Monday, May 20, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Misty Mahoy

Hi, I'm Misty Mahoy from Florida. I run a ladies mountain bike club called the Muddbunnies, we are an international organization that gets women on bikes & be super badass in the dirt. We lead weekly rides all over central Florida even go out of state to ride other trails.

Also teach mountain bike skills through Grit Clinics, Ninja Clinic & my own business All About Balance MTB. I love when people fall in love with this sport like we all have :)

FaceBook: Misty Mahoy
Instagram: AllAboutBalanceMTB


Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
The 1st ride I was on a technical trail that I walk every single hill. I wasn’t completely in love with it…… but I was going through a stressful part of life and I needed an escape. So I kept going back to it until I finally I was able to ride every single hill. That was my “This is for me” moment!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Body position was my game changer! Its helped in every single part of my riding!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Technical climbs are my weakness. Practice…..once a week I ride a trail that has a tricky climb that I struggle with!

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I use both but I prefer flats. I went back to flats last year after being clipped in for 5 years, it was a HUGE learning curve, but it taught me the importance of body position. I still clip in but If I’m trying to do something new I prefer to be in my flats.

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?
Find a great group of positive people to start with! When I started the Muddbunnies I wanted to find a group of like-minded ladies who just wanted to ride bikes and have fun!

Also, set personal goals for yourself too. When I started I didn’t have anyone that was at my level to ride with, so I set goals. I would challenge myself with how many laps I could do or don’t quit until I climb that hill.
Tell us about the Mudbunnies mountain biking group and how women can join-
The Muddbunnies is about building a community of women who love to ride bikes on dirt. It is our mission to empower and encourage more women to ride bikes on dirt. By bringing a community of women together to offer a positive and encouraging environment to ride in and learn from, women’s mountain biking is beginning to gain momentum!

What inspired you to create your business All About Balance MTB-
My BADASS community is what inspired me to create my business! I started the Muddbunnies 5 years ago and we were just “winging it” with riding. Helping new riders with hints that helped me through my first year of riding.

Ladies All Ride came in and did a BADASS clinic ……we were all so pumped!! We all got so much out of the skills we learned through the clinic everyone wanted more. I shadowed one of the coaches Sally Collins and she was so encouraging to get certified to coach…… so I got certified! I’m so happy I did! I love seeing people thrive in this sport!

What do you love most about helping others learn mtb skills?
I love seeing the excitement when they finally get that “there it is” moment. I love seeing my students taking their riding to the next level!!
What is the best part about being involved in the cycling industry?
I love the people in our community! They are so supportive & stoked just to ride bikes!! I have met so many super AMAZING people though MTB, some of my best friends I met on the trail!

What do you love about riding your bike?
Freedom! I know that’s what everyone says but it’s so true! There is nothing like a bike ride after a crap day or great day!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Jamis Dragon Hardtail 29- this is the bike that made me fall with MTB! She’s my trusty around town gravel MTB. So lightweight so fast!

Trek Fuel EX- This is “Big Beefy” he is perfect for shredding trails here in Florida or out of state. I love this bike…..I can take him off some sketchy drops and he makes me look good…..lol

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Intimidation factor…. this sport has all this crazy downhill & 5-foot gap jumps, plus super male-dominated.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I feel that the industry is already making so much progress with ladies only clinics. Bike companies are doing ladies advocate/ambassador programs to empower women to get out and ride!! Bike shops are hosting ladies’ nights that teach ladies how the change tires, bike washing & simple trail side maintenance.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
It’s the confidence they build on & off the bike!! There is something about loading your bike, driving to the trail, overcoming your fears and feeling like a BADASS on your bike!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
In my past life, I trained horses professionally…..from starting babies to the first time in the show ring. My teaching roots run deep ;)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

First Thoughts on my Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper

S-Works Stumpjumper
Sometimes you come to a point in life where you realize that you just might need one more bike. The Specialized Stumpjumper was not a bike that we figured was necessary for our area. However, we became friends with another couple who like flowy/downhill/park riding, and I knew that getting another bike would be a necessity if I were to really enjoy those experiences.

I made the leap into purchasing a Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper frame that was built to run 29" wheels and would turn it into a 27.5+ machine.

I figured this would be a fun way of using some "life money" so I could actually find some enjoyment with it. Why not spend some of it on a bicycle that would allow me to go to new places and expand my riding repertoire?

I saw some photos online of the Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper frame and thought "Dang, that looks pretty sparkly!" I love sparkles and I love purple, so I went out on a limb in hopes that it would be as awesome in person as what the photos were hinting it would be.

It. Was. Better. !

The frame is amazingly sparkly and the purple color shift to gold is super cool. Really, the photos I had seen online didn't do the frame justice- it's one of those situations where you have to see it in person to truly appreciate it. It's not super easy to get in pictures, either, as it entirely depends on the lighting and angle.
2019 S-Works Stumpjumper
Below are all of the bits and pieces that were purchased to create Frankie G. The Glitter Queen.

Enve M6 handlebar

Specialized Trail stem

ESI Fit XC grips -- Love ESI grips!

FOX Float 36 Factory fork (150mm)

Wolftooth oval chainring (30t) --Yes, I ride oval and really love it!

Sram XX1 Dub crankset

HTC ANS10 Supreme pedals --These pedals are amazingly grippy and work really well with the 2FO 1.0 shoes.

SRAM XX1 Eagle derailleur, shifter, and chain

SRAM X01 Eagle cassette

Bike Yoke Revive Max dropper seatpost

Specialized Power Pro saddle with Mimic --Yes!

Fox Factory DPX rear shock (140mm)

SRAM Guide Ultimate G2 brakes

SRAM Centerline rotors

Roval Traverse SL 27.5 wheels

Specialized Purgatory tires (27.5x3) --Amazing grip/traction/control!

This would be my first time in about a year or so that I would be back on plus-sized tires. My first experience with it was on my Salsa Beargrease that we converted to a 27.5+ and I enjoyed that bike to a degree, but never truly fell in love with it like I hoped I would. Not sure if it was due to geometry or what, but now experiencing plus-sized tires on a full suspension bike...I'm so in love with it!

We built this bike on the squishier side, rather than having a Short Travel option (which would make more sense for Decorah), so it's running 150/140 and let me say I'm surprised as to how much fun I'm having enjoying this bike on our trails. (I'll get to that in a bit.)

S-Works Stumpjumper

The geometry is different than any of my other bikes due to the fork having longer travel. I'm used to setups with 100-120 mm of suspension. Initially, I felt a bit "upright" on the bike, but after a ride, I felt that the posture was quite comfortable and really made sense for riding downhill. I feel a bit more "in" the bike rather than feeling like I'm on top of the bike. It's easy for me to maneuver and point the bike in a direction. I've been simultaneously excited and almost (slightly) scared with how fast I'm going down some descents. In control, of course, but the bike absorbs so much that going down a hill faster just happens organically.

We have quite climb-intensive trails, and I can say that this bike really does "climb like a goat." I've climbed up some of our local trails with the rear suspension locked out, in trail mode, or fully open. In all 3 settings I felt like it climbed well, however, I can't say I've not hit a pedal on a root or rock due to the lower bottom bracket.

At this time, I haven't hit anything hard enough to damage pins and I'm working on my timing with certain sections to avoid pedal strikes.

The bike was sent in the low setting, which I did take the bike out on a ride with the original setup and had fun- but noticed the pedal striking a lot more than I did when we made the adjustment for the bike to be in the high setting. For riding our local trails, the high setting makes more sense due to the climbing.

(What does the flip chip do?: The Flip Chip that lets you to dial-in your Stumpy to your riding style. Switch it from High to Low and it drops your bottom bracket 6mm and slackens the head tube by half-a-degree.)

The low setting would make more sense if I were riding more downhill/flow trails that didn't have much climbing to them or if you did climb, there weren't rocks/roots in the way.

All in all, even tho we built this bike for taking on biking adventures, I've really been enjoying the ride it has on our local trails. I wasn't entirely sure how quick I'd take to the Stumpjumper, and I was stoked to make a 9 mile per hour average on a grouping of my favorite trails on a bike just shy of 30 lbs. Being this bike is heavier than the others in my quiver, hitting a high-for-me average made me super happy! The fact that it made me feel more confident to let loose on the downhill sections is an added bonus.

The true test will be when I can take this bike elsewhere, but until then, I'll roll with it on our trails and enjoy the heck out of it.
S-Works Stumpjumper 2019
What about the name?
Frankie G. The Glitter Queen
I found the Netflix show Grace and Frankie and I really enjoy the character, Frankie. She's a bit wild...your "New Age/Hippie" who is big in personality and wears purple. G is for Glitter...because the bike seems to be full of it.

