Thursday, February 21, 2019

Thinking About a Full Suspension Bike? Read This!

Women's S-Works Epic 2018One of the hardest questions for me to answer is what style of mountain bike I like best.

It's difficult because my preferences sometimes change in a season! At this time I've found myself enjoying a Cross Country (XC) full suspension bike, my Specialized Epic. 100mm of travel front/rear keeps me planted while maintaining efficiency on climbs.

The majority of riding I do is in Decorah, Iowa where we have a wide array of XC style mountain bike trails. A goal of mine is to explore other areas/styles of mtb and in doing so, I'll have to explore other full suspension options to make it more fun/comfortable.

"Why full suspension?"
I've been on multiple styles of bikes with multiple wheel sizes, but the one bike setup that gave me the biggest confidence boost was a XC full suspension bike with 29" wheels. My first XC full suspension was a carbon Salsa Spearfish. Its suspension setup was a different style than the Epic as it was always "active" and I rarely ever shut it off. I got used to how it would compress on uphills and found that it gave me awesome traction on climbs (where some might find it cumbersome.)

I found the whole bike was able to compliment my riding style nicely. Sometimes I'm methodical and I'm riding at a slower pace and deliberately picking lines. When I'm bombing (in my mind) down a hill, I appreciate the give the back end has. It makes me feel more planted on the bike and that allows me to descend faster.

"How did it happen?"
My journey to owning a XC full suspension bike came from entering the Chequamegon 40 bike race. This was an event that several Decorah locals attended and most of them said that a full suspension bike was key to their success and comfort. The course is 40 miles of gravel and fire road- you'll have rocky descents that can be littered with large, rounded rocks. Depending on rain, you might have sizable ruts to contend with. It's not a smooth course, and 100mm of travel can give you just enough plushness to keep your body from totally hating you.

It's a long course, so you want a suspension setup that can be efficient rather than one that is too plush (think 130-150mm+). A fully rigid bike can be lightweight but can beat you up over the course. A hardtail has suspension in the front that can aid in comfort, but over the long haul, you might find your body fatigued.

At the time for bikes to choose from I had a Trek Cali Carbon SLX hardtail and a Trek Lush Carbon full suspension. Neither bike would be ideal for the course, and due to that, we decided to get a full suspension bike that would be a better choice.

"What do you ride?"
My first full suspension was a carbon Salsa Spearfish. That bike opened up my eyes to how fun a XC suspension bike could be compared to my fuller-travel Trek Lush Carbon. It was also my first time being on a full suspension bike where I would have 29" wheels. I found that the combination of wheel size and just enough plushness created my dream ride.

My current full suspension is my Specialized S-Works Epic. 
Here is my first review and follow up review on the Specialized Epic.

"What else can it do?"
You can ride XC-oriented full suspension bike on pavement and gravel comfortably. When I was riding 30-40+ miles of gravel on the Spearfish, I would lock out the rear shock but left the front open. If it looked like it would be a bit chunky on a downhill, I might open up the rear in order to feel more stable as I descended.

I have yet to ride the Epic out on gravel, but in terms of a setting for the Brain, I would likely set it 2 clicks in from the firmest setting. I don't mind a little give and have used that setting during my last mountain bike race where I was riding a 20-mile course mixed with pavement and gravel.
When I took the Epic down a gnarly trail in Decorah, I made sure to have the front and rear shocks fully open. It worked just fine for that adventure, but going down that trail with a more "trail" oriented bike wouldn't hurt. For the "once in a blue moon" ride down Backbone, it can definitely handle it.

"Why should I get one?"
I won't specifically say you should or shouldn't get a full suspension bike. I think it's a personal decision best made with test rides/demos/rentals. Besides, there are several styles of full suspension bikes out there and you will be the best judge on what will work best for you and where you want to ride.

At this time, the majority of where I ride is XC-oriented, so a bike that has more than a 120mm/100mm setup is likely going to feel heavy and boggy. However, because the goal is to do more traveling in the future and dip my toes into more of a downhill/flow scene with some rocks/drops, I'm starting to make the move on figuring out a setup that would have around 150mm of travel. Why? Because you would blow through shorter travel and that just isn't great for the shock(s) let alone feeling stable and planted.

I think a full suspension bike is a great option to take to other places because it can allow you to feel more confident with riding new/unknown trails. I prefer the feedback I receive riding my Specialized Epic on trails vs. a plus bike or fatbike. I like needling my way through roots/rocks and with a plus bike or fatbike I sometimes felt like I had too much bike to control and maneuver. 29" wheels with 2.3" tires make me feel in control and planted. Having a plush ride feel for XC descents (without the kickback a rigid fatbike or possible bounciness of a plus bike) is more comfortable for me. Time will tell how I like the Evo setup compared to the traditional Epic setup.

Not everyone would say a full suspension bike is the one bike to rule them all; it really depends what you are wanting to get out of your rides. Can a full suspension bike cushion your ride on singletrack? You bet. Can it go on gravels? Yes. Will it be as efficient as a hardtail? Not always. Will you find that to be an issue? Only you can decide.

Do you want to feel planted? Do you want to feel more comfortable over varied terrain without having a weight penalty of larger tires? Do you want a bike that could help you feel more confident on trails you haven't ridden before? Are you looking to feel more comfortable and have less fatigue during mountain bike rides/races? If you said yes to any of those, then looking at a full suspension bike might be a good idea.

There is a lot that goes into figuring out what kind of full suspension bike would best suit your needs.
Where you ride, how climb-intensive it is, and where you want to take the bike.
Not every bike is going to be absolutely perfect for every trail system nor will every full suspension bike be the best for races/longer rides. In the end, you may end up with multiple bikes depending on what you choose to do, or if you don't, choose something that will work the best for the majority of your riding.

"What wheel size?"
29" wheels vs. 27.5" wheels will be something you try out since not all brands will give you the option of one wheel size vs. the other. Between Trek and Specialized, I am only able to get 29" wheels with Specialized brand as Trek has gone to the "smart wheel size" concept by putting on the "fastest wheel that fits." 27.5" wheels are fun, but to make a bike more "multipurpose" for gravel or paved riding, I want the larger wheel size. I enjoy 27.5" wheels on mountain bike trails, but did not enjoy them so much for a long gravel ride.

For how I ride and the versatility I seek, I prefer 29" wheels most times. For me, they feel like powerhouses out on the trails while the 27.5" wheels feel more spritely. For the 150mm travel bike, my plan is to rock 27.5+ wheels so it has a similar standover of a 29" wheeled bike that has more tire footprint for questionable terrain. My thought is I'll be able to roll over obstacles easier and feel more stable when I'm riding down a trail fast. From what I've seen for the downhill riding we'd be exploring, it's fast and flowy, but you might have some rocks to roll over and small booters to "launch" off. It's not so much about technical line-picking (where I prefer smaller tires) as being able to keep yourself rolling with confidence, and the plus size tires sound like a great option for that.

"Is the cost worth it?"
That's a question I feel only you can answer. If riding a full suspension bike vs. the other mountain bike options out there feels best, then yes. However, many do not realize that owning a full suspension bike comes with responsibility. You should get your suspension serviced regularly, not once every 5+ years. If you wait until the fork or rear shock is barely functioning that could mean parts or rebuilding the suspension.

Not all bike shops service suspension in-house, so that means taking the shocks off and sending them in. Either way, servicing suspension costs money and it also means you are without a bike until it's done.

A fully rigid bike does not have that cost.
A hardtail has a front suspension fork which should get serviced, and that costs money.

How much do you value your comfort and overall ride experience? If you find a full suspension bike ticks off those boxes for you, then the cost is worth it. If the thought of maintenance beyond taking your bike in for a tuneup makes you cringe, then maybe it's not the right option at this time.

"Frame material?"
All in all, full suspension bikes are not inexpensive bikes. Throw carbon vs. aluminum into the picture and that price tag can go high quickly.

Do you need carbon?
Probably not.
It's light and has a way of absorbing bumps rather than aluminum frames. Carbon can create a very comfortable ride, plus I'll mention again that it's a lightweight material.
That means it can make it easier to lift/carry the bike plus you aren't pedaling around as much weight which could equal longer rides.

Folks worry a lot about breaking carbon. I have crashed plenty of times on a carbon bike and have yet to crack a frame. The best part is carbon can be fixed!

