Monday, August 5, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Emily Oppliger

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoorMy name is Emily Oppliger, and here is a little bit about me. I grew up in a world of adventure tucked away in the middle of Lake Superior, the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. My parents, both incredible athletes, opened my world to so many adventure sports, including cycling.

I started working at the local bike and ski shop Down Wind Sports and I would not be where I am today without that job. It didn’t take long to take my mountain biking passion to the next level. I was emerged in the sport and tried to learn as much as I could about the industry and mechanics of mountain bikes.

I raced cross country since I was a young girl but by the time I was in college I was intrigued to another side of the sport and never turned back.

Facebook Emily Oppliger
Instagram @emily_oppliger

Tell us about your mountain biking introduction? What made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
Well, I have been riding bikes since I was a young girl, but there definitely was a turning point in my riding. The tables turned when I working in a bike shop I started riding with the shop employees more and more. Our rides were mostly based around how much fun you could have, while hitting the most jumps, and drinking the most beer. This was a side of the sport I had never seen as I was previously only riding endurance cross country. I quickly got the craving for adrenaline from hitting features and fixating on downhill speed. That was it. The turning point.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you-
Although it all started with jumping around on my home trails, my bikelife accelerated fast. I dove into downhill racing and dedicated my time to it. I raced professional downhill and enduro around North America, gaining incredible riding experience and building a network within the outdoor industry. I always thought my passion was racing but the tables quickly took another turn. I started working with Lindsey Richter and coaching for Liv Ladies AllRide. My racing ego was suddenly ripped from my soul and my passion shifted. Lindsey took me under her wing and my career as a ladies mountain bike coach began. I could not get enough of it. Being surrounded and included by the leading women in the industry was eye-opening. My perception of the sport was changed again… into the bikelife I know today. I pour my enthusiasm into my coaching and encourage women to overcome obstacles and build self-confidence in riding and life!

Tell us about your favorite mountain biking event?
The riding event that means the most to me is the Copper Harbor Women’s Weekend. This women’s event takes place at the tip the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan in one of the most special and unknown mountain biking meccas, and sold out in 6 minutes this year. Every year in a town with a population of 100 people, we double the population with the women on mountain bikes. This is a mountain bike skills clinic that is driven by the incredible Lindsey Ritcher herself and the dedicated Copper Harbor Trails Club. We have an amazing team of coaches from across the country and bike industry who travel to coach this special event. Copper Harbor is a Disney World of all varieties of trail and your face will always be sore from smiling when you ride there. The energy of this event is truly unique and the people and location make it so. Honestly, I will never be able to give the spark by words, so you’ll just have to come and see for yourself!

What do you love about coaching/teaching mtb skills?
Honestly, what I love about coaching/teaching mtb skills is showing people there is an actual technique to a sport that many people jump into without much advice, support, or confidence. I am fascinated by how everyone learns differently and problem-solving to flick that switch of a lightbulb, usually followed by a huge smile.
What has been one of your favorite skill-teaching moments?
This is so hard to choose but there is one that comes to mind. I was coaching for SRAM MTB at CrankWorx for their women’s program. I had a beginner group on a green trail - which I don’t usually have because most the time I am working with advanced riders. But I love to teach beginners just as much because I get to go back into looking at the sport from a new perspective. AND this story is great because it just supports how important the more basic skills are. So I am on this green trail with my beginner group and we are working on looking ahead on the trail. I am leading the group down a kitty litter, wide and flat trail, so I decide to reach down and set the compression on my shock. I gaze down at the switch for just a moment and BAM I am hit the ground HARD.

Which proves the point, everybody falls! This is one of the best lessons you can burn in a new rider's brain, and really just for general life. Even though I had to take stitches in the knee and not race the Garbo DH, I think the lesson is still worth it.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Both!! I think both pedals have their place. I use my flats for dirt jumping and my first couple seasons of DH racing, to make bailing easier. Now almost all my bikes are clips even my DH bike, although for dirt jumping and BMX I will still go flats. Flats are GREAT because they can teach you so much about the importance of your footing on the pedals and pressure points to keep traction at all times - especially in the air!

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Unfortunately, I have a pretty bad track record with crashing my body into dirt, trees, rocks, and about any other features on a downhill/enduro track. There isn’t really a specific crash that really broke me down but the accumulation of them definitely has… in different ways. Physically, my body has been strung out over these injuries which has led to some tough realizations as a 26-year-old. After multiple surgeries, concussions, and broken bones you can really see the impact on the body. This past year, I had a considerable crash that led to some internal bleeding and a very extensive concussion. My confidence in my riding and myself has been pretty broken since, but I am slowly training myself and working on building my confidence again.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
It's hard to say with handling skills when I started because that was so long ago but I would say the biggest challenge for me was the mental obstacles. Getting myself to try features I had never done before and scared me. I use to ride up to things a million times and psych myself out on the feature. Then I started subconsciously closing my eyes when I would hit features…. This had about a 50% success rating by the way (not recommended). I knew there had to be a better way so I started to train mentally and get myself to think through the process/skills and try to visualize myself riding it correctly. I think one of the crucial skills, often overlooked (no pun intended) is just looking ahead.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Mental blocks have always been and since my crash, have been very active in my riding. It makes riding tricky because it makes features and trails I have hit in the past, scary again and sometimes I feel like I have taken this huge step back. But, like I said I am practicing my confidence and reminding myself that I know the technique and have the skills. This is a huge part of cycling (and life) but confidence really is the key, and it might not go well every time but also remember the other key, everyone falls!

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?

