Monday, November 30, 2015

Men Involved- Steve Meurett

I started working on the Levis Mound trails in about 1987-when a friend and I bought our first mtn bikes (Rock Hoppers back then!). Levis had just a few old ski trails so we started making singletrack to avoid the wet sections-so basically by-passes.

 We realized the terrain was so unique, so I started laying out trails over and on top of the various mounds there. Over the years-we learned a lot about trail design and what works and doesn't. Until this summer, all trails were built by hand.

I had been a XC ski racer and did the expert class in Mtn Bike racing for about 18 years-also tossed in some road races and biathlons. For income (for the trail) we started the Buzzard Buster WORS race and I took on duties as race director each yr. After 15 years and no one sueing us, I stepped down (and the race ended) We've now brought the Buzzard Buster back as a WEMS race (much more low key) and it has been a fun event. We also started the Sweaty Yeti 3 or 4 years ago as a winter fatbike race-that has been loads of fun! We started machine grooming trails for winter riding 4 years ago and finally I ended up designing a roller to pack singletrack (we used everything else, and nothing did a really good job). A local fabricator made one, then as of last year, 40 more, which have been shipped everywhere! The winter riding scene has been great-10 miles of packed singletrack and expanding 2 more miles this winter.

I also do the XC ski trail grooming in the winter and along with a couple other people do all the trail building and maintenance.

I also do some outdoor writing (, Wis Bike Fed, Wis Outdoor Fun web site, Cross Country Skiier Magazine, Gannet Media). Along with that, I also am a photographer.

I enjoy all outdoor sports-hunting, fishing sea kayaking, backpacking and of course working with wildlife-especially wolves and now elk (we just released a new herd just south of Levis in Jackson Co.)

When did you first start riding a bike?
Rode as a kid, but then really didn't start again until I bought a Specialized Rockhopper in about 1987-a friend and I were so stoked about these new fangled "mountain bikes" and were dying to start riding on trails and dirt.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Probably because I'd rather be outdoors than anyplace else and the bike helps me see more of it all. Building trails also became a motivator-it worked hand in hand-build trails=wanting to ride them ( or more). Ride more= wanting more trails.

You work at Levis Mounds, for those unfamiliar with the Wisconsin area, tell us about the trails and what makes them unique?
Levis (Lev-IS) is located at the top edge of the driftless area. A geologist would call these mounds "stacks" for their precipitous sides have been carved by wave and current action in Glacial Lake Wisconsin, where they stood as isolated islands during one or more ice advances of Woodfordian age into central Wisconsin. They are striking features because they rise so abruptly from such a flat surface to the north and east and because their yellowish sandstone contrasts with the green vegetation that surrounds and partly covers them.

The Levis Landscape, in Southern Clark County has features totally unlike those anywhere else in the United States east of the Mississippi River. The hills of this region are buttes and mesas. They have the straight lines, steep cliffs, and sharp angles of an arid country rather than the soft curves of a humid region. The features to be seen are isolated, rocky hills, which resemble ruined castles and crags of sandstone along a line of bold, irregular bluffs, which soon run into unglaciated coulees to the southwest toward LaCrosse, Wisconsin.The banding in this sandstone of dark red iron oxide contrasts markedly with white to yellow quartz and is locally called "zebra rock."

It's a unique area and we always try to feature in when designing trails-I don't know of any other trails system quite like it.

What originally inspired you to start working at Levis Mounds?
The purchase of that first Rockhopper. The trail then was just a crude XC ski trail with wet spots and a rather tame route. Levis had maybe 8 miles of ski trail then, usually not well maintained. We wanted something better to ride-at first, "singletrack" was created to by-pass mud holes, then those section started to become connected to create a totally seperate singletrack trail system. We then wanted to take advantage to the terrain and started building up and over the mounds exploring other parts of the forest here.

What has been one of the most interesting things you've learned since you started building trails?
That we made a lot of mistakes in the early years. Cribbing the sides of trails didn't work (all log cribbing is now gone, replaced by better benching). Understanding water flow and knowing if you can actually build a trail in a certain location-if it'll hold up in the long term.

For those who have enjoyed riding the trails at Levis- how can they help?
We publish work days on our FB page and welcome anyone who can lend muscle. 99% of our trails have been hand built. Also, we always are looking for help at our events (currently, the Sweaty Yeti fatbike race in Feb., and the Buzzard Buster WEMS race in the summer). We have a really small club, so additional help is appreciated. Those are our only funding mechanisms.

Devil's Advocate question- if you had to pick 5 trails for a Levis newcomer to ride, what would you suggest?
For an appropriately skilled rider: My top 5 are in order- 1) Sidewinder. I trail I laid out in the winter on snowshoes, not a long trail, and our only one way trail. It's serpentine, with three levels of trail stacked on top of each other. "Visually intimidating" one friend calls it. Beautiful views.

2) Cliffhanger. The longest downhill we have and one that has facets of Colorado to it-riding in pine, a lot of rock and fast. Super fun.

3) Toad Road featuring Plumbers Crack. Another fun downhill, which we are starting to leave less "manicured." It calls for your attention. Plumbers Crack is a name someone came up with for a section that drops off the top of the mound into a split rock, barely wide enough for handlebars. It's a location I'd looked at for many years thinking it would be so cool to ride down and through that the pin flags came out and we did it. It did require a lot of wood ramp engineering, but so worth it.

4) Goat Dance. A trail we wanted to build for a long time-it reaches north west from the main trail system and takes advantage of two more sandstone mounds-the highest ones in the area. It's a 3 mile loop and as of Oct. 16th 2015, also includes a downhill only section, which will be included in our 14 miles winter loop. It has tough long climbs and fast descents.

5) The Hermosas (Upper Hermosa, Hermosa, Lower Hermosa). The three trails combine to make a return route from Trow Mound, which is the NW mound in the trail. Each section gradually lowers in elevation-good climbs, some switchbacks and then a flowy final section we call "Beer Run" that empties riders out onto Dead Turkey or Lower Glen.

Tell us about the (current) Buzzard Buster and the Sweaty Yeti and why people should consider visiting for said events:
The "old" Buzzard Buster was a founding WORS race with 78 people the first year-it kept doubling until it peaked at 900+. At that point, it just wasn't fun to put on. WORS ran it in name one last year on their own and then it was dropped. Fast forward to 4 years ago and the advent of fatbiking/snowbiking and machine groomed trails which we had incorporated at Levis. A small race for fun loving people was initiated based on the enduro concept pioneered by Gomez. The race has evolved some-in the early days, few people had fatbikes so riders would share and we actually had a team "draft". Now most riders have one and solo riders make up a larger percent. We still try and keep the team concept because it's just plain fun.

We do really want to keep it a small town, low key, have a great time in the snow sort of race.
No dog-eat-dog race head attitudes please.
Lots of prizes, beer sponsorship and even winter camping.

The New Buzzard Buster is now a WEMS race (Wis Endurance Mtn Bike Series) which features 3-12 hr races and generally have smaller, and again, more low key fields. Because it had been run here under a different name and by out of town race directors, we asked if the club could take it over and re-brand it. It's gone well and now will move to an earlier start date because Levis is almost always the first trail open in the state. (sandy soils dry quickly). The WEMS series is friendly and we try to keep it similar in nature to the Sweaty Yeti. On the books is a possible Summer version of the Sweaty, a fatbike only race-stay tuned.

How have you seen fatbiking grow over the years since having groomed singletrack in the winter months?
Exploded. In just 4 years, our machine groomed trail has seen a ton of winter visitors. It's pretty common to see the parking lot filled with 1/3 XC skiiers, 1/3 snowshoers and 1/3 fatbikers. Sometimes fatbikes outnumber skiiers. To me, it's a whole different sport than riding in the summer, besides the obvious. It tends to be more social with group and no-drop rides, a lot of stops, pictures and sips of body warming liquid.

