Monday, December 11, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Mary Avenanti

I am a mother of seven grown children and grandmother of five. I am a graphic designer, copywriter, researcher, and publisher by trade. I am a recently certified 200-hr RYT (registered yoga teacher) and avid kayaker and mountain biker. Nature is where I go to collect all my thoughts, gather my emotions, and refocus...I ALWAYS find freedom and serenity the woods or on the water.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and what it entailed-
I grew up in a family of ten children. For my tenth birthday, I finally got a bike. it was a large, re-purposed 'old lady' bike. (Not the cool high-handle bar/banana seat bike my sister got.) Parents painted it blue and I had to share it with some of my siblings. I rode the hell out of that bike! I used it to race the boys in the neighborhood, and still have the scar on my knee from my first major crash.

I tasted freedom on that bike and bought my first ten-speed with money from my first job at 16.

More first real taste of mountain biking happened on a family vacation in Winter Park, Colorado. I was deep in kids and family responsibilities at the time, so it wasn't until almost ten years later, in the midst of a divorce, that I was able to experience riding dirt again.

The first thing I bought for myself after my marriage disintegrated, was a trail bike from Decorah Bicycles. I rode the gravel back roads out to Volga River State Park, lifted it over the cattle fence and hit the horse trails. My body and mind were beginning to remember the freedom. 

Life stepped in, new jobs, new location, kids were the focus and the Giant remained in the garage, unridden, for years. My youngest daughter took it to Ames for school and it was stolen in the first week. Se la Vie. I wouldn't return to biking for another five years...

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking? What made you decide "Yes! I want to get better at this!"-
There is a program here in the Cedar Valley called Nature Force. Nature Force is the brainchild of Mary McInnis, yogi, mountain biker, kayaker...she is 500 RYT and the program grew out of her love for yoga and biking and nature. She recruited local experts to help train women to kayak, mountain bike and run – a 12-week program that readies participants for a local eco-triathlon (Rugged Toad) at the end of August. Kayak-run-mtb. I was a runner most of my life. From the time I was 12, I ran competitively until I turned 50. I fell in love with kayaking years ago, mostly as a leisurely activity, and have been a yoga student of Mary's for eight years. So I trusted and signed up....full of trepidation, especially over the mountain biking.

The first year, I was terrified. Really! I walked the bike a lot. Anything that scared me I got off the bike and walked. Up or down or through trees, over rocks...I did a lot of walking that first season. I showed up for every practice session though. Something kept calling me back; the taste of freedom and being in the woods. I started to remember how much I loved the woods.

You did not become involved with off-road riding in your youth-years, but rather in your adult years. Why do you feel it's been positive?
In my youth, I loved riding my bike, but the only time I had an off-road experience I ended up going way too fast on a descent into a wooded area on my cousin's bike. I lost control of the bike, went into the trees and landed in a creek. to this day I get a bit nervous riding near rivers and lakes, especially on the edges of steep embankments :)

I started practicing yoga seriously about 10 years ago. Before that, I was a runner, through grade school, high school, college, and well into my adult life. Raising seven children in a broken marriage had its stresses and running was my therapy, then yoga. Like I mentioned previously, About three years ago, Mary McInnis, and the Nature Force Program inspired my participation. I witnessed her excitement and the joy she was finding in mountain biking.

My progress in mountain biking felt slow and frustrating.
I was scared, overly cautious, and I was much older than most of the women who had signed up. I was also inspired by them. I observed, I walked up and down hills, walked over any rock larger than a golf ball, walked between trees, and slowed to a crawl on all the bends in the trails. I cried from frustration because I wanted to ride so badly. I wanted to experience that freedom and my body was remembering that freedom I felt on a bike when I was younger. I remembered my love for the woods! I improved gradually and I was my own worst critic; the leaders and the other women in the program were encouraging. I did not race at all that first year, except in the Rugged Toad, and I was thrilled to finish! I really felt a part of something bigger with the other women in the group and the supportive biking/kayaking community in the area. I started to feel, after living in the area for more than 30 years, that I had finally started to rediscover myself in a safe and accepting community. My voice was respected, and women started letting me know they were inspired by my efforts.

I signed up for a mountain biking clinic in Omaha that fall. I cried there too! I, again, was the oldest by about a decade. But I hung in, tried everything, practiced, and listened to the coaches. I still hear them when I ride today, a year and a half later! That camp was certainly a turning point in my confidence. I started to understand better how mountain biking worked, why balance was important, why and how my body position mattered. (Being a creative person and a mathematician, I have a deep desire to understand the intricacies and dynamics...this is, of course, a double-edged sword. That awareness certainly can empower a rider, but can also hinder progress with overthinking and overanalyzing situations.)

What would you say has been your biggest motivation for riding?
Freedom! Feeling free in body, mind, and spirit is what keeps me heading back out. I feel like I am's just magic. riding in the woods is, for me, a moving meditation. Mountain biking requires intense focus. Constant reading of the trails, any bends, descents, climbs, and obstacles can be navigated safely and effectively only with intentional focus. My mental clarity and problem-solving ability are always better after a ride in the woods. Once I started riding regularly. I began eating better and sleeping better than I had in a really long time. I truly look forward to the rides and do anything I can to get a ride in. I overcame my fear of being alone in the woods in the dark and rode in the dark last winter. I found it so peaceful. I left behind so many fears, rational and irrational alike. My blood pressure and heart rate are back to what they were when I was on the college track team.

I take the confidence gained from conquering obstacles on the trails and bring it into my everyday life– at work, in my relationships, with my family, and in my own personal goals and accomplishments. My perspective in life has shifted; everything is an adventure and one of my new mantras became "remain curious.

Curiosity goes a long way toward overcoming obstacles on the trails. Don’t judge the bend in the trail, remain curious about how the bike will roll through, about your skills available to you, about your mindset, and let go of outcomes. It's about the experience, and when a person remains curious throughout, the doors remain open to all possibilities.
For folks who feel they are "too old" to mountain bike, what would you say/suggest?
I have 60 years of life experience and on my 6th birthday, I rode the Decorah trails on my fat bike. Three days later I set a PR at Ingawanis on the fat bike! I would say that mountain biking can be approached cautiously. I’ve never considered myself a risk taker, however, calculated risks are in my toolkit, and the freedom I feel out there on the trails is worth it to me. I love the sense of empowerment I feel when I overcome the fear that previously stopped me from experiencing the thrill or joy that usually results. Life is way too short to sit on the sidelines. Adulating is intense, my day job is stress-filled. All I have to do to relieve that stress? Simply think about the next time o get to go play on my bikes.
There are some great mountain biking movies out there, one has a scene where the boss is yelling at the employee for staring at a picture on the wall all day. He yells, "What is so great about that picture?" Of course, it's a picture of the trails, Whistler, I think. I feel exactly like this at work, me daydreaming about riding the trails. Another thing I think is important to remember is that it's your ride...always. It's not about being as fast or skilled as your neighbor. It's skill set and mindset, build one and the other comes along. Everything I learned on the trails I take into life; I have learned so much about myself! I have found my voice- I've been speaking up and sharing more, at work, in relationships, with my kids, and in my community. Do not live life by the numbers! I feel younger and healthier and more energetic than I ever have, and I'm having so much fun!

Clips or flats? What do you use and why?
I found flats to be very helpful, especially when learning the basics on a mountain bike. Some flat pedals have a lot of real estate for my feet and flats give me the option of re-positioning my feet if needed. I have been working on taking corners a bit quicker or smoother (or both) and with flats I can put a foot down or take my foot off the pedal while leaning, even if it never hits the ground. Also, when learning basic skills, like being able to stop on an incline or descent without falling or letting go of the bike etc. There are many instances when taking a foot off the pedal quickly is helpful and can deter a fall, etc.

When first learning all the ins and outs of riding on soft trails, it's nice to be able to focus on reading the trails, one-finger braking, bottom off the saddle, weighting the front or getting weight back etc. without having to worry about getting a foot unclipped.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Have I had any accidents, crashes, slow rolls into a tree...etc? Yup. Like I said before, I was overly cautious at first. Until I learned to look ahead on the trail, I had such a hard time riding through trees. It took a while to figure out that the bike goes wherever you are looking, so look past the trees, and like magic, the bike goes right through...look at the trees? The bike heads right for them!

