Women Involved Series: Jill Hamilton

Earlier this year I made contacts with several individuals and companies who are women-focused (for bikes/gear/etc.) One of the companies I contacted (and became ambassador for) was shebeest, a women's specific clothing company that has a passion for inspiring women to ride!

Jill, at the time, was brand manager for shebeest and we talked of doing an interview. Some months later along with some changes (and new, exciting projects!) we got the ball rolling!

Jill has some great thoughts and points to share along with her new project: Petal Power- a chamois cream system designed specifically for women!

Check  and follow Petal Power on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn!

Read how Jill helped the Women's Purses for the upcoming Mammoth Kamikaze Bike Games!

When did you first start riding a bike?
I first started riding mountain bikes in 1995 when I lived in Steamboat Springs, CO for a brief spell. Everyone in town rode, so I figured I needed to get a bike. I grew up riding dirt bikes, so mountain biking was sort of a natural fit for me.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
When I first started to ride, I rode just for the fun of it and to experience the beautiful trails.  Steamboat has some amazing trails and it's incredibly pretty there, so it didn't take much to "motivate" me to ride.  I remember thinking to myself as I rode, "Wow, people spend money to come vacation in the town where I live. How lucky am I?" When I moved back to San Diego in 1996 or 1997, I started to race.  Of course I was still motivated to ride for all the reasons I rode in Colorado, but I was also motivated by the fitness aspect as well. I wanted to be competitive and NOT get last place, so that was a huge motivator for me to ride.

Have you competed in events? If so, what were your reasons for competing?
Yes, I have raced for many years. I started out racing cross-country in 1997 or 1998.  I discovered downhill racing at the Women's Only Weekend that Team Big Bear used to put on "back in the day".  As a bit of an adrenaline junkie, I was instantly hooked and found that I was pretty good at it. I competed on the NORBA (the National Off Road Bicycling Association) National series for many years. In 2001, I was the #1 ranked female downhiller in the USA. I got my pro license in 2002, but really didn't race much on it since at the time; it was really hard to be a part-time cycling pro with a full-time job. Nowadays, I'm not as competitive, so I don't race nearly as much. This past year, I raced the US Cup Super D Series and won the overall for 40+ women. I also raced our local Wednesday night cross country series this summer just to get some training in.

What I love most about racing is the camaraderie between the racers, women in particular. We support each other...celebrate our victories and help each other learn from our mistakes. All of your fellow racers are like family; it's what I loved about it when I used to race every weekend and it's what brought me back to racing this past year. I have made so many friends through racing over the years.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
I've raced in just about every different type of bicycle event...cross country, short track, dual slalom, downhill, 4-cross, BMX, road, criterium, and super D. I think the only type of racing I haven't done is track and cyclocross.  It's hard to say which would be my favorite since each discipline has its own attributes that make it unique. Super D has been really fun since it sort of combines downhill with a little bit of uphill trail riding. But I have to say downhill will always be my favorite.

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain, etc.)
Off-road riding is in my blood, so I much prefer dirt over road riding. However, I do ride a lot on the road, but it's usually out of convenience since I can ride out my front door. 

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.)
OMG, it felt like HELL!  When I bought my first mountain bike in Steamboat Springs in 1995, I had zero fitness. The first ride I set out to do was to ride on the road from town up to Fish Creek Falls. I think I puked halfway up the hill and never made it to the falls. Plus, I didn't want to spend the extra money to buy proper bike shorts, so my butt was pretty much bruised. However once I figured out I should probably start on some mellower trails to build my fitness, I started having a blast. It was an awesome feeling to get out and explore the trails. I really loved being able to go further and see more than I could if I was hiking.

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
When I was racing a lot of downhill, I learned to use the nervous energy in a positive way. Many racers can't stand the moments right before the race in the start gate. My favorite part of the race became settling into the start gate, listening to the start cadence (a series of 6 beeps), and bursting out of the gate on the 6th beep. I found the nervous energy helped me get really good starts! Another way I overcome any nervousness on the trail is to just put the trust in my bike and the skills I have learned thus far. A moving bike is an upright bike, so I just keep my speed up and trust the bike.

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 do use clipless pedals. For beginners, just be patient with yourself when you are first learning to ride on them. Don't go tackle the hardest trail you can find; ride something mellow until you get the learning curve down. Most all clipless pedals have an adjustment screw on them to adjust the spring tension, so start with a lighter tension until you get the hang of releasing your feet from the pedals. Understand that you WILL crash because of them. It's unavoidable...even experienced riders still crash if they cannot clip out in time. I personally LOVE clipless pedals and feel the benefits far outweigh their downfalls, but don't feel like you have to ride in them. I have many friends who ride on flat pedals who are super fast, even on climbs.

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?Oh yeah, plenty of them. As cheesy as the saying goes, you just have to get right back on the horse and ride it. With racing, especially downhill racing, crashing is just part of the gig. You have to learn from the crash and just put it behind you. When you dwell on a crash, it just seems to perpetuate into more crashing.

