about anything work-related and really understand each other, not just smile and nod. And it’s great knowing that we’re both so passionate about the same thing—plus, it’s fun when you love your work and love your husband and get to combine those things!

Can you share some information about your clinics? Why do you feel women-specific clinics are an important asset?
I love women-specific clinics! I think they’re super important (although Peter and I coach a ton of co-ed clinics as well). I know that cycling can be super intimidating to new riders like I’ve said, and sometimes, showing up to a clinic with a boyfriend or husband can make you feel a lot more uncomfortable. And, to be totally honest, a lot of the co-ed clinics I’ve attended as a rider, I’ve noticed that the guys tend to be really vocal, while the women are nervous in the background. That’s obviously not true at every clinic, just a personal observation! So, we love hosting women’s clinics—but notice that I said ‘we.’ Peter and I realized that it’s not about having a women-only clinic that’s coached by women, it’s just about having only women riders there. I love seeing more women coming into coaching, and there are some great ones out there, but at the same time, I think it’s great that women get to work with Peter, who’s the best MTB skills coach I know. (And I don’t just say that because I’m married to him!) Women’s clinics are a great way for women to have an easier entrance into the sport, but to me, the best part about it is the connections. Every time we’ve done a clinic or a talk, I’ve seen women exchange numbers and make ride plans at the end, and to me, that’s almost more valuable than the skills portion!
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have so many! My mountain bike is a Trek Superfly, my first dual-suspension. What a huge difference that makes! I absolutely love it—and I love that it’s black and white, since I’m a major fan of neutrals and not a fan of the pink/purple/baby blue that women often get saddled with. (More power to you if you can rock a pink bike, but my old punk rock self still wants to wear all black, all the time.) I also have a Trek Emonda for the road and LIVE on my Moots custom cyclocross bike. (It’s one of the tiniest ones they made and paved the way for their smallest size Psychlo-X frame!)

Tell us about Shred Girls! What is it all about and who is it for?
So, Shred Girls is my middle-grade book series that comes out next winter, but it’s also a website and ‘lifestyle brand’ that helps get young girls into riding (or keeps them in riding, depending on where they start!). I realized a few years ago that most girls ride bikes as kids, but give them up as teenagers, so we miss a major skill development time in our lives. So, what if girls stayed in cycling longer? I’m a writer, so my immediate reaction was, what can I write? I came up with the Shred Girls—think Babysitter’s Club, but with bikes. The girls in the series aren’t just learning to shred on bikes, they’re learning about friendship and life in the process. So far, I’ve had test readers from 8 to 16 reading the first book—Lindsay’s Joy Ride—and loving it. That’s been great for me. I also started the website in order to provide more resources for young shredders, with interviews of ‘real life shred girls’ of all ages, plus some how-to videos, tips from pros, and—coming soon—some favorite gear for each type of riding. Basically, I wrote and developed a brand that I wish I’d had access to as a kid!

How can folks support Shred Girls?
Head to and check out the site! Read about some of the Real Life Shred Girls, buy a hat or t-shirt for the Shred Girl in your life, and nominate her to be featured on the site as well. The books will start coming out next year, so sign up for the newsletter so you know when they’ll hit the shelves—and follow along on instagram at @shred.girls to see upcoming events and cool stuff that the girls are up to!

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

It’s crazy intimidating! And, more often than not, women get into MTB because of a husband/boyfriend/partner who urges them to go for a ride… And well-meaning or not, he ends up spending the whole ride going way ahead of her, offering less-than-helpful advice, and when she does catch up, he takes off again immediately and she can’t even catch her breath, much less take a drink of water. I spotted a couple like this a few months ago on my local trails, and when I passed them the first time, I could see that the guy had stopped to wait until she caught up, and started as soon as she was back in eyesight. The second time I connected with them, she was walking up a hill with her bike and crying. I *may* have yelled at the guy to slow down and actually be helpful when I passed him. Ugh! The women I know who ride are so amazing and just want to help other women enjoy riding—so I think the best thing a woman can do when she wants to try cycling is to find other women to ride with! Most shops have women-only rides, so I always urge women to jump into one of those.