Aluminum can be fairly lightweight, but it won't have the same stiffness or compliance as a carbon bike would. One benefit with aluminum is it lets you spend more on the components vs. spending more on a carbon frame and not the components you want because carbon, in general, is more expensive.

You can always add carbon bits, like a seat post or handlebars to reduce weight. Go all out and get a sweet set of carbon wheels!

"Anything else?"
Getting a bike that can be set up tubeless (using sealant instead of tubes) out of the box is awesome. You reduce weight as well as reduce the likelihood of puncture flats. You can run lower PSI (air pressure) for a more supple/plush ride. However, if you plan to do a lot of gravel or road rides you might want to keep the tubes in so you can run firmer air pressures. Again, it's all about how you plan to use the bike.
2018 S-Works Epic Women's

As I've mentioned before, the best route to figure out if full suspension is the route you'd like to go is to ride bikes. 

There are many bike options out there and only you can really gauge which one would best suit your needs.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Emma Maaranen

Emma Maaranen here! I’m stoked to get to share a bit about my bike life with you. I am co-founder and athlete of KS-Kenda Women’s Elite MTB Team and, like many professional female athletes, I have a “real job” too.


I am a professor at Central Oregon Community College teaching in Allied Health (vocational medical programs). I maintain clinical hours in movement rehabilitation, coach amateur cyclists and lead personal or small group MTB skills clinics.


My social handle is @emmamaaranen



Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I’ve always liked going fast and pushing my comfort level. I enjoy activities where working on technical skills will make me better, instead of just being more fit or reckless. I will do almost anything to be outside, exploring new places, and sharing an adventure with a friend. Is there anything besides mountain biking that fits this bill?

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 a mountain bike, I was always “out with the guys” and felt I had to prove I could keep up to be invited to ride with them again. I’ve always been strong and stubborn so holding my own on the climbs was easy, but when pointed down I was death gripping my brakes or blasting through obstacles hoping that I would get to the end in one piece. This strategy often ended up in bruises and lacerations that further undermined my confidence. Riding scarred reinforced my bad habits. I went to Red Bull Rampage as a spectator that fall and took note. The riders had fluid body positions with weight over their bottom brackets and a steady focus on what was coming next. I was inspired, but at home, I just couldn’t move around much on my bike like they did. Enter the dropper post! With a newly installed KS Lev on my bike, I was able to move not just behind my saddle on descents, but to the sides for cornering and ahead to get my rear wheel off the ground. Suddenly I was riding my bike instead of being taken for a ride by it. I slowed down on descents to practice driving my bike fluidly and measured success by how well I used bike skills rather than keeping up.

You know what? Going slower was faster. I was able to adjust to terrain proactively; entering obstacles at a speed I felt was manageable kept me from braking in the thick of it (which is a cause of a lot of crashes) and that let me stay loose so I could react smoothly to bumps and skids. A steady tortoise is overall faster than a go-stop rabbit. And not being scared makes me smile. Long story short, a dropper seat post is a must have for any rider in my books.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I feel like a buzz-kill, but all aspects of technical riding I still find tricky. As my skills improve, I can ride more obstacles and with more speed. This just opens the door to bigger and more technically demanding terrain that sends me back to working on progressing my skills. I’m pretty sure the cycle is never-ending.

My home trails in Bend OR have had a very dry summer and many of our corners are deep moon dust right now. Recently, while railing a corner, my rear wheel got completely loose and I crashed into a tree (unhurt). As much as I didn’t want it to, this unnerved me. Coming into the next mystery traction corner I let fear drive and my cornering skills went out the window. I braked entering the corner, was heavy on my handlebars, was looking for powder pockets instead of my exit, and half-heartedly leaned my bike. Instead of getting frustrated that I’ve reverted into old habits, I picked one thing to nail on the next corner; dropping my speed well before I entered the corner to be off my brakes. A small task to improve my cornering feels doable and something I can sight improvement on. After a few comfortable corners, I’ve added another task to ride a corner well and my confidence is back. Telling myself to corner better or just saying I’m not riding this well today gets me nowhere. A small “to-do” item is attainable, and success brings more success.
Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Clips. I first flung my leg over a mountain bike with clips and I am as aware of them as I am of wearing bike shorts. I’m comfortable. I am confident. Is one better than the other? I doubt it. They each have advantages and disadvantages. Ride what you like.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Don’t go for your first ride with your significant other or your “expert” friend!

Most communities have bike shops with women’s groups. These groups often have rides for beginners with a leader who is knowledgeable in helping first-timers. The shop will put you on a fun and safe bike that is fit to you, and the ride will be on appropriate terrain with a community of women with the same concerns as you. You will make friends with other new riders, be on a solid bike, and start your mtb riding out with good habits!

You had a substantial accident several years ago, how did you deal with the mental/physical challenges? What helped you overcome?
I won’t share the details or the gore of the MTB accident I was in, but I was profoundly injured and went through two years of medical procedures to save my left lower leg and foot. Very early in my recovery I understood I could be defined by my accident and live in a holding pattern or I could use the accident as a springboard to grow from. I chose the latter, and this meant that I would have to become a mountain biker. I began my journey by not acting as a victim of fate or circumstance, but taking a look at the pieces of ownership I could have that contributed to my accident. The truth was, I was riding at a speed that was at the top of my ability level because the trail was labeled easy/ green. I was a strong and fit athlete, but not a seasoned or skilled bike handler. I believed that if someone else could do it, I should be able to as well; not giving credit to the experience and specific work that the other rider/ person has done. As soon as I shifted my mental space to taking responsibility, it became obvious what I would need to do to get back on my bike with confidence. When I was approved for weight-bearing activity, I got on my bike in a grassy park and practiced beginner bike drills I found online and in publications. Soon I was taking bike handling clinics and doing drills on mellow mtb terrain. I started to ride easy and familiar trails with friends and embraced that I would be riding my pace and walking any terrain I was uncomfortable with to ensure I was set up for success. By the time I was mentally ready to ride challenging rides from my pre-accident life, my technical bike handling skills became a mental process I applied to ride anything, not leaving room for me to fixate over what-if’s or engage in negative self-talk. I eventually returned to the trail where I had my accident, not putting pressure on myself to ride the part where I had crashed, but just to honor what had happened and how I had grown from the experience. At some point, during the ride, my friend and I stopped to have a snack and she asked where my accident had been. I said we should be getting to it soon and scanned the horizon. Behind us, on the trail we had already ridden was the site. I had transformed myself into an engaged rider and rode the section without even noticing it was the fated spot! Not that I don’t have fears, crashes, injuries, or encounter obstacles that I choose to walk; but I know I will make ride choices that are right for me and this is the secret to loving and progressing as a mountain biker.

What was your inspiration to start participating in mountain bike events?
This surprises people, but I went to my first race the same year I got back on my bike post-accident. I was hoping to meet some strong female riders to ride with and mentor me in becoming a better cyclist. I didn’t care at all about the race itself, I was on a mission to make a biking date. It turned out that I loved the mtb race, made plans to ride with another lady the next day, and signed up for the entire race series as well.

What helped you make the decision to race in the elite field?
I personally do not put much weight into where I finish in a race, but how I am able to use my strengths strategically and adapt to situations. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing when I land on the podium and I take every start-line gunning for the top spot. However, I enjoy the chaos of a pack of riders, making alliances with other riders for mutual gain, and having friendly rivalry on the course that pushes both of us to go just a little harder. For this, you need a large field. Large fields in Women’s XC racing is found in the Elite category so I petitioned for a USAC Pro upgrade as soon as I could.

What were you surprised to learn when you started racing elite?
Pro women mountain biker’s discount how amazing they are. It’s not that they are sand-bagging their abilities but exist in a culture that does not celebrate women cyclists’ accomplishments. The message often heard is that she is good, but… This should create a culture of secrecy, selfishness, and maligned intentions as Elite women scrap for recognition, sponsorship, and opportunity. Amazingly, most of the women embrace and mentor those new “to the club”, generously share resources, and wholeheartedly celebrate other successes even in their own defeat. Yeah, these women are amazing, and it’s no small thing to be one of the best female riders in the country, even if you are ranked 75th! (Number of ranked Pro XC Women in the USA for 2018.)
Tell us about your favorite event!
Just one? I love stage racing and did the Quebec Singletrack Experience this year. It was amazing! Everything was taken care of once I got to Quebec City, each day’s stage featured almost exclusively single track that was among the best in the province, the event fostered a community of riders who I am still in touch with, and the locals could not wait to show off their city. I’m taking my KS-Kenda Women’s Elite Teammates with me next year! You should come too.

