Monday, July 16, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Amanda Cude

I’m Amanda and I am a blogger and REI employee. I started my blog plussidelife.com a little over a year ago. I try to encourage women of all shapes and sizes to get outside. After trying to find people like me online that enjoy the outdoors and are plus size I just wasn’t getting anywhere. So I decided I would lead the pack and start my own blog.

I started riding bikes as an adult back in 2014. I got a super cheap cruiser on Black Friday and would ride with my husband, Jeremy, to the grocery store across the street. It was fun but I wasn’t convinced yet.

Then we spent the summer of 2015 in Tucson, AZ and it changed everything for me. The city has over 100 miles of greenways that connect all the neighborhoods to all the businesses. We would go on casual rides on the greenway and I just loved it. I felt like a kid again. During this time my Jeremy started to get into mountain biking. He had a WalMart mountain bike and literally rode that bike until the bike shop couldn’t fix it anymore.

We moved back to Charlotte and wanted to take that love of cycling with us. I traded in my cheap cruiser and got a hardtail mountain bike (Elphaba) and Jeremy upgraded to a full suspension mountain bike. The first time I rode on a trail I went over the handlebars and down a ravine. I was bruised all along my side and had a black eye. I started to wonder if I bit off more then I could chew trying to ride trails.

I went back and forth riding a small green trail, getting hurt and wouldn’t ride again for another month. Then would stop riding because it was too cold. My skills never seemed to get better because every time I would ride I would hurt myself. After I sprained my ankle last fall I was ready to really ride on a regular basis and improve my skills once and for all. I hated not being able to move like I once could.

After my ankle healed we went to Santos, FL to see family and took our bikes with us. It was the perfect place for me to gain some confidence and get back on the bike. I even did my first wall ride there. At the same time, I switched jobs and started working at the local REI. Jeremy already worked there as a bike tech and had gotten into bike commuting. I talked about it for a year but finally committed to joining him. I got my e-bike (Topanga) to commute with and never looked back. Now I ride on group rides with friends once a week. I ride to work a few times and go on long rides around the city. I’ve also gotten better and handling my bike and am finally seeing improvements on the trail too.

I have plans to take my e-bike and do my first half-century this fall. So far the longest distance I’ve done is 32 miles. I’m also working on mountain biking and hope to tackle a trail or two in Pisgah and/or DuPont in western NC.

Instagram: @plusside_life
Facebook: @theplussideoflife

Tell us about your introduction to #bikelife and what inspired you to start cycling as an adult?
It started very organically. Eight years ago we rented bikes to ride on the beach during our honeymoon and realized how out of shape we were but we had fun. We decided a few years ago to get cheap ‘walmart’ bikes to ride the sidewalks to get to a few places that were close by. It felt good to be ‘green’ and cycle to get groceries instead of taking the car. When we moved to Tucson it just exploded and we were opened up to a whole new world of what riding a bike could mean. I felt like a kid again and had a huge smile on my face every time. I wanted that fun experience to last so I kept riding my bike.

What was the deciding factor to get involved with mountain biking?
FOMO My husband, Jeremy started mountain biking in Tucson and would tell me about his rides. It sounded like so much fun to be out in nature and ride. So when we moved back to Charlotte I wanted to be able to join him. We lived right next to the US Whitewater Center and he would bike the trails while I walked them. It wasn’t as fun walking by myself while he literally rode laps around me. So I wanted a bike to join him.

You ride with Race Face Chester pedals, tell us why you like riding with grippy flat pedals-
I’m already clumsy and have very little handling skills on the bike. So the last thing I need is to be clipped in. I kept having issues with my feet falling off the pedal when I rode, either from pedal strikes or just not getting my cadence and gears in balance. When Jeremy started working in the bike shop he learned that people buy these pedals all the time and always say good things about them. Once he told me I could get lime green and match my bike I was sold. I tried them out and felt so much better and more confident riding. I haven’t looked back since.

Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome? 
I got my mountain bike for my birthday two years ago. The first time I rode it I went on a simple green trail that I had hiked before. I started to get more speed then I felt comfortable with and tried to break but I couldn’t stop. Next thing I know I’m down a ravine about 6-8 feet below the trail. I went over the handlebars, took down a baby tree, and was covered in bruises. I felt like a badass going into work that week because I had a story to tell but in reality, I was scared to get on my bike. This process continued for the next year and a half. I would finally get the courage to ride my bike, crash and then take off a few months before I would try again.

The worst was right before Thanksgiving last year. We had visited family and decided to take our bikes with us to ride afterward at a trail we had never gone to before. It was starting to get dark and the park was closing down. Instead of finishing the trail we decided to turn around and ride back to the car. I went up a rooty section and loss momentum, in trying to bail on my bike my hoodie got wrapped around the handlebars and my bike landed with pedal hitting my foot. Once I caught my breath I tried to stand up but I was in so much pain I couldn’t put any pressure on it. We tried to see if I could ride down the hills and walk up the other side but I could barely walk. We ended up with Jeremy riding down the service road beside the trail in the car and picking me up. I thought it would be a normal injury where I’m sore for a few hours but then it goes away. The next day it was worse and I went to the urgent care. I had a sprained foot and was put in a boot and told to stay off of it for 6-8 weeks. This was my first time getting seriously hurt ever in my life. I took a lot out of me mentally to not be able to do anything normal. Physically I gained 10 pounds from lack of moving around.

I was so determined and I didn’t want to feel helpless. I gave myself all of winter to heal took a very level and simple trail to ride. It built up my confidence so I did it again. Now after a few months of riding on a regular basis, I’m starting to actually see improvements in my riding but also having fun because I’m not hurting myself every time I ride.

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’m honestly not good at any handling skills. I’m just now starting to get the hang of leaning in the turns and feeling comfortable with speed in certain sections. I will say that I practiced my skills a few times on a regular basis and it has helped me out. I don’t like spending 30 minutes to an hour working on lifting my front tire or riding up and down curbs but the next time I go on the trail I always see improvement so clearly working on skills does help.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I feel free when I ride my bike. I see strangers looking at me weird and I just think “You’re missing out on the fun

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

First is Elphaba she is my Cannondale Tango hardtail mountain bike. Yes she is named after the character from Wicked. It is the first bike I ever spent a good chunk of money on and I really enjoy riding it. For the most part, she is all stock parts, I switched out the saddle and pedals but other then that not much has changed. We have a saying that you can’t upgrade bikes until you out ride what your bike is capable of. So I see this bike being with me for a few years. Second is Topanga, my Specialized Como 2.0 Ebike, and yes I loved watching Boy Meets World as a kid. I got this bike because I wanted to be able to keep up with Jeremy on the road and commute to work. This bike has completely changed my life and made me ride more than even I imagined.

You have recently purchased a Specialized Turbo Como 2.0, tell us about your decision to go with a pedal assist bike and why you chose the Specialized Turbo Como 2.0-
I had looked into getting an ebike for well over a year. I probably looked at about 10 different options and test rode about 5 different bikes. I’m overweight and out of shape and I knew that by getting an ebike it would level the playing field so to speak. When Jeremy and I would ride on the greenways on my mountain bike I naturally went about 8-9 MPH, on my ebike I naturally go about 12-13 MPH. I wasn’t holding him back anymore, in fact, I could actually outclimb him. When it came down to what bike to choose all of them were in the same relative price point. They all felt the same as far as comfort and ease of using the pedal assist. I ended up with the Como because it looked the prettiest. It may sound cheesy but I really wanted the battery to be integrated into the down tube instead of looking like a brick glued to the side. I couldn’t stop thinking about the color and how much it matched my personality.