Fatbikes! Why should people try them before they knock 'em?-
I thought they looked silly at first. My first ride was kinda slow and strange, but there was something about a bike you could ride anywhere. The newer bikes handle so well in comparison and for the past 3 years, I ride fatbike 80% of the time, all year. They are so good at a lot of things-traction, downhill bombing, climbing and of course snow riding. I've been able to explore frozen rivers and places you can't get to any way else. I just love them and with weights coming down, you don't have that penalty any more. Folks riding them now come back with a smile almost every time.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Being outdoors, exploring being with friends.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Currently I've downsized a lot from my stable of bikes in the past. One of my favorites was a Bridgestone MB-1, which I rode to death. A Sarotta T-Max followed. I jumped in to the full suspension craze on a Trek Y-Bike, then a Klein Mantra-both great for their day. Now I've come full circle-back on fully rigid- a Salsa El Mariachi SS, just to have a singlespeed 29er for quick rides on a local ATV trail or forest road and commuter. My Salsa Beargrease-such an awesome bike, light, responsive and my year round go-to ride.

A Muckluk proceeded this, but after testing one, I fell in love. I also have a Carver Gnarvester 29+ Ti for faster ripping. A friend lent me their Krampus and yes-there was something great about 29+ so I set out to find one.
The Carver was reasonable in price and I could build it as I wanted. It has a carbon Carver fork and just rolls along so fast.

Tell us a random fact about yourself-
Retired from 32 years teaching art and photography and currently a Wildlife Technician for the Ho-Chunk Nation DNR. Love the new job!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Women on Bikes Series: Allison Oliver

I ride on a team that started two years ago in Alberta, Canada as the first women's mountain bike team in Alberta focused on gravity mountain biking. We are called Prairie Girls Racing. 

I race as a Pro, but the team is made up all levels of girls, including many who are just getting into mountain biking and want a community of women to shred with, drink beers, and support each other.

When did you first start riding a bike?
I started to be a “real” bike rider in college, ca. 2000. I bought my first bike, a mountain bike, when I was a sophomore.

It was a hard tail with toe cages and I used to put on spandex and pedal it around on jeep roads.
I did an XC race, and although I had no idea what I was doing, I loved it so much! Then I bought a road bike to “train for mountain biking in the winter”. I know… that makes no sense now… but I remember justifying it that way at the time. Actually, I spent a great deal of my 20s on that road bike.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I really like to explore. A bike allows you to cover more ground then your feet and get to places with a different perspective then a car. You can get lost, in a good way, on a bike. I have a bad habit of not living in the present moment, and focusing on what’s happening tomorrow, next week, etc…Mountain biking forces me to focus on the present. It can be kind of like meditation, actually… On the flip side, I’ve also done some of my most critical and creative thinking while logging hours on my road or cross-country bike.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Dual slalom is my favorite, they are so much fun! I really like the head-to-head racing, and the tracks require application of many basic and fundamental bike-handling skills. Although I am a very competitive person, I’ve never taken bike competitions extremely seriously. Competing is a good way for me to focus on a goal; it motivates me and gives me something to work towards. I use races to create a goal and challenge myself… I don’t usually worry too much about the placing. It’s nice to be on the podium but that’s not my main objective. I really enjoy the training and mental preparation, I actually find that quite fun. Putting energy into those things translates well to my non-racing life, both personal and professional.

You enjoy several different ride styles; tell us about why you enjoy them-
I enjoy anything that gets me outdoors, but different types of riding are fun and challenging in their own way. Mountain biking gives you a sense of accomplishment and boosts your self esteem in a way that other types of riding can’t match, for example, riding a challenging line, cleaning a technical climb, hitting a new jump, hitting a new jump with style, etc. Plus being in nature.. this is going to sound super crunchy… but some days I find myself spending just as much time off my bike wandering around looking at bugs, plants, and rocks, as I do riding. Road biking is awesome in its own way; you can really get into a zone, and challenge yourself physically and mentally in a completely different arena. Road bike racing is some of the most fun racing I have ever done, I love the strategic aspects and working with a team, in a way it’s like the game of chess. Plus there’s nothing like spandex.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
I remember thinking that my saddle was WAAAAAAY too uncomfortable. And I also remember thinking I looked really, really cool (I did not).

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
My body has a strange learning curve… I usually don’t get nervous about things until I have a bad experience, and then my self-preservation kicks in and with it the nerves… I didn’t actually start riding technical stuff or getting air on my bike for quite a few years, until I bought my first non-cross country bike… after a few good crashes I can get pretty nervous now. To overcome those nerves, I try to focus on a word that I think makes sense in the situation… like “smooth” or “lite” or “elbows”. I also refuse to do anything where I don’t have full confidence in my ability. I like to challenge myself, but I also don’t have anything to prove; I have no shame in choosing to pass on a trail feature that makes me really nervous.

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 use both flats and clipless. I started with clipless but I wish I had started with flats. I think flats give you a better foundation when you are learning… especially with things like jumping. I usually use clips for long XC-type rides and just recently started using them for some races. I definitely prefer to wear flats for the technical wet, rooty, rocky stuff around where I live in British Columbia. I find it useful for bailing out when things go awry, but also for getting started at the top or in the middle of difficult trail sections. I would say to start with flats and progress to clips. Practice skills like pedal wheelies, manuals, bunny hops, and jumps with flat shoes, and if you are just dying to ride clips then maybe switch back and forth between the two when it’s appropriate. Ultimately, I’d suggest you try both but just use whatever you like. It’s your ride.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Oh jeez…. Well, I’ll spare you the “War and Peace” version of my injury history and just describe one pretty major incident… about 4 years ago, in my FIRST EVER downhill race, I broke my leg and ankle in six places. The recovery was extremely long and painful, but the emotional and mental part was equally as challenging. It took me a long time to recover enough confidence to ride, I cried the first few times I tried to ride dirt. Not because I was in pain, but because I was scared. It was quite humbling, and I didn’t think I would ever be able to ride like I had before… but I knew I had to do another race. I wasn’t going to go out like that! Eventually, little by little, I started to progress and that fear eventually dissolved. The biggest thing was giving myself time, keeping at it, and being patient, which I wouldn’t say is one of my virtues. One of the hardest parts of a big injury is figuring out where to direct your energy, especially when if all of your friends are doing bike stuff and you can’t participate. I tried to find other activities to focus on, and not focus too much on what my massive FOMO because I couldn’t ride.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Getting up and over small stuff was tricky. I found that I was probably too rigid on the bike, and not moving my body back and forward enough for that sort of maneuver.. it’s critical to relax your body position and don’t be afraid to use body english. It’s amazing how much worse I ride when I’m tense. Point your hips where you want to go, bend your knees and hips and let the bike bounce around underneath you. Also, for manuals, which are still challenging for me… don’t try to pull up on the handlebars; you want to move your center of gravity BACK and push forward with your legs. That was the best tip I ever received. I’m no manual queen, but I can handle.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
This is so cliché, but corners will forever be challenging. . They are SO HARD!!! I find that if I focus too hard on trying to ride a corner, I don’t ride it well. I always do better when I am having fun and feel relaxed. I’m getting better at corners, but I often finding myself staring at my front wheel…. Once I snap out of it and look UP and through the corner, it makes a huge difference!

What inspired you to work towards becoming an Elite (Pro) racer? What was that journey like?
I didn’t start racing with the goal of becoming an Elite racer, I race because I liked the motivation, focus, and mental aspects. I spent a few years at the Expert level, and I decided I would upgrade when I felt like I was ready for the preparation and mental aspects of the sport. I didn’t want to upgrade just to call myself a “Pro”. Over the past few years I was earning a PhD and then a travel-intensive postdoc position (which is still underway) and didn’t have a ton of time or resources to dedicate to off-season and race specific training. Plus, I have other hobbies! But this year I decided to upgrade and I am excited to put some focused effort into prepping for and executing a Pro race season.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Focus. Friends. Exploring. Fun.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I ride a Devinci Wilson downhill bike. It was my first carbon bike and coming from a previous hunky steel beast, it felt really light and flimsy… it took a little bit of getting used to, but I absolutely love it. I like how the design allows you to really feel the trail under your pedals, and the snappiness of it is great for punching up and over tricky things and out of corners. My trail bike is a Devinci Spartan. It can pretty much handle anything; it’s basically a mini downhill bike…. And finally, I have a Deity Cryptkeeper dirt jumper. I mostly use it for pump track and small dirt jumps, but I’ve seen it throw down on the big stuff. Oh and the other best part about my dirt jumper?? The rainbow brake cable I got for it in Japan. A little bit of flare for the kids these days…

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
EVERY person that rides bikes should have a pair of Five Ten shoes. I think I have maybe 5 pairs?! Hands down the biggest game changer in my biking life. They have a ton of actual women’s shoes, not men’s shoes that have been “shrink’d and pink’d”. The Impacts and Elements lines dry SUPER fast. A must have for rainy conditions like we get in the Pacific Northwest.

