Monday, April 16, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Susie Douglas

My name is Susie Douglas and I am a lover of all things bike related, including motorcycles and Unicycles. 2013 was when I made the switch from a hardtail to a full suspension bicycle and that’s when my passion for the sport became all-encompassing.

I liked mountain biking so much that I made the decision to resign from my career as a wildland firefighter with the US Forest Service. Why? Firefighting left no room for riding bikes in the summertime. And after doing it for 9 years, it was time to move on to something else.

So I switched my season of work, from summers to winters. I chose to ride bikes and work at bike shops in the summer and then would pick up work in Antarctica for the winter. Lol..yes, Antarctica. Starting winter 2013, I worked in Antarctica as a Fuels Operator and Helicopter Crewmember for 6 months per year, leaving the summer months open to explore the world by bicycle and continue feeding a passion for a sport that continues to change my life. And if you’re curious, I did ride in Antarctica!

In 2017 I was fortunate to become part of the Bell Joy Ride program as one of 12 ambassadors between Canada and the USA. This incredible opportunity to lead and teach women how mountain biking can be a super fun sport was a niche that I couldn’t help but feel natural in doing. This opportunity led to many other amazing ventures, including a sponsorship from Hometown Sports in McCall, Idaho and being supported by Juliana Bicycles and Club Ride Apparel. Starting spring 2017, I had a dream and vision to start a Mountain Bike Coaching and Guiding Business, in order to share my passion for the sport with others, and as of October 2017, it has come to fruition.

The name of my company is Down 2 Bike Project (D2B project for short) and it is an ‘on the road’ coaching business, traveling to events and locations around the country, instructing clients along the way. The website will notify folks of the current location and future locations of Down 2 Bike Project and if they see that D2B is going to be near their location, they can schedule a lesson (group or private) and D2B will drive to them.

There is apparel available on the website and original one-of-a-kind hats for sale in person. I have a 4x6 enclosed trailer that I tow with my Subaru and that is what I live in. I call it my Wee Bitty and it has its own fun story.
Website:

Tell us about your mountain biking introduction- what did you learn and what about it made you say "This is for me!"
I had won a hardtail Huffy at a local grocery store raffle drawing. Funny right? My boyfriend at the time had a Trek hardtail of much better quality so he thought it’d be a good idea to go for a pedal. I was immediately winded and couldn’t believe that people rode bikes in the woods like this. He let me ride his Trek and then I realized how much easier it was to ride and how fun it could be.

You started off on a hardtail and eventually went full suspension. Can you tell us what helped you with your decision and why it was the best decision for you?
Oh my gosh, I will never forget that day. My friend had a Cannondale Jekyll he was selling and told me that I could take it for a spin. I’d been riding a Gary Fisher hardtail with old-school pad brakes for years. So decided heck, why not? I had NEVER ridden that fast nor had as much fun on a bike as that day. It’s as if the skies opened up and I saw heaven. I bought the bike the same day.

We have to ask, what was it like riding in Antarctica?!
Absolutely thrilling and freezing, all at the same time. There’s nothing like riding down a volcanic rock ridgeline with 30 mph winds and seeing the sheer drop off of the side down into the frozen sea ice. The ice will some years break up and you can see icebergs floating around, penguins swimming and orca whales spy hopping. Absolutely stunning.
Clips or flats? What do you enjoy best and why?
I am back to riding flats after years of clips. I find this to be helpful in really emphasizing the importance of foot positioning and movement during technical moves. Plus it’s how teachers are supposed to instruct beginners in learning fundamental mountain bike technique.

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 dislocated my elbow during a pump track/wall ride session that required months of Physical Therapy and later that summer I launched off my bike down a steep rock embankment that resulted in a massive evulsion on my right forearm needing 14 stitches. It got so infected that I had pitting edema in my entire right arm. Super disgusting and painful.

Overcoming the fear of riding aggressively again was and is still challenging. The next 2 summers I focused on the idea that slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Surprisingly my speed and riding ability increased, all the while I thought that I was going slower. I go by this every time I ride now. If I find myself saying “whoa..that was a close one” or “yikes, I should’ve just biffed it”, I am riding outside of my limits and need to take it back a notch on the braap scale. No need to injure yourself.

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 cornering is always something people struggle with. I can haul on the straights during races, but my cornering always slows me down. It wasn’t until I took some clinics that my cornering technique started getting better.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky?
I’d say that overcoming gaps/doubles and big drops are mentally tricky for me. I believe that I have the technical ability to do it, but my past experiences of being injured mess with my mind. Every day seems to be a new challenge of pushing through that fear and believing in my ability to accomplish the feature.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything! The smell of the outdoors, the ability to travel far distances in little time, the speed, the playfulness of what your bike can do. I smile the whole time I ride a bike, especially at a DH park.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
*Juliana Roubion - with all the bells and whistles, including a carbon wheelset. I didn’t understand the hype on why carbon wheels were so amazing until I got this bike. Wow, a game changer for sure. I feel confident riding this thing down any DH Park or for just an Enduro stroll around the mountain.

*Surly Crosscheck – for the gravel grinding, town riding and ability to cycle tour.

