Women on Bikes Series: Sierra Cucinelli

My name is Sierra and I study and race for The University of Colorado at Boulder. 

I was also recently an intern at IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association). 

I love to ride Downhill! It's my first (bike) love. 

When did you first start riding a bike?
My first time on a mountain bike was in June of 2013. I commuted on an old road bike before that, but not much before. I went on a spontaneous trip with a friend to Whistler and decided to try out this downhill stuff! Three months later I had my first full suspension bike.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I fell in love with it. I've never played sports or anything, but enjoyed hiking and skiing. There's something extremely unique about getting on a bike and riding. Trail, DH, dirt jumps, or even just a cruise downtown. When I found mountain biking and could get lost in nature, there was no looking back. Biking changed my life and gave me motivation to try new things. I hopped on and never looked back.  

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Since I never played sports as a kid, I didn't even know I had a competitive side. I joined a race team just because I wanted the opportunity to ride more. By the end of the season, that had changed. I've only raced one season (only been riding two) and cannot wait to race next year. When it's just me on a DH course I'm so connected to my bike and nothing else feels real or matters even. 

I've also made some amazing friends racing, especially in the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference. There aren't a ton of girls, so we all really got to know each other through the season. 

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Yes! I was so nervous! I was on my friend's large trail bike in Whistler Bike Park, mind you, I'm 5'4 and he's over 6ft. But after my first couple runs I was starting to relax and enjoy myself. My most vivid memory was riding alone for the first time; I was going to meet my friend at the bottom of the mountain. I turned a corner and in the middle of the trail was a bear! (so Whistler!) He just kind of looked at me and jumped off the trail, but it was one of the coolest experiences I've ever had. 

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
Whenever I'm nervous, I keep reminding myself that life happens outside of your comfort zone. I know it's cliché but it's so true.  

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 recently started riding trail clipless. I didn't really want to, but got talked into trying it out. After a few rides I started to dig it. Sometimes I would only have one foot clipped in; switching feet so I felt comfortable on both sides. Eventually I wanted to have both clipped in. 

For DH I still don't feel comfortable clipping in, especially for really technical runs, but I do want to try riding a few trails I've ridden before and feel comfortable on in them. I personally love my flats for DH.  

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've definitely eaten it before, and getting over that just takes time, mentally at least. Following someone in that you feel is at the same skill level as you really helps get over it as well.  

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
There are so many things to remember when you first get on a bike, and everyone is telling you different things to remember. For me the most important thing is looking ahead. It didn't actually click with me on a bike - I was in a yoga class, doing some pose and the teacher said something along the lines of "your heart will follow your gaze" It was an "aha!" moment for me. Looking ahead is so key (especially with corners!)

One other thing that helps with any skill for me, is riding with purpose. Every time I go out and ride I choose one thing to focus on. Sometimes it's cornering; sometimes it's keeping my elbows out.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
There will always be ways to improve your riding. That's what I love about mountain biking - I can see my progress every day. Focus on how far you've come

What do you love about riding your bike?
Other than everything? I love the people I've met through biking. 

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Well, I'm a little in between bikes right now. My first bike was a 2013 Giant Reign 1. My Reign was the most beautiful bike in the world, in my eyes at least. I knew that I wanted to ride DH, but that I was going to want to ride trails too, so with some help from my friends found the bike that could let me do a little bit of everything.  

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I love my RaceFace Kyber kneepads, Troy Lee Designs A1 and D2 Helmets, sunglasses and goggles from Smith Optics (I have some basic goggles, multiple lifestyle glasses, and the Piv Locks for trail riding). I also love Sombrio's clothing; you can ride in their stuff and also wear their shirts casually. My favorite shorts are from Dakine. 
My handlebars and flat pedals are from SMAC Innovations and I'll never get different handlebars. The saddle I think every woman should own is the SDG Allure (it's amazing).

Tell us how you are involved with IMBA?
I applied for an internship at IMBA and was lucky enough to get it. I was the Operations/HR Intern. I'm also an IMBA member. 

Why is IMBA such a great organization to be involved with?
IMBA does a ton of work to open, and keep open, bike trails. I know I would be super sad if I didn't have trails to go shred. They also have a great field staff who are out there teaching trail building skills, and bike clinics. 

Why is it important for people to donate and/or volunteer time with IMBA?
More trails! IMBA is also really cool, because there are local chapters everywhere that you can get involved in. Sometimes the idea of an international association seems like it's not helping out individual communities. That's where the local chapters come in. You can go dig with other people from your mountain bike community! It's a pretty great system.  

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
This is a hard one. There are definitely many aspects to this, ranging from how girls and boys are raised to the cost of mountain biking. All I know is that it's changing. I'm so excited to be a female cyclist right now, because the field is growing and there are new opportunities popping up every day. 

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
People like you, Nancy Kelly (who runs Dirt Divas here in Colorado) and Lisa Mason, are creating amazing riding communities for women. Nancy was the one who helped me sign up for my first race, and Lisa helped set up one of the coolest nights for me at the Whistler Air Dome (despite how terrified I was). Katie Holden is out there doing her thing and being inspiring.

Companies like Juliana (despite what anyone’s opinions are) are getting rad women on sick bikes and sharing their stories with the women's community. Support is so important. We are all ladies who love to ride and even if we don't know it, we are inspiring others out there. 

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Bikes make me happy. Why would I ever want to keep that to myself! Gotta share the love! 

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
When I'm not riding bikes, I'm probably eating food or drinking beer (or both). If I could eat one food for the rest of my life it would be Poutine (if you don't know what it is, you're missing out!)!