Monday, July 17, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Laurie Ditch

If you would've asked me 4 years ago if I liked to bike, I would've responded with "I've taken spin class a few times and I have a cruiser which I enjoy riding around the neighborhood". That was the extent of my biking experience or passion. Exactly 4 years ago I was going through the most horrific separation and divorce.
I survived but was broken and my confidence was completely gone. Everything in my life felt like it was falling apart my job and my husband/partner of 15 years and I were calling it quits.
Thankfully through the support of friends and family, I maintained a feeling of hope that I would come back and find myself and figure out what I wanted in life.

Through the process, I remained hopeful that while I was in the worst place, I truly felt like I could come out of this and be happy.

I started to see signs of hope everywhere - while I was in NYC for work during the spring of 2013 I went for a run and found the LOVE statue and realized that there was still love out there and that's really where I felt the first bit of passion, hope and optimism come back. That summer I started running and ran my first 5K and then trained and ran the Urbanathalon Relay in Chicago. I wasn't all that fast but I finished and was very happy with my time. I decided I would continue to keep myself open to trying new things with friends, fun trips, new foods, hiking, etc and adventures.

Finally, it happened, I met this man who was all about adventures, racing, biking and anything that was exciting and full of adrenaline.Typically not my thing but hey, I wanted to be open to adventure and really, with a man so handsome as him why not! Introduction to mountain biking, I had no clue what it was about but it seemed like something pretty badass and I was all about pushing myself in a new direction. This wonderful man bought me a bike and I got myself some gear and I was totally stoked to be a mountain biking girl!!! I couldn't wait!

First ride: I made it about 20 feet on my first single track trail and I ran straight into a tree and halfway down a ravine. It's true when riding a bike, look where you want to go. Apparently, I wanted to go inside a tree. I was pretty banged up and totally freaked out but I got back on and kept going. I feel at least 100 more times that first spring and summer and by the end, I was done, totally shaken up and scared to get back on it. I had hurt myself and my confidence enough I was ready to turn it in. My lovely man tried to encourage but I was frustrated beyond belief so I hung it up for a year. The spring of 2016 we were sitting in a bar and talking about getting me back on a bike and on my facebook page, the Midwest Women's Mountain Bike clinic popped up. Maybe this was what I needed to do to get back on, get some good coaching and instruction and try this again. 

June of 2016 I attended and it changed my life and my perspective. I was so excited to be part of such an amazing community of women. I gained back some of that shaken confidence and some tools to help me on the trails. I couldn't wait to get home and start riding...the only catch I didn't know anyone other than my boyfriend to ride with me. In talking with some of the women at the camp and asked them for advice on how to get started they were like you just need to do it if there's nothing else get it going. So I did...I created a Facebook page, Glass City MTB Girl and started posting events (Ladies MTB Ride Night, Girls and Guys Ride, etc). Every week I would set up an event and post to all of the local bike community pages, shop pages, etc. The first few weeks I would get 1 or 2 people to join me and by the end of the summer, I had sometimes 10-15 riders from beginners to advanced and even some local pros! Spoke Life Cycles was so excited about what I was doing to build awareness for women and mountain biking they asked me if I'd want to work at their shop on weekends and help host local events. I've continued to spread the word and now have followers. I've stayed connected with some of the amazing coaches I met at the MidWest Women's MTB Clinic and can't wait to attend again this year as it's now Sundance MTB Skills.

I'm not a pro racer and I don't have very many skills. It's a good day when I go in with confidence and succeed on a big climb or scary windy turn. I'm a girl who loves to be outside on my bike. Every time I ride, I learn something about myself and how to push myself beyond what I think I'm capable of. I still get super frustrated, fall down and make an ass of myself when trying new things but I keep going back. I love that feeling more than anything and I want to share that with others. There's something special about being a beginner in this sport, I have low expectations but high gains. The mountain biking community is so supportive and happy to help you get up anytime and often drink a beer with you and spend an entire day talking about adventures. I aspire to ride as many locations as I can and represent those of us who maybe aren't trying to race or compete but just want to get out there and give it a try and get an amazing workout. I want to see more women getting out there and working through the challenge, I want to see more support from the industry for women when it comes to clothing, gear, etc. I'm not about to change who I am just because I mountain bike! I plan to continue to wear pink and look like a girl!

Tell us why your #bikelife is an important thing to have in your life-
FUN! I’m not biking to compete, I’m biking to play. I am a full-time working single parent who also works out about 3-5 days per week. I am always striving to reach goals, however, with mountain biking I tend to focus more on just getting out there, exploring and having fun. I’m always working to improve my skills but the focus for me is less about achieving a goal and more about just having fun with the experience. It’s the only time I really have an opportunity to PLAY!!!

You had a lot of learning during your first off-road rides. If you could go back in time- would you change anything about your introduction?
I wouldn’t change it because it got me to where I am today. Getting out there with an experienced rider challenges you right from the beginning because you’re just trying to keep up. It would be awesome to get coaching and instruction first, but to me it almost helped me to do that after the fact so at least I knew what I was trying to improve on. I would’ve liked to start on a beginner trail vs. an intermediate but we all start somewhere.

What was your inspiration to not give up on mountain biking, even if your experiences weren't the most positive?
When I wasn’t falling down and getting hurt, I was having so much fun. We had many rides where I just had a blast and I wanted to get that feeling again. My inspiration was really my boyfriend, he stood by me regardless. I knew that it was something he loved and really enjoyed and I wanted to find something that we could spend our free time doing together. I also loved how much he cared about helping me work through the challenges. He could see beyond where I was and he knew I had it in me to take the next step and push myself a little further. He believes in me and inspires me to keep working and having fun.