Why should folks participate in at least one event?
For every rider, there is a multitude of gains to be had by participating in a cycling event. I have a global reason to entice women to participate in an event. For women to be seen and treated equally, we have to show up! If we don’t participate because we are afraid of being the only woman there, some other woman will be the only one. If we are afraid we are not good enough, that fear will make it so. If we feel it’s a male-dominated sport, we are letting it be by not showing up. Please, show up!

What do you love about riding your bike?
Do you remember when you got your first bike? You were probably like me, a very young kid who was limited by needing others to take you places. The bike was your first real step to independence. Suddenly you could ride over to Jenny’s house to play, watch one more cartoon before going to school because it was way faster to pedal than walk, and you could take the short-cut behind Grumpy McGregors house knowing you could sprint away faster than he could catch you. Bikes are still that generator of independence for me, offering freedom to explore and simplicity to just be me.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a stable of Pivot bikes. I’m spoiled I know! Let me introduce you to them.

Melanie Z. (last name omitted to protect the not-innocent) is named after the “mean girl” in grade school. Melanie Z. is a Pivot Mach429SL. She is my go-to bike for riding with friends, racing XC and stage races. Her geometry is trail friendly and playful unlike most XC bikes. I ride and race full suspension: it gives me traction on loose/technical climbs, Pivot Cycles are designed not to bob on climbs so they are as efficient as a hardtail, are fun and forgiving to rip downhill on, and let me recover descending unlike on a hardtail. For XC I prefer 29” wheels because they are simply faster rolling than smaller diameter wheels. This year I moved to Shimano Di2 1x11 drivetrain. It gives me a huge advantage when I need to go from a very small to a tall gear in one pedal stroke like at the bottom of a descent that reveals an instant steep climb. A KS Dropper post is non-negotiable for me as I mentioned earlier. And Kenda Honey Badger tires never let me down on any terrain I encounter.

Baby Back is my “big bike.” Named so because she is large and in charge. She is a Pivot Firebird with 170mm travel to devour big lines and go skyward with ease. I like to ride this bike on obstacles that are heady to give me confidence and when learning new skills. Baby Back is forgiving when I’m short on a double, overshoot a table-top and am riding big drops. It also lets me work on my reactions with increasing speed. All of these transfers to my XC riding, and honestly this bike is silly fun to play on.

Raksasha is the bike I ride when I’m not hitting the trails. She is a Pivot Vault that I swap CX, gravel, and road wheels on. I’ve raced CX and TT on this bike. It’s great to have one bike that is so versatile; this is why she is proudly named after the mythological shape-shifter.

Enzo, named after the Italian race car driver who was famous for sliding sideways through corners, is my fat bike. I will ride in almost any condition before I’ll get on a trainer! This bike is not just fun in the snow, but at the beach and sand dunes too.

And then there is Training Weight. This steel framed, triple ringed road bike has logged more miles than any other and has been in my life since college. I commute everywhere him. He weighs more than Melanie Z.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
When you read magazines, see videos, advertisements, etc. it makes MTB look like a gnarly high-risk sport where dudes grunt, glory is had only in being a beast who thrives on suffering, and you need a graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering to begin talking about bikes. I’m often surprised there are as many women mountain biking as there are they are given this. Women, in general, thrive in a supportive community where mentorship naturally occurs. I am seeing more and more of this for women new to the sport; but there are few communities for women who want to race at the top level, ride the most challenging terrain, or are industry leaders and innovators. I believe this is a large component for reduced female entries at races, a paucity of women at bike parks, and few women in leadership roles in the industry. Tackling this is a goal for myself and my co-founding KS-Kenda Women’s Elite Teammates, Nikki Peterson and Jen Malik. We hope to create a place where aspiring mtb racing women can find community and support to pursue a professional cycling career. We have plans in the next few years to have a mentoring “team” for amateur women and are becoming involved with the industry as business women. Our success in our first year has been more than we dreamed and is prompting other women to band together and form teams for 2019.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
See more women out there! Even if the numbers are less, prizes and support/ sponsorship opportunities need to be equal. If there are only a few women visible, it is intimidating to other women to join in. Often the women who are leaders have downplayed their femininity to be taken seriously. Acknowledge women are a different demographic than men but are equal in buying power, ability, and importance.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Biking is a platform for unlimited growth in all facets of life. If I know something is awesome, I want to share it with everyone!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
In the spirit of promoting women’s accomplishments in cycling, I will share that I am the second person in my family to be a USAC National Champion: my dad, Steve Maaranen, as a track cyclist and myself on the fat bike. Dad also went to the Olympics. If only fat biking would be an event at Beijing 2022…

Monday, February 11, 2019

Women Involved Series: Angela Brooks

I’ve been riding bikes since I was very young. I remember thinking how awesome I was because I could ride my bike while standing on the pink banana seat and not falling. My parents bought me my first 21 speed Schwinn race bike when I was 11 and I would ride 30 miles with my dad from Illinois to Wisconsin on many occasions.

I started coaching biking over 20 years ago while working for a summer camp. They had a fleet of mountain bikes and I became the “go to” for bikes. I would take a dozen 11-13-year-old kids out every day on our local gravel trails and teach them trail etiquette and basic riding techniques. In the last 10 years, my passion has focused on single track riding and coaching women and kids. I became a certified International Mountain Bike (IMBA) ICP level 2 coach which has given me a vocabulary allowing me to explain the techniques I already use.

I started coaching with our local HS MTB Team and became a certified National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) coach, level 3, and I joined the National & Wisconsin Mountain Bike Patrol.

I enjoy camping and biking all around the US but my home state is Wisconsin where the trails change from lush and green to slick and icy. I am not afraid to bundle up and ride all winter long, even in 6" of snow covered ice. Want to join me?

In 2018 I signed up for my first mountain bike race series (Wisconsin Off-Road Series, WORS) and placed 1st in my age group in every race I participated in. I coach for Grit Clinics. I am a community leader for Vida MTB.

I actively encourage women on bikes by organizing and running my Women on Wheels Mountain Bike Camps and work hard to instill a passion for biking in kids as a high school MTB coach.
Next year my goal is to host my 3rd Women on Wheels MTB Camp in Southern WI and a Girls and Guys weekend MTB retreat in the area.

When I am not on my bike you will find me cheering on my 3 daughters in their MTB races or busy planning another “Adventure with Angela”. My day job is video production.

On FB and Instagram you can find info for the camps at WoWMTBCamp.

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!”
I started teaching “mountain biking” to middle schoolers at a summer camp in my early 20s. This was simply riding a bike on gravel trails. It was not risky, and it was not technical. But it was fun and exhilarating.

During that time I met my future husband. He loved the fact that I had a Giant mountain bike. I think that is part of the reason he fell for me. ;) He convinced me to try his style of biking, single-track. He took me to a place called Petrifying Springs in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

I was a confident lady. I thought sure, I can do this, I can do anything. Wow, was I in for a rude awakening! I thought he was trying to kill me on our first couple of dates. I had never done that kind of riding. There were 10-foot cliffs inches from my tires and looming trees inches from my head.

It scared me for sure but also amazed me. We continued riding until I became pregnant. He and I became busy with marriage and family quickly and pregnancy and biking don’t go well together. It wasn't until my youngest child was about five that I got on the single tracks again.

I was out of shape and practice after the 8-year hiatus and I remember one of the first times out we went to an easier trail in Kettle Moraine. He was so excited to get me back on the trails. I had a newer bike by then and was ready to go too. Matt assured me it would be an easy and short ride. 12 miles into that “easy ride” (I was ready to be done at 6) I was exhausted and I was done. It was hot, muggy and the mosquitoes were on a mission to kill. I remember coming up to another hill and giving up, on life. I crumbled to the ground crying and surrendered to the mosquitoes. I was DONE. He had to carry my bike up the hill and sweet talk me out of the woods.