There are folks out there who feel that they aren't getting a "workout" when riding an e-bike or they are "cheating", tell us how this bike has opened up doors for you-
I would say those people are missing the point. The very first ride I did with my ebike was a group ride around town. We did 10 miles at a relaxed pace. My friend had invited me on this ride for months and I wouldn’t do it because I knew I couldn’t do the distance or climb some of the hills. No one knew it was an ebike until after the ride was done. In fact, I’ve never gotten a bad comment about riding an ebike. The opposite happens, people ask questions and want to know how it works. I find that I’ve become an unofficial spokesperson for ebikes because I'm normally the first one they have ever seen.

I tell people all the time that I’m riding a bike just like them. I just have a little help and modified it to work for me. It is very common to see people modify workouts for yoga or CrossFit. It is the same idea here. I still have to pedal or the bike doesn’t move, I’m still putting in the effort.

For folks who have not tried an e-bike, what would you tell them?
Don’t start in Turbo! But seriously give it a try. I know a lot of people want to be pure when it comes to bikes and that's great. But I believe that ebikes open a door to allow other people to ride who might not or could otherwise. Think of the motor as your front chainring. When going downhill or level stay in eco mode. When you get to a steep section then turn up the assistance to touring or turbo. Understand that the assistance stops at a certain speed, for most bikes, it is 20 or 28MPH. Once I get close to that speed the bike will actually drag to purposefully not go over that limit when trying to use that assistance, similar to a car that has a governor on it. That being said you can ride really fast and it doesn’t stop when going downhill and you aren’t pedaling.

How has purchasing an e-bike bettered your #bikelife experience?
This bike really has changed my life. I find myself wanting to ride more then I had originally expected. It is now common for us to ride after work for 45 minutes or longer. It has made riding fun and not just work. The other day we rode for a few miles after a thunderstorm came through and Jeremy was like we never use to do this. I didn’t have to think I just jump on the bike and go. I’m riding longer distances then I thought I could. I even put my mountain bike tires on the ebike and took it on gravel roads. Last year I rode about 100 miles all year, now I average 100 miles a month.

Tell us about your blog and what inspired you to create it?
I actually was looking specifically for a blog that talked about being a woman and enjoying nature. I found a few but when I tried to find other plus size women who liked to hike and bike I couldn’t find anything. I knew we existed but no one was out there. So I started The Plus side of Life. I want to show women that size is just a number and the outdoors are there for everyone. It is a place where I try to inspire women by showing me out there trying but also to educate those who have never tried anything like this before. I didn’t grow up really outdoorsy, we would car camp a few times and maybe fish but that was about it. I didn’t really find this lifestyle until my mid-20s. I think a lot of people are out there wanting to connect with nature but don’t know where to start or get intimidated at stores. So I just let people know I get it, let me help you.

What has been the most interesting thing that you've experienced since you started blogging about your #bikelife?
I kept the idea of my blog in my head for a long time. I told Jeremy about it and he was 100% behind it. I wrote for a while but never consistently and never really promoted it. At the beginning of this year, I decided to really work on making this blog a priority. I told one of my friends about it and she was like yes this is needed. I wasn't sure if she would get it since she is a standard size and then she told me about her family that is plus size and loved the connection. When I started my new job I told a co-worker and she was like yeah I know I read it. I was so happy to hear someone say that they read it. Then she told me that her mother-in-law is plus size and is constantly talking about needing more women of size out there being represented. When I met her mother-in-law she was so happy to meet me. She told me to just keep doing it, that she loved that someone was stepping up to give a voice. 68% of American women are a size 16 or higher. I just want to show that we love to be outside too.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
I think women are afraid to ask questions and risk looking silly or dumb. At the same time, I think men give off that it is a boy’s club feel, whether it is intentional or not. I think it starts at the bike shop. Women need to feel comfortable and accepted.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
We need more representation of women. I would love to see more women being bike shop owners, mechanics or just working with bikes. At the same time, most companies that show women with their products show the same size women. It is very common to see Clydesdale men on the trail and clothing going up to a XXL for men. But they expect women who ride to be these small petite girls who only like pink. I would love to see Athenas get the same kind of love. There are currently three companies that show up when I search plus size cycling clothing. (SheBeest, Terry, and Aero) Like I said earlier the average woman is not a small or extra small, yet that is the most commonly stocked size. I think if more women see someone their size out there riding it will encourage them to ride and help them picture themselves easily right.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I just have so much fun riding that I want to share that joy with others. It is a great way to get outside,
workout and just have fun.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love color. I’m always wearing bright colors and I love coloring books. I even have an Instagram dedicated to documenting all of my coloring books. It’s my art. I’m inspired by Lisa Frank.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Women Involved Series: Ashley Frear Cooper

Hello, I’m Ashley. I’m a Nebraska native but now live, work, and ride in Kansas City, Missouri, with my fiancé and our yorkie-poo, Coco. I started cycling towards the end of college as a form of stress relief and alternative to driving/parking on campus. Since my early days of solo rides, I’ve found a community, even family, within cycling. I still come to riding as a form of mental and physical wellness, but I also come to it as a place for personal growth, camaraderie, and mentorship through sharing knowledge and experience.




Tell us about your introduction to your #bikelife and why it has become part of your life-
For me, #bikelife, in general, speaks to all that cycling has done to fill my life with love and adventure.

Josie’s #bikelife and FWD speak to the women who ride and spread their love (and fears) so that other women have an opportunity to see how cycling can liberate and activate a positive, supportive community.

You've embraced many styles of riding such as off-road, gravel, etc. What inspired you to become involved with so many different types of cycling?
I was inspired by the women I met who were kind enough to bring me into the fold and expose me to a wide range of riding — cyclocross, gravel, singletrack, and adventure racing. It’s really difficult to describe, it really seems serendipitous how it all happened. I’m forever thankful.

What would be your favorite cycling event and why do you enjoy participating in events?
I’ve found endurance gravel events are my favorite. They are largely solitary expeditions for me. I’m in it for the personal challenge, not a podium or award. It takes physical and mental stamina. Gravel Worlds is a favorite gravel “race”, and finishing the 150-mile course in 2017 is my greatest cycling accomplishment to date.

Any suggestions for those who have not participated in a cycling event before?
Ride your ride. By that I mean, ride for yourself, not anyone else. Push yourself within reason, but don’t use other as your benchmark for success. For example, my success criteria have been anything from riding cleanly (aka without crashing the mtb) to handling my own mechanical repair (like a flat at Dirty Kanza in 2017) with composure and without losing a ton of time.

Can you take us back to your first few off-road rides? What did you learn from those initial rides that kept you coming back for more?
Oh boy, I had my first mtb and gravel rides about the same time. I think the number one lesson has been to look where you want to go, not where you don’t! I have a difficult time getting out of my own head in many situations, so it’s no surprise that biking is one of them where overthinking gets me. Still, I try to give myself this simple little reminder, and it usually does the trick.

Any tips or suggestions you would give to a new off-road rider?
Be patient. This goes beyond riding for me. I’m not a patient person my nature. But I’m learning to enjoy the process. There is so much more to gain by trying than by giving up. I don’t expect to be a pro, but I can continue to build my skills and tackle new trails.