*19” Unicycle – Because it’s fun

*Specialized 29er hardtail (don’t know the kind/year) – bought this a few years ago in New Zealand for a 5-week cycle tour of the South Island. I have found a place to store it there and use this as my cycle tour machine and way to get around town when passing through every year for the Antarctic Program.

You have your own business called Down 2 Bike Project- what was the inspiration behind D2B?
Witnessing the pure enjoyment of seeing people try out mountain biking and get ‘hooked.’ There’s nothing better than being there during the moment they realize how much fun riding bikes can be. Why not start a business that is focused on healthy living while having an adrenaline rush at the same time?

What are your goals for D2B for the next year?
D2B will be teaming up with Payette Powder Guides in McCall, ID during August/September 2018 for backcountry yurt mountain biking trips. Stunning backcountry singletrack, Hot Springs, catered meals and a Sauna, all with an unforgettable view over the Payette National Forest. D2B is also planning to partner up with a few coaching clinics throughout the country, with the goal to be utilized as a helper or private instructor for the many coaching clinics that are starting to pop up. D2B is a mobile coaching/guiding service and can travel to your neck of the woods. More info on down2bikeproject.com

What inspired you to become a coach and share the passion of mountain biking with others?
Seeing a persons smile at the end of a group ride.

What has been your most rewarding moment since you have started coaching riders?
Seeing people go from “Nope, can’t spend that much money on a mountain bike” to “Check out the new whip I just bought”. Going from “I’m scared to ride off-road” to “Which trail have I not ridden yet?

You have some awesome sponsors, tell us more about them and why you are stoked for their support-
**Club Ride Apparel – I’m super pumped to be supported by Club Ride because their tech wear is super durable, comfy and made of really high-quality materials. They are also based out of Sun Valley, ID and there’s nothing better than supporting local if possible. The riding in that area is also out of this world and the folks that work there are super down to earth and sleep, eat and breathe mountain biking.

**Bell Helmets – I can’t rave enough about this company. They have been a catalyst in starting up the womens group ride movement through their Bell Joy Ride program. They give away thousands of dollars in helmets and swag throughout the country and at several Enduro events throughout the year.

**Juliana Bicycles – Straight up, this bike can take what you give it. And they have been really great in their Juliana Ride Out program, a full day of breakfast, yoga, bike ride, post ride beers and food. All for FREE! Why wouldn’t I be stoked to rep a bike from this company? Made for an Enduro Race or for a stroll around the mountain, I love my Juliana Roubion.

**Hometown Sports, McCall – Without the sponsorship of this local bike shop, I would not be riding a Juliana nor would have been able to make the Bell Joy Rides such a success in the McCall Area. Hometown Sports has been there every month, throwing in cash for burgers, having on-trail mechanics during group rides, offering our leads/sweeps free bike rentals. They are 100% in support of supporting the growth of MTB in our area and have gone leaps and bounds out of their way in an effort to get more women on bikes.

**North Fork Coffee Roasters – I love coffee and my friend Corinne started her dream in owning and creating this absolutely beautiful coffee roastery in McCall, ID. We have a lot of our group rides start or end at her shop. There’s a bike tuning stand, bike artwork and she has supported a lot of the Bell Joy Rides in providing Coffee pre-ride/AM. Support your local businesses!

You are one of the Bell Joy Ride Ambassadors, what did it mean for you to be chosen as an ambassador for this program?
It meant the world to me. I have been applying for programs like this for a few years and needed to pinch myself when I found out.

Why should folks apply for programs like the Bell Joy Ride program?
Because it’s better to live with I tried than a What if. The people you meet through these programs are freaking awesome. You will see lives changed and smiles bigger than you ever have before. And these folks are integral to getting to know how the mountain biking industry works, helping you move forward with the idea of working in the industry and giving you the contacts needed to find out more.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
A couple things. Cost is a big one. The cost of bikes are freaking expensive. Yes, they’re getting less expensive, but it’s still a lot to afford for a single mom who likes to go out and ride every once in a while. Another deterrent is the idea that it’s only for the hardcore athletes or crazy adrenaline junkies. Not true!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I would love to see a way to have communal mountain bikes with a very low cost for using them. I’ve seen too many women not start mountain biking or ditch on a ride because the cost is too high for a rental or the price of buying a bike is too high. It’s also great to have a lot of free rides or biking events in a location, in order to get the women's interest piqued and give them a reason to perhaps second guess their frugality towards purchasing one.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
The women I teach inspire me. I can’t get over how brave some of these ladies are. It sometimes terrifies me seeing them push their mental psyche and try a new obstacle. I’m stoked that they are pushing through the fear, but of course, scared that they may crash. They inspire me every ride, every time I go on a pedal with them.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I was used to DJ on turntables back in the early 2000’s and was also a Ballroom Dance Instructor

Monday, April 9, 2018

Women Involved Series: Olivia Round

Olivia Round is on a daily mission to make friends with fear. She uses her talents as a writer and artist to cultivate empowerment and compassion, and one of her greatest joys is exploring this world by bicycle.

In 2011, at the age of 21, she rode her bike alone across the United States. She’s currently writing a memoir about that epic, transformative trip.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and why it was a monumental decision for you-
My first hero on two wheels was my mama. She was one of the very few people in my hometown of Ketchikan, Alaska who cycled on the soggy, narrow roads while I was growing up.