What made me fall in love with biking was a combination of several things. I love being outside and in the woods. I love conquering my fears and I love spending time with my husband. Biking, when I wasn’t being eaten alive, made me feel alive. It gave me confidence that I could balance my body on 2 wheels and ride over roots or rocks or not fall off cliffs. He took me to some challenging places but they were beautiful and he was a good and patient teacher.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Mosquito spay! Lifting my wheel. Rocks and roots that were too big to roll scared me. I had to get off my bike and walk them. Once I upgraded to a full suspension I learned to “bounce” on my bike. I love “bouncing” on my bike. Learning to and practicing, load and lift, helped my grasp and conquer rocks and roots.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I have a hard time with skinnies that are both, taller than 6” and skinnier than 6”. I cannot get out of my head to ride them. I want to so I try whenever I find one I try. I usually can get my bike on it then I chicken out and put a foot down. It’s frustrating for me but for now, I’m ok with it. I’ll keep practicing and then I ride around it, glaring at it.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Don’t start too hard and stay within your comfort zone. If you are not ready to ride something on the trail walk it. Walk your bike over it to feel it and understand that your bike will go over anything. Watch your bike roll over it.

Find a good teacher. I became so much better with Matt, my husband, helping me ride features. He would show me how to do it then encourage me to try. It was as simple as him standing next to a rock garden assuring me he would catch me if….. I didn’t ride it right. Sometimes he did catch me. Most of the time I was able to ride it just knowing he was there.

Check Facebook for local riding groups. I have found that mountain bikers are some of the most incredible people. I have encountered the most amazing people while riding my bike. I have found a group of women that support each other while riding and encourage each other to ride. Some of them are my best friends. I have also gotten some of my older friends addicted to biking now.

If you don’t have someone, find a coach. It is worth paying to learn the basics of riding. Balance, position, techniques are all real things on a bike. Learn why riders move their bodies the way they do on bikes. Having a great vocabulary and understanding the reasons for positions on bikes helps TREMENDOUSLY.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Flats on my MTB, clips on my road bike. I can do anything on my bike on flats that I can do clipped in. Its all in the technique. I jump, wheelie, and lift my bike. I’ll never be a leg model but I’m ok with that too.
I like being able to put a foot down when attempting a feature without thinking about how to get it out.

On my road bike, I like the power of the clips.

Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Biffs are part of the sport. My legs are scared, I almost always have a huge bruise somewhere on my body. I tore my ear and needed stitches. I wrenched my ankle so badly that I couldn’t ride for 1/2 a year. I definitely have become gun-shy in places that I have spilled and it takes me some time to mentally get over it so I take that time until I am confident to ride it again.

The thing about riding is I love the thrill. It's my drug and it’s healthy for me.

Tell us about your experience racing in the WORS series, what has it been like and has there been a favorite?
I have been telling my husband that I wanted to try racing for the past 6 or so years but I never got the courage because I didn’t want to do it alone. Last year some of my biking girls encouraged me to try a race. I liked it. This year they encouraged me to join a team and race the series. I am so glad I did. I’ve met even more awesome people and I proved to myself that I can do it; I can race my bike!
Racing has pushed me to ride more and think about my techniques. I am a 43-year-old woman and I am racing a mountain bike! And, I’m winning. With the exception of one race when someone crashed into my bike, snapped my derailleur hanger, and took me out of the race, I won first in my age group! Most races I ranked in the top 10 women in my category. I’m pretty proud of that.

My favorite was the WORS Cup. It was fast and flowing and had a lot of single track. I am much better on downhill and single track than I am climbing hills.

For those who are on the fence about participating in a cycling event, do you have any tips or suggestions?
Sign up for a local event with the mindset that you are going to finish. Bring a friend to cheer you on. Don’t think about winning or being good at it. Just get out, ride your bike, and finish. That will tell you if you like it. That will tell you if you want to do it again.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the freedom I have when riding my bike. I love the control I have over this amazing machine with 2 wheels. I love being in the woods and hearing the sounds of nature. I love seeing wildlife. I love the thrill of flying through the woods and feeling the wind on my face, the plants brushing my legs and the rocks, dirt, and roots under my wheels. I love that I move so fast that I can’t think about anything else except what's ahead in the next 20 feet or few seconds. I love that it clears my mind.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Before I became an addict. (to bikes) I did not understand why my husband would obsess over all the different bikes he wanted. I would ask him, why do you need another bike? You can’t ride more than one at a time….. I get it now. I won’t admit it to him but I get it.

I have 5 bikes at the moment. My newest and favorite is a Trek Fuel EX 9.8. It is beautiful! Its purple, orange and neon yellow! I call it my unicorn. It’s a full suspension and it flies over everything! It is magical!

For several years I rode a fat bike exclusively. I loved it and learned so much on my hard-tail Farley Fat Bike. It’s a radiant neon green bike with many stickers and purple accents. I have multiple tires for different riding. It's fast in spite of it's fatness. It has made winter enjoyable for me. I used to dread winter before I fat-biked; now I look forward to winter and snow. I will race that bike this winter.

I have a Domane road bike which I use when the trails are too wet to ride or just want to go really fast.

My last bikes are for fun. One we found in the trash. It's a fire-engine red Felt Indian beach cruiser. My husband geared it for me. We put fenders, baskets, chopper handlebars and a bell on it for when we go on our fun beer rides. It's a very cool bike. I don’t know why anyone would through it away! One man’s trash……

The last one is hanging in my house as a decoration. It’s another cruiser that I retired when I started using the Felt.

What inspired you to become a certified coach?
I have been teaching in some form most of my life. I have my master’s in teaching; it is part of who I am. Several years ago I participated in a women’s mtb clinic and had a blast. I loved that there were opportunities for me to be taught and knew, if I became a great and confident rider, that it was something I would enjoy. It was after that clinic that I decided I wanted to have my own clinic. It took some time to pull together and friends to encourage and volunteer their time. I decided that to make it a successful clinic that I needed some formal training. It was then that I enrolled in the, then, IMBA, bike certification class near me. I loved it and learned so much! The course gave me a vocabulary and reasons explaining many of the biking techniques I was already practicing.

Any tips or suggestions for those who are thinking about becoming certified?
Just do it. It’s a bit expensive but well worth the education! You will become a better rider whether you use the certification to teach or not.

You coach for your local NICA league- tell us what you enjoy about the NICA program and why you feel it's beneficial-
This is another opportunity for me to teach! I love working with older kids and watching them change as they build confidence on their bikes. It has been life-changing for many of the athletes on the team. It is truly awesome!

NICA offers students the opportunity to be part of something outside the normal curricular sports. Football, cheer, basketball, volleyball…..they are great sports. They are fun and exciting but you have to be good to get on the teams. And, when college is over if you got on the college team, for most kids the sport ends and you don’t participate anymore.

Mountain biking is a life-long sport. There are no try outs to get on the team. They team members aren’t sitting on the bench watching their teammates win or lose the game. They don’t have to race if they don’t want to. They can be on the team and learn and ride.

Kids are in the race because they want to ride their bike and become a better rider. They do their best on the course and everyone, including the other teams, support their efforts and cheers them on. Winning a race is a bonus to the fun of being in the woods with dozens of your peers.

Parents are encouraged to participate. Becoming a coach is easy and you simply need to know how to ride a bike (not even well but you learn a lot listening to the coaching of the kids). As a level one coach, you can ride with the kids at practice. You can ride with the kids during the race. You are there watching your kid succeed at something challenging and fun.

2017 was my first year coaching. I was amazed to see how the 20+ kids on the team supported each other. From seniors in HS to 6th graders, all of them got along and had an amazing time with each other. All of the kids came back and kept in touch offseason. We had several off-season team parties. This year is 4 months in and the team is 2x bigger and the dynamic is the same. Every kid includes every other and they all have a blast together. We camped for most of the races and the team became a family.

Tell us how you became involved with VIDA MTB and what you enjoy about the program-
I don’t do a lot with VIDA right now but I have been coaching with GRIT Clinics for about a year. I can tell you about that.