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
Clips. I went clipless for gravel and road riding, for efficiency and power. Once I went clipless it just became second nature, so it’s also what I’ve used on my MTB. Combined with my Specialized 2FO cliplite shoes, I have no desire to go to flats. I’m in and out instinctively it seems and I have tread around the cleat that provides a stable dismount and walking surface.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Yes, I face planted off a wooden (up-and-over) bike park feature. There were several reasons it was stupid to even attempt, but it left a salient mental scar. I haven’t mustered the courage to try many man-made features since.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Surely too many to list. In fact, I still need to go to a skills clinic to learn what I’m doing wrong and how to do it correctly. I think when I started two fundamentals challenged me: sighting a line and not oversteering. Releasing fear and establishing trust with your bike and yourself are paramount to truly overcoming these challenges. Again, not my natural character disposition; I tend towards analytical and guarded.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Freedom and new adventures
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I’ll be the first to admit I’m a little spoiled because my fiancé owns/operates an independent bicycle shop in KC. Nonetheless, I must say fit and function are key to enjoying your ride. Bikes are purpose-built machines and are by no means one-size-fits-all. As a woman, I really appreciate having a nicely spec’ed bike that also fits me really well. I have found that in Specialized and expect it from other brands too. Fit and function have made the biggest difference in my confidence on the MTB. My 2016 Rumor Expert 650b full-suspension MTB is and has been since my first ride, one with me (or, rather, I’m one with her). (Aside: In fact, the one I originally rode sold at the end of the demo season. I was so sad that I ultimately bought my very own even though I had another nice full-suspension I could ride.) There is something to be said for finding THE BIKE, one that inspires confidence and helps you overcome fears to gain new skills (and likely new fears)! My Rumor (now the women’s Camber) is capable and quick...exactly what I’m looking for in an MTB. *Note: As of 2018 the Specialized Camber is now the Specialized Stumpjumper ST

Your fiancé owns Epic Bike and Sport- even tho you do not work with him full time, what are your thoughts on being involved in the cycling industry?
I’m still learning about the industry. I’m still trying to determine where and how I can be involved. First and foremost, I’m an advocate for riding, which is the ethos of our entire shop. Since I’m a transplant to KC, I’ve spent the past 2 years learning the roads and riding community. I still feel on the fringes of the industry, but see my place as a voice for girls/women, and keen to see cycling be accessible to a more diverse audience than white men. More to come(...)!

Why do you feel more women should be involved in the cycling industry?
As in all areas, gender equity needs attention. Attention comes through representation, ambassadors who can share a point of view from roughly 1/2 of the population. The industry needs women, but not just pro riders; it needs amateurs and enthusiasts. From my standpoint, the industry needs women from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. It needs women who love mechanics as much as they love riding. It needs women who have experienced how cycling has contributed to their physical and mental well-being, and with it, enriched other facets of their life. It needs girls and youth, in general, to embrace nature and outdoor recreation.

What are your cycling related goals for 2018?
Goals for 2018: 3 endurance gravel events (100-150 miles each), 2 endurance MTB events (2-4 hours each), plus trail running and yoga/Pilates for cross-training

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Not knowing their options (trails, routes, bikes) or that other women ride

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
Do it yourself, socialize what you’re doing, and invite others along for the ride!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Youth, especially girls, including my nieces.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I’m the oldest in a blended/divorces family. I have 7 sisters and 1 brother. To say, I’m a champion for women and girls might be an understatement. I believe we can do anything we set our minds to and break long-standing gender barriers (and gendered mindsets) one by one.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Women Involved Series: Leia Schneeberger

Born, raised and still residing in Madison, Wisconsin. I've been in advertising as a senior account manager at Mid-West Family Broadcasting for 11 years. I enjoy the competition of sales and coming up with creative ways to help my client's tell their story to the masses.

I have a fiancé, his name is Ryan Rollins, he also competes. We met 3 summer's ago during the Wisconsin Off-Road Series.

I was never a cyclist, I was a soccer player growing up, played college ball then tore my ACL the year after I graduated. Knee was never the same. I continued playing through the pain, using spin class as a means of rehab. About 9 years ago the guy I was dating asked if I wanted to go for a ride in the woods. Took me out to Kettle Moraine, the John Muir Trails and off we went. No helmet, tennis shoes, soccer shorts, hybrid bike, 5 miles later I was completely cashed and in love. We started riding once a week just for a fun workout.

3 Years ago I had to give up my cleats so I started racing with goals in mind. Dedicating real time to training. I bike all year round now. Racing Fat Bikes in the Winter and Mountain Bikes in the Summer.

I race for Broken Spoke Bike Studio in Green Bay. 
I host a podcast show called, "Dose of Fat," you can find it on www.fat-bike.com
I am on Strava, people can find me by my name.
Facebook by my name.

Tell us about the introduction to mountain biking and how it influenced you from then on-
I had a boyfriend that asked me to go for a mountain bike ride one day. I had no idea what that was but I’m game for anything. He took me the John Muir trails at Kettle Moraine State Park in Wisconsin. I was on a $500 specialized, hardtail with hybrid (commuter) tires. No helmet, soccer shorts, tennis shoes t-shirt and no clue what I was about to get myself into. We made it around a 4-mile loop that day and I was toasted and roasted. What a great workout. We started going there once a week, we’d drive an hour for a 6-mile ride. Until this point, I just played soccer all the time so Mt biking was something to do to switch it up.

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!"
Mountain biking gets the adrenalin pumping, it’s exciting, challenging, you have to stay ultra-focused on the task at hand. Get lost in the moment, all exterior stress or anxiety from the day diminishes.
It was hard work, most weeks I couldn’t bring myself to do the 10-mile loop. Now I wouldn’t even make the trip to the Kettles without riding the 30-mile loop.

Tell us the process of buying your first mountain bike? Do you have advice or helpful tips for those looking to buy their first mountain bike?
Chat with all the mechanics at your local bike shops, they will give you some pointers.
I purchased my first Mountain bike after I learned there were races. Once I participated in a race I knew it was time to upgrade from my commuter bike to a full suspension Mt Bike.
Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Start with flats until you get used to riding the terrain, this way you can touch down more easily, less crashes. Flats are also a better tool for learning Mt bike skills. The clips let you cheat.
I waited a year before I got my first pair of clips.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Biffs are part of the gig. If you can’t take a couple hits, this is not the sport for you.
I still crash all the time as I am always pushing myself to the edge of my abilities.
I’ve gone into full whaling sessions in the middle of the trail
The worst was going over the bars, landing on my shoulder and severing the ligaments one week before my first race of the Wisconsin Off-Road Season. Obeyed all the rules of healing while off the bike and pushed through the pain during the races. My collar bone isn’t connected to the rest of me so you can push it down like a piano key. It’s funny looking but no longer affects me.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
My best advice on handling is to find another woman to help you and to take a skills clinic right away. You won’t feel as pressured to just roll on when you are with a woman. I was slow to learn handling because I only rode with a guy that didn’t know much about it either. I just rode and went with my natural instincts. I didn’t learn how to handle a bike until I took a weekend women’s skills clinic a couple of years after I started riding.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I am still looking for someone to teach me how to wheelie. It hasn’t slowed me down but it’s like a soccer player not being able to juggle a soccer ball. Feel like any mountain biker should just be able to do a wheelie
If there is ever something that sketches me out I try not to get discouraged about it. I get off the bike and walk it. Better to walk today and ride tomorrow then be out for a season.
What do you love about riding your bike?
I like going fast
The burning in my legs that lets me know I’m getting a fabulous workout
Ripping single track gives me a high
You can cover so much more ground, see so much more while on a bike rather than a hike
Nothing else matters when I am biking

You met your fiance while participating in a race series- awesome! What do you enjoy most about having a partner who loves to mountain bike as much as you?
Ryan and I plan trips all over the country to explore new trails.
I can’t imagine being with someone who didn’t ride a bike, who would take care of my bike?

What are your plans for the 2018 riding season?
My biggest goal is to win the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships this summer, everything I do up until that day is centered on winning that race.
I’ll be competing in the Wisconsin Off Road Series
Dakota 50
Ore 2 Shore
Coolest is Ryan and I are heading to New Zealand to race in the Pioneer 6 Day Stage Race for our Honeymoon!

