Women on Bikes Series: Joh Rathbun

Photo Credit: Clayton Ryon
Joh's been mountain biking since 1996, and has evolved alongside her passion. After years of racing, and a disastrous injury, she put herself through school to become a journalist.

Initially, I fell into the journalism thing. I've always considered myself a writer, but wasn't published. Losing my waitressing job, and subsequently, meeting an editor at a surf event in Capitola in 2009 was fate.
Having a voice for women in the gravity side of cycling is important to me, and having the epiphany that half of my audience is male was joyous.”

I realized that—over the years—the same core group of women who love the technical aspect of cycling were out racing and rioting. Their scars, and successes push both me, and our sport forward. I am overjoyed to join my sistas in creating the change that we want to see.

Check out Joh Rathbun's Website, Official Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

When did you first start riding a bike?
I got my first bike—a 10 speed road bike—as a birthday gift when I was around 8 years old. I remember my first skinned knee—in hindsight riding with Dr Scholl's clogs was not the smartest move. And I got my first mountain bike when I was 21—it was a 19” chro-mo Motive frame. That thing was a tank!

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
That sense of freedom—the solace I find only on the trail—I'm closer to my potential out there.

Have you competed in events? If so, what were your reasons for competing?
I started racing cross-country in 1996 and DH in 1997, immediately after buying my first mtb. My then-boyfriend was racing a lot, and encouraged me to try it. So I did, but since I failed miserably in cross-country, I focused on DH. I started racing pro DH in 2000, and that's set the tone for my life.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
Any dirt jumping/DH/pump track comp where the emphasis is on having fun & bonding while preferably being in the forest.

Why do you love mountain biking and what has it brought to your life?
I love mountain biking because it's been a great metaphor for my life. It's brought me passion, direction, satisfaction, friends, and solace. There's nothing like singletrack through the redwoods to cheer me up. Archive of It's All DH From Here.

What styles of mountain biking are your favorite? Any particular reason why?
Anything tech, singletrack, DH, DJ, pumptrack, slopestyle, freeride. I love that feeling of cheating death! I am a relapsed adrenaline junkie.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
One of the first rides I ever did was up Deadwood Mountain, near Oakhurst, California. I hadn't been working out when I got into mountain biking, and the fire road just seemed to go up forever. I wanted to cry. But, once we turned around, and went down, it was a done deal. I had a mystical, transcendental experience and I've been chasing that feeling ever since.

If you had nerves at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I'm always nervous when riding with new people, or when racing. I tried racing cross-country and I'd get so nervous that my stomach would be all tied up in knots. The port-a-potty at the Keyesville Classic back in 1996 attested to how nervous cross-country riders get. Around that time, downhill was becoming its own discipline, and since I wasn't having any fun with cross-country I jumped to downhill, and I haven't looked back.

I still get nervous when riding with others, this time as a coach and ride guide. I take my responsibilities seriously, and if I don't let it, leading a bunch of women out in the middle of nowhere, looking at me for direction would freak me out! Why are these people all looking at me? Oh yeah, I'm in charge! Oh no!

I circumnavigate my nerves with visualizations. For leading rides, I visualize everyone riding well, and the group at the end, enjoying a beer. For racing, I visualize that there's a hurricane of emotion roiling around, but I am in the eye of that hurricane. I can see the wind of emotions, but am distanced from them, in clarity.

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 ridden both clipless and flats all of my mtb life, and I have learned that I prefer the flats. The only advantage to being clipped in is that your foot doesn't slip while riding uphill. But, so much can go so wrong on the DH, that I need my foot to be in its natural position on the bike, in anticipation of any contingency. Now, it feels unnatural to have my toes in a specific position, where I can't move them when I need to. Also, there's no faking a bunny-hop in flats. Either you know how to do it, or don't, where as in clipless, you just pull the bike up with you. That takes no skill. So, my tip for beginners would be to definitely try both types of pedals, but learn how to bunny-hop, regardless of which type of pedal you prefer.

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
I used to crash so much when I first started out that I earned the nickname “Crash.” I've had small wrecks, and crashes where I've landed up in the hospital. Yes, you do need to get over that fear of pain. That's a normal reaction to a serious trauma. I always get back to why I do it in the first place, to get out in nature, smell the loamy wind, and feel the sun on my skin. Appreciating the true beauty of nature, and my place in it, is transcendental. Then, before I know it, I'm shredding again.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Being in nature, finding the flow on the trail, feeling the wind in my hair. The freedom, ditching the watch, and cultural norms, and striking out on my own. Relying on only myself is so freeing.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I'm building up a Black Market Malice dirt jumper with Spank wheels at the moment. Both Black Market and Spanks are rider-owned companies, so they know what they're doing. And I'm currently looking for an all mountain/enduro bike. I'm looking at you, Bicycle Fabrications—how about some American-made fun between my legs?

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Gloves are one of my favorite accessories. A few years ago, I was riding a curb on the levee here in Santa Cruz. I wasn't wearing gloves, and my front tire slid off of the curb, and my palms were shredded in that crash. I've been wearing Troy Lee Designs (TLD) gloves lately for two reasons—function and aesthetics. This line from TLD is the first to fit my hands well since I started riding in 1996. I've got long hands, and long fingers, so I usually wore men's gloves that were always too wide in the palm for me, making the material bunch up while holding on to my bars. But, what originally drew me to the gloves were the fabulous colors.

Another favorite piece that I recommend for anyone is definitely a nice pair of chamois.  Don't skimp on the chamois—also make sure that there's no seam running through the crotch and that they are paneled. I learned this the hard way. So, don't leave home without 'em!