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

I think the more group rides and fun, social events that women who are already in the sport can plan, the better. For example, in Collingwood, Ontario, where we live right now, we’re working with a group to start an off-road cycling club that will kick off in May, focusing on 100% social, fun rides with post-ride hangouts. They aren’t going to be women-specific (though plans for a women’s day are in the works!) but I think more group stuff like that—that isn’t race-oriented—can be amazing for women hoping to get into the sport.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Knowing what riding has done for my life. It brought me out of my shell, introduced me to my best friends and my favorite humans, and it provides me with unlimited physical, mental, economic, spiritual and emotional benefits! Knowing what it did for me makes me want to pass that feeling on to as many women as possible. Best job ever.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

I own a turtle named Sven (after Sven Nys). He’s adorable and aggressively angry all the time, and I am a terrible absentee turtle parent since I travel so much, so he lives in New Jersey with his grandparents. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Women Involved Series: Kate Courtney

Hi! My name is Kate Courtney and I am a Professional Mountain Bike Racer for the Specialized Factory Team. I started racing as a freshman in high school through the NorCal League in California and never looked back.

Over the past few years, I have had the incredible opportunity to race around the world in the UCI MTB World Cup series and continue to chase bigger and bigger goals in the sport.

I graduated from Stanford University in 2017 with an undergraduate degree in Human Biology and am excited to spend the next few years focusing full time on my cycling career. Off the bike, I am a big lover of waffles, dogs and anything that involves being outside!

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it has influenced you-
I was introduced to cycling by my dad. Growing up, we spent weekends riding a tandem bicycle up Mount Tamalpais. It never occurred to me that cycling was such a big competitive sport and I wasn’t introduced to racing until high school. I think this introduction has had a big impact on me. I fell in love with the sport because I loved riding bikes with my dad. No matter where racing takes me, I can always come back to that and remember why I love what I do.

What was your motivating factor for getting into bike racing?
I began riding mountain bikes with my high school team as cross training for cross country. I was a dedicated runner at the time and was looking for a way to stay in shape in the spring. At the time, I had no idea I would fall in love with the sport and community and never look back.

For folks on the fence about participating in a cycling event, why should they try it at least one time?
In my experience, nothing brings people together like cycling! It is a sport that is accessible to so many people of different ages, skill levels and with different goals. I think it is pretty magical to be a part of that community by participating in an event. It is an opportunity to push yourself but in an environment filled with supportive people that share a love for the bike.
What were some handling skills that challenged you (or still challenge you?) Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
When I first started racing in World Cups, I was shocked by how technical the courses were. I struggled to ride the A lines and was particularly scared of big drops. I was able to start working with a skills coach and develop tools to attack harder and harder features. For example, in developing the skills to go off bigger drops - we started with extremely little ones (I’m talking curbs!) and practiced the techniques. That way, when I arrived at a bigger feature with more fear, I knew I had the skills to ride it.

What do you love about riding your bike?
It’s hard to pick just one! I love being able to explore the world on two wheels and spend time with like-minded people out in nature. I also love that cycling never fails to give you opportunities to challenge yourself. Early on, my goals might have been to ride a feature on a local trail or be able to do longer rides. Now, those goals have progressed, but still pose the same type of challenge. There is a way forward for everyone!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I am so lucky to ride for Specialized and get to be on what I think is the best equipment in the sport. I ride the new Epic full suspension and the Epic HT hardtail during the race season although I also spend a lot of time on my road and cross bikes for training. My favorite bike would have to be my new 2018 Epic from World Champs. It is hot pink, sparkly, extremely light and one of the best handling bikes I have ever had the pleasure of riding. It was a great bike for world championships and I have been riding it ever since!
Looking back on the past year, what did you learn about yourself during the race season and why will that help you next season?
I learn a lot about myself from every race. Over a season, that can really add up! I think one of the most important things I practiced and learned a lot about was the idea of balancing expectations with believing in yourself. It is hard to both believe that you can win and manage your expectations if things don’t fall into place perfectly from the beginning. At world championships, for example, I crashed in the first few minutes. I believed I was capable of winning, but I had let go of expectations and was really in the moment. Instead of being completely discouraged, I was able to fight back and walked away with a silver medal. It is a constant battle to both push yourself forward towards bigger and bigger goals while meeting yourself where you are at this moment, right now.