Tell us about a race that you are the most excited to compete in this year-
USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships

For those on the fence with participating in a bike race, do you have any tips or suggestions that can make the experience more enjoyable?
Some races have a “learn to race clinic,” take the clinic.
Start in the easiest / shortest race they have available
When someone wants to pass you, try to move over to the right side of the trail and help them get by you as quickly as possible. I hate having someone behind me breathing down my neck wanting to get by. Don’t hold them back there, get them around you fast so that you can get back to focusing on your ride.
Chat with the people around you at the start line, make some friends.

You host a podcast over at Fat-Bike.Com- tell us how you got involved with Fat-Bike.com and the show you host-
Last year after winning the Fat Bike Birkie, Gomez, the director for the show asked to interview me about the race. The interview went well and there was some chemistry there.
A few months later Gomez asked if I’d like to be one of the hosts of the show. Didn’t hurt that I work for a company that owns 7 radio stations and so I have a nice fancy studio we can use to record the show.

What do you enjoy most about hosting a show over at Fat-Bike.com?
We gave each other these nicknames: Beer, Fun and Race.
What is funny to me is that of the 3 co-hosts, I am Race. It’s the female on the show that has the most competition experience.
Gomez and Spinner will get into some serious nerd speak and I have to shut them down, bring it back.
I enjoy giving race recaps and heckling my co-host Spinner about how slow he is.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My Mountain bikes are now chosen for me as I am sponsored by Broken Spoke Cycles up in Greenbay. I trust the owner, George Kapitz, to choose a bike that will help me accomplish my goals. This year I’ll be on the new Santa Cruz.
I tell my friends that they should choose a budget, buy a light, full suspension, carbon frame, take it to the shop and have them build out the rest based on their budget.
My fat bike is a Salsa Beargrease with HED Wheels. It’s only 23 lbs. I will never give up this bike, love it.
I have a Niner RDO Cross bike for training on the roads and bike paths in less than perfect conditions.
My road bike is a Trek Madone.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
We just didn’t know it existed. I had no idea what Mountain Biking was. None. Riding on dirt in the woods? Never crossed my mind. I think social media will really help spread awareness about the sport. More and more women are seeing other women’s posts about biking and racing and inquiring about how to get involved.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Many of the bicycle shops are offering up women’s rides and clinics.
The Youth programs will help, get them in while they are young and the sport will grow

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I’d like to have more ladies to race against!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I am a sucker for sappy Christmas Miracle Movies

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Shoes Three Ways: A Flat Shoe Review

When I got started with mountain biking, I didn't have an idea how much fun I would have with acquiring shoes. I was never a person who lived a "fashionable" life nor did I have 20 pairs of shoes. When it came to mountain biking, I soon realized that your experience could be made or broken depending on what type of pedal and shoe you wore.

There are two ways to roll with mountain biking, riding "clipless" which really means wearing shoes that have a cleat at the bottom of them that snap into pedals. The other option is using "flats" which means a flat pedal with traction pins and wearing shoes without cleats. You can wear tennis shoes, skate shoes, really just about anything- but there are brands making shoes specifically designed to work with flat pedals.

I've been trying out shoes from Five Ten for several seasons now and I've really liked them. In 2018 Bontrager released a flat shoe earlier in 2018 called the Flatline, and since we sell a full size run of those shoes at Decorah Bicycles, I figured I should try them out. Also in 2018, Specialized redesigned the 2FO shoe- the brand I originally started out on.

I thought "wouldn't it be neat to have a post that talks about multiple brands of shoes?"

Without further ado, we'll run down the list of shoes I've been wearing on a regular. My ranking of each shoe will be based on several factors.

#1. Durability
#2. Multi-Purpose Use
(as in, can I wear the shoes at work comfortably for a full workday from 4-10 hours?)
#3. Grip

Five Ten Freerider Shoe w/ Stealth® S1™ rubber
These were the first Five Ten shoes we invested in- I loved the simple black with pink accent concept. The shoe pictured is 1/2 of the second pair that I have just been recently using. My first pair were retired this season because after wearing them on the bike and to work regularly (and my natural gait) I developed a few holes in the sole. (Heel and ball)

First off, if you are seeking a stiff shoe, these will not be very stiff. If you're looking for a very supportive shoe- this will likely not be it. They start out stiff, but as you walk/ride/wear them, they will become more walkable and more like an everyday shoe that has grippy soles. Travis likes this because he really wants to feel the pedals under his foot- I'm more on the side of wanting a stiffer sole for more support/less foot flex.

Durability?
I wasn't super impressed. I assume they are designed more for riding and not being a shoe for wearing all the time. (Multiple multi-hour workdays) I did feel they worked well for a multi-purpose shoe, making it easy for me to have one shoe to "do it all" and I wouldn't have to worry about having a spare pair of shoes at the bike shop for one reason or another. I would recommend purchasing 2 pairs to rotate through to help them last longer.

The grip is fine and a very solid option for a flat pedal shoe. You may notice it takes a bit for them to feel really grippy, but after you break them in you'll have great pedal to shoe contact. As I mentioned- Travis really likes that vs. a stiffer shoe. It's going to be dependent on how you ride and what you're looking for overall, on whether the Five Ten Freerider is the shoe you'd want to go with.

Five Ten Freerider Contact Shoe w/  Stealth® Mi6™
When the Freerider Contact shoes came out, I was super excited to try them out! I have a full review here on my first pair.

I would say the durability of the sole of these shoes far outlasts the Five Ten Freerider shoes. I also went the route of purchasing two pairs of the Freerider Contact shoes so I could better rotate. I have not noticed heal wear quite like I have on the Freeriders.

You'll see in the smooth part of the sole, pedal pins do "chew" the rubber, but not to the degree (yet) where it is an issue.
For multi-purpose use, I have found them to be comfortable enough to wear on a regular basis at work. They are a stiffer shoe but do "break in" a little bit, but they will not be as flexible as the Freeriders. I've spent many hours wearing these shoes on the bike and at work without a problem.

When it comes to biking, I've preferred the Freerider Contact over the Freerider due to the stiffness and how grippy I feel the sole is. I quite like having the smooth area of the shoe vs. the honeycomb pattern that is commonly seen on flat shoes. For me, it sticks well but still allows me to move my foot around with ease. I've worn these shoes for mountain biking, gravel rides, and races- they've been a solid investment.


Five Ten Freerider Pro Shoes w/ Stealth® S1™
These shoes are relatively new, so I can't write a whole lot on them to the degree of the other shoes listed.

So far, I have to say I like the fit and feel of them. I will admit, that the two other styles of Five Tens I own are actually too big for me- wearable, but too big by a size. I went with a 7 1/2 (I was under the impression I was 8 1/2) and found the shoes to be spot on for my foot size.

Durability is something I'm on the fence about (I feel they may be like the Freeriders above.) The rubber soles are super grippy, but I noticed after riding to work one day that I had made some interesting markings in them. I sometimes drag my heel when I walk, and noticed that the rubber scuffed up pretty easy. This made me decide to not wear them regularly for work and keep them more for strictly biking (or wear them to work before a group ride.)
When comparing the bottoms of the Freerider Pro shoes to my older Freeriders, I would question if the compound is truly the same or if since I have an older pair of Freeriders, that it changed due to age or something. The Freerider Pro was more affected by one ride to work and on the trail than the original Freerider. It makes me suspect that the rubber on the newer shoe is more "delicate"- the contact and grip is GREAT, but I wouldn't suspect it to be durable enough for daily wear/tear along with riding in them regularly.

