Women on Bikes Series: Julie Birkle

I live in Cortez, Colorado and like to ride my Yeti ASR5 at Phil's World with my dogs, Daphne and Elway. I also enjoy riding in Sedona, Durango, and Moab. What makes me unique is that I am 45 years old and have been riding technically in Colorado for the past two years. Most of my life (since 1987) I have been riding a 1987 Schwinn Essence. 

The vintage bike and I have ridden in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, trails in Wisconsin, the Katy trail across Iowa, and technical trails in Moab, Durango, Phil's World in Cortez, Colorado, Sedona, and Big Bear Lake, California. I am considering taking on the challenge of the vintage Iron Horse mountain bike race in Durango on Memorial Day weekend. 

My Wednesday nights are spent with women from the Kokopelli Bike Club riding the Boggy Draw trails. Sometimes I join the club in trail work and bridge resetting.

When I can, I connect with Southern Arizona Mountain Biking Association (SAMBA) to ride in Sedona or Gooseberry Mesa in Utah. I just bought a light so I can tackle night riding like my friends in Tucson!

I am passionate about women striving to be more than they thought they could. Mountain biking brings out the strength and beauty of a woman. 
I dream about owning a downhill bike, and shredding on a super cool course with some amazing women.

When did you first start riding a bike?
I really can't remember. I start riding as soon as I could. When I was a kid they didn't have little bikes like they do now. I had to ride a bigger bike, and I was little. Clearly I remember losing a lot of skin off of my legs and it stinging really bad. 

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I love the sport and the challenge. Riding can be done almost anywhere, and includes different terrains, climates, and urban and remote settings.  

Tell us about the Iron Horse mountain bike race that you may be attending!
The Iron Horse is a road race in Durango, Colorado that climbs over the pass to Silverton. In addition to the road race they have a vintage mountain bike race that I can ride with my 1987 Schwinn Essence. I have loved riding the bike since I got it to use at college in the inclement weather of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. 

I also will register to ride the 12 hours of Mesa Verde in my hometown of Cortez, Colorado. The race is at Phil's World and includes a 14 mile loop that you can ride solo or in teams. My friend Robin has agreed to ride with me. She is a great rider with Multiple Sclerosis!

What inspires you to possibly compete?
Competition is about reaching goals and having a purpose for training.  

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Challenged and ecstatic, the same as I do now. 

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I have mastered the art of crashing. I always get back on and ride again. After the tentativeness, my drive to ride kicks in and I start to fly again. I try to slow down and practice skills. Dialing in the right bike fit was really difficult since I am 5 feet tall, but it was essential. 

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 just started using clipless pedals on technical terrain. Prior experience clipping on a road bike helped. Keeping the clips really loose and using a pedal with a platform so I could unclip when I needed helped. Mostly it is what I call "time in the saddle" which gives confidence for future rides. Sometimes it is riding, crashing, getting back up again, and thinking hard about proper skills while riding that gives gain in confidence and technique.  

Have you had any (accidents) biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Frequently, I crash. Last year I broke my ribs in Moab while demoing a bike. Last weekend, I got pretty bruised up while trying to descend the 14 mile Porcupine Rim trail in Moab after my rear brake quit. The next day I rode the Slickrock Trail and was walking a lot and pretty sketched out. I just kept riding until confidence and joy of the ride kicked in. Self talk is key. I talk myself through everything bit by bit by using encouragement and remembering skills.  

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Turning was difficult on trails. I read a lot about how to turn properly, and talk myself through every turn. Fear kicked in which caused me to brake more inside the turn. Learning to stay centered on the bike, weight the outside pedal especially when clipped, and letting off the brakes through the turn helped a lot with speed and stability. Watching videos of people performing skills correctly helped me visualize my turns. 

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I am constantly challenged by handling and technical riding. I have to encourage myself constantly when I am riding, trying to not get sloppy with riding too fast, and remember I am riding to have fun! Sometimes, it is best to just stop and take in the view. There is so much to be thankful for.

Have you gone on any night rides yet? If so-what were your first thoughts about riding in the dark?
I just bought a Magicshine light. I am pumped to do some night riding and love the new set of skills and alertness. My main problem is that people where I live aren't as excited as I am to ride at night.

Why should people give night riding a shot?
It challenges you to use a new set of skills. It is really beautiful out there at night, and riding at night expands the amount of time you can ride. 

What do you love about riding your bike?
The sense of freedom and challenge. Every time I ride I am amazed at what is possible. 

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Yeti ASR-5 all mountain bike: I chose this bike because it was similar in geometry to my dream bike, the Pivot Mach 5.7, and came in an extra small. I demoed bikes for a long time, and most of the full suspension bikes were too big, and I crashed. I did have to shorten the stem and make a few minor modifications. I needed a tough bike for riding in tough technical and rocky terrain. 

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I am not too fashionable but wouldn't mind a few nice things with a girly look. I like shoes that look like hiking shoes. You can clip and also walk up the steep rocks and trail.

Tell us about the Kokopelli Bike Club and why you enjoy being involved with that group?
I like to ride with the women. It helps me to remember the challenges I faced when I was starting out and to be patient and slow down. It is great to do trail work and feel a part of the community.

You have assisted with some trail maintenance days, what did you enjoy about having a hands-on experience with improving the local trails?
I felt like I could give back to the community for all the hard work they have done on the miles and miles of trails that I ride. There is always great people and great food. 

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
It is a really really tough sport that is dominated by men. I love the men dearly, but they can be hard to keep up with and it can be discouraging. Luckily I have found some great riding friends that wait for me and always offer encouragement. Fear also deters women from riding. You can feel totally out of your element. I would encourage women to start where they are at, and remember to ride for fun. It can be difficult to find people to ride with, so find the joy and solace of riding alone or with a canine friend.  

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
Women encouraging other women and girls, and being willing to travel to join others. Reaching out on Facebook and joining bike specific sites for women has been fun. I like to watch video of women riding, so I can feel like I am not alone as a woman in the sport. When other women get excited about riding it is contagious. I think, "You go girl!" 

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I think most women can achieve way more than they think they can and are much stronger than they believe. Biking is a way to bring that out. Time in nature is an opportunity to regroup and be thankful, which I would like to share with all women. 

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I started technical mountain bike riding when I was 43 years old in Colorado on my 1987 Schwinn Essence that was made especially for short women. I also rode the bike across Iowa, with my kids, on the Katy trail over 10 years ago. More recently, I traveled Iowa once again as part of the RAGBRAI.

I like to mess around a bit in the mountains with Search and Rescue and as an EMT/firefighter. In my real life I am a health teacher at an expeditionary learning high school. Also, after many years as a certified professional midwife, I am working as a labor and delivery RN at a great rural hospital in Colorado.