I found GRIT Clinics by chance. I was researching mountain bike coaching and came across their website. After checking it out I decided I wanted to be part of them. It is hard to find coaches in the Midwest. There are some but its not easy to find them. Most of the coaching companies are west. But MTB has been growing in the Midwest for years and I figured they could connect me with people looking to learn. I sent them my credentials and they put me on their website. Several people have found me through them and I have had a BLAST teaching with them.
Tell us about the Women on Wheels Camps and what they are all about!
Women on Wheels Camps are my way to encourage more women on bikes. The goal is just that. Women teaching other women confidence on their bikes. They are open to any level of rider but focus on the beginners and intermediate riders. We teach proper biking techniques including, balance, braking, shifting, and riding features. Our camps build confidence in women riders so they are not afraid to try new features and new trails. Our camps build friendships and relationships.
The last 2 have been very successful! The feedback has been great! I look for trail systems that can accommodate 40-60 women on open space and on the trails. I find sponsors that are willing donate fun biking goodies and support my mission. The bike shops love it as do local businesses.
We have fun and we ride!

With so many programs out there for women to attend, what inspired you to create your own program?
I love teaching and I love riding. I looked for clinics in my area and found very few. As a married mom of 3, it is hard to justify spending a lot of money on myself or leaving my family for days at a time traveling to far off places for pleasure. That is what inspired me to host my own women’s camp. I wanted something fun, educating, and exciting near me. I wanted to meet more like-minded women who were interested in riding bikes.

Because I have taught riding skills before, and because I have been riding for so long and have built my confidence on a bike, and because I LOVE to teach things I am passionate about I decided to start Women on Wheels Mountain Bike Camps.

You recently started a new venture with your husband, Brooks Adventures- tell us about it!
Brooks Adventures is our way to share our passion with people that want to try new experiences. We are opening up our private trails and encourage more people to ride bikes and snowshoe in the woods. We hope that this venture will be exciting to people in our area. This is a great way to build on what I have done already with the WoW MTB Camps. We hope to build on what we know how to do and take the adventures on the road to other trails throughout the midwest. Dream big right?

What was the inspiration for a fatbike-focused rental business?
My husband and I love teaching, we love biking and we love being outdoors. We heard from many of the parents on the high school mountain bike team that they and their kids want to ride all year round. We hear from non-bikers that they are curious about the bikes with the “big” wheels. We hear from summer riders that they would love to “try” riding a fat-bike.

Bikes are expensive and who knows if you will even like the sport of riding in the snow. Buying another type of bike is very expensive. And buying more than one bike for every person in the family is unrealistic.

We live a mile and 1/2 from groomed winter fat-bike trails and fat-bike races are all around us. We know more people will participate if they have the opportunity to borrow a bike. Because of our proximity to these trails we thought “Hey, why don’t we buy a couple extra and offer them as rentals?" We have top of the line, new fat-bikes for rent that come equipped with bar-mitts and lights for night riding. Along with fat-bikes we are going to offer snowshoe rentals in the near future.

Can you tell us about the lessons you'll offer? Who are they for?

We will be offering courses and clinic like MTB 101 - Where Do I Start, which will include the basics of biking from balance to braking and how to use a bike on the trails. Snow Biking 101 will teaching participants what they need to know about riding in the snow. There are so many things we have learned from riding in winter over the past 6 years that will make snow biking more appealing to summer bikers and those that haven’t tried riding in the snow. We will give information on bike maintenance from tire pressure to what clothing to wear.

We had 2 classes scheduled in December, Snow Biking 101 - What You Need To Know, one for anyone and one for women. We also have 5 social rides- Fatty Rides that we are hosting at Silver Lake Park in Salem, WI, our local trails. Our lessons were open to everyone interested in trying out this new sport. That incuded kids 8 and up!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
The fear of dying, the fear of failing, the fear of being pushed too hard, and the intimidation of riding with men. So many women tell me things like, “I could never do that (mountain bike) I would get hurt or die.” “ Sure I can ride a bike but I’m so clumsy I would break something if I tried to ride over a that.” “I have ridden with my SO and it was too hard, I can’t do what they do.
Fear is a huge deterrent. We women don’t want to look silly trying something we are not confident about. We can’t afford to get hurt when we have families or work that depend on us. I think women are generally less likely to be risk-takers. Taking a risk, like riding 2 wheels in the woods, is really scary if you don’t know how to do it or don’t have a good teacher. Some of these fears are warranted but mostly they can be overcome.

Mountain biking can be as risky as you make it. I don’t know anyone that is going to “Red-Bull Rampage” off a cliff the first time they go out riding or even ride over a log if they are uneasy about it.

Bikes are machines. I think that can be intimidating too. Many women leave the mechanics to the guys. That are so many different elements to what makes a bike a good bike. Weight, brakes, suspension, gearing…. Yikes! It’s like buying a car but at least we learn about cars in commercials or school from a very young age. I didn’t know, until my husband explained it to me, that bikes need maintenance. Many women don’t know how or don’t want to learn how to maintain a bike or what makes a good bike. That can be overwhelming. I spent months researching the bike I have now. My other bikes I either bought because that was what was in the store and it looked good or my husband bought for me. It's a lot to learn and we often don’t have time to learn another machine so we don’t.
What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
This one is tough to answer. I think it could be as simple as having more women working in bike shops and more bike shops offering free or inexpensive ride clinics and bike maintenance to women who are interested in trying it and -prettier bikes-. Usually, when I walk into a bike shop it is a sea of black, grey and dull colors. BORING! Black bikes, black shoes, black clothes. I like color!

Knowing someone or finding a bike shop that will help teach women the basics without overwhelming them and finding a way to make it less intimidating is invaluable. Having bikes appealing to women (color) with information easy for a novice to understand would be helpful and having enthusiastic women in the shop would be encouraging.

I think it also needs to start with younger girls. Girls need to know this is a sport for anyone that loves to ride a bike. This is why I LOVE NICA. High School mountain biking is growing throughout the US and more girls are trying it out, loving it and winning! They are learning that they can jump their bikes, ride wheelies and ride fast; just like the boys. They can wear their hair in ponytails and put on makeup still but be really bad-ass kicking up dirt and finishing a race dirty. And even better then that is that NICA encourages the parents to participate as coaches! The moms can learn with their kids. Because it really is all about riding a bike.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
It's purely selfish. I just want more ladies to ride with. ;) Helping them learn cool stuff like jumping or riding awesome features and seeing their confidence grow is icing on the cake.

What inspires you to encourage your daughters to ride?
I know how it feels to be one of the only girls in my group of friends, or my husband’s group, that knows how to ride well and wants to ride. I love the feeling of being able to outride the boys. It's a huge confidence booster. I want my girls to be confident and I feel that if they know they can do something as challenging as riding their mountain bikes up and down hills in a rock and root infested woodland and come out unscathed and exhilarated they know they can do anything.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
My favorite color is purple and my nickname as a girl was Angeklutz.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Growth Comes From Uncomfortable

Uncomfortable.
It's a word that actually feels the way that it sounds when it rolls off the tongue. The instant you say it, you want to take it back- because who wants to feel that way?

Why is being uncomfortable something that exists? Why do we actually need to embrace the uncomfortable?

What? Embrace being uncomfortable?
Yes.



In 2018 I had to deal with a lot of life stuff that no one wants to deal with. I had to deal with the shocking and tragic loss of my father, I had to immerse myself in tasks that my anxiety-prone self abhorred, and I had to experience a lack of #bikelife. 

My life felt very uncomfortable.
I didn't feel like I knew who I was anymore. Everything that I would say defined me as a person fell away from me like bark falling off a dead tree. Bare and raw. I encountered feelings of depression, suffocating sadness, and anger.

I also found a gentler side of me.
I knew that I had to take better care of myself physically and mentally. It meant that I had to be kind to myself and not beat myself up over the lack of bike rides or when I felt like I fell short on general life stuff. I had to let myself feel grief and accept that it would be involved in my life for longer than I'd wish. I'd have the hurt feeling in my heart and it would simply be part of me.

I discovered strength.
For someone who absolutely hates making phone calls, especially when it's not for conversation, I found that I could do it better than I thought.
Once you have all of the facts in front of you- the social security number, policy number, etc. it isn't so impossible. Thankfully, even with the most challenging insurance policy, I did find someone who was willing to give me answers.

I dealt with numerous setbacks and challenges. At first, it would frustrate me, because it felt like things were mocking my situation. Eventually, I was able to take it all in stride and find a dose of humor along with the feeling of relief that my dad wouldn't have to figure out how to take care of all that crap.