For biking, I really like the grip! I feel like I stick to my pedals nicely but have the ability to move around without issue. They are flexible yet stiff, the first few rides have not left me with fatigued feet, so I'd say that's great!

We'll see how these shoes last and how they transform after a few rides. They have some features to them like an impact resistant toe-box and are also supposed to be lighter weight than the original Freeriders with a weather resistant upper.

Overall, Five Ten is a very solid brand of flat shoe that has been around for quite some time. I would say, from my experience, it's the most recognized name. However, both Trek and Specialized have come out with flat shoe options worth of trying.


Specialized 2FO 1.O SlipNot™ 2.0
My very first flat pedal shoe was the original Specialized 2FO shoe in a blurple color with ion accents. This shoe was, for better words, interesting. The whole shoe felt like some sort of weird, plastic shoe and the sole was stiff and just didn't seem to grip the best. Earlier in 2018, after seeing the redesigned 2FO shoes, I decided to snag a pair of Dynamite Panther 2FO 1.0 shoes. These shoes promised a better overall feel and a grippier rubber sole.

I admittedly have not worn these shoes to work due to their super fun color- but I feel they would be a fine shoe to wear at work comfort-wise.

From Specialized:
SlipNot™ 2.0 rubber compound is our softest, grippiest rubber, and it's optimized for the ultimate in pedal connection.
Engineered lug pattern designed specifically to integrate with pedal pins.
Internal bootie provides improved comfort and control.
Captured foam in the upper protects the foot from impacts.
Air mesh on tongue and upper provides protection and quickly sheds water weight.
Smooth thermobonded upper for lightweight durability and a snag-free profile.
Cushioned EVA midsole is sealed with a protective skin for support and tear resistance.
Lacelock™ elastic keeps laces out of chainrings.


In my opinion, the rubber is grippier than the original 2FO shoes I had, but not quite as grippy as the Five Ten soles. I find myself being able to move a too easily. I also noticed my feet were more fatigued after wearing these shoes during a ride than the Five Ten Contacts/Freerider Pro/Bontrager Flatline shoes. Ultimately, I wouldn't choose to wear these shoes for a bike race.

The internal bootie is a fine feature, the thermobonded upper is nice- less fabric to clean. The best feature tho, is the lace loop band! I wish that all of my Five Ten shoes had this elastic band to keep the laces tucked. Rather, I have to shove my laces under my laces and hope they stay in place. The elastic band is a very great asset and makes it super quick to lace up and go.

These shoes are a vast improvement on the originals and are certainly worth a shot, but if you're used to the Five Ten shoes you'll likely not find them to be quite on the same level. There is a 2.0 level of the 2FO shoe, and that may be a good option to look at for a shoe that's a bit stiffer and less flexy.


Bontrager Flatline Shoes Vibram rubber
We brought in the Botrager Flatline shoes this season at Decorah Bicycles to offer a simplified flat shoe option (Five Ten has a lot of options) and I decided I should give them a whirl because how can I sell a shoe that I don't wear?
I will admit, I was skeptical. I've not preferred any sort of pattern on my soles, and thus far, my Five Tens have ruled the show.

From Bontrager:
Vibram rubber outsole for an optimized shoe-to-pedal interface
Uniform tread pattern provides consistent, predictable interface between pedal and outsole
Directional tread at toe and heel gives off-bike scrambling traction, uphill or down
Shock absorbing EVA midsole
Durable, synthetic leather upper
Ortholite insole for long-wearing comfort and durability

I've worn the Flatlines fairly regularly since I've purchased them and really enjoy them. I find their soles (rubber and design) to be gripper than the Specialized 2FO 1.0 shoes. They are relatively flexible, but I can't recall feeling as tho my feet have felt fatigued after riding in them for either long or short rides.

For a workday, they are fine to wear. I've not noticed premature wear on the heels or sole, and I love the fact that they have a lace bungee! Again, another shoe that doesn't require me stuffing my laces under laces. Neat and tidy.

Frankly, I was impressed with these shoes, and would say that they are darn close to the connectivity I have with the Five Ten Contacts. I really like the zigzag pattern near the toes, and for times when I position my foot on the pedal more ball-toes, I feel I have excellent grip.

Wearing these shoes regularly has made them look a little rough around the edges. So I would say durability wise, it's still a test, but I'm hoping that the upper portion of the shoe is just as durable as the sole.
So, how would I rank my own shoes?
Five Ten Freerider Contacts
Bontrager Flatline Shoes
Five Ten Freerider Pros (based on a couple rides)
Tie:
Specialized 2FO 1.0 and Five Ten Freeriders

For me, being I work at a bike shop and I bike a LOT I figure I will typically wear my cycling shoe to work. So, being able to work in them as well as ride in them does play fairly high on my criteria list. Most consumers are likely looking for a "biking" shoe that's comfortable to wear off the bike post-ride for a beer vs. a biking shoe to wear all day, every day.

How stiff you want the shoe to be is going to be personal preference. Like I mentioned, I prefer a stiffer sole to alleviate foot fatigue. Travis likes a sole that flexes more as he feels more connected to the pedals that way. Really, the only way to know what works well for you is to try a couple different options and put them through their paces. The important thing to remember is that a good pair of flat shoes and pedals are an investment. You have to look at the shoes and pedals like equipment, not "accessories" as equipment can make or break your experience.

Looking to delve into the world of flat pedals but don't want to break the bank? Check out Race Face Chester pedals. Sold locally at Decorah Bicycles, you can snag a pair of these lightweight, grippy pedals for $54.99. Women can also go the route of supporting the local mountain bike trails and women's riding group: Fearless Women of Dirt by paying $20.00 and in doing so, you'll save 15% off your purchase.

If you aren't local to Decorah, please don't shy away from asking your local bike shop! There are several places they could look at to order a pair in for you- all you need to do is ask.

I've personally used the Chester pedals on my fatbike and was really impressed with their grip. I ride in snow boots in the winter months and have found mixed success with grip with other pedals. The Chesters really impressed AND work awesome with any of the shoes listed.


Finding a bike shop that carries flat shoes may not be easy because flats (in my opinion) are still catching on and/or flat pedal shoes are not the bread and butter of most bike shops. Decorah Bicycles carries the Bontrager Flatline shoes and has availability of ordering in Five Tens, but do not regularly stock Five Tens. I would say based on my current experience, that the shoes do fit relatively true to size as I'm approximately a 7 1/2 in the three brands used for this review. Either way, I highly encourage supporting local shops if you can. Ask questions, do some research- if you come prepared with knowledge you'll likely be able to order a pair of shoes at your local shop without issue.

Getting a great pair of flat shoes and pedals can be a gamechanger for many! Even if someone rides clipped in on a regular basis, you'll hear of folks transitioning to flats for short periods of time to work on technical skills. Either way, if you're riding trails on flats all time or just starting out, I hope this review helps you find the pair of shoes just right for you!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Emily Hairfield

I live in Roanoke, Virginia with my husband Gordon and trail dog Pippy and we love to ride bikes! I work as a Physician Assistant in a Hematology/ Oncology group full time and flex time with Urgent Care. We spent a long time getting me through school and I have been working now for about two years and within that time I've been able to devote more of my time to bike, trail, and travel since my schedule is now mostly my own again. We have traveled all over the world with bikes and seen a lot of really amazing places.

For us, riding bicycles is a vector for adventure and friendship as well as fitness and fun. I very rarely ride on the road unless I have too and I prefer roots and rocks but love a good gravel ride every once in a while. Both my husband and I race for a Blue Ridge Cyclery in Charlottesville, Virginia and in addition to the shop. we have a number of amazing supporters who I love representing.


Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-
I began riding while I was in undergrad because I was poor and couldn't afford to pay the parking fees on campus. I had a bunch of friends who were good mountain bikers and advised that I buy a mountain bike and commuter wheels. I bought a used Gary Fisher 26' for 400$ and had no idea the adventures that little ill-fitting, heavy, outdated bike would take me on!

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!"
I learned to ride in the mountains of South-West Virginia where there are legit rocks and roots and you're either climbing or descending. There was a big learning curve for me but I was already a trail runner so I knew I wanted to spend more time in the woods and be able to cover more ground faster. I crashed a lot! I committed to clip-less pedals pretty early on and that was tough but I wanted to keep up with my friends and they all used them so I followed along. The moment I knew I was "hooked" was when I did my first 100-mile mtb race which was only about 8 months after I had started riding. I signed up for it with a friend 2 weeks before the event and It was the toughest thing I had ever done, physically. It poured rain all day, I was grossly underprepared and it could not have been a more miserable day on the bike. So many people dropped out of the event. It was a real spiritual journey for me though, and when I finished I was so amazed that my body and bike had survived that I wanted/needed to see what else I could do!

What do you love most about being able to mountain bike with your husband?
The fact that at the end of the day we have a fundamentally basic thing that we love doing whether that's separately or together. We always have mountain biking to fall back on and I think that's important to share simple interests. Also though he's just a fun and happy guy and makes all my rides better.

What do you enjoy about racing and why should women consider trying it at least one time?
Racing is great for me because even if I am not trying to win or be competitive, it gives me a goal to focus on and a reason to keep riding my bike and practicing skills. It provides accountability and structure to my riding. It also gives me something to work on afterward too. Even if you're not a competitive person, mountain bike racing provides an amazing community which every rider would benefit from.
Tell us about the Pisgah Mountain Stage race and your experience-
As a birthday present this year my husband signed us up to race the PMSR as a duo and I was SO nervous! I've only ever raced one stage race before and that was a physically and emotionally damaging experience so racing this as a stage race with my husband who is a professional racer and way faster than I am just fed my fears to the point of nausea and tears before the start of stage #1. Gordon is so great through and assured me that the only pressure I was feeling was the ones that I put on myself and that the most important thing was that we were safe and had fun. And we did! We had an awesome first stage and finished in 2nd overall in the co-ed duo. Day 2, 3 and 4 provided legitimate challenges though after an early crash on day 2 left me on the ground with a busted body and bike. We were able to come back finishing 3rd overall and win the 5th and final stage which by far was the most technical descending of the entire race and I have to say it was probably my proudest moment on a bike. Pisgah racing is not for the faint of heart when it comes to rocks and roots. Facing and racing that week with my husband and life partner proved to be the best thing I could have done. My confidence on the bike after riding with him and being encouraged by him just exploded and I am pumped to do more.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I only ever ridden with clips! I should probably own a pair of flats and work on my skills but I don't... I'll add it to my bike parts which list!

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Definitely! Probably too many to count. I think that is the beauty of riding in the woods. When you biff or crash or become emotionally overwhelmed by whatever the cause might be, you still have to ride out of the woods. You can't just quit and leave. Everyone has to get back on and 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?
Yes! And there still are! I am terrible at hopping logs which are not perfectly level and positioned on the trail. I don't know what it is but I've always had a thing with logs. Certainly (I think) I've gotten better at it over the years but they still intimidate me. The thing that has helped me the most is watching videos of other people riding them. I am a visual learning and so typically if I can see someone else do it I have a better chance both physically and mentally mimicking the skills.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
There are many for sure! I'm fortunate though that I love riding a technical trail. Everyone has their bad days though where you're just not riding as well as you know you can and you get frustrated and bummed. I just have to keep it fun. If I'm not having fun then I ride something else and come back to that difficulty another day when I'm more prepared. Of course, there are times when you can't find something more fun or change your route and in that situation, I'll stop and take a breath and eat a snack. I ALWAYS have food on me and I know that eating will give me a metal break from the frustration and time to recover before getting back at it.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the places my bike takes me. We have been fortunate enough to travel to some really amazing places via bikes. Bike give me freedom.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My bikes are mostly gifts from my husband! I have a Trek Top Fuel FS with custom Industry 9 wheels and a dropper and it is beautiful! It's a great all around bike and has done whatever I have set in front of it. I also have a Steel Curtlo cross/road bike and a custom 27.5 steel hardtail that I ride mostly on gravel and double track routes.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for folks wanting to mountain bike with their partner/spouse?
It's not for everyone! I've talked to a lot of couples who just can't do it. I think the biggest advice is that you need to communicate your ride expectations before getting on the bike. If you both have separate goals for the ride then it is not going to work and you will be disappointed and frustrated. Whoever the stronger mountain biker is in the relationship needs to adapt and adjust to the skills of the less advanced rider. It can be so good and so rewarding and it can be done!

Why are you a women's mountain biking advocate?
Because women on bikes supporting other women are the best! Riding mountain bikes is freeing and empowering and a way to engage in the community and environment.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Fear of failure and judgment deter women. Not having a mentor or supportive community deters women. Unequal treatment and payout at races and events deter women. Unequally matched riding encounters deters women. There are a lot of things that can be a deterrent but they are all fixable and can be overcome.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think there are certainly things the industry can fix as a whole, but for me, the biggest thing is equal treatment and payout at all levels. This is so much better now than it was but if we want women to show up and get involved, they need to be incentivized just as much as men are. I think communities creating women's cycling groups is important too because typically women feel safer and more at ease when there are other women of similar ability or at least who have been in their shoes.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Seeing women achieve goals and try new things and pick themselves up and try again makes me inspired. Women are tough and strong and capable of so many things. Seeing them realize that strength on a bike in the woods is what motivates me and makes me want to be a better rider.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm pretty boring actually! I'm usually in bed by 9pm and I don't like alcohol. I am traveling to Tanzania this summer though for another stage race and afterward, Asia will be the only continent I have not ridden my bike on!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

I Never Knew Anybody Until I Knew You.

Transitioning through grief, the ebb and flow of emotions- it's a tricky dance of common sense mixed with the understanding that you'll have to forego all hope of consistency.

A few weeks ago, I became angry. Not just angry, but literally a blind-rage type angry that I can say I've experienced only a couple times in life. The one most visible was when I got so pissed that my step-brother had stolen a favorite CD of mine. I kicked the paneling next to the stairs that lead up to my bedroom and cracked it. My CD showed up shortly after.

This time, my blind rage broke my favorite bike helmet. I stood up and slammed it down as hard as I could- all while crying my eyes out. It took a solid 10 minutes before I could compose myself enough to bike home. After I got home, the emotional wave came crashing down on me yet again- resulting in my crying while seeing my reflection in the mirror...all because I looked so puffy in the nose and eyes. I was crying because I looked (in my mind) pathetic.

I listened to the voicemail my dad left me. Weeping into a pillow and trying to blow snot out of my super-clogged nose. Why Dad? WHY?!

I never expected anger to become part of the grieving process, an emotion that I really do not have time for. It's too exhausting for me to be angry, and too often people have told me I "shouldn't" be angry...so I've lived life feeling as tho expressing anger was always bad or wrong. I mean, really? Travis wasn't happy I took my aggression out on my bike helmet. I looked at my helmet with an apathetic sort of "Well, your time was coming up anyway." I chose to use it as an opportunity to find a new favorite helmet, especially since that helmet style from Specialized no longer exists anymore.