It always seems like a good idea at first, and don’t worry you’ll be able to ride together for sure farther down the way. but learning can be very stressful, competitive and high tension when learning from a significant other. This isn’t always the case but for a good experience as a beginner, I would definitely suggest looking into a clinic or a local group of friends or peers. I know that joining a new group or clinic can be intimidating but the energy there is so welcoming! These groups are always excited to have gained a new rider.

What do you love about riding your bike?
What I really love about riding, is the places it brings me and the vast network of friends I have created from it. I have been able to travel all over the world for riding and just being outside breathing fresh mountain air in some of the most picturesque places in the world is what I cherish most.
Image may contain: one or more people, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Building a bicycle quiver for your riding style is important and exciting! I have many bikes in the quiver but let me tell you about some of my favorite steeds.

Number one all-around steed - Stumpjumper 27.5 - this bike is the most playful but stable bike I have ever ridden. Its responsiveness on the trail is incredible and it jumps just as well.

Number one Downhill Steed - Demo - talk about a nimble, quick, blaster DH ride.

Number one adventure bike - Diverge - This bike has a special place in my heart - this gravel/adventure bike has brought me to exciting places with the best adventure groups!

What do you do at Specialized?
I am a service representative at Specialized providing mechanical and informational responses to our riders. Most of my time is spent conversing, troubleshooting, and giving information on bicycles and gear. It keeps things interesting every day, and there is never a dull moment.

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
Like a bicycle - balance is essential to the ride. Having women in the industry keeps or at least starts a balance of thoughts, ideas, processes, and most of all perspective to be successful.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Well it is often jumped to that women do not have as much interest in cycling but a study by People for Bikes shows that the gap is not actually so large. ⅓ of the population over the period of the year rode a bicycle with 45 million (43%) women 59 million (57%) men. So essentially, I think many women are interested in cycling I just think that keeping them interested and them actually having good experiences is what deters many. And that is why I think women's activity in the industry is so important and most of all it's why I pour my soul into coaching, because those good experiences with the sport are everything!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think industry-wide many brands (not all) spend focus and money on elite athletes and racing which is incredible, and as a previous racer, I appreciate this support. I just believe that the women that need the industry the most to encourage them in the sport cannot relate to those athletes and elitist focus. I think brands that can relate to this general community of ladies who ride or want to ride will succeed most with women riders. I believe the key is creating content that women can make personal connections to and feel like they fit into the brand at any level.
Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
There are so many reasons to be inspired to give ladies more confidence on bikes. I would say the biggest inspiration for me would be every time that light bulb goes off in a ladies mind and they conquer a skill or a feature for the first time. This is a contagious high from the riders happiness and confidence and those moments are what drive me in my coaching for sure.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
One time I got to be a double for Micayla Gatto and I am a twin!! (not with Micayla lol)

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Mountain Bike Gear at Disney? You Bet!

This year Travis and are doing something we've never done before, and that would be going on a (literal) summer vacation! We might be going to the happiest place on earth, however, we will not be entering a land that is any cooler than Iowa in the summertime. Frankly, it'll likely be worse.

When we last went to Disney I found myself wearing tank tops and overshirts most of the time, paired with a skirt or my favorite Outdoor Research Ferossi shorts. I utilized my Outdoor Research sling bag a lot, and wore either Teva sandals or some running shoes.

Overall those items were fantastic, but this time I knew I would have to make some changes in order to stay comfortable as much as possible in the Florida heat as well as keeping my shoulders and neck happy.

#1. More tank tops and some of those will be from Shredly. I know wicking is important in hot weather, and I have a tendency of overheating fast, so I figured that "mountain bike" clothes would work great! I'll be trying out the Honeycomb tank in a couple different colors and am absolutely stoked over the mesh back on them. Plus, the fabric feels amazingly soft.

#2. More shorts! I'll be taking down a couple pairs of Shredly Multi-Sport shorts in addition to the Outdoor Research shorts for additional color. Not too heavy, wick away moisture, and won't look too wet if I go on a water ride!

#3. My Outdoor Research overshirt and the Shredly Explorer shirt. I know it will be hot, but I also know if we go into a restaurant for a sit-down meal I will likely be chilly. I'm always one that likes to travel prepared for some arm coverage, especially if we're out at night.

#4. I will (gasp) likely not be taking my sling bag because after wearing it for hours on end in the parks, my neck and right shoulder were super sore. HIP PACKS to the rescue! I'll be utilizing one from Silver Rider Stitch Works and one from Pinch Flat Designs (and possibly my favorite Dakine hip pack), depending on the day/what I need to carry/what we might be riding (lots of water rides or not.)

I figured this vacation would be a fun way of trying out some items that are for mountain biking (or outdoor-sport-advertised) and show that there are items out there that are truly able to multi-task from the sporting world to the casual vacation scene. Also, I feel my happiest when I'm in bike clothes, which works out well that I'll be taking some on the trip with me!

After the trip, I'll write a review of the gear options I took with me and let you know what worked well and what didn't. Stay tuned!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Women Involved: Jessica Combs

Hi, I am Jes Combs, a pretty okay mountain biker, mom of a toddler, wife of a trail builder and proud founder of the MsFit Mountain Bike Brigade-a WTF mountain bike advocacy nonprofit based out of the PNW.

Tell us about your introduction to #bikelife, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
Actually, #bikelife wasn’t necessarily something I was too open to exploring at first. It took almost 2 years of convincing from my husband and best friend before I finally gave it a try. The cost of mountain biking was always my excuse; it was hard to justify spending so much on something that I (at that time) considered to be a kid’s toy. Quite honestly, I had a rough introduction to the sport! After my 3rd ride, lots of curse words, tears & walking I was considering selling my bike and throwing in the towel. Luckily with some wise words and encouragement from my best friend Sarah, I created a network of women riders through social media and my passion for the sport started to flourish.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Mountain Biking did not come naturally to me, I struggled with bike body separation and the feeling of shifting weight into corners. Learning from women has been an instrumental catalyst for my progression. I credit Kat Sweet, Angi Weston and Emily Sablehaus for helping me find confidence on my bike, & highly recommend checking out their clinics. Sweetlines, Radical Roots, & Flying Squirrel.