There was no bike shop, and no “bike scene” to speak of, so my mama was regarded as a very brave eccentric. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up: I wanted people to think I was a brave eccentric, too.

What inspired you to take to riding across the United States as a way of healing?
For reasons that remain unclear, I developed a fear of sexual violence at a very early age. I was never physically harmed or molested in any way, but somehow I learned that rape existed and that the perpetrators were usually male, and that lead to me developing a phobia of men. I was constantly worried about rape, and because I was obsessed with it I started to see it everywhere: on the news, in people’s stories, in books, movies, etc. Sadly, that fear of being sexually assaulted as a young girl was totally legitimate. I remember learning in high school health class that one in four young women are assaulted before the age of 18. That’s 25% of all females in America!

So, my fears kept being corroborated. They got worse and worse. By the time I left home and attended college, my phobia of men was debilitating: it’s hard to function when you’re terrified of half the human race. I knew I had to do something drastic, something to shake myself out of this scary mental rut and prove to myself that the world wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.

I decided that riding my bicycle alone across the United States would be the perfect medicine. And boy, it was! I don’t think I realized it at the time, but looking back I see that I needed to reprogram my brain. I needed to spend time on my own, away from my friends and family, to sort myself out mentally. And, to be at the mercy of the world. I’m so glad I did it. That trip wasn’t easy, but it was essential.

Preparing for a bicycle tour can be challenging, especially for those new to the concept. How did you prepare?
I didn’t do much physical training, that’s for sure! I had a full-time job and didn’t have much time to ride, so I didn’t worry about it. I just focused on route research and getting the right gear. Rather than training beforehand, I allowed myself to train on the road: for the first week, I didn’t ride more than 30 miles per day. By the second week, I would ride up to 50 miles per day. I had the whole semester off from school to do the trip, so I wasn’t in a hurry once I got started.

What would you say were the most challenging aspects of your trip?
Dealing with my fear was definitely the hardest part. I’d get triggered by stupid little things: someone yelling at me out of a car window, or getting cat-called while passing a construction site, etc. Once the situation was over, my fear would stay with me, hovering behind me like a ghost. I was always looking over my shoulder and trying to get myself to calm down.

Sleeping alone in a tent was the hardest. Don’t get me wrong, I love camping. Anytime I was in a designated campsite I was okay, but if I tried to stealth camp (just pitch a tent in a secret place at the side of the road) I was up all night in a nervous frenzy. Which didn't make for a good ride the next day. You need sleep in order to cycle!

Did you have any unexpected surprises that resulted in positive outcomes during your tour?
Hell yeah! Every damn day. I learned this country is populated by 99% kind, generous, good people. There were so many times that I needed rescuing, in some way or another, whether I’d lost the route or lacked a place to stay or needed to hitch a ride due to dangerous road conditions. It was mesmerizing how often someone would turn up at just the right moment and offer just the right assistance. I called them “angels,” and I refer to that experience as “road magic.”
What was the best part of your solo bike ride? A town you visited, a life lesson learned, people you met?
I loved having a clear mission in life. Every day I woke up and knew what I had to do. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to throw all your energy into something and see yourself making progress. It’s addicting. When the trip ended, after 5 months of travel, I felt lost. After riding my bike all day every day, I didn’t know what to do with all my free time.

I learned how important it is for me to have a clear goal, and to always have a big, exciting project to work on. I was born with a lot of focus and energy, and if I don’t channel them properly then these gifts can work against me. I start doubting myself, worrying, letting anxieties get the best of me, and spiraling downwards into depression. With a purpose in life, I wake up every day so thrilled to be alive!

Also, I learned the importance of meditation. When I felt scared on the road, I had to clear my mind and focus on the present moment, rather than “what could happen next.” Daydreaming about worst-case-scenarios is unhelpful. You’ll find yourself panicking about hypothetical things, instead of enjoying what’s really happening.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Oh my goodness, YES! For the life of me, I could not figure out how to stand up in the pedals in order climb steep hills. I remember cranking my way up my first mountain pass in Oregon, panting and straining but keeping my butt firmly in the saddle. Another touring cyclist, an older man, zoomed downhill past me, fully loaded, and shouted, “Stand up! Rock it out!” He was gone in a flash but I knew what he meant. I felt so disheartened that I didn’t know how to stand up in the pedals, and that maybe it meant I wasn’t a real cyclist. It took me over two months and a dozen more mountain passes to get the hang of it: only in Missouri’s Ozarks did I finally succeed. And thank heavens, because those Ozarks are wicked steep!

The trick was revealed in what that fellow tourer had shouted at me: Rock it out. You have to stand up, lean forward, and allow your bike to rock side to side as your upper body sways in the opposite direction. It’s terrifying, but you soon realize that gravity is on your side and you’re not going to fall over.

What advice or suggestions do you have for someone looking to complete a long-distance tour on their own?
Get out a sheet of paper, and make two lists. First off, list all the reasons why you want to go. Secondly, list what will happen, and how you’ll feel in 10 years if you don’t go. This will either make you realize you don’t really care that much, or it will be the tough-love moment you need to make it happen.