Bike wash (like Finish Line Showroom Spray & Polish)- keeps it like new!

I super nerd out on numbers, even if I don’t record any of them, so I use a Suunto watch to tell me location, distance, time, and heart rate. The new Garmin is pretty sick too. I sometimes time myself up and down things and then try to beat it the next time. I don’t use Strava or Trailforks but same concept.

Tell us how you became involved with Prairie Girls Racing- how did you hear about them and what prompted you to join?
When I found out I was moving to Canada to work at University of Alberta, I knew absolutely nothing about the area. I joined a regional mountain bike forum on Pinkbike and one of the first posts I saw was from a gal looking for ladies to join a new mountain bike team based out of Edmonton, Alberta. What a better way to make new friends to ride with in a place I know nothing about?! So I sent her an email. The ladies welcomed me like they had known me my whole life. I had never met them before and the first time I came to town to work, they came to pick me up at the airport! I ended up based in British Columbia, but now every time I travel to Alberta for work I have an amazing group of girl friends and riding buddies. I even have a friend to ride with in Ireland now!

What suggestions do you have for someone looking for a women’s group to join? What were key factors that helped with your decision?
There are a ton of women’s groups out there and more are popping up all the time! It’s a pretty amazing phenomenon. If you are looking for a women’s group you should decide what you want to focus on… do you want to get together for casual group rides? Train for an event? Get coaching and race? Participate in the community, do trail work, etc? Then look for groups that focus on those things. If you can’t find one in your area… start one! It can be as easy as creating a Facebook group. Anyone reading this can always contact me for more information; I know quite a lot of ladies and ladies groups around US and Canada and will try my best to hook a sister up with some riding friends whenever possible!

Why is being part of a group/team so positive for you?
Having a good team or group is like a having a rad hodge-podge family that is bonded over common love of a sport or a lifestyle, and as a result you get to meet all sorts of people that you may have otherwise never encountered. I enjoy being part of a group or team because of the support and camaraderie. I have a group to turn to when I have frustrations, success, failure, or to have a post ride beer and eat poutine. Some of the Prairie Girls take racing seriously, some just do it for fun, and there is a wide range of skills and competitiveness but overall the team is about supporting women riders and having a good time.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Sometimes I think women get really hung up on comparing themselves to other riders. Stop comparing yourself… In person or on social media. A lot of the things you see on social media aren’t real anyway, they are personas created for marketing purposes or other avenues of personal fulfillment. Just focus on you and your journey and what makes you happy and motivated. Easier said than done, I know... but I believe that it’s an important concept to focus on in these days of the internet and social media revolution.

Like any sport, there is obviously some degree of intimidation involve with getting into mountain biking. I think finding a cycling group can be really great for getting women into cycling, especially if you are the type of person that feels intimidated by going after it solo. That way you have support for mechanical issues, can get new skills, learn trails, and carpool for shuttles or rides. But don’t be afraid to just randomly reach out to other riders for riding buddies or questions about anything. The cycling community is a very friendly and welcoming place. Oh, and wear knee pads. Just that little extra precaution can give you a lot more confidence and save you some pain and band-aids.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
It would be great to see more women’s specific events, competitions, clinics, etc. There is an Enduro that is held in Washington, called the “Sturdy Bitch” and the past few years it has been HUGE. I think those sorts of things are really fun and productive, and can help reduce the intimidation-factor. I think groups like Prairie Girls Racing, which is just one of MANY, are really helpful for bringing girls together to ride, challenge, and encourage each other. As well as blogs like this… any platform for disseminating information on what’s out there and the resources available to them is awesome for encouraging people.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I like to see women out there getting after it; it’s good to have female representation and perspective in every aspect of life. I know riding has helped me a lot with many of life’s stresses and I know it can do the same for others. The more women we can get out there, then the more PEOPLE we get out there… which means better land stewardship, more trail maintenance, healthier communities, more events, and more fun.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I used to sing the National Anthem at college rodeos.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Women on Bikes Series: Rebekah Gordon

My name is Rebekah Gordon and I am a girl full of wanderlust. I have been riding bikes for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the state of Wisconsin, but my career as an English teacher has taken me all around the world.

While I have yet to take my own bicycles on an airplane, I have managed to acquire one in each country that I’ve lived in, including South Korea, Ethiopia, and China. Bicycling has introduced me to lifelong friends all around the world and has allowed me to experience cultures and opportunities not possible on four wheels.

You've been riding pretty much all your life, what has inspired you to live "life on two wheels?"
I think, initially, it was more of a necessity than a choice. While completing my bachelor’s degree in Madison, Wisconsin, I couldn’t afford to have a car and found that riding my bike was a great stress-reliever as well as social activity. Later, in grad school, I made the conscious decision of being a “crazy biker lady.” I rode my bike year-round through the cold, snowy Minnesotan winters often clad in a skirt or dress! I know that I’ve definitely been influenced by my father as well; he has been biking his entire adult life, including weekend and week-long tours. Although his age has caused him to switch over to a recumbent, he is still riding and touring year-round.

It took years before you attained your very own bike, what did you learn about having a bike that fit you vs. being too big, etc.?
I was used to riding bikes that were a little too big for me – hand-me-downs from my dad or sister. However, before I embarked on my trans-America bike trip, I bought a used Novara Safari touring bike on eBay. It was not only the right frame size for me, but I also took it to a LBS to have it fine-tuned to my body. I learned that a well-fit bike can make a world of difference in riding comfort and speed. I think I gained confidence too; rather than feeling a bit too-outstretched and unsure of my controlling abilities, I knew that my “new” bike was like a puppet perfectly molded to my unique shape.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride? Were you nervous?
I was so nervous, but I was with a guy I had a crush on. I wanted to impress him and show him that I was tough. I don’t know if I succeeded in gaining his approval, but I definitely tried harder than I would have on my own. Seeing him go over various obstacles gave me the confidence that I could do it too. I was riding too slowly to roll over some easy obstacles and had to walk around others, but it motivated me to go again and get better.

With mountain biking what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I love downhills and tight turns, but am still slightly uncomfortable with big logs and rocks. It is so counterintuitive to go full-speed, head-on into a large object. Everything in my brain is telling me, “Stop! Don’t do it!” Overcoming that has not been easy. I guess it’s just a matter of starting small. Before going over a log, I practiced going over smaller branches. Eventually, I moved up to piles of logs (but they still scare me). Same for rocks. Also, I find it really helpful to follow someone who can show me the right line to ride and simply prove that it is possible to maneuver obstacles that otherwise look impossible!

When you can, you are a year-round bike commuter- why do you choose a bicycle as your transportation?
Mostly because I am frugal and love riding! Of course, it’s also good for my physical, mental, and social well-being.

You haven't owned a car! I'm sure there are those who feel it must be difficult- what are your thoughts on being car-free?
After traveling around the world and meeting so many other car-free people, I know it’s a realistic endeavor. Although much harder to be car-free in America, it’s entirely possible...especially if you have friends with cars! I have saved so much money, have made so many more friends, have contributed so much less pollution, and have burned so many more’s totally worth it!

Any suggestions for those interested in commuting all-year round?
Get the right gear. If you have the right clothing and the right bags or panniers, commuting can comfortable in all conditions.

You've biked in several different areas/countries- Have you had a favorite location? What have been some challenges?
I would have to say that Ethiopia was the best and the worst place I’ve cycled. I managed to find an old steel Batavus road bike, but there were only bike shops in Addis Ababa and even those shops didn’t stock parts for size 700 wheels. So, anytime I had a mechanical issue, it was a challenge to find a solution. Each of my tubes had at least 6 homemade patches on them! The other main challenge was dodging rocks that children like to throw at you when you’re riding. I really don’t know why they do this, but I don’t think they realize the consequences if they actually hit you! Despite all of that, riding in Ethiopia was amazing. I was able to go on roads that few foreigners had been on before. I could stop wherever I wanted to take photos and interact with the locals (something that was impossible to do when traveling by public taxi or bus).