Often women try to learn from a spouse or partner, which poses its own stress and challenges. I know personally, I cannot learn from my 6’2 husband that has been riding since age 4. Our bodies and thinking processes are night and day. He is more leap before you look… and I am more look before you leap. So, recognizing that you don’t have to just send it has also helped me with my mountain biking as well. It's OKAY TO WALK SISTER!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Every day I wish I could just rail into corners. It’s a skill that I tend to hyper-focus on, and typically when I put too much thought into something, I tend to mess it up. My trick is to keep a chill vibe out on the trails, riding is not a competition for me. I may not be the fastest out there, but I can guarantee that I’m having a blast. And with that relaxed vibe, my riding seems to be at its best.
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?
Mountain biking is intimidating, especially if you are starting from ground zero. I recommend chatting with your local bike shop to inquiring about group rides & local bike organizations. Also, I can’t stress enough the importance of mastering fundamentals. Participating in a clinic within the first few weeks on your bike can make a world of difference and keep you from acquiring any bad habits.

You founded MsFit Mountain Bike Brigade, tell us about the group and why it was started-
The day after a miserable experience on my bike, I was sitting on my couch and I opened my computer. I was taking some words of wisdom that I had just received from my bestie whom lives out of state: She said, “before you give up, try and find other women to ride with.” So I took to Google. After realizing that there wasn’t much to offer locally for women’s groups, I decided to create my own social platform. Through the powers of social media; what started as a way for me to make some gal pal riding buddies, manifested into a way of life. I honestly never expected there to be such an overwhelmingly positive response to the creation of the Ms.Fits. Once we all started to ride together, there was a dramatic shift in our progression, and our fully stoked trail etiquette organically seemed to draw in more riders.

How can folks join MisFit Mountain Bike Brigade?

A great resource to connect with our brigade is the website, from there you can find links to our social media, event details and awesome Bio’s on our Badassadors. It doesn’t take much to become a Ms.Fit! Just the desire to hit the trails, an open mind and heart, the willingness to try new (sometimes intimidating) things, and a desire to give back to our community.
Why do you feel mountain bike groups geared toward WTF are important for inclusiveness?
My own personal belief is that we are much more powerful as a tribe than an individual. The Ms.Fits are passionate about supporting the WTF community and providing a culture where everyone is supported and can thrive. And anyone who has a problem with our open-door policy is free to ride with another group.

How did you come up with the name of your non-profit?
I get this question a lot… Long story short, one of my favorite bands is the MisFits.. lol.

Now looking at our organization, the word Ms.Fit is so suiting of who we are. We are unapologetic & at times rebellious. We come from all walks of life and have created lasting memories while pushing the limits of our comfort levels. But most of all we laugh, cry, party, and shred together. No matter what your ability level, background or way of life the Ms.Fits offer a secure environment to be the best version of yourself, both on and off a bike.

Any plans for the 2019 year with MisFit Mountain Bike Brigade?
2019 is going to be HUGE for the Brigade. Our Board of directors has been investing countless hours into what’s to be our most productive year to date. We will be taking on more environmental contributions through trail building efforts, our race team is thriving and we have several events in the works; including a Ms.Fits Summit. Also, we will continue to work with bike companies to provide women with the resources necessary to explore the trails before committing to the purchase.
Many of us have gotten PMBIA Certified and in 2020 we will start hosting MsFits Shreducation clinics. Getting womxn comfortable with the basics before they take on the big stuff.

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 CRASH ALL OF THE TIME! Lucky for me I haven’t sustained an injury that has sidelined me for too long. But a few weeks prior to the Sturdy Dirty Enduro a couple years back I did compound fracture my rear brake finger. And that’s where the power of support from fellow Ms.Fits came into play. Having my brigade there to encourage me through the healing process, had me back on my bike and ready to shred the Sturdy.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The athleticism and focus required for mountain biking work well for my busy mind. I also enjoy the outdoors, and I’ve explored places that I had never dreamed about seeing from the cockpit of my bike.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I am an ambassador for Specialized, and this year I am on a Rocket Red Stumpjumper Expert 27.5c. I chose a stumpy because it’s a great all-around trail bike that likes to get rowdy. Plus the bright red frame can be seen from outer space, so you can't miss me out on the trail.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with mountain biking?
I know for me it was the cost associated with getting into the sport, and that’s why the Ms.Fits focus so heavily on working with bike companies to get women in the saddle before shelling out their hard-earned money.

I also think there is a fear of failure or injury. Inherently, most recreational activities possess some type of risk factor, however, the thought of falling off a bike is scary. And that circles back to my recommendation of taking a clinic. Not only do clinics provide a foundation for learning proper bike skills, but you will also be introduced to riders that are feeling the same hesitations on their bike.