My plan when I ride somewhere super awesome that has a feature or something I can yell out "Yasss Queen!" because I think the bike would like that.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Elisabeth Reinkordt

Elisabeth Reinkordt is a cyclocross and MTB racer living in Philadelphia. She's a co-founder of Team Laser Cats, a fun-loving W/T/F cycling team known for very bright kits and a commitment to community. 

She is also a founding co-director of WBPHL Racing, a beginner bike racing development program for women, non-binary, and trans cyclists, and a mentor with Little Bellas, a national organization where adult women mentor girls age 7-13 on mountain bikes. 

Originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, she got into bike commuting while living in a one-car household, and then got into bike racing on a dare in the fall of 2009, where she did a cyclocross race on a fixed gear with slick tires. She's been hooked on bikes ever since and is more excited about seeing someone new fall in love with the sport than any of her own race results. 


She's done everything from alleycats to Dirty Kanza, and finished a big 2018 season of UCI cyclocross season just off the podium at CX Nationals after clinching the series win in the Mid-Atlantic XC Super Series for the pro/elite women.

Outside of bikes, she's a documentary filmmaker, writer, and education researcher and communications specialist working in university communications. She grew up operating farm machinery and is proud her dad calls her "the best damn tractor driver I've got." She and her husband Willem live in Philadelphia with their cat Elliot. 

Social media: @egrindcore on Instagram/Twitter, @teamlasercats on Instagram, @WBPHLRacing on Instagram

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
My introduction to mountain biking was kind of accidental. I went from being a bike commuter to a use-your-bike-for-around-town-adventures to an alleycat racer to getting dared into a cyclocross race (more on that below) in the course of a couple summers, a few years after finishing college. My hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, has a long stretch of mostly flat, flowy singletrack called Wilderness Park, and after getting a cyclocross bike, I went for a trail ride. A bunch of my friends were doing a MTB time trial the next day at Jewell Park in Omaha, and my friend CVO suggested I just give it a shot. I didn’t have a MTB, so we dropped the saddle on my boyfriend’s bike and I gave that a try. It was a very narrow track and a real up-and-down roller coaster. Using momentum was key, and I had NO idea how to do that. It took me so long to do the lap – so long that they had to move my boyfriend’s start time for his time trial back because I wasn’t yet back with his bike. I watched my experienced friends in awe, and I wanted to get better at this thing, stat. This was in 2010, the first year I did any bike racing, and I wanted to try everything. I promptly bought my friend’s old Karate Monkey and signed up for a bunch of races that summer. I really wanted to get better at it, and the puzzle solving nature of mountain biking was really appealing to me. And unlike road races or crits, it didn’t matter (as much) that the women’s fields were small, because I was always racing the course, even if I wasn’t competing against other people. I love how encouraging lots of the people involved in mountain biking are. It’s a sport of mastery – refining your skills, continually improving, and finding new ways to play. It can be really frustrating, but so, so rewarding, too. I love how many different places you can ride, from the big skies of high desert riding to the dense, rocky, incredibly technical trails of Pennsylvania, where I live now. A mountain bike ride always makes me happy.
When you were dared to do a cyclocross race, what were your thoughts after you completed the event?
I was HOOKED! I was so completely unprepared for it, and all I wanted to do was figure out how to get better. Growing up in a household that emphasized academics and not sports, I didn’t have any real experience in competitive athletic events. I had been really competitive academically, and competed on my high school’s speech and debate teams, even going to Nationals in Student Congress. After going to a demanding college, I didn’t really have an outlet for my competitive impulses as an adult. Plus, cyclocross was just so funny to me – it’s a very silly sport while simultaneously being incredibly difficult and physically demanding. That suited me, and so did the really fun-loving group of people who did it.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Getting up and over stuff. Where I learned to ride, the trails didn’t really have any log-overs or rocks. So while I got good at flow and cornering, I would freeze up when it came to lifting my bike. When I moved to Philadelphia, I HAD to learn how to get over logs, because the closest place to ride, the Belmont Plateau, is absolutely full of them, and I was so much slower because I had to stop all the time. My advice? Get a patient friend who will help teach you – but go out by yourself and practice, practice, practice. Do the same thing over and over. Get someone to take slo-mo video of you so you can see what you’re doing (or not doing). Then do it again. Recently, I’ve been working on hopping the planks on my cyclocross bike, and SO much of it is mental. As cheesy as it sounds, you have to believe in yourself. Ask yourself what risks you’re taking, assess what’s the worst that could happen, and be OK with failing. There’s often not much difference between an awkward bail-out and a successful clearing of an obstacle, so get some video, create some steps you repeat in your head (or out loud) to remind you what to do and try again.

I think a lot of people spend way too much time worrying about their fitness or chasing fast people around. Both those are important, but building your skills gives you free speed – and preserves your energy for using elsewhere. And it’s so, so rewarding to do something with finesse. Skills practice is good for days when the trails are too wet to ride, too – get out and find some curbs to hop, stairs to ride down (or up) or barriers to run. It’s also a great way to ride with people at various ability levels and fitness levels.

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 sometimes with steep, technical climbs, especially if I have to hop up a big rock on a steep slope. Recently, I was out riding at French Creek in PA, and it features a really big wall of a climb with 4 or 5 big step-ups. I just got my first full-suspension bike this winter (yay, very exciting!), and learning how to maneuver it up those rock step-ups at slow speeds feels like learning to ride all over again. I love sessioning stuff – stopping and trying something over and over again – but sometimes have to admit “today’s not the day for this feature” if it isn’t going well and I keep crashing. I try to remind myself to insert the word “yet” anytime I sense myself saying “I can’t do this.” This can be especially hard sometimes when you’re riding with other skilled riders and you feel like you can’t match up to what they’re doing.

I also think it’s really important to pair victories with frustrations. After sessioning that climb, we went to a rock garden (SO MUCH MORE FUN on my full-suspension that it was on my hardtail) and then a ripping descent (also SO MUCH FUN). So rather than remembering the ride for not making it up that steep climb, I left with the joyful feeling of flying over the rocks and pushing my comfort zone on the descent.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I use clips on everything except my commuter bike, or if it’s really cold in the winter, I’ll put flats on my MTB to go ride in the snow. (I have Reynaud’s Syndrome, so really cold feet in winter means it’s better for me to wear full-on snow boots sometimes.) In the past couple of years, I’ve spent a whole lot of time making up for the lack of technique I learned early on, and I’ve learned to rely far less on being clipped in for pulling my pedals up. For newer riders, I’d definitely recommend learning some basic techniques like wedging your feet and lifting the back wheel on flat pedals. Being clipped in is great for racing, though, and I’m just used to 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?
If you can find a local group doing intro rides, that can be a fun way to get into it, if that suits your personality. Or, if you’re really into maps, check out the MTB Project app, which has great trail maps and reviews of rides, and just go out and explore at your own pace. Make sure the bike you’re riding is in good working order and fits you well. If there’s a local shop hosting a truck of demo bikes, this is a great way to try out a fun bike, and they’re usually parked near great local trails. However you go about it, just relax and play on the bike. Mountain bikes are playful things, so relax and let yourself be a kid. No stress, just have fun!

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’ve been very, very fortunate to have a whole lot of bruises and scrapes but no major injuries from riding. My husband broke his leg mountain biking a couple years ago, and it does shake me sometimes while I’m riding to think how quickly it can all go wrong. But I remind myself of something I heard a MTB instructor say at a camp I did last year – crashes happen from “personal protocol violations.” So whenever I feel myself getting a little out of control, I quickly run through the fundamentals of my body position and check myself. I know I may well get more seriously hurt at some point, but I love riding so much that I can’t let that stop me from doing it. And at the same time, I also know there’s more to life than bikes, so if it would come to that, I’d work hard to find other ways to be happy.

What has been your favorite event(s) to participate in so far?
Oh, this is such a hard question, so I’m just going to list off a bunch! Singlespeed Cyclocross Worlds 2013, Philly/Bilenky Junkyard Cross. The Sly Fox CX race at the Sly Fox Brewery. Gravel Worlds in Lincoln, NE. The Almanzo/Royal in Minnesota. DCCX, a UCI cyclocross race in the middle of Washington, DC. Ramsey’s Revenge MTB race in Delaware, where you jump in a river after you’re done. The Dakota 5-O in Spearfish, SD, where you jump in a river after you’re done. Jingle CX in Iowa City, back when it was in the winter. CX Nationals in Louisville, from my amazing just-off-the-podium finish in my age-group race to the most insane slog in the mud in the singlespeed race. All sorts of random bandit ‘cross races and bootstrap alley cats done just for fun. I feel like I could go on and on.
Why do you feel should folks try at least one mountain bike event?
The thing that’s great about doing a mountain bike race is that you don’t have to make decisions about what trails to ride in what order, you just go. Someone marked out the course, you don’t have to wait for anyone and don’t have to feel like you’re making anyone wait for you, and you get to challenge yourself to see just what you’re made of. You might be chasing someone or getting your pace pushed, or you might be by yourself in the woods, taking on the same challenges as so many others. When you finish, you’ll be exhausted and so proud of yourself for doing something hard. Sweaty finish line hugs are the best.

