Women on Bikes Series: Emily Sabelhaus

Chris and I having all the fun in Peru with Big Mountain Bike Adventures
Emily's first love was snowboarding, which led her to adventures in the mountains of Colorado. Winter left and it was then that Emily discovered mountain biking.

In 2012 she moved to the Pacific Northwest and started competing and found success! Emily's love for the sport has her passionate about introducing and helping other women discover life on two wheels!

Check out Coalition Racing Development and Emily's blog on Dirty Jane!

When did you first start riding a bike?
I began riding with my dad when I was a little girl. We would go on father-daughter adventures to the river on my pink Strawberry Shortcake hand-me-down from my big sis and I thought it was the COOLEST bike in the whole world. If you mean mountain bikes, I wasn't fortunate enough to discover those until 2006 when I moved to Steamboat Springs, CO. I needed something to occupy my time when ski season ended and it turns out bikes filled that void very, very well! 

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Life! Biking began as a hobby, but it's now infiltrated its way into most everything I do. It's a passion my husband and I love to share with each other, it's my social network, it's my favorite wind-down activity after a stressful day at the hospital, it helps keep me active and energized during the long, dark, cold winter months in the PNW, not to mention it's FUN! That's more than enough motivation for me.  

What is your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
This is a toughie. There were a lot of great races this year! I suppose my favorite event of the season was the Whistler Enduro World Series, Crankworx . If you know me outside of this article, you realize this is a contentious statement. I complained more about this race than any other this season. It was the most grueling, energy sucking, only-fun-when-you're-done, super technical downhill then stab-you-in-the-lungs uphill I've ever raced. However, I think this is why I was so darn proud to have finished the race. Did I win? Absolutely not. Did I podium? Sure didn't. I got second to last in my category, but I was so full of pride I survived that day of racing, the result didn't matter! Some incredible women raced with me that day, and if it weren't for their smiling faces, energy, and encouraging words, I wouldn't have made it! 

I enjoy competing because it lets me bike beyond my abilities. Nearly every race there's a new obstacle the race itself helps me overcome. I will worry, fret, and struggle with a section of trail in practice, but on race day, my mind is clear, my heart is pumping and I ALWAYS cruise through those formerly tricky features that had me so worried in practice. It's this incredible phenomenon!   
Plus, racing has introduced me to all kinds of new riding areas and amazing people I never would have met otherwise.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Elated. It felt just like snowboarding, but I didn't have to wait for a powder day! 

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I was fortunate enough to pick up mountain biking with a rad group of Colorado ladies- Steph Ferris and Katie Peck. We learned together, laughed at ourselves, and then laughed at each other a whole lot those first few months! I think that's what settled our nerves best- giggling. I also think that learning with a group of like-minded women is what got us hooked! 

Photo Cred: Greg Tubbs, Northwest Cup #6
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 used clipless pedals when I first started, left them behind for flats when I learned to ride DH bikes, then picked them back up for racing last year. I love them, but they take some getting used to. Keep them loose when you're first learning so you can get in/out fairly effortlessly. I thought it was helpful to practice a ton in parking lots at first. Clip. Pedal. Unclip. Clip. Pedal. Unclip... until it's automatic. You will undoubtedly have a few moments when you just can't get out of your pedals and you tip over, we all do. Just know it gets a little easier every time! Also, I think it's really beneficial to learn technical skills on flat pedals so you understand how to weight your pedals naturally and evenly. Clipless pedals are great for climbing, but they can also lead to some really bad habits. 

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
A close friend broke her back riding this past season on a non-technical section of trail that we have ridden countless times together. It was equally heart wrenching and terrifying to watch a close friend go through this, and I really had a hard time grappling with the fact that this could have easily been me. I don't know if I ever overcame it so much as I learned to acknowledge it for what it was (she had a devastating injury and I tried my best to support her as she healed, which she did), and then I tried to move past it. Crashes and injuries are unfortunately a part of the game. As I've continued to ride at a higher level over the years, I've witnessed more friends, riding buddies, and teammates take spills- some with no consequences, some with serious consequences. Witnessing these events has helped me learn to ride in a space that I feel comfortable with. I now have the skills to judge whether or not I can clear a gap, I know how to scope a feature or a line before I hit it for the first time, and I wear a knee/elbow//eye protection when I race... no matter what. These things are non-negotiables and help keep me safe and feeling confident.  

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Looking ahead! I loved to look straight down at my tire to see exactly where it was headed. Not a good habit. The lovely instructors at the Trek Dirt Series helped me realize I needed to look about 15 feet ahead of me at all times. This was game changing for my riding! My bike started to follow my line of sight and things got a whole lot smoother from there.  

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky?
I still find tight/flat corners quite challenging. I have a tendency to brake hard into (and through) corners, then waste energy pedaling hard out of them. I try to remind myself to brake evenly into corners, then release and carry my speed out. 
Photo Cred: Eric Ashley, Beacon Hill

Do you feel that the skills you picked up while snowboarding helped you in any form once you started mountain biking?
Yes! Speed. I'm very comfortable with speed, which can be both good and bad, I suppose! I'm also pretty comfortable processing visual information quickly. I love skiing/snowboarding in the trees and I think this feels a lot like descending on tight, winding single track. Oh how I love that feeling!