What are you looking forward to for the 2018 season?
I am looking forward to the move to Elite! It is going to be a big step up for me and will be full of new challenges. This offseason I have definitely felt very motivated by the opportunity to race in the Elite World Cups next year and it will definitely keep me training hard.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think there are a lot of ways to get women involved in cycling. One of the biggest ways, in my opinion, is through other female riders. Being able to go out and ride with other women really made my introducing to the racing scene really fun. Likewise, I see a lot of women just getting into the sport who really enjoy female companionship and encouragement out on the trails.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I hope to encourage everyone to ride - regardless of gender. I think the bike is a really amazing tool to connect people and push them to be their best selves.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Random Fact: My spirit animal is the shark!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Holly Cass

I have 4 beautiful children that all ride, as does my husband Will. We have our daughter Zoë, son Justice (JDog), Marley (Gnarly Marley$), and Willie (Fat Baby). They send it!!

I’m the owner of a real estate brokerage in Big Bear Lake, CA called Summit Real Estate. Even my personal real estate branding is bike-life centered. Every Trail Leads To Home. Real Estate has been my jam now for 12 years and I absolutely love it from the non-stop chase to my favorite part- the "kill!"

We moved up here last summer to literally live our dream life and it’s working out well, we're flourishing! My two older kids have really enjoyed the extra time training and racing DH. My 15 yr. old daughter Zoë has her eye on nationals this next season. We are currently prepping her to race Jr. expert for the full winter Fontana series and a few bigger race series next summer. She wants to go all the way so as a crazy race mother, I’m all in!

I’m the president of the Inland Valley Mountain Bike Association. An IMBA chapter. This is something I’m still tryin to wrap my head around.

My husband, Will, has really been the catalyst for all of this bike craziness. I’ll explain later, ha!
Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you-
After coming home from having a horrific c-section with baby number 4, my husband surprised me with a bike. I had always had natural deliveries so the c-section left me feeling somewhat less than a “woman”. Hard to explain but being a natural mom has always been something I was really proud of. I realized after they pulled 9 lb 15 oz Willie form my poor body I wasn’t in charge, he was!

Waking in and seeing that bike really gave me a goal, albeit a small goal at first. I literally had to duct tape my abs, I was 80 lbs heavier, and I felt like crap. With that, feeling the wind in my hair, even for a cruise around the block, was intoxicating. I needed more!

For the past 15 years I had been on a uphill battle post-cancer. I was also diagnosed with very painful, genetic,  rheumatoid arthritis (thanks Mom). Over the past years I had really lost all health and at times, hope. After baby Willie was born, I had the help of a local naturopath, that bike, and my incredibly supportive family. I had been depressed, in pain, and sick about all of the time; I had been on my way to my death bead and we all knew it.

In my younger years I had spent years traveling and being athletic: rock climbing, triathlons (half-Iron Man), marathons, snowboarding, surfing (and anything I could paddle!) You name it! If it was an outdoor adventure, I was in. That made the tailspin of declining health so terrible- every tie I would try and work out I would be back in bed. I had lost myself. Everything in my body, including my organs, was inflamed. My poor kidneys had just about given up on me.

Every morning while breastfeeding my little boy I focused on my next ride, no matter how little I just wanted to be in the saddle. After weeks and months went by the healing had begun! It was a huge lifestyle shift. Lots of acupuncture and nutritional therapies; a lot of work on handling the stress of motherhood and a full-fledged career.

Take us back to your first couple mountain bike rides, what did you learn from them and why did it inspire you to stick with it?
I learned that I had a long way to go! I learned it was okay to not be the fastest, gnarliest, or most talented rider. It was a hard pill to swallow as I was a natural-born competitor. The bike truly humbled me mentally and physically.

What do you love about Enduro compared to other forms of mountain biking?
Wow! Where to I begin? Enduro is magical. Combining the suffer of the climbs with all the technical prowess of Down Hill racing. Enduro is the perfect BEAST! It rattles me to the core and I love the pure adventure of it.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Kamikaze was definitely my favorite this past season, it really tore me down on every level. I was such a nervous wreck leading up to the race that I don’t think I slept well for a week. I was terrified. It was everything I expected. Just stage after stage of radical gnar. I crossed the finish line and literally sobbed. I had dedicated the event to my father who had passed 17 years earlier to the day. It was emotional for me and I felt like it was my coming out party. It was for me to show myself that I was pretty awesome! (Sometimes I’m not sure!)  We all have our demons and self-doubt has always been mine. Enduro slaps me a good one.