I learned to navigate, to put serious effort into reading the trail ahead, and navigating obstacles mentally before I got to them. I moved faster and smoother on the trails. I gained confidence, and rode faster and rode more challenging portions of trails I was afraid of before.

In the Fall of 2016 at White Rock Conservancy when heading down a descent at a decent speed on a new trail, I lost control on a drop-off. The terrain was red clay and sand that fell away from beneath my front tire, it happened really fast. The bike went one way and I went the other. My helmet cracked when my head hit the ground, and my hands were horribly bruised. We were out in the middle of nowhere and the quickest way back to camp was to ride the rest of the trail, so I did. That was a good thing, it kept my mind off of my hands. The palms of my hands and up into my fingers turned purple almost immediately.

I found out later that the lockout lever on my front shock had malfunctioned and I had been riding the bike with the shock locked out for weeks- No travel at all. More lessons learned. I was more determined than ever to continue riding and apply any new knowledge to improving my experience on the trails.

Writing about it helped a lot and talking it through with other riders helped as well. It helped me process what had happened, what I could have done differently if anything, and what skills could have helped. I have been working on those skills since. I am a much more assertive rider today than when I started out, it is truly a wondrous evolution.

Being forced to get back on the bike right away really helped. I finished out our weekend riding the rest of the White Rock trails. Having a supportive, non-judgmental riding partner was helpful too!

Since then, I have gone over the handlebars once or twice, and have gotten kicked off the bike a few times. No serious injuries. I didn't fall the whole first year I rode..and that was ok. It's ok to ease into it, and it's ok to jump in with both feet pedaling hard and fast! It's ok to do anything in between. It's your ride...always YOUR ride.

One of the revelations or "aha" moments I had recently, a life lesson learned on the mountain bike trails was learned riding the trails at Banner Lake in Indianola. Banner is challenging. A lot of punchy climbs and more than one scary steep descent. At one, in particular, I stopped at the top (it was my first time on this trail and Chris was shouting out tips and features. I saw him go over and had stopped to hear him) I looked down that descent and was readying for my 'jumping off the high dive routine' where I try, chicken out, and try. This time I said "I'm not going down this tonight. I'm too emotionally and mentally fatigued to fight with my mind right now." That was truly freeing. I didn't feel bad about myself, I didn't stand at the top in angst; I recognized my fatigue and took care of myself.

How do we heal? We remain curious...about how a crash happened, about steps we might take to prevent it, about awareness building, and about our skill set and our mindset. We continue to love the amazing people we are, give ourselves high marks for the courage it takes to be out there, and our attitudes of loving and living life to the fullest.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Not long after riding George Wyth for the first time in awhile, I thought about the ascents, the descents, the twisty trail between it all was so scary to ride in the beginning. I had walked so much, up and down and through trees etc. George Wyth is the flattest and easiest trail in these parts, however as a beginner, I found it intimidating.

How the hell was I supposed to get the bike through those trees so close together? No way am I going down that hill...with rocks at the bottom? Are you nuts?

Cornering? Ha!

Mountain Bike camp helped a lot...and practice. Practice does not make perfect, but practice does make stuff more permanent!

Skills Drills in parking lots or in the yard, or in the street for ten minutes a day. Seriously, just spending more time with my bikes help. The more time we spend with anyone, including our bikes, the more we learn about each other.

Watching MTB videos! :)
What do you love about riding your bike?
Ha! How long do you have? The sense of freedom. How it literally feels like flying, like magic in the woods, I have a personal relationship with each of my bikes..they each have energy that's a little different...but mostly I learned and am still learning to trust them...each of them...and really enjoying learning to let them move under me. It is my go-to for stress relief, for sorting, for meditating, for playing, playing, playing!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My first bike was a basic hardtail, Fuji Addy and was an unexpected gift from my sister and brother-in-law who own Action Bikes in San Antonio Texas. I learned all the basics, was super cautious and the Fuji carried me through the first year or so with grace. I learned so much, took her to a mountain bike skills clinic and was told the fit was off quite a bit and was too big. I rode her for another year and shed ten minutes or more off of timed routes on trails, even on a bike that was too big! The reach was way off and I'm sure my body position was not ideal because of it.

I rode cautiously and gradually improved over the year+ that I rode the Fuji. (she became my trainer this winter).

I bought a Specialized Hellga fatbike and it was a mega confidence builder. Fatbikes feel sturdy and supportive underneath you. The geometry (which I began to understand a bit better) really fit me so much better than the Fuji. This was my first experience with a bike that was the right fit, and it felt playful. Although she weighed as much or more than the Fuji, she felt so much lighter and bike handling really started to make sense. I learned so much and most importantly, I learned to trust her. Trusting the bike will do what it's built to do, and that's huge!

I gained a ton of confidence going over rocks, and my climbing improved 100%. I rode the Hellga in the snow and even raced her in the snow. I took some winter trips to Missouri and rode her on rocky descents, up and over chunky boulders. Ripping down a twisty descent is so f**king fun if you have the confidence and skill to do it, but before that it's scary. Period. Climbing can be frustrating, but once skills and stamina are built, they are more fun. Really, probably not a word most mountain bikers would use to describe climbs, but they definitely become less frustrating! You get to the top faster and can hit those awesome downhill sections sooner. :)

My experience on the fatbike led me to my next decision to purchase a full suspension trail bike. After much research on quality, price range and fit I settled on a Specialized Camber Comp 29'er. Pure bliss is all I have to say about it. I put in a lot of hours on a mountain bike in the last two and half years and felt my skill level was ready for this bike. Decorah Bicycles' Travis and Josie were super supportive and spent one whole afternoon (not kidding, we were there for four hours) letting me try different bikes, running 'fit' numbers, sharing their knowledge and I could not be happier with my choice. I bought the bike on my birthday in April, picked it up a week later and have already put tons of miles on it...ride every day I can! I named her Magia which is 'magic' in Italian (nickname Camberghini ;))...playful, similar fit to my Hellga, moves amazingly well under me and absorbs the terrain beautifully. I'm enjoying learning new skills and practicing old skills with renewed perspective. All with a better understanding of how things like balance, bike/body separation, using legs to power things like manuals, body position to lean the bike, rear wheel lifts, and all sorts of subtle body movements that direct my energy where it's needed and letting the bike respond to that energy...Magia is very responsive....
I love all three of my bikes...and when I first started riding I didn't understand why anyone needed more than one. Honestly, to get started in learning the basics and riding local trails, a basic nice quality bike is all that's needed. Find a bike shop that will spend some time with you and listen to your needs and wants.

Why do you feel a women's clinic was/is helpful for those new or experienced in off-road riding?
I just experienced an all women's clinic and I liked it a lot; the first clinic I went to was co-ed. It was advertised as all levels, and was well done, however as a newbie I was very intimidated and also felt I was holding up the group. There was not as much opportunity for women-specific issues (and I am talking about anatomy.)

More times than not, the fact remains that some women are not as experienced in this type of activity and some of us were not taught as girls to take risks. The boys could climb the tree, but we were told to be careful and no climbing (not ladylike). When I raced my bike and got scraped up, when I went to explore the woods with the boys and got hurt, when I had snowball fights and got nailed from them, climbed trees, etc. I was told, "I told you not to play with those boys. You can't do the same stuff they do." This message followed me into adulthood and I think it was the same for many women in my generation. Women have been infantilized at every turn for a century or more. We believe on some core level that we are not as capable and yet we manage so much in our lives that screams the message "you are capable!"