I lived a whirlwind of a year in 2018 and I have a hard time believing that year truly existed. It did, but it was filled with so much that I feel like I really didn't have a life that year. Everything was on hold, other than the situation at hand, and that situation was the very definition of uncomfortable.

That discomfort permeated my life, and it brought up thoughts and feelings that I did not want to have. It also gave me a new sense of passion for wanting to make the most out of my current life.

2018 gave me:
Pain
Sorrow
Depression
Frustration
More anxiety
Focus
Knowledge (because when you have to deal with something you've never done before, you get a boatload of knowledge.)
Courage
Hope
Love
Motivation
Patience
Appreciation

Life before the loss was pretty alright. I was content and life seemed to be running like a well-oiled machine in most areas.
I was dealing with chronic shoulder/neck discomfort on a regular and feeling frustrated about it, but a solution seemed impossible, but I was determined not to let it drag me down.
Travis and I were happily dreaming of our next Disney trip for our 5 year anniversary.
I was strategizing all of the rides I'd be hosting.
I was planning out my attempt at trying to legitimately train for the season.
I was thinking about our bathroom remodel.
Life would consist of working, riding, writing, eating, and sleeping. 
Pretty good.

After the loss, I had to accept that I would have to do things that made me uncomfortable. Simply willing it to go away wouldn't work. Trying to wake up from a dream that wasn't happening wouldn't work. It was reality and it was rough. 

Growth happens from being uncomfortable. Your life is a garden that you tend to with pulling weeds, giving it nourishment, watering it, and harvesting. The storm (situations/experiences) is something that uproots everything you lovingly planted. Roots are ripped and torn apart, everything seems strewn around in chaos. Healing is replanting and/or tending to what remains in your garden. You reinforce things and make adjustments. All is not lost, it's just a mangled mess, but it's something that can come back better than it was when you started.

As great as life seemed, I had put a lot of my needs on the backburner.
I let fear of the unknown about my shoulder take away my desire to look into it further. I didn't want to spend time and money to be told that I pretty much was "built wrong" and I'd have to deal with it.
I let my goals for FWD get in the way of actually giving me room to breathe and have a life. I was going to fill up my plate and not have room to really do anything that I might want to do without feeling like it would be out of obligation rather than enjoyment.
I was going to (per usual) tell myself that going on a mountain bike trip would be great, but I shouldn't because I felt like it would be too much for my anxiety to handle. (Even tho I would really like to go and think it would be a great learning experience.)
I wasn't going to apply for an opportunity to be an ambassador, because I didn't feel as tho I would bring enough to the table.

After my dad died, I became uncomfortable.
I was uncomfortable with the loss.
I was uncomfortable with how I felt he had missed out on years.
I was uncomfortable with my new responsibilities. I wasn't ready for this. I didn't know what his wishes were for everything. I worried I'd do something wrong.
I was uncomfortable with my own life. I could die tomorrow. The accident reinforced the whole idea that you could be doing something you've done successfully for years, and in one moment everything can change.

Would I be happy with life?

I realized that staying comfortable can be detrimental. Staying comfortable doesn't inspire growth or change. I realized that I had more in life I wanted to experience. I made a promise to myself that 2019 would be better. I would take chances, seek out opportunity, and go on adventures. I might feel scared or anxious at times, but ultimately, I'll be doing something positive for my personal growth. Life is far too short to keep saying "no" to everything that (while being super new and scary) can be so much fun.

So far for 2019 I have...
Said yes to a summer vacation with Travis.
Started Physical Therapy for my shoulder (and have seen improvement, tho it'll be a long road ahead.)
Said yes to a biking adventure trip.
Said yes to being a Specialized USA Ambassador.
Said yes to leading rides, but also giving me time to do what I want to do.
Had a sweet Josie's Bike Life/Fearless Women of Dirt business card made.
Grown FWD with more Midwest chapters.
Overseen the build of a kick-ass new bike that I know my dad would want me to have.
Said it's time for a bathroom remodel.

Even tho I have said yes to a good number of new things, that does not mean that it's a comfortable yes. Some of these "yeses" are going to push my boundaries, but in order to grow and live a true life, I've got to. Here is to saying yes, doing more for myself, and being uncomfortable. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Bonnie Gagnon

My passion is in off-road riding - mountain biking, bikepacking and fatbiking. My favorite places to ride are in forests and over mountains. There is nothing like being enveloped in the beauty of nature!

In addition to riding, I enjoy writing and taking photographs along the trails. It is my hope that in sharing these experiences with others, that I might inspire or encourage someone to venture out on a bike as well.

When I'm not out adventuring, I am working as an analyst, deep diving into Cyber Security, and building up my company Virtual Trail Ride.


At Virtual Trail Ride we take 360-degree videos of trails anywhere in the US and abroad and turn them into VR videos that others can use to check out a trail or use for motivation while riding on their bike trainer. Best of all, I have four amazing kids who make me proud every single day.

A lot of people are familiar with my backstory in which I was diagnosed with Lemierre's Syndrome in late 2010. I went from finishing my first Ironman triathlon to staring into the eyes of my surgeon in the ICU a month later and being told I might not live. The bacteria had not only severely damaged my lungs but had also harbored itself in my lower back and ate through part of my intestines, my uterus, and my appendix. I underwent several life-saving surgeries before finally being sent home without assurance I would live. More important than my backstory is my comeback story. We all go through trials, sicknesses. and hurdles that may seem overwhelming or insurmountable at the time, but those times in our lives do not define us. They are more like transition points. Our comeback story is of far more value - how we overcome what we encounter; what our attitude is like; how we use our experiences to improve our lives and help those around us. That is the story I am writing today, and every day, as I give life my best.

My bike life includes riding from my house to places I've never been before - whether that's a nearby city or to the next state. What better way to get to know your surroundings than to experience it by bike! My favorite adventures include riding and hiking in Colorado, and the Tour Divide. A race along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR). I have spent several summers in Leadville, where the elevation will challenge even the fittest athletes, but the scenery pays off in huge dividends. In 2016 I had the pleasure of racing the Tour Divide for the first time. It is a 2745 mile race that starts off in Banff, Canada and goes up and over the Continental Divide more than 30 times to the finish line at the Mexico border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. It is off-road and completely self-supported, meaning you have to carry everything you need - from a sleeping bag and tent - to your food and water. No outside assistance is allowed. It was a blast! I am currently preparing to race it again this June and if all goes well, I will be taking along my 360-degree camera to film the entire course. After that, I am hoping to take two weeks off with my family before preparing for the Marji Gesick. I hope to ride the new ~3000 mile Wild West Route created by Bikepacking Roots which starts at the Canadian border and serpentines its way to Mexico, west of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, next year. Lots of adventure ahead of me and I could not be more excited! Lastly, I am working on my book "Taking Down the Giant" which is about my experience on the Tour Divide. I also have a few surprise guest contributors that have shared some great stories for the book. 

I can be found on Facebook at:  https://www.facebook.com/ bonnie.gagnon77
Tell us about the introduction to mountain biking and how it influenced you from then on-
In 2010 I went for my first mountain bike ride. I had an old $75 bike from Target that was meant for easy road riding around the neighborhood. I pulled up to a local mountain bike trail – Lebanon Hills – and yanked that sexy machine off the back of my car, ready for action. I ended up on the intermediate loop – going through a few rock gardens, over log piles, and nearly the bodies of fellow riders while I quickly learned that I had no idea what I was doing. I crashed multiple times, felt completely out of my element and told the friend whom had met me there that I hated it. But there was something about the beauty – being immersed in nature and the aroma of the trees, that the allure to come back usurped even the swarm of mosquitoes I was covered in. I returned by myself the next day, determined to learn how to navigate the trail. I did not care how many times I crashed or that I had zero coordination. I wanted to be right back in the middle of nature. Due to training for my first Ironman, as well as having a serious illness that was developing in my lungs at that time, I did not come back to the trail for a year, but when I did I realized there was no other place I would rather be on my bike, so I gave up road cycling and embraced a permanent passion for off-road riding.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
On my very first mountain bike ride, I learned that I am a lot less coordinated that I thought - I turned too tight and fell over, went over the bars multiple times, couldn’t climb to save my life and had a horrible time breathing due to permanent lung damage I sustained from Lemierre’s Syndrome. But I also learned that in spite of all of the obstacles, despite that I might be slow and not very efficient at navigating obstacles and terrain, that passion supersedes skill when the spirit is stronger than the body, and even if you’re simply not that good of a rider you can still enjoy every aspect on a mountain bike. I said, “Yes! This is for me!” because mountain biking is the most amazing abecedary I have ever had – it does not care about skill, age, gender, weight or any status quo. It invites you to simply embrace everything it has to offer and gives back tenfold. I love that. I also learned that there is no other place I would rather be than immersed in the beauty of nature - surrounded by trees, the aroma of pine and the purity that envelopes you when you’re deep in a forest or alongside a remote stream.