I have made some of my best friends during clinics!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I have noticed that some companies have finally got the memo… NOT ALL WOMEN LIKE PINK! Or purple, teal, or flowers. I have seen a shift in how brands market to women riders, and it’s refreshing. But I do think there is always room for improvement! I wish there were local shops that carried more women’s fit option. Especially pads! I realize that shopping online has taken away some of this option, but I often dream of a day where I can try on a pair of knee pads before buying them.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Because the women’s bike community is KICK-ASS (can I say that?)! I truly believe you can make some of your best memories and relationships while out on the trails. And I just want all the women to have all the bikes and all the fun!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
HMMM…. A random fact about myself…. I hate doing laundry… So much in fact that I have bought new clothes instead of washing my dirties. I typically will hide my growing pile in a basket tucked away in our guest shower until I literally have nothing left to wear.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Specialized Mountain Bike Apparel Review

For 2019 I wanted to step back into the casual mountain-bike apparel scene and break away from the full lycra kit that I had sported for way too long. I had drifted away from baggy "mtb specific" gear because I had grown tired of snagging my bike shorts on my saddle all the time. It seemed I couldn't get away from shorts that drowned my legs in fabric. I also found myself preferring the total lycra kit due to full-zippered jerseys for easy venting and shorts that didn't snag my seat.

I signed up for Roam Bike Fest, and with that commitment, I knew I would have to get some baggies so I wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb. Plus, I'd be wearing knee and elbow pads

I looked to Specialized for some mountain bike clothing options due to the color choices they had. I am one that does like bright colors and minimal patterns (most of the time...) and from my perspective, they had several pieces that I was keen on checking out.

Since then, I've been converted back to the baggy side and I'm loving it! I'll still throw on lycra here and there as there is a time and place for everything, but I'm feeling a lot happier with having more casual options to wear on a regular basis.

The following are the shorts and jerseys I've been wearing regularly this riding season:

Andorra Pro Mountain Bike Short
These are not the same Andorra Pro shorts from yesteryear, rather they have improved the design and I have found them to be a lot sleeker than the previous generation I had. That could've been due to my wearing a size Small when I might've been in the XS sizing. Not sure. Either way, with the sizing chart that I looked at when I was making my purchases I went with the XS size in shorts. I worried about whether or not they would be too snug, but I've found them to be comfortable and roomy enough. There is a velcro waist adjuster so you can loosen them or snug them up depending on the fit you're looking for.

The fabric feels more durable than the shorts I had in the '13/'14 year, and they now sport perforations for additional venting. You still have the zipper/velcro/snap closure action going on, and you do have a zippered pocket as well as zippered vents. Their cut falls just to the top of your knee.

The short legs weren't too big or billowy, and they worked well with knee pads. All in all, I was incredibly happy with these shorts and how they functioned for riding.

Andorra Short Sleeve Jersey
The Andorra Jersey has more of a t-shirt style cut compared to lycra jerseys which I have found to be enjoyable if I have the right size of jersey. If it's too big, then I feel like I'm swimming in fabric, but based on the size charts I opted for XS. Overall, I like the fit, but I would recommend sizing up if you wanted to be sure you could layer under the short sleeve or long sleeve Andorra jerseys. The jersey material isn't quite as silky feeling as the jerseys from a few years back. Still good quality, but I'd say not as stretchy or giving from what I remember the jerseys to be. The jerseys this year differ slightly from last year with the removal of the V-cuts at the bottom hem. I haven't noticed this to be an issue in terms of fit.
Keep in mind, mtb jerseys will not come with pockets (most times) so you'll want to have a hip-pack or hydration pack in order to bring snacks/tools/layers/etc.
I went with the two brightly colored options for the short sleeve jersey (Tropical Teal & Cast Berry/Acid Purple) and they pair well with solid-colored shorts, OR my recent discovery of Shredly shorts!

Emma Trail Jersey
I'll admit, the colors of the Emma Trail jersey weren't my usual go-to, but I figured I could dress them up with fun colored shorts instead. I was keen on trying a jersey that was slated to be well-vented as well as cooling, with longer sleeves for additional sun/abrasion protection.

I went with XS for size and felt it was a great fit. The sleeves weren't too tight nor loose, and the fabric was just loose enough around the middle to not look super bulky. It's not something I'd be able to layer up with in terms of a long-sleeved base layer (due to the sleeve fit) but I don't see that to be an issue.

I did wear the jersey out on a trail scoping ride when temps were near 90 degrees. Overall, I was quite comfortable! I would have been sweaty in anything, but I didn't feel as tho I was overly hot due to it not being a full-zip jersey.

The two colors are more on the muted side, and you'll find the black to look more like a dark grey vs. a true black (on the front.)
All in all excellent jerseys with a nice fit that pair well with a variety of mountain bike short colors/patterns.

Women's RBX Shorty Shorts w/SWAT
I was super keen to try this updated short from Specialized that has a new Women's 3D contour chamois. They updated the waistband is exceptionally nice as well as the leg bands, (no more annoying grippers!) To make a sleek fitting short that has an incredibly comfortable chamois pad. This short has felt amazing when paired with the Specialized Power Saddle with Mimic. I've worn the short for shorter rides but also for rides over 2 hours long, and it's been one of the best shorts I've ever worn. Now, it's not a liner short, but I use it as a liner short with baggies and they work well for a dual-purpose short.

So there you have it! A selection of jersey and shorts that I've been trying out this riding season from Specialized. From colorful to subtle, I've found great options that fit well and have converted me back into the world of mountain bike wear.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Women Involved Series: Lisa Uranga

My name is Lisa Uranga and am the President and Co-Founder of Dirt Side Sisters, a 501c3 non-profit organization. Our mission is to get more women riding mountain bikes confidently by increasing their skills and building community around them.

My husband and I have worked together as personal trainers for 11 years now. Generally speaking, we are pretty inseparable. I dedicate most of my time working for Dirt Side Sisters while he works at a local bike shop, Mad Duck Cyclery.