Adventure Cycling Association, with their routes, maps, gear recommendations, and even guided bike tours, is a great place to start.

What do you love about riding your bike?

My bike is my medicine. “It’s cheaper than therapy,” my boss used to say at a bike shop where I worked last year. Within two minutes of getting on my bicycle, I’m overwhelmed by joy. This little-kid sparkly feeling comes over me, and I start making dumb noises: whooping, cheering, singing. I can’t help it. My bike makes me so happy. It feels like flying, like freedom.

What inspired you to write about your journey? Particularly what motivated you to write a book?
While I hope this book helps others, I’m actually writing this story for myself. It's like a love letter to the little girl I once was. My childhood might've been different if I'd found a book like this when I was in middle school. (That’s not to say this book is appropriate for kids, because it’s not, but at a young age I was already reading books above my reading level, with content that really scared me.)

And, I confess, a huge part of my motivation to write this book is to be understood. I spent most of my life feeling misunderstood and different, even wrong, because of how unusual my behavior was (refusing to date, turning down every slow dance, declining to hug men, etc). When I told people I was afraid of men, they’d say, “Why? What happened to you?” and I felt like I had to have a definitive answer, because otherwise I wasn’t allowed to be afraid. I want to write this book because it gives the little girl inside of me permission to be afraid. I want to tell her, “Hey, I heard you’re scared. That’s totally legitimate because this world can be a scary place. But you know what? Fear only rules our lives if we let it. So… let’s go play.

Why is it important to you to be candid, honest, and open when talking about your experience and fears?
I’m pretty open. I’ve been known to happily divulge my hang-ups, bowel movements, dietary restrictions, sexuality, and deepest fears to complete strangers. Not everyone is comfortable being that uncensored, and I respect that. But the fact that I can do it, that I want to share, means I should. Because if enough people share their stories and are honest about their experiences, it helps others heal. Honesty is inclusive, comforting, and helps other people feel like they can be their authentic selves, too. And, you know, the truth is often hilarious. I love making people laugh.

How do you feel that we, as women, can create a change in how we converse about our fears, worries, and the concept of self-sabotage either in conversation or writing?
The #MeToo Movement is revealing how much we aren’t telling each other. I’ve heard multiple stories of women being assaulted or harassed and keeping it to themselves for years while their perpetrator went on to hurt other people. A lot of other people, in some sad cases. If those early victims had come forward and said something, they could have spared others the same fate.

We need to remember that we’re all in this together. We need to be gentle with the accusers, as well as the accused. The more we can respond with compassion to both sides, the more comfortable people will feel coming forward with their stories. This isn’t “Men vs. Women,” as I thought it was when I was a kid. And harassment is not a “women’s issue.” Men get hurt, too. And no man wants his mother, sister, daughter, friend, or lover to be hurt. So, what happens to one of us affects all of us.

As far as self-sabotage goes, that’s a tricky one. People are complicated. I’m being challenged during this memoir-writing process to dig deep and write the whole truth, and it’s bringing up all these surprising revelations. For example, I spent years telling my friends that I wanted to heal from my phobia, but looking back I realize that I wasn’t ready. I’d identified with my fear for so long, I couldn’t let it go. I was afraid of who I’d be without it. It takes courage to kill your former self and let the new one have a chance. I wasn’t ready to take that step, and invite that kind of dramatic transformation into my life, until recently.

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

I’m a one-bike-girl, as I like to say. In 2011 I bought a gorgeous, well-maintained Miyata from a guy on Craigslist in Portland. I’d test-ridden other bikes, but when I hopped on her I knew she was the one. She felt like part of my body. I named her Miya, rode her across the country, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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

Studies have shown that women are biologically more risk-averse than men, and cycling is currently a risky activity in the US. Providing bike lanes and bike paths greatly increases female ridership, because having a designated place to ride makes cycling safer.

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

Bike shops are the gate-keepers. For an aspiring cyclist, a bike shop can be the most intimidating place. It holds all the answers, but they’re worried about being judged. If a shop employee is kind, supportive, and enthusiastic about new riders, they can win customers for life. Especially female customers. There’s no need to intimidate or overwhelm newbies with industry jargon and athletic pressure: just help ‘em find a bike that feels comfortable and allows them to do what they want to do, and then cheer them on. Hiring more women to work in the cycling industry is a good thing, too.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

I fell in love with cycling, so that’s the platform I use when I reach out to women. But, really, I don’t care if anyone else rides a bike, ever. I just want to live in a world where more people overcome their fears, have epic adventures, and surprise themselves. In case anyone is looking for permission to be a badass, I want to offer it to them.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

I have some secret rituals to ward off bad luck (and bike thieves). One of them is to whisper “don’t go home with strangers” to my bicycle whenever I leave her unattended. Another is to kiss her handlebars after a ride.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Women Involved Series: Tess (Dusty Betty)

My name is Tess and I started mountain biking in 2014. A couple years ago my husband and I decided to sell our house, downsize to an Airstream travel trailer and get mobile jobs so we could travel full time. As we started traveling we found ourselves riding more than ever. We already loved the outdoors and we learned that we can cover a lot of ground quickly on our mountain bikes and it's just a great way to see many of the beautiful places we travel to.