Any suggestions for folks looking to participate at their first event?
Pick a small race. Keep it to a couple stages if possible and local to you. Pre-ride like crazy. Make sure your bike is dialed and learn from my biggest fail-not knowing how to fuel. Get that down way beforehand! With all my autoimmune problems it was a struggle to find something I didn’t puke up. Carborocket Evil 333 is now my best fiend, my XC buddies spilled the beans on that one. I can’t eat when I race, so I drink all my calories.

Why was it important for you to ensure your children were introduced to off-road riding?
I wanted my daughters to be bold and my sons to be disciplined. I want them to experience life outdoors. The rest is history. Even my 2 year old, Willie, scares the death out of us. You’ll hear him yell “gonna send it” and we all go running! Marley loves pump track and anything on two wheels as well. Both Justice and Zoë love to get their wheels off the ground; my husband is an accomplished dirt jumper, so I blame him.

Clips or flats? What works for you and why?
Clips all way for me. Too many years on a Tri bike. I would break my ankles if I wasn’t clipped in as I’m incredibly clumsy and I have horrible form. Clipping in keeps me straight.

Have you had any biffs (crashes) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I’ve had some good ones. The least painful and most scary was at Crafts and Cranks last year. I knocked myself out cold on Fall Line. It was loose, I was tired and I took a tree to my head. The most painful was a few months prior at a really technical riding area. I was really working on my speed in berms. Took one way to fast, washed out my front tire and body slammed, knocking the wind out of myself. I had a bruise from my ankle to my thigh from due to my bike frame. My acupuncturist had to manually dig out a large hematoma on one of my tendons on the inside of my knee, it was insane! Both wrecks got in my head; both were caused by my errors and I learned a lot from each. At Crafts and Cranks I was low in fuel and I make poor decisions when I’m tired. The other wreck I was greedy- too much speed and my weight was in the wrong place. I got checked!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I still struggle with keeping my elbows out and my ass back. My daughter has to constantly yell at me “boobs over the bars”. We remind each other all the time. I'm not sure why but I always want to be so upright on the bike. I think much of this is due to lack of fitness and that I get tired. On a long race stage I battle this constantly. My husband takes video of me often and we critique it. I’m always shocked at how terrible my form is. Seeing it on video is huge.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I love to jump my bike even though I'm super sketchy at it. I have a hard time compressing off the jump. As I explained above I’m always too high off my seat. I still hit some big stuff, mostly so my kids and husband don’t clown me (and I know my hubs thinks I’m sexy in the air.)  Haha! Seriously, they all have pushed me to be a better rider and we all push each other.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that it’s just me and my breath. It’s simple. It’s a solid game against fear, my body,  and my goals. It’s a meditative place. I cry often in pure gratitude when I ride. It’s bliss.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I’m a bike hoarder. The bike that started it all was a Turner Czar, a 29'er XC bike. It’s a carbon climbing machine but loves technical stuff as well

Then I have a Turner Flux. My Flux is built for Enduro. I really love this bike because I can pedal really well, but it’s nice and light so I can flick it around in super scary stuff. If I get back behind the saddle and drop the seat I can literally roll just about anything on this bike.

My new fav is my Turner Cyclosys. This is my gravel bike. Whoa! I have really had some fun on single track around Big Bear on this bike. Gravel bikes are super punk rock and I love how nuts you can get on one!

You are heavily involved with the mountain biking community in your area, what inspired you to become president of your local IMBA chapter?
Yikes. I didn’t pick this position, it picked me, and it happened so quickly. One day I was the head of fundraising, then next thing I knew they were voting me in. It’s a huge honor. It’s a heavy burden that I don’t carry lightly. I saw the incredible issues within our community and the trails we all ride. There are some serious cultural issues I hope to adjust with my wonderful board of trail advocates and educators. This group of selfless volunteers and I have some major work cut out for us. Exciting times!

