Women on Bikes Series: Rachel Weaver
Rachel Weaver is the founder of Pin it Girls, an all-women gravity race team. She lives in Santa Fe, NM with her husband. Rachel is passionate about mountain biking, and Angel Fire Bike park is her home mountain. While she rides dirt jumps and trail, downhill is her true love, and her favorite discipline to race.
Rachel is currently racing Cat 1/Expert level Downhill and Dual Slalom. In 2015, her goals are to podium at USA Cycling Gravity Nationals, strive towards upgrading to Pro and race as many races as possible while being an ambassador for the sport.
In 2014, Rachel decided to start her own team because she wanted to inspire and encourage women in downhill racing and gravity sports.
One of her big disappointments was to show up at races and see only a few girls signed up, while there were hundreds of guys. Rachel has gained so very much life experience and joy from riding mountain bikes, and she wanted to share that with other women while bringing together an amazing group of racers who just happen to be girls.
Now with eight team members, four podiums at Gravity Nationals, wins at Central States Cup races, and a sixth place overall in the Big Mountain Enduro series, the team is building momentum. For 2015, Pin it Girls is proud to be sponsored by Angel Fire Bike Park, Schwalbe, MTB Racing Solutions, Sombrio, and Smith Optics.
When did you first start riding a bike?
I first started riding bikes as a kid- I had a little pink and purple Huffy. Later in High School my dad took me mountain biking on a fully rigid steel frame, and it became one of my favorite activities. When I met my husband, Daniel, I hadn't ridden in years, but we took up road biking together, and we slowly progressed into riding trail, then downhill.
What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
My motivation is purely internal. I love the “zen” aspect of riding, as I call it. Perfecting that corner, relaxing through a techy rock garden, being in the start gate of a race run and feeling the whole world disappear… the satisfaction of watching my progression over the years. These are what keep me riding and loving every minute of it!
What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
I love racing Downhill. It’s really just you and the clock, and the challenge is as much mental as physical. Downhill feels like a pure sport to me.
Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
I don’t remember riding for the first time in High School, but I do remember my first mountain bike ride with my husband coming back to it again at twenty-five years old. I was afraid of everything! I walked down the smallest of hills, and was scared of any kind of rock garden. I recall telling Daniel that I will NEVER ride lift access trails…little did I know six years later I’d be a Cat 1 DH racer.
If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I have the unique ability to remember everything on a DH course. I can sit down the night before a race and mentally ride the whole thing- every rock, berm, feature and rut. This is very calming for me, and helps me focus during my race run.
As far as nervousness with practicing certain features or say a double-black run I’ve never done before, I certainly admit to feeling nerves every once in a while. My best strategy for these kinds of nerves is to decide whether I’m truly ready for the feature, and if so, I imagine myself completing it with perfect form, then commit fully and go for it. If I know in my heart I’m not ready, I save it for another day.
I believe the most dangerous thing you can do as a rider is try features that you're not quite ready for, or let someone talk you into something. With any tough obstacle or feature, you absolutely have to commit to it and know you can do it safely; otherwise you're just rolling the dice. Indecision is very dangerous. It will cause you to not go fast enough, or bail at the last moment. You have to build skills with confidence, not fear.
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 exclusively use flat pedals. I started riding mountain bikes from road cycling, and so I learned on clips and was racing cross country on clipless pedals. Finally my husband wore me down to try flats and I’ve never gone back. Sam Hill won many races on flat pedals, including “pedally” ones. If you look into the science of flats vs. clips, the only benefit in clips is less fatigue over time. So if you are a ultra racer- doing twenty four hour races on your fully rigid carbon fiber twenty niner, go for those clips…but if you are anything else you should be on flats! Flat pedals let you comfortably jump, try new features, and once you get used to the feel, you can climb just as well or better than with clips.
Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
My most serious crash ended in a concussion. Funny enough it was not during a race or while riding a double-black run or a big feature. It was on a blue DH trail I ride all the time. It was at the end of our first weekend of the season riding DH, and I realized later that my brain was ready to go full-speed, but my reflexes weren’t up to it yet.
