Monday, July 25, 2016

Women on Bikes Series: Becca Margulies

I grew up in Southern Oregon with a bike nerd for a dad, and fell in love with riding bikes when I was 13. Bikes were a huge part of my life in high school – and probably kept me out of worse trouble! I rode mostly mountain, but also spent some time on road bikes with my dad, and raced cyclocross for a few seasons. I moved to Bellingham, WA for college, mainly because I wanted to be close to Whistler. At the time, I had no idea Bellingham had so many trails and riding opportunities.

I sure got lucky! During college, I took at break to attend the Mountain Bike Operations Program at Capilano University in Sechelt, BC where I learned a ton about trail building, guiding & coaching, tourism for mountain biking etc. I’ve worked in bike shops as a mechanic and sales person, and was part of the sales team at The Kona Bicycle Co. until I recently decided to follow my passion for graphic design.

The opportunity to earn a PMBI Level 1 Certification has been a great excuse to volunteer as a coach and team manager for the Whatcom Composite High School Mountain Bike Team. The team is part of the Washington Student Cycling League, http://washingtonleague.org which is an amazing youth mountain bike organization based out of Seattle, WA. I enjoy coaching and teaching mechanics skills, and have had some great opportunities within the Bellingham riding community to plug in!

I most love trail riding, downhill & dirt jumping.

When did you first start riding a bike?

I was seven before I could roll on two wheels alone, and I was pretty casual about it until I was 14. Then, I didn’t want to go anywhere without my bike!

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?

I love the physical and emotional benefits of riding, as well as the community that results when you get a bunch of people together who all love to be on bikes. The challenge to progress - get faster, jump bigger, be stronger overall - has kept my interest. Throughout college I rode with a group every Tuesday evening, and we always joked about it being our version of small group therapy. I know I’m not the only one who get’s cranky when not riding enough!

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?

I don’t seek out competition much anymore. I’ll race for fun & camaraderie though! I used to love racing downhill, but had an injury that made me reconsider. It came down to my mom telling me I wasn’t allowed to hit my head anymore. She MADE me tell her how I was going to change my riding to prevent this. Though annoyed at the time, this afforded me a good look at the situation (and for that I’m grateful). When I raced, I found that I had higher expectations for myself than I was willing to train for (mentally and physically). I admire those who can take on that pressure and excel at racing! I still love to challenge and push myself, but cutting out competition took the pressure off.

Just this last month my friends talked me into racing the Sturdy Dirty women’s enduro at Tiger Mountain – just for fun of course. Holy crap what a good time that was! There were all levels and ages of riders – all enjoying the trails and camaraderie despite the weather.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?

My first singletrack experience was the day before the annual Spring Thaw in Ashland, OR. It was the summer before I stated high school, and my dad had asked me if I wanted to race the nine-mile cross country event next day. I said sure! He took me out to the trail and we rode just a few miles so I could know what to expect. It was a fun, mellow ride, but not an accurate portrayal of what the race would be like. The next day was much more intense! The race was mostly a blur of adrenaline, an absolute whirlwind. It was challenging, humbling and exhilarating all at the same time. I think I was surprised and pleased I could ride that far - though I do remember being pretty frustrated at the section of downhill I had to walk.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
Whenever I feel nervous about riding a feature or section of trail, I like to recall the wise thought that it’s OK to go around because it will be there tomorrow. I find that the more I see a feature, the more I just look at it, the more I become frustrated with it – eventually I’ll make myself do it. It may seem silly to others, but sometimes I have to see a jump half a dozen times or so (even if it’s within my skill level) before I feel like I can do it!

Clips or flats? Any suggestions or tips for either/or?