And all this saddle time is really helping me push my skill forward too (bonus.)

More and more women are getting involved in mountain biking all the time and I wanted to help create an online community where mountain bikers, including women and noobs would feel comfortable getting involved in the discussion. [Enter Dusty Betty] I already had some experience creating content for YouTube and I decided to use that as my main platform for Dusty Betty. I create a variety of videos including how to's, trail rides, basic tech projects, reviews, events, vlogs and more. I love connecting with my viewers online and on the trail. My husband Steve and I created the Dusty Betty YouTube channel and the response and support from the MTB community has been overwhelming. I feel so grateful and I'm excited to keep this project moving forward.



Tell us about the introduction to mountain biking, what did you first learn and what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I blame FOMO. My husband Steve is a long time mountain biker and over the years he gave me lots of chances to get into riding but I wasn't really interested in high adrenaline sports. One night Steve and a bunch of our friends came back from a ride and as they stood around the kitchen eating pizza talking about how much fun they'd just had, and it occurred to me that I was missing out. That's when I started riding but the love affair really began when I got comfortable enough to start riding more technical stuff a year later. Then I was hooked.

What do you enjoy most about being able to share #bikelife with your husband?
Now that we enjoy the same main form of exercise it gives us so much quality time together in the outdoors. And because we travel full time, it's a great way for us to explore a new area and cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. The challenging nature of mountain biking also brings out different sides of our personalities. Because of that, we've gotten to know each other in new ways and it's definitely brought us closer together. We're a real team.
Was your husband the person who introduced you to mountain biking? If yes, do you have suggestions for folks looking to introduce their partner to mountain biking?
Yes, Steve got me into riding and he's been an awesome coach. I've also had the chance to witness a lot of riders introducing someone new to mountain biking and I've seen a lot of things done right and a lot of things done badly. For anyone introducing someone to mountain biking I've got a great video on this topic called "how to get your girlfriend hooked on mountain biking" (forgive the shameless plug.) But for a few quick tips: I'd start by putting them on a good bike that fits and works well. If needed, before you hit the trail practice shifting and run some breaking drills in a parking lot (for the love of all that is good and holy, please make sure the one you love knows how to brake so they don't crash into a tree 5 minutes into the ride. I've seen that on the trail a time or two) Once you hit the trail, start super easy. You can always find a harder trail if your partner is bored, but get them overwhelmed before you get them hooked on riding and you may never get them back on a trail. Focus on making it fun for them.

What inspired you to create Dusty Betty?
I love MTB YouTube channels like BKXC, Skills with Phil, Seth's Bike Hacks and others but I also wanted to be inspired by other female riders. When I realized there just wasn't a lot of MTB content from female creators out there I decided to start creating the kind of content I was looking for. Boom!

Clips or flats? What do you prefer and why?
Flats…for now. I'm still working on learning a lot of important trail skills like bike control, bunny hops, wheelies, manuals, jumps and more. Though you may gain some efficiency in your stroke on clips, a lot of important technical skills tend to plateau once you switch to flats. In fact, a lot of downhill racers do some of their training on flats even though they race on clips. So for me, flats are a better fit for my current riding goals. I've also got a lot more confidence charging at techy climbs and such knowing I'm not clipped in. I do see myself riding clips someday but not exclusively. There's sort of an idea in mountain biking culture that you have to ride clipped in if want to be taken seriously. As a result, I've seen a lot of people, especially women, switch to clips too early and I've seen it result in broken bones. Do ride clips, but do it at the right time for you and do it for the right reasons.

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 haven't had any major crashes yet but I've had loads of little crashes. That means little to no physical recovery time but getting my head back in the game is the hard part. The biggest thing for me is to take a moment to collect myself if I really need it, but I need to get back on my bike pretty quick and start moving again. Mountain biking requires my whole brain so if I can push all the crazy "what if" thoughts out by focusing on riding, that really helps. Someday, I will get properly injured and that will be a real challenge. If I can't just hop back on my bike it may be hard to keep my mind in check while I heal so I don't psych myself out. But hopefully, I'll come back swinging!
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 first year of riding, I passively bounced and trundled around sitting in the saddle 90% of the time. But learning to stand up and get out of the saddle more of the time is what unlocked bike handling for me. Once I started standing more I could adopt that more aggressive position and let my bike move around more. I could lean it on turns, get forward on the bike for steep sprinting climbs, and push my bike ahead of me as needed. I could also let my bike take the brunt of the chatter on rocky sections without being bucked around. So if you're new to riding, definitely try standing and getting out of the saddle more.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Wow, there are so many important skills I still want to learn. The bunny hop has been especially elusive to me. I'm currently taking an online bunny hop course from Ryan Leech Connection and it's helping a ton but it still takes loads of work and persistence. I think the thing that keeps me going is the fact that I want it so bad. I'm learning that when it comes to advanced skill, you've really got to want it and put in the time it takes to master the skill.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I get to be outside in nature, getting exercise, learning new things, challenging myself, and I get to be with cool people. I love the mountain biking community.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I ride a 2017 Santa Cruz 5010. It's light, it's a spry climber, poppy and playful, easy to handle at slower speeds but surprisingly capable when pushed to go fast. The headtube angle is slack enough to feel fun and smooth going downhill but it's easy to choose a line and keep the bike on track. I love how quiet Santa Cruz bikes are (no rattles or squeaks.) Santa Cruz bikes also have a real sleek look and every other year they put out some fun wild colors. I chose it because it's capable but still responsive and good for learning new skills on. It's been a fantastic bike but I'm ready for a bike with a little more travel so 2018 will be a new bike year for me...

