Women Involved Series: Michelle Barker

Michelle Barker has a master’s degree in education and works in education and the cycling industry. She, her husband, and their two boys (9 and 11) travel around the country visiting mountain bike destinations.

Michelle is the president of Linn Area Mountain Bike Association and a member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s Regional Leadership Advisory Council.

She has been active in cycling advocacy for over five years; presenting at the Iowa Trails Summit, Iowa Bicycle Coalition Summit, and to various local government and nonprofit agencies. Michelle is also on the board of the Linn County Trails Association.

Check out her Women On Bikes post!

You are involved with mountain bike advocacy, what inspired you to take steps to become more involved with something you love?
When I met Ken, he was involved with the local trails club. I soon became a board member and in a few years decided I wanted to run the show! We live in a community with limited singletrack mileage and I feel that we should need to have more opportunities for singletrack and continue to educate the public and the municipalities. My involvement revolves around the political and fundraising aspect of things, as I'm not into doing trailwork! I speak to many different groups about singletrack, write grants, and work on public policy. I also assit other groups in the region to gain more traction and increase trail opportunities in their local area. Additionally, I work to get more riders, specifically women, on bikes.

What were some personal goals you set out for yourself? Have they been realized? Still working on them?
When I became president of LAMBA, my initial goals were to double the mileage and double the membership. We are well on our way to both of those! In last few years, we have become an International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) Chapter, increasing our members. This means that any time someone in Iowa joins IMBA, they have the option of selecting LAMBA also, keeping 40% of their membership money in Iowa! So even if LAMBA isn't your local club, selecting that option helps Iowa mountain biking (and you can still join your local club)!

Looking at the mileage goal, we have had IMBA Trail Solutions in town to design a concept plan for two county parks. We are one third of the way finished with the Squaw Creek plan and currently working to fundraise to finish the rest of that project. If anyone wants to contribute, they can donate here: http://lambaonline.org/donate/. We also have a new project with the City of Cedar Rapids that will add nearly seven miles of linear singletrack to our parks system. Once these two projects are completed, we will have exceeded the goal of doubling the mileage.

A goal for this year is to change the model and relationships between clubs and land managers, creating mutually beneficial agreements across the region and working to increase protections under the state recreational use statutes. I truly want to see singletrack integrated as a recreation facility in local, county, and state parks across the state.

What do you feel keeps more women from mountain biking (or biking in general?) Equipment? Mental/Emotional?
From my experiences in the bicycle industry, the biggest lament I hear is that "I went mountain biking with my boyfriend/husband and I didn't have a good time because he a. took me on hard trails, b. made me ride too fast, c. had me ride his old bike, d. didn't really tell me how to ride the trail..." and the list continues! My suggestion to women is to first ride with another woman! There are women who have done just fine riding with their significant other, but more often than not, those first rides don't end well.
In my geographical area, there aren't often demos of women specific bikes, so women are often shorted on trying out a bike before they buy.

Let's be honest, the demographics of mountain biking is predominately white middle aged, middle to upper middle class, and male. This can make it very difficult for women to get involved in the local riding scene in their area. Many groups are reaching out to women riders, for instance, the women's team from Sugar Pine in Park City, UT, hosts leveled women's mountain bike rides. Women of any ability can show up, select the appropriate group, and go out and ride the trails with other women. This is such a great way to learn or improve upon riding!

A topic that I’m finding that comes up quite a bit is the fact that I am a woman and I am “so different” with learning than a man. The finger-pointing line “you’re a typical girl” comes up. So I’d love to know from another woman’s opinion: Why does it seem women learn differently and react differently than men do when learning the same thing? What are some ways that both genders can find acceptance with that?
The statement “you’re a typical girl” is a grossly oversimplified stereotype that extends beyond mountain biking. What would happen if we looked at every man and simply said “you’re a typical man”? It is difficult to even give an explanation or definition to this statement. The real difference is that many times, men have different experiences mountain biking and have much more experience by the time they try to teach a woman. 