You regained your confidence after attending a women's clinic. Tell us why attending the women's clinic helped you reset. 
The best part about the clinic is it broke down all the steps so that I could really understand what I was doing (and not doing) so I could build on each basic step. I LOVE attending clinics because I learn things about biking and myself that I didn’t know existed and you’re surrounded by others who are going through the same things and experiencing the same frustrations and successes.

Mountain biking is all about understanding your body position and focusing on the basics and building from there.

Once you know how to position yourself then you will have those tools to use even when you fall or get a little wobbly on the bike. It really helped me re-set and understand what changes I needed to make and build that muscle memory.

With becoming more confident with mountain biking, do you feel it was easier to grasp skills/techniques learning from women vs. your partner? If so, why?
My partner didn’t know how to break down the steps, he grew up biking and for him, a lot of it was just built in over years. Not every experienced rider knows how to coach/teach. There are tons of coaching tips out there and I’ve been lucky to learn from the best in the business from Leigh Donovan, Sally Marchand Collins, Danielle and Kate Nolan, Caroline Washam, Cory Coffey and Hillary Marques are all amazing riders AND coaches. They can break down the most basic techniques and have been able to help me figure out some key things that I was doing to hinder my riding performance. Little things like my foot position when pumping or moving my hips when turning, etc. Coaches are trained what to look for and how to correct. I love any chance I have to take a clinic or some instruction from an experienced coach, every little bit helps and makes it more fun when you have some tools to use on the trails.

From first-hand experience, what advice would you give guys who are wanting to get their partners/wives/girlfriends out mountain biking?
Get them out there on a trail that you know very well, help them by slowing down and walking them through obstacles in the beginning. Beginners don’t know how to find lines through a rock garden without some practice. Have them look at some youtube videos and practice a few basic techniques like doing crazy 8’s in the yard/parking lot. The one thing I learned very quickly is to always look ahead and cover your brakes, those 2 things, in the beginning, are major!

Clips or flats- what do you like and why? 
I only know flats. I’ve never clipped in and I hear all kinds of mixed thoughts. I hear more from the coaches that I’ve worked with that until I’m more advanced I should stick with flats. I know that I could gain speed and energy but given I’ve never clipped, so I’m hesitant. Many experienced cyclists have more experience in clipping and I know there are tons of benefits for those who are good at staying on their bike. My suggestion, unless you really know how to anticipate trouble/falling, then stick with flats until you have more experience.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
My roughest fall was in a rock garden under a bridge. I didn’t have a line and went for it and took a pretty rough fall and got pretty scraped up. I still get nervous riding that section and often times chicken out and walk. Healing took a while but for me, if I can get out there and walk the line and go back and ride it helps to plan where I’m going. Rock Gardens, Skinnies and Bridges...totally mental and freak me out every time. Rock gardens are sketchy when they are flat or uphill because you really need to have speed and a line and I tend to get focused on the obstacle vs. getting past it.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Shifting...because I was such a new rider I really didn’t understand and it took me several times to get comfortable know when to shift to get through a climb and also regain some speed. I think that still takes some work, but having someone ahead prompting me in the beginning really helped. I couldn’t get my mind around shifting up or down. I replaced it with shift easy or hard.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The freedom, the wind in my face and knowing that every time I get on I’m going to learn something new and have a new adventure.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why you chose them.
My sweet baby blue. She’s a Cannondale Women’s Habit 1. My bike was a gift and my boyfriend refers to it as my promise bike. Earlier this spring, I saw a really beautiful full suspension bike and told my boyfriend to skip the ring and get me the bike, and he did! He and the guys at Spoke Life Cycles surprised me with this beauty in October they had me going all day with this gorgeous bike they were building and then at the end of the day, the store manager, Justin said please put the price tag on it and my boyfriend had just happened to come into the shop. When I flipped it over it said,”for Laurie”...I cried it was the most amazing surprise ever. Pretty awesome 40th birthday gift/promise bike moment on the planet.
Tell us about your group, Glass City MTB Girl and what it's all about. 
After I got back from the Midwest Women’s Clinic. I wanted to find others to ride with and I decided the best way to do this was through social media. I set up a Facebook page (Glass City MTB Girls) and initially wanted to focus on women. I started posting weekly events via Facebook on all of the Toledo Area bike social pages and called the bike shops and ask them to promote as well. I found that there were fewer women riders who would come solo but if I invited the guys, they would bring their girls! Once that happened the doors opened and I met a nice group of people who loved to ride and excited to join us (my boyfriend would join me every week too). Every week it seemed we had new joiners! I really didn’t have much of a goal in the beginning other than to find a community of mountain bikers, promote safe riding and get out there and have fun! Typically we ride with all levels so the advanced riders in the front and beginners in the back. I enlist some experienced coaches to hang with us and give us tips while we ride. I’ve also taken people with me who are very hesitant and we walk some and ride some areas. Toledo only has 1 main singletrack trail (Jermain/Ottawa Park) right now and come spring we will also have Oak Openings. We are also just 40 miles from several Michigan trails as well which really makes us more mountain bike friendly than I think most think. I’d love to see us continue to expand our trail options in Toledo, have some of our local coaches help in offering clinics for folks to help all of us improve our skills and continue to build out our community.

