Women on Bikes Series: Candace Mastel

My name is Candace and I’m a 46 year young female who lives in beautiful (I am biased) Bozeman, Montana. I came here via Pennsylvania and Ohio, searching for
a gentler way of life (haha, that didn’t happen) and freedom from the expectations of the mid-west culture. Typical story. It hinged on starting my new life with just me
and my dog. Within a year I met my soon to be husband and we got married two years later. I work at the local college, Montana State University, as a Planner and Landscape Designer.

My focus lately has been to make campus even better by focusing on promoting active transportation and biking infrastructure. I am also involved in a local community biking group called “The Dirt Concern,” which was instrumental in restructuring a failing hiking and biking trail into a sweet flow trail and also building a pump track.

When did you first start riding a bike?
I had a ten speed in grade school. My first “real” bike was my totally beloved Specialized “Hard Rock,” which I had all through college (1990) and beyond. When I met my husband he was riding semi-pro on the WIM series here in the northwest. I got to travel to see him race a few times and was intrigued by it all. I couldn’t afford a full-on DH bike (mind you this was 2001 and DH bikes left something to be desired, but they were still bomber compared to the alternative). Instead I purchased a full suspension Specialized Stumpjumper and rode it like I stole it. It wasn’t quite the right fit so I moved on to an Intense 5.5, which I still have. But, mostly I ride my big bike, which is a Norco Aurum. My baby. I Love it. And, it makes me love biking. 

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
It’s such a rush. It is a feel good type of thing. It allows me to hang out with my best buds and experience comradery and happiness beyond words. I get super frustrated a lot, but it’s mostly because of my lack of confidence in my own abilities. I’m motivated to ride because it makes me feel good. It’s a Pavlov’s dog kind of thing. Hero dirt makes me drool. (I know that isn’t a very girlie thing to say, haha). And, because it’s so special that I get to share this experience with my partner in life. It’s so cool that we can ride together and that we share a passion for biking.

You competed in one DH competition, tell us about your experience-
OMG, this was the craziest thing I’ve done in a long time. I won my age class because I was the only person my age in it, haha. I even got my name in a regional paper because I made a big splash with my quotes. I got totally peer pressured into racing. I had actually never ridden the trail before my first practice run even though it was on our home mountain in Big Sky, Montana. I remember being so thirsty after my first race run. I improved my time by a few minutes on the second run, despite having to walk/run a bunch of obstacles that were pretty much mandatory. It seemed like walking it was as scary as if I had actually tried riding it! Everyone knew it was my first race and knew that I was scared. The cowbells were out in full force and the energy was amazing. I did my best and felt a super high stoke factor the whole day! I’ve not raced since. I was out the whole next summer due to blowing up my knee and was recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery. Perhaps if I had had the chance I would have entered again. Now it’s strictly raced as an enduro event, which I’m not really interested in.

You said you compete with your own mind- why is mountain biking such a mental/emotional workout? (I feel many feel this way!)
We work for a very long time on developing and honing our skills. And yet, even though physically we can totally handle an obstacle, our minds are our worst enemy. My husband always reminds me that I’ve got the basic ability, that it just takes practice, and a commitment to quiet the naysaying that my mind does. I’m still working on this. 

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
It was in the dark. In college. I was riding with my best guy friend. I had a huge, secret crush on him. We rode some dark urban trail that probably was in a super shady area of town. We had a blast. It was hilarious. 

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
Practice, practice, practice. And, ride with people who will support and challenge you.

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 to use clipless pedals when I rode my XC bike. I don’t anymore. I ride platforms on my DH bike. I like the ability to be able to lay a foot down in the turns or get off my bike quick. Plus, I’m sketched out with my reconstructed knee. I just don’t want anything keeping my tied onto my bike if I take a spill. On my XC bike I sacrifice a bit of power in the climbs but the descents are what I live for anyhow. I ride Twenty6 Predators on my DH bike and an older pair of Twenty6 pedals on my XC bike. I won’t ride any other brand as long as Ty’s making pedals in his shop. They are the best pedal around and I love supporting a friend and Bozeman local business owner. The pins are entirely aggressive and evil. My shins are proof of that by the end of the season. But, I love them anyhow. My husband runs them too. And, I pair them with the new 5.10 VXi shoes, which I’ve found to be way more comfortable and better fitting overall than the older women’s Karvers, or the Impacts. 