Why is Cyclocross so fun and/or why should folks consider giving it a go?
Cyclocross is, when it comes down to it, really absurd. Just when you get up to speed, there’s an obstacle. You have to get off and run with your bike. You’re doing circles in a park, and it’s really hard, somehow. A well-designed course is a good puzzle, and there are tons of people trying to solve it in a bunch of different ways. It’s really easy to give it a try on basically any bike you have – I did my first ‘cross race on a fixed gear with slick tires (NOT ADVISABLE!) – and there are lots of folks just getting out there to have fun. Plus, if you go to a big race, you get to watch the pros racing on exactly the same course you did. It’s great for kids, too, which makes it a much more accessible cycling discipline for the whole family to get into. And every weekend, going to a cyclocross race is like a fun family reunion. Every time when the season ends, I miss all my weekend friends.

Tell us more about Team Laser Cats, how did it get started and can folks join?
Team Laser Cats started in the winter/spring of 2015 as a women’s cycling team where racing is always encouraged, but never mandatory. I had recently moved to Philadelphia and was lucky to get asked by the initial group of 6 if I wanted to be part of it. We established early on that we prioritized snacks, wild kits designed by team founder Melissa Tabas, and emphasizing outreach and mentorship for new riders. We generally open our application once a year, and just expanded our roster to 18 for the 2019 season. Our squad is all in the Philadelphia area, with a couple riders in rural PA or away in grad school. We have one junior racer, who is a high school student. Team members do everything from racing downhill MTB and enduro to cross-country, and a bunch of our new riders are coming into their second season racing road. We have cyclocross racers, and one teammate has completed multiple Ironmans and just PR’d her last marathon (in the middle of ‘cross season!). If you want to sport looks similar to our team kit, check out Laser Cats and Such – it’s our kit designer’s company.

Any goals for Team Laser Cats for 2019?
The addition of a beginner road squad is exciting, and we’re looking forward to seeing what they get up to. Obviously, all the dirt-lovers on the team are also excited about getting them to try out some off-road things! We’re looking forward to a couple team camps, including a “family reunion” MTB camping weekend we do with another W/T/F team in Philly, Team VeloDash, where we take over a big section of campground at the Allegrippis Trails in Central Pennsylvania. We’ll have several riders in the Cat 1 XC series this year, as well as some Cat 3s. And as usual, lots of team members are going to be mentoring, whether it be for Little Bellas or WBPHL Racing. In general, our biggest goal is spreading the stoke about riding bikes with friends.

Tell us more about WBPHL Racing and what it's about-
WBPHL Racing emerged from Women Bike PHL, part of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. It’s a suite of development programs and a racing team for new women/trans/femme/non-binary racers in Philadelphia. What started as a pilot experiment turned into a full-throttle organization. Simply put, we take casual cyclists (or folks who’ve been athletes in other sports but are new to bikes) and introduce them to competitive cycling.

I’ll quote a bit from our origin story:
“There's an oft-repeated line about women's bike racing. “There's just not enough interest,” you might hear, or “we would put on a race if there were time in the schedule, but women just don't show up.” Tired of hearing this line — or of being one of a small handful of women showing up to races where all riders are grouped into one category or thrown in with a men's field — cyclists Elisabeth Reinkordt (Team Laser Cats) and Michelle Lee (Mathletes Racing) partnered to develop Women Bike PHL Racing (@WBPHLRacing). In 2015, Lee and Reinkordt piloted a six-week road skills development program with seven women in the so-called Women Bike PHL Devo Squad. After weekly practices, the racers made their debut at the Philly Phlyer. They continued to race through the spring and summer, attending events like the Navy Yard Criterium and Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo. A few tried cyclocross in the fall. One spent the summer riding the Continental Divide. Lee and Reinkordt opened up the 2016 application to women in Philadelphia in January of that year. They asked about bike experience, but they asked women to define their reasons for applying, too. They asked for a commitment to an intensive practice schedule, and, more importantly, a commitment to enter three weekends of road, criterium, and team time trial racing that spring. Seventy-two women in Philadelphia submitted their applications. Due to the overwhelming response, Lee and Reinkordt reformatted the program, choosing to accept sixteen women the second cohort. The 2017 application cycle was no different in terms of interest, but this time, applicants were also invited to apply to a mountain bike devo cohort, led by Nathalie Anderson (Arrow Racing). With the help of alums from the 2015 and 2016 cohorts, led by Carolyn Auwaerter, the program preserves the one-on-one coaching and mentorship elements. The program hosted a Fall 2017 cyclocross cohort, and a fourth road and second mountain bike cohort in the spring of 2018.”

Over the course of the program, it’s been amazing to watch the beginner women’s fields balloon in size, and in the last two years in particular, to see local races take notice. We’re seeing more races offer more field choices for women, with some offering separate beginner, intermediate, and advanced race slots. The enthusiasm is incredible – so many folks pushing their personal limits and doing so in the comfort and camaraderie of a cohort all in it together. We’ve seen new teams emerge, and lasting friendships formed. It’s really special. The spring of 2019 saw the fifth year of road and third year of mountain bike cohorts, with alumni coaches emerging as leaders in both disciplines. It’s so cool to see this leadership grow.

Here’s a video link to a news story about WBPHL Racing: https://phl17.com/2018/08/19/women-bike-phl-racing/?fbclid=IwAR379lkX6LIlSD5pTeh48_KIxI8By2I-bjh8K6InMsHZe2x0_lBSFPe6-fk

What are your goals for WBPHL for 2019?
Our spring cohort for road is in full swing, and the MTB squad just completed their first race of the season. On top of that, I’ve been hearing from many alums that they’re setting ambitious goals for racing this year, and seeing that is super exciting, too. Personally, I’m more excited than ever to have so many alums returning as mentors. For the past 4 years, I’ve invested a whole lot of time into building curriculum, coaching and mentoring and supporting our new racers, refining and troubleshooting, basement bike fitting, and all around scrambling to keep things running. Especially during the six or eight weeks when the program is in full force, it’s basically a second job on top of my full-time one. One of the goals has always been to grow the program in such a way that our alums are empowered to pay it forward, and I’m excited to help transition more of them into leadership roles this year.

What do you love about being a Little Bellas mentor?
My love for Little Bellas has two main components. One, it’s just so fun to play on mountain bikes with young girls. I’ve worked with every age group, from the 7-year-olds who had never ridden bikes before our program to the 13-year-olds who were getting really good at it, and they’re all so fun in their own ways. Especially working in the program in Philadelphia, where our trails are adjacent to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country and many girls don’t get to be out in nature very often, I feel like the time we spend is really making a difference in their lives. Secondly, I love the collaborative environment of a group of adult women all working together to run the program. It’s a really important model to set for the girls – especially when there are so many examples from pop culture of women being pitted against each other. I’ve made some of my closest friends through being mentors together.

Why should folks consider becoming a Little Bellas mentor? What do you do?
I think the reasons I love it so much are great reasons to consider mentoring. You don’t even have to be a mountain biker to be a mentor – and we’ve had a mentor do it at 37 weeks pregnant! The Little Bellas organization has a really well-developed program, and each week is filled with bike games that teach basic bike skills. More than anything else, it’s a great opportunity to remember what makes bikes so fun and the girls are just so funny and fearless and it just feels good to be part of it. I highly recommend checking out the Little Bellas Instagram for inspiration. Here’s a video of one of the families in our Philadelphia program: https://littlebellas.com/its-just-like-riding-a-bike/
What do you love about riding your bike?
Above all else, the sense of freedom, of moving under my own power, of seeing the world at a really nice pace. I can travel great distances, but I still can look around at everything I’m passing by. It’s a nice way to experience places, from my neighborhood to new cities or the vast open spaces.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Oh goodness. I love my bikes. Starting with the MTBs – this winter, I got a Specialized Epic Pro, after a long time of debating getting a full-suspension bike and trying to choose what to get. I knew any sort of rear suspension would feel really squishy after 9 years on a hardtail, so I was mostly looking at more XC-oriented bikes. I borrowed and test rode as many bikes as I could. I settled on the Epic because of Specialized’s support of Little Bellas and NICA. I’m having a whole lot of fun on it so far! I also have a 27.5” Scott Scale hardtail that I’ve been riding and racing on since 2015. I’m a tall woman – 5’10” – and I’d been on a large bike until I demo’d a medium and realized I rode so much better on a slightly smaller bike. It just so happened that a friend of a friend was selling this bike at the time because they needed a large instead. This bike really upped my game. Nimble, light, snappy, and great at ripping through corners. I learned a whole lot riding it and even won the pro/elite category of the 2018 Mid-Atlantic SuperSeries on it!