Do you have suggestions for folks looking to start up a ride group in their area? What helped you? 
Research! Find out what resources, social media sites, etc are already existing and figuring out how you can work with what exists or see where there might be gaps. In my case, I wasn’t finding mountain biking group rides in our area and found there was a void in Northwest Ohio for all levels (especially with beginners). 1.) Our main trail is intermediate and 2.) the location of our single-track trail is in a pretty rough neighborhood. Additionally, don’t have a Northwest Ohio/Toledo IMBA chapter. For those looking into ride groups, local chapters I would recommend researching your local chapters via IMBA/Singletracks as many cities and communities have ride groups and trails. Starting small and supporting those who want to get out there is what it’s all about.

What do you enjoy most about your collaboration with Spoke Life Cycles?
They are the most amazing group of guys (and gals). They really were excited about me just trying to build something and liked that I had an opinion that was slightly different than the rest of the cycling community which was focused on our beginners and building something from scratch. I love having the chance to pitch in at the shop when I can. I’m a single mom with 2 young boys and a full-time job so it’s hard for me to get there more than 2 Saturdays a month but I love being part of their family and pitching in when I can. I love the shop’s approach which is to build relationships and work with the riders to make sure you get the most out of the bike you are looking to ride. They really take the time to listen to the rider. They want you to be comfortable and more than anything they want you to be happy and out there having fun. They have great attitudes and are all about promoting fun, which is why we get along so well.

Why do you feel groups such as Glass City MTB Girl and others are important for women and the cycling community?
There are tons of amazing biking groups, I follow many of them on social media and have friended many groups as I think there’s a ton going on within women’s mountain biking and lots of great information to share. I learn a lot from reading about other’s experiences and it inspires me to get out there and stay focused on enjoying life.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Most of my friends think I’m nuts, they picture me like I’m some crazy rider who’s flying off jumps, mountains, etc. I think it’s like most things, the fear of the unknown. They associate mountain biking as a crazy, rugged warrior type sport. Which it can be but what people are really missing is just how much fun it is. I think there’s a lot in the industry around racing and competitiveness which many people are into (Ironmans, Triathalons, Duathalons) but not everyone wants to race. So I think it’s those 2 associations that can deter some. I’m more inspired by seeing my friends and seeing people get out there and trying something and absolutely loving it. I explain that if you like roller coasters this is a way to drive your own!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Basically, what I’ve said above. There are your racing/competitive-types and then there are those who just want to play. That’s me. I think if there were industry focus and more people talking about the fun and benefits (health, wellness, etc) you’d get more interest on the women’s side. Women aren’t afraid of sweat and I think we want to kick butt and improve ourselves. I think women who’ve not really biked like myself just don’t know what they are missing and getting them out there without it seeming so scary would be pretty enticing to many. I can’t relate to the level of a Lindsey Richter or Leigh Donovan who’ve been racing and riding for most of my life. What interests me is finding out that after 38 years I can still develop a hobby and a passion that I didn’t know existed for someone like me. I wouldn’t associate myself as being athletic and often known for lack of coordination but, I’ve always strived to be adventurous. Mountain biking is like riding a roller coaster but in my version, it might be a little slower than most...I get to control the pace and speed to what I’m comfortable with and sometimes I might get a little crazy and confident and push past comfort into adventure!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I know the confidence I’ve gained each time I ride, how much fun I’m having for myself. It’s double
that when you take a friend out there and they get done riding and they are beyond ecstatic claiming it’s the most fun they’ve ever had and how exciting and how they didn’t think they could ever get up that big hill and they did or they didn’t think they’d survive riding over the bridge and they made it without any trouble. It’s those experiences that inspire me even more.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I was not an athlete growing up, I liked sports but I loved music. I played flute for 12 years and some through college. I absolutely loved being in the band and growing up it got such a bad rap but I was really proud of my success playing through high school and even some into college. I also have a deep love for everything food related and have been cooking since I was old enough to stand over a stove. I read cookbooks like most people read novels and I could watch cooking shows all day. I love to try new recipes and will find any excuse to talk food. My 2nd dream hobby would be in a kitchen baking or cooking.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Shake n' Bake

Really, I do not have a relevant title for this post at the moment, but I guess you could say that I feel the term "Shake n' Bake" somewhat sums up what has been going on over the past several weeks.

I will admit in the most sincere way that I have been in a funk. I have had so many things that I wanted to write about (and likely will.)

I could do nothing other than look at the laptop and let my mind be consumed with everything else. I was given an offer pertaining to blogging that was hard to refuse, but in reality, I knew that I would not be able to juggle that job with my full-time job at Decorah Bicycles. Especially during the busy season...and that made me shrink back into myself for awhile due to my questioning "Did I really make the right choice for myself?" 
Looking at everything after I've had time to digest my response, the answer would be yes. At least this time.

A lot of my energy has been going to planning further women's rides, a mom/daughter intro ride, my women's night in August, and consuming myself with worries over the lack of "training" for Chequamegon. In reality, there has been a huge lack. I'm wondering if I even care? I'm really more excited about trying to plan women's events and rides for NEXT year vs. worrying over how well I will do at a race I will never "win" at.

Life has had stresses yet good things. I would say one of the biggest blocks in my riding as of late has been...well, me.
I've been paying more attention to my menstrual cycle and more attention to the ongoing and nagging cramps I've been experiencing before, during, and after. Yes, it seems that my body would be going thru a continual cramping without any real relief from it- minus giving myself stomach aches from too much ibuprofen.