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
The worst biff I had was on my trans-America bike trip. Both my front tire and tube exploded while I was going downhill (on a fully-loaded touring bike). My friend Emily was behind me, so she ended up crashing into me and also getting scraped up. I now have scars from the road rash on my left leg and left arm. I wanted to keep riding, but my bike was out of commission. The most upsetting part, to me, was that I had to hitch a ride to the nearest bike shop (hours away). We were over halfway finished with the trip by then and I had biked every single mile; it broke my heart to have to “cheat” and ride in a car to the next destination. I rested and let my wounds scab over for a few days and continued on. I eventually learned it’s not about the miles logged, but about the experiences one has.

Tell us about your 2011 bike trip! What did you learn from your long-distance ride?
The 2011 trans-America trip took me and two of my female friends from Jacksonville, Florida to San Francisco, California. We did very little training before setting out, so we started conservatively. None of us had any extensive bike experience before the trip and we knew little about bike maintenance. We definitely had our doubters – some people believed that we would end our trip early. We learned so much in those first few days – how to quickly change a flat tire, how to fix a broken spoke, how to properly draft each other in windy conditions, and how much food to eat to stay energized (5,000+ calories)! However, the most important part of the trip for me was restoring my faith in the goodness of Americans. After living abroad and hearing so many negative stereotypes about Americans, I wasn’t prepared for all of the kindness and hospitality that strangers would provide my friends and me. I have so many stories of random strangers cooking meals for us, giving us a place to stay, and even giving us money.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The thing I love most about riding my bike is the freedom that I have. I can go anywhere that my legs and mind are willing to take me. While I love walking, bicycling allows me to cover 3 or 4 times the distance in the same amount of time. Biking around a new city or new country is one of the most thrilling experiences. Right now, I’m living in central China and I just bought a road bike. I’ve ridden about 10 times in the past month and each route was completely different. I have seen so many awesome things that I never knew existed just a few miles from where I live. The other thing I love most about riding my bike is meeting fellow bikers. When someone sees me on my bike or I see them on their bike, we automatically have a connection. Bikers are the best!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Currently, in China, I have a Giant OCR 5500. It is an entry-level road bike that gets me up and down the mountains that surround my apartment. I am not particularly attached to it, but may end up bringing it back home when I leave China. I miss my 1986 Bianchi Brava most – this steel beauty is the same age as me and we have many memories together. I bought it used when I was in grad school and used it to race. I bought it because it was cheap and I loved the black/teal color scheme. My touring bike, as I mentioned earlier, is a Novara Safari that I bought used on eBay. Once again, the price was right and I liked the colors (gray/green). It has since become my commuting bike since it is set up for panniers. My MTB is a Giant Trance X1 that I bought used on Craigslist. After MTBing two or three times on my friend’s bike, I knew I needed one for myself. The guy selling it was a sponsored rider, so he passed on all of his saving to me! Of course, I also chose it because of the low price and the color scheme wasn’t bad either (green/gray).

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I love my Novara road cycling shorts from REI. I wore them almost every day for 3 months on my trans-America trip and put them through the washing machine so many times, but they still look great! I also love all my Planet Bike products (lights, fenders), especially since I know they give 25% of profits to bike-related causes. Oh, and I also love It’s very motivating to see how far you’ve gone and how many feet you’ve climbed; it’s also great for planning routes in foreign countries.

You mentioned that mountain biking isn't boring and provides you challenge that road biking didn't. What inspires you to embrace challenge and ride dirt?
I am a perfectionist – I hate failure. So, if I go for a ride and can’t go over a certain obstacle or have to get off and walk, I am motivated to get it right the next time. As soon as I master one obstacle, there is always a new one awaiting. I also love the variety of levels and intensity that MTBing provides. I can ride my MTB on a paved road, a gravel road, a wide grassy field, rolling single track, downhill berm tracks, or through rock gardens.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking or commuting year-round?
Of course women are deterred by the male image associated with cycling, especially MTBing. At first glance, the biking community may not seem like a welcoming group – hipsters are too cool, road racers are too fast, and MTBers are too tough. These stereotypes, however, are quickly forgotten once one gets more involved in the diverse biking communities that exist around the world. Sadly, I think that vanity prevents many ladies from biking as well. People associate spandex and helmets with biking and would rather not partake in an activity that is going to show off some of their body parts they are most self-conscious about and mess up their hair.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
I think more females need to start ladies-only events. Cycling is so male-dominated and it can be intimidating to ride with them, especially as a beginner.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Selfishly, I want more female riding partners! I am so used to riding with men, but would love to have more ladies-only bike events. A couple years ago, I did the all-female “Babes in Bikeland” alley cat race in Minneapolis and never imagined it would be so awesome! I want other women to experience the freedom, challenges, and opportunities that biking has provided me.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I am a leftie!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Women Involved Series: Lindsay Currier

I'm honored to feature Lindsay Currier, founder of Shine Riders Co.

Check out Shine Riders on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Lindsay founded Shine Riders Co. in 2008 after she had a mountain biking accident in the Santa Cruz mountains. The mission statement of Shine is to Illuminate and Inspire female Gravity mountain bikers across the globe. 

When did you first start riding a bike?
I've been riding bikes for as long as I can remember. My dad was a competitive cyclist when I was a baby, and got me into riding at a young age. That being said, I had no formal training until 2011.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Cycling in general has always fed my need for freedom and fresh air. I've never really been goal oriented or competitive with my riding, I just have a passion for feeling the flow and freedom that riding a bike delivers. I've tried my best at times to stray, but my industry family, as I like to call them, always keeps me on a pretty tight leash, it's really impossible to quit. My life is constructed of cycling.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
My favorite race series is currently the Bootleg Winter DH Series put on by Downhill Mike and All Mountain Cyclery in Boulder City, Nevada. I love this series because of the incredible people from all over the world that it draws. I also enjoy how technical and challenging Bootleg Canyon is.

I used to loath competing. It made me really nervous to be timed and I did not like being compared or judged against others. Then I started to not care at all, and wondered what the point of me competing even was.

Today I enjoy participating in timed events because it shows me the progression of my riding. Sure I may have an injury here or there that makes me take steps back, but over time I still see improvement. I feel like we all have to do our part, to train and do our best, for the overall progression of mountain biking.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
The first time I went mountain biking beyond the trails behind my parents house in rural Connecticut, was when I was 16. A mechanic from the local shop I worked at, Valley Bicycle, took me. I had been challenging leaf piles and jumping off a small rock in our yard, but this guy, he could float over roots and rocks and hit drops with ease. I wanted to do that. I tried to follow him and his friends through everything but kept crashing everywhere and bloodying up my knees and elbows. It was really humbling, but I never gave up, just kept trying.

If you have nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
Oh my. People seem to think I am all cool and calm, but if you really know me, I can be an emotional storm and a nervous wreck. In the past I honestly used alcohol to cope with this, which always provided great entertainment for my peers, and never allowed me to properly face my... demons. Now that I have been cold sober for nearly 3 years I see that my nervousness usually stems from having too high of expectations for myself. Firstly, I now try my best to be as prepared as possible for whatever is making me nervous. Practicing skills drills, public speaking, and race courses helps put my mind at ease when its time to get the job done. When the nervousness sets in on race or clinic day (and it always does) I remind myself I am not the only person that has these feelings. I tell myself these feelings are just.... feelings, and not really who I am. I systematically go through a plan in my mind. This is who I am. This is what I have done. This is what I am about to do. I focus on the task at hand and before I know it, I'm having and creating a GREAT time. Having positive friends and a great support system definitely helps! Good friends know how to see your weakness and help you be strong. I am so grateful for the great friends I have.

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 started clipping in on a road bike very very early, so of course when I began mountain biking I thought I would use that too. I stopped clipping in for a while after I broke my back in 2008. I was scared. I went back to the clips for longer rides and races in 2013 and 2014. If I was jumping, or learning a technical line with crazy consequences, I used flats. After working in Sedona this winter (2015) and realizing the consequences of messing up even on an uphill, I quickly went back to flats.