How can folks become involved with your local chapter? Especially women?
Since I came to IVMTB, I have added two stellar women who have added so much depth to our meetings; I love watching the dynamics! We always welcome people to our board meetings- we have local race directors and community politicians who show up. We really need more memberships going out this year; without support we are kind of dead in the water. I’m starting a podcast soon that I hope to use as a tool to get more people engaged.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
It’s intimidating with (sometimes) lots of maintenance. Bikes are crazy now. If my husband didn’t ride, I don’t know if I ever would’ve gotten involved. For this reason I try to support as many women on bikes as possible like our local Girlz Gone Riding Chapter. A lot of men take women on trails they shouldn’t be on when first learning. One bad experience and they are over it, who wouldn’t be? Men if you are reading this, call me! Don’t take your wife out, you don’t get it- women do.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
We need to unify the culture of mountain bikers as this is a lifestyle. Like in advocacy, we need to take baby steps toward a larger goal. For instance: I love to jump, but gaps scare the turds out of me. I would love a jump line that’s built for me and my ladies where we could fill the gaps with plywood, hit it, and then remove it. I have to go to work on Mondays and I can't take huge risks anymore, my children and clients depend on me. What I don't want to hear is "if you can’t ride it as is then don’t hit it."  Also, women need more moral support from other women. That’s my take. We don’t ride like men. We are women. So we need other women to guide us, at least I did. My husband annoyed the hell out of me when I was learning. Christina Turner and some other local bad asses took me under THEIR wings and it was life changing. Grab a friend and teach her to ride.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Well, I love bikes and I know what this freedom can do for other women. It’s a power we all deserve.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I had dreadlocks and hairy armpits well into my 20’s. My husband is happy those days are gone. Though I think he secretly wonders if I will revert again in retirement!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Radio Silence

This winter I have taken way more time off the bike than anticipated.

I've been dealing with feelings of inadequacy and the worry of "Will all of my gains go down the drain?" in the same breath, I've been secretly grateful for the time off two wheels.

What do you mean?

I've been enjoying time off the bike. I haven't fallen out of love with biking, but I've needed a mental and physical break from it. I also needed time to prioritize Fearless Women of Dirt along with other projects. I needed time to recover, reset, and plan.

In general, I've had a difficult time having a 100% healthy relationship with biking and with myself. I've written about the eating disorder that I had throughout high school and years after and how I was able to reign in the behavior. Even with years of establishing a healthier relationship with food (Food=Fuel=Life), I still find a small part of myself battling obsessive tendencies. When stress is high, the desire to have an iron-clad grip on life grows stronger. I battle with releasing control, because the more I try to control, the less in control I actually am. Funny how that works!

The riding fix clings to the back of my mind, quietly whispering to me that if I'm not busting my ass on a ride EVERY DAY that my world will crash down around me. It also whispers tales of how I'll never be fast nor good. (What am I trying to prove, anyway?) Let me tell you, that inner voice you have in your head can be your best friend or your biggest enemy.

For the first time in a long while, I think I finally got that voice to shut up for a little while- or I've learned to not to listen as hard. Either way, it's progress.

My time off the bike first started with a stupid cut that I gave myself while trying to pry wax off a bottle of Surly Darkness. Due to the location, I avoided riding off-road so I wouldn't open the cut back up. That was about a week or so before our Honeymoon.
Then we were gone a week for our Honeymoon.
Then I caught a terrible cold that fully blew up a few days after coming back from our Honeymoon (right before Thanksgiving.)
For the first time in a long time, I stayed home instead of going to work. Even tho I got a little better, the cough lingered for weeks.
I had about 2 weeks of well-time before I was hit with another cold right before Christmas. That had me out for another week+ of personal misery.
Riding the trainer sounded exhausting and I had a hard time getting up in the morning because I had been getting poor sleep during my cold(s).
The weather became bitterly cold and I had a hard time convincing myself riding outside was good for me when temps were -15 and below. I didn't want to compromise my immune system.
I wasn't able to adapt to the cold temps as well as previous years since I stayed indoors.