Off topic a bit. Just learning to stop apologizing on the trail and learning to own our badassedness. Feeling emotionally safe is important and especially important when you are feeling vulnerable. Women usually know how to offer support and understanding to other women. Can relate to their fears and frustrations. We understand each other's tears, and we inspire each other through moral support. So yes, the women's clinic was awesome and we are still teaching and learning from each other.
For folks on the fence about mountain biking, do you have any suggestions that might help them gain confidence?
I think I would encourage them to try it a few times before giving up. The fear is a tough challenge for men AND women alike. Learning and practicing basic mtb skills on pavement or flat ground is something I wish I had done more of before I hit the trails the first time. A bike that fits properly is very helpful, finding a patient coach or mentor who is willing to walk you through the little things more experienced riders don't think about like how to navigate roots, rocky or sandy surfaces, trees... even riding on grass is very different than riding on hard surfaces. No one taught me about gears... that would have been incredibly helpful. Even knowing the names of the major bike components and how they work increases understanding and inspires more trust in your bike. Learning to trust my bike was huge. Letting it do what it's built to do really freed me up to focus on my responsibilities as the rider.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Fear of injury. Lack of confidence. Wearing too many hats and remaining in the caregiving role, feeling guilty about taking time for themselves. Putting others first and their wants or playtime last. Lack of support from family and 'friends'. (My family thinks I'm a little nuts. Resent to an extent, the time I am taking for myself after spending decades caring for others.) I'm much more free of negativity and drama, finding freedom in all aspects of my life. Free to be my authentic self.

Also mountain biking takes time to learn. Have to focus and gain some technical skills. So not as easy as running or walking or riding the road. So supportive community is vital.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Well, the industry can get more serious about making quality bikes (with 29 inch tires) available to women. There is a huge opportunity for them to cater to women, find out what women want in bikes, accessories, clothing, and shoes. The number of women ages 40 and over who are interested in mtb is growing fast, so cater to them! We want to give you our money! Give us quality women-specific stuff to spend it on...and ASK US!

I think education is in order. Educating ourselves. Educating the bike shop owners. Owning our knowledge and power and letting them know what we want and be confident enough to demand respect from them. SHOW them that we know what we want, what we need etc.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I know from personal experience and from seeing first hand the changes in other women, that mountain biking is truly empowering stuff. It pushes women out of their comfort zone faster than most physical activities, it requires a regular mindfulness practice when out on the trails, we are constantly forced to face our own fears and get to the root of them...this is not an easy path. To be honest, sometimes it just sucks...however, when we shed the layer, reveal our truths, and conquer that downhill, rocky ascent, first wheel lift, successfully corner etc, or navigate a drop...what a rush, what a feeling of accomplishment! We ride off the trail and take that confidence and fearlessness into all aspects of our lives and holy moly, it's the best kind of magic...I have seen women (Mary McInnis included) morph into spirited, confident, supportive, empowered loving warriors.

I want to share a Facebook post of mine- "Two summers ago, I started mountain biking with a group of local women and that Fall I attended a MTB camp in Omaha led by Ryan and Roxzanne Feagan. There I met Wendy, another curious and somewhat terrified MTB student. We brought up the rear in most activities, and most likely stood at the top contemplating drops and descents long enough to grow roots. cut two years later and we meet again... at a MTB race of all places! she reminded me today that while she was hesitant and felt completely out of her element at camp, she did not cry, like I did... point being we both lacked confidence and skills, but we showed up all three exhausting days, and we were inspired to just keep going. Now, look at us! This sport, this community-- who knew empowerment could be so much fun! Congrats Wendy, it was WONDERFUL seeing you out there Truly a highlight of a crazy fun day ridin' bikes and playin' in the mud! #natureforce #randroutside#mtblove #gratitude"
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
There are so many! The question is which do I not mind sharing! My last three vehicles over past 15 years have been five speeds (manual, stick....) I'm pretty sure I was a race car driver in one of my past lives! I drive with no shoes and bare feet in the summertime, then I'll wear socks when the temps get cooler. I'm very tactile and gotta get intimate with the clutch!

I love socks...nothing more comforting than sliding tired or cold feet (that serve us so SO well!) into some great, soft, warm socks...and nothing more empowering than pulling on my favorite pair of MTBing socks when getting ready to ride. :)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Favorite Things of 2017

Last year around Christmas time I came out with a "Favorite Things" post and figured I needed to come back with another list for 2017!

#1. Bontrager Anja Saddle 
I have finally found the saddle that I feel is my go-to for trail and gravel riding. It's firm, it has a generous cutout for comfort, and it's supportive. Finding the right saddle for different styles of riding can be absolutely frustrating, and when you find the right one- it's liberating! We spent time investing in this style of saddle to update most of my bikes. It's been the ticket. After 2016 Chequamegon I had a lot of regrets- 2017 Chequamegon I fared much better. Even with a shorter 12-ish mile paved trail ride on a bike that we didn't change the saddle out on, I knew instantly that I wouldn't want to make that same decision again. Take the time to find a saddle that works- it might take time. You might think what you have is okay, but I can assure you- once you find the right'll be mind blown!

#2. Specialized Women's SL Pro Bib Short
2016 was my first season trying out bibs, and it was a challenging experience. Eventually, once I figured out the fit, it wasn't so bad, but I wasn't entirely sold.
I gave bibs another shot by trying out what Specialized had to offer, and I will say it was much better!

The Specialized bibs had a little clip on the women's style that allows you to (carefully) pull the bib away from you without having to take it off, or you can more easily remove the halter strap without having to unzip your jersey too much. I felt like it was easy to use- the magnet aspect is slick. The chamois is designed for longer rides, and even tho it doesn't feel super thick- it was awesome on my longer gravel rides. There were times I'd scoot and find that "magic spot" and felt like I could keep going for a few more hours beyond the ride.

The fit of the shorts is comfortable, I felt, almost too comfortable to be true. The leg gripper is wide and will not tug your skin. The fabric is soft and silky. Without a doubt, definitely a great investment piece. I still prefer shorts, however, these are very comfortable and I enjoy wearing them.
(Don't forget to check out the SL Pro Women's jerseys! Comfortable, silky, great-fitting. They perfectly compliment the SL Pro Women's shorts or bibs!)

Decorah Bicycles has access to ordering anything in stock from Specialized, and it takes 3 days to get it if it's from the California warehouse!

#3. Specialized 2FO Flat 1.0 Shoe
I'm a die-hard Five Ten shoe-wearer but I have to say that the updated 2FO design is much better than the first style that had come out. Plus, Dynamite Panther is absolutely cool, and for women who would love to have something colorful that can fit larger sized feet- this will be the ticket! 38 is the smallest size the Dynamite Panther shoes come in, and I fit in them well.

This size goes across the board for the women's shoe as well as the men's shoe. (I made sure to ask my rep, because I was curious in case I wanted to try the women's shoe.) They work well from the rides I've used them on! I usually wear Five Ten Freerider Contact shoes- These more resemble the Freerider Contact shoes with more of a honeycomb design. The sole is much improved from the first pair of 2FO's I had, I feel it sticks better to the pedal pins. They feel comfortable, and the material that rests above your heel (closer to the ankle) is nice. More flexible, not going to cut into the area under your ankle- a solid win.

#4. Shebeest!
Divine Jersey, Virtue Jersey and Petunia Shorts for the win! I told myself "Josie, you aren't going to buy more Shebeest things this year." Then they came out with the updated Shelastic 2.0 pad in their Petunia shorts and it became a top favorite. If the bibs I had last year had THIS chamois pad...they would see more time outside.
The Divine jersey is soft, silky, and fits beautifully once you fine-tune your size.

#5. Skinny Americano Shorts
Again, Shebeest, but this gets a special spot for being baggies with fit, functionality, and attitude.
I have been off the baggies bandwagon for a season and a half now, but I'm going to find myself slipping these on a few more times next riding season. They are not overly long. They are not baggy! They don't snag my seat. They have a zipper pocket. They have a zipper AND snap closure on the front. They are a soft, stretchy, forgiving material- you can wear these over a lycra short and feel very comfortable. They make your butt look awesome!

#6. Enso silicone rings
Travis and I got engaged before Christmas 2016 and we picked out a ring for me to wear at work and a prettier one to wear out for dates, social, etc. Very practical. However, I have hands that get very cold in the winter months and had some serious issues getting my traditional rings sized to where I could (with confidence) wear them out or at work.
I became increasingly concerned how my claddagh ring would do during the busy season at the bike shop. I wasn't concerned about wearing down my beloved ESI grips- but I did worry about it getting caught on bikes.
Travis is a mechanic and he (understandably) did not want a metal ring to wear at work. So, I did some research on silicone rings and found that I loved the options Enso had. If I was going to lose a ring due to my fingers being too cold, not a big deal!
Enso rings come in different styles, you can get stackable ones or others that are more traditional. My favorite (and Travis') is the Element ring that was released during Earth Day 2017- Peacock Quartz Element ring. We've had several folks comment about how beautiful they look! I picked up a pair for us along with a black one for Travis and a purple one for myself, just in case we would want to switch things up! I never notice it while I'm working or riding- they are fantastic.