Tell us your introduction to bikepacking- what helped you decide that it was something you wanted to pursue, especially for long distances?
In 2015 I was preparing to race the Leadville 100. I was talking to my brother on the phone and mentioned that I wished I could ride my bike in a forest not just for one hundred miles but for days. After we hung up I thought about that – What would it be like to actually ride a contiguous trail for multiple days? I started googling ‘longest bike race in the world’ and came upon the Tour Divide – a 2745 mile off-road race that starts in Banff, Canada and goes all the way to the Mexico border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. I looked at a few photos from previous riders and knew right then and there that I wanted to race it. Two months after the Leadville 100, just seven months before the race, I started thinking about it again and dropped my name in the race director’s hat. I had zero gear, no experience or knowledge about bikepacking, and no idea how to get started. I discovered that two local friends of mine had actually already attempted the Tour Divide and was able to talk their ears off asking questions, collecting gear recommendations etc. I really appreciated their patience and help.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I ride flats however I do like the aspect of being able to pull up on the pedals as well. I used to clip in until I injured my knees in 2016, two months before the Tour Divide. I switched to flat pedals to allow more flexibility in foot positions in an effort to alleviate some of the knee pain.

Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I have definitely had my share of crashes – from flying over the bars to hitting my head on a rock and getting a semi-concussion, but those things never discourage me; they are risks that come with the sport. My goal is to minimize them as time goes on and my skills continue to develop. The hardest thing has been my own limitations – whether imaginary or real - often coming in the form of feeling too slow, wishing I could ride larger obstacles but not yet having the skills for them, or just overall endurance. I have had to learn, and relearn, to be patient with myself. Most of those things come with time and practice and one of the beautiful things about mountain biking is that it withstands the test of time – it will always be around - and therefore gives us the opportunity to develop our skills and endurance to the potential we hope to obtain.

When it came to recovering from your illness, what helped you stay positive and mindful?
Gratitude! I was so thankful to be alive – to have more time with my family and see my children grow up. That superseded everything else. I still think about how fortunate I am to be here and it fills me with joy. Additionally, instead of focusing on what I couldn’t do, I made a concerted effort to focus on what I could. Mountain biking replaced road biking and running, and though I missed both of those for quite some time, I wouldn’t give up mountain biking to go back to them. I love what I do now more than racing triathlons and road cycling.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Coordination and understanding the dynamics of mountain biking have been my biggest areas for improvement. For me, learning, practicing and implementing skills on a continuous basis are a must. I have ridden with friends that are very skilled in mountain biking and they have helped me improve my skills through demonstration and technique correction. I also joined a few mountain bike skills groups which have been very helpful in developing skills, and also a really fun way to get to know other riders. I would encourage new riders and even veterans to join skill development groups and not be shy about asking a coach or a well-seasoned friend for input.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I struggle with going through rock gardens and over large obstacles. I tend to hesitate which creates a bigger disadvantage and I often doubt my own abilities before I’ve even given myself a chance to succeed. It’s at those moments that I have to quiet my doubts and focus even harder. I try to challenge myself to take on obstacles every chance I get instead of avoiding them to give myself the opportunity to succeed but also to not create a habit of avoiding obstacles.

What do you love about riding your bike?
So much! It’s liberating from the grind of daily life and invigorating mentally, emotionally and spiritually. From the discovery of hidden sanctuaries of beauty, being enveloped in the perfection of a forest, listening to the scurry of a small animal or the swaying of the trees, seeing up close the sparkles on the waters of a babbling brook and breathing in the purity of pines and sagebrush – all of these things beckon to me to saddle up and go on an adventure. I love to see the smile on my son’s face and watch him ride alongside me, to hear the voices of friends chattering about new bikes and gear, to see families enjoying a group ride. There are no prejudices with cycling. All are welcome. And that is a very beautiful thing.

What inspired you to write a book about your Tour Divide experience-
While out on the Tour Divide route, I was awestruck with the beauty of the thick forestry, majestic mountains and the full spectrum of riding and weather conditions. The parallels the race has to our life experiences are undeniable. It’s hard to get off work in sufficient blocks of time, or have the resources to embrace a large adventure so we live vicariously through the experience others share. Because of these things, I decided to write Taking Down the Giant and really hope that I might be able to share my experience in such a way as to inspire others to do whatever it is that sets their heart on fire.

For women who read about your cycling experiences and say "No way can I do that!" What would you say?
I totally understand that statement. I felt the same way about myself. As the saying goes – we eat an elephant one bite at a time – meaning we don’t have to take it all on at once. Ride your bike on a bike path, then progress to the easiest local trail you can find. Ride that easy trail for a year, or ten, if that is what it takes to get comfortable. There is no time frame within which you must progress in mountain biking. Take it at your own pace. If someday you hope to participate in a big race or ride a technical trail, hire a good coach, attend a few bike clinics (there are usually free beginner classes a few times a year at the local trails) and just have fun. It’s like math – none of us could perform calculous operations without having first learned basic algebra and progressing upward. Learn the basics and you will be amazed at how fast you progress. Most of all, believe in yourself. You have more talent than you'll ever realize so tap into it!
What has been one of the best lessons you've learned on your bike either mountain biking, bikepacking, or both?
Adventure has no confines. It doesn’t require a specific increment of time, a special location or even a certain level of skill. Go where you can with what you have – whether that’s a local trail, a weekend trip to a place you’ve long admired or to a trail that leads you to places few have had the opportunity to venture. Five years ago, I did not know I could and would ride my bike on a snowy trail, in the dead of winter, in the quiet solitude of trees and frozen streams. I would not have guessed that only two and half hours from my home I would ride on a red dirt path covered in the confetti of soft golden leaves on a twisty turning trail that led up the bluffs on the Iron Range. In the Twin Cities and the surrounding areas, we have a ton of amazing trails, you just have to look. It has been a gold mine of discovery. A couple of weeks ago I set out to ride as many trails in one day as I could, which ended up being ten total. It was an absolute blast. Even if you only have one day, go ride your bike.

What do you enjoy most about helping women become more confident with mountain biking or bikepacking?
The greatest reward in helping other women become more confident is seeing the inner rewards they achieve from riding their bikes. I love their excitement, seeing their courage build, the passion they exude, watching their confidence grow, and seeing them, in turn, mentor others. It’s absolutely rewarding in every way.

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

2019 Salsa Cutthroat. Chosen for bikepacking and racing the Tour Divide. ENVE rims, Rockshox SID World Cup fork, Schmidt SON 28 Dyno front hub, Thomson Ti flat bar, Hope Tech 3 V4 brakes with 180mm rotors, Eagle XO1 drivetrain, and custom bags by BikeBagDude.

2015 FS Trek Superfly 100. This carbon black beauty got me over the climbs at elevation in the Leadville 100 and continues to be my favorite mountain bike to this day. Full Shimano XTR and Bontrager Race XXX lite carbon build.

Salsa Woodsmoke – My Tour Divide weapon for 2017 complete with a Rohloff, ENVE rims and all the bells and whistles. I wanted to compare it to the Salsa Cutthroat I had the previous year. A fantastic bike that is going up for sale.

Twin Six Ti Fatbike – Absolutely my favorite fatbike ever. I bought this forever bike to ride snowy trails and get me through a few winter races such as Tuscobia. Currently set up with Dilinger 4 studded tires, Sram GX 1x11, Rockshox Bluto fork.

