Women Involved: Jessica Klodnicki

My day job is General Manager/Executive Vice President of Bell Helmets and Blackburn Accessories, based in Santa Cruz, CA. I joined the company (and the industry) 3 years ago. My role is to lead the entire business, but heavily focused on product development, design, marketing and sales. 

Prior to my current role, I was the Senior Vice President of Brand Marketing for Mizuno USA – across the sports of running, golf, baseball, softball volleyball. I had always wanted to be in the sporting goods category, but I thought maybe it was too late or I was too old because the first part of my career, I worked on a variety of categories outside of sports. 

Here’s a list of what I did prior…

* Close to 8 years at consumer products company, Newell Rubbermaid, who owned various brands across many categories:
*Global Vice President of Marketing and Product – Parker, Waterman and Rotring (all premium pen brands). I was based and lived in the city of Paris, France for two years.
*Group Vice President of Brand Marketing – Dymo, Mimio, Endicia, CardScan – a collection of office and classroom technology. I loved the people and the brands, but this is where I learned that I was not cut out for the tech space!
*Vice President of Marketing – Goody Hair products – I loved this business – I got to work with a great group of people and a lot of fabulous women. 
*The first 9 years of my career was with a family owned toy company called Kids II – they market under the brand Bright Starts as well as many licenses with companies like Disney.  I started there fresh out of college as a Product Manager working on baby footwear and progressed quickly and at a very young age to the Vice President of Marketing.
*I went to undergrad at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, FL where I got a degree in Communications – Advertising and PR.
*I got my MBA from Emory University in Atlanta, GA which is where I lived MOST of the last 20 years except for my stint in Paris and my move here to Santa Cruz.
*I was an avid marathon runner – ran 7 marathons, then I turned to triathlon.  I did tons of sprint and Olympic distance and one half ironman before I burnt out on all the training.  When I went to Mizuno, I spent most of my time running and playing golf. 
*Now of course, I am obsessed with mountain biking.  See more about the Girls Rock group I started below…
*I am married to my husband Dave who is a pilot for Delta Airlines and we have two dog children – one 12 year old and one 10 week old who is going to be our future trail dog!
*Besides mountain biking – I love wine tasting and post mountain biking beer.  The 4 places you will find me are at work, on the trail, in a winery or brewery or at home/on the beach with our pups!

Bell Helmets –

Blackburn Design –

My riding group – Girls Rock

When did you first start riding a bike and what has motivated you to ride over the years?
I was an avid marathon runner that wanted to cross train, so I started doing triathlon in my late 20’s.  That was really the first time I started riding a bike since childhood. I actually tried mountain biking a couple of times with the guys that I was training for triathlon with. It was exhilarating, but totally scary. I knew nothing about technique and just followed them on trails that were WAY above my skill level. So I was scared off from mountain biking for over a decade. I competed in various distances including a Half Ironman, but then I burnt out. I went away from riding for a few years while I worked at Mizuno and spent most of my time running and playing golf.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
When I started my job with Bell and Blackburn and moved to Santa Cruz, I wanted to try mountain biking again. People at the office kept inviting me to ride, but I was scared and embarrassed. So, I secretly went to one of our local trails and started riding it on my own on a really old bike. I wanted to ride anonymously first before I went “public” with my riding! I fell in love with the idea of riding in the woods, but when I really fell in love was the first time I attended the Dirt Series Camps. I finally got the foundational skills that I needed and got to ride on a demo bike. It was such a better experience and that was when I decided I was hooked. I went out, bought a new bike and I went out, bought a new bike and instantly felt the difference. Although they say “it’s not about the bike”, it’s not NOT about the bike. It most certainly made riding a MUCH more positive experience once I had the advantage of a new bike. I bought a beautiful red Santa Cruz Blur LT and it was like riding on a magic carpet! I was an instant convert – I knew I wanted to ride more and get better.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it? 
I was totally nervous. I had learned to ride as a triathlete, where you tuck in an aero position, pedal your bike, ride in a straight line as fast as you can and absolutely avoid any sort of obstacles. Mountain biking is the exact opposite, so when I got on the dirt, everything seemed scary, especially since my body position was all wrong. I knew I had to learn the fundamentals in order to enjoy it. That is why I originally went to the Dirt Series and then kept going back to refine my skills. 

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Yes—I had a really bad crash that set me back. I decided I wanted to learn how to do basic jumps and drops. I had so much fun learning in the safety of a grassy field that I went on to the trail with too much confidence. I ended up jumping off of something I never should have and crashed – knocked myself out, broke my ribs, seriously hurt my hip and scraped up the whole left side of my body. On top of that, when I went to the emergency room…someone clipped my lock and stole my brand new bike. I was physically wrecked, mentally rattled and, the worst part was that now I didn’t have a bike. Talk about being kicked when you are down. 