You're a mountain bike coach and ride guide, what inspired you to become a skills coach and why is it important to you?
My friends inspire me to coach. I never thought that I'd be a good teacher, or that anyone would pay me for my time. I'm glad I've worked up the nerve to give it a go, though. It's so satisfying to give women the tools to shred—and to become self-reliant! It is important to me because I've learned that my mission in life is to help women become self-reliant via the bicycle. Like towing in Jessica during Pumps on Pedals. She was the only one to not ride a section. I felt blessed that she trusted me enough to follow my line, and I had a big smirk on my face when she rolled through it!

Joh "modeling" for Bay Area Bicycle Coalition's 2011 Bike to Work campaign
Tell us about Shine MTB Coaching and why you got involved!
Shine's mission statement is to “inspire and illuminate rad female gravity riders.” Founded by Lindsay Beth Currier (LBC) in 2008, it has mushroomed into its own movement. I met LBC in 2009, and a year later we were in cahoots on how to bring more events, and more coverage of women into the cycling world. The team was reinstated this year, so as outreach, I began leading rides for Shine here in Santa Cruz. I've yet to get insured, so only coach outside of Shine, until I do. While I will always work with Shine, I'm excited to strike out on my own for 2015 in Santa Cruz. I've been blessed to work with Shine, Sacred Rides, Shuttle Smith Adventures and local women's groups like Girls Gone Wilder so I am hopeful that my rides and clinics will fill!

You are a freelance writer and cover cycling-related events. Have you always been a writer?
I've always been a writer. Writers, artists in general, are just born that way. I've always been called “weird,” “different,” “goofy,” “silly,” etc. As an adult I've come to appreciate that those differences are what make me, me. But, I wasn't published until 2010, after graduating from SJSU with a BA in English, emphasis in Career Writing. I knew that I still wanted to be involved in the cycling industry, and I had this degree, so that's when I chose to marry my two loves.

What have you noticed over the years with women in competitive cycling events?
Since the cycling industry is a microcosm of our society, I still see misogyny, and sexism. It was more blatant when I started riding in the 90's, but has become more subversive. An example of that is the statement, “you ride like a guy,” because inherent in that statement is that a women can't be strong, or steezy.  And, why wouldn't our cash prize be equal to the men's category? We had to pay the same amount for the equipment, travel time; all those expenses are the same, regardless of genitalia. And don't give me the “field size” BS that some event directors spew at racers. If you want a bigger field size, you've got to incentivize those racers to spend their hard-earned cash.

Through the years, women come and go. Even me. Some get married, take up different sports, or just lose their passion. After shattering my forearm in 2002, I just walked away from it all. My sponsors, my bike, my passion. After a 5 year struggle, I was back on the bike. And soon back in the mix of things. I just couldn't let it go, and I wanted to share my passion with others. That's also when I noticed that more women were getting involved at a higher-level than before. Some old racing buddies, like Kat Sweet, and Tammy Donahugh had made a name for themselves, and provided me the inspiration to dive back in, and to stick to it when things get rough.

How have things changed/improved/grown?
I love all the work that women like Kat Sweet of Sweetlines, Lisa Mason and Carolyn Kavanagh, of the Women's Freeride Movement, Teresa Edgar and Ash Kelly of MTB4HER, do for women. It's so good to see the mark that they are making on the industry. Through the years, when I've approached sales folks in the industry about more marketing towards women who shred, I was repeatedly told that we are a “niche market.” Well, women spent $2.3 billion in the cycling industry in 2011.1 That's billion, with a B. How's that for a niche? I feel validated knowing that because of pioneers like these women, and the men that support us, we are becoming the change that we want to see in our industry.

Where would you like to see women's cycling go in the next 5 years?
Equal pay, equal prizes, equal airtime, equal opportunities for women.

Joh "modeling" for Bay Area Bicycle Coalition's 2011 Bike to Work campaign
Why do you feel women are deterred from getting involved with the off-road scene?
There are many reasons why women are put-off from the dirt scene. It is decidedly macho, and they get put off from that. Since we may have different reasons for going out there, not necessarily racking the most miles, or the KOM, one cannot entice women to shred based on machismo. Another reason is that some women with families consistently put their families first, leaving nothing for themselves.

But, the elephant in the room is the sexualization of women in a male-dominated sport. When  women are consistently told—and shown—that the only value she has is of a sexual nature,  our industry does the individual—and themselves a disservice by ignoring all that a woman can bring to the table. We shouldn't have to walk a tightrope between the madonna and the whore. This is 2014, for Christ's sake! The objectification of women sets up this false dichotomy and no woman should have to choose. I believe that this is the biggest turn-off to women outside of our sport. So, this is where we need the most change to boost women's involvement in our sport.

What do you feel would help to change involvement levels?
More coverage, equal airtime, etc. It hurts when the sexism is in your face. I approach editors all day long. I had one editor of a well-known mountain bike site say to me, “We don't want your female bike stories.” If that's not blatant sexism, I don't know what is, because I see myself as a mountain biker first and female secondly. I wouldn't be so gung-ho about highlighting women if it was already being done, but when the folks in charge hold sexist ideals, then they're the ones that decide who's involved, and we end up with a sexist sport. So, number one priority is quit sexualizing women!

So how does one stay relevant in our sport without being sexualized?

We need to teach women skills in many trades, specifically entrepreneurship, and empower the generations coming after us with strong, positive examples while encouraging them to take well-evaluated risks—both on and off the trail.

Tell us something random about yourself that people may or may not know about you.
I'm a bad ass potter!

1. http://www.bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/WomenBikeReport(web)_0.pdf


  1. Keep up the good work Josie--I appreciate your time and energy!

  2. Great Interview!!! Thank you Joh and Shine Riders for the AMAZING work you are doing...strength in numbers!!! Hope 2015 is a great year for all of you!


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