What do you love about riding your bike?
So many things...I love to feel like a kid again. I love the freedom. I love the adrenaline rush. I love the fitness. I love exploring trails and roads by bicycle...you see things you don't see in a car. I love riding with friends. I love the peace it brings me.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have an Intense Tracer 275 that I bought to race super D and enduro on...best trail bike ever!  I also have a Ritchey P29er steel hardtail...I love how steel rides and I was really drawn to the retro styling on this bike.  For road bikes, I have a Masi 3VC Evoluzione, a retro Masi 3VS, and a Masi steel cyclocross bike.  I also have a nice little Electra Ticino for riding around town.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Wow, this is a tough question since there is so much good stuff out there. When it comes to clothing, I always recommend that people buy a) clothing specific for the type of riding they plan to do, b) the best quality they can afford, and c) what speaks to them.  

Some women prefer the "team kit" look. Others prefer crazy prints. Others like the more subdued solids. Buy what you like, what you are comfortable in, and what you feel flatters your body. And like I learned on my first mountain bike ride...you DO need padded bike shorts. Make sure they fit properly...ill-fitting bike shorts can cause chafing, saddle sores, and pain in places you don't want it.  

You were the brand manager for shebeest, what was it like to work for company geared towards women?
I had a great 2-year stint with shebeest; it was a lot of fun to re-launch the brand and see it take off. One of the most rewarding things in my 15 years of working in the bike industry has been helping bring products to market to help enhance people's happiness, health, and spirit. shebeest was extra-special since I really love to be involved with ANY efforts that will help get more women on their bikes, so having that be my job was just icing on the cake.  

What were some of your best moments with working for shebeest?
When I was hired as Brand Manager in 2012, shebeest had essentially become dormant as it went thru some ownership changes. I was charged with creating the new line and re-launching the brand, which was incredibly rewarding. I worked very hard to thoroughly research the brand's history and what made it so special to women riders. I worked even harder to create a line that maintained the brand's integrity and deliver product with the same awesome fit and flattering style that shebeest had become known for over the years. I think the most rewarding moment was the big brand re-launch at Interbike 2012 and hearing the biggest shebeest retailers say how much they loved the new line. It was also so cool to attend consumer events and hear women scream, "OMG, you guys are BACK!" when they saw our booth.   

You're involved with a new project now; tell us about it and what inspired you
Over the past year or so, I have been working on launching my own company called Petal Power and developing a women's-specific chamois cream system that's very different from the other creams on the market. Petal Power is a before, during, and after ride system that consists of a pre-ride cleansing wipe, an awesome during-ride chamois cream, and a post-ride cleansing gel. All of the products are made with natural, plant-based ingredients. The chamois cream is amazing...it doesn't have any stinky tea tree oil in it nor does it contain any menthol, so it's very mild.  

I was inspired to create this system while I was working for shebeest. I would talk to these women at consumer events who would complain about their nether regions being in pain while they rode. Despite wearing good shorts and having a properly fit bike, they were still experiencing pain on their bikes or getting saddle sores. So often I would ask them if they were using a chamois cream and they wouldn't have a clue what I was talking about or how to use it. So I decided to create a product to my own specifications and embark on a mission to help keep women healthy and more comfortable on their bikes. I am very close to launching product...I would say by mid-September or so. I am building the website now and should be launching all the social media in the next week or two.

What do you feel deters some women from wanting to ride a bicycle? What are some things you feel could change?
I think there are many things that deter women from riding, but I think one of the biggest barriers is many women just don't know how to get started. Some women have the luxury of having a friend/partner/boyfriend/husband to help get them started, walk them thru the bike and related gear buying process, and teach them some basic skills. However many will venture straight to the bike shop and find it's a pretty intimidating experience.

While many bikes shops are starting to realize women are a hugely under-served market and hold a ton of sales potential, many shops are still so behind the times. Simple things like having a clean restroom and/or dressing room where she can try on clothing is huge. Having women on staff is also really key for many women, especially newbies, will seek other women to buy from. Shop-hosted ladies nights and ladies rides do wonders to help build community with their female customers and teach them new skills. Just learning how to change her own tire opens up a whole world for some women riders since the "what if I get a flat" fear can deter many women from riding. When a woman feels like she has skills, knowledge, and community supporting her, the barriers to getting on her bike disappear.

What do you feel would encourage more women to get involved with mountain biking?
To an outsider looking in, mountain biking can be incredibly intimidating. There are roots, rocks, dirt, ruts, mud, critters, uneven trail surfaces, and all kinds of stuff you don't encounter on the road. Women's events and clinics that focus on building skills in a safe environment with other women are super helpful getting more women involved in mountain biking. I also think riding clubs are a great way to get more women involved. We have a couple of women's mountain bike riding clubs here in Southern CA...Girlz Gone Riding and the Trail Angels.  Both do a really great job building community with women mountain bikers of all skill levels.

What would be some advice for someone who is new to riding (in general)?
Just have FUN!  Just like we all discovered when we were kids, riding a bike is fun and makes you feel free. As adults, we should ride for the same reasons we did as kids.

What would be some advice for someone new to mountain biking?
I think my advice to new mountain bikers would be very similar to the advice I would give new riders in general.  Just have fun with it.  Mountain biking involves a whole other set of skills you don't generally develop naturally, so be patient with yourself and give yourself time to master new skills.  Push yourself by riding with people faster or more skilled than you...but know your limits. Don't be ashamed to seek the advice of others...we were ALL beginners at one time or another and I can't think of any rider out there who doesn't relish in sharing their knowledge with others.  

What is a fun fact/tidbit about you that some people may or may not know?
I recently became an avocado rancher. My house sits on a couple of acres and we have about 130 trees that should produce at least 13,000 lbs of avocados per year when they reach full maturity.