First, I had to physically heal. Then, I had to get a new bike….though it was a good excuse to upgrade to a 27.5.  But, I definitely had to “ease” back in. It set me back from pushing the limits and made me a little more conservative. I just had to get back out there and ride and work the nerves out. I just had to spend time in the saddle and rebuild my confidence. I also went back to Dirt Series to keep working on my skills. I am a much better rider now, but I am hesitant about jumping…

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
EVERYTHING challenged me. I have realized that you have to pick a skill and just chip away at it.   Warning – no one should take riding advice from me….but, recently I have been tackling high speed cornering and bunny hops. For both, I did a session with a local coach with some other girls for a couple of hours and just lazer focused on those two things. I am proud to report that my bunny hop has progressed from a ½” to about 4”…sounds small, but was a big leap over a couple weeks’ time. I have watched other folks and just tried over and over in the parking lot before and after my rides.  
High speed cornering is a big one. I found myself going really slow in corners and overusing my breaks.   It would totally ruin the flow of my ride. I figured out a different body position and where to put my feet and it has allowed me to go faster and lay off the breaks while still feeling under control. I actually got to apply some of my road bike skills – making sure my feet and pedals were in the right position for balancing through the corners.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I am willing to ride downhill over almost anything and roll any obstacle while I am descending… But, for some reason, less daunting obstacles on flat ground or climbing up over them tend to trip me up. This is something I need to work on next. There is this one darn metal pipe on one of our regular rides that is a mental block for me. I used to feel bad if I had to pop off the bike and walk an obstacle, but I have realized riding with other girls – lots of people do it, there is no shame. And on some rides I feel better than others. If I am having an off day, I’d rather be safe and be able to ride the next day.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love riding mountain bikes because of the incredible landscape you get to see and the ground you can cover that you would never get to do on foot or in a car. I love mountain biking in particular because it feels more like ‘playing’ than it feels like working out. It’s hard not to feel like a kid when you get to play in the dirt. I love burning some calories on the climbs (to make room for post-ride beer…), but then I love ending on a fun descent. I love a long ride where you are completely exhausted at the end, yet energized for having done it.

I also love riding my bike for transportation. It may sound corny, but there is something so empowering about getting from point a to point b strictly under your own pedal power. I ride my road bike to work some days and I have two bikes that I use specifically for tooling around town, wine tasting and running errands. Riding my bike to the grocery store actually makes me enjoy going to the grocery store. I’d never say that if I were driving there.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Juliana Furtado –SRAM Guide Brakes, Easton Haven Wheels, 1x11 gearing.  They call it Hella Yella, but I call it “The Dirty Banana”. Awesome all mountain bike that is absolutely perfect for riding anywhere in Santa Cruz.  I bought it because I immediately fell in love with it after a demo ride.  It climbed like a dream and felt a bit more like a Porsche than a sports utility vehicle. I had been lugging a heavier, but cushier bike up hill and was tired of suffering on climbs.  And…I loved what the ladies were doing over at Juliana, so I really wanted to support the brand.
Volagi Liscio – smooth riding road bike that I added Easton carbon wheels to. I liked the design philosophy and approach to building an “endurance” focused ride.  I know everyone hates the word ‘comfort’, but it really is comfortable on the road. This is what I commute to work on – a nice ride UP the side of the Santa Cruz mountains past horses and vineyards. We have really rutted roads around Santa Cruz, so it is nice to have a cushier ride. I also recently got to try it on gravel – swapped out the tires and did a ride that was on and off road. Super fun and a little scary at first, but I can totally see what the fuss is all about in regards to “gravel griding” and some of the other buzzwords happening right now.
Yuba Boda Boda – this is my big, green cargo bike that has two giant panniers and a platform on the back. I wanted something to commute around town and be able to run errands with. Mostly this bike gets used for trips to Whole Foods, Target and wine tasting across town… It can carry a full case of wine no problem. 
State Bicycle – This is my most recent purchase! I love my Boda Boda, but I wanted something that was a little more nimble for quick trips around town or the local brewery.  I have some cool Blackburn panniers attached.  I am embarrassed to admit, but I totally bought it because it has a bottle opener on the frame and a basket designed specifically to carry a six pack. 
We have a one in, one out policy in our garage…I also just bought a Vespa last year, which sometimes takes the place of Volagi on the ride work…But, there are so many different categories of bikes now. I feel like I need more – a fat bike, a cross bike. I know I don’t “need” them, but I want them real bad. 

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Of course – Bell Helmets!  I have always used Bell even before I worked for the company. I must match my helmet to my ride – meaning the type of riding that I am going to do and to my outfit. I have a little wall of helmets to choose from and I never ride without one. 
Can’t live without a dropper seat post ever again. 
After getting my bike stolen, I never leave home with a lock – or several locks!
I ride to and from work at night sometimes, so I always have my Blackburn lights charged up and ready to go.
Just got my first pair of Shredly shorts and love them!

