Women on Bikes Series: Katie Harris

Photo Credit: Camrin Dengel
When did you first start riding a bike?
I first started riding as a little kiddo, on the streets in my neighborhood in Wyoming. Knowing how much I love bikes now, people are always surprised to hear that I didn’t take my training wheels off until 5th grade! Being a late bloomer didn’t seem to get in my way, though! Bike and I have been inseparable ever since.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I grew up in Jackson, Wyoming, a community that is very focused on the role active transportation can have on the landscape and the citizens. There is infrastructure that supports riding- separated bike pathways, striped bike lanes, signed bike routes through town, and an extensive network of mountain bike trails. Cycling is about transportation as much as it is about exercise or recreation. Having this infrastructure, as well as local decision makers that prioritize active transportation, has allowed our community to thrive in this regard. “Life by bike” allows me to truly experience the world- at a pace my senses can absorb.

Have you competed in events? If so, what were your reasons for competing?
Yes. In high school, I competed one road stage race and a dozen local mountain bike races. My reasons for competing were to be part of a community and have a reason to train.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
 I love that biking is such a wide realm of things to different people. I really enjoy long distance cycling, so I would enjoy a long distance race, like the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race, but I also love advocacy, getting people on bikes for the first time, and getting people more comfortable on bikes so that they are able to integrate cycling into their everyday lives. For that reason, one of my favorite competitive events is the “Slow Race”- who can stay balanced on their bike within a certain area and ride the slowest from point A to B? Sure, cycling is competitive in some realms, but it is also FUN, and that is what is so great about it!

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain, etc.)
My favorite riding is on separated bike trails, preferably paved and uninterrupted by roads. I enjoy mountain biking as well, but I absolutely love traveling by bike and riding on paved trails.

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.) If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
My nervousness when it came to mountain biking was about being able to keep up. I was riding with a more advanced (and fitter) group, and I was nervous that I would hold the group back because I was still learning! I overcame it by not caring as much about what others thought, and once I got on the trail (and started to get a hang of things) I realized I had nothing to worry about.
Another thing that really helped me when it came to my mountain biking was my high school mountain bike coach, Janet Munro. She created an all-girls team that rode together one day a week in the summer. She created a fun atmosphere where asking questions and having fun were a priority! It wasn’t about riding the hardest terrain or being the fastest, although we rode challenging trails, raced, and got a lot faster by the end of the summer! Janet fostered my love of mountain biking and served as a great role model for a bad-ass mountain bike chick!

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?
Yes, I have clipless pedals on my road bike. Tips/suggestions: keep them on the loosest setting, especially at the beginning. Always clip out with the same foot so that you build muscle memory.

Photo Credit: Camrin Dengel
If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
One of the challenges as a commuter is convincing myself to commute by bike everyday, especially in bad weather, and especially when a car is a back-up option. I overcome these challenges by having gear that meets my needs in all conditions, and reminding myself how great I feel after my commutes- arriving to work with a clear head and my blood moving, and arriving home with a clear head and a shifted mindset from work life to home life. My commute by bike serves as part of my exercise routine, but more importantly, serves as a transition time, to reflect on the workday and leave it behind as I head home.

Do you commute even if the weather isn’t ideal? Why or why not? If yes, what do you do to make it more tolerable?
Yes, I do. Part of the reason that I commute by bike every day, even when the weather isn’t ideal, is that I don’t have a car as a back-up, and the bus from my house to work is incredibly packed, especially on days of heavy rain. Whenever I decide to take another mode of travel to work, I ALWAYS regret it, and spend the entire commute thinking how much better it would be to be biking! To make it more tolerable, I prioritize my gear, especially good rain gear. Also, give myself extra time in the AM to arrive to work early enough to shed my gear and get into “normal-people clothes” before work.

What are some suggestions that you would give for someone who wants to start commuting regularly? What are some of the things you thought were most helpful?
My main suggestion for someone who wants to start commuting is just start! It doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” thing. A huge barrier to bike commuting is that the majority of people think it is only for the spandex-clad daredevils. That couldn’t be more wrong. Bike commuting can be for everyone. Try it one day a week.
Other suggestions: Map your route before you go. Give yourself enough time to ride at a pace that you feel comfortable. If someone in your office commutes by bike, strike up a conversation with them! You can worry about gear and equipment down the road. You don’t need it all just to ride to work. Start small.

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
Of course I’ve had a bike biff! (Who of us haven’t?) I was rounding a corner on a bike pathway in the rain, and was going too fast and taking the corner too hard. I bruised my hip and was on crutches for a week. I recovered physically by stretching and walking for the months after my crash. I was able to run pain free about two months out. I knew that the reason for my crash was my own fault, because I didn’t factor in the rain in a situation that would have been fine in dry conditions. Mentally, I recovered by not beating myself up about this, but recognizing that I had to treat all situations differently on my bike. I ride differently now, but since I’m not a racer, it is fine to ride less aggressively.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the freedom that my bike gives me. I can escape (physically and mentally) from daily life. I also love that riding my bike connects me to my community and the environment around me. I can experience the sights, sounds, smells, people at a pace that my senses can absorb. I get a true sense of place when I ride my bike. I can access the things I need without damaging the environment. I can keep my body healthy and my brain clear. The list goes on!