Women on Bikes Series: Gretchen Johnson

I grew up on a garlic farm on 72 acres surrounded by national forest near Seiad Valley, CA. Needless to say, I do not feel at home unless I am in the mountains.  My dad got me into flying a powered parachute solo at the age of 15, and I earned my private pilot license at age 17. 
We had a cable car to cross the Klamath River in order to get to town, or we flew the Cessna in and out of the property as my dad had built an airstrip. 
Currently, I am working on a geology degree in Humboldt with the intent of earning a Master’s. I surf and climb as well as mountain bike, if it scares the crap out of me I want to do it!

When did you first start riding a bike?
About eight years ago I spent a couple of years in Colorado where I was going to college. As an avid snowboarder, I need a summer sport to give me the adrenaline fix I always crave! 

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
The sheer joy of it!  If it wasn’t fun and didn’t make me feel so incredible, I would have lost interest a long time ago.  I guess that’s why I could never be a gym rat.  There are always goals I set for myself, and when I reach those goals, it’s amazing. 

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Gosh, there have been so many rad events it’s hard to narrow it down. I really love the Bootleg Canyon events Downhill Mike puts on, although I haven’t been able to make it out to one for a couple of seasons. He puts on a great race, the courses are always challenging. The Mammoth Kamikaze Mountain Bike Games are a blast, but the one that sticks out the most in my mind was the China Peak Pro GRT in 2013. It was my first race as an official pro, and it was the scariest course I’ve ever seen in my life. Long-time pro men were saying it was the hardest course they had ever raced, and people were getting broken off right and left. They even tried to omit the pro women from the course, wanting us to race the sport course, but we refused. I was terrified, but what an incredible feeling when I crossed the finish line! I did it!! 

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Beat up, bleeding, and grinning from ear to ear. I wanted to go right back out and do it again. 

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
Oh gosh, I get nervous all the time. I just tell myself “I can do this.” It’s important to have confidence in yourself; it’s what will get you through it. I also think about how I would feel if I were to walk away from a race simply because I was nervous. That feeling would be way worse than anything else. 

You enjoy DH the most (currently!) What makes that style of mtb enjoyable for you?
I love to go fast! The faster I’m going, the more fun I’m having.

You are interested in trying out Enduro racing- what do you find intriguing about Enduro?
I just think doing multiple timed downhill races would be a blast. DH is over so fast. Plus, with DH, you spend an entire weekend riding and racing one course. Enduro would mix it up a little.

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 like to use clipless pedals because they give me way more control over my bike, especially at high speeds through technical sections. It’s interesting; there are a lot of pro racers that use them for that same reason. I am committed to riding whatever it is I’m riding, I don’t even think about giving myself the option to put a foot down. If I need to put a foot down I need to learn a better line, or improve how I ride a certain line. As for beginners, practice at home first! Prop your bike against a wall and get to know the motion it takes to release your foot from the pedal. When you feel comfortable to take it to the trails, start with an easy trail you are already familiar with. Expect to fall a time or two! It happens, but soon it will become second nature. 

Have you had any accidents that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
At the start to the 2010 season, I was practicing for the first race at Northstar on a trail called Stix and Stones. I flew over a drop I had never done before with way too much speed and landed on an uphill, straight onto my head and shoulder. I had two bulged disks in my neck, twisted ribs (not the proper medical terminology, but that’s the gist), a concussion, and a separated shoulder. It put me out for the season, and I was pretty depressed. I just bought a new bike, my seasons pass, and was newly single and ready to conquer the bike world (or so I thought). I hiked a lot that summer, it was the only activity I could do, and the next winter in Tahoe lasted through June. The snow finally stopped in July, and I was able to pick up where I had left off. So, I went right back to that drop and hit it, and raced it. 

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you?  Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Braking was a challenge. I was terrified of my front break at first so I refused to use it. I got really great at skidding my rear tire everywhere, but had zero control! For people learning, remember most of your breaking power and control comes from your front break. Don’t lock it up, as I did at first, feather it lightly. But use it or you will be out of control! 

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 always trying to improve my cornering. When riding, I try and focus on breaking before the corner, and trusting my tires. 

What do you love about riding your bike?
It is freedom.

How has riding a bike inspired you in other areas of life?
It has given me self-confidence

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I currently love the Loeka shorts, they are slim yet baggy (I refuse to wear spandex). They seem to fit small women well and they are long enough to cover my knees. 

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Probably fear. It is also very male dominated, and that can be very intimidating to women. I know how I felt when I first got into it, but then I realized the guys were just stoked to see a girl out there.  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t nearly as fast as them, what mattered was that I was doing it. 
What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride? 
I think a lot of women feel encouraged if they have another woman to ride with. It would be neat to see more clinics become available to women, especially all-women’s clinics. Also, it would be great to encourage girls at younger ages to become involved with mountain biking.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
It is just so cool to see a girl just starting out and eventually morphing into a great mountain biker. They are less intimidating to ride with, and are so fun to shred with. A girl’s day out at the bike park sure as hell beats a girl’s day out at the shopping mall!  

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I am totally addicted to Assam tea and fossil hunting.  


  1. I took that picture at the bottom! Ha ha! Awesome interview, Gretchen. Miss riding with you girl. Thanks for the great read, Josie.

  2. Loved this! Inspiring!


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