Women on Bikes Series: Tonya Bray

How did I find Tonya? I just started doing searches on female mountain bikers. Isn't that part of a project? Research? You betcha! However I always worry that with randomly contacting individuals from small town Iowa, I'll be thought of as crazy.

I've been humbled with how open and wonderful the individuals I've talked to have been. From local people in my community to individuals all over, Tonya was very happy to contribute to my project.

Tonya has an impressive career but also an overall mission to empower women in cycling. You can read her profile-Tonya Bray on her website. 

What I have found truly amazing is that pretty much every female mountain biker that has ridden in the pro or semi-pro (or not even professional) are so wanting to encourage women to get on a bicycle and ride. That further motivates me to reach out to fellow women bike riders and have them help me encourage you to get on a bike and ride! 

When did you first start riding a bike?
My first memories of riding a bicycle are when I lived in Europe, I was around 5. One day I had a friend over, and I rode my bike down the stairs. My friend, who happened to be a boy, tried to ride down the stairs as well, and fell off.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
There is an inherent need in my being to ride a bike. It's difficult to pinpoint one reason. There are myriad reasons from staying fit, to being outside, having an excuse to not do yard work, having an excuse to eat more food. Competition. Community.

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain)
Mountain biking. I love getting dirty. I love riding over rocks and roots, riding switchbacks, flying down the trail with dirt and rocks flying, my hair buoyant in the wind.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride? (If not a mountain biker, how about first commuter ride, paved trail ride, gravel, etc.)
I don't even know when my first actual mountain bike ride was, but I believe I was in Oklahoma going to school in Norman. I had a Huffy, and I borrowed a friend's car to drive to to the local trailhead. I probably rode for about 15 minutes and thought it was hard. 

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I breathe. I have mantras. I play the song "Just Breathe" in my head and roll. Then I smile, because if I can't smile and laugh, it's not worth doing. The funny thing is, once you breathe and smile, everything becomes so much easier. There is that survival button, however, that must be listened to when it's serious. I try to challenge myself, but keep myself upright as much as possible.

Do you use clipless pedals? If yes, what are some tips/suggestions for beginners that you would share? If no, are you thinking of trying it out at all?
I do use clipless pedals. I like Crank Brothers for learning, but any pedal system will do. Most issues with getting out of your pedals comes from improper cleat position. I suggest sitting on a trainer in the bike shop and clicking in and out of your pedals 100 times on each side before going live. Before that- do the Dorothy. Stand with your feet together, then pivot your heels out as far as possible, then back, clicking your heels. That is the motion it takes to release the pedals. Go clipless as soon as possible. The energy savings and the security on the descents is incredible!

If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
My biggest challenge as a commuter is motivation. The evening rides are the most difficult. Fortunately my commute is around 5 miles, so it's short. I always know I will feel so much better at work and at home if I do ride my bike, so that is what keeps me commuting by bike 3-5 days per week. I just feel so much better, and if I can just get my butt on the saddle, it's all good from there!

If you live where there is a snowy or icy winter, do you still commute? Why or why not? If yes, what do you do to make it more tolerable?
It sometimes rains like crazy here. I wear full rain gear, and just suck it up.

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
Many, many crashes. I've been to the ER a couple of times, but mostly it's just a bump, a scratch, or perhaps ripping the skin off my lip like I did 2 weeks ago. I always ease back in, check my skills, and build my confidence slowly. I ride below my full potential just to be sure I don't make those silly mistakes. The best thing to do is get back on the bike as soon as possible and just get the pedals moving. It's never easy to get back, but the positives always outweigh the negatives.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The speed, the freedom, the rush, the wind in my hair, the feeling of flying through the air, the dirt. The sweaty clothes after the ride, the hot shower, the yoga, the recovery meals. I love everything about riding my bike.

Want to connect with Tonya or check out what she's up to?