I have an IUD (at the time of writing this post) and it's been wonderful, but something changed. I also noticed and would be frustrated over how I would feel after long races (cramping.) Not only do I get to deal with chronic shoulder discomfort, but I would have to deal with feeling pain "down there" as well. Gosh, that really makes you feel like you want to go bust out 12ish miles for Time Trials for crank out almost 40 for Borah Epic.

Then I had a ridiculously early period.
Enough was enough. I made the decision to go see a new Dr. and get things checked out. In my mind, I had to quiet the thoughts of all the possible things that could be potentially "wrong" with me. One thing led to another- blood work to check my thyroid (as there are thyroid issues on my paternal grandma's side.) That came back great.
Uterine ultrasounds (external and internal) to check and see if there would be anything like cysts or fibroids. Nope.

It's so fun to have menstrual oddities happening to you in your late-early to early-mid 30's. Especially during a particularly busy year. Stress was being handed to me left and right...what a beautiful opportunity to work on embracing the unknown.

What was deduced was that the arms of my IUD are poking into the sides of my uterus. I do not believe it's to the point of embedding itself, but it wouldn't surprise me that it has shifted over the past year or so.

Tuesday I will get it out.
I can't tell you how relieved I feel.
Sure, I'm back to square 1 in the whole ongoing process of "Josie doesn't want to have kids" however, the feeling of "I can finally STOP feeling like something is scraping the inside of me!" trumps the whole "What the hell am I going to do now?" It's freeing.

I'm actually looking forward to Chequamegon now...even if I end up having my period. Because I won't have to deal with the discomfort that I felt because of the IUD vs. the period itself.
I am looking forward to hammering it out on the trails, because I know I won't have that godawful feeling of feeling like I have nails on a chalkboard happening inside.

I really can't stress how frickn' EXCITED I AM!!!
I have spent virtually ALL of my biking years with an IUD and have always had some sort of "eh, this doesn't feel great" post-ride. I suppose I'm not a hospitable host for such things, and you know what? That's okay. I experienced it for a total of 9 years with two different IUDs and I'm going to be glad to have one less thing bringing me down a notch with riding with hopes I'll be able to ride with more power.

In other news. I will be getting a full suspension bike for next season- it's not officially decided yet if we will keep Gaston the carbon Salsa Spearfish (size small/16") at this point (because I really do love the bike) but I am open to SERIOUS inquiries on if anyone would want to purchase the frame/fork/Industry 9 wheelset either all together or separately. This has been an excellent bike and the decision behind having it leave the stable is due to the fact we are no longer Salsa dealers. For my blog as well as general social media, we (Travis and myself) feel that it would be more appropriate for me to be riding a shop brand.
I will be riding Gaston thru the end of the season because the new bike will not be available until after Chequamegon.
Another bike that we will be selling is my road bike. It is a carbon Specialized Ruby Elite Compact EQ (48 cm) I physically just cannot ride it comfortably and I prefer to spend as much of my time on the dirt or gravel as possible. Full disclosure, I did have one crash on the road bike, so the shifter/brake lever did get scuffed up and there is minor bar tape damage. It's cosmetic and totally does not affect how the bike works mechanically. You can see the road bike (Bettie Paige) here. It has ridiculously low miles for the years that I've owned her. We just purchased a replacement seat pack for her as the original one had a funky zipper. I've had 2 rides on this bike this season and am going to admit I just simply do not jive with Bettie and it's time to move on.

If you want to inquire on specifics per the bikes, you can email me at: josiebikelife @ gmail . com
As I said, serious inquiries only.

Fearless Women of Dirt has been going extremely well (in my opinion) and I'm very excited at the potential of having things shape up to be even more involved next year. Especially with my new connections with other women who live outside the area wanting to have FWD group rides.

So, one of the things that I'll be doing is changing the format of the rides for 2018. The biggest change is that I will not announce every ride being "introductory" this is especially important because there will be a handful of women who have been joining the rides regularly who would be outside of the "introductory" phase. We're exploring new trails and working on handling skills- and without multiple ride leaders being able to show up on the same day, it's hard to cater to all ride levels without one or the other feeling shorted.

Until we have more women who would feel comfortable leading introductory rides the same day as the intermediate rides, the first Sunday of the month will be a designated "Introductory" ride at 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. All other Sunday rides would be geared towards intermediate and advanced riders.

Long term goal: Two Sunday rides, one as an introductory and another for more experienced riders being led at the same time. Then we all meet at the shop or somewhere for a beer. Yeah!

FWD Women's Nights will happen again next year and I aim to make them more involved. This will possibly entice women from out of town to make a trip to Decorah that will be more than just "Hey, let's hang out at the bike shop!"
The concept of getting women together will be the same, but the event will start earlier (at 5 p.m.) and have a short off-road ride session prior to the social hours. We would have a ride leave the shop at 5 p.m. and we'd come back around 6:30 p.m.

For folks who are new to FWD and want a chance to meet FWD members and learn about our group rides, they are welcome to join the social time from 7:00 p.m.-9 p.m. We'd have pizza and provide some snacks, you BYOB and come learn about what FWD is all about!

I'm going to try and wrangle up more guest visitors who are interested in sharing their experiences/stories. A field trip or two to trails elsewhere is also on my mind. (More easily done during a year that isn't super busy!)