In reality, I didn't give a f*ck if anyone thought my temper tantrum was "wrong." In reality, I think it's the first time I accepted that anger is a thing that happens, and in a situation like this- the sudden and tragic loss of a parent...well, I have no f*cks to give. It is awkward to lay down the law and tell people to reduce their expectations of what we (as shop owners) may be capable of this season due to a sudden loss and the process of tying up loose ends.

The hardest has been to actually ask of Travis, to help- also, it's hard for me to ask for help from friends. I just am not a person who has felt it's okay to do so. Mentally, I have a difficult time wrapping my head around it being something that folks even expect. It's challenging as a small-business owner, to ask your partner to set aside his wrenches so you can get stuff down out of town. It strains me each time. Each ask stresses me out because I know customers are waiting- but they may not have an idea as to what is on my plate. Stuff has to get done somehow. It's a balance of asking, giving, and accepting.

Slowly and surely, pieces are falling into place. A group of friends and family started the trash-throwing process in my dad's barn. When we arrived with beverages and pizza, it was a small shock to my system to see...so much...stuff. Ugh. Back to this ol' crap heap again. There were piles of items to save, a big pile to burn, and still stuff in the barn yet.

A barn filled with years of mouse, raccoon, and bat sh*t. Not to mention dust.

I had gone up to the house to show something to a couple of my friends and saw this cooler that had an envelope that stated "Property of Stephen Smith and Josie Smith"
"What is this?"
I opened it up to see hunting prints, but what caught my eye was a stiff paperboard. All I read was "Dear Josie" and I started to bawl. It was Father's Day. I had thought to myself "Damnit, why couldn't Dad have ever written me a letter or something." Apparently, he had, roughly around the time he and my mom separated or divorced. "In case I'm not around when you are old enough to understand..."

I had the same violent tears that had plagued me the night that I broke my helmet. Barrett told my friends to go grab Travis. Travis held me in his arms until I could compose myself enough to read this letter from my dad. "Why, Dad, did you not tell me this so long ago?" There were plenty of opportunities to tell me what he had written. In person. It would've saved me from questioning his love for me for SO MANY YEARS.

It is what it is.

I found some Polaroid photographs too. I laughed out loud to see my dad in his young adult years, acting goofy. I looked at them, trying to decipher if there is anything about me that resembles him.

A few days later, I started to feel the regret of my not keeping every birthday card and Christmas card my dad made. I swore up and down that I had kept my last birthday card and Christmas card, but I made the decision to obsessively look for them right before supper. My failed search had my anxiety levels rising while shoving food in my face. After supper, I went back to searching and found my birthday card he had commissioned a cousin's boyfriend to draw up for me.
"Love, Dad!" ...Yes. That's what I needed to see.

The Christmas card was not found. I suspected I kept it in with the Christmas decorations, but my quick search resulted in nothing. The next day I delved deeper, actually getting into the tote and scrounging through ornaments. A small, white rectangle appeared.

Merry Christmas
Happy New Year
Decorated with a snowman and some trees, drawn in his sketch-style.

On the inside-
"Love, DAD!"

I cried. I tucked it away so I could have something to look forward to again for Christmas.
At this point- I'm not really looking forward to the holidays and right now, my thought is to just be anti-social. It's too much to think about. Celebrating with other family members while I'm not ready to.

Progress on "adulting" has occurred and I'm finding that it's looking more and more manageable. Stuff is happening.
Life continues.

Someone told me, it doesn't take strength to get through the process...it's endurance.
I never feel very "strong" but I feel I can endure a lot. That's definitely it. My endurance for dealing with and handling life will be stronger than before, for sure.

I keep finding out more about my dad, getting a bigger glimpse into his life and personality.
Hindsight is 20/20 and I'm having a hard time not beating myself up over things.
Time...the one thing I know is that it will take time.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Chelsea Strate

My name is Chelsea Strate, a Minneapolis resident, and bicycles have been ruling my life for several years now! I have dabbled in most racing disciplines, but most enjoy snow, dirt, gravel, and cyclocross.

I race cyclocross for the All-City X Fulton team, and fat bikes for 45NRTH. This past September I picked up what I like to think is my dream job with 45NRTH and Teravail as their brand ambassador, and have had an amazing winter working winter events and racing all over the Midwest and Colorado.

When I'm not riding, racing, or working bike-related events, I love camping and adventuring with my partner and the dogs, riding motorcycles, cooking, baking, and eating.

Instagram: velomeat

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it has influenced you-
Oh dear! I don’t know if I can pinpoint the exact introduction, but that 1997 Dyno Air BMX bike that I got in middle school did grant me loads of freedom that I was lacking at the time. In 6th grade, I would ride it the 2 miles to school, meet my friends at the park, try to learn tricks (I pretty much dead-ended at riding off curbs and down steps), let my other friends do cool tricks on it, and I would regularly give my best friend bucks 3 miles across town on my pegs. Using my bike as transportation and exercise persisted from that point forward, and has continued to evolve! I have always loved taking on different challenges with bikes, and I still find new ones constantly.

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!"
Well, mountain biking was preceded by riding and racing cyclocross, so my first off-road experience was on a cx bike. In fact, my first cx race was at a park on the border of Minneapolis called Theodore Wirth Park, and it’s not uncommon for folks to toe the line with their MTBs. The course incorporated a little of their singletrack trails, and there were rocks and roots and woods: I was in love with off-road riding. Eventually, I found an old MTB on Craigslist, and a buddy took me on a ride on a full loop of the North trail of Theodore Wirth Singletrack, which is tight and windy and feels very old-school. He gave me tips as we were weaving our way through, and made it feel easy. I didn’t explore too many other trails at that time because I didn’t have a car, and the trails felt a little inaccessible, so I mostly found myself on pavement. I ended up selling that bike to fund a blind move to Leelanau County, Michigan, and there I kept racing cyclocross, then started racing Michigan MTB races on my cx bike! The trails in lower Michigan were mostly flowy and not really rocky or rooty, and I rarely felt at a disadvantage on my cx steed (except in the sand – there is a lot of sand there). Now I’m back in Minnesota, and I usually use my fat bike on the trails, but am looking to add a proper MTB to my arsenal!

What do you enjoy about each discipline of riding you prefer (CX/Fatbike/etc.)-
CX: My first love, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. The intensity and the challenge are a few things I love about the sport, but it mostly comes down to the culture. Spending all day cheering on your friends and teammates, then getting cheered on when it’s your turn to suffer is so fun.

Fat Bike: What can I say… winter and I make a good team! My partner and I joke that I’m a ‘Snow Princess’ since I race more in the winter than any other time of year at this point. There are so many variables in fat biking that pose challenges, like how much and what type of snow there is, ice, temperature, tire pressure, etc. No two races are ever the same, and quite often no two laps are the same! The courses vary from snowy singletrack to perfectly groomed cross-country ski trail, and sometimes a seemingly perfect course can deteriorate as the day goes on, or it can get better as the day goes on. The people that race fat bikes are a special breed, and I feel like I fit in well.

MTB: I find the act of riding off-road very therapeutic. You have to concentrate on what you’re doing, and nailing a difficult section of trail is so rewarding! I got a taste of mountain biking in the mountains this past summer, and I can’t wait to explore more downhill riding in the future.

Gravel: Quieter roads, amazing scenery, and a good excuse to spend all freakin’ day in the saddle! Most gravel events take place in the spring or early summer, and Minnesotans love to embrace the outdoors as soon as winter disappears. As the summer goes on, I usually give up on gravel roads and stick to the woods where there is more shade. I melt in the heat!
Clips or flats? What do you use and why?
Aside from my townie bike, I ride exclusively clips year round. I have for years, and feel more secure on the pedals when maneuvering technical terrain. I’ve also grown to depend on the upstroke!