#7. Borah Teamwear FWD Jersey
We finally have our first Fearless Women of Dirt jersey! These are a freeride-style jersey that wears more like a tech-t. You'll want to size down if you want a less relaxed fit; they are very roomy. We will (in time) get a traditional full-zip jersey made (short sleeves & sleeveless). These jerseys can be purchased thru Decorah Bicycles and retail $74.99. We have sizes Small-XL in store but can easily order in other sizes for you. If you need a jersey shipped to you, just ad $4.00
Don't forget a FWD water bottle! One of the easiest ways to take the spirit of Fearless Women of Dirt with you! They retail for $6.99

#8. A hip pack
I never thought I would like using a hip pack. I was inspired by a good friend of mine who wore one during a FWD ride. The more I looked at it, the more I thought "This might not be a bad idea!" I went with one from Dakine. I had seen it in person (the brand she used) and I liked how sturdy it felt yet didn't seem it would be obtrusive. It has a nice sized waistband and (overall) nice sized pockets. I can put my phone, keys, lip balm, and eye drops in with a little room left to shove (really stuff) a lightweight wind jacket. This is more used for my morning rides when I'm out for under an hour- I'm barely drinking water nor do I need snacks on those quick rides and this frees up my shoulders from having unnecessary weight on them just for a couple essentials.

#9. & #10. 2018 Trek Farley 9.8 & 2018 Specialized S-Works Women's Epic
These two bikes have brought me some huge smiles this season. I'm super excited for the snow season this year and I can't wait to take this bike out in the snow! The rides I've had on it this season (so far) have been very enjoyable. Just recently I would say I found its weak link on our trails, but that's okay. One area out of miles of riding doesn't take away how awesome this bike is.
2018 Farley 9.8
The Epic hasn't had many rides because it was a late-season arrival, but the few rides I've had on it really stoked me! I wasn't entirely sure how I would like the bike with the suspension setup, you can read a lot of reviews on the Specialized Epic and some love it, some like it, and some don't care for it. I fell into the "love" category.
2018 Women's S-Works Epic
Both of these bikes are investments and both bikes are set up to where we wouldn't have to upgrade anything on them. The Epic will be my race bike for the dry season, taking over the Salsa Spearfish I've ridden for a couple seasons (due to us not being Salsa dealers, we felt it better for me to be on a brand we sell.) The Farley will be the go-to winter ride unless conditions get icy and I'll go back to my Specialized Fatboy that is currently set up with studded tires.

#11. ESI grips!
These were on the list last year...they continue to make the list! They are my go-to grip for all of my bikes. I'm still figuring out preference between Chunky and Extra Chunky, really it depends on what gloves I'm wearing. They have a variety of styles and colors that should please everyone!
For those who fight hand fatigue...don't forget about TOGS either! They just came out with a new model that is a little more flexible! I use the carbon ones on several of my bikes and find them to be super helpful for long rides. Especially gravel grinders where being able to move your hands around is helpful to combat numbness!

#12.  Specialized Women's Base Miles Featherweight Backpack
Finding a lightweight backpack for me to use for my commute that would allow me room to help haul some groceries home at night or stow away gear for group rides was tough. I had a bag I was using that was super great for those grocery trips and had plenty of room for clothes- but it was big. I mean...BIG. I looked like a turtle. Now, I might need to break it out for times we host winter group rides because winter clothes can be bulkier than summer gear- we'll see.

Here are some fine details about the Base Miles Featherweight Backpack-
Women's-specific straps distribute the weight across the top of the chest, enabling you to ride in any position without pressure.
Ultra lightweight construction.
Reflective pieces welded throughout to increase your visibility to motorists in low-light conditions.
Laptop sleeve can double as a water bladder pocket and keeps the weight in one place.
Triple-pointed helmet straps keep it tight against the bag.
Win-Tunnel-tested to keep you as aerodynamic and fast as possible.
Magnetic sternum buckle for one handed use while riding.
Volume: 15L

It's been my favorite backpack so far- smaller than one I would've used for school but large enough to accommodate most of my commuting needs! A bag like this vs. a traditional messenger bag has been better on my shoulder- which I appreciate.

#13. Bar Mitts Extreme
2018 Farley 9.8Bar Mitts are something that I have no shame in admitting I use during the winter months. Without a doubt, for my hands, they help keep me warmer than any glove I've ever used. Believe me, as a person who has been told they likely have Raynaud's, I have cold hands from the end of October until May. It's uncomfortable! I also struggle when wearing thick, fat gloves when it comes to having any sort of dexterity.

I used 45 NRTH Cobrafist pogies for a few seasons with mixed results. I liked them, but the donut insert that I had to deal with was not working well. We tried all the tricks we could think of, but I'd have one donut that would always get messed up. Finally, Travis convinced me to change (I was bullheaded!) and I'm grateful I did. No longer am I wasting time looking for a fallen donut or trying to shove it back into place so I wouldn't be exposed to cold hands. Now I put some gloves on and simply ride my bike!

If you are commuting by bike or riding fatbike trails, Bar Mitts Extremes will keep your hands toasty. You can even store snacks! What's not to love?

This rounds up my personal list of favorite things for 2017! Hopefully you've found something that you'd like to try out during your next riding season or maybe a gift for the favorite bike rider in your life! Keep the rubber side down and enjoy #bikelife!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Women Involved Series: Paige Ramsey

It's not clear if Paige's love for bikes started way back when she was a four-year-old cruising around on a lime green two-wheeler with coaster brakes, or in 1992 when she hit the dirt on her first mountain bike. Anyway it goes, it didn't take long to discover that riding in the dirt and in particular downhill, was where she belonged!
Paige has raced pro downhill and dual slalom and has spent time on the cross country course as a cat 1 racer as well. Teaching and coaching had always just fallen into Paige's lap by request or community need. So in 2010, Paige decided to make it official and became certified through USA Cycling as a coach. In 2013, she took it one step further to become an IMBA, ICP Level 2 Certified skills instructor.

Paige has a passion for teaching. Whether it is coaching downhill racers, a group of high school mountain bikers or a group of riders who have never ridden before, the thrill of helping others accomplish their goals or conquer a skill never thought possible remains the most exciting part of coaching for her.

Paige spends summers coaching all levels of riders at the Specialized Bike Academy at Northstar Bike Park. The rest of the year is spent coaching clinics and private lessons throughout Northern California. Along with many years of racing, coaching and teaching mountain biking, Paige is also an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and Pilates Instructor, specializing in corrective exercise and athlete performance. This unique combo allows Paige to address dysfunctional movement patterns, pain issues, and work intensity to help riders of all skill and fitness levels attain their goals on and off the bike.

Tell us why your #bikelife is important to you in a recreational sense as well as your livelihood-

For me, bikes take up many different aspects of my life. They are a form of exercise. An avenue of excitement and adventure. And whether I like it or not a form or sense of identity. I've found the self-esteem and strength I've built while on the bike follows me to other areas of my life. No matter what I do or where I go, the bike always comes back to me. I've taken time away from the bike for kids, family and plain old burn out. But, I ALWAYS find my way back to a bike.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What about them inspired you to keep at it?
In 1991 I was teaching skiing in Winter Park, Colorado. Everyone I knew said, "You gotta get a mountain bike!" So... I got a mountain bike. That summer I moved to Denver so I could go to college and I worked for a local sporting goods store where I was lucky enough to get an ok bike that had originally been ordered for the owner's wife. She decided she didn't want it, so I got it for cheap! I rode it to and from school, on the pavement all summer. It wasn't until a friend said "Hey! Let's go up to this Norba Nationals Race. It'll be fun! There will be a lot of guys there!" So, we went. I rode in the dirt for the first time and it was the most FANTASTIC thing ever! For me, it was a cross between skiing and horseback riding. Two things I loved. Then I saw the downhill race. I looked at my friend, pointed at a DH racer and said "That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to be a pro mountain bike racer".