What do you love most about using social media as a platform for connecting with other riders and building the mtb community?

It allows me to share my story and connect with riders I couldn't otherwise. I talk with people in my online community not just in different parts of the country but the world. It's just incredible. It brings the MTB community to riders in areas without a strong mountain biking scene. Also, as I travel the US, I feel like Steve and I have friends everywhere we go. Sometimes life on the road gets lonely so it's really fun when we get to connect with other riders and Dusty Betty definitely helps us make those connections.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think women have less exposure to mountain biking for one thing. Then there's fear. No one wants to get hurt, and some ladies think they have to be super hardcore and ride really techy stuff to mountain bike. The good news for these women is that you can just ride mellow scenic trails if that's all you want out of it. I think perfectionism also keeps some women from trying mountain biking. Women don't hold a monopoly on perfectionism but we certainly have a stronghold in the market. The fear of looking foolish or possibly being bad at something for a while is enough to stop a lot of ladies before they start. Even for women who do pick up riding, you will often see perfectionism rearing its ugly head. Perfectionism manifests itself in many ways. Chronic apologizing, becoming intimidated by other riders in non-competitive situations and sometimes even riding dangerously beyond your skill level all trace their roots to perfectionism. And hey, I struggle with perfectionism myself so I'm not casting any stones here.

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

I actually see things heading in the right direction for the most part. Women's group rides, clubs, and clinics are springing up more and more. And we're seeing a more coed community in general. It's still a boys club in some areas but it's changing all the time. As far as the industry goes, a different approach to marketing could help. Your average female rider isn't as plugged into the pro racing scene as her male counterpart so seeing an image of a female downhill racer roosting a corner isn't something your average female rider connects with. Now, women are a diverse group, so yes, someone women are going to have posters of the pros hanging in their room but if that's the only type you market to you're failing to reach a big part of the female demographic. Some companies get this, some don't and some may choose to target one type of female rider in particular and focus their marketing based on that. But brands that focus more on personal progression and excellence, getting out in nature and the social aspect of mountain biking are the ones who will have the greatest reach (in my opinion.)

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

For a long time I wasn't remotely interested in mountain biking but one day I heard something that changed my mind and made me want to ride. Now I'm hooked. Mountain biking is this amazing part of my life and I want to share that with other women. Maybe something I say or do will inspire them to ride too.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I live in a 23-foot airstream travel trailer with my husband and my dog. It's cozy but no matter where we park it, we're home.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Women Involved Series: Jeni Boltshauser

In 2015 I needed to take a break from running. I had recently finished an ultra race dragging my right leg for 17 miles. I had no more cartilage in my knee and was warned by an orthopedist this was coming. I was devastated as trail running was my life at that time.

My significant other Justin suggested I try mountain biking. I had ridden a road bike for 2 triathlons I had competed in and didn't care for it. I was really hesitant but desperate to get back onto the trails. I unexpectedly fell in love with it.

Now he is a stage 4 cancer survivor and thought we would leisurely bike around, stopping to take pictures.

I took to the more technical terrain immediately. The rockier, scarier the better. I quickly realized I needed skills or I was going to die. That led me to take my first women's only mountain biking skill building clinic over a weekend.

Prior to that weekend, I remember thinking, "Where are all the women?" They are everywhere in running. I was equally dismayed with the lack of choices in women's apparel. I set about finding the women. After attending the skills clinic I started working with a local bike shop to set up maintenance clinics and rides. At the same time, I created a Facebook group to meet other women to ride with. All I could think is there has to be more women out there being the only girl in a group of guys riding. Not to mention the more gravity style riding you get into the less frequent they become. Well, I found them. What was just me and maybe 3 other ladies in the group has grown to almost 700 members around the world. I am amazed at the women riding in places like Singapore, Philippines! I get so incredibly happy when one of those women posts about how excited they are to find other women in mountain biking. My goal is to grow the presence of ladies in the sport so we have the same choices as the male riders. In addition to supporting and encouraging women in a sport that requires quite a bit of skill and guts. Women are truly badass and I want to show them off.

At the beginning of 2017, I met Paige Ramsey. I wanted to hold skill-building clinics for women as well since skills is such an important piece of women staying in the sport. I started holding clinics for her to coach at. At the same time, I would learn alongside all the participants. I decided to get my IMBA ICP Instructors Certification to assist in the clinics. I am now Level 1 and Level 2 certified.

I also entered the world of Enduro Racing this year. I like racing because I like goals. Knowing you have a race coming up gets you out and exercising. Well, no surprise that there isn't a ton of women racing. For example in the California Enduro Series, in the beginner category, the men will have over 30 participants and the women are around 5. By the end of the 2017 season, I encouraged a friend to race which has set the tone for next year. I want to encourage and support women to try racing. I intend on providing support from pre-ride to race day while racing alongside them.

