Friday, November 10, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Nicole Werts

Five years ago, I would have never imagined that I would be biking 4 days per week or more all summer long. Then I met Tim (my now husband). I started out not realizing there were different types of bikes or the purposes and adventures they could open up. He shared his passion for biking with me and exposed me to many of the types of biking that exist. As I fell in love with him, I also fell in love with biking.

For having recently started the sport, I feel that I have been bitten hard by the bug. I have been exposed to many types and styles of biking from casually riding the trails, cyclocross, mountain biking, and road biking. My husband and I downhill patrol up at Spirit Mountain where there is lift access biking.

We do the local Thursday night mountain bike races at Buck Hill, race cyclocross in the fall, and did the Tuesday night crits this last summer. We also enjoy biking with Team Hollywood Cycles and GirlFiend Cycling Team (GirlFiend is the women’s branch of the team).

I grew up playing soccer and played Division III in college. After finishing college, there was a definite void left behind from no longer training and playing at a competitive level. Cycling has now filled that hole and given purpose to training and increasing intensity of workouts. I love being part of a team as it is fun to ride together and have a team that supports each other. The camaraderie, energy, and social around cycling is fun to be a part of! It is an awesome team of people who, like Tim and I, like to ride bikes.

Tell us the introduction to your #bikelife and what was the experience like?
I did bike as a kid with the neighborhood kids and with my family on the bike trails, but biking was not something that I stuck with. I played soccer and that consumed much of my time until college was over. It was when I met my husband that I started really biking again. It started with biking on the trails around Minneapolis. Eventually, it led to watching and then trying cyclocross. (Which included an intro to dirt riding). From there I got my first mountain bike and we started with cross country riding, this eventually progressed to lift access downhill. Most recently, we tried some crit racing. The experience has been awesome! There is always so much to learn, so many awesome people to meet, and so much fun to be had!

Out of the types of cycling that your husband introduced you to, which would you say was your favorite right from the start?
My favorite is the one with two wheels, pedals, and outdoors. All the forms of cycling are my favorite in some way or another! It can totally vary based on mood and the day! I really like the mountain biking as it is fun to go play in the woods. I enjoy the challenge and learning the lines. I downhill ski in the winter and the mountain biking really connects to some of the same sensations as skiing. However, road riding is totally different in that you can go out and just pedal forever and it can feel very smooth. I find that both riding on the road and in the woods can really present an opportunity to clear the mind.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Probably cyclocross, as that is where it all started. It has aspects of mountain biking and road biking that I enjoy. Plus, the people make it really fun! I am not always sure why I enjoy competing. As I really dislike the part when you are on the start line and just waiting for the race to start (it always seems to take forever). Sometimes during the races, I question why it is fun. However, afterwards, it is always fun. Cyclocross is fun to push yourself as you learn more about what you are capable of and develop new skill sets.

That being said, I feel a bit torn as I really enjoyed the crit races this summer. It took me a few races to figure out the strategy and not get dropped from the pack. It is very fun to fly quickly around the corners and reach speeds I did not know I was capable of on flat ground. It definitely brought on new and amazing sensations.

When it comes to folks who have not participated in a biking event, what advice would you give them?
Try it! Watch the event if able or talk to someone you know who has participated and learn what you can! We have all participated in our first bike event and are excited to have more women (and people) out there and enjoying it. I am more than happy to talk to someone about what I have learned along the way.

I know firsthand that this can be intimidating to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Thinking back to my first group ride and I was terrified that I would not be able to keep up, would get dropped, and end up lost, unable to find my way home. Tim came along to ease my worry and to guide me back if I got lost or could not keep pace with the group. However, I did not need him and was able to keep up with the group without issue. If it is a group ride you are looking to try, ask about what pace and distance is expected as that can help you to know you are ready to go or give you a goal to work towards.

Take us back to your first few mountain bike rides. What was your experience like and what kept you coming back for more?
First off, I feel truly blessed as Tim’s whole mission and goal, when I started, was to set me up for success. He wanted to make sure I had a good time so I would want to ride again. The first mountain bike ride I went on, I refused to ride over anything higher than about 3 inches high. That ruled out any logs and some rocks. Tim demoed what to do multiple times, but when I said not today, he respected that and I got off my bike walked it at all obstacles. The next time we rode, it was with another couple and when I watched her do it, then I started riding over stuff and found it was not as difficult as it looked. We did a lot of laps where I was comfortable and slowly worked up to more challenging terrain.

The fun and challenge of mountain biking kept me coming back for more. I found that the more I rode, the more comfortable I got with biking. It was really fun to work on technique and then look back and realize that I was no longer thinking about going over obstacles that I had stopped in front of the week or month before. Additionally, there is something very therapeutic about going out and riding and playing in the dirt with the beauty of the nature and trees around you.

Take us into the world of cyclocross- what do you enjoy about cyclocross and why should folks give it a shot?
It is a fun challenge. The terrain and conditions can really add to the challenge. I like that you get multiple laps within a race as it gives you a chance to change and improve how you did on features from lap to lap. The multiple laps can also add challenge as course conditions can change based on the amount of precipitation or how loose the course may be set up. I also like how it is okay to not be able to ride every section, but it is expected to sometimes get off the bike and run. It is about choosing how you can get through stuff the quickest and knowing your skill set. Additionally, the people are really what make the races fun. Spectating and cheering on friends and teammates helps to make the experience what it is.
Any tips or suggestions on getting started with 'cross?
Watch it and then go for it. See if you can meet up with someone to learn about how to properly mount, dismount, and shoulder your bike prior to your first race, then give it a go. I started doing cross before I had really learned how to bike on dirt. I had spent the summer riding on bike trails. I watched Tim race on a Saturday and it looked fun (but intimidating). Sunday, instead of him racing, we went to the river bottoms and I learned to ride on dirt. I fell over in the sand a lot as I learned to navigate the looseness. Middle of that week, the awesome Kristy Henderson taught me to mount, dismount, and shoulder my bike. She also gave some other pointers about what to do when racing. Then Saturday, I did my first cross race. It was challenging, but fun and has kept me coming back for more! There is a challenging learning curve, but it is worth it.