Last year I was certified at United Bicycle Institute as a bike mechanic through QBP’s Women’s Mechanic Scholarship, and I also became RETUL Certified to do professional bike fitting. I am looking forward to partnering up with an amazing fitter in our area to pursue a career helping people achieve their cycling goals with a proper bike fit! This whole journey with cycling started in 2007 when my husband and I purchased our first mountain bikes. Next thing I knew we were racing nearly every weekend all around Texas and all I wanted to do was become a Pro Mountain Biker! I upgraded to a Pro UCI License in 2012 and competed in a few national-level races over the next couple of years. Through this time I’ve won five Texas State Championships in the disciplines of cross-country, marathon, and cyclocross.

In 2014 a friend and I had the idea to start a weekly women’s group ride. Week after week we saw major growth and it felt like we were on to something, definitely filling a void in our local female mtbing community. In 2016 we took the plunge and become a 501c3 non-profit organization. DSS takes up the majority of my time these days, but I am finally finding a balance where I am able to get back to riding hard and training for races with my husband and friends. If I can balance work, DSS, and still race myself I am a happy camper!

Tell us about your introduction to #bikelife, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
Oh my, the whole “Yes! This is for me!” was a little bit of an uphill battle. Haha! I have a pretty quirky body, including one leg being longer than the other. No matter what type of strength training I do this has caused random pain in my joints and muscles for as long as I can remember. I’ve played sports my whole life. As a kid I was in soccer, softball, basketball, and track, then focused on volleyball in high school and college. I began Personal Training in 2007 at a gym where I met my husband Carlos. We would work out together and run outside at local parks. My body finally had enough with running. Carlos saw how frustrated I was and wanted to find an outdoor activity we could do together where I wasn’t in pain all the time…mountain bikes ended up being the solution! It was so much fun to explore different trails every weekend and jump in the lake after a hot summer ride. The change of pace and the constant challenge of all the different trails held my attention, but it was a sort of love-hate relationship. I crashed ALL THE TIME and was always super sore and tired. In our first few months of riding and exploring trails, somehow we were talked into entering a cross country race. I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up or pass out! I remember feeling like I was going to die more than once, crashing right in front of a trail marshal, hopping back on my bike as quick as I could, and finishing in first place with my handlebars crooked! This was my exact, “Yes! 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?
I was absolutely HORRIBLE at mountain biking. I cannot even emphasize that enough. I crashed ALL THE TIME, especially on flat, tight corners. I fell so much that Carlos threatened to sell our bikes if I didn’t start wearing knee pads. Once I stopped crying (literally), I finally gave in and ordered some gnarly, hard shell, downhill Fox knee pads that also had shin guards attached. Haha. I was really embarrassed to wear them because they were so bulky and we only road cross-country style trails, but no local shops sold knee pads so I couldn’t try any on for size and fit. Although it was embarrassing for a little while, I don’t regret riding with them one bit! They gave me an extreme amount of confidence and saved my legs from getting banged up so many times.

I also distinctly remember the first time I came across a log lying across a trail and saying, “Who put that there?” Riding bikes over obstacles was such a foreign thought to me that I never even imagined that someone could ride OVER the log.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I think I still dislike cornering more than any other handling skill. This probably comes from years of racing and constantly testing the limits of my bike at high speeds…unfortunately sliding out is the consequence and the memories of that stick with me. I talk to myself a lot while I ride, giving myself ques like, “turn your hips,” “let go of your brakes,” “look ahead” and that helps me to relax and get out of my own head.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I started clipping in a few months after I started riding. I was SUPER scared to clip in, but I kept whacking my shins with flats. (Granted I wore tennis shoes with the cheap plastic pedals that came on my bike.) With that being said, I love being clipped in, BUT recently I started riding with a pair of flat shoes to help me become a more well-rounded rider and teacher. I figured, how could I teach someone who rides flats to lift their rear wheel if I can’t do it myself?

The first trail I rode flats with was super rocky and technical. I was surprised with how well my feet stayed on the pedals. There were even a few rock gardens I cleared because I wasn’t scared of tipping over if I got stuck. I still prefer being clipped in for the majority of my riding because my knees feel better being in one exact position, but I think changing to flats periodically is a great way to switch up your riding style and practice certain skills. It helps take away the fear of not getting clipped out fast enough to bail.

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?
Yes! Talk to locals and get several opinions on what trails are the most beginner-friendly. Not all riders may categorize the same trails as beginner, and if there’s one trail (or section of trail) that people keep mentioning it’s probably a winner. There’s nothing more defeating than a first-time rider trying to learn when there’s too much elevation change, super technical terrain, or tons of scary-looking obstacles. Starting out on a dirt road before hitting the trails is also very helpful to practice shifting gears, stand up on your pedals, and how to use your brakes.
You founded Dirt Side Sisters, tell us about the group and why it was started-
In 2013 I was super focused on my training and was trying to get to as many Pro XCT races around the country as possible. I also wanted to do something to be able to give back to my local bike shop sponsor who had helped support my efforts to become a pro cross country racer. I always felt that having a career in the fitness and nutrition industry as a personal trainer was one of the biggest reasons why I was able to excel at mountain biking so quickly. I was also super frustrated with how few women I would see out riding trails, and especially the lack of women at the starting line of races. In an attempt to pass on the knowledge I had gained along my personal fitness journey, I began putting on small clinics at my local bike shop specifically for women, on the topics of nutrition, strength training, and stretching for cyclists. Soon after this clinic series, two separate women reached out to ask if I’d collaborate with them in their own efforts to get more women riding. My train of thought was that if we were all working toward the same goal individually, how much greater could our impact be if we came together? In our very first meeting, we agreed that there was a lack of community amongst female mountain bikers in our area. This is when we decided to start a women’s weekly group ride, where we would teach skills to new and beginner riders. Consistency was the KEY ingredient to what is now Dirt Side Sisters!