For cyclocross, I have two great bikes. My main bike is a VonHof ACX – they’re a small batch family company based out of Hoboken, NJ, and have been really supportive of women’s cycling development here in the region. I love how this aluminum bike rides, and I have Stan’s Valor wheels on it for racing and training, which basically makes it feel like a drop-bar skinny MTB for trail rides and adventures. I also have a gorgeous art bike – a Pedalino hand built by amazing framebuilder Julie Ann Pedalino in Kansas City. She made it as a tribute to my mom and grandmother, and it has lug work that’s just out of this world. I’m a big fan of a steel bike, and love that I can shred in a UCI race on this incredibly special bike made just for me.

I also recently acquired a VonHof DIA -- the do-it-all steel road bike. After several years of doing lots of riding/training but not much racing on the road, I decided to go from the very snappy Madone I’d had since 2012 to more of a forever bike. I love the feel of a steel bike, especially for long days in the saddle, and I appreciate that VonHof spec’d it to handle a nice wide tire.

I get around town on a Surly Long-Haul Trucker, 26” fattie tires, set up singlespeed with very narrow flat bars for getting through Philadelphia traffic. The rule for the commuter is that it gets built out of hand-me-down parts from other bikes, so it’s a hilarious Frankenbike and I love it.
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking CX?
I think there are lots of deterrents, and they vary based on location, age, and more. In some places, the scene has women actively working to welcome new riders into the sport. In other places, you might be far more isolated, trying to navigate the rules of the boys’ club on your own. It’s not a cheap thing to get into, especially if you’re looking to do it competitively. But that said, part of that problem is the culture that emphasizes needing fancy gear, lighter gear, newer technology, multiple bikes, etc. etc. Sure, it’s very fun to have a nice new bike, but it’s not necessary, and we don’t do ourselves any favors as a community by letting this mindset that you have to have a certain level of stuff to participate be so pervasive. It’s a real turn-off to me, and it’s why I run the beginner cyclocross clinics I lead with a “run-what-you-brung” tagline. And I had some women showing up and absolutely shredding on road bikes or commuter bikes. Another thing is looking at the general setup of the sport and seeing a huge lack of equity from the very top professional levels to beginner amateur events. It sends a message that the sport doesn’t care about women if you see multiple master’s categories, junior categories, and ability categories for men, and maybe if you’re lucky two or three fields for women. As an example, in the mountain bike series I’ve raced the past two years, just at the elite level there’s an Open/Pro, a Pro 40+, a Cat 1, a Cat 1 40+, a Cat 1 50+, and a Cat 1 Singlespeed each with a separate start for the men. Then there’s a combined Open/Pro and 40+ start for the women. What that means is that the women are starting 12 minutes after the elite men, which means that on a shorter course, they might catch us by the end of the race. Look at the differences in prize money for the pro women in Europe, and you’ll get really, really bummed out – often, the 20th place man is getting more than the first place woman. There are also lots of pressures on women, between career and family and work/life balance, and depending on whether or if you have a supportive partner in those endeavors, or you’re expected to pick up more of that yourself, it can be very hard to make the time to ride, train, and race.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think we’d really benefit from seeing men take a step back. Listen. Stop thinking they have all the answers. Stop thinking the way to improve things is to model everything after the way it’s always been done for the men. Look for examples of grassroots programming that’s working, and support the folks making that happen. Support spaces that are good for all beginners, regardless of gender. Stop thinking on binaries, and start looking at experiences. Structure events that foster good competition instead of just focusing on winners.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I love seeing the smiles and hearing the laughs of camaraderie at the end of a hard ride or race. The joy of accomplishing something, of pushing limits, and of finding a healthy way to release competitive energy. There aren’t a whole lot of spaces for adult women to be competitive in ways that aren’t full of negative associations, and yet also ways in which women are lifting each other up and celebrating one another’s accomplishments. It’s very cool to see it grow.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
My dad says I’m the best tractor driver he knows.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Leah Pickett

I have always been athletic and involved in some sort of sport since I was old enough to run and follow directions. I love being outside and challenging myself. I played soccer and hockey up through high school, I dance(d), I was a college cheerleader and figure skater, I love doing yoga, kayaking, skiing, and snowboarding.

I had a rec bike growing up, but never biked more seriously than trying to beat my time doing the mile loop around my neighborhood.

Up until about a year ago, my only (current) serious sport was racing in inline marathons (speed skating on racing rollerblades).

I bought my first nice, bike shop bike Feb of 2016 to help beat the crazy Minnesota cabin fever, and to add an element of cross training for my inline races. It was a pretty, purple Raleigh hybrid bike, and I loved it.

We didn't get much snow that winter, so I biked and rollerbladed on the extensive Minneapolis bike trails the rest of winter, and into the spring and summer. I had an amazing workout rotation of skate-day, bike-day, kayak-day, yoga/rest.

I started dating my now boyfriend, Paul, and he was already very much into the WORS races. Since I had a bike, we started biking on the paved trails together whenever we would get to go visit one another (Paul lived in WI). My first experience taking my bike off the pavement wasn't my favorite. Paul wanted to show me some of the random mountain bike trails that were near the paved trails, but my tires had no grip, and soon my brand new bike shoes and white bike gloves had mud on them! I was not yet a fan of mud, and I was a bit upset hahaha.

I moved to WI in 2017, and Paul raced the WORS series again. Race weekends were a ton of fun exploring towns all over Wisconsin. I was quite content to be the girlfriend on the sidelines, and would always answer the question "so when are you getting out there?" with "eh... not just yet."

Until the last race of that summer... It was about a month away from my big inline race, and my competitive urge was building. Paul made the podium, and as we hung out for the awards presentation, I watched all these girls being called up. And I felt majorly left out. I was athletic, I bet I could figure this out! I told Paul then and there that I wanted to give mountain biking a shot.

A week or so later, he rented a bike from the shop and we went to a local trail. My first lap on the easiest trail was so slow, Paul was able to ride one handed and type out some emails on his phone behind me! I never really had to turn my handlebars before (paved trail = straight line!), and weaving around trees was tricky. However, I was so determined to get the hang of it, I rode the 2 mile loop over and over again, getting faster each time, and eventually graduating to the slightly harder loop, totaling just over 15 total miles for the afternoon! I was exhausted and very happy. Paul surprised me with the bike (a Trek Top Fuel 8 Womens) a few days later! We road together in the woods every chance we got.

I did my first mountain bike race that fall. The 5 mile at the Fall Color Festival. It was challenging, super fun, and I ended up being the first place female! I was hooked.

The following summer (2018) I raced the WORS Cat 3 Citizen Series, and finished the season first in my age group! It was an insanely fun summer. I learned so many skills, bled a lot, made a ton of friends, and have the best inspirational mentors. It's been so much fun being part of a sport that I can work on with Paul and share with friends. We've been constantly pushing each other to be better riders.

They say Cat 3 is where you learn to survive a race, and Cat 2 is where you learn how to race. I decided to bump up to Cat 2 this 2019 summer, and I hope I can continue building my strength, my skills, and really start working on my racing strategy. I'm so excited to ride another race season with the friends I made over the last year.
Last summer, as we made more and more bike friends, we started to hear more and more about winter fat biking. My only experience with fat biking was watching some very miserable looking people try to ride their fat bikes through the unplowed Minneapolis roads, I had no idea that MTB trails converted to snow trails in the winter! We borrowed fat bikes from some friends for the first rideable snow of the fall and went to New Fane. We were completely overdressed, sweated profusely, and ended up shedding layers every lap, but it was so much fun to get back on the trails with these bikes that felt like they could conquer anything! We spent a lot of time researching bikes and chatting with seasoned fat bikers and bought fat bikes for ourselves! It was a winter-saving decision. Every time there was snow in the forecast, we’d think YESSSSSSS let’s go bike! It was like being kids again. We’d frequently meet up with friends at the trails after work for some winter group night riding in the woods – side note: night riding in the winter is AWESOME. No bugs!! We also got the chance to make a few of the Hugh Jass races. You wear flannel, can have beer hand-ups/take beer short cuts, and afterwards, hang out around a fire with some great music and food! Fat biking was such a great way to stave off the winter blues AND the winter weight gain! :-D haha!

Your second introduction to mountain biking was far better than your first, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
Well, my first excursion into the woods lasted all of 2 minutes before I wanted out! haha! We were on a road trail biking date (Paul was using his mountain bike, I was on my hybrid bike), and I was not mentally prepared for the trees, mud, or terrain, plus, I had the wrong equipment!