I went home. Bought my first REAL, legit mountain bike (a Mantis xcr) and started riding. I rode anything I could find. I followed anyone I saw dropping on to dirt, whether I knew them or not because I didn't know where the trails were. It didn't take too long before I met some more friends and started working in a shop. I started racing and did great as a beginner (cat 3). When I moved up to the Sport class I just got pummeled! I said to my boyfriend at the time that I wish I could race only the downhills! I'd kill there! He said, "Well, there's a Norba Nationals at Vail next week." I said "Yeah, I can't race that! I'm not a pro!" He laughed and said, "What class do you think those pro riders start in?" He asked if that was what was taking me so long to get in the DH game! So, I entered the Sport class and went to race DH and DS at a Norba Nationals! This boyfriend of mine happened to be friends with some guy named Hans Rey who was going to be at that race. So, he set me up to meet with him to talk about the course. It was June in Colorado and it was snowing. I was going to race my first DH race in the freezing rain and snow and the guy that was gonna tell me about the course before I took my first and ONLY practice run was Hans Rey!! I won my DH race. I got 2nd in Dual Slalom. I upgraded to Expert for a race the next weekend. I won. I met a girl who was going to Big Bear the next weekend for another Norba Nationals. This time as an expert racer, I didn't win. I got my ass handed to me... I went home and practiced. I also set out to learn HOW to race.

Can you give us insight into what it was like to race on a pro-level?
For me it was scary. I won't lie. I did great at a regional level. But at a National and World Cup level? I was what I jokingly call "filler". I may have been in the same class as people like Elke, Missy, and Leigh. But, I really didn't compete against them. I think I just helped fill the class up. We had much, much larger women's fields back then. Straight up... I often went on a race course scared of the course. I really didn't know how to race or train. I crashed A LOT! 
I definitely wish I knew some of what I know now back then! But, it was really nice to have good practice time and get to meet people. It really doesn't matter what level you race, cycling is a community and typically a small one even if it spans worldwide. I was lucky enough to start racing at a time when a low-level pro and even some amateur racers had pretty good sponsorship.

Out of the events you have done, which would you say has been your most favorite and why?

Well.... As a coach, there are many great memories. I have loved coaching and traveling with my high school teams. I am part of several large super fun events each year and I traveled to many races, large and small and even if the race sucked I can usually find something good that happened. Recently though, we did a clinic at Woodward in Tahoe and I think that was one of my favorite events. It wasn't real big. It was a last minute plan, a basic clinic and I managed to only ride down one trail there. Now, don't get me wrong, DH is my absolute favorite place to be on a bike. What I love most is getting to coach DH riders. But this clinic was new. We hit stuff that was totally out of my element and I got to feel as nervous as my riders. Luckily we had coaches that specialized in these new areas. It was great to team up with a totally different kind of coach and learn. It was fun to hit the foam pit with all these women for the first time. Listening to the yells and laughs. Watch them drop in when they were really scared. What they didn't know was I was pretty scared too! I had only hit one drop into that foam pit before the clinic day!

Any tips or suggestions for those who are on the fence about participating in a race, especially their first one?
Do it! Enter the right class and go in with an attitude of challenging yourself not others. I think often this is hard for new racers. (It was for me) Challenge yourself, Inspire yourself first and the good stuff will follow.

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
Both! Yes, I ride both. Nothing will get you balanced and connected with your bike like riding flats. Even if you clip in, if you learn to ride flats, you'll be better! With that being said, it absolutely takes more energy, power, and strength to ride flats. With knee and hip problems, I often find I just don't have the strength to ride flats all the time. I coach in both flats and clipped in.

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've had too many to count.... surgery on both shoulders, fractured the iliac crest of my pelvis, dislocated my kneecap, broken collar bones, broken wrist, hand.... the list goes on. I also grew up riding horses, so hitting the ground is just part of my sports.

I think the biggest thing with injuries is to make sure you actually heal! As mtb'ers we WANT to ride! And as competitors we think we are losing fitness, skill and people are passing us up. When you come back take it slow and practice your fundamentals in a safe place diligently. Sometimes injuries are the best thing that can happen. It gives you a chance to allow yourself to not be the fastest or jump the biggest. Now can be the time to break some bad habits as you come back. You're broken down and you have the opportunity to rebuild the right way, not in a frantic way. I also think it is a fantastic time to take a lesson!!

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 didn't know what I didn't know. I guess if I had to give you a specific I'd have to say tight switchbacks and climbing. Being from Colorado, it feels like that is ALL you see there! I don't really feel like that here the part of California I live in.

Key to getting the switchbacks? Body position and pressure in your feet. Depending on the switch back your body could be in many different positions and you have to be comfortable getting low, knowing when to be tall. When your center of mass moves forward or back.

Hills? Again body position. But mostly, learning how to suffer!!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Dirt jumps... Yeah, comfortable in the DH park. Drops, jumps, rocks, and steeps- these are my love! But, put me in the dirt lot with all the dirt jumps and steep transitions and I'm a mess. This is something I'm getting better at. But, like anything else it's practice! And I don't always practice as much as I should! It's gotta be practicing almost every day to make a change!

What do you love about riding your bike?

Freedom! Fun! It's a great way to get the crazy under control!!

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

Specialized Demo 8
Specialized Rhyme 29er
Specialized S-works Enduro 27.5 (in build process right now!)

Right now I'm an ambassador for Specialized Women. So, I ride Specialized. Don't get me wrong though! I rode Specialized before I was an ambassador!

I'm on my third Demo. As a DH bike I LOVE this thing!! This bike takes care of me! And is just a ton of fun.

My everyday trail bike is a Rhyme 6Fattie. It is the same frame as the Stumpjumper. I'm running it as a 29er. This bike climbs like a beast!!! I like the fact that you can run this bike as a 27.5plus or a 29er. I think the plus tire is great for new or unsure riders and then the 29-inch wheel turns it into a race machine!

The Enduro is pretty fantastic as a trail bike. I've been riding one at Northstar and can't wait to hit Moab on it!!
What has been the most rewarding aspect of becoming a certified coach/skills instructor?
Changing perception! Conquering fear and most of all helping people find freedom and strength they didn't know they were capable of!

Tell us about why you applied to be a Specialized Women's Ambassador and what the opportunity means to you-
As a long time cyclist and a woman, I felt this was a great opportunity to help make some changes in the industry. I think the industry has it wrong. It's not about cute shorts and small pink bikes. It's about respect. We need to change the culture, not the bikes or clothes. Bike companies make awesome bikes! There is NO need to make a specific bike for women. There are short men, short women, tall men, tall women. There are aggressive women, aggressive men, as well as less aggressive men and women. There are skinny, fat, fit skilled and non-skilled, wonderful women and men. Humans, both male and female come in ALL shapes and sizes, abilities and attitudes! The industry needs to make fit and desired use, the most important aspect of equipment. Not whether a product is pretty enough to fit their perceived female customer. Notice I say perceived customer. I say this because I really don't think most bike companies have gotten out and figured out what women actually want. I think they are taking the words of the 25-year-old shop employee who has never taken the time to truly learn about his customer. I think most women just want to go into a shop and get the same respect from the sales guy as their husband would. Why does the guy in the family get the bike with high-end carbon, awesome cranks and tricked out stuff and the woman gets a bike that is lesser in many ways? Shops often make assumptions about a woman's riding abilities and even whether or not sure deserves to ride high-end stuff the moment she walks into the store. It's kind of like making the assumption that the guy on the Huffy can't ride. You better watch out, cuz he may kick all of your asses! There are so many amazing women riders! There are also so many potentially amazing riders that get discouraged when the walk in a shop and are directed to "the girl" stuff. I want the industry to stop with male-female and just learn some respect for all riders and fit the individual correctly for the kind of riding they do or want to do.

