Women on Bikes Series: Nancy Harris

Would you like to tell a little about yourself, what you're involved in and what you do? 
By day I am a mild mannered Customer Support/Helpdesk/Security Analyst. By nature I am a “Care Giver” so I love helping people. 

I’ve always been the one that “reads the manual” and then tells other people how to operate their computer.

I love cooking, reading, playing with my dogs and of course Mountain Biking. I also love skiing and snowboarding but have not done much of either over the last few years because of my knee. I still have to have my other knee replaced, but for now I use a custom CTI brace so I can continue to ride.

When did you first start riding a bike?
I had my first 2 wheeled bicycle when I was 5 years old. Then I progressed to a 10 speed road bike for transportation through grade school and high school. Mountain bikes came along after I was married in the 1980s.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
The love of 2 wheels (both motorized and human powered). I have never tired of riding and have not stopped (except while rehabbing from injuries). We’ve seen many friends come and go and most of the people we used to ride with no longer ride.

Have you competed in events?  If so, what were your reasons for competing?
 Yes, XC, 4x, DS, Super D, Downhill and Enduro. I love to compete against myself and measure my progress. For me it’s not about beating someone else but competing against myself.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
Downhill is my 1st love with Enduro being a close 2nd. The yearly Sea Otter Classic is one of my favorite events because it’s the largest race we have in California.

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain, etc.)
Mountain of course with Downhill being my 1st love!

What about Downhill do you find appealing? 
I like being on the track by myself when racing and going against the clock. For me it’s more about improving my skills and competing against myself. I love speed and the adrenaline I rush I get from riding/racing downhill and jumping.

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.)
Why haven’t I done this sooner? I am definitely an adrenaline junkie!

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I relied on the skills I learned when riding/racing motorcycles (Desert, Enduro, Trails and Moto-X). However it took a while to get used to the brakes being on the opposite sides from a motorcycle. I definitely went OTB numerous times until I got it sorted out.

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’ve used both clipless and flat pedals. I prefer flats. And at this point due to the limited ROM in my left knee after a total knee replacement, clipless is no longer an option. I have to be able to move my foot and put my foot down at a second’s notice. There are schools of thought on both. What I tell people is to try both and decide what works best for you.  There are definitely skills you need to learn using flat pedals. It is easy to cheat with clipless and you can learn some very bad habits!

When it comes to cheating with clipless-could you touch base a little on some of the habits one could pick up if they use that system vs. flats?  
Personally I prefer flats as I am not limited to one foot position and I can move my foot around. I do not like having to unclip in loose corners or when I ‘m losing my balance or when I have to stop.  I have used clipless and I do like them for long, hard climbs but I have learned how to climb using flats and my knees are happier. I remember doing a clinic with Leigh Donovan when I first started riding Downhill and she taught us how to bunny hop with flats. I think everyone needs to learn this on flats!

I have a great Coach, James Wilson who operates MTB Strength Straining Systems. Here’s an excerpt from one of his blog posts on the subject:

“What I am against is the use of clipless pedals before someone can ride at a proficient level with flats. I think that there is a process for learning how to pedal and maneuver your bike on the trail and that it begins with flats and, even if you do use clipless pedals, you should retain your ability to ride at a reasonable level with flats. Flats keep you honest and force you to learn good technique and clipless pedals should make you faster by enhancing that good technique, but this is not the case with most riders on clipless pedals.

Most riders have never spent any real time on flats, much less a good set of flats and flat specific shoes like 5-10s, and instead went into clipless pedals right away. My message to them is not that they should throw their clipless shoes and pedals away but that they will get more out of them and be better overall riders if they took a break from them and re-learned how to ride with flats. After learning how to ride without them you’ll find clipless pedals to make you even faster when you go back to them.”