The majority of my winter biking was commuting. That's it. I got a lot of prep work done for the 2018 riding season! Rides scheduled, Women's Nights scheduled, Mini-Maintenance Clinics scheduled, working on getting Introductory Skills sessions scheduled, FWD Membership solidified, and more. All things to be excited about, and all requiring time in which to do so. This year feels more put together than last, and I'm beyond stoked.
Fearless Women of Dirt jersey!
Click photo to order.
Another job added to the plate- playing a larger part with our local mountain bike trail organization. I can add Vice President/Secretary to my resume of "Things Josie Does" and I'm pretty stoked. DHPT: Decorah Human Powered Trails is making some excellent headway on being able to create new trails on land given to the city of Decorah. These trails are going to be made with purpose, and it will be a different feel than what we currently have. A couple main points will be a perimeter loop that is double wide, that will provide very easy dirt riding for folks new to riding off-road. It can also be used for walking/running and in the winter for fatbiking and skiing. The overall concept is to build a stacked trail system that will be NICA compliant and offer a more positive riding experience for new riders and youth. This means, in the following years, we may have an excellent area to have a Little Bellas chapter and a perfect area to go to for FWD rides since we can graduate to different trails as riding improves.

Taking on the position of DHPT Vice President/Secretary has me going full-force into updating and reviving our key points of communication, the website and the DHPT Facebook page. It's time to shine the light on a group that is going to be part of creating something extremely awesome for the Decorah community.

This doesn't mean riding is off my radar, not by a long shot! With Time Trials on the horizon I know I'll need to make a plan to get in some saddle time before too long. I would prefer to wait until I know the roads aren't slick with secret ice. I'm also extremely excited to get on the new S-Works Epic HT...a short parking lot ride on Maui brought a huge smile to my face. SO light. So nimble. Oh my gosh, I could've kept riding in circles all damn day. This season is literally going to be epic with both Epics vying for my attention and butt. Haha! I might find a renewed love for a hardtail on the trails again...we'll see.

It was glorious to feel that swell in my heart, the butterflies of anticipation, and feel the joy spread across my face in smile-form. Taking a step back and reflecting on the past months, I came to the conclusion that this break from riding was just the thing I needed. Time away from the bike isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're able to reignite your passion for riding in other ways. Fearless Women of Dirt is very important to me, and seeing it grow and become more successful excites me beyond words. Becoming more involved with the trail organization that built the trails I love is a wonderful way to give back- and becoming involved in a future trail project really excites me!

I know my fitness has not gone down to zero.
I know that not biking will not result in me gaining lots of weight.
I know that not biking will not put me back to "beginner" status per skills I've learned, etc.
It's been a necessary break and I no longer feel the need to apologize for it.
I'm ready to hit the trails as soon as conditions square away, I actually feel excited!
I'm determined to make 2018 one heck of a good year.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Nikki Strickland

I would describe myself as a designer, traveler, creative, and lover of all things animals and fitness (if I can combine the last two, even better). I currently live in Atlanta with my husband and 2 dogs. Our world revolves around our dogs Emmy and Hutch, traveling and cycling. My husband and I started a business together about a year ago and officially launched in January as an agency focused on helping companies with their culture and employee experience.

We are both very passionate about this topic because it impacts so many lives, and we come from a strong HR and recruitment branding background. Our main goal is to change the way people view work. It shouldn't be a chore, but rather a positive piece of your life.

Outside of work, most of our time goes to the dogs and cycling. My husband has been a cyclist for about 20 years and has encouraged my passion for cycling over the past few years. My journey into cycling has actually been a rather long one that started with dabbling in triathlons in college, then deciding I wanted to get a single speed to commute all over the city (I'm pretty sure this prepared me for anything because of the hills and traffic ha), and then finally getting a road bike, riding with groups and racing. I fell in love with the sport so quickly and am very passionate about getting other women into cycling. Atlanta is probably one of the most underrated cycling cities, but what people don't know is that we have an amazing robust cycling scene. There are multiple groups rides every night that have 50-100 people at each ride, it's insane! I love the culture of cycling and everything it stands for--it promotes mental strength as well as physical strength, but it also supporting each other and lending a hand when someone is new or just having a bad ride.

Twitter: @NTStrickland
Instagram: @NikTic

Tell us about how your #bikelife evolved over the years, and why it's such an important part of who you are-
My bike life has evolved from spending most of my time commuting via bike to dabbling in triathlons, and then eventually becoming very serious about road cycling. My husband and I both ride, and our lives revolve around the bicycle. Our vacations are always bike vacations, and most of our friends are cyclists as well. I even ride my bike with my dog running alongside me to get his exercise in as well! (He loves it.)