Clips or flats? What do you use and why?
Clips. I do not have a good reason for using them other than that is how I learned when I started riding. I really want to try flats for mountain biking at some point. However, I really enjoy the connection to the bike you have with being clipped to the pedals. At this point, it feels weird to get on a bike and not be connected to the pedals.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I had some difficulty learning road pedals this spring/summer and being able to competently get my feet out when stopping. I had a ride that I tipped over 2 times because I had to stop and could not get out of my pedals. I really disliked the helpless feeling of slowly falling to the side and not being able to get free. After that, I would start to panic if my foot did not come right out, which totally did not help the situation! To get over my fear, I put the bike on the trainer and did repetitions of just clipping in and out of my pedals. This definitely helped for the next time I went road riding (although I still made sure to prepare for stopping plenty early).

This summer I fell riding a green downhill trail and hit my hand on a rock, resulting in 2 broken fingers (ring and pinky on right hand). This has taken mostly physical healing, but a little mental as well. I was able to return to riding my bike relatively quickly and was able to continue mountain biking and crit racing with minimal impact (adjustment of handlebar grips and buddy taping fingers). The mental healing has not been completed at this time as I still have not ridden the section of trail where I broke my fingers. However, it is 100% mental as there are more challenging sections of trail that I am now riding more competently then I was prior to breaking the fingers.

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, all obstacles were challenging. Repetition helped a lot. Tim was very patient in letting me walk things when I did not feel comfortable. He was also willing to demo and repeat features. If I attempted something for the first time, whether successful or unsuccessful, we often went back immediately to ride it several more times.

I am also a really good nature walker (hike-a-biker). Especially with rock gardens or things that are spaced differently, I love walking through and holding the handlebars while letting my bike just bounce to see where it will go as it hits certain points.

Another thing that helped a lot was that I participated in a women’s mountain bike clinic in Copper Harbor last summer. It was AWESOME! I learned so much, rode with rad women, and had a great time. I really enjoyed learning more about the specifics regarding body positioning and bike handling.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Curbs! I still get uncomfortable with going up curbs. I will ride down them on any of my bikes. I have now gotten to the point that with my mountain bikes I will ride up them, but my road bike or cross bike I will put a foot down and lift the front wheel onto the curb. On my cross bike, I will attempt logs and curb sized items, but not the concrete curb. I do not let it drag me down, I figure that someday I will either master it or I will continue to stop in front of curbs and step over them.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything!!!!!!! What is there not to love when you are outside and have the wind in your face. It is always even better with company!!!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I feel like I did not choose my bikes, but they have chosen me. They have allowed my riding to grow and advance. I have a cross bike that I initially rode on the paved trails and now race cross on. I have a full suspension 26 inch mountain bike that is teal and I mostly ride downhill up at Spirit, but sometime ride crosscountry on. I have a hardtail 29er that is baby blue and orange and ride all over the cities and have used for the mountain bike races I have done. I have a black and celeste road bike that is fun to explore the cities on and I always feel fast when I start a ride on it.

What do you enjoy most about being able to share cycling with your husband?
It is wonderful to be able to spend time together! Tim gave up a lot of rides and speed to teach me to ride a bike. However, it has paid off for both of us as now we are able to ride together. He is still faster, but I am able to ride at a pace that keeps both of us happy and it is fun! We also bike for the same team, so it is great to go on group rides together. Additionally, we support each other at races and cheer each other on as much as possible. I look forward to days when we ride together after work as it is nice to have quality time together doing something we both enjoy

Do you have any specifics that might help a person introduce their partner to cycling?
Be patient. It was also helpful when some clear expectations were set. When I first started mountain biking, I apologized all the time. For being slow, for tipping over, for holding him back, and again for being slow. This was frustrating for him and it did not allow me to enjoy all the aspects of mountain biking. When he told me to stop apologizing as the expectation was that I would be slow and I would fall and that he did not care at that time that I was holding him back, I was then able to relax and ride my bike and started to ride and learn better. I still slow Tim up sometimes and he is the faster rider (and probably always will be), but I now ride at a pace that we can go out, have a good time and both feel like we got a workout. Plus it is awesome to ride and explore trails together.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think the fear of getting injured is a major part. I know that there are times that I see stuff and I really assess how I feel at that time as I want to make sure that I can still go to work the next day. Every woman is different though, but if hesitant, I think the fear of something is likely at least part of the cause. The great thing is, there are so many opportunities available now to get women started with cycling.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I like that I see many more group rides, clinics, and opportunities for women. It is very exciting with the number of youth getting involved in mountain biking and cycling in general. This is great for the future of cycling. However, I would love to see more women out racing and taking advantage of these opportunities. I keep trying to encourage friends who ride but do not race to join in. However, I think the initial cost to try racing deters some. It is nice to see some races offering discounted entry fees for beginner racers as it is a sport we can start at any age! I think we need to continue to encourage each other to race, ride, and achieve greatness.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
That is easy, I want more friends to ride with!!! I love seeing women and girls of all ages out riding
bikes in any form!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I enjoy inline skating. I train for and have competed in the North Shore Inline Marathon since the end of college. Last year I let a friend convince me to do the combined (half + full) and so we skated 39.3 miles. I finished first for the women and am signed up to do it again this fall.

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