Monday, August 7, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Mel Cherry

My name is Mel Cherry. I am a Trek Women's Advocate and run Ride Like a Girl Cycling, a group created and supported by Penn Cycle. Ride Like a Girl Cycling was formed in order to give women more opportunities to ride and meet other cyclists in Minneapolis/St. Paul. This is my fourth year working with Penn Cycle, and the third year for Ride Like a Girl Cycling.

It has been incredibly rewarding to grow our program from organically-created women's-only mountain bike rides to one with opportunities for women to ride road, gravel, mountain, or fat bikes together.

Biking has always been a part of my life, from jumping my first mountain bike at the local park as a kid to using a used beater bike during my first few winters in Minnesota. While attending graduate school, I chose to buy a road bike instead of a car. That decision later landed me a job at Penn Cycle. 

Graduate school wrapped up, and I stayed at Penn - I was hooked on two wheels. I had discovered the beauty of solitude and freedom on road bikes wanted to share that feeling with other women.

This is an exciting time to be a woman in the cycling industry. It is a privilege to lead and host rides and events as a Trek Women's Advocate. We're providing a fun, welcoming environment for women to try something new and build their riding skills and confidence. Never been on a mountain bike before? That's okay - we'll help you find the right bike and show you where to ride it. Learning how to shift on a road bike? Come on one of our group road rides, and myself or another ride leader will give you one-on-one coaching and tips. Trek and Penn Cycle have each gone to great lengths to support women in cycling, and I'm delighted to have the ability to help women empower themselves.

What would you say is the motivation behind your #bikelife?

My #bikelife has been largely utilitarian, with some events thrown in. I primarily use my bike to commute and run errands, with fitness being a fantastic side effect. As I've become more enmeshed in the cycling community and industry, my #bikelife has expanded. Last fall, I bought my first ever mountain bike and plan to try some BMX racing this next season. Now, I use bikes to take on new challenges, open new worlds, and meet new people.

Why has a bicycle been an important tool in your life?

A bicycle has always represented freedom and independence - a tool that I can use to get around, and that I can (mostly) repair myself.

For someone looking to get into riding for the first time, do you have suggestions on what can help the process be easier for them?

Find a friend or a group to join - they'll introduce you to the local trails, bike culture, and riding etiquette. It's just more fun to ride with others! As your fitness and skill set grows, you'll naturally start to branch out.

Tell us about the styles of cycling you enjoy-
I'm primarily a road and gravel rider. I have a cyclocross bike that I use for commuting, pavement rides, and gravel rides. This upcoming season, I'm challenging myself to ride a century a month, and have signed up for a few long gravel races. I enjoy the challenge of longer endurance events. It's great to ride empty country roads with music in my ears while pushing my body to its limits.

This past fall, I bought my first mountain bike and have been learning some new skills as well as the local MTB trails. It's such a different experience than riding on pavement. I find myself focusing on the trail, how my bike is reacting to the terrain, and my body positioning. On the road, I tend to get lost in the music and scenery, where on the singletrack, riding takes your primary focus.

Take us back to your first mountain bike ride(s), what did you learn from them?

My first mountain bike rides were about learning how to position my body on the bike, where to look while riding, and most importantly how to tackle obstacles. I quickly realized that the only way I would become adept at riding 'skinnies' or confidently taking my bike through a pump track was to jump in and try. There's a small skills park at one of our local MTB trailheads that I often ride to warm up and attempt new types of obstacles. The skills park is a nice low-pressure place to take on an obstacle I had been too intimidated to attempt before - there are no trees around, and I don't have to worry about being in someone's way while I scout the obstacle and ride it.

For someone nervous to try mountain biking, do you have any suggestions that might help them feel less intimidated?
Try to embrace your nerves - I find that the days where I tackle the most intimidating line or feature to be among the most rewarding. Also, the best piece of advice I got on my first day was, "The best way to hit a tree is to look at a tree." Eyes on the trail always.

With your riding (all styles) clips or flats and why-

I ride my drop-bar bikes with clips. Commuting, gravel rides and long pavement rides are all situations I feel most comfortable clipping in. I appreciate the benefits of being attached to the bike. When I'm on the singletrack or out in the snow on a fat bike, I ride flats. I'm working on building skill and confidence. Clips might find their way onto my mountain bike in a few seasons.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
At the end of my first season of riding, I tore my ACL playing Ultimate Frisbee. I had just begun to attain some fitness on the bike to where I could ride 30 miles uninterrupted and the knee surgery was a huge setback. I bought a trainer to rehabilitate over the winter and told my physical therapist that I wanted to get back to riding as soon as possible. When I started, I couldn't turn the pedals on my bike a full revolution - it bent my knee too much. After a couple months of therapy and a lot of time in the saddle, I was able to start doing some training rides outdoors again. As my recovery progressed, I signed up for my first century - six months after my surgery. On the day, it took me 6 1/2 hours to finish, but I was able to complete 100 miles!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?