What would you consider your favorite event to participate in? 
This year I was lucky enough to go out to Fat Bike Worlds in Crested Butte, and it was one of the best race experiences that I’ve had. There was a fun race on Thursday, a fat bike demo on Friday, the championship race on Saturday, and a chance to take the lifts and ride down the ski runs on Sunday (I had to miss Sunday, and I’m bummed!). The organizers did a great job of hospitality by providing food, beverage, and entertainment throughout, making it fun for those that didn’t want to take the race seriously, and fast for the fast people. Costumes were encouraged, and there were a lot of good ones out there! Also, the course was designed to double back on itself, so you get to see people throughout the race all on different parts of the lap. There were lots cheers and hootin’ and hollerin’ from the racers on the course!
For folks on the fence about doing a bike race, do you have tips or suggestions that may help their first experience?
You never regret giving it a shot, so just do it! Every race that I do I learn something new, so even when I feel out of shape and my confidence is low, I try to get as much out of the race as I can, and I try to remember that racing is training too!

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
ALL OF THE TIME. Whenever I crash or am close to crashing, I often times will lose my riding confidence for at least a little bit, and sometimes for weeks or months. I just keep riding, but definitely let myself be a little more cautious. If I have to walk a section or feature that I have nailed before, I don’t let it get to me. Earlier on, I wasn’t as aware of the element of confidence, and would get down on myself for all of a sudden losing my groove, and it was starting to get a little toxic. Once I realized that confidence is something that comes and goes, I just try to stay aware of it and ride within my abilities at that moment.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Riding up curbs was so nerve-racking for so long! I definitely had the skills to do it, but it was all mental! To get over it (both the fear and the curb, haha), I would just keep practicing, starting with shorter curbs and working my way up to normal curb height. Also, riding slower and more intentionally, then working my way up in speed. Now I don’t think twice about it. I was simultaneously learning how to ride over roots, rocks, and logs on my CX and MTB, but for some reason curbs always seemed scarier!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Cornering is something that I would like to improve on. I feel like I slow down too much to get around corners for fear of losing traction in my rear wheel. I do this on pavement, dirt, gravel, grass, snow, etc. To get over this, I just try to sprint out of the corner to make up any time that I lost. It works ok, but I hate the feeling of holding people behind me up during races and such.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Freedom, exercise, fresh air, it gets me places, it’s therapeutic…

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a lot of bikes, so I’m going to list them in order of most ridden in case you start to lose interest:

All-City Cosmic Stallion – I love the All-City brand’s style, and wanted a gravel-specific racing bike! I’ve had it for a year and absolutely love it.

Salsa Beargrease Fat Bike – I believe that this is the best [fat] bike in the world. It’s a killer fat bike racing bike, and I think it handles amazingly on MTB trails! I have a Bluto suspension fork that I’ll throw on in the summer for an added factor of fun.

All-City Nature Girl – I’ve had this bike for years! It’s one of the smoothest rolling bikes I have. I built it from scratch, including the wheels, and still use it to race CX!

All-City Macho Queen Team Edition – I loved my Nature Girl, so I decided to go for something similar with gears and disc brakes, and it’s painted to match our All-City X Fulton Racing Team kits!

Focus Izalco Donna– I started dabbling in road racing, and didn’t feel like my CX bike was keeping up! I sprung for this carbon road bike with Shimano Ultegra components that was mostly white but is complemented with a few different shades of purple. It’s light. It’s beautiful.

All-City Big Block – I have this fixed gear bike set up with sweeping bars and a front rack for the ultimate city bike.

Surly ECR – This is a newer addition to my stable, and is set up as my bikepacking rig. It’s only been on one sub 24-hour trip, but will be ridden a whole lot this summer!

Trek Singletrack 930 – My winter ‘beater’, though it’s a little too nice to be a beater. It was built for me by my partner, and he did an amazing job loading in as much purple as possible into the accents (my favorite color)

Surly Travelers Check – This bike comes with couplers so that you can disassemble the frame for traveling, but I still haven’t taken it on a trip! Silly me!

Tell us about your role as brand ambassador, what is your job like and why do you love it?
As the Brand Ambassador for both 45NRTH and Teravail, my job is to travel to different bike shops, races, and other events. I get to drive a big ol’ 4x4 adventure van around and educate shop staff, and provide a fun space for participants at events. In the office, I answer questions from both dealers and customers and get to plan out what the brands are going to do for events for each season.

At the time of answering these questions, I’ve had this job since September, so I’ve mostly been working with the 45NRTH side of things. I love getting more people into winter riding, and with this job, I am able to do that. 45NRTH made the gear that made it possible for me to enjoy riding in the winter (the Wölvhammer boots were life changing for me), and I love educating people about winter riding. I have 10+ years of experience riding in the winter through commuting, recreating, and racing, and I love sharing my experiences. Another thing I love about my job is traveling! It’s super fun, and I love meeting and working with the folks from the bike shops that sell our stuff, their customers, event organizers, and event participants.

Pretty soon we’ll be switching gears and concentrating on Teravail, so I get to do the same type of stuff, just for the other 3 seasons of the year!

What do you love most about the cycling community?
They’re my family! Athletes, commuters, industry folks… we all have something powerful in common! And everybody for their own reasons!
What is on your to-do list for 2018 for events/goals?
It makes me nervous just typing it, but I’ll do it anyway: Marji Gesick 100! From their website: “The Marji Gesick features 100-miles of rocks, roots, punchy climbs, jump lines, flow trails and soul-crushing grinding that DNFs nearly 60% of the field each year.

Last year my goals were finishing the Dirty Kanza 200 mile gravel race and the Leadville 100 MTB trail race, which I did, so I guess it’s on to the next thing??? [insert panic emoji here]

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Cycling is extremely gear-heavy! Where do you even start when it comes to finding a bike to try or buy? Especially a mountain bike? Frame materials, sizing, levels of components, hydraulic vs. cable disc brakes, and shock technology are just a few of the aspects to a bike that can be overwhelming and confusing and can deter folks from getting into it. Then you have to figure out how and where to ride the darn bike!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
At my last job, The Hub Bike Co-op, I led a MTB ride for Women / Trans / Femme / Non-Binary (WTF / NB) folks, and we offered up our demo fleet for free for whoever needed or wanted to ride. I did my best to make it as inclusive and accessible as I could. I would set people up on bikes, then load up my little Subaru and bring people and bikes to the different trailheads where we’d meet the other riders. We always had people of all different abilities and usually had people that were brand new to mountain biking, or biking in general! Either I or other experienced riders would stick back with the newer riders and lead them through and offer advice. The idea was to eliminate the barrier of gear, transportation, and to help educate and show the riders how to maneuver through the trails in a safe and pressure-free space. Over the 4 years that I led this ride, I watched riders gain confidence and acquire their own bikes, and show others how to ride mountain bikes.

The industry should follow suit and create spaces and provide resources for WTF / NB folks, and they are more likely to get involved and stay involved.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Where do I start! Selfishly, I like having more like-minded folks to ride with and race against. The women’s fields in racing are generally a fraction of the size of the men’s fields. What would I give to have equal sized fields?! It’s a bummer that there are so many societal barriers and so much machismo in cycling that deters most non-white-cis-dudes from getting out there.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
For many years in my youth, I worked carnival games (yes, I was a carnie!) for my amazing Great Aunt Peps. This woman is amazing! She helped pave the way for women in basketball and has been recognized with several awards for doing so. In fact, recently her old high school (which she graduated from in 1962) even named their gym after her! I worked my first day at the carnival when I was 8 years old, and helped on and off until I was 21. I was pretty crummy at sales, but I loved the traveling. I feel like those years definitely shaped who and where I am today.