Monday, January 15, 2018

Women Involved Series: Nikki Peterson

My cycling passion developed later in life. After running competitively from 5th grade through college, I began riding bikes for fun around 26 years old. My first rides were on a large Santa Cruz in running shorts and running shoes and involved me crashing often and screaming down the mountain in Lander, WY with a group of guys! I thought it was a blast!

In just a few years, I ended up owning a Rocky Mountain Altitude, Salsa Mukluk fat bike, and a Salsa Ti-Vaya gravel bike.

I dabbled in each of these areas but remained focused on the two coffee shops that I co-owned at the time. I ended up going to Andrew Shandro’s Summer Gravity Camp in Whistler, Canada two summers in a row. The first year, in 2011, was very special because they put all of the ladies in one group. I had Lorraine Blancher as a coach and she was a huge inspiration to me. That lady can rip and she is so awesome to other female riders!

I eventually moved to Sedona, AZ where I began pedaling my Altitude more. I met some ladies who were excellent riders and they helped me a lot with my skills. With encouragement from a friend, I ended up trying a MBAA race in Scottsdale, AZ. I decided to enter the Expert category since I “knew how to suffer” from running. I was so scared to pass that when I finally did I skimmed a cactus and covered my glove! I ended up 7th out of 15 or 16 and was immediately hooked! After a short bout in Sedona, I moved to Big Bear Lake where I competed with a grassroots club team for the rest of the season. I ended up finishing first in the Kenda Cup Cat 1 series and followed that up with a 2nd place finish at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships for Cat 1 women!

I decided to take the plunge into the Pro field immediately following Nationals. To be honest, I didn’t train for that first season very much but I think it was okay because I did not burn out either. I rode sparingly throughout the fall and raced several US Cup races in Southern California before finishing up the Kenda Cup series again, this time winning the Pro division. Unfortunately, the Kenda Cup series does not get a lot of women in the field so all I had to do to win was essentially show up. This left me yearning for more. I wanted to be in races with a lot of competition. I was fortunate enough to be signed to Team RideBiker at the end of my first Pro Season. I also found some good form and finished 11th in my first USA Cycling National Championships, which was also my first race for RideBiker!

In the fall of 2016, I began working with Adam Pulford of Carmichael Training Systems. After a good couple of months, I found myself fighting a never-ending virus. I missed about 12 weeks of training and had a hard time even going to work on some days! Around February I resumed training again and also began racing. Last season I learned so much! I traveled the country with my boyfriend, Nic, and competed in the full Pro XCT series, US Cup series, and Epic Ride series. I earned enough points to become World Cup qualified, which was a big goal of mine. I also got to line up continuously with the strongest women in the country and sometimes even the world. Many of these ladies are close friends now. I feel so fortunate to surround myself with these women. They are go-getters, both on and off the bike.

I am currently living in Idyllwild, CA (and will be for hopefully many, many years to come). I am substitute teaching full-time as I work on my teaching credential for Elementary ages. Though bike racing is fun, I really enjoy having a career as well. My training this fall has been going great, I am fully healthy, and most importantly, I am having a blast! When I am not on my bike I am hanging out with my wonderful boyfriend, Nic (who is a phenomenal cross country Pro racer and the sweetest guy ever), cooking or baking, laughing with friends and family, and loving on my pets. I will also be helping out in the NICA league with Hemet High and Idyllwild Jr. High. As far as racing goes, I have some exciting plans in the works for the 2018 season that I am so stoked about! Basically, I am a lucky lady! I get to peddle my bike in all sorts of beautiful places and I am surrounded by the most amazing people.

During your first few mountain bike rides, what about it made you go "Yes! This is for me!"
I ran cross country and track on a scholarship in college. Being on a scholarship meant that I wasn’t able to do much outside of running. I was always interested in mountain biking because it seemed really neat that you could go for so much longer! After college, I borrowed a friend’s large Santa Cruz and went on some rides. I can’t explain what it was that clicked….but I just LOVED it!

You started mountain biking in your mid-20's vs. your younger years. Do you feel that this has been a benefit to you? Would you go back and change it?
Yes and no. As a racer, I wish I had known about it when I was younger. It is hard to catch up technically with women who have been on bikes since they were teenagers or younger. Also, as a kid, you tend to have that fearless attitude. As an adult, my thought process is that I have to be able to go to work the next day so I can support myself. However, as a lifelong cyclist, I think it is just fine that I started later in life. I hope to have many cycling adventures throughout my life!

Do you have any suggestions for folks looking to start mountain biking in adulthood?
Find someone, male or female, who is patient and will not rush you into anything that makes you uncomfortable. It takes time to develop skills, balance, and strength. Also, I would highly suggest either attending a camp or getting private lessons. I really like what Richard La China has done with the Ninja Mountain Bike Skills camps. They are all over the country now and they do a fantastic job! I helped out a few summers ago and was really impressed with how well the camps are run.