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 had so many biffs, but two really stand out... I felt that I was dying, and that if I survived I might never ride gravity again on 2 separate occasions, once in 2008 after getting out of a 12 hour surgery to stabilize a burst fractured vertebrae in my spine, and second last summer (2014) with a delayed ruptured spleen. Both incidents were from silly riding mistakes and mental issues, and both left me with the fitness and strength level of a 100 year old women... or worse. My spleen is doing lots better today (they let me keep it!), but my back still gives me lots of pain and hinders my flexibility and mobility. Each morning I struggle just to get out of bed and limber up my stiff spine. And each ride, I definitely feel it. When my back is really tight, I can't corner, I tweak to the left while jumping, and climbing is horrendously painful. I consistently practice yoga, which really helps. When I have fear of being re-injured, I use the same techniques for overcoming nervousness. When I feel really bummed out and sorry for myself I think of Tara Llanes and other athletes who are still smiling and living life, no matter how "bad" their situation. I think of everything I am grateful for, I give thanks for being alive! And of course I spend time with my friends who have positive and encouraging attitudes. I believe a positive attitude, a clean diet, plenty of fun activities, and the proper amount of rest and recovery can help our bodies heal naturally. I am happy to say I only use herbs to combat my pain!

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 really had no clue how to land a drop or jump. The advice I was given was: no brakes, get back and just send it. I was lucky enough to have some boys in Santa Cruz give me advice about dirt jumping after breaking my back. They told me it would be a good way to learn skills. They told me how to claw my pedals and to try to arc the bike and match the landing. I am thankful for those guys, especially Mike Schaup who is no longer with us.

Completing my coaching certification with Shaums March helped me break down exactly what I needed to do taking off, in the air and landing. I love science and physics and knowing how things work, so this really helped me.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
As I mentioned before, I have trouble with cornering when my hips are tight and my back is giving me trouble. I just do the best I can and smile. What else is there to do?

What do you love about riding your bike?
Gosh what is there not to love? My bike has always been my vehicle to FREEdom. A bike can take you further than your feet, way out into nature to some of the most awe inspiring landscapes. The common ground of cycling can take you to places you only dreamed of and bring you to meet some of the most amazing people on earth.
Plus it keeps me healthy and feeling great!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them-
Well... right now I am rocking a Canfield One, sponsored by the Bender Brothers. Its a 7" beast that can pedal pretty well and is fun to jump and descend technical trails on. I was riding a Devinci Spartan and Troy and was very spoiled with their carbon frames and fancy components. I wasn't able to keep them (so spendy!) and fortunately my fiance and his brother got the One shipped to me. Its not a perfect setup but I am so grateful to have it! I do have a Jedi frame hanging in the garage that I hope to resurrect for the Bootleg series.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Clothes are a personal thing, but we are so blessed to have so many choices. I am really pumped on the Zoic clothes that are coming out for 2016. The fabrics, cut, and color are just amazing and they even have some pieces that will be great for DH and yoga (leggings!!). I recommend the ladies also check out Shredly, a Colorado company owned by a woman. Shredly has some seriously sweet patterns this year. And of course, if those don't suit you, again we have so many options so I recommend checking out Dirty Jane because of their amazing selection and product knowledge.

For protection, I've been wearing Kali since 2012 and I have been very very happen with their products. They are a newer company but have lots of great people in house constantly improving and developing products, and they listen to their customers requests! I am really happy with my Kula and Vaza hard plastic knees. They are very breathable and lightweight even though they are a full elbow/forearm and knee/shin combo respectively. I wear the Aazis soft kneepads for shorter rides or dirtjump/pumptrack sessions. For helmets I have been super comfy and safe in my Avatar Carbon (fullface), Avana (enduro) and Maha (dirtjump). When the going gets super rough I rock a Scarpa back/chest protector. And I am hoping to try their new padded ride shorts as soon as I can... the Trika I believe, hopefully they come small enough for my little butt!

For footwear, I've been a devote Five Ten wearer since 2008. The brand has come a long way since the clunky but still awesome original Impacts. I have a pair of the new super sticky Impact VXi for aggressive gravity and colder riding, the Freerider Canvas for dirtjumping and and cruising, and the Freerider Contact for Enduro and general trail riding. There are so many sizes and colors now, it is so amazing and great to see the options grow. I love these shoes because they give the best contact with my pedals, ensuring I have control (which gives me confidence) in any terrain. Nothing is worse than slipping a pedal, you can be seriously injured!

For eyewear I love the Smith product line. I wear Pivlocks for Enduro/Trail Riding as they have exchangeable lenses for many conditions, are lightweight, and shed my super sweat. If I am wearing my Kali Avatar fullface then I wear goggles and have typically used the Fuel. The most important thing about eyewear is that it is action sports specific (so not glass), stays on your face without wiggling, and doesn't conflict with the fit of your helmet.

When did you realize that you wanted to coach mountain biking?
After watching so many other women (and men too) fling themselves blindly to an unnecessary accident. I wanted to help others avoid the self inflicted pain that I suffer. Yes we are going to fall down sometimes, but wouldn't you want to eliminate the unnecessary trauma and damage to you and your bicycle?

What has been one of the most surprising things to occur since you've started coaching?
It has made me want to teach so many other skills and knowledge to others. I was a little scared of teaching, when academic advisers in college asked me if that was the direction I would like to take with my degree. I was worried I would have trouble with public speaking and that people wouldn't understand me. I was also concerned that I might not have patience when people get it. Coaching unlocked that power for me. I love helping others find happiness and to succeed on and off the bike!

What inspired you to create Shine Riders Co.?
When I was initially healing from the back injury in 2008 I was thinking of ways to stay connected and give back to all of the amazing mountain biking women I met when I moved to Santa Cruz, California in 2005. I saw a lack of promotion for the ladies that were racing (no photos and sometimes no mention of their results). I wanted to find a way to create more opportunities in mountain biking for women whether they were coaches, athletes or just enthusiasts. I knew there were so many more ladies to meet and that creating Shine would eventually attract them to me which would lead to... bigger and greater things for us all. I'd like to give a big shout out to Rosie Bernhard, although its been a while since we got to shred together, Rosie was one of the first ladies I met in Santa Cruz who could charge the downhill and jump fearlessly. She's been injured and through nursing school.. and is still doing it! Women like Rosie are what make me stick with it.

Tell us about Shine Riders Co. and your philosophy-
Shine has been through some evolution in the past seven years. We've tried going the route of having a professional team, a junior team, and exclusivity with sponsors. I found through the positive and negative experiences that a grassroots approach is truly the best for Shine. Being INclusive brings everyone together, which fosters community, something mentor Joh Rathbun has tried to gently hammer into my mind over the past 4 years. I'm happy to say we will be bringing back every coach and athlete that has been involved in 2016 and will be opening up to many more riders, even recreational riders. We need more voices to share the story. And we need something to not only bring, but keep us together, because there are now literally millions of us!

What benefits do women (experienced riders or not) get from attending a mtb clinic?
For experienced riders spending some ride time with an experienced technical skills coach has many positive aspects. A great coach can watch you ride (while they ride behind you or standing beside you) and give you feedback on what you are actually doing. Like many things in life, what we THINK is happening, is not always the reality. A super great coach can also help you conquer the mental hurdles of fear, pain, jealousy, and many other negative mindsets. Attending a clinic is a great way to meet other riders, and work together through challenges. My clinics have a curriculum much like college... you take a basic class first, and then move on to more advanced classes once you have mastered those skills. I really enjoy working with riders over a course of time because then I see the progress. I ride with many of my former students and give them pointers here and there to help them stay on track. If you are brand new or just getting back into it, FUNdamental skills is your ticket to staying SAFE and having more FUN on your bike.

Do you have any advice as to what women should look for when seeking out a mountain bike clinic or coaching session?
I can't stress it enough, be sure your coach is certified (or has an extensive resume) and has liability insurance (for both you and their protection). Plenty of riders, with the best intentions, are offering clinics with very little knowledge, experience, or training. Ask for references, look for feedback. And like all other teachers, find the teacher who's style fits with you. There are lots of great coaches and you will learn something different from each one, how exciting is that?