My "official" introduction was much better. I was mentally prepared to be out of my element and had the proper bike to learn on. I took it slow and only sped up when I felt comfortable doing so. As I got more comfortable on the bike and gained some speed, I started enjoying the feeling of fast corners! I did end up body-checking a tree and got a nice scar on my thigh. I had so much fun, I biked just over 15 miles my first time out.

How did Paul assist you in the early learning stages when it came to figuring mountain biking out?
Patience plus the right amount of push. He started by leading on the trails so I could see what lines he took, and would stop frequently to let me catch up and ask if I was OK (there was a lot of yelping on my part while going over rocks and whatnot in the beginning). I'm also very technical when it comes to learning new sports and asked many questions, which he would answer or try to help me find the answer to. Eventually, he started having me lead on trail rides to help me learn how to pick lines and build my confidence. Within a few weeks of getting on a mountain bike, he suggested I enter my first bike race (The Fall Color Festival), because I love racing and having a goal helped me focus on improving my skills.

Do you have any suggestions for folks looking to introduce their significant other to mountain biking? What they might consider?
Like anything new, it can be frustrating and uncomfortable to not know what you're doing or what to expect. Talking about the bike, the trails, some broad pointers, can all help as an introduction before even going in the woods. Easy trails are key to help build confidence initially, but throwing in a good challenge here and there (and conquering it!) can also be a confidence booster as well. A decent mountain bike doesn't hurt either - renting or borrowing one from a friend is a great way to get a good feel for the sport before dropping all the $$$. And finally, remember that this is for fun! The woods are a great place to be, you're doing this together, so stop and check out the scenic views when you find them! :-)

Paul purchased an awesome mountain bike for you to learn on- do you feel having a bike of that level was beneficial to your learning experience?
We initially rented it, but I loved it so much there wasn't any question that I wanted to ride it again. And again, and again, and again.

I felt great on the bike, so I wanted to keep riding it. The full suspension gave me enough confidence to try going over rocks and roots on day one! I'm not sure what it would have been like getting on a different mountain bike the first time, but having an awesome bike let me have a great experience that I kept wanting to come back to. If you feel confident on the bike, then it's the bike for you.

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

Corners were technically challenging for me because they were completely opposite of every other sport I've done that involved turning! Every other sport, you lean into the inner part of the turn. Biking, you push your handlebars in, but you push yourself to the outer part of the turn. This initially made no sense to me - because wouldn't putting myself on the outside of the turn throw me off my bike?

It wasn't until I watched some YouTube tutorials that slowed it down and overlaid diagrams, that everything people kept telling me finally clicked. The next step was developing my core strength and muscle memory to get myself to the correct position. The second step took much longer. ;-)

Downhill riding (either extended downhills or quick drops) made me very nervous, mainly because the slope made me go so much faster, and I didn't feel in control. This past summer, the first WORS race of the season out at Iola had these great long stretches of hills. The WORS race director, Don, holds a "learn to ride" lesson every Saturday before race day. I learned some great pointers, and was able to practice better body positioning without having to worry about a quick turn at the bottom or trying to weave myself in between any trees. (I had so much fun practicing during the Saturday pre-ride, I think I wore myself out too much for the Sunday race day!) This one weekend did not cure my downhill fears, but it gave me a good starting point to work on my body positioning. When we rode, if I had trouble going down something, I would walk my bike back up and try it again and again until I could figure it out. It took the entire summer of riding to get my confidence up to the point where I could go down *most* descents we encountered without stopping to take a courage breather. But, I always keep to the best injury-avoidance advice, that if it makes you really uncomfortable, there's no shame in walking down it until you feel you're ready.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Corners still get me if they're tight, crazy downhills are still nerve-wracking. It's become a mental game, so I do my best to take a breath, relax my shoulders and arms, and focus on doing my best on the next one, and not thinking about the last one.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I use clips. Once I transitioned to clips on the paved trails, I loved how much more power I could generate with each rotation. I started mountain biking with clips (which may or may not have been the best, but here I am!) which lets me get more power, but causes bruising if I can't get my foot out when falling. I've read that learning basics on flats helps with technique more, but I've never tried it that way.
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 had a series of falls mid-summer that crushed my confidence. My legs were getting stronger faster than my body was improving its technique, and I kept flying over my handlebars - usually into gritty gravel or rock-filled sand. It felt like my leg was either constantly a scab or actively bleeding. The falls hurt. Not enough to cause serious injury, but enough to make me take a minute to figure out if all parts were where they were supposed to be. I started becoming afraid of falling, which caused my arms and upper body to tense up and threw my balance off completely.

I picked a few key phrases to run through my head while riding. Reminders on technique, and reminders that this is fun, and we're here to do our best. Repeating these things helped me focus on what I was doing, and not what I was afraid of possibly happening.

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?
Take it slow and be patient with yourself! Everyone learns at their own pace, and there's no reason you should expect yourself to be able to excel by leaps and bounds right away. Progress is progress, big or small.

I'm a big fan of celebrating the small victories. Over the past year, some celebrations have included: only tapping my breaks a little on the descents, getting over that one rock that always gave me trouble, making it down a trouble section on the first try instead of the third or fourth, and completing a super-confident first lap at my local trail (usually I needed a bit of a warm up to get mentally ready).

Finally, I mountain bike because I love being out in the middle of nature. I like to stop occasionally to admire the scenery and take in the quiet. Work hard to get to the scenic overlooks, and reward yourself with the view!

What was your inspiration to start participating in mountain bike events?
Paul! I always watched him race WORS, but never knew what was really happening in the woods until we raced the Fall Color Festival together. After that race, I was hooked.
Tell us about your favorite event!
The WORS Cup was my absolute favorite event last year. Instead of racing all of the men and women of Cat 3 together at one time, they put the Cat 3 and Cat 2 women together for one race, and then the Cat 3 and Cat 2 men together for the next race. For about an hour, the course was flooded with women, it was a great flow with little congestion, and it was awesome!

Why should folks participate in at least one event?
It's a different feeling to bike by yourself or with just one other person vs biking with a ton of people. It can bring up all sorts of feelings! It can be inspiring, uplifting, motivating, even intimidating. Some people come to compete, some people come to just ride with a bunch of other people who also love to ride. Either way, there's something special about hanging out and having some drinks or snacks with a bunch of people who have also just worked their butt off.

For folks who may not know what Cat 2 or Cat 3 mean for races, can you explain to us what the difference will be for you when you enter a race?
There are 5 racing categories in the WORS races, which help divide riders up into similar groups of experience and skill. Junior, Cat 3 (Citizen), Cat 2 (Sport), Open (Comp), and Cat 1 (Elite). Cat 3 will do 2 laps of a more moderate section of the course. Cat 2 will sometimes do 3 laps of the more moderate section, or 2 laps of a longer, harder section. Etc. You get to choose your category, and moving up is at your discretion.

What do you love about riding your bike?
What I love most about biking is how hard I get to work both mentally and physically while being surrounded by the complete peacefulness of the woods. It's easy to get lost in the moment of just you, the trail, and your bike. Before you know it, 3 hours are gone and you feel fantastic. It's very satisfying to be able to tire yourself out so completely.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I currently ride a 2016, full suspension Trek Top Fuel 8 Women's. Our local shop (Extreme Ski and Bike in Thiensville) had it available and suggested it when we wanted to rent a bike for the day. I loved riding it, and Paul surprised me with it a week later! I now have the tires set up tubeless to reduce weight and allow me to run lower PSI, and I recently upgraded my drivetrain to a 1X and added a lock-out to my shocks!

My fat bike is a Trek Farley 9.6. It has a carbon frame with tubeless 27.5x4.5˝ Bontrager Barbegazi TLR tires. It’s so light and fun to ride! I took a lot of different fat bikes for a test ride, and this one let me feel strong and confident from the first ride.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
The lack of knowledge and the fear of getting hurt.
Since there's not a ton of women who mountain bike, there's not a huge network of women telling other women how awesome it is (although I think we're all doing a great job of spreading the word now!). And, since most girls didn't grow up launching bikes off make-shift jumps at the end of the driveway, many women aren't used to sports where we could get hurt.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
A women's-only race could be fun. They have "Mud Girl Runs" now, which are basically women-only Tough Mudders, and I've seen a lot of women become encouraged to get out of their element and try something new because of that specific event.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

The friendships I've made through the year, and seeing how confident biking makes all my friends!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I am an avid cosplayer and love creating elaborate costumes!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Holly LaVesser

My name is Holly LaVesser. I'm 36 years old & I'm a competitive mountain biker. I work as a Benefit Analyst. I was a devoted runner, but started mountain biking in 2011 when I was dating my now-husband because he did it. Around the same time, I started to develop an issue in my left leg that didn't allow me to run as aggressively. By 2016, I had moved my way up through the Citizen, Sport, and Open categories and competed as an Elite for the first time in the Wisconsin Offroad Series (WORS), which I have done ever since.