Tell us about your favorite competitive event and why you enjoy it so much.
Oh boy, this is a really hard question! I love ALL races! I really enjoy the Epic Rides Whiskey 50. The whole weekend is a festival and there are riders of all levels. The expo is great and they really encourage the Pros to hang out downtown during the amateur race on Saturday to mingle with the crowd. I have met some really awesome folks at that event! The race has also provided different challenges both times I have competed in it. Last year I slid out on a slick corner near the beginning of the race and had to ride for 4 more hours with a deep cut on my elbow. I ended up getting 14 stitches at the ER after the race (and a hamburger).

I also have had a lot of fun at the Quick n’ Dirty races this fall. Victor Sheldon does a fantastic job creating a fun environment that is welcoming to everyone. In fact, if you live in Southern California and have never raced I would recommend one of his events to get started. The courses are challenging yet rideable for a new competitor and it is a very low-pressure environment.

Do you have any suggestions for folks who are on the fence about participating in an event?
Do it!!! Seriously- find a fun, low key event to try out. Talk to friends or your local bike shop if you need suggestions. My bike shop, Incycle, has a staff that rides and races all of the time so they are constantly giving customers advice on which events are fun.

Remember that even if you are there to compete and push yourself the ultimate goal is to have fun! Bikes are rad!

Since making the move to pro, what have you learned about yourself? What has been your biggest challenge and biggest success?
I have learned so much. Last year I threw myself into the fire and followed a regimented coaching plan for the first time and decided to travel the country to race the fastest women in the country week in and week out. I learned that I really like the structure of a training plan. I also learned the importance of having personal goals rather than constantly comparing myself to others. Furthermore, I have learned that I really enjoy pushing myself physically and mentally with a community of like-minded people.

Also, I have met some of the most amazing people through cycling! My boyfriend, Nic Beechan, who is a really amazing cross country racer (I have to brag: he got 5th at XC nationals last year in the Pro Men’s field), is one of the best things that has happened to me through cycling. He is so patient, kind, and hard working. When I am struggling with something he is always there to listen and give advice. I am so thankful to have him in my life!

Clips or flats? What do you enjoy and why?
I clip in. It can be hard at first but once you get used to them they are great. I do cross country riding though. If a rider is doing more all mountain or downhill they may not want to clip in. Ultimately it is whatever makes a rider feel the most comfortable.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
This summer, two days before USA Cycling Nationals, I was pre-riding the course and slid out in a loose corner (it ended up pouring the next several days and there were NO loose corners). I ended up ripping open my elbow that had been stitched at the Whiskey 50, hurting my shoulder and bicep tendon A LOT, and possibly bruising my kidneys. It really put a damper on my Nationals and the several races after that. It was heartbreaking because I had put in so much work to even show up to the line. I still raced and gave it everything I had but I did not perform how I had hoped. It was a good reminder that there are always things that cannot be controlled. Instead of focusing on performance I chose to focus on being grateful to even show up to race.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Technical climbing was really difficult for me in the beginning. I did group rides in Big Bear when I lived there and the local guys really helped me a lot. I also did rides where I would go out by myself and session areas that were challenging.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I am constantly working on my technical skills- both ascending and descending. Though I have improved drastically since moving to Idyllwild, which has really difficult trails, I am always learning and working on my skills. Now that I am a NICA coach and helping out with the Idyllwild Middle School and Hemet High School, I am working on my basic skills a lot. I can’t even tell you how good it has been to work on the basics again! They are so important!
What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being outside! Every time I go out on a ride I am smiling because it is so beautiful. My coach at Indiana University told me that one of the highlights of spending time with her toddler was that he stopped to look at the beauty in everything, even a tiny little flower that adults would walk by. I took that to heart and really try to take the time to appreciate the little things now.

I also love all of the people I have met through riding my bike. For instance, my best friend, Larissa Connors, is the funniest person I have ever met. I can also talk to her about anything in the entire world. The crew at Incycle is like family now. They have the best customer service and have made me feel like family. The middle school kids make me smile so big when they conquer features that are challenging them. You get the point. Bikes are the best! They bring together all sorts of people from every area of the world. It is pretty amazing!

And now I am about to begin a new adventure! Last season I met three amazing women at the races while traveling. We became good friends and decided to make another UCI elite women’s mountain biking team! We have poured our hearts into this project and it is so cool to watch it come together. We are called KS-Kenda Elite Women’s Team. We are all extremely driven women who balance a career with training and racing at the elite level. We actually figured out that we have 12 degrees between the four of us! We want to get more women on bikes and spread the stoke!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
For 2018 there will be some big changes! As we embark on KS-Kenda Women’s Elite Women’s Team, I will be making some sponsor changes. We will be doing clinics, hosting ice cream socials after races, and creating other platforms where we can spread our passion for riding with other women. Whether they like to race or ride for the adventure, we will be aiming to connect with women all over. With that said, we have been working extremely hard to get a team of sponsors together and I couldn’t be more excited about
our 2018 set-up!!!