FWD Women's Night Dates for 2018 at this time will be:
April 24th
May 29th
June 26th
July 31st
August 28th

If you read this and are someone I've interviewed that doesn't live too far away from the Decorah area and would like to be a special guest for one of the FWD Women's Nights- let me know!

Additional FWD Goal- FWD Jerseys.

Finally, Mother/Daughter FWD rides. 
I'll be hosting my first Mother/Daughter FWD ride on Tuesday and am very excited! There seems to be a number of folks who think it's a wonderful idea, so I'm hoping I can figure out another date in which to have one for 2017 before school starts. I'm open to day suggestions for 2018 and so far I've figured out a couple Sundays to mark down for these intro rides:
June 10th
July 8th
August 12th

My idea is these Sunday rides will start at 8 a.m. and last until 9 a.m.
I'm toying with the idea of having an additional Tuesday ride for those same months, which would start at 7 p.m. that would give parents an additional day to have possibly work with their schedule. I'm open to suggestions as I know parents and kids are both incredibly busy and there is no possible way to make it work well for everyone. For kids who are old enough to attend the Park and Rec mountain biking class next year- this would give them another ride opportunity (or two) that should help bolster confidence and comradery with other female peers.

I'm really super stoked to have some dates solidified for 2018 and I really think that there will be some fun things happening next year! Of course, things might get tweaked and change- there's a lot of time between now and 2018 (Really?! Doesn't feel like it!)

So, obviously things have been a bit hectic, but overall things have been well. My emotional and mental overload will pass and I'll have some introspective things to share again. This has been quite the year and I'm really grateful for the opportunities that have come from it so far. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Women Involved Series: Kristy Henderson

Photo Credit: TMB Images
I grew up riding my bike up and down the block with the neighborhood kids like most people. However, when I got my license, I hung up my bike and didn’t look back.

Fast-forward to 26 yrs old, I was madly into the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” going through my own relationship ending and major life transitional phase. I decided one night to buy a bike and go on a European wine tour within the next year.

A co-worker had a picture of herself mtn biking on her desk so I asked her where to go and she advised: “Go see Jay Hollywood.
I showed up at the shop the next week, but he was too busy to see me, so we scheduled an appointment for the following week. After a few bike fittings, I had myself a new road bike… but I didn’t know where to ride or who to ride with. So, a week or so later, I started calling the shop owner asking if he’d ride with me.

It was fall, so we started riding before his races (of which I’d never heard of – cyclocross), and I’d stay and watch. I was instantly hooked on both him and the races. I asked “How do I try this?”, and he sold me a single speed mountain bike with platform pedals so I could try CX. I did 6 races that season, including Jingle CX and state CX and loved every minute of it. Come winter, I saw people racing on the ice with studded tires and wanted to play… so my 7th race ever was the Chilly Chili Ice Race in Bloomington on borrowed homemade studded tires. Every season that followed was the same – how do I play? Which led me to own zero to six bikes in a year flat. CX, Mtn, time trials, road, crits, and ice races – I love it all and sometimes raced up to 75 races per year! (Except the track – mama loves a freewheel). And go figure, Jay was hosting a trip to Europe the following April, so I got to go on my trip! Plus, we fell in love and got engaged while there watching some of the Spring Classics.

I rode for Silver Cycling for many years but, after being the only woman on the team for a few years and not really loving the look, I created my own team in December 2012, “Girl Fiend Cycling Team”. The designs were inspired by the art of one of my best friends, Teri Harriet, and t-shirt designs we were creating. Hot pink, black, and white, spikes, skulls, hell on wheels… I invited some of my former teammates and close friends to join in the beginning, starting with 6 of us. Through friends and the love of the kit design, we’re now at almost 30 ladies, ranging from 11 – 40+ years old! Our driving vision is to have fun on bikes and encourage others to do the same (aka ‘don’t be a douchebag’). It’s been awesome creating and riding under the Girl Fiend banner. I’ve seen a lot of personal growth and major bike goals crushed. My proudest victories were winning Single Speed USA in 2013 and 2015!

Other not-so-secret passion = competitive pole sport (aka pole dance, but meets gymnastics and cirque). 2015 Level 1 Regional Champ, 2015 Level 2 Nationals 2nd place, 2016 Level 3 Regional 2nd Place.

Your #bikelife originally started in childhood but didn't really take off until adulthood. Tell us why your "re-introduction" was life changing- 
Before I bought my 'first' bike at 26 years old, I was in an unhappy relationship that caused me to distance myself from most of my friends, I was a pack-a-day smoker, played online video games all night long, and would fantasize about what my life could be. I left the relationship and bought a bike, figuring that maybe if I signed up for a local triathlon, I'd quit smoking and get healthy. I did just that. But even better, within that cycling community, I found all the things I dreamt of... adventures, travel, friendships, health, fitness, and best of all true love. It was the exact opposite of where my life had been going but ended up exactly where I was meant to be.

You enjoy several different styles of riding from pavement to dirt. Why do you enjoy the diversity?
I love how different styles of riding gives me a bike outlet for all seasons. And the dirt and the snow make me feel even more like a big kid, which makes me feel alive! Racing on the road challenges my brain by teaching me to watch my opponents and strategize.