That is the first year that mountain biking finally overtook running, and I quit running altogether as a result of my leg weakness and gait deficiency (ultimately diagnosed as focal dystonia). I generally mountain bike about 4 days/week, strength train, and pop in other cardio when needed (and XC ski in the winter). Outside of this hobby, I also enjoy geocaching, traveling, my rabbit, Coconut, and skydiving.

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I was a competitive runner, so I was fit and had motivation. My husband (then boyfriend) would go mountain bike and I sometimes came along and would run. I'm not sure what made me want to try it, but he took me out to an easy double-wide trail, and I decided I wanted more, though looking back, I can't place my finger on why. Perhaps just to have another activity to do with him?

When you were new to mountain biking, did you learn most of what you know from your now-husband, go to a clinic, or learn from other women riders?
I learned everything from my now husband. I still have never been to a clinic, and I don't ride with others all that frequently. My husband grew up doing BMX bike tricks and got into mountain biking. Therefore, he has an entire host of skills when it comes to technical riding. He would always ride behind me and suggest things I could do better (not constantly, but when I was open to feedback). As the years passed, the comments lessened and it turned more into me asking for feedback or how to do something better.
If someone is learning primarily from their significant other, do you have tips or suggestions that may help?
I am quite lucky that my husband gets a lot out of teaching others to do something and watching the excitement it brings them. I'd say if your significant other is deeply into training & racing, it might not be the best idea to have them guide you, or you'll want to be on the same page about planning certain days for that. I say that because I know I wouldn't make a great teacher because I am so focused on my own performance right now, that I wouldn't have the time to invest into riding at someone else's pace and skill level on a frequent basis. You want this to be a positive thing that you do together, so you both need to want to go on these rides together.

You got involved with mountain biking in adulthood, how do you feel this benefited your learning experience?
One way I benefited by starting as an adult, was that I didn't have to scrape together cash to get the gear or equipment I wanted, or compromise on choosing one component over another. I started at a point in my life that I was settled, and had a decent job. When I decided to buy a bike, I definitely didn't go all out, but I was able to get something nice enough that was comfortable, things on it worked reliably, and the bike didn't make me dislike the sport, as could be the case with a cheap-o bike! The other benefit I can see is that I was living on my own, free to make my own decisions about when and where to ride. I never had to rely on a parent to drive me to a trail, and I wasn't living with my parents, who tended to be conscious of driving distance & the associated cost. If I had the time to drive an hour to a trail, I was willing to deal with that cost to have the enjoyment of the ride.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Clips always! It feels funny now when I don't have clips. I would have told you that I still mostly push down on my pedals, but when I'm not clipped in, I realize that I actually do pull-up. I am one with the bike!

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?
While I have had my share of crashes, I am fortunate that none have taken me down for more than a day. Only one stands out as causing a slight mental setback. I was pre-riding a race course and had to majorly slow down in a tricky rock spot. I thought I might be able to carry more speed if I took a different line, so I decided to practice it. Turns out what I took was not a line. I flipped over the handlebars when I hit with speed and landed on the palm of my hand. A large welt appeared, and I couldn't continue riding because the pressure of my hand on the handlebars was too much. I was so upset because I wanted to race the next day. I fretted that night and kept icing. The next morning, it was tolerable and I did race. However, during the race, I went super slow, and in a couple other spots on the course where I never had an issue, I was now stepping down to make sure I got through, even though this was a race! It took me a few weeks to get back to what I'd call "normal." The injury obviously wasn't that severe since I could ride the next day, but just all the associated feelings of anxiety with the possibility of it wrecking my season must have got to me. I think also the fact that the crash was so unexpected. It's one thing to approach something on a trail you never rode and biff, but I scouted this out, had an expectation of what my bike would do, and when it didn't happen that way, it just put fear into me - at what other point on the trail when I thought I had it together, would things come apart? It just took time and continuing to ride the techy stuff I always ride to get back confidence.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Nearly everything was challenging! Taking corners with speed was something I worked 1-2 years ago. I still often ask my husband for advice on how to do these types of things. I still don't have great skills on getting over large logs, but doing them and conquering them over and over makes things like that become more of a non-event. I also get a weekly newsletter from Singletracks and read any articles or watch videos that I feel pertain to me.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I definitely have my moods. One day I'll be willing to try things that may be over my head, and another day, I am stepping off my bike, feeling the frustration build as I miss riding feature after feature. I try to balance these moods. I don't ever want to have every day be the stepping off my bike day. At that point, I stop learning. However, I'm not going to force something either. I'd rather live to ride another day, and that's what I tell myself on those frustrating days.

I find that I am fearful of jumping new things. There are a few trails I am familiar with, that over time, I have developed the skills to launch off things, however, these are few and far between. I rarely launch off anything on a new trail, and even though I must possess these skills since I do it where I'm comfortable, I am so afraid of drops. I also lack the skills to lift my front end up onto a boardwalk if it's more than a couple inches. I'm not a fan of any boardwalk, in general, but have gotten more comfortable with wider ones by riding them. Sometimes riding a trail that you are unfamiliar with forces you to do things you wouldn't do if you had scoped it out ahead. I find I have most of the skills, and it always comes down to fear that stops me.

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?
Start on an easier trail with someone who knows what they're doing, and that knows the trail well enough to call out features ahead of time. My first ride was on a double-wide grassy trail. In retrospect, that ride was probably more about learning what the bike feels like, what clipless pedals feel like, and navigating some very gentle features. After one ride, we were off to singletrack trail, with my husband warning me of features ahead of time. I also found when I was learning, that having other stressors going on made me get frustrated much more quickly when I couldn't bike-handle out on the trail. Early on, I was learning to skydive, and was doing that the same day as a technical ride. I had a bad day on the trail, likely because I was stressed about the skydiving, and I didn't ride again for about 6 weeks. Now, riding is a stress reliever, but early on, that wasn't the case, and I really had to show up with focus if I was riding anything the least bit technical.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being in the outdoors and getting a workout at the same time. I'm not a gym rat, and want to workout outdoors. I often ride alone, and that allows me to set the pace and push hard when I feel good, and scale it back when I'm tired. This means that after most workouts, I am happy with my effort. The solitude in the woods can be so enjoyable at times. When I do have the opportunity to ride with others, I find it such a social experience and it makes it so easy to just open up to the people you are with.

Tell us about your first mountain bike race! What was the experience like?
It was in 2012 at the Alterra Coffee Bean Classic WORS race. At that time, I was still a devoted runner, so I started my day with the WORS trail race that morning and won! Then, I entered the Citizen bike race and was so ridiculously nervous because my skills weren't the best, and the thought of passing made me cringe. I recall riding at the front of the field with other women, and that I felt impeded in the technical parts because this was a trail I knew well. We caught men almost immediately and the race was mostly me frustrated in the technical sections, unable to open up any sort of lead because of all the men in my way. I did work my way up, and I did win that race. I enjoyed the experience, but wouldn't race again until it was held the next year, because I still didn't want to race on a course I didn't know well. I also didn't get the same joy out of racing as I did running. Running was so pure and free, where everyone had a clear path to go as fast as they could and others didn't affect your performance. With MTB racing, I couldn't race to my full potential because of men clogging the course.
Why do you feel should folks try at least one mountain bike event?
If you already mountain bike, you should try an event solely to see what you're capable of, and to overcome your fears. My guess is anyone that rides, but hasn't raced, hasn't done so because some aspect of the race brings some fear. Whether it's not knowing how to pass like me, or just being fearful you'll be last or impede others, don't let that hold you back. You may find that more joy comes out of the experience than you expected, and if it doesn't, then you know and won't wonder about it. That said, there are different types of races. Some are serious atmospheres, and other are laid back and may even have beer hand-ups. If you don't like one atmosphere or environment, give another one a shot.