Why do you feel programs such as the Specialized Women's Ambassador program are important for women and cycling?
After coming on board with Specialized it became clear that their intentions are so much more than just build a women's program. It's a woman's program, a kids program, and a family program. Specialized has a spoke in many different areas. Really, we need to start addressing the treatment of women at home. We, in general, need more kids doing things like riding with their families. Not just their dads, but moms too! Being a strong, confident mom will create strong confident kids! I'm really excited and proud to be a part of not just building women in cycling, but building a societal change!

Why should women consider applying, even tho there may be a slim chance of being accepted to this program (or any other)-
Well... really when it comes down to it, good things are not going to find you. You must go find them.

It's kind of like when you say "I don't know how I just got down that trail!" If you just said that, I can pretty much guarantee, it was luck. If you're depending on luck or chance. It will eventually catch up with you!

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

Fear, money, time, knowledge, exposure... a lot of things really. You could say things like reality t.v. And our expectations of women and how it is often better to look good and we have just created this feeling that everyone can't do this. I guess some of this is answered in the next question. Somewhere here it needs to be said loud and clear to everyone... YOU can do this! If you like to hike, spend time outside, looking for exercise, YOU can do this! No matter your age, size or skill, YOU can do this!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think for starters respect. But more than that, it's got to be ok for women TO ride. It's hard as a mom, a wife and often the one who holds it all together to find time away, to spend the money on yourself and not feel somewhat guilty. I think sometimes that is one reason why women only rides do so well. One, you've made a commitment to others to be there, so it helps hold you accountable. There are others there going through the same challenges so the can relate to your fears, fatigue, frustration what have you.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Freedom. Self-esteem, independence, and strength. I want every woman to know she can handle what is thrown at her and she doesn't need a man to "take care of it" or "take care of her."

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

In high school I played the viola and originally started in college as a music major. I also had red Mohawk and a safety pin through my cheek.... That pretty much explains everything!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Holiday Shopping for Cyclists 101

Shopping during the holidays for your favorite cyclist can likely be one of these:

In reality it might be all of the above!

Whether you are seeking out a gift for someone new to riding or seasoned, holiday shopping for a bike rider can be tricky. It seems that many times, someone will always have everything while the other typically makes due with very little. You never know what is a "need" or a "want" and if you don't ride bicycles yourself, it can be even more daunting yet.

Today I'm putting together a simple guide on some holiday gift suggestions that might help you during the shopping season. The items I'll list are things that just about any bike shop should have on hand, or could easily get for you. 

Behold, items that may be on your rider's wish list:

#1. A higher lumen rechargeable headlight.
Why would someone want a headlight above 35 to 120 lumens? Simple, you get to see more of what is in front of you while riding at higher speeds. You also get more light in general, which is helpful so you aren't surprised by that pothole on your commute home. There are many, many rechargeable headlights out there, so I won't say specifically which brand you should get as there are many good ones. At Decorah Bicycles, we carry lights from Cygolite, NiteRider, and Bontrager with availability to many other brands.
How many lumens will depend on the rider and where they want to go and the type of riding they do.
The more adventurous they are with riding, say riding at night in the woods, they'll appreciate a light with higher lumen output. Possibly a light that could be mounted on their helmet at a later date.

For a light set, this Bontrager 800 with a Flare R rechargeable taillight would be a great gift for someone who commutes or rides paved trails at night. It could be a starter light for someone looking to hit up singletrack trails in the dark, especially if they are riding with someone who has a brighter light yet, like the NiteRider Pro 1800 or the Light & Motion Seca 2000 Race.

You can't go wrong with simple safety lights, either. It's a gift that can be easily put on the bike and used as a backup if one forgot their lights. These are ideal for the folks who like to visit their favorite brewery or bar after a bike ride. 

#2. A rechargeable, daytime visible taillight.
Daytime visible taillights are becoming increasingly more sought after and common among those in the cycling community. You get powerful brightness that will help drivers see you in the daytime as well as the evening hours. It helps you get noticed sooner out on the roads and in town- a taillight is a great investment for commuters and gravel/road riders. You can go super powerful with the Flare R taillight or more minimal for the commuter with the Bontrager Flare R City taillight.  

#3. A cell phone holder.
At Decorah Bicycles we carry the Nite Ize Handleband and a lot of riders from road to mountain biking have given it positive reviews. It's simple, easy-to-use and works with a ride array of phones. It may not always work great with positioning depending on how your bike is set up and the style of handlebars. If you have a large phone in a big case, it might be challenging. Overall, it's one of the least complicated phone holders that work for most phones. Plus, it has a bottle opener!
#4. A computer.
If you don't care about Strava too much and you're not looking for much outside of mileage of your ride and mileage for your year of riding, a simple computer like the Speedzone Sport Wireless Computer can certainly do the job. There are a couple color options to choose from and setup is easy- it won't track anything like cadence or heart rate, but there are other computers available to do so. This is best for someone who doesn't need the latest/greatest technology and for folks who want simplicity, or to be off the Strava radar. Kids love computers on their bikes, so don't discount this as an "adult only" present. Your 10 year old would get a kick out of this!

There are other computer options available for those who want to keep track of heart rate and cadence. They are more expensive, but have more features for those who want to keep track of more things. 

#5. A mini pump.
You might have a friend who relies on CO2 all the time, but this sleek and small mini-pump from Specialized is a handy tool! It's small enough to fit in your jersey pocket or hydration pack, has a pump head on it for presta and one for schrader, plus a hose to you don't have to worry about ripping your valve stem as much. If you know someone who wants to go on longer rides or you simply want to provide a secondary option for them to use if their CO2 isn't working- this is a great fit for the new and avid cyclist. (Do note, do not gift this to a new rider and give them the impression that this pump will work out for their regular tire-pumping needs. They should, definitely, invest in a floor pump!)
#6. A bell.
From simple to fun, there are bells out there for everyone. A bell is a great and quick way of announcing your presence behind someone on the paved trail and typically works better than yelling "On your left!"

This is an excellent gift idea for the new or avid paved trail rider. There is even a bell that can work with road bike handlebars! Many times I've encountered folks who have been startled by my announcing, or they haven't heard me. A bell is typically loud enough for sound to carry and for folks to hear. It's great for someone who is more shy and doesn't like trying to announce loudly.

#7. A hydration pack.
If you have a friend who enjoys mountain biking, but they try to take the kitchen sink with them in jersey pockets, a hydration pack might be the answer.

These work as a backpack and a way to hydrate, and there are various styles from men's to women's along with sizes depending on how much you need to take with. It might be a bit on the personal side, especially with so many storage choices and color options- so you could go the route of a gift certificate towards the purchase of one.

Hydration packs make life on the trails easier, especially during spring and fall months where you may be experimenting with different layers of clothing regularly and needing extra space for storage.

#8. Snacks.
If you ride with someone enough, you'll know exactly what they like to snack on during or post ride. Get them a box of their favorite chew, gel, or bar- or get an assortment of all their favorite flavors! Be sure to know if you are buying for someone who has dietary restrictions or wants to avoid certain things like caffeine. There are many brands of nutritional snacks and it's doubtful you'll find them all in one place. Don't be afraid to ask your local shop if they can get something in for you if you don't see it.

Also, a gift certificate to their favorite brewery or post-ride stop isn't a bad idea if you're not sure that you bought enough snacks!

#9. Flats pedals!
Flat pedals for your best friend who just bought a mountain bike is an excellent gift- especially if their bike came with inexpensive, plastic, flat pedals. These are also great for a commuter, too! There are many styles and types of pedals. If you have someone who is getting into fatbiking, a pair of Race Face composite pedals is also a fine choice. The material won't absorb cold as much as a metal pedal, and the traction pins are phenomenal! 

#10. Shop jersey!
If they frequently haunt a local bike shop that they love, but do not own a shop jersey- it's a great gift! Many times folks feel like a jersey costs too much to spend the money on one, but it's a piece of technical wear that lasts a very long time. Plus, think of all the feel goods of supporting a favorite shop!

#11. The gift that keeps on giving!
When all else fails, get them a gift certificate or gift card to their favorite shop! You can't go wrong with supplying some fun money towards something they have been eyeing up for months or a possible future bike/repair/upgrade.
Gift certificates to Decorah Bicycles never expire!