How can folks join Dirt Side Sisters?
We always invite folks to participate in one of our group rides before deciding they want to become a member of Dirt Side Sisters. Our rides are FREE to join, but if they like what they see and how our organization is run, they can go to our website to join. Their membership helps us keep doing what we’re doing to get more women riding, and in turn, they get to take advantage of all the membership perks that we’ve put together for them! We have member-only events, discounts, swag, free skills clinics and maintenance clinics, and more!

Why do you feel mountain bike groups geared toward women are important?
Oh my goodness. They are SOOOO IMPORTANT! I always say that magic happens when a group of women come together to ride. The energy is like no other and there is something so extremely powerful about one woman watching another ride through a challenging obstacle or trail feature smoothly and flawlessly. It makes them realize that riding has nothing to do with gender, and sometimes it’s not even about strength if you have the correct technique. This experience creates a contagious desire to become a better rider and a positive atmosphere to learn when everyone is helping each other, encouraging but not pushy and allowing each person to ride within their own comfort zone.

Tell us about Dirt Side Misters!-
Our Misters are our biggest supporters so we finally decided that they’ve earned their own kit! Haha! We’re kind of kidding and kind of not. I was lucky enough to be taught how to ride by my Mister and he was a fantastic teacher. We know that’s not always the case and are super thankful for all the Misters who are open-minded for us to teach their lady friend or wife how to ride while standing wayside to cheer her on and be supportive. Ultimately the Misters reap the benefits when they realize they’ve gained an awesome shredding partner and they really enjoy seeing their other half or female riding friends succeed on two wheels!!! So to sum it up…our Dirt Side Misters makeup all the men who love what we do and truly are our biggest supporters.

Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I have had so many that I almost don’t even know where to start. I’d have to say that with ALL of the struggles I have faced, whether they were from crashes, injury, or illness, I’ve tried not to be too hard on myself. It’s important to have faith and realize that life is about the ups AND the downs. I use the down times to focus on things I feel like I don’t always have time for, and try to put my energy into something positive. In fact, the year I decided to turn Dirt Side Sisters into a 501c3 Non-Profit Organization, the only reason I was able to do all the work involved was because I had a knee injury that kept me off my bike for several months.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The CHALLENGE! I absolutely love that you can make any ride a different type of challenge whether it’s to ride a technical feature without putting your foot down, go faster, or clear a super hard climb. The variation keeps me focused and doesn’t allow me to think of anything else but the moment!

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

2018 Specialized Epic Pro – with Fox Transfer dropper post (Name: Belle) I chose this bike because I wanted a fast cross country race bike in hopes of toeing the starting line again. I had ridden an Epic several years ago, and then in 2014 made the switch to a Liv 27.5” bike. I loved my small wheels, but recently I was in the market for a new cross country bike and Liv was no longer making 100mm or 120mm travel bikes. So I went back to my roots with the Specialized Epic. It was super weird to go back to big wheels, and I first thought maybe I had made a mistake…but now I love it just as much as my 27.5 because it’s so light and nimble!

2017 Liv Hail Advanced 0 – ready to rip out of the box! (Name: Hail-elujah) This is a super light and extremely capable downhill shredding machine. I got this bike for our trips to Arkansas, the El Paso Franklin Mountains, and the occasional Enduro adventure!

2018 Liv Langma Advanced Pro 0 – with a Stages power meter (Name: Cielo) I love this bike! She is comfortable, fits me like a glove, and is fast!

2019 Kona Libre – I love this bike! She’s so comfy and my first dedicated gravel bike!
You were a recipient of the QBP Mechanic scholarship, tell us about your experience!-
It was AH-MAZING!!! I would have never in my wildest dreams could have guessed how great this whole experience was going to be. I was super nervous to be gone for so long by myself, to a place I had never traveled to, with people I didn’t know. But from the moment I arrived, they had us so spoiled and the hospitality was amazing. We had the BEST instructors who were extremely passionate about teaching and so willing to help all of us learn. I loved the way everything was hands-on, super organized, and broken down incredibly well.

QBP did such an incredible job choosing the recipients, and I don’t mean that toward me. All the recipients are amazing human beings, with so much heart and passion toward cycling and their local communities. To be able to connect with people like that and share this unique opportunity together made the whole experience unforgettable. I am so grateful for the new friendships I made all around the country and to know how much support we have from a huge list of different companies in the cycling industry.

Why do you feel opportunities like that are important to get more w/t/f individuals involved in the cycling industry?

It is important to build awareness and to give confidence to w/t/f individuals who feel under or misrepresented in the cycling industry. Just like I mentioned in the previous question, knowing how much support we have will create movement and growth that our industry desperately needs.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with mountain biking?
There are a number of factors. The most common answer I get is that it is too scary and they don’t want to crash. This is actually where Dirt Side Sisters is able to jump in and break down those barriers with our first-time riders group and that our rides are very educational. We try to teach them the skills they need to feel safe and confident, and then build a community around them so there is always someone to ride with.

The other answer I get a lot is time. This one is hard to have a revolving for. Mountain biking is definitely more time consuming than road riding, for example.

The third most common answer is that they don’t have a bike. This is where our borrow-a-bike program started so that it would throw this reason out the door and they could at least put a foot in the door, absolutely FREE, to get a taste of mountain biking.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think having more “women’s only” organizations like ours around the country would make a huge difference. The challenge to this is finding the right people in your leadership team, who not only have a deep passion for riding, but ALSO for teaching. Having certified instructors who are all using the same terminology, speaking the same language, and teaching the same things also helps tremendously. We feel like we are creating a whole new generation of cyclists and building our community from the ground up with our first-time riders group and borrow-a-bike program is huge! It’s not always about the ones who are already riding, but most importantly about the ones who are not…yet!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I don’t have any kids of my own, and it almost feels like this is what it would be like if I did. Haha! To watch these ladies improve not only in their riding, right in front of your eyes, but also to see how they are happier, build friendships and relationships, are able to ride with their guy friends and spouses…it’s just so rewarding!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have the lung age of a 79-year-old. Yay me! Despite the old age of my lungs, it doesn’t seem to stop me from riding hard or fast…unless I’m not controlling my asthma or I have bronchitis.