What race would you say is your most favorite to participate in?
My favorite race is the Fall Color Festival at the John Muir trails. Many years ago I set out to try the 35-mile event which was probably 15 miles longer than I had ever ridden. It was a big part of my summer to make sure I got build-up rides in, and I approached it similar to marathon training. It is the trail I probably have logged the most miles on, and know inside out. It is also an easy-going atmosphere with music, food, merchandise, and a place where people stick around to hang out. The women's field is usually pretty small, but I usually find myself able to ride with some men for long portions of the race. I've done it many years and now find I don't need to specifically train for it like I did that first year. I can more or less just pop into it now based on the rides I do all summer. It is a no-pressure, fun race!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My very first mountain bike was a Specialized Epic with 26" wheels. I got the smaller wheels because it was more fun to ride. I didn't know much. We went to the bike shop and wanted to know what kind of scratch & dents they had available in my size so that I could get more for my money. That fit the bill. I had that for several years when a piece of the frame started to fail, and it was something that could not be fixed. After a trip out west, where I rented a Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt, I tried looking around a bit for demos to try out other bikes, but then I finally said forget it. I loved that bike, and being a bad decision maker, I decided to buy it before clouding my mind with other options. My husband wanted to build the bike, so I was just trying to order a frame, and that was quite the ordeal. Those bikes weren't around the area, and I hunted down a bike shop that was a dealer. They told me the frames were out of stock, and I had to wait for the next model year release. We were only months away, so that is what I did. Chris built this, and that was the new bike that I loved. After a season racing it and getting more focused on mountain biking, I struggled with hills and knew that if I wanted to have more of an advantage, I'd need a bike with 29" wheels. I naturally looked to what Rocky Mountain had, and the Element seemed to fit the bill. I started inquiring with the few bike shops in the area that now carried this brand, but none of them had that bike, and the demo fleet didn't carry it either. It was at this time I was recruited to be on a new bike team, Neff Cycle Service, where the founder, Isaac Neff, was a Rocky dealer. I was able to express my concerns about never having tried this bike and what it would be like, and he said I'd love it. I ordered one, and have 2 full race seasons on it and I do love it! When I got a fatbike last winter, I didn't even flinch, and just went for the Rocky Mountain (Suzi Q) without even trying it. I really have loved that brand! I also do cyclocross and love the Van Dessel Full Tilt Boogie that I got after last season. It was the same story where it was a bike I demo'd, and I decided I wanted it without ever trying anything else. Lucky for me, Isaac Neff had a fleet of pit bikes to sell post-season.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
As far as the sport itself, I don't know that it is unique to women, but access to resources is enough to make someone look for something easier. You have to get a bike, find a trail, have shoes, know how to fix the bike, and on and on. Even if the desire is mildly there, it's so much easier to pick up something like running where you just have to step out your door. I think more women lack confidence than men, and can be intimidated. You have to get over that intimidation multiple times (at the bike shop, in trying to fix/maintain the bike, at the trailhead, etc.) to even get to the trail. Probably not worth it to most people that don't have an invested friend tugging them into it.

Because I had the easy route with my riding boyfriend, I found my deterrence centered around racing. He had only casually entered a couple races, so that was something he didn't have the scoop on. What deterred me from getting into it, and has made me progress slower than is probably necessary, is the lack of understanding and answers around categories. I was a runner. If you wanted to run a 5k, you signed up and showed up at the start time. Now, I wanted to compete in mountain biking, and I had to decide if I was Cat 1, 2, 3, or Open (or Cat 4 & 5 in cyclocross!) These were foreign terms to me - what did they even mean? Shouldn't the fastest person just win the race?! Once I was in the Open category of WORS, I found that race schedules never referenced this category, and I always felt it was unclear when and what distance I would be doing in that class. When I got better and started looking at National races, now there were differing UCI categories, and it became unclear if you needed a Pro license to compete in a race labeled "Pro," and would your domestic USA Cycling license work in a UCI event? Because I didn't grow up doing bike races or have a parent that raced, I had no one to turn to with these questions, so I often dragged my feet, or threw away the idea of competing in something because I didn't understand what I'd register in and if I was eligible to do so. When I joined a team, I remember asking questions about categories, but few were competing at the level I was, or they weren't looking to do similar events, so I didn't get always get answers there either. Even now, I just lack someone to look up to. At least I now have some men on my team that compete at a very high level and have more experience & familiarity with racing. However, it frustrates me that I need to rely on other people to get answers and that these things aren't laid out in a clear manner that I can just understand! I am detail oriented, so I need my answers!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Not having raced much outside of WI, but reading national articles that are published, I am encouraged that WI has things right. I still see articles written about the need for equal payouts for women, and that is foreign to me. That has been a staple of WI racing, both in WORS & cyclocross since I started, so I never realized there was that inequality. There are also several cyclocross races that have free entries for first-time women riders. I think taking it a step further and having bikes available for women to use at an event whether it's a race or a demo takes one large hurdle out of the way. Who wants to spend thousands of dollars on gear if they don't know they'll like something? Not me! More demos could offer Small & Medium bikes, or go as far as to offer a woman leading an informal loop to ride as a group would only further help. While I enjoy riding alone, I think many women do not, either because they are social people, or feel uncomfortable in the woods alone. Any type of rider-connect forums or scheduled rides by shops or groups can help women to avoid that too. It's almost as if there needs to be a central online forum for women to go to either find a mentor or just ask all their questions, especially since many don't have the first clue how to fix their bike!


What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
It is always amazing to show up to a race and find that there are 20 other women on the starting line with you. That type of field size doesn't often happen. It's exciting when you see all those other women riding, and know that there are even more not at the race. And, it's not just about racing. It's about having other women to ride with and talk bikes with. It's knowing the success I feel when I ride a line clean and wanting other women to feel that sense of accomplishment. Sport, in general, is a good, healthy thing to have in your life.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
In my lifetime, I have donated 6 gallons of blood.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Men on Bikes Series: Brady Howe

I'm originally from Holmen, WI, just outside of LaCrosse. I lived outside of town so if I wanted to hang out with friends I had to bike. I started mountain biking in middle school and I bought my first "real" mountain bike in 1995, a Trek 800. I upgraded to a Trek 7000 the next summer and did my first race that year. I still have the 1996 Trek 7000 and currently use it as a commuter bike, converted to single speed.

I love mountain biking and being outside, so when I went to college to be a Park Ranger.

Over my life I've worked for WI State Parks, the National Park Service (Chiricahua National Monument/Fort Bowie National Historic Site), and the US Forest Service (Arapaho National Forest, Black Hills National Forest, and now the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest). I've worked in recreation this whole time, working on a backcountry trail crew with the Park Service, to developed rec and trails with the USFS. Part of the reason I chose this career path is advocacy. Back in the day, many public land managers weren't too fond of mountain bikers. Many of them thought we would ruin the trails and were unsafe for other users. Some of those issues are still around today but part of that is trail design and educating trail users on etiquette. I figured if I got a job in one of those agencies then someday I could be the one setting policy and work on building awesome trails to bike. I'm really lucky too that my wife got into cycling and mountain biking so I always have someone to go on bike adventures with. We left on our honeymoon right after I crossed the finish line of my first Chequamegon MTB Fest, and we went to Fruita and Moab, so that was pretty awesome. We got fatbikes this year and had fun going out today for Global Fat Bike Day too and we're currently at 12 bikes between us (n+1), mainly because I get attached to my bikes and have a hard time selling them. We also have two cats because cats are awesome. My wife wants to do RAGBRAI in 2021 too.

My love of mountain biking has been a huge influence on my career choice and I hope I get the opportunity to advance enough to make a big difference for mountain bikers. Plus I just love to ride and see other people out having fun on the trails. I've always been a mid-pack racer, will never win anything. But that's OK, I'm still having a shit ton of fun on my bike. I was never good a stick and ball sports, but in cycling and mountain biking, it doesn't matter how good you are to have fun, just being out there and doing it is all that matters.

Tell us about your mountain biking introduction, what about it made you go "Yes! This is for me!"
The year was 1995 and I had a good buddy since kindergarten that was big into dirt bikes and he got a real mountain bike, so I had to get one too. I saved up my allowance and I got a Trek 800, not as cool as his 930 but it worked for me. It had bar ends, toe clips, and brakes that worked! Several of my buddies got "real" mountain bikes that summer too and we used to cruise around causing the type of mayhem that only 13-year-old boys can cause. It was about this time that I was realizing that I really wasn't that good at stick and ball sports. But on a bike it didn't matter, you got to run your own race, do your own thing. The next summer I got a Trek 7000 and I did my first race and was hooked. It kicked my butt but it was so much fun.

When you started working for parks, what did your job(s) primarily entail?
When I was in college I got a summer job working at Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, WI. My jobs there varied, the manager did a great job of making sure we all got to experience a little bit of everything as several of us were going to college for natural resources. I did everything from general facility maintenance like painting picnic tables, cleaning outhouses, selling passes to visitors, and my favorite doing trail work. We would work one week focusing on one area, then do something different the next week. It really kept things fun as I got to learn a lot those two summers.

What do you love most about being able to have a career that had you so closely involved with the outdoors?
I love that I get to provide people with the opportunity to go out and enjoy their public land and have great experiences recreating on it. I remember one day when I was in Colorado working on the Arapaho National Forest. I ran into a father and son that were on a family vacation from somewhere where this isn't really any public land. The dad wanted to take his son out camping for a night, and the wound up at a campground. He wanted more of a backcountry experience for his son but wasn't sure what he could go, what was legal and what wasn't.

I pointed out to the mountain range behind us and told them that they could camp anywhere they wanted out there, it was all their land. The look on their face was priceless. I gave them a map, went over the fire regulations, and sent them on their way. I'm sure that they have some great memories from camping out that night that neither one of them will ever forget. Being able to be a part of that really makes me happy.