What advice do you have for someone looking to start up a women's mountain bike ride?
I have a blog post on this somewhere but... Again, make sure you have enough experience and fitness before you begin. You need to have some minor mechanical skills to help the newer riders out should they have a flat tire or other issue on the trail. Basic First Aid knowledge is a must. Be sure you know the trail system like the back of your hand, and always keep your group together. It really helps to have a sweep (someone who follows in the back). But most of all keep it fun!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Many women that I've worked with were turned off or intimidated by the sport because it seems so macho. Additionally, like most retail industries, SOME sectors of the cycling industry love to use SEX to sell, and that is a big turn off to those who don't jive with that. I stress SOME because for every company doing that there are so many more, and for every lady who doesn't like booth babes or boobies in marketing, there is another who just does not give a hoot.. Another major deterrent is FEAR of injury, loss, or failure. This is where skills coaching and having positive riding buddies that will encourage you to succeed becomes really important. And lastly, the cost. Bikes and all the gear can be really expensive if you are on a limited or low income, have other financial responsibilities, etc.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
I'm happy to say it all happening. More great companies focusing on making mountain biking more attractive and welcoming to ALL TYPES of people, not just ladies. More coaches and programs to help you learn and keep moving forward. And there are lots of companies making super sweet entry level bikes that wont break the bank, but you can still shred on!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I didn't have other women to encourage me when I was young. I rode with men from a young age. I felt distanced from girls my own age because they did not share my passion. I grew up feeling like the last unicorn. When I made the commitment to move west in search of greater things, I got to experience what it was like to have a group of ladies, stoked on riding gravity. Each woman brings a strength or two to the table. By sharing experiences and encouraging one another we ALL grow. I want women everywhere of all ages to have this privilege, so I'm just doing the best I can to help with that in my small way :-).
What are a couple suggestions that you would give to a woman who is contemplating on the off-road scene?
Take a skills clinic and practice those skills. Start slow, smooth and skilled before getting speedy and sending things. Find a group that resonates with you to ride with. If none exists, create your own!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm a total introvert and minimalist. I currently live off the grid with no running water, power, telephone, or cell service on 20 acres with my fiance Josh Bender and our two doggies June and Sarah. We both work hard to reduce what we have by giving away, and reduce what we use and the waste we put back out into the world. I love seeing my peeps and making new friends in exciting places, but I have a great need to balance the fast paced social life my career brings, with some hardcore solitude. I enjoy being completely alone from time to time to get in touch with my self, and recharge my energy. Sometimes, okay a lot of times, I will seemingly disappear after an event or long weekend of social time. I'm just up on a mountain top somewhere, or in a hotspring recharging. If I don't do this I turn into a raging B, I promise you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Women on Bikes Series: Samantha Olson

Sam's first mountain bike experience.  2009.My name is Samantha Olson and by day - I'm a sales savant who does marketing and internet management for Cox Motors Ford of New Richmond, WI. I am also a wife to a competitive mountain biker and mother to a future Olympian / three year old daughter. My passions include two things: Mountain biking and making music. Since we're focusing on two wheels - I'll mention my incredible sponsors and ambassadorships: Cox Motors, Osceola Auto Sales,, SoLo Gi Nutrition, Fast and Female, and Crank Sisters.

I should also mention the team that fellow elite racer Alicia Fisk and I started - Herr Bati!

I have a blog through my work that started as my campaign #RideWithCox. You can read posts here! Follow me on Twitter @RideWithCox.

When did you first start riding a bike?
I learned on a neighbor boy's BMX bike when I was the usual age (5 or 6?) I was a lofty child of low athletic ambition, so I only rode to friends houses close by. Occasionally to the Dairy Queen. I didn't get back on a bike until I was trying to lose weight at age 21. And at first, that bike was stationary. In a gym. With a bunch of sweaty, spandex clad cardio gods. I remained determined in the back row of class until my spin class instructor's wife started telling me about mountain bike racing. Her husband was on a team with little outfits and everything. She told me how much fun I'd have and invited me to race with her that spring in the beginner's citizen class. I bought a Craigslist special mountain bike. I bought little pedals and learned how to clip in to them. I bought stretchy pants and learned that you're not supposed to wear underwear with them. I was ready for the rush of pride and accomplishment to rush over me as I pedaled no handed through the finish line to victory!

Yeah, that bike broke that very first race. I didn't finish. I was so disappointed that I began plotting my revenge. I bought a brand new GT Avalanche with disc brakes and a real fork. I couldn't wait to to do my next race and finish. They'd see! They'll all see! I didn't know who "they" were but I was determined to succeed.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
My love for what it gives me in return. Fitness is merely one benefit. Truthfully, I just crave being outside. I love the scent of a mountain bike trail. The dirt, the leaves...that earthy fix that I liken to religion. I also love that I can enjoy my time completely alone, with my family, or even just my friends. It can be a social extravaganza or the peace I need to de-stress from the day. Mountain biking is whatever I need it to be in that moment on that day.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
That is a very difficult question because I have loved so many different types of events over the years. First and foremost let's start at why...I will say that I love competing because I love that I can compete. For so many years, I was overweight and depressed. Finally, I have a body capable of training and finishing these races. I know I'm still not the fittest and not the thinnest among my field, but I'm out there. And I'm not terrible at it, which is a plus.

I believe my all-time favorite race has to be the Border Battle in River Falls, WI. It used to be a joint destination on both the Wisconsin Off-Road Series and Minnesota State Championship Series. However, now it only resides as part of the Minnesota circuit. It's my home course. It's technical and sometimes unpredictable. I know it by the back of my hand and yet sometimes it surprises me. It's also where I got married...where we now escape for dates. And every year when the race rolls around, it's like racing in our backyard. Besides, KORC (Kinnickinnic Off Road Cyclists) does a great job at putting on the race with the series. All in all, it's the race I look forward to every year.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
My very first off road experience happened at Murphy Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage, MN (2009). I remember I really enjoyed it. I walked 95% of the technicals, hills...basically anything that wasn't flat. But I felt accomplished. I was wearing yoga pants, tennis shoes, a t-shirt and a cheap helmet. After one lap there (of the easy stuff), my guide suggested we try another trail on our way home since I was seeming to enjoy myself. I do remember that idea being a HUGE mistake.

I didn't know what Lebanon Hills was at the time. But pulling into the lot, all I saw were dollar signs. I didn't know what constituted a high end bike, but I knew "expensive" when I saw it. Everyone was wearing team kits and fancy shoes. I felt so completely out of my league. The excitement of Murphy was crushed with the disappointment that I stood out like a sore thumb at Leb. No one enjoys baptism by fire!

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I wasn't really nervous on my first ride. My first race, however...I used to be in a rock band. I had the pink hair and the tattoos and the recording contract. But I would also get really bad shaking hands before I'd go on stage. After a while, I got used to performing and my hands wouldn't shake. When I rolled up to my first starting line, with a few girls next to me, I was shaking. In this picture, you can almost see the hands flying.