What started as a Facebook group has now become a company. We have a website with an online forum for women to connect with other riders around the world. We hold clinics, retreats, and rides. We post articles, podcasts, and videos to provide support and occasionally make fun of ourselves. I have a YouTube channel I started some time ago. I provide the female perspective of trails to help others who want to see what the trail is before riding. I also keep in my crashes because that is real riding. I leave in my scared moments too. Because we all have those.

As for my personal life, I actually have a corporate day job that I have had for over 20 years. My goal would be to eventually do this full-time but I have a child who will someday go to college so it might be awhile before I can quit:)

With a day job, family and running a company I am extremely busy. I am not going to lie somedays I think why am I doing this? Then I read a comment from a woman who is new to mountain biking and through our support and encouragement has conquered her fears and is loving it. Then I remember how it is all worth it. Tell us about your mountain #bikelife introduction and why it has been so inspiring for you-

I had been told by an orthopedic surgeon that I had very little cartilage left in my knees. I was devastated to hear my addiction to running would soon be ending. I couldn’t imagine what I was going to do with my life without running. Despite doctor’s advice I ran a 50k and had to drag one of my legs for 17 miles. I decided I better take a break. My significant other suggested I rent a mountain bike and ride with him. I was hesitant because I did not enjoy road riding. I rented a Trek Lush from a local shop and went for a ride. I unexpectedly fell in love with it. I really liked that I could still be out on the trails. I found it super fun to try to ride over rocks and was grinning on all the descents. I decided to buy a mountain bike and the rest is history.

Instagram: jenibolts and mtbexp
Facebook: MTB Experience
Facebook Private Women's Only
 (Primarily- there are some industry dudes on there!): Women's MTB Experience

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 immediately gravitated towards the downhill fun. However, I quickly realized if I don’t get skills I am going to die. I was riding places I should never have ridden as a beginner. I crashed a lot but I am extremely stubborn and will not give up until I master something. The constant challenge and thrill when I overcame a fear to ride through an obstacle was how I knew I had found my next passion.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Flats all the way! I knew right from the beginning that flats were for me versus clips. I am really uncoordinated and could barely handle switching gears while trying to navigate the terrain. This was one of the reasons I always shied away from cycling. There was way too much going on to have a good time. Wearing flats versus clips was one less thing to worry about. Then when I became a coach I was very glad I learned in flats. It really pays off in skill building.

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 have had some spills but nothing major. I flew off a cliff recently and I always wondered what that would be like. It’s a surreal moment of seeing sky then dirt repeatedly until you stop. I tend to analyze my crashes. I want to know exactly what I did to contribute to it. Was I too far back and washed out the tire? Did I space out and not have enough pressure in my feet? I do that so I can learn from each crash and hopefully not repeat it.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
When I first started riding I hung out (and still do if I am scared) in the backseat. I was a get back and hope for the best kind of rider. When I met Paige (MTB Experience’s Skills Program Director) she quickly pointed that out. This is why skill-building clinics are so important. To have a coach watch you all day and point out what is most likely a reoccurring theme in your riding is extremely beneficial. It’s safe to say it is probably one fundamental you are not fully grasping that is holding you back in many aspects of your riding.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
High-Speed Cornering. I still don’t own that skill. I rent it, meaning it is inconsistent. I realized when I raced this year that in order to not lose time in the corners I had to pedal like mad in other places to make up for it. That seems super inefficient! It is a constant work in progress and I am determined not to let corners slow me down.

What do you love about riding your bike?
It allows me to get away from my busy life and focus on only what is in front of me. I love seeing the progress of riding. I feel like you can never plateau on a bike. There is always something to work on or towards.

Tell us about MTB Experience and how it came to fruition-
I attended my first women’s clinic in November 2015. I was so excited to meet other women in mountain biking. After that, I partnered up with a local bike shop to hold a maintenance clinic for women. I started the Facebook group to find other women to ride with as well. I was introduced to Paige Ramsey, a local coach, through that bike shop. I told her I will bring her the women if she would coach them. I did that and would throw myself into the rotation to learn from her. We kept working together and I became certified as an IMBA Level 1 and 2 ICP Instructor so I could back her up at the clinics. I turned the Facebook group into a company and added the website. The name was originally Women’s MTB Experience and I dropped that to include all genders. We still kept the Women’s MTB Experience title on the group and our main focus is women but we wanted to not exclude men from what we offer as well. We added podcasts, youtube videos, an online women’s forum and lots of social media interaction so we could truly bring that entire mountain biking experience to women. I love the posts about shoes, saddles, struggles with certain skills etc. Although my favorite was when I was having certain body parts fall asleep on long rides so posted it up. I was not alone and many other women were quick to chime in- omg me too! I thought it was just me! Oh and no judging allowed. If a member posts a video of them going over a tiny rock- we all cheer- no negative comments about form or easy terrain allowed. However, if someone asks what they are doing wrong we will try to help.
What has been the biggest challenge with creating MTB Experience? What has been the greatest success?
TIME. I have a corporate day job. I am a risk manager for a bank that I have been with for 21 years. I work from home which is great. However, I have a son and so balancing a full-time job, family and running a company is quite challenging. We have so many ideas and just not enough time in the day to get them all done. The biggest success is the outreach. When I started the Facebook group it was me and about 3 other girls. Now we have over 770 members worldwide. I receive the greatest messages about how women feel like they have found their tribe and love having a place to share everything they love about mountain biking. Nothing makes my day more than the solo warrior who finds the group and posts for the first time, “I am so happy I found all of you!