Why is being an advocate important to you? Have you faced challenges?
Being an advocate is important to me because without advocacy we wouldn't have trails, and I can only ride the road so much before I need my dirt fix. Some of the challenges I've faced have been the misconceptions that people have towards bikes. Many people, including public land managers, don't have a firm grasp on what all mountain biking is. They see Red Bull Rampage pop up on their YouTube feed and think that's what we all do. I remember reading something in a hunting magazine where the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation took some public land managers that don't hunt out target shooting and then hunting so they could experience it first hand. That trip gave the land managers a great perspective on why that activity is so important to so many people. I think if mountain bikers did something similar we could help with some of the misconceptions that are out there. All in all, though it has been getting better as more mountain bikers become organized, and get jobs in public land management! (Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow, https://clft.org/).

Why is education on trail use/etiquette important? Are there resources for new riders?
Education on trail etiquette is important because it helps everyone have a fun and safe time on the trails. No one want's to get into an accident with someone trying to set a STRAVA pr. I know I've been run off the trail by this more times that I like to admit. Having good etiquette is important too because many trails are multi-use, we all have to play in the same sandbox. It only takes one individual doing bad things on a multi-use trail to leave a bad impression of mountain bikers on other trail users. And unfortunately, a black eye for one is a black eye for us all in many cases. I remember bike magazines having more articles on this back in the day, but now you see stuff on social media and other formats as well. Pretty much every trail system or club has a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram where they post messages on trail conditions, safety and etiquette. It seems like many riders get introduced to the sport by a friend, so I guess it's up to use to make sure that we teach and educate each other on what is and isn't appropriate so we all can enjoy this sport. We are our brother's keeper.

What has been the most exciting improvement you've seen/helped with since working with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest?
Fat Bikes! When I first started on the CNNF fat bikes weren't allowed on any of the xc ski trails, but now we allow that mixed use on a couple of systems. The CNNF doesn't actually have a lot of single track for mountain biking, so for fat biking the options were snowmobile or forest roads that may or may not be plowed. Giving fat bikers this option has been great, but having single track would definitely be better! We've also done a lot of improvements on our motorized trails as well to allow side by side UTVs. This has been exciting as it's something that we have done to keep up with trends in recreation as more people are buying side by sides instead of traditional ATVs, and keeping the forest open to more people.
Your wife also mountain bikes, tell us what you enjoy most about being able to share the experience with her-
Everything. I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to go on adventures with her. When we started dating the majority of my rides were solo endeavors. When we moved to Rapid City, SD I was blown away by all the mountain biking I could do from our house in town, and how they had trails for every skill level. She is pretty adventurous and talked about getting a bike and going out with me. We hit up a couple of shops and got her a bike and she's been hooked ever since. At first, it was a little bit of an adjustment, getting used to riding with someone else especially considering she was new to the sport, but after a while, it got great, really great. Watching her progress in her fitness and skills, to doing her first race and then this year doing the full 40 at the Chequamegon MTB Fest for the first time, it's been an amazing journey. I was so stoked when I heard her name announced as she crossed the finish line this year. We even took our honeymoon to Fruita and Moab to ride bikes, and went to Winter Park in Colorado to ride for our anniversary one year, wouldn't have been able to pull that one off if she didn't ride! Now when I go on rides without her I almost feel like I'm cheating on her or something and I feel a little guilty like I hope she won't see my STRAVA or anything.

Do you have any tips/suggestions for those who would like to introduce their partner to mountain biking?
Take it slow, and get them good stuff that fits them. If you're 5'11" and give your 5'2" girlfriend your old clapped out bike to ride chances are she won't have a good time. The same thing goes for a helmet, clothes, etc. You don't have to go all in and get them a kit from Rapha to start out, but get them stuff that works and that fits them. I don't know how many bikes my wife tested before she picked out her first bike, but it was a lot. But when she found one that fit her she came back from that little trip around the block with a big grin on her face. Having a bike that she got to pick out and liked definitely helped her get into the sport.

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?
Nobody cares how good or bad you are (or at least they shouldn't). Go out and have fun, that's what it's all about. You don't have to be a superfreak shaving your legs and counting calories training for Leadville to have a good time. Mountain biking is for everyone. Ride in jean cutoffs? Cool, enjoy your ride! Riding with friends after work? Cool, enjoy your ride! Riding to get out and enjoy nature and fresh air? Cool, enjoy your ride! Just make sure that you're on a bike that is safe and fits you, and wear a helmet. Bring some water, some snacks, and if you got a friend that already rides that can show you a thing or two then even better. Also for the love of God and all that is holy and pure, yield to the uphill rider, let others pass, and don't skid.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything. I can be having the crappiest day, and go for a ride and all is well with the world. Since I started using Zwift even the trainer can be fun! I don't think I've ever taken a bike ride that I regret. I've had some bad rides where I've wrecked and wound up at the hospital, or where my bike was being a jerk (bent derailleur hangers are the bane of my existence), but I don't regret going on them. I'd rather spend my life living and doing fun stuff than sitting on the couch. Plus all the cool places my bike has taken. I don't think I would have pursued a career in public land management if it wasn't for mountain bikes. Riding a bike has a way of clearing your head, and it's a lot more fun than running.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My wife and I currently have 12 bikes. I have every mountain bike I've ever owned except the first, going back to my 1996 Trek 7000 that I did my first race on, which has since been converted to a single speed commuter bike. What can I say, I get attached to my bikes and have a hard time selling them when I get something new. My main bikes though are my Trek Fuel EX 9, and my Kona Jake the Snake. My wife has a Fuel 8 WSD and a matching Kona, except her bar tape, is pink and she has a different saddle. We both run 27.5 for our mountain bikes so we can share tubes, less to carry in our packs. I'm really tempted to buy a 29" hardtail though. One of my buddies got a Santa Cruz Chameleon and it's so much fun. We got cross bikes for gravel riding, they're a few years old and this was before gravel bikes were really a thing. They work for us on our weekly road group rides, and for exploring the roads less traveled.
What has been your favorite cycling event(s) to participate in?
I work a lot of weekends so I'm limited on what I can do. But for what I've done it's tough to say, kind of like saying what kid is your favorite. I really like the Chequamegon MTB Fest because getting to ride that roll out with so many people gives me goosebumps. I did the Dairy Roubaix gravel "race" for the first time this past year and that one was really fun too. It was cold, and lightly raining during the ride. I even had to shovel snow out of our campsite the day before. I think the miserable conditions are what made it fun and memorable. When I was in college in Minneapolis I used to race the weekly series at Buck Hill and that was really fun too. I think it was either Bike or Dirt Rag magazine that once had a little write up on it and they said it was like a keg party where a bike race broke out, and that pretty much sums it up. My skills developed so much from that series, and I meet so many other mountain bikers that took me out on trails outside of racing that I probably never would have ridden. Pat at Penn Cycles really has done something great there. The weekly volunteer trail work nights that the La Crosse Velo Club put on when I was growing up was actually fun too, part of the reason why I went into a career playing in the woods. Beer By Bike Brigade in La Crosse, WI is pretty sweet too, a giant pub crawl for bikes, and they do a lot of great things for the community.

Why do you feel folks should consider participating in at least one event?

Because it's fun, and you get to meet a lot of great people! There are plenty of events out there besides races where you can go out, meet new people and learn new things. You'd be surprised at how many cycling groups and clubs are actually out there, even in the smallest of towns. Going out on a weekly group ride is a great way to meet other cyclists and develop your skills. I've met some great people by participating in bike events. I even remember this one time a gal gave me a pull when I was hitting the wall during the Chequamegon Fat Tire Fest, and then a few years later I got to do an interview for her blog.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more folks to be involved?
As far as changing that's tough. But to encourage more people to be involved: NICA, promote NICA. The more kids on bikes mean that there will be more people on bikes in the future. More bikers also tend to lean towards more trails, more volunteers for trails, more people willing to donate for trails, more people to advocate for trails and cycling infrastructure... I think the new IMBA program of promoting more trails close to home has some real promise too. When you look at the maps on MTB Project and Trail Forks you see that there are quite a few areas with little to no trails, filling in those gaps would be great. It's tough to introduce someone to mountain biking when they have to drive an hour or longer to get to the closest trails.

What inspires you to encourage people to ride?
Seeing people happy on bikes, especially when recreating on their public land, makes me happy. Something about seeing others getting stoked about clearing a technical feature for the first time, or finally making it up a climb without walking, or going on their longest ride yet makes me happy. Happiness is contagious, and riding bikes makes people happy.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'll give you two! One, I'm 37 and I've yet to master the skills to do a proper wheelie. I can sometimes ride one for a couple of yards, but I can't do them consistently.

Two, my wife and I have two cats named Bill and Ted, and they are most excellent.