I ride flats on my all mountain and downhill bikes, and clips for commuting. I’ve tried clips on my mountain bike, but I much prefer flats. I love jumping, and feel more comfortable on flats, being able to take my feet off so easily. It’s certainly personal preference, and I understand the appeal and efficiency of using clips.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I’ve broken my left collarbone twice, and have had many other minor things that have forced me to take rest time. I find that it takes awhile to bounce back to full confidence on the bike once healed up, but I do think it’s worth taking the time to ease back in and not over-do it. When I’m injured and not able to ride, I find that other interests play an integral role in keeping my sanity intact.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Cornering is a huge one. I’ve heard pros say it’s something they’re always working on – which definitely makes me feel better about the state of my cornering... At one point, I had a major disconnect as far as knowing what I needed to do, but not being able to get my body do it. Some MTB instructors use the analogy of having a flashlight in your bellybutton and shining it around the corner. I thought about this as I was riding, but couldn’t get my body to respond. When brain and body finally decided to work together, I really understood why this works so well! I still need to remind myself to do it though – once wasn’t enough to ingrain it. It can take patience and a lot of practice to master specific skills. Even if a skill isn’t do-able yet, I like to think about the mechanics of how a skill works (over and over again) to help solidify the concept.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
There’s a mental aspect to riding that I struggle with, especially with new trails and jumps. If something is new to me, I tend to be timid even when I know I can do it – because I want to avoid sitting on the sidelines healing from an injury. Riding with close friends that have a higher skill level is really beneficial for me. I can follow them into sections of trail I want to work on, and kind words of encouragement usually help too! Another tool I love to think about is the “catalog”. Anytime I ride a technical section of trail, tight corners, drop, jump or other feature I try to take a mental snapshot and add it to my “catalog”. When I encounter a new trail feature, I can then draw up the item in my index, compare it to other features I’ve ridden, and that usually helps it to seem a little less daunting!

What do you love about riding your bike?
This is not easy to sum up, because I love EVERYTHING about it – the physical benefit, being outdoors, camaraderie, challenge, adventure. I’m in awe of how progression works, and the results of accumulated experience are incredible. It’s fun to note others progression and share in their joy of hitting new features or technical sections!

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

There are times in my life where I’ve had one bike that I rode everywhere. A trail bike can accomplish so much! These days, my favorites are a trail bike, DH bike and steel dirt jumper.

You used to work in bike shops, what were your jobs?

For my first bike shop job I was hired as a mechanic, primarily to build new bikes. From there, I was able to work into more technical repairs, and even try my hand at working the sales floor. Mechanics was my preference – but do not be fooled, because in no way was I mechanically inclined when I started. It took a lot of time and practice. I was worried about what others thought of me if I messed up or didn’t know something, but for the most part the people I worked with were helpful and understanding.

Were there challenges being a woman working in a bike shop?
There were definitely times where I felt my opinion and experience wasn’t regarded as seriously as I thought it should be. At times, I felt like it was easier for my male co-workers to gain rapport. On the other hand, having the opportunity to work with female customers was extremely rewarding!

Why should women not be afraid to seek employment in bike shops or the bike industry?
As women, we often times offer a different perspective and experience than men. I think this is incredibly valuable. Over the past handful of years, I’ve certainly noticed more and more women riding trail bikes, shredding bike parks, dirt jumping – and not surprisingly working in bike shops and the bike industry as a whole.

You are a PMBI level 1 certified- what inspired you to get involved with coaching?
Personal experience has been my main motivator to coach. As a high schooler I had the good fortune to be on a snowboard team (not mountain biking, but another alternative to traditional school sports). The experience of being a part of such a community and having dedicated coaches had a big impact on me. The coach for the girl’s team was an absolute shredder, and we all looked up to her! I want to be a part of providing bike related programs for youth, and especially girls, because of the positive impact bikes have on individuals and entire communities.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I don’t think we’re as eager to throw caution to the wind as men are. Call it lower testosterone levels, or self-preservation, we’re generally more cautious. Not to say there aren’t exceptions.

It’s nice to have buddies to ride with, and I understand that going riding with a bunch of guys who are already experienced mountain bikers can be pretty intimidating. As the number of women riders grows, more and more groups are being formed with opportunities for riders of different skill levels to ride with each other. There are also a handful of women’s only skills clinics that take place in many locations across the country. The organizers of women’s groups & clinics in Bellingham and beyond are doing a fantastic job of creating controlled, supportive opportunities for women to build their skills and ride with others.

What do you feel could happen in the industry and/or locally to encourage more women to ride?
There are more and more women’s riding groups, events and clinics in our area than ever before. It’s truly inspiring to see others take on such efforts, and it’s a huge asset to our local community. The best part is, these things are happening across many communities and it seems that it’s all just continuing to grow!
Whatcom Composite High School Mountain Bike Team.
I'm fourth from the right, and our head coach Evan is to the left of me (if you're looking at me).
Just for the record, the boys chose hot pink for our team shirts!
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Simply seeing others enjoying their bikes, building skills & real connections with other riders are big inspirations. It’s exciting to have breakthroughs in riding, and witness others overcome the same obstacles.

Tell us a random fact about yourself –
I once had the chance to weld my own dirt jump frame! I then proceeded to break it (but not myself) riding in a skatepark!

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