What do you love about riding your bike?
Pure. Unadulterated. Joy! Biking is an inherently selfish activity for me. I do it because it brings me great satisfaction, contentment, and tons of endorphins. This is the same reason I so enjoy sharing biking with other people!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My favorite bike, and current race rig, is the KONA PROCESS 134DL!!! My race team, Coalition Racing Development, was struck by Kona's willingness to think outside the box in their bike design, geometry, and manufacturing. Coalition was lucky enough to partner with Kona so we could ride the current line of Process bikes for enduro races. My former bike had 160mm of travel, and I was very nervous about the idea of riding PNW rocks, roots, and drops on anything less than a full 6" of travel. However, the Process 134 laid all my fears to rest as soon as I took it out on our first ride. That ride was magical and the bike felt playful, nimble, fast, and totally capable. Plus, it climbed way better than my old bike. I replaced the drive train with a 1x11 for more efficient climbing, then upgraded the fork to a 150mm RockShox Pike, and added a cockpit full of bomber RaceFace components. Now the bike feels like it was made just for me, and the 2 of us had a very happy season of racing together! The Process lineup was super popular in 2014 and I am very excited to see what the team at Kona has in store for next season! 

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
A good chamois and some chamois butter is a girl's best friend! Chafing is no one's friend. I learned this the hard way on a multi-day trip on the White River trail in Moab back in the day. 2 days in and I was pretty miserable. Take it from me; you do NOT want to learn the hard way. Chamois cream for all! More helpful info here... 

How did you hear about Dirty Jane and what inspired you to become a Dirty Jane Ambassador?
I heard about Dirty Jane through a friend who knows Anka, the original Dirty Jane herself! She's a super rad woman with boundless energy and enthusiasm for MTB, and she's excited to get more women into mountain biking by helping them find the gear they need to successfully adventure on 2 wheels. I wanted to find a way to connect with other women who want to grow the sport in the same way I do, Dirty Jane seemed like a great outlet for that. 

You also helped establish the Seattle-based Muddbunnies Mtb club- how did you discover Muddbunnies and what made you want to get involved?
When I moved from CO to WA in 2011 I left my gaggle of MTB girls behind, so I began looking for a new crew of ladies to ride with. I had a really hard time finding other women in the area that rode bikes. I did some investigating online and was over the moon when I first came across the Muddbunnies riding club.... until I discovered the club only existed in British Columbia. About a year later I had found a few amazing girls in Seattle who loved biking as much as I did. We headed over to the Capital Forest Classic for the weekend, our very first MTB race. Turns out, Diana Walker, the founder of the Muddbunnies brand, was also racing that weekend! We recognized the logo on her tent and started chatting bikes. We told her we loved the Muddbunnies mission of bringing MTB women together, she asked if we'd be interested in establishing a Seattle-based chapter of the club, and the rest is history!

What do you do on the board for the Muddbunnies group and how does it help you introduce more women to the sport?
For the first two years of the club's existence, I was the Director of Rides for the Muddbunnies Seattle, so it was my job to schedule weekly group rides, recruit and train ride-leads and sweeps, and organize events throughout the season to get women stoked on biking! Now that the club has taken off, we elected a new board for the upcoming season and I was chosen to be a Muddbunnies Ambassador for 2015. I'll continue to lead rides and help build stoke in the bike community while encouraging women to ride. I think it's easy for women to try mountain biking once or twice with a husband, boyfriend, or dude, have a negative experience, then shrug it off as too hard, no fun, intimidating, or otherwise. Learning from the boys works for some women, but not for all. Men can use muscle to power through parts of riding that women need to use technique and skill to get through instead. We ride differently because we are different! The Muddbunnies helped me fill the gap I found when I first moved to Seattle. It helped me create a supportive, positive, and encouraging space for women to meet other women who ride bikes. They bring their friends, the club grows, and so does the sport! We focus on having fun, hanging out, encouraging each other, and riding... and that's why I love it.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Cycling as a whole continues to be very male-dominated. I think this makes it hard for many women to feel like there's a place for them in this sport and in the community of cycling altogether. When you turn on the Tour de France, what do you see? Men. How about Red Bull Rampage? Men. Even your local bike race? Way more men than women, I guarantee it. This is not confidence-inspiring for women. 

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
Well, I think it works both ways- There would be many more females involved in bikes events if more women were interested in riding. Similarly, if there were more women's bike events, equal prize money, etc, there would be greater female ridership. With that said, let's start from the ground up! Create more local interest in women's riding groups in your community. Allow other women to see their own cohort on bikes, riding, having a great time! Give race organizers a reason to hold a female-only event. A local race team in Seattle, Sturdy Bitch Racing, did a phenomenal job organizing a women's-only enduro this year. 

120 women showed up to race the trails of Capital Forest this past June. The Sturdy Bs had to raise the cap not once, but TWICE because there was so much interest in a women's-only enduro! How did they get so many women stoked on this event? They prepared exceptionally well which gave women the confidence they needed to commit! The Sturdy B's had course preview vids of every stage, had 2 separate guided prerides, and even held a skills clinic on race trails prior to the event. I was so very impressed by these women and the event they organized. The MTB community needs more passionate grassroots movers and shakers like the Sturdy Bs to get women riding!
Photo Cred: Brandon Corneliusen, PA Enduro

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I lived in South Africa for a few months during undergrad and a couple of my housemates and I decided we'd like to raft the Class V Zambezi River. So we did, and I'm pretty sure we were out of the boat more than we were in it. Sorry mom ;)

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