What would you say has been the biggest eye-opener for yourself since becoming so involved with cycling? 
Before I started racing and hanging out with a cyclist, I never knew such a community existed. So many welcoming people that bond over bikes.. and it's no matter where you go. I have cycling friends in Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado. We tell stories, share tips, go on adventures (cross country and even towny rides), and it's always fun.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Single Speed USA (single speed mtn bikes) - The first cyclocross / mtn bike I had was a rigid singlespeed Bianchi MUSS and my love for singlespeeds has crossed over every year. I went to my first Single Speed USA in 2013 when it was in Winona, MN. From the pre-reg party to the race to the final contests and after party, the entire collection of racers, riders, and supports played, rode, and enjoyed our time together for an entire weekend. Besides the "come as you are attitude" (costume vs. lycra, pro racer vs. beginner, etc), all are welcome. Plus, since it travels to a new state each year, it has given me the opportunity to ride trails and states I may have never known about! Why do I compete? I'm an only child of a single father - working to make my dad proud of me has always made me competitive and want to be better. Heck, I even race my husband to see who can fill out a registration form faster. (He cheats and always wins!) Competing in sport pushes me to be faster, stronger, work harder, and challenge my limitations. It helps me grow.

What advice would you give to someone who is nervous about attending their first event?
If you know someone in the sport that can be there to support you, do it. I think that was a huge help for me being a total outsider. But, if you don't, no worries. Giving something new a try is always scary, but often rewarding. Be open to new experiences and take it all in. And remember, the first time any of us try anything, it's likely not a slam dunk, so try it again! See if you can improve yourself the next time.

Can you take us back to your first mountain bike rides? What kept you coming back for more?
The dirt! I loved that I was a grown adult playing in the dirt, something that was not part of the lives of the adults around me as I grew up. It made me feel alive and adventurous and still does. When we go on vacations, it's almost always with mtn bikes because they can take us to some beautiful places to just sit and breathe in nature.

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
I love clips. I was super clumsy at first, falling each time I stopped my bike, but now I can't picture life without them. I feel like I have so much more control over the bike. Even my bar bike has clips and I have tennies with cleats in them.

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 worst bike injury I had was actually trying to walk my bike over an uphill log at Lebanon Hills. Remounting my bike, I twisted my back and slipped a disk. I couldn't breathe or stand up straight, but the mosquitos were aggressive and we needed to get help. I had to lightly pedal and coast my bike out of the course, luckily to find a friend in the parking lot that was a Phys. Therapist who helped get me into the car and make medical suggestions. I was laid up for days, barely able to walk, until I started chiropractic treatment with my amazing doctor. I went twice a day for weeks, had to make ergonomic changes to my work desk and how I sat on the couch, had to do exercises to strengthen my back but worst of all was hanging up my mountain bike. I was so heartbroken that the pain and injury made it painful to ride and diminished my strength and power greatly. But I kept with the treatments and tried to go easy on myself and listen to my body. It has taken me a few years to really get it down, but I now know when to see the doctor, how to be mindful of my back and best pre- and post-ride stretches for my body, and am happily back on the bike. I haven't done a century since it happened... that's still one more goal to overcome. Hopefully in 2017!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Rock gardens (big or small) were the hardest thing for me in the beginning. I would look at them and picture crashing my face into the rocks and leaving blood (it only happened once, but I got over it). In the beginning, I just ran sections I was scared of. Each year I would challenge myself to give them a try over and over. Also, I try to channel my husband's advice of staying loose, looking for good lines, and point the bike forward. Starting on a rigid singlespeed mountain bike, you quickly learn how to choose a good line since they don't just plow through the rocks like a full-suspension bike.

Cycling is what introduced you to your husband, what do you enjoy most about having something that you both can do together?
I love getting to cheer him on as he does something he loves, and love his hugs and support while I'm doing something I love. And, since we're doing this together, we both get to enjoy our passions w/o sacrificing time with each other. And who wouldn't love always having their biggest fan around, even for a Tuesday night crit? :)

Do you have any suggestions for folks who want to get their partner involved with cycling?
If they're curious, get them to try it! Get friends together and go for a group ride that ends at an eating establishment or BBQ so you can enjoy the sport and then the fellowship. But, be open to listening to what they like or don't like about it. I used to struggle with feeling like I let my husband down when I'd need a season off of racing, but soon realized that just an afternoon riding in the woods together was better than anything. Racing if you don't want to isn't fun, so don't pressure them to do it if it's not authentic to them. You can still share the love of bikes together on a nice ride around town.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that my bike takes me places and I get to connect to the outdoors. On a mtn bike, we'll likely see hawks or eagles, or cougar prints in the snow. We'll stop on my favorite bluff at Levis Mound and just breathe in the fresh air, quietly looking out over the treetops. On the road, we'll ride for 50-60 miles with friends, catching up together, stopping for donuts and some laughs, and getting us through those early season bonks if needed. It just feels like living.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My first problem was falling in love with a bike.. and then a bike shop owner.. so I got hooked early on collecting (10 to be exact.. but they all have a purpose!). My first was a Javelin Fara road bike named "Casper". I learned to road ride and time trial on it, took it to Europe (my original bicycle dream), and traveled thousands of miles on it. I later upgraded my road race bike to a BMC Pro Machine, "Princess", but the Fara is still my spring riding bike. "Princess" is my carbon dream machine - recommended by my husband, it's fast and responsive and knows when I want to ramp it up before I do. We've had two big crashes and survived them both. My mountain bike, a 29" LaMere Hardtail "the ninja", blew open the doors for my mountain biking the first time I road it. I started mtn biking on a 26", but once I moved to 29", I finally felt balanced and fast. Tied as favorite with the BMC, hands down. My fat bike, also a LaMere (kinda nameless), has a race geometry designed by my husband. Perfect for a winter race or a couple hour cruise down at the MN River Bottoms. For cyclocross, my love is split between two bikes - 1) a Stevens built up as a singlespeed, and 2) a LaMere cx built up as a 1x10 my hubby gave me as an anniversary gift. I typically grab whichever one is the best for the course, often leaning towards the SS, but they both ride like awesome little speed demons in the dirt. My original mountain and cyclocross bike was my 26" Bianchi MUSS. My husband loaned it to me to attend my first Homey Fall Fun Fest in 2006 - it was a night that solidified my love for bikes and the community - so I was quick to trade labor for the bike. I road my first couple seasons of Mtn and CX on it and still take it out for Homey and singlespeed antics each year. Lastly, I have an old Tomac 26" mtn bike with frankenstein parts and spot welds to repair old injuries to it's frame. My husband got it from a friend and built it up with old parts so I could have an ice racing bike. It goes by the name "Mad Maxx - the Thunder Pig" and we have had years of fun on the winter lakes together!