Moral of the story, enjoy life when you’re healthy, and you don’t need the full capacity of your lungs to be a cyclist!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

First Thoughts on my Specialized S-Works Epic Evo

Custom S-Works Epic Evo
Mid-2018 I happened to see a frame pop up on Specialized that I absolutely fell in love with. It was an oil slick S-Works Epic frame, and I knew I didn't need it- but I wanted it! To warrant this frame, we needed some sort of purpose. I wanted a bike that would be more playful and sure-footed to take elsewhere.

I felt like more squish would be nice, but at the time I wasn't thinking of or planning to have a Stumpjumper, but something that could be more easily utilized around Decorah and elsewhere. So, with that, we decided to build up a Specialized S-Works Epic Evo.

This post will be my first review on my S-Works Epic Evo and I plan to write another one after I've had more rides on it later in the season.

Wheels- Rebuilt Carbon Ultralite 24 wheels that were originally on my Salsa Spearfish. We had the wheels rebuilt with some alternating purple spokes for a little bit of flare.

Brakes- Sram Guide Ultimate

Drivetrain- Sram XX1 Eagle with Sram X01 Eagle Cassette. We opted for the X01 Cassette because I really don't care for gold as a color so much, and the weight savings was minimal.

Fork- 2019 Rock Shox SID RL 120 mm of travel. This fork was a bit of an experiment as the Epic Evo bikes run a fork that has between 42-44 mm offset and this fork has a 51 mm offset. 

Saddle- S-Works Power Saddle with Mimic

Crank- RaceFace Next SL Carbon Crank

Chainring- Absolute Black Oval 30T

Dropper Post- Updated Race Face Turbine R with 100 mm of travel

Pedals- HT Pedals

Grips- ESI Fit XC Grips

Tires- Ground Control 2.3" with Grid casing

Other bits included oil slick titanium bolts along with a top cap and oil slick bar plugs from Supacaz.
I have a Specialized Speedzone Wireless computer to keep track of my rides as I like to keep things low-tech. 

I was able to take this bike out a couple time during the month of April before winter decided to make a pit-stop back to Iowa with snow, sleet, wind, and cold temps. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I knew there would be some familiarity, but I know the larger concern was if the fork would be something to keep or say "That was great, but let's do something different." I guess you could say it was the elephant in the room, but at least it was a good looking elephant and really tied the bike together nicely.

All in all, my first few rides I would say that I didn't feel challenged by the handling. It was different in some circumstances, but I also attributed it to being my first couple rides out on the dirt trails. I didn't feel that it wanted to wander every time I rode a straight line, but I did notice that it would happen here and there. I also found myself realizing I would need to learn how to change my body posture on the bike during some climbs, particularly on some of the steeper ones. 

With the offset, my posture is a bit more upright and the front wheel is a little further out in front. Honestly, I would say I've felt rather comfortable on the bike with that setup, especially for how the bike handles being pointed down a hill. Oh. My. Gosh. It is awesome!!!

I don't want to sound like I'm exaggerating, but as soon as I went down a hill I could feel the bike come to life. It was hard to not go fast, and that was really fun but also made me a little bit nervous because I felt like it could just GO! It also felt really good when cornering down a hill; responsive and nimble. I feel like the tread on the tires helped keep me planted with the larger lugs, too, as they are definitely great at biting into the ground and keeping you planted.
S-Works Epic Evo
I am still working on getting used to the dropper post. I learned to mountain bike on bikes that had traditional dropper posts, so have gotten used to the feeling of the saddle between my legs when descending. We don't have (in my opinion) a lot of areas in Decorah where I feel I would absolutely need a dropper post in order to ride it confidently. Utilizing the dropper will give me another level of bike/body separation and I think I can develop more skills from learning that.

I've really enjoyed having 120 mm of suspension in the front (compared to my Epic and Epic HT) and find that I feel more confident in letting off the brakes.

I have noticed that the tires are definitely on the heavier side, and sometimes can feel a bit boggy, but this bike was built with the concept it would be more of a traveling adventure bike, so I wanted to have durable tires. There might come a time where I opt to swap the tires for something without Grid casing, but at this time I'll keep them on there.

I've been figuring out where I'd like to have the rear shock set in terms of how soft it is. Originally I had my first couple rides with it on soft, but have since moved it over 2 clicks to firm it up a little. I'll need a few more rides before sticking with how I have the rear brain set.

General riding I've found it to be fun and as I mentioned, there are times where I can acknowledge that the offset is different, but it hasn't been anything where I would say it rides like crap. My hope was for this bike to be a mixture between a Stumpjumper and an Epic (and then I go and buy a Stumpjumper frame, but that's a different story right there!) and I feel that with how we have the bike set up, it's a great combo. It can climb up hills and get sendy on the downhills- it has familiarities to my favorite bike, yet also feels like a different bike. 

We figure the weight of my S-Works Epic Evo is roughly 24.5 lbs and it's a whole lotta fun!

Name- Shreddy Ruger

The name itself is a story but I'll try to keep it a short story vs. a chapter book.
With all that had gone on in 2018, I looked at getting this frame as a reward for the hard work (mentally and physically) I had to put in to take care of my dad's estate. My dad collected guns and what many folks do not know was that I had to house his collection of 46 for about 5 months. I looked at this bike and figured there wasn't a better way to celebrate life than to add to MY collection...which are bikes.