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
Several (shattered left wrist, Right pinky finger dislocated (open fracture), Right torn rotator cuff and bicep, sprained right ankle, Left and right torn meniscus, Left total knee replacement, left blown out rotator cuff and torn bicep. I’ve learned to eat healthy and how to exercise around your injuries, and how important it is to listen to your body. And I’ve learned how to make recovery and rehab your goal and to put all of your effort into it (like a full time job). I’ve also learned the hard way that you must listen to your Doctor and your Physical Therapist. It’s important to work with them and to team up to make the best of your rehab, limits can be pushed, but within reason. And most importantly that healing takes time and you can’t rush it. If you do, chances are it will be counterproductive. Trust me, I know from experience!

What do you love about riding your bike?
The freedom of being outside and enjoying the flow of the trails. Spending time with my husband and my friends, and enjoying a shared passion. It’s good for the heart, mind and soul. Recreation, exercise, stress relief and producer of much JOY!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
2014 Santa Cruz Carbon V10 – I am currently sponsored by Santa Cruz Bicycles and got this Downhill bike through my team Incycle Downhill Team sponsored by Incycle Bicycles. It’s a great bike and weighs in at 34.8lbs. Very light, maneuverable, fast and nimble and easy to jump!
2012 Intense Tracer 275 – I currently have the alloy version. I hope someday to purchase the Carbon version! This is my do everything trail bike and I have it set up with heavy tires and a seat dropper for Enduro racing. It’s a little heavy for everyday XC type rides but on the downhill it rips!
Giant TC1 Road bike – I use this mostly on the trainer now as my work schedule only leaves room for riding on weekends and for me, I love dirt way more than pavement. We actually bought road bikes back in 2002 so that we could train for the MS 150 ride in support of my younger sister, Paula who has MS.
1990 GT Zaskar HT – This was originally my husband’s bike and we kept it as it is a classic and we ride it every once in a while. Right now it’s on the trainer in the dining room and we use it for interval training.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?I’m currently sponsored by Troy Lee Designs so most of my jerseys, shorts, gloves and undergarments are made by them. I prefer the women’s jerseys (slender fit) and the men’s shorts (I have really long legs and no hips).

You and your husband ride together, yes? How do you enjoy being able to share something you love with your partner?
Best thing ever! I am very blessed to have a husband that has the same passion for mountain biking. I can’t imagine it any other way.

Did your husband introduce you to an aspect of bike riding you hadn't done prior to meeting him? Did you introduce him to anything new?
I introduced my husband to Downhill, DS and Enduro racing. He loves Downhill and leaves the rest of the different types of racing to me. We have been riding together since the beginning in the 1980’s (we’ve been married 33 years). 

I find with my partner, we sometimes butt heads-especially when he is instructing me (I suck at criticism!) Have you had any interesting situations? How did you both deal?
My husband is a very patient man and is really good at instructing women. He knows exactly what I can handle and when to push me. Once in a while I get stubborn and want to give up (temporarily) and I make him back off. He is very sensitive to this and has learned after 33 years when I’ve had enough.

What are your thoughts on why women do not feel capable of mountain biking?
I think we tend to compare ourselves to others and feel like we need to “measure up” instead of just enjoying the experience for what it is and how it makes us feel.

What do you feel would encourage more women to try it for themselves? 
By providing a safe, non-threatening environment, a decent bike and teaching some basic skills; I think something like a “come out and try this sport” day with demo bikes would be fun. 

Learning to bike from a man, woman, or both (for women wanting to learn how to mountain bike) What are some pros/cons to how genders work with one another? What worked for you? 
It’s not so much about gender as it’s about finding someone who is a good teacher. Some coaches are very talented but have a hard time instilling skills in the pupil. I’ve had both. You need to determine what the best learning style is for you and find someone who you click with. I’ve taken numerous clinics over the years and it’s important to find someone you trust and can relate to. Word of mouth is good but you need to do your homework and find the right course/instructor. And it may take some trial and error.

What would you like others to know about mountain biking, why should they try it?
I realize that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think some women are afraid of trying. It’s like snowboarding. I tell people you need to ride a minimum of 6 days before you decide if it’s the right sport for you. And then you’ll either love it or hate it.


  1. Thank you Josie for sharing my story and my passion for all things mountain biking!

    1. You're so welcome and thank you for sharing your story!


Post a Comment