Tell us your mission with the Girl Fiend cycling team-
When I started Girl Fiend, I just wanted to wear something a little different and go my own path. I invited my friends because I was hoping we'd keep the team alive and grow. At first, we got a lot of interest based on our hot pink and black kits, bringing ladies to our group that I'd never met before. I've always said anyone is welcome, but no douchebags allowed. Really, we just want to have girls and women that like to ride, have fun doing it, and will be supportive of their teammates and others. I don't demand participation quotas, podium finishes, or the like - I don't think that helps grow the support. It should just be a welcoming group that says "I like bikes, you like bikes, wanna play?". :)

If there are folks interested in joining the team, how can they do so?
They can join anytime by talking to a member at an event, or reaching out to the me or the team site on facebook. We don't charge dues, have an awesome shop sponsor, clothing company, and even a massage sponsor!

What has been the most challenging part of starting up your own cycling team?
Organizing group rides is honestly my biggest challenge. I'm typically doing something every night of the week and often plan my bike rides the day-of, which doesn't usually work for teammates that are further away or have kids. Also, since we race so many types of cycling, we're often not around on weekends for group rides. We try to work around this through a private FB group where people can connect for rides with other teammates.

What would you say is the most rewarding experience you've had since the team started?
A couple years ago, one of my husband's customers talked to him about joining our team (Team Hollywood + Girl Fiend Cycling). His daughters wanted to race in the High School Mtn Bike League when they were old enough, and thought a team might help them out. Seeing Gabi and Bella in the smallest Girl Fiend jerseys and ripping up the trails with huge smiles on their face was one of the happiest moments I've had. As a non-parent, it was such a cool to see the joy of cycling through their eyes.

Any suggestions for folks to consider when looking to start up their own group or team?
Have a good vision and stand behind it, no matter how simple. I think that will help draw like-minded people to you. Invite your friends and welcome new people. And encourage others at events, including people you don't know. For all you know, they're just starting out and looking for a group to join!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially off-road riding?
I think the unexpected was the most scary for me when I was starting out. I would travel to this event, never having ridden the course before, and now need to do it with no oxygen in my brain?! For all styles of racing, though, I think anything in the dirt is the most welcoming. A road race or crit, you'll likely show up and find tents with racers on trainers and headphones on, drinking weird colored shakes and matching everything. Likely not how a beginner is going to be packing for a race. Where a race in the dirt is going on, you often find people riding around randomly, maybe not even warming up at all, some wearing mismatched kits or baggies, and there always seems to be food and beverages to be shared after.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think MN is doing an amazing job getting more women on bikes with the High School League, Little Bellas, and a huge increase in women on the track and in CX. Also, the industry needs to lay off the "shrink it and pink it" attitude with women's bikes... just sell bikes in different sizes. Male or female, we span all sizes. The right sized bike and a proper, professional bike fit will go a lot farther than one just because it's called a "women's" bike.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I love to share the things that bring me joy with others in case it will bring them the same joy. It's like finding my soul mate... I want everyone else to find such amazing love in their life, too.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I also compete in pole sport (aka competitive pole dancing) since 2015 and was a captain of Team Dollhouse for the 2016 season. I have won medals in my division in 2 regional and one national competition, performed in a show at Mill City Nights, and just began training for my May 2017 competition. Funny thing is, the strength in my legs from cycling helps me hang upside down by my knee pit with ease! ;)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Women Involved: Nicola Rutzou

My name is Nicola and I live in Sydney, Australia. I started cycling in 2008 simply to take part in a charity bike riding event and my interest and participation in the activity/sport has grown exponentially ever since.

In short – I love cycling. It has changed my life. Some might see it as bordering on obsession but the way I look at it, there are far worse things to be obsessed with or addicted to.

I’ve certainly never been the sporty type. In fact, I’ve always believed I was so hopeless at any kind of sport it would be better for everyone if I just didn’t participate. At school, my extra-curricular activity was playing the flute in the school orchestra. I avoided sport and got away with it quite successfully. No one is more surprised than me that I’m now hooked on the sport of cycling.