We will be riding on Pivot frames. For cross country, I will be racing on the Pivot 492SL full suspension bike with Fox Suspension, a Shimano drivetrain, Novatec wheels, and Kenda tires! For road/gravel training, my bike will be the Pivot Vault. It will also have a Shimano drivetrain, Novatec wheels, and Kenda tires. To have fun on all the trails, I will be adding my dream squishy bike to the collection: the Pivot Mach 5.5 Carbon. My bike shop, Incycle, carries Pivot bikes and I am excited to continue working with them!

You plan to help out with the local NICA league, what do you enjoy most about helping out with NICA?
I love kids and I love bikes! It is going to be the best season ever!! I am also in school working on elementary credential so it all meshes really well. I attended the First Aid and Mountain Bike Skills Coaching class with Matt Gunnell and a few other instructors two weekends ago and it got me even more pumped. My high school cross country and track coach had such a huge impact on my life. I ended up being the first person on my mom’s side of the family to graduate from college and she played a large role in that. Not only did she help me win 11 state titles so that I could earn a scholarship but she also set the expectation that I go to college.

She helped me look at colleges and made sure I had guidance along the way. I hope I can do the same for these student-athletes. I feel really fortunate to be able to get involved!

Why do you feel kids should get involved with NICA?
NICA has a really great mission: to create lifelong cyclists. Competing is great and I think it is really good to have goals to work towards but at the end of the day, cycling is a healthy, fun activity to participate in. NICA creates an environment where students can be social while pushing themselves physically and mentally. Also, sports are great because they teach students to have excellent time management skills, which is an invaluable skill.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think that this is a two-fold answer. First of all, mountain biking can be scary. You are supposed to go up and down these skinny dirt trails, going over rocks, around trees, and finish in one piece?! I think that women are afraid that they can’t do it or that they will get hurt. And let’s be honest, everyone crashes when they are first learning. I still crash! That is why I said earlier that it is good to go out with a patient friend in the beginning. I have been giving private lessons to a local woman and it has been so neat to see her progress into a solid rider. She has mentioned over and over again that she would not be into biking as much if she had not reached out for help. Women are completely capable of mountain biking, we just need support and encouragement.

Next, women are not always nice. Luckily, I have a rad group of women in SoCal who are nice, inspiring, and positive but I have also had an experience with three women who were beyond mean. They did everything they could to try and make me feel bad. For a while, they were doing a good job of it. My local race series became not fun and I wasn’t enjoying riding as much. As soon as I got away from the toxic environment, everything got better again. This winter I am choosing to not participate in the series because I want to make sure I have fun riding and racing.

It is important to find women who will be supportive of you. Girlz Gone Riding is a great example! Wendy has made a group that is accepting of ALL women, regardless of skill level. At any one of her rides, you will see Pros out with first-time riders all having a blast! I helped out with the Big Bear chapter for a bit when I lived up there and I was so amazed at the positive environment that Wendy and Ali created.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I am hoping that KS-Kenda will be able to have a positive impact on getting #morewomenonbikes! We have some really great ideas and I can’t wait to get them going. We have found companies that believe in our mission, which is also very important!

Something that I could go on and on about is equal payout. It is so important that races do this. Epic Rides offers equal payout and their events are getting more and more popular. I try to only support races that offer equal payout. I had a Facebook post that was hot a month or so ago that discussed a race in Texas that offered the winning female HALF of the male winner. I was amazed that people actually defended it. Hopefully, we will continue to see more race director’s follow the Epic Rides model: EQUAL PAYOUT!

Overall, I believe that Southern California has a very supportive women’s scene but we can always get more women out. If we continue to be supportive and encouraging when we see women on bikes, I think that will help a lot. Also, I talk about cycling a lot at work. A lot of times women seem interested in it. If I can get even one woman on a bike by talking about my passion, I will consider that a win. As a pro, women can be intimidated to ride with me so when I attend no-drop rides I make sure that it is very clear that I am there to have fun and enjoy the ladies ride. Being approachable is definitely important to help get more women on bikes!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I have found so much happiness and joy from bikes and I want to help others feel the same way. I had two women in Sedona who were so great when I started riding bikes more (shoutout to Cory and Gina!!!) and it really helped me fall in love with cycling. I want to be like them: encouraging, positive, and passionate.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have 30 hours towards my private pilot license. I have landed a taildragger on a riverbed near the Knick Glacier in Alaska and performed a Hammerhead at Sean Tucker’s Aerobatics School in King City, CA. I hope to earn my license one day and miss flying so much!

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