Concussions are very strange- it’s like thinking through a big cotton ball or something. This injury certainly threw me off for a few months of riding. I wasn't feeling that I was mentally effected, but my riding level slid backwards and I was way more tentative and cautious on the bike. It took a couple months for me to feel like myself again.
I think what helped me come back from this injury was focusing on having fun on the bike. Once I stepped back from a strong focus on race results and going fast, I found my rhythm again and felt at-home on the bike. The speed comes naturally after that.
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’m not even sure where to start with this question! I was afraid of everything when I started riding mountain bikes. I wouldn't lean my bike in berms, I got stalled up in rocks, I would skid on my back brake down steeps…
I think the answer to learning skills is to first be having fun. I know personally I do not learn well when I’m stressed out or scared. The second thing to do is spend time on the bike practicing. Go out in the driveway and do figure eights, or bunny hops or track stands for thirty minutes every day. That is the secret to gaining skills- it really just takes being comfortable on the bike and repeating the movement over and over until it’s a body memory.
I used to be afraid of track stands, and I really couldn't do them. But in dual slalom racing, you have a big advantage if you can track stand in the gate at the start. So over last winter, I practiced track stands against the car outside, or inside in a doorway, pretty much anytime I thought of it. And you know what? I can track stand for ten minutes if I want to now- no problem.
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 the first to admit that my weakness as a DH racer is top-speed. I still have a strong hesitation to just let it run on wide open sections when everyone else is going no-brakes. While I readily admit that, I will also admit that I am a better at corners and berms than pretty much all of the girls I ride with. I’ve also done one of the biggest drops in the group.
So I believe you really have to acknowledge your strengths and play to them as much as possible. You just have to know going into a race or ride that the course or trail may not suit you, and you simply give it your best. Even the pro World Cup DH racers favor certain types of courses, or dry or wet tracks. It’s about self awareness and then not beating yourself up about the things you are struggling with.
That said, I do work on increasing my top speed by relaxing on those sections, and practicing good braking technique. Maybe someday it will be no big deal.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I currently own a Specialized Demo 8 and a Transition Double.
The Demo 8 was a no-brainer. As far as DH bikes go, it’s the best. I love Specialized suspension because you don’t have any brake jack, and the bike feels so connected to the ground. It’s been an amazing bike for me, and I would buy another Demo 8 in a heartbeat.
My Transition Double came about because I had been riding a long-travel trail bike, but I wanted something more slack and jump- worthy. I was also getting into dual slalom racing and wanted a bike better suited for that. I credit my Double for my quick progression in jumping and gravity riding. Because it’s slack but has short travel, its kind of like riding a mini DH bike on trails, and so its great practice for actual DH. It also jumps really well and handles great. It’s amazingly fun on the green runs at Angel Fire, too.
What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
My favorite brand is Sombrio. Their clothing is really well made, fits great for athletic bodies, and is actually super cool. I want something that clearly shows I’m a girl, but I don't want baby blue and light pink with hearts on it. You can see our Pin it Girls team jerseys as an example of this- they are both tough and girly.
I have a pretty small head, so I found the only DH helmet that fit me well was a Troy Lee D3. It’s lightweight because it’s carbon. Smith Optics has awesome sunglasses and goggles for small faces.
Of course, if you’re going to go for flat pedals and shoes, there is no other choice but Five/Ten, who is putting out a women’s Freerider shoe this spring. I’ve always ridden with their men’s shoes, and I love them, so I’m super excited to try out the women’s last. And they just happen to be pink and black, my favorite colors.
I find for protective gear, Six Six One makes items that fit smaller women. A number of the girls on the team wear their body armor, including me. They have a Junior size chest protector that fits really well and is super comfortable for gravity riding. I also use their elbow and knee/shin guards.
What do you love about riding your bike?
What don’t I love? The focus and calm that biking brings. Having something my husband and I are passionate about, and can do together. The physical challenge. The social aspect. The identity of being a mountain bike racer. Having the opportunity to coach girls in something that builds their self confidence and brings them joy. The “zen” of racing DH, and the flow that comes from effortlessly riding something extremely technical.