Other things that make nice gifts:
Cycling cap
Thermal headband/skull cap
Wool Neck Gaiter
Water bottle with favorite shop logo
A gift certificate for bicycle rental
Floor pump
A new helmet
Bike cleaning kit (wash, lubricant, degreaser)
A seatpack (you can also create a flat repair kit!)
Gloves for the warmer months or colder months

Monday, November 27, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Kirsten Jensen

My name is Kirsten Jensen, I'm 39 (turning 40 in March of '18) I am a mom of two young kids (5 yr old Daughter and 7 year old son) and my husband and I have been mountain biking in Bellingham for 15 years and racing for 10 years. I am a Teacher Educator, Senior Instructor for undergraduate and graduate students in the teacher education program at WWU as well as an Educational Literacy Consultant. I grew up in Seattle, WA with two brothers and in a very active and outdoor oriented family. We played a lot of sports in our family and I love watching my parents kick around the soccer ball now with my own kids.

Four years ago, I co-founded the annual Queens of Dirt Bellingham Women’s Mountain Bike Weekend with Leah Kiviat, Javon Smith and lead coaches Angi Weston and Lindsey Vorheis. It began with 16 women and this year we are 60 participants, including 10 junior girls and 30 volunteers (each year it sells out in under an hour with a long waiting list).

Leah, Javon and I also co-founded an all women and junior girls race team, Queens of Dirt sponsored by Jacks Bicycle Center and Liv Cycling, we are now 20 women with 10 junior girls. In addition, we also started the annual QOD Cyclocross series of clinics with Coaches Kristi Berg and Courtenay McFadden to support the development of women in cyclocross racing, which doubled the women’s field in 2015-2017 for our local series. We also host multiple trail build days each year and women's Goldsprint roller racing!

I ride and race both cross country and enduro Mtb as well as Cyclocross. I have mountain biked all over Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, California, and British Columbia, to name a few places. This year, I am completing the 6-day stage race, Singletrack 6, in July in BC as a team with my husband (last year I raced BC bike race with my QOD teammate Leah Kiviat)

I am passionate about supporting the growth of women’s and junior girl’s cycling, and specifically about getting more women and girls into off-road cycling such as mountain biking and mountain bike racing. I am currently a US Liv Ambassador in Bellingham, Washington. Every day I am proud to represent a company that listens to the voices of women and also works to educate and encourage more women to become competent, self-sufficient riders, which I believe extends beyond cycling to others parts of women and girl’s lives. I believe that racing provides women with a unique benefit. When women and girls race, they learn to overcome doubt and get to the start line. They learn how to deal with the feeling of uncertainty and nervousness, and when things get uncomfortable or difficult, they learn to push through those moments and commit to finishing what they started without giving up. I believe when women finish a race, it adds to their level of appreciation and confidence in the strength of their bodies. Women and girls are sometimes bombarded with media images that could contribute to feelings of insecurity around body type, but when women and girls race, they walk to the start line more concerned with the strength and power in their legs than the size of them.

I believe that challenging myself with racing makes me a stronger, more self-sufficient and confident person, which in turn makes me a better partner, mother, friend, and role model to my two children. I love racing because it pushes me to do more than I think I can do. I grew up in an athletic family with two brothers and very athletic and supportive parents. This helped me to see that I can accomplish anything I commit to with perseverance, regardless of gender. Because of this, I am passionate about showing women and girls that they have the ability to effectively participate in and contribute to sports and professions dominated by men, and that in doing so, they are paving the ways for others to do the same. By helping in my small part to grow the women’s cycling community, I truly believe I am also supporting the growth of powerful, confident, women and girls who can become influential people and change agents within their own communities.

Recent race history:
I race in the Open/Competitive/Expert category and have the following race accomplishments:
- 2017 NW Epic Stottlemeyer 60 mile, Open Women/Overall 1st place
- 2017 Budu Race Cookin’ in the Kettles XC Open Women/Overall 1st place
- 2016 BC Bike Race (7-day stage race) Open Women Team of Two, 2nd place, top 200 (out of 600 racers, 90 percent of which were men)
- 2016 NW Epic 60 miler, Open Women 2nd place overall
- 2016 Cascadia Dirt Cup Hood River Enduro 4th place Expert Women
-2017 Sturdy Dirt Enduro 4th place expert women
- 2014 Capitol Forest Classic, Queen of the Mountain/All Mountain Winner (Expert Women XC race winner and Enduro winner):
- 2015 NW Epic, Stottlemeyer, Open Women, 2nd place overall 30 miler
- 2014-2016 Budu West Side Mountain Bike Series, overall series winner Expert Open Women 2014/2015
- Ski to Sea Competitive Women’s Division Captain, 2017 fastest woman overall in the Cyclocross leg, team placed 1st in open women division and 26th overall out of 340 teams.


Take us back to your first few mountain bike rides (of any style) what did you learn and what inspired you to stick with it?
The first few mountain bike rides I went on were with my husband in 2003 and I remember feeling extremely frustrated and incompetent. Growing up I played a lot of sports and tried to keep up with my two brothers, so I was used to picking up athletics somewhat quickly, but mountain biking was a huge learning curve for me. I remember going over the handlebars a few times and even at one point throwing my bike into a bush. Ha! I learned that I needed to leave my ego at the door and to start slow, on easy trails, and build confidence and skill over time. To be patient with myself. To remember that feeling failure and frustration was a part of learning and developing new skills (something I teach as an educator but sometimes forget in my own life). I found that riding the same trail over and over helped me to learn how to navigate tricky sections, begin riding with more speed and I saw progress over time which inspired me. I wish I had attended a clinic or had some coaching early on because once I finally did get some incredible coaching from Angi Weston 10 years later, I had to unlearn many bad habits. 

You enjoy several styles of riding, can you share with us why you enjoy them?

I enjoy finding flow on steep or technical terrain, long smooth cross-country trails, endurance rides, and on shorter cyclocross courses, they all bring me joy. I mostly just love challenging myself to do more than I think I can do and spending time with friends, on our bikes, in the woods, with fresh air and exercise. When I ride I feel calm, satisfied, strong and focused and I think this carries over into my life at home with my family and in my career. I had a pretty severe bike accident and was hit by a car, so because of that, I prefer to stick to dirt and off the roads when possible. We are very lucky in our town that we have WMBC Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, our local trail building/mountain biking organization and they recently just built a world-class pumptrack, with support from Jill Kintner and Bellingham Parks and Recreation, incredibly close to our house. This is a new style of off-road riding I am learning alongside my husband, 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son and we are really enjoying it!

What has been your favorite mountain bike event that you've participated in?
I can’t pick one, but TransRockies Singletrack 6, BC Bike Race, and Sturdy Dirty have been some of my favorite mountain bike races so far. I have a new obsession with xc stage racing and BC mountain biking is some of the best riding I have ever experienced. Last year, my Queens of Dirt teammate Leah Kiviat and I competed in BC Bike Race as women team of two and placed 2nd and in the top third of the race with over 90% men, we were proud of that. I loved racing as a team and supporting each other during each of the 7 races. This year, I competed as a team of two with my husband Eric Malsbary in Singletrack 6. This was by far the most challenging race I have done. 6 days of BC technical riding with 5-6k of climbing and 95-degree heat and smoke from fires made it a difficult by very fun and exciting race. We were happy with our top 30% result in a very competitive field of incredible riders. I have competed in the Sturdy Dirty each year and it is what first got me interested in enduro racing. After racing for years with only a handful of women, it is so much fun to race with 250 women at this all women’s enduro each year. But by far my MOST favorite event of the year is our Queens of Dirt labor of love, QOD Women’s Mountain Bike Weekend. This is a weekend women/junior girls skills clinic we run the second weekend of June each year with some of the best professional female coaches in the country including Angi Weston, Lindsey Richter, Lisa Mason, Meredith Brandt, Katie Holden, Erika Schmidt, Tina Brubaker, and Junior Coaches Char Waller and Javon Smith. This year will be our 5th Annual and we love supporting the growth of women and girls in mountain biking and seeing them progress throughout the weekend.