When it came to commuting by bike, would you say your location made it easy or challenging? Do you have suggestions for folks who would like to start commuting by bike?
I am fairly centrally located in downtown Atlanta, but there are quite a few hills to climb if you are riding around town. My biggest tip for commuting is to find the right bike and be reasonable. I ride a single speed around, but I don't work in a traditional office where I have to be in work clothes. However, if you work in an office, I would suggest getting a change of clothes, a good saddle bad if you are going long distances, and gears!

Tell us about your introduction to road riding, what inspired that choice of riding and why do you enjoy it?
My husband introduced me to road riding. I'm really fortunate that he has been riding for 20 years because he knows all the tips and tricks for riding with a large group. The community of cyclists in Atlanta is amazing, and everyone encouraged me to start riding.

Tell us about an event or two that you have enjoyed participating in, why did you enjoy them and what did you learn?
I raced my first criterium a few months ago and it was by far my favorite race! I learned so much about myself at that race and realized how mentally tough I can be if I put my mind to the challenge.

Do you have any tips or advice for folks on the fence about attending a biking event? Why should they do it?
I would start out with a Grand Fondo or Century because these tend to be less intimidating and more beginner friendly. Once you get into more serious races, make sure you have your bike handling skills down, as there are bound to be people bumping into you, hitting potholes, or crashing in beginner races.
Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Cycling has been a really positive experience for me so far, so I haven't faced many challenges, outside of hard races or group rides. I always tell myself to never give up, never stop pedaling, and when I want to quit, I take 10 more pedal strokes and see how I feel--and I always keep going.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I think everyone is challenged when they first start riding in large groups. You have to be very self-aware and respectful of the peloton. I don't talk much when I'm riding in a group at a fast pace, because I feel that most crashes occur when people get distracted, rather than a bike handling error. Focus on the road, be aware of all surrounding riders, avoid "sketchy" riders, don't get trapped in the middle of a giant peloton, and respect the rules.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I always practice bunny hopping over potholes or reacting quickly to objects in the road so that I don't put myself or others in danger. I also practice cornering quickly and moving throughout the peloton safely. I don't usually get down on myself, I just have fun.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Riding makes me feel free. I love going really fast (literally as fast as I can possibly go haha). I get very depressed if I don't ride my bike, and I don't feel like myself if I take long periods of time off the bike. Cycling is such a huge part of my husband's and my life, we bond riding together. Most of the time when we ride together, we don't even talk to each other, we just clear our minds and silently encourage each other to focus on pushing ourselves mentally and physically. Some people might find this strange, but we find it peaceful. We don't need to talk to communicate or enjoy each other's company.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have an S-Works Amira and I am obsessed with this bike! It is so lightweight, perfect for racing and doing long climbs up mountains.

Tell us why you applied for the Specialized Women's Ambassador program-
I applied to the Specialized Ambassador program because I wanted to make a difference in my community and have the support from Specialized to host fun events, group rides and encourage other women to ride bikes!

Why do you feel programs such as the Specialized Women's Ambassador program are important for the cycling industry and community?
Ambassador programs are important because it gives women a reason to come together and encourage each other to ride bikes. The Specialized brand is so powerful in the cycling community and is very respected even to the most junior of rider.

What are your goals for the upcoming season?
I am planning on racing a lot more this season. I've been training like crazy and I'm hoping to bring my A-game in 2018.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I can't speak to mountain biking, but I think the biggest barrier to entry for road cycling is all of the education you need in order to get the proper bike, gear, and locate group rides.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Locally we have been hosting weekly group rides that are specifically for beginners. We help people get the gear they need and learn skills that will help them ride in larger groups.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I think it takes a special type of bad ass female to get on a bike with a bunch of guys and turn yourself inside out in order to stick with a group ride. We are probably a little crazy, really feisty, and the most determined women you will ever meet--that is what I love about the women I meet in cycling. It is the toughness, pride, and confidence that cycling gives to women that inspires me.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I can play the piano, ukulele, and Kazoo! Haha! It's always loads of fun singing and playing with friends!