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?
Yes! My best advice is 1) Do not try them at a race. I ended up clipping out on the wrong side of a ski hill and rolling down into an unprotected chair lift post. The beauty is I have a picture. 2) Do not try them on a busy city street. Because you will inevitably fall down there too. Cars will honk. People will laugh. You will look silly flailing on the pavement still attached to your bike.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Hands down, my crash of 2011. That spring was incredibly rough for me on a personal level. I entered race season sort of unfocused. I had spend 2010 racing elite and had a great time. But I knew 2011, I'd need to drop down a category. I had zero time to train, I had gained weight...I was mopey.
I didn't even wear a jersey to the race; I'm referencing for this subject.
Just a t-shirt with my bike shorts. I caught a tree crossways and flipped over the bars, allowing the base of my neck to hit the trunk of a tree. I suffered a severe concussion. I still experience symptoms to this day. Although they are far less intrusive. I have to listen to my body. If watery vision or headaches crop up, I need to back off. If my stutter comes out (yes, somehow it thickened my already present speech impediment) - I need rest. It didn't keep me off the bike for a long time, but it did stress me out and metaphorically "beat me while I was already down". Finally, in the fall of that year - I was starting to feel like my old self again. Then I found out my fiance and I were expecting a baby. Needless to say, all of 2011 and into the majority of 2012 was like a big black hole of motivation and ability. But I also knew the bike was always there for me. I just needed to make time for it again.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Log piles. Oh dear lord, log piles terrified me. There could practically be three sticks in a row on the trail and I'd hop off my bike at the beginning. Then I signed up for a Wisconsin Off-Road Series race called "The Firecracker" at Lowes Creek in Eau Claire, WI. The night before the race, I had this amazing idea that if I prerode the course a bunch of times, I'd be so zen during the race itself, I could not lose. I rode a total of 10 (beginner course) laps. Still about 50 miles. I was young and energetic. Aww, 22 year-old Sam. You didn't know any better. There were several log piles. I just kept bombing into them. Mashing my, err, unmentionable bits into my bike with each wrong approach. Bouncing here and there. For an entire day. Now, I may have been in a great amount of pain you know where that next morning, but I finally figured out how to handle log piles big and small. My suggestion? Keep at it until you nail it.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I'm still a little sketchy with loose, rutted climbs. Shale rock or deep water runoff ruts that have dried just kill me. I can never figure out the proper cadence. My fitness isn't super strong on climbs either so I tend to make a lot of awkward noises when ascending such trail. Or I sing songs in my head. Either method distracts me long enough that all of a sudden, it's like, HEY! Now I get to breathe! I still get down on myself after races with lots of climbing. But then I remember one of my early racing girlfriends saying "You're still moving faster than everyone on the couch!"

What do you love about riding your bike?
The peace it gives me. I can have an awful day. I can be literally in any mood and my bike brings me back to center. There are times when I'm literally scowling when I pull into a trailhead parking lot. Even my husband has uttered the words "I don't want to do this" with me as we walk down the steps to the basement full of trainers. But once you get in the saddle, and those pedals start moving, you completely change your attitude. Chemical reaction has a lot to do with it I'm sure. Runners get their "high" and whatnot. I get my peace. I get the endorphins moving and the sweat rolling off and I feel alive.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
This is my race bike. Cannondale Flash 29er Carbon 1. Fitted with a 1x setup featuring some Wolftooth componentry. I have a Cannondale CAAD 8 Road bike named Jack, and a Salsa Mukluk Fatbike. My mountain bike was an engagement bike. After my concussion, I sold my previous bike and was borrowing my now-husband's Flash. I loved it on the first ride. When we were talking about getting engaged, I said I wanted an engagement bike instead. Low and behold, the night he proposed - he had the bike up in the workstand in the living room - with him kneeling next to it with a ring. We spent most of the night trimming the bars, putting the pedals on and getting it all dialed in.
I love my Flash because not only is it sentimental, it is also the best bike I've ever ridden. The geometry fits me perfectly.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I primarily use custom kits from Champion System. I really like the chamois and the cut of the jersey. I also had a chance this year to work with Podium Wear and I LOVE the way their jerseys compliment women's bodies. As for accessories - I am partial to Camelbak insulated bottles, my Garmin Edge, and SoLo Energy bars. Every little bit counts to make a complete cyclist. We all have the things we love that helps us achieve our best! I also am an avid believe in Wolftooth Componentry. I switched to 1X this season and my Wolftooth chainrings have been phenomenal.

Tell us about how you became your own "team of one"-
I was on a fantastic team for one year. Suddenly, after my Blue Cross Blue Shield commercial aired (Oh yeah, I was featured in a TV commercial), I had an idea to approach them for a sponsorship. I figured since they were so invested in health and nutrition, what better advertisement is there than riders out there flying their colors? They gave me the sponsorship and I learned a valuable lesson in marketing myself. It can achieve tremendous feats when you believe in who you are. And when the person you are pitching a sponsorship to feels your passion and your excitement for what you do - you'd be surprised how many people are willing to help you reach your goals. I made it my goal every year since to have my racing (mostly) paid for. I also made it my goal to represent companies I supported or believed in. So every fall, I start thinking up the next season's jersey. It's become fun designing (with Champion System) my kits. I learned how to write proper race resumes and I make commitments for the number of races I plan on doing. It's an investment for the companies I represent - so I show up. Unless dying or otherwise debilitated - I am there with bells on. However, being a team of just myself gets lonely at times. I have friends and connections on most of the teams in my area - so I always have a home tent to sit under. But I really started missing the comradery. Which is why my girlfriend and I started Herr Bati.

You also co-founded Herr Bati- tell us about Herr Bati and what inspired the start-
As previously mentioned, I am big into the social nature of mountain bike racing. However, in our area of the St. Croix Valley, women's teams are hard to come by. One of my very good friends, Alicia Fisk (who races for Girl Fiend/Hollywood Cycles) and I were talking one night about our local racing scene. We realized how many women there were in our area interested in a low-key yet competitive team to join. I think many racers, regardless of class, crave camaraderie. After a couple coffee and Indian food dates, we realized we were going to start a team. We both had already made commitments to other sponsors/teams, but we wanted to get our team off the ground, too. So we picked a name, Herr Bati. (It means Army Advantage in old Norse). Alicia took the reigns with the jersey design and planning group rides and training sessions. She's a real powerhouse. We ended up having a bunch of women get kits and aside from Alicia and I, one of our ladies is in the points race for a Minnesota State Series age group award for the season. Pretty cool!

Tell us about your involvement with Crank Sisters and what you do-
I met Crank Sisters head mistress, Martha Flynn Kauth, a long time ago in my first year of racing. She was this bad-ass yet genuine sweetheart who ruled two wheels. She went on to be deeply involved with NICA and now heads the Crank Sisters - a group that empowers young school-age women to try mountain biking and racing. My Herr Bati co-founder and I went to the organizational meeting for volunteers to see how we could help. Generally, if Martha asks us for something, we do it. Mainly ideas for creative on projects... I have the Crank Sisters on my jersey to highlight the huge contribution Crank Sisters has given the racing scene. I think the biggest thing I do that has any effect is talking to people. I'll meet people at events or on the trails in the area and recommend they look into CS for support and resources for their racing. It's an incredible program that deserves as much accolade as possible.

You are also an ambassador for Fast and Female- tell us about why you wanted to be an ambassador for F&F and why it's such a great organization to be a part of!
Two words - CHANDRA CRAWFORD. Who wouldn't want to be a part of something Chandra heads? Truth be told, I found out about F&F during my sponsor search two years ago. I applied and was named an ambassador. I mean, don't get me wrong - I'm about the lowest level ambassador they have on their roster. But I love Fast and Female's mission. I love speaking about it, writing about it and most importantly, demonstrating it every time I'm out on course. Their mission is to provide inspiring support to young women in sports. How better can we encourage our younger generation than by example?

Why do you feel it is important to have women-based groups?
It's the same reason I learned to drive a stick with one of my girlfriends instead of a man. Without getting into semantics, I generally think women experience and learn things better when they are among fellow females. I can lead or follow a man no problem now without feeling intimidated, but when I was beginning in the sport - I couldn't learn anything from my male riding friends. They couldn't give me tips on the saddle region or climbing (boobs to the bar!). And when you crash, you don't want some guy laughing at you. You want your girlfriends helping you up and laughing with you. Plus, I love to talk when I ride for fun. I've generally found that MEN DO NOT APPRECIATE THIS. My husband will even lovingly remind me that if I have enough air to talk, I'm not riding hard enough.
Don't get me wrong - I'm a rider that gets a little annoyed at all the girly frills and flowers and GIRL POWER messages that some brands want to shove down our throats. I ride a men's specific hardtail, none of my jersey's have femininity to them, and I sometimes curse like a sailor. But I also appreciate that the right group of women who ride can be your soulmates out there on the trail. And preferably they have a bottle of wine in the trunk for after.

