Women on Bikes Series: Rebekah Giaraffa

My name is Rebekah Giaraffa and I am a 5th generation Colorado native. I moved to Atlanta for high school and college, but moved back to Denver in 2002. It is home. I am an avid traveler, having been to 50 countries. My job as an account executive and meeting planner for a global ad agency network allows me to feed this love. I am married to my wonderful husband, Matt, who is co-owner and Chief Engineer of Guerrilla Gravity and we have an adorable Australian labradoodle, Grizzly.

You can find me on Facebook and Twitter!
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When did you first start riding a bike?
I started riding bikes when I was a kid. I received a tri-cycle for my third birthday and a bitchin’ purple and pink “10-speed” for my 10th. I got into mountain biking after meeting my husband, then boyfriend, about 8-9 years ago.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Being outside is a major motivator. I loved being outside as a kid. A bike gave me the freedom to ride from my house to my friend’s house quickly. It let me explore and find new adventures. I’m still making new adventures on my bike.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Well, I am not competitive. The only bike race I have participated in was the Red Bull 12 hour Final Descent. I participated because there were only two other ladies signed up and I wanted to downhill that day, so why not get prize money to do so?! I got 3rd place and that paid more than my race fee. I call it winning in my book!

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Scared as hell. I had been riding clipless on my road bike for a year or so. I told Matt that I wanted to try mountain biking, so we went to Golden Gate Canyon. I hopped on his bike, which he tried to make small enough for me, but it wasn’t and clipped in. I then hesitantly ventured from the pavement to the gravel and almost ate it. I didn’t quite understand the concept that these wider tires would be able to maneuver the gravel and dirt where my skinny tires couldn’t. I was elated when I made my first turn and didn’t fall off of the bike!

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I was definitely nervous, but once I trusted the bike and its capabilities, I was able to progress. I look back at my first fears and keep those tucked away in order to remember that mountain biking didn’t come naturally.

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 have used clipless in the past, but am back on flats. I love that clipless help you “cheat” a little when riding and you don’t have to worry about your foot slipping a pedal. I have had both of my hips replaced now (not biking related!) and found that being clipped in held me back on the bike. I got nervous in rock gardens and didn’t try because I was so afraid of falling and hurting my hips. So, I got a great pair of flat pedals and some 5.10 shoes with lots of stickiness and haven’t regretted the transition.  If a new rider is experimenting with pedals, I’d say that some things to keep in mind are: go with what makes you a better rider, don’t listen to the hype, do what is best for you. And, as a general rule of thumb, flats help you improve skills, clipless help you get faster.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
You go into mountain biking knowing that someday, you will crash and it will hurt. You have to accept it and then go ride your bike. I broke my collarbone on my first ride of Memorial Day weekend in 2011. I was downhilling and weighted the inside hand in a corner. While I still have some struggles when it comes to left hand corners as a result, but I no longer weight my inside hand! I mentally prepare myself for corners now by visualizing the move I’m going to make as I approach them, taking the high line and looking through, as the bike tends to follow where the eyes are looking.

My hips were another struggle I had with mountain biking. I was diagnosed with congenital hip dysplasia in 2009. My hip sockets were too shallow and I’d worn away the cartilage at the top of the sockets and bone spurs had settled in. Needless to say, it was painful. Riding my mountain bike up hills made it even more painful, as the pressure of riding irritated the socket. It was on a ride in the fall of 2009 that I decided that I couldn’t wait anymore and had my first replacement in January 2010. Getting back to riding afterwards was wonderful and a great way to help with recovery.  

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Cornering/switchbacks are still a challenge for me. Looking through the corner at where I want to be has been the best piece of advice.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Rock gardens and downhill steeps are still tricky for me. If I have speed, they are much easier, but that isn’t always an option. I have learned to try sections, but don’t knock myself for walking. For the steeps, looking at the destination, taking my hands off the brakes and pushing my butt back helps me tackle them 85% of the time.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Riding my bike allows me to be outside. It allows me to experience nature. I love being able to ride with friends, but also by myself. I love listening to the sounds, the birds chirping, the smell of the flowers, the crisp air in winter, seeing the critters off the trail, hearing the brook down below, seeing the wildflowers emerge, and just being.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My trail mountain bike is the Guerrilla Gravity Megatrail and my downhill mountain bike is the Guerrilla Gravity GG/DH. 
Guerrilla Gravity makes badass bikes that are a blast to ride. And they make them in Colorado. I was able to customize my bikes from everything from the shock and fork to the colors. Plus, it is pretty cool to be riding bikes that my husband designed and made himself. J

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Merino wool is my go to clothing, both for biking and everyday wear. Everything from my sports bra and shorts to my socks and shirt are merino wool. It dries quickly and doesn’t retain smells like man-made fibers. You can usually find me wearing something from either Ibex or Icebreaker. My first choice is Ibex, since they make many of their clothes in the US. 

You are a member of Dirt Divas, tell us why you joined the Dirt Divas club-
Dirt Divas allows for me to ride and connect with women who have a love for mountain biking. That love may be a new crush or a long-time relationship. The women are supportive and help encourage one another, giving tricks for getting through something tricky, or waiting until the last woman makes it up the hill. No one is ever left behind, and as one of the slower ladies on the uphill, I always appreciate this!

What has been the best thing about having joined Dirt Divas?
The friendships and relationships I’ve made have been awesome. I love that I have a standing date with my bike and friends every Wednesday night in the summer.

What advice would you give someone seeking to join a club for the first time?
Don’t be afraid of being the “slow one” or the new person. We were all new once, and I am still slow up the hill, but after 7 years, I’m still riding and loving being involved.

What is the best thing about being able to join other women with a common interest?
I love that when women ride together for fun, it is fun. We talk, we laugh, and we encourage one another. Our goal is to enjoy our time together on our bikes and we do!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Bikes are kind of complicated. How much air should I put in my tires? What does this lever do? What is that noise? I admit, my husband is still my mechanic, but I have learned a lot about bikes. I’ve also learned that mountain biking is very different than road biking. It requires a lot of leg strength and lung power. You have to be able to look ahead, shift correctly, and maneuver your bike around. It is intimidating. You don’t want to feel like the “new girl”. And many ladies get introduced to mountain biking by guys, who tend to have a “just ride and figure it out” mentality. I like to know why, how, where, etc. Plus, you need someone who is patient and as a culture, women are taught to be apologetic for anything they conceive to be inconveniencing of someone else. I still say sorry way too much when I bike. I really need to stop doing that!

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
Having more come as you are rides and mountain biking 101 events would help. I also think that if every woman who mountain bikes invites another lady to the sport, it will grow leaps and bounds. The cost of mountain bikes is quickly becoming a barrier to entry, so having friends who can help ladies understand what to look for in a used (or new) bike is also important.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I love seeing another lady get excited at her accomplishments on a bike. It is wonderful to help others learn to love the sport like I do.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I took my first solo airplane ride when I was 4 and haven’t stopped traveling since. I traveled to Poland for the first time in March and will be going to India at the end of May for the first time!