Can you share some information about your clinics? Why do you feel women-specific clinics are an important asset?
MTB Experience holds skill-building clinics for all levels in the Auburn area during the winter and fall. We are coaches for Woodward Tahoe and the Specialized Academy at Northstar, California as well. At Woodward, we hold clinics for women and will be coaching a girls MTB camp in the summer. At Northstar, we are coaches for the Friday night Pumps on Pedals and two women’s only weekend clinics. I think any clinic, co-ed or women only, is beneficial. However, women tend to open up more and not feel as intimidated if they are surrounded by other women riders working through the same skills. Women are incredibly supportive of each other in this environment. It is always amazing to see. Lots of cheering going on at all times!

Why do you believe in the value of creating a women's mountain biking community for those locally and afar?
Since there are not as many women as men in the sport often women are the sole female on a ride. We get many women who say I am so excited to find other women to ride with! We all enjoy riding with men but it’s nice to change it up and ride with women as well. The reason we have a community that is worldwide is we provide support to the lone MTB girl wherever she is and hopefully find her other riders to ride with! I think that is one of the things that impresses me the most. Locally we have found the women but can you imagine taking up mountain biking in the Philippines or Japan where it is even more rare to see a girl mountain biking? We have found those girls and they are the true badasses of this sport.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have an Intense Recluse and a Norco Magnum for dirt jumping. I just bought a DVO fork for a downhill bike I am building up before next season. I got the Recluse when I was an ambassador for Intense. I was lucky enough to ride a few bikes in the year I was with them. I got the Recluse before it was made public. I knew it was one I wanted to own. It’s the Elite model so has all the good stuff. I feel pretty lucky to have it. It’s an amazing Enduro bike. I recently had the fork custom tuned and it is so good right now!

Tell us about your upcoming race season and why you would like to get more women involved with racing-
Well, we didn’t think we would do a team this year since we didn’t solicit any sponsorships. However one of our members who moderates our forum convinced us to do it anyway. One of the reasons I wanted to do a team was not to win but to provide support and encourage other females to try it out. Well, we don’t need sponsors for that. Within one day of posting, we are putting together a team for the 2018 California Enduro Series we had 12 women signed up! I received the nicest messages regarding the team. Women who had been scared to race felt they now had a support group to be a part of. We are going to make it fun and post stats about each rider that aren’t race stats. Stats that make each of them unique. We had one rider ask if she could continue to wear her cotton t-shirts to race in as opposed to a team jersey. I told her of course you can. You be you, this is what this is all about.

Any tips or suggestions for those looking to participate in their first race?
JUST DO IT! I like racing because I enjoy working towards a goal. If you have a race coming up you will get on your bike and practice. You will get long rides in or force yourself to go down terrain you wouldn’t normally go down. For us non pros, it is not about podiums or sponsorships- it’s about pushing yourself to be the best you want to be.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I am not sure I can speak to cycling in general. As far as mountain biking, I think it is the skill and overcoming of fear that can deter women. Women don’t like to get hurt. Women have an incredible sense of self-preservation. In order to not get hurt, skills must be learned. If a woman goes out with someone that is unable to teach her how to handle tough terrain she is going to be scared and frustrated. Then it is easy to think ‘Never mind. I’ll go find another sport that doesn’t scare the hell out of me.’ I think this is a big factor on why so many women’s clinics have popped up. Women want to be out on the trails but want to do it safely.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
More choices in the gear, apparel and bikes needed for the sport. This was one of the biggest issues I had going from being a runner to a mountain biker. How come I get 2 choices of colors in flats and my guy gets 10? This is the theme with jackets, gloves, shorts. Don’t even get me started on the non matching kits. In addition, we don’t want pink and purple. Well, some may but that takes us back to having choices. As far as bikes, I don’t want or need a women’s specific bike that has limited resale. How about you make a small bike that would fit a small rider of any gender?

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
This sport is amazing. It is so challenging and fun. You get to be in nature while feeling a bit like a thrill seeker as you ride challenging terrain. The feeling you get when making it through a tough section is like nothing else I have ever experienced. I want other women to experience that same sense of accomplishment. Not to mention it translates into so many other aspects of our lives. Women are inherently badass. They could rule this sport if they wanted to.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I was a blogger with a published monthly column for a parenting magazine. I didn’t write about how to make crafts with my child. I wrote about my inadequacies as a new parent. I thought I was funny and so did the editor at the time. Well as soon as she left the more straight-edged editor gave me the boot. I needed an outlet to write which led to my website. This is a great example of when one door closes, another door opens that is so much better.

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 TheOutdoorEdit.com, 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!)

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

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 Shred-Girls.com 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 Shred-Girls.com 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 Shred-Girls.com 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.