Why do you feel it's important to involve girls in cycling at a young age?
It wasn't until I had my daughter that this idea truly hit home. So many kids can ride a bike at a young age. But the confidence and empowerment for young girls getting into the real sport of cycling is incredible. It fills me with hope and excitement to picture my daughter's riding as she grows. She just did her first mountain bike race (she's 3) and I bawled my eyes out when they put the little medal on her. I honestly believe if I had been exposed to mountain biking when I was young, I could have avoided the whole emotional-eating-weighing-hundred-of-pounds thing. Young girls need to believe they are capable of anything they put their mind to. That's what biking gives to me every day. Our next generation should be able to benefit from that.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think two things deter women - bodily harm and men. Those were my two fears when I started. I didn't want to get hurt (which you can do regardless of what cycling discipline you prefer). I also was intimidated by the guys. You know the ones...with the gigantic calf muscles and shaved legs. The ones that flew around me on the trail with only a word or two being said. I felt like a joke when they were in the parking lot. And it's not like they were ever mean or did anything to make me feel uncomfortable. They just existed and I wasn't comfortable comparing myself to them.

Which brings me to the next answer....

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
We need to spread the mantra that women need to STOP COMPARING THEMSELVES TO EVERYONE ELSE. I thought I needed to be Rebecca Sauber. I needed to be muscly-hot and incredibly fast. But I've grown up and accepted that I'm just not. Sure, I can lose weight (always working on that it seems) and I gain ability and speed with each passing season. But there's nothing in the Grand Book of Biking that says I have to be an elite pro racer to be validated in my sport. I am skilled. I am happy and passionate with what I do. We should be encouraging each other to make goals and achieve them instead of grilling them for their intentions with OUR sport. "Oh, so you gonna race?" "Oh, well when are you going to try Enduro instead?" "She's just a roadie..." This isn't your sport or my sport, it's all of our sport. We need to be encouraging, not degrading. We should just
be happy there are other women out there enjoying what we love!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I'm a people pleaser. Which is annoying in many assets of my life (I'm sure it stems from some sort of self esteem blunder in my youth). However, one place it works well is when I encourage other women to ride. I know how awesome I feel after a good ride. I want other people to feel equally as awesome. Because I want people to be happy. I also want more people to race against. But that's my devious secret plan.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I wanted to live in Russia for quite some time. So I learned enough Russian to make my way. And now I live in Wisconsin. Privet, Wisconsin, Privet.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Women Involved Series: Ann Pai

Ann Pai is the organizer of the Kansas City Women's Dirt Summit, a womens-only social mountain biking event presented by the Earth Riders Mountain Bike Club in Kansas City. Ann is also a board member of Urban Trail Co., the Kansas City non-profit organization that manages resources and agreements to build and maintain area trails.

A professional technical writer, Ann changed her sedentary life and became an adult-onset athlete in her mid-40s, taking on multisport, then trail running, which led to her great loves, trail building and mountain biking.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
For cycling in general, I think the routines that have to be developed around it are daunting. Even if a person goes the least fussy route, there are still routines of bike maintenance, route selection, clothing choice, dealing with weather, and so on. The peripheral activities can be a bigger up-front time investment than cycling itself, and way more of a mental hassle. I guess that's not gender-specific! Maybe women experience that burden of fussiness differently than men. I don't know.

For mountain biking - it seems like many factors play a part. But it helps me to flip that question around and think: What have I seen that works to get women involved in mountain biking? And the number one thing is being able to ride with friends - people you already know and like, on or off the bike.

What do you feel could change in the industry to encourage more women to ride?
Sew functional pockets for cycling into everyday clothes. In your marketing, show images of women friends riding together casually, to get to places.

Cycling is marketed as a luxury, "free-time" activity -- and who needs to add one more activity to her busy life? With your products -- and with your advocacy for safe cycling infrastructure -- help us better weave cycling into the lives we're already living.

I'd like to see the bike industry focus less on stuff and more on experiences. I'd encourage the industry to seek ways to support local clinics, small festivals, retreats, trips, and promotions like the recent SRAM Mariposa challenge, to help us connect in fun ways that build a scene. We have closets full of stuff. We crave hearts full of memories.

No worries, industry - we'll buy stuff for our experiences.

Tell us about the Kansas City Women's Dirt Summit - what can women expect if they attend?
Kansas City mountain biking ladies and our guests can expect a gathering of women who love mountain biking! We ride, we lunch, we hang out. The amazing Swope Park Trails are open and ladies ride at will. Women mechanics are on site for bike safety checks and other assistance. Though we do not offer beginner instruction, we do have volunteers who will lead a few beginner groups on the trail. Women should bring their own trail-capable bikes.

If trails are closed because of rain, the event rolls on with the social, the lunch, and a swap meet. The trail builders are also very supportive in helping us with potential rain options - so women should still bring their bikes.

At its heart, this is a social event for our local women mountain bikers, who don't get many chances to meet up and ride together. We love meeting our out of town guests, but honestly, because the weather can always shut down the trail, and our capacity isn't huge, we don't anticipate growing this to a regional event. We plan for about 100 women and are ready for a few more.

What are plans for the Dirt Summit this year?
It's always a simple outline: ride, lunch, socialize, raffle! We also offer free childcare, though this must be arranged in advance (RSVPs are closed for this year). Our plans going forward - we are working on a "build kit" that can help women in other cities start their own local Dirt Summit events. Imagine it! 2nd weekend in November, women all over the country riding together on Dirt Summit Day! If anyone's interested in that, they can contact me through the web site, (Check out Dirt Summit on Facebook)

What are some challenges have you encountered with the Dirt Summit when you first started it?
Weather! Our soils are clay-based, and trails close when it rains. In November, the weather can be unpredictable! The Swope Trails are so amazing to ride - every year I'm on pins and needles with hope that we'll have weather that keeps the trails open.

Our first year, we had no idea how many women would attend, so it was hard to plan for food for the lunch. There were people who thought we had only 20 or so women mountain bikers in Kansas City. Seventy-six women attended. Then 96 last year. We always cross our fingers and hope we've planned for enough food.

All challenges have been minimized by the phenomenal support for the event throughout the community, including 20 local bike shops and several women owned businesses, like Nanny Nexus, which provides our professional child care. The Dirt Summit isn't a separate non-profit or anything like that - it is an event put on by the Earth Riders Mountain Bike Club. Behind the scenes, there are men as well as women working hard for the event. We're all mountain bikers who want people to love mountain biking.

What is the most exciting part about the Dirt Summit for you?
I love seeing the scene grow and friendships beginning! The best thing ever is when I meet two women who are riding together and they say, "Oh yeah, we met at the Dirt Summit."

What suggestions do you have for women who would like to create a women's group in their area?
Creating ride opportunities is important, but it's just as important to create social opportunities. Women want to ride with their friends. So we need opportunities to bond as friends, and that's not always easy to do on the bike, especially on trails, where you are somewhat strung apart and yelling over your shoulder to talk to the next person.

For folks in places where there's no women's group, I'd encourage organizing a social event that has bike or ride aspects. Let women meet and talk and get to know each other. And look for a way, whether it's a social media page or an email group or whatever works, to help women connect for rides. In your efforts, don't be shy to ask your local bike shops for material support. They want to see more people on bikes.

For some areas, attendance for women's rides/groups might not be great at first. What suggestions or advice do you have to help women not feel discouraged?
More a lesson learned the hard way than advice: It's better to stay relaxed. Let go of expectations for what you hope the group ride turns into or is "supposed to be," and accept and enjoy what happens when people ride together. It seems to take a group of regulars to sort out the ride dynamic, so be patient with uneven experiences.

Group rides seems to start well from a core group of friends who then open up the invite. So even if it's just you and a friend or two, keep focusing on - and telling others - what a great time it was to be riding together, and that you're open to having others join up if they want.

You are a member of your local trail organization- why is it important for women to be active with their local trail groups?
Building trail is incredibly empowering. You spend a few hours outside in the company of great people, you work up a sweat, and at the end of the work session, you've helped build something you love, that could last for 100 years. Your great-grandkids could ride the trail you build!

The trail groups have a lot of influence in helping events and experiences get off the ground, and it's important to have women's voices in the trail leadership. But the only way to get that is for women to become trail builders. It all starts with a single, no-experience required work session. And it's a great upper body workout outdoors on a winter day!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Their smiles.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I like proverbs from around the world. Here's one of my favorites. It's Russian: "Love's not a potato; you can't throw it out the window!" Tell me that doesn't paint a picture.