Women on Bikes Series: AJ Sura

Meet AJ! She was born and raised in the Detroit area, venturing to Southern California after college to pursue big opportunities.
Not of the athletic sort, AJ fell in love with the canyons and went on her first trail mile in 1996. Falling in love with running, she found the desire to explore grew. On her runs she would see bikes ride by and finally curiosity got to her- “where were they going?!” 
In 2007 she purchased her first mountain bike and the rest is history!

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When did you first start riding a bike?
I am 42 today and I bought my first bike since middle school at age 35 on 2007; it was brand new. It was a Specialized Epic XC, bright green, and it cost more than two mortgage payments! I went big for my first bike hoping to love it.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
The sheer freedom and power I felt. The first time I clipped in I felt alive! I was full of energy and I loved the speed and adrenalin. I quickly realized this sport was for everyone and anyone. It didn’t discriminate based on my height, weight, or gender. Everyone could turn pedals. I gained confidence, explored new places, challenged myself, and met some great friends! I kept setting higher goals for myself and achieving them. Reminds me of Dr. Seuss “Oh the places you’ll go” or “Today is your day your mountain is waiting so get on your way.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
I don’t know that I “enjoy” competing but I discovered Cyclocross and got on a skinny tired bike for the first time in Sept of 2013 and did my first ever CX race. I fell in love! I loved the venues in the park and the challenge of the course. Mostly I loved the vibrant and alive atmosphere; the people (racers and fans alike) are amazing!

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
The first time I clipped in I felt alive and full of energy; I loved the speed and adrenalin. I knew this sport was for me!

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I remember little things along the way, albeit I am more of an advance rider now, I still talk out loud to myself. Things like “power through it”…. “if you’re sitting back off your saddle you can’t go over the bars”, and “speed is your friend.” Sayings like that have stuck with me through the years and I always congratulate myself out loud. For those who have ridden with me, they often hear me say “Good job AJ”… LOL!  I also want to go further, do more in order to do that you have to overcome your fears.

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 was clipped in first day I rode and I think that helped. There was no other way. I would start with pedals that have a larger base around them and have them as loose as possible. Start on the grass in a park and practice clipping in and out at a slow roll.
I try my best to explain the benefits of being clipped in: the rotation, power, and better for your joints/knees/alignment etc. and I think people understand that; they want to better the feeling of being on the bike.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I broke my elbow about a year into riding. I’m not going to lie, 6 years later I’m still a little hesitant in that same spot even though I ride through it almost daily. I got back on my bike ASAP after the elbow was nearly healed and I feel that helped. It was a huge learning opportunity for me to understand what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent it.
I was crossing a creek with pavement under it and “slime” and I went through the slime running under the water. It was slick, so I the wheels came out from under me. I take that opportunity to teach others to also be aware. Learning, then teaching, is the best experience.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I think switchbacks are challenging for most riders. I actually sat and watched YouTube videos and tutorials online. Then I started to follow others and watch their line. That’s where the “power through it” comes from. I would suggest having someone watch you as well as show you how they ride them so you get a better understanding. I feel everyone should take a basic skills class even if you think you know what you need to know!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Rock drops! I love the downhill and am pretty fast at it. Whenever ride a new trail or am not very versed with the trail, I get scared of the obstacles and tend to drag my foot or walk down it. I tell myself there isn’t any shame in walking, but then become frustrated as I know I could have ridden down it. I’ll turn around, walk back up, and re-ride it. Otherwise I let a more experienced rider go first and closely follow their line. I keep in mind “If they rode it, I can ride it.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I currently ride a NINER Jet 9 RDO. It’s super light for a 29er, I have no toe overlap, and I got rid of my seat dropper as the slack allows for me to not feel like I am going over the front of the bars. It’s an XS frame as I am short so it fits me. It’s all black and stylish, LOL!
Focus Mares 2.0 is my current Cyclocross bike. Focus is a flagship brand in Cyclocross. The bike is super light and responsive and it has Di 2 for easy shifting. I have been very happy with this bike thus far. I am 5’4 and the frame is small enough for me.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I wear only Pactimo. I love the fit and comfort of these kits. I also am in love with my Lazer helmet that has a built in sweat gel guard for comfort. I really hesitate recommending anything that’s personal such as clothing etc. as I think you should try out a few things and choose what is best for you. As women we all have different body types and I think do what feels right for you.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Challenging myself and not competing with others. I love the new trails, new terrain, freedom, adrenalin, and lastly the accomplishment.