Women on Bikes Series: Samantha Olson
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, Carsoup.com, 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! www.herrbati.com
I have a blog through my work that started as my campaign #RideWithCox. You can read posts here! https://socialcoxteam.wordpress.com/ 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.
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?
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.