CEEPO Viper TT (time trial) bike – This bike became my weapon of choice for triathlon and long road rides due to its geometry and cool batman like look. It is currently hanging on my wall looking a bit neglected so I hope to take it out for a spin next summer and give it some love. Dora-Ace 7800, Mavic rims.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
The most common concerns women have shared with me regarding their hesitation for getting into mountain biking is that they are worried they will get hurt and that they feel like they don’t know what they are doing. I completely understand both of those reasons. I found a friend who mountain biked and asked to tag along. For a very long time, I felt awkward and embarrassed by my lack of skills and knowledge. The good news is that mountain bikers are a pretty friendly bunch and we are just stoked to be out there. No one is going to make fun of you, and in fact, we are happy to give input when needed. Stop in at your local bike shop and ask about group rides or find a local website that puts the information out there such as morcmtb.org in Minnesota. Don’t be afraid to go to a local trail and check out the beginner’s loop – it is usually designed for the skill level of new riders, as well as for kids, and is a great way to get your tires dirty and see what all the excitement is about. Whatever you do, go ride your bike!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I have seen the greatest surge in women riders when rides and clinics cater to women specifically. Receiving instruction in those environments helps lessen the fears and self-consciousness many of us experience and are great confidence boosters. All in all, I wouldn’t say a major change is needed, rather a continuation of the great directions we are now going.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
A lot of what I do when it comes to encouraging others is from a heart of compassion and empathy. I have a shy side that has often gotten in the way of trying new things that interest me – whether because I was very cognizant of my lack of knowledge and skill, I wished I had someone to join me or I simply had no idea where to start. Every time I have found a way to overcome my inhibitions I have been met with huge rewards. By extending my hand to others, I have had the privilege of helping other women overcome their barriers as well. Seeing that joy and sense of accomplishment in them is so rewarding. Truly an honor!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love Economics and tutored college students in Micro and Macro both in the US and in S. Korea.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Thinking About Plus or Fatbikes? Read This!

Bikes with big tires have become increasingly popular over the past few years. Often, individuals seek out these bikes for their phenomenal traction and stability on the trails.

Plus bikes seem very similar to fatbikes, but there are some key differences between the two. Which one will be right for you? You'll have to take some test rides and find out!When I first started mountain biking I was on a 29+ bike, a Surly Krampus. I felt as tho I had a capable monster truck to plow over rocks and roots with. However, the main disadvantage I had was being short. At barely 5'2" I had the pleasure of smashing my bits on the top tube if I had to quickly dismount when a climb fell short.

I made do with this and still enjoyed the bike due to the confidence it gave me.

Fast forward a few years later and Travis transformed a Salsa Beargrease X7 into a 27.5+ (650B+) bike for me. What I loved most about this bike is we were able to put a front suspension fork on it and I could stand over it comfortably. The wheel size made it fit more like a 29" bike rather than a bike taller than that.

Some might wonder "Why front suspension? Don't the tires cushion enough?" The answer for myself would be, absolutely not. I need more plushness to my ride due to my chronic shoulder issues/pain. Having a front suspension fork would allow me to have ample air in the tires for traction and control without feeling so bounced around.

My first season riding the bike (after having a majority of rides being on traditional wheel sizes) I found myself crashing a lot more. I had gained boldness with the tires, also, I was to a point where I felt experienced enough that my improvement with riding would be to "go faster."
I eventually got myself under control with the bike and enjoyed it for the rest of the season. It was a fun bike to take to Levis Mounds in Wisconsin due to the sandy nature of the trails.
Salsa Beargrease 27.5 Plus
My second season with the bike, I started to ride it less. I didn't feel as nimble on the bike as I originally thought. I struggled with air pressure (which plus bikes are pretty darn particular when it comes to what air pressure works great.) I also found for certain trail conditions I felt sketchy rather than planted, especially if trails, rocks, or roots were greasy.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I likely didn't try the plus bike concept long enough. Tires could've been changed out and I could've given it more time to really get used to the bike. I decided that it was a bike that really didn't have a place in the garage for my ride style. I found myself gravitating towards other bikes that I felt more confident with, so the end decision was to sell the bike.

My experience doesn't mean it's a bad bike, but it ended up not being what worked the best for my needs.

Onto the Fatbike!
Fatbikes are popular due to their wide tires allowing you to roll over just about anything. In the midwest (and beyond!) they have added benefit by allowing more folks to enjoy riding outdoors during the winter months.

They are going to be a stable option for folks who absolutely feel squeamish on smaller tires and want to feel solidly connected to the ground. They are going to be a fun option for folks who want to recreate all year round. It's a great bike to use for commuting on snowy winter streets and riding groomed trails.

The fatbike is a versatile machine that can be used for mountain biking during the dry season, too! And (as mentioned before) there is the option of transforming your fatbike into a plus bike if you would rather something more nimble during the other 3 seasons. Basically, it's an easy way of having 2 bikes with one bike, but it will require some additional funds and effort for the transformation from fat to plus and vice versa.
Not everyone will want to go through the work to transform their fatbike into a plus bike, so if you are looking to have your fatbike work well as a dry season steed, I would recommend getting a front suspension fork*. It's absolutely astounding how comfortable and fun having front suspension on a fatbike can be! We recently put my custom-painted Specialized Fatboy under the knife and put on a Bluto suspension fork. Our trails had been mostly rock hard and frozen (without snow) and I had been feeling beat up without suspension.

(*For riding hardpack trail one should put more air in the tires to keep the front end from feeling as tho it would want to wander. Lowering air pressure works only so well for dry-season/frozen dirt riding. Even with a carbon fork I felt so jolted on some of our downhills; I'm also having PT for my chronic shoulder discomfort, and that wasn't helping.)

Having a front suspension fork really made me feel more confident with riding, I didn't feel as to I had to "brace" myself nor did I have to work so hard using my own body as suspension. My neck/shoulder felt way less tense and fatigued. It's been a total blast! I've had the biggest smiles on my face when riding my Fatboy.

My Specialized Fatboy has 26" wheels that have cutouts- which make them really light! (Yes, you can have light rims that aren't carbon.) Currently, I'm running Surly Edna tires (4.3" for size), and they hook up great. I can really see this bike being utilized again for adventure rides and/or when trail conditions get really leafy/nutty during the fall season. No longer will this bike be a strict "winter only" option as I can't get over how spritely it feels when I'm riding it.

I do have a Trek Farley 9.8 and I originally rode this for a few rides this winter before we gave the Fatboy a makeover. This bike has 27.5" wheels and beefy Bontrager Gnarwhal tires in the 4.8" size. These tires hook up like mad, but when there isn't a lot of snow...let's be honest, it's a lot of bike to ride. When I compare riding the Farley to the Fatboy, it's a night and day difference. The Farley 9.8 is going to be the go-to for blazing trail on snow-covered trails, but it's overkill for dry riding.
Farley 9.8
Fatbikes may not be the perfect bike for every trail because they can sometimes feel like a big bike to maneuver in tighter areas and they aren't always the most perfect at climbing, either. Sometimes it feels like it can be too easy to have your tire zip out from under a root, and if you don't have front suspension, you might get bounced around trying to maneuver through a techy section.

I have found on our local trails, there is really only one trail and one section I really don't love riding on a fatbike. All of the other trails? It's super fun (especially if we're talking about riding my Fatboy with a Bluto fork!)

You do need to pay attention to air pressure, at most you'd likely find yourself at 9-10 lbs for dry season riding and anywhere between 3-5 pounds for snow riding. Like with a plus bike, you'll for sure want to invest in a low-pressure gauge so you can really dial in your tire pressure.

For some, wider tires on the trails are confidence boosters for sure. The big question between deciding between plus and fat will be if you want to ride regularly in the winter. If you're looking to hit up groomed trails, be sure to pay attention to if you need a minimum tire width. Many will say that 3.8" tires are the smallest tire size you can run on groomed fatbike trails.

If the snow is very hardpack or there is little snow, you may be able to make a plus bike work, but they are not recommended for deeper snow or groomed snow conditions unless otherwise stated. So if snow riding is of interest to you and you think you might like to travel to ride groomed fatbike trails, then investing in a fatbike would be a more logical way to go than a plus bike.

If you are looking for a bike for strictly dry-season/frozen ground riding and aren't looking to explore in the snow, then a plus bike will be a fine route to go.

As I've mentioned before, I'd recommend renting both options to really get a feel for what your needs will be. That's really the best way to figure out if going full-fat or plus is right for you. Remember, fatbikes can be transformed while plus bikes will always be "plus"- you won't be able to turn them into a fatbike.