Recovering from a skidding rear tire was the first handling challenge that scared me. I'd turned on a wet sewer cover and felt my bike start to slide sideways. I didn't yet have the reaction time to get my foot off the pedal and onto the ground to push me back upright. To help practice keeping my bike rubber-side down, I would deliberately initiate a skid in loose sand or snow. Being mentally braced for the skid helped me teach myself the muscle memory to push myself back up while cornering.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Shifting! I am still learning how to shift appropriately when taking on a big climb. I often find myself gassed halfway up the hill, finally in the right gear, but with nothing left in the tank. To keep things positive, I remind myself that hills don't have to be such a drain, take a quick break at the top, and try the hill again, remembering to shift earlier.
What do you love about riding your bike?
I love pushing my body to the limits. I put my favorite mix on my iPod, throw some GU in my pocket, and head out for a day of riding. By the time I get home, I can barely walk, the sun has set, and there's a fresh 90 miles on the computer. During the ride, I'll have worked on solutions to any problems in my life, scripted thank yous to important people, and sung until my voice cracked. There's no substitute for how calm and centered I feel after a day on the bike.

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

My daily rider is a Trek Crockett. I wanted a ride that I could put skinny rubber on for pavement rides and commuting, but that could also handle the amazing gravel season Minnesota has. With a switch of rubber and air pressure, I transform my bike from a zippy road bike to a capable gravel grinder. I do most of my own service, so stuck with a mechanical drivetrain and mechanical disc brakes.

I also have a Trek Stache that I use for mountain biking and for snow riding. I chose the Stache because I wanted a versatile bike for singletrack - one that I could ride through winter, but also learn MTB skills on. I love how the 3" tires steamroll over everything on the trail, allowing me to choose a nimble line or to power through any line.

You are involved with Ride Like A Girl Cycling- tell us about the group and how you became involved-

Ride Like A Girl Cycling was started by Teri Holst with the support of Penn Cycle in 2015 with a focus on getting women on mountain bikes. I joined in 2016 to organize and run a program for getting women on road bikes. In this upcoming season, we have created a ton of events, clinics, and rides for mountain, road, and gravel riders. Our goal is to provide a fun, friendly place for women to learn about riding, build skills, and create friendships.

Why do you feel women's groups are a valuable asset to the cycling communities?
Women's groups take away a lot of the intimidation factor for riding. Cycling is a big investment (time, money) with inherent risks. By having a women's group comprised of riders who are a mix of riding abilities and experience, all riders feel welcome. We support the women who are getting on their first bike and women who are training for their thirtieth race. It is crucial to creating a space for women to feel comfortable asking questions, taking risks, and teaching each other.
You were chosen as a Trek Women's Advocate, tell us what this opportunity means for you-
I've always advocated women and women's athletics. Being chosen to be a Trek Women's Advocate is an honor. Trek is a fantastic company, often leading the edge within the cycling industry. I really appreciate the support from both Trek and Penn Cycle in efforts to get more women riding bikes and am thrilled to be a part of the movement.

Why do you feel programs, like the Trek Women's Advocate program, are important?

Cycling has historically been a male domain. Programs like the Trek Women's Advocate program are important in lowering barriers for women to enter cycling. This program can help women feel comfortable asking questions, learning the jargon, trying new bikes, and sharing their own stories.

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

For many women, it's time. Women are busy with careers and family - creating time to go on a bike ride alone or with a group can be challenging. Many women's rides are organized with this in mind - we schedule our rides on weeknights and weekend mornings to help accommodate family schedules.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
A lot of changes are already happening - we need to keep the momentum rolling. As we continue to see more women's-specific rides, groups, and races, more women will be encouraged to ride. In fact, this coming season will be the first time Ride Like A Girl Cycling puts on a women's-only race. We're planning 2 races, each about a month after a clinic. The idea is to teach women some mountain biking skills, give them time to practice, then give them a (safe) race to use the skills in. This season we'll start with 2 women's mountain bike races, and add some road and gravel races in coming seasons.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

I love helping people find their independence and confidence. The bike is a great place to improve both. There have been times when we finished riding and one of my riders exclaims, "Wow! We went ____ miles today! I had no idea." This makes me feel amazing - I want everyone to experience joy in their hearts when riding bikes.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

I'm terrified of snakes, so if I'm riding with you in the woods and we come on a snake - you'll have to fend for yourself. I'll have gone sprinting, screaming into the trees.

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