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
On my 40th birthday, first day at Whistler, I was blazing over some whoops and did a face first digger into the next whoop on my second run of the day. I knocked the wind out of my sails for a good five minutes. I was trying to yell my husband’s name (because he was downtrail from me) but nothing would come out of my mouth…except blood. I had split the inside of my mouth open when my goggles smashed against my face. Both my elbows were shredded (despite wearing pads) and I had road rash all over my upper body. A trip to the “Merge” and a box of gauze pads later, I was scrubbing the rocks out of my torso and elbows in the hotel shower. I also got a nice set of dissolvable stitches on the inside of my mouth. I was so thankful for the Westin’s Heavenly Bed!
I took the next day off to lay by the pool and lick my wounds. But, I got back at it the next day. I remember my thumbs were so sore that I could barely hold onto my grips. Anyone who’s ridden Whistler hard knows how it’s difficult enough to ride eight hours a day when you’re feeling tip top…but with an injury and your mind telling you “slow down” it’s even harder! My advice, if you are going to Whistler, take the first day slow…take your time. Roll everything, walk it even, and get out of the way if you are going to ponder something for a while because that mountain features the best riders any day of the week and they are right on your ass!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Switch backs were awful. And, rocks. Big rocks. I’ve conquered switchbacks. Being able to negotiate them on a big bike really helped when I got on a much more maneuverable XC bike. And, learning to use my brakes where necessary to inch my bike around the turn. Sometimes a girl just has to drift that turn though!

This season I’ve really been working on my jumping skills and drops. And, berms. I love berms. Steep, long berms can be really harrowing. But, I’ve learned to just commit and stick it. Ride in and stay high. Stay out of the gutter. Keep some speed. Lean in.
Another tip is to have someone film you while you are doing something. We do this in Crossfit during our Olympic lifts all the time. You can then dissect what is really happening. And, following someone in is a great way. Let them slowly show you what to do while you are riding and then you follow them through, copying them. It’s a little harder since you should communicate your plan before you both take off. 

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 deathly afraid of drops and logs that look like drops but basically are really jumps. I just conquered a teeter totter this fall, which acts a lot like a drop if you execute it wrong, which I did, the first time through. I do get really frustrated. I have to then take a short breather. Maybe I just realize that today wasn’t the day that it’s gonna happen. Maybe I save the difficult stuff for another day. That day will come. Then, some days, I’m on it. I’m strong, and focused. I love those days. Everything flows. I am solid and committed and confident. I go with my gut instinct. If something feels right, I go for it. If it doesn’t, I save it for another day. 

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I’ve currently got three bikes. My Intense 5.5 was purchased in about 2006 I think. It’s a phenomenal bike, despite being eight years old. I built it up with the help of a bike expert and my husband, saved a lot of money on it and it’s still so relevant. I also have a Kona Minute that I use as my commuter bike. It’s got a ton of pannier storage space and hauls heavy loads the three miles to work. My big bike, my DH bike, is a Norco Aurum. I searched for the right replacement for my first DH bike, which was an Ironhorse Sunday (Ironhorse is out of business as we know it but they made awesome bikes a few years back).

My husband and I went to Interbike in 2012 with our friend who owns Twenty6 and were fortunate enough to be able to mingle with all the bike companies during the week of the event. We saw a lot of awesome bikes that week but Norco had put together a sweet package, out of the box, in the Norco Aurum. I chose the Aurum 1 with the Boxxer fork. This bike is amazing. Nothing short of a perfect bike. Its fluid, responsive, light, and well built, with an excellent collection of pieces and parts. I especially love the Shimano Saint setup, which is so much more reliable than what I had on my Sunday.

We are kind of an Aurum family. My husband built up a custom 2014 Aurum for this last summer’s season of riding. He had previously rode only Intense’s. He was blown away with his bike decision and loves everything about it. 

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
This is such a notoriously difficult area for women. Especially women with hips and a bootie, like me. I am personally not into Lycra. It does nothing for my figure. And, let’s face it, even though we should only be focusing on the riding and not how we look, I don’t want to scare anyone, haha. So, even when I ride XC, I wear loose fitting riding shorts over my chamois. I have also taken to just wearing compression shorts, sans chamois, under my riding shorts, which I found to be more comfortable for me. I’ve always found chamois to be constricting and poor at dissipating heat or moisture.

For DH where I’m going to be going through some rough stuff or riding hard all day in the dust/dirt, I wear Troy Lee Designs Skyline jerseys and Moto Shorts. If I’m just shuttling on a dry day, I wear Skyline shorts with a compression short underneath (preferably an Under Armour brand short).
I’ve found the biggest challenge to not be outerwear, but pads. It’s impossible for me to find good fitting elbow pads. I usually have to keep them on my arms by using pony tail holders to hold them in place. It works surprisingly well. And, since I have really long hair, I always have those types of hair accessories in my gear bag or car.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the connection I have to it. I love that my friends ride bikes. I love that I can share in the experience with them. I love that my husband and I can ride together and realize that it’s super special that we both love the same sport. I love that he’s an amazing rider and that when I ask him for help, he’ll offer his advice. And, I love that when he follows me in a train, riding through some big ass jumps, we are both hooting and hollerin and he tells me later that I “sent it.”