Shreddy is how I feel when I'm riding this bike. Ruger is a gun brand. They sound pretty sweet together (even tho it rhymes with a horror movie character...harhar...). Shreddy is not going to be dubbed a specific "gender" as Shreddy is Shreddy.
S-Works Epic Evo

Shreddy also rhymes with Freddy and I remember my mom asking me "Ready Fred?" or "Ready Freddy?" when we'd leave my grandma's. I smile thinking about asking "Ready Shreddy?" before going out for a ride or riding down a hill. 

So there you have it, my first review on my custom built Specialized S-Works Epic Evo. We'll be revisiting Shreddy later in the year and I'll give my long-term review then. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Katie Lo

I go by Katie Lo, because my last name, Lozancich, has notoriously been butchered my whole life. I'm an avid outdoorswoman and am so grateful to be working as a digital content contributor for the action sports media company Teton Gravity Research, in Jackson Wyoming. My role essentially means I'm a creative team member that wears a lot of different hats. Some days I'm writing feature-length stories and then there are others in which I'm on the ground photographing events or trying to keep with athletes with camera gear strapped to my back. It's pretty wild. What I love most about my job is that no matter what I do, I get to tell a story. Right now I'm particularly interested in stories from those who haven't always had a voice in the outdoor industry. One of my biggest focuses happens to be on mountain biking. It's a sport that I dearly love. I've only been riding for two years, but I can't think of something that makes me feel more empowered, and when I was first introduced to the sport I didn't see many women reflected in the media.

So, a considerable part of my career has been trying to change that. Off the clock from TGR I'm biking, skiing when there's fresh pow, and balancing a side career as a freelance artist.

My Instagram: @katielo.zancich

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
The experience that hooked me was a ride at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort bike park. It was my first time ever riding in a downhill setting and I anxiously squirmed the entire chairlift ride up. There had to be a thousand different questions and worries bouncing around in my head. It was until a few pedal strokes in that they dissipated and were replaced with small bouts of laughter. Aspens that glowed from the warm summer light surrounded me and each banked turn brought me to a new part of the trail. I've been chasing that feeling of wonder and adventure ever since.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Hmm, all of it?
Kidding, tight hairpin turns. We have a few nasty ones on this trail I love on Teton Pass called Blacks Canyon. I've found improvement with looking through my turns and leading with my chest.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Turning will always be something that could be honed in, but that's okay! In fact, the ability to improve is what I crave most about mountain biking. The sport is about constant progression and I find there's always a skill or part of the trail to improve on. This progression keeps the sport exciting and an enduring challenge.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Flats. I've never ridden with clips, mostly because they make me a bit nervous. But I'm always open to trying new things.

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 local riding group to ride with, I got lucky that Seattle (where I lived during college) had the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance which held weekly ride meetups through the Seattle area. Riding with other people is the best way to learn. It pushes you and also reminds you to just have fun and enjoy the company you're with. Watching other riders is also a great way to push your riding as well.

You work for Teton Gravity Research as a digital content contributor; what do you love most about sharing stories?
Storytelling is one of the most powerful and unique tools we have! Simply look throughout history, whether it be through oral traditions, art, or written word, stories have been used to inspire, impact, and empower one and another. We all carry such unique narratives with us, and those narratives are more compelling than we give them credit.

What do you love most about giving people in the outdoor industry a voice?
Simply seeing the narratives within this industry expand to include a diversity of voices. I hope one day that anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or socioeconomic background can feel like that outdoor community is a space that welcomes them.

What do you love most about covering/featuring mountain biking?
It's such a beautiful sport to photograph. I've always seen parallels between dancing and mountain biking, there's so much grace to it! As far as the narratives associated with mountain biking, I have often found that biking has been used a metaphorical vehicle just as much as a physical one. The bike is an incredible machine to empower, explore, or simply celebrate the places we love.
Your mission has been to increase the representation of women in media, how have you done this and do you feel as a whole, it's getting better?
I found that a genuine way to address this dilemma is to just provide a platform for women to share their stories. So much so that hopefully it doesn't feel like there has ever been an imbalance. The most successful stories are the ones that highlight individuals for their experiences, meanwhile their gender speaks for itself. I think we've made some significant progress but there's still room for improvement. I'd love to see the narrative expanded to include stories we haven't seen as much, like motherhood in the mountains or how the #metoo movement fits in with the outdoors.

What do you love most about being a woman involved in the outdoor industry?
Think about the term "mother nature", womanhood is an innate part of the outdoors! I love this industry and the fact that my more work celebrates these beautiful wild spaces we play on.

What do you love about riding your bike?
There are a plethora of trails out here in the world, and I want to ride them all.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I just have a 2016 Liv Intrigue. I picked it because it I liked the geometry and it was the perfect fit for my level of riding. I'm hoping to upgrade this season now that I know a bit more about bikes and components.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
There's a myriad of reasons why women are intimidated by cycling and the one I hear the most is "I'm scared". A lot of gals have this perception that biking is solely big whips, riding fast and gnarly terrain. But that's just one facet of this sport.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
It all starts with representation. There's this saying, "you can't be what you can't see," and moving forward marketing needs to also showcase young girls to middle age women thriving in this sport.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

There are so many positive byproducts of biking. It's healthy for you, it's empowering, it's a wonderful way to explore your local area, and it fosters new relationships. These are the things I gained from riding my bike and hope to share that with everyone!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
In addition to writing and photography, I am a painter. My Acrylic artwork ranges from small 8"x8" pieces to 6ft murals. I hope to someday blend art and biking together but haven't quite figured that out yet.