For example, think about the way kids ride and what we in society think is acceptable for boys to do (practice tricks, build ramps) and girls. This might also extend into the skateboarding world. How many boys versus girls are dirtbiking? The big difference then simply comes down to skill set, prior experiences, and determination. I think about different women I have ridden with and introduced to mountain biking. One of my friends has been dirtbiking for years! She took to mountain biking naturally, and it didn’t take much learning on her part to be a very competent rider. A key factor is that she had years of experience on a dirtbike. Other women I have ridden with need to learn many basic cycling skills before they were comfortable on singletrack.

What inspires you to help women learn and enjoy the mountain bike experience?
Mountain biking is challenging, rewarding, exciting, and takes you new places. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience riding their bike on singletrack, and I want to create those experiences for other women, especially since there are fewer opportunities for them to try it out.

You are the current president of LAMBA (Linn Area Mountain Bike Association), what inspired you to take on that role?
I’m a firm believer you haven’t earned the right to criticize until you have at least attempted to impact change. I saw opportunities and areas for growth for LAMBA with the local community and regional community and want to enact change for Iowa mountain biking. It’s also interesting to be part of a super minority, that is female mountain bike club presidents. Being a club president isn’t an easy volunteer role, and it is imperative club leaders are supported by their board. I have heard stories of other women leaders who weren’t supported, and it is very disheartening, as all volunteers are simply doing the best work they can do for free!

---What are some of the goals you have accomplished since becoming president of LAMBA?
My initial goals were to double the members and double the miles of trails in Linn County. We went about the membership goals by becoming a Chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (one of two in Iowa), and they now handle all of our membership services. The great thing about being a chapter, is that anytime someone joins IMBA, they can select a chapter to be a member of also. This doesn’t cost them more, but ensures that a portion of the dues goes directly to a local club in their state! When someone joins IMBA and selects LAMBA, 40% of their membership dues come directly back to LAMBA and directly support Iowa mountain biking. Even if their local club isn’t a chapter, they can still select a chapter when they join IMBA to keep some of the dollars local. LAMBA has worked with a variety of clubs in the region to support their singletrack endeavors.

We are still working on completing the mileage goal! We have been recommended to receive state RTP funding for our Squaw Creek Project and this money will finish the project in that park. The completion of this project will double our miles. We also have additional opportunities for trails and a bike park with the City of Cedar Rapids. This would effectively triple the mileage in Linn County!

---What are some future goals you have for the group?
I would like to see the group work on updating the strategic plan and work on a leadership succession plan. A market plan is also high on my list! Additionally, I would like to see more social opportunities hosted by LAMBA and more regular opportunities for advocates across the state to discuss best practices, wins, and struggles.

You are an IMBA Regional Leadership Advisory Council member; what does that entail and how did you get involved?
RLAC is a group comprised of advocates from across the Upper Midwest Region. Each region has their own group and the groups function in an advisory role in the region. We engage in conference calls, discuss challenges and opportunities and support the work of IMBA and local clubs.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an advocate for mountain biking in their area?
Get involved. Attend as many public input sessions and planning meetings as possible! Join any existing trail focused groups and attend their meetings and events. If they don’t exist, start one! Connect with others in your area and across the state. There are quite a few people who can provide advice for getting started or overcoming roadblocks. Do your research about mountain biking in your area and trails in general. Attend IMBA trail building sessions and pay attention to their work, be sure you are knowledgeable!

I have been a board member with Linn County Trails Association for many years, and due to my advocacy work with LAMBA and LCTA, have been invited to be part of master planning meetings and am now a parks and recreation commission member. I have attended so many meetings for the county, city, and various other cities, that I can’t even count the number of hours! However, it has paid off because mountain bike representatives are now invited to be part of committees and planning, and we have great relationships with our land managers.

What are tips and suggestions you would give to a woman who is contemplating on giving mountain biking a shot?
Find someone to ride with and get outside and try it! You don’t need to take a class or be a stellar athlete to enjoy mountain biking, and right now is the best time.

What would you like others to know about mountain biking and why it’s such a great recreational activity?
The feeling of enjoying nature on your bike can’t be beat. All I can say is that you need to get out there and try it for yourself.