Tell us about Girls Rock and its purpose-
When I started riding more, I found it difficult to find people at the same level as me to ride with. The guys at my office were all so much better than me that I was intimidated to ride with them at first. So, I was just looking for other girls to ride with. I spotted two girls that I had attended the Dirt Series with in the parking lot of Emma McCrary trailhead in Santa Cruz and we ended up riding together. As we rode together, we ended up gathering more and more women. It turned in to an informal monthly ride – I’d send an email out and 10 – 15 girls would show up. Next thing I knew, 25, then 70+ were showing up. What I discovered was that there were so many other women like me looking to ride with other women at their level. I also realized that as a new rider, many people just aren’t sure how to navigate the sport, the products, etc… So, I wanted to expose them to different brands, different rides, different bikes – so that they could make more educated choices as they developed as a rider. Our official mission is:
Inspiring women to participate and progress in mountain biking by providing rides and resources that are supportive, social, fun and confidence building.

Why do you feel it's important to get more women involved with mountain biking?
Mountain biking is a tough workout, but it is also really a lot of fun. It is a great way to get fit, enjoy nature and play in the dirt. It is fun and social, which is hard to say about a lot of sports. When I worked in the running business, I saw the impact that women had on participation – more and more women were opting in to the sport and it was one of the main reasons running saw a boom in participation. As someone who was a recent newcomer, I totally understand why women are intimidated by the sport – but it doesn’t have to be that way. I want to help break down any perceived barriers to participation in mountain biking. 

What do you do to help women overcome their nervousness with riding off-road?
Offering rides that accommodate ALL levels so that people can start with a pace and a technical level they are comfortable with. Don’t ever take someone out on a trail that is above their skill level before they are ready. Encourage women to go get professional coaching or at least help them learn the fundamentals before they get out on the trail. Ease them in! The reason I did not start mountain biking sooner in life was because I was taken on a trail that was WAY above my skill level without having the fundamental skills.  And it scared me away from riding for 10 years!  

What would be 5 things that you would recommend or suggest for someone new to mountain biking? 
*Go to a mountain bike camp or get some coaching to learn fundamental techniques first
*Make sure you ride on trails that are the right level for your riding – and if you do get in over your head, don’t feel bad about walking sections
*Ride with people that are similar to your level or willing to go at YOUR speed – don’t feel like you need to keep up with people that are way above your skill. At some point in your mountain biking, you will enjoy being “pushed”, but not so much at the beginning!
 *Make sure you have the right gear, hydration and food – not having the right stuff can ruin your ride.  (Proper bike shorts, hydration pack and/or water bottles, tools, nutrition.)
*If you aren’t happy with your bike or if it is older technology – demo or rent a bike so that you can really enjoy the ride, but make sure the bike FITS you.
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I interned for the US Olympic Bobsled Team during my final year of college. I made $2.14 per hour plus room and board, but I got to live in the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid and live, work, play with the athletes that came through – everyone ranging from Luge, Speedskating, Bobsled, Aerial Freestyle Skiers and Biathlon. I still have a scar on my chin from an epic roller blading session with the speed skaters.

What inspired you to get involved with the cycling industry by running Bell Helmets and Blackburn Accessories?
There is nothing more inspiring that working on a business in a category you are passionate about. A recruiter called me about the role and I jumped at the chance to work on such iconic brands (Bell just turned 60 years old last year and Blackburn turns 40 this year), in an awesome industry in an amazing town!

What inspired you to get involved with People for Bikes? What are some of the things you do with being on the Board of Directors?
Their mission is to get more people on bikes more often. We believe that more people on bikes makes for a better world. A big part of what they do is help facilitate building safe places to ride. So, I feel very aligned with the mission and we as a company want to do anything we can to get more people on bikes and create more places to ride. We have board meetings twice per year to discuss important issues, we participate in things like the Bicycle Leadership Conference and Interbike and we help lobby government officials. I had the chance to go to the Capitol in Washington DC to meet with legislators to discuss bicycle infrastructure and the role of the bike industry.   
Why do you enjoy being involved with the cycling industry and why should women seek to be involved?
Again, there is nothing more inspiring that working on a business in a category you are passionate about.  I think it is a virtuous cycle – more women riding = more women in the industry = more great products for women = more women riding!

What have you learned since being involved with the industry? What would you like to see change?
It is a really terrific business full of passionate people. It wasn’t easy coming in as a female from outside the industry. I’d like to see more diversity and more newcomers from outside the industry to bring some new thinking. I think it would bring new perspective on how to get more people riding.