Check out Women Who Cycle.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife-
My #bikelife began about eight years ago when my partner suggested I join his work team to complete a charity bike ride in the picturesque Barossa Valley. I knew almost nothing about bicycles and hadn't ridden one for about 20 years. We headed off to our local bike shop and returned some hours later with a shiny new road bike complete with clip in shoes and pedals. I was super scared on my first ride but by the second one, I was hooked. By the time I made it to the start line of the charity ride about four months later I was in love with riding. My life had changed. 

How did discovering the love of cycling change your life?
This might sound a bit melodramatic but discovering cycling has given my life meaning.

It's worked on many levels for me. Firstly it's given me a sense of belonging to a community. Before I found cycling I didn't know many people within my local area despite living there for many years. Now I know dozens of locals and I'm part of the local cycling tribe.

It's also given me more confidence in all aspects of my life. Learning to master a physical discipline has given me more confidence in myself. It's made me realise what I can achieve.

What suggestions can you give for someone who is nervous about attending a cycling event?
It's important to take it step-by-step. Choose something that will be a challenge for you and work up from there. For me, the first 80 km ride I finished was a huge challenge. Several years later I was able to go back to the same event and complete the 160 km version of the ride. That was also a huge challenge.

Despite completing many events, I always get really nervous the night before an event. I've learnt to handle the nerves by just pushing through and focusing on the end result. I know that once I start the ride I will relax and enjoy it.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
When I started riding the only skill I had was to keep the bike upright. I've had to learn to corner, ascend, descend, ride in a bunch, pedal effectively, clip-in/clip-out and more. I learnt my skills by joining my local bike club and joining their bunch rides, attending some formal skills sessions, listening to tips from fellow riders and above all else practicing. When I first began one of the elders from my bike club said to me that it takes at least three years to feel really confident on the bike. At the time I thought he was exaggerating, but three years in I couldn't agree with him more. And I continue to learn all the time. 

Do you have any suggestions for someone looking to purchase their first road bike, especially if they are looking to ride on a regular basis?
You should buy the best bike you can afford. If you buy the entry level bike you'll probably want to upgrade within a few years so stretch yourself a little if you plan to ride on a regular basis. My first bike lasted just two and a bit years before I upgraded.

A lot of buyers focus on the running gear (gears and brakes) of the bike rather than the frame. If you buy a bike with a quality frame you can always upgrade the running gear but not the other way round. The frame is what provides the ride quality, and needless to say, you should buy the right size. 

What do you love about riding your bike?
It gives me an amazing sense of freedom. There's nothing better than that feeling of rolling down the road with the wind whipping past.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I own three road bikes. I had a brief interlude with a sensible utility style bike but that left me via eBay a few years ago.

Two of my road bikes are Specialized Amiras - a six year old one that I'm sentimentally attached to, and a newer S-Works Amira that rides like a dream.

The third one is an 'adventure' road bike called a Specialized Diverge which has disc brakes, thicker tyres and a sturdy alloy frame. I use it to get around the place and occasionally ride to work. It even has a rear rack to carry stuff around. 

Tell us about your blog, Women Who Cycle, and how it got started-
I started it about five and a half years ago on a bit of a whim. At the time I was working as a public relations consultant and I often talked to my clients about blogging. It got me thinking that I quite liked the idea of starting a blog, and out of the blue one day it hit me - I should start a blog about women's cycling. 

What inspired you to choose blogging as a way to share your #bikelife?
I was just so in love with cycling that for me it was easy to share my passion. There's nothing more satisfying than receiving a comment or email from a woman who's read my blog and been inspired. That's what keeps me going with it.

What has been the most interesting thing you've learned since you started blogging?
I've learned that everyone involved with women's cycling is super passionate about helping others. This includes women who are pro cyclists, team owners, coaches, industry workers, and everyday riders. They are all so generous and encouraging of others. 

Any suggestions for someone looking to start up their own blog?
Only start a blog if you have a topic that you are truly passionate about. You don't have to be very knowledgeable, that will come. You can always call on experts to help but you have to have the passion. It has to be authentic or it's not a blog. 

You work at Ashfield Cycles, tell us about your job as store manager-
Ashfield Cycles is a small bike store in the inner western suburbs of the beautiful city of Sydney. I'm not a bike mechanic so I do pretty much every other task that needs doing - selling, answering queries, ordering, stocking shelves, merchandising, handling warranties, booking and checking in bikes of service, admin and more. 

What inspired you to seek employment at a bike shop?
It was one of those things that just happened. I was looking for some part-time work, while still working as a public relations consultant and I happened to be speaking to the owner of the shop, and the rest is history. I've now worked there full-time for about three and a half years. 

What advice would you give to other women looking to seek employment at a bike shop?
Do it. Don't be put off by the male-dominated environment. I've learnt so much working the bike shop and continue to learn but you definitely don't need to be male. If you're passionate about bikes like me it's an ideal place to seek employment.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
In the city of Sydney the number one deterrent is safety. Most women don't feel comfortable riding on the road and we don't have very good bike paths or bike infrastructure. Plus, there are a lot of very aggressive drivers.

I also think that many women perceive cycling to be for men. In Sydney and other places in Australia, there are many more male riders and I think it puts women off. Thankfully that's starting to change but we've got a long way to go.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
There are many things that could change but two key things are: better cycling infrastructure and bike shops that make women feel welcome. 

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
My mission in life is to encourage more women to ride bikes. I'm inspired to do so because I love it so much I want as many women to experience the joy of the humble bicycle.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have three University degrees (two in communication, one in history).