For those on the fence with event participation, do you have any suggestions that might help them take the next step and sign up?
I think the biggest motivator for me in event participation is the community. Meeting other riders and racers and developing these friendships makes mountain biking all the more enjoyable for me. I have met some of my closest friends through clinics and races. I would encourage women especially to take that next step and sign up knowing that you will meet more incredible women and continue to build your community and support network through riding and racing.

Clips or flats? What do you enjoy and why?

Clips. It feels more efficient and in more control for me and I will always be an XC rider at heart. I like feeling connected and a part of my bike like it’s an extension of my body. I see the benefits of flats, but I have been riding clips for so many years and I don’t really see that changing.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
The biggest biff was riding my bike training for Ski to Sea (our local relay race) and being hit by a car going 45mph near my home. After a week in the hospital and a rod and screws in my tib/fib it was a long road to recovery that still impacts me today. I can no longer run without pain and I tape that leg regularly on longer rides. But the accident also taught me a lot and really made me appreciate my life and the people in it. I was humbled by the outpouring of love and support from my husband (whom I had married in Kauai 3 days prior to the accident), my family, my parents, my parents-in-law, friends, and the community. I was so incredibly grateful to be alive and to have the opportunity to heal and recover. Because weight bearing is still difficult at times, biking became basically my one and only form of exercise. This allowed me to spend significantly more time on the bike and then really get more into racing my bike after this accident. Racing for me forces me to really push what I think are my perceived limits and to work through discomfort and the pain cave, to not give up and to come through the finish line a stronger person than when I started. This is why we started a women’s race team because we love supporting the growth of more women racing their bikes. Years later, I broke my hand pre-riding an enduro course and I think the recovery mentally was pretty smooth due to the strength I gained from being hit by that car and a very supportive family. Parenting one-handed was also good motivation to get my youngest out of diapers!
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
We have some pretty good rooty, rocky terrain here in Bellingham. It’s hard to remember what handling skills challenged me most when I first started riding, maybe everything? But I remember the biggest AHAs for me included: momentum was my friend, looking ahead, & bike-body position and separation. I also learned how much mental game was at play. That I couldn’t hesitate or question whether I could do what I was about to do. I learned I needed to commit, to visualize myself successfully riding it and to go in with confidence and belief in my abilities and strength. These are all examples of things mountain biking teaches me about life.

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

There will always be. Just like with my job, with parenting, with relationships, I am always learning, every day. I think if I didn’t find things I found tricky each ride I would get bored and I wouldn’t be growing. I like having projects and problems I am working on with certain trails and working toward riding more smoothly and with more flow.

What do you love about riding your bike?

Feeling free, confident, capable, solving problems of tricky terrain, overcoming fear and obstacles, the necessary focus which clears my mind and riding with people I love and enjoying it together.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Liv Pique Advanced 1 - best all around bike I have ever owned! I love the 120 of travel front and back on a cross country bike, it’s light, pedals like a rocket and is very capable on the descent. It was the perfect bike for racing steep descents on BC black diamond trails but also climbing up steep and long logging roads.

Liv Intrigue SX - whenever I go to my shed to pick a bike to ride it’s mostly this one. This is the most fun bike I have owned. It is heavier and more slack than my xc bike but with a 160 Pike fork and 150 rear travel it descends like butter and I feel like I can ride more aggressively and with more speed. It pedals well but also feels burly. Love this bike.

Liv Brava SLR - Cyclocross is such a fun sport in the winter months. I love getting out to our cyclocross clinics, cross-practice and local Cascade Cross races in the rain, wind and bad weather to play on bikes in the mud. Our cross community is a blast with fun heckling spectators, technical courses and of course great beer and bacon hand-ups. I don’t take myself very seriously in cyclocross and I love to have fun with this type of racing. I have learned that a bacon hand up is hard to eat when racing with nothing to drink and if you take the next drink hand up in a dixie cup it might be a fireball and not water so be prepared!

You are a Liv Ambassador, tell us about your experience as an ambassador for Liv and what you've learned since joining the program-
Fellow Queens of Dirt teammates and I had just begun organizing Bellingham women’s mountain bike and cyclocross clinics immediately prior to partnering with Liv. We learned more about Liv, the brand and the ambassador program at a maintenance clinic for women held at Jack’s Bicycle Center with Ash Bocast (now with Roam Events). The mission of Liv was inspiring to us and aligned with the mission we were beginning to develop locally. Liv became a sponsor of our Jacks Bicycle Center Queens of Dirt racing team and then I also signed on as a Liv Ambassador for this area at the same time. The Liv Ambassador program and support of Liv Cycling for Queens of Dirt has allowed us to broaden our reach and helped us grow in hosting more Liv events such as the Liv/QOD Women’s Mountain Bike Weekend, Liv/QOD Women’s Cyclocross clinics we host with Courtenay McFadden and Kristi Berg, Liv Bike Fit clinic, Liv/QOD Goldsprint Races, Liv/QOD Trail Build Days with WMBC, Liv Junior Girls Rides, Liv Night Rides, Liv Enduro Course Pre-rides, and more. We are proud to represent a brand that is committed to growing the women’s cycling community.
Why do you feel programs like the Liv Ambassador program are a great way of getting more women involved in cycling?
The Liv Ambassador program is dedicated to welcoming women into the sport. Liv supports ambassadors at the local level in designing events, clinics, and rides that are less intimidating, where women are supporting women, and educating and empowering each other. Liv also listens to the voices of both recreational and professional female athletes in their product development and strives to make products that meet their needs. I am proud to represent this brand.

Why should folks apply for programs, even if there is the chance they may not get chosen?

Just like I tell my teacher candidates, if you decide to try for something and put yourself out there, and think of all the things that make you special and strong, that process of reflecting and articulating those things is healthy and confidence building. I also think it’s healthy to experience not getting chosen, dealing with that disappointment, and then trying again for other opportunities. I think it builds resiliency and confidence, and you never know, you might get an opportunity that has a significant impact on you and your community.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think women can be deterred from cycling and mountain biking because they think it is intimidating. Perhaps they know that the learning curve for some is big. I also think it is hard for some to get involved in a male-dominated sport. We are lucky in Bellingham to have such a large and supportive female cycling community. The many organizations, clubs and bike shops that support this community help create a pathway for more and more women and girls to enter the sport. I also think that access to a bike deters some women. Our team is continually brainstorming ways we can support better access for all women and girls into the sport. Currently, we provide scholarships for clinics and demo bikes, but we also want to one day provide more access to bikes to use both for events but also for regular rides.

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

I think the more female role models the better. As more women enter the sport there are more women seen riding. I was riding in the Chuckanuts the other day and a man stopped me and asked: "Is there a women’s riding event happening today?” I said I didn’t think so, why? “Because I just passed three separate groups of women riding”. I smiled thinking how awesome it is to have such a large female mountain bike community in Bellingham. Last week someone emailed me saying his wife had seen the women’s weekend clinic and wanted to participate next year, and a dad saying how wonderful it was for his 11 year old to be coached by and to watch so many strong women riding mountain bikes, so I think visually seeing more women riding and racing in advertisements, magazines, and photos, supports getting more women into the sport. I still flip through some mountain bike magazines and the photos of females actually riding are still too few. In the same vein, supporting the growth of women in the industry would get more women into the sport. More female bike mechanics, more female industry reps, more female coaches. Companies can financially support programs that assist women in getting the training and experiences to be better represented within the industry itself.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

Confidence building that riding gives women, supporting the growth of more self-sufficient, the experiences of women supporting women. I am also inspired by local women’s cycling groups supporting each other. The Kona Supremes another local women’s mountain bike race team supported our QOD weekend clinic in many ways, the Fanatik Hot Flashes, another local women’s race team leads some really fun events and rides in town throughout the year, the WMBC Joyriders women’s mountain bike club hosts regular spring and summer rides for women of all levels in Bellingham, the Flying Squirrels with Kari Young is a new junior girls mountain bike club that hosts regular rides for girls, and March Northwest also hosts multiple clinics for women/girls throughout the year. We are so lucky to live in a town with a large and growing female riding community with a strong support network surrounding it.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
When a student at UW, I researched and traveled to Africa to study women’s changing roles in music in Ghana and Senegal, West Africa in 1998 and 2001.