Women on Bikes Series: Heather Cooper
When did you first start riding a bike?
I first started when I was 16. My dad was a mountain biker and he nudged me to go out riding with him. My first bike was a Trek 850 with no suspension and those crazy bar ends that people used to put on their handlebars. After 3 frustrating years of biking in the very technical terrain in New Jersey, I gave up. It was only when I moved to Vermont 13 years later when I picked up another bike. From that point on I was hooked.
What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I guess it starts with inspiration from my dad. Then when I moved to Vermont I was determined to start up again. I knew no one and had to find trails and go riding all by myself. Turns out, the trails were some of the best I have ever been on. Then 4 years ago I moved to California. A completely different experience. My riding has been driven by friends rallying each other to go all the time. Then getting inspired to race by my friend Erica and now…it is about getting better and exploring new places.
Tell us about your first Enduro at Sea Otter- would you say that inspired you to compete in the California Enduro Series?
It was actually the other way around.. My friend Erica's husband races and she started racing the series a few years ago. She kept telling me how I would love doing these races and finally I decided to check it out by volunteering at the Santa Cruz Enduro in 2014. As I manned the aid station, I saw how much fun people were having. They would congregate at the bottom and talk about the stoke from their last run, then start to leisurely climb back up to the next stage. When I committed to her that I would do the CES, she suggested we do Sea Otter as a warm up race. It was perfect for that.
Tell us about your experience at the California Enduro Series- what did you take away from the experience?
I was scared at the beginning of each race. Usually shaking before the first timed stage. Once I got the adrenaline out of my system after the first run, it was all fun, laughs and some suffering. At the same time, I was looking forward to every weekend. My big take away is that it was 50% about racing, and 50% about hanging out with friends and meeting new ones. You go on 6 weekend vacations together, you practice together, you encourage each other and then you kick each other's asses.
What inspired you to start competing?
As I mentioned above, it was my friend Erica. But I also was going to turn 40 in November of 2015, and have never competed in anything. I figured that if I was ever going to jump into it, this was the time to do it.
Do you have suggestions for those who are on the fence about entering in a race/competition? Just do it. I can't speak for other race formats, but Enduro seems to be super inviting. As long as you would refer to yourself as an intermediate rider, most of the courses were approachable and fun. Get a group of people rallied to do it together and ask for help from people who you know are already racing. I remember saying to myself that I was going to commit to the races, but it wasn't until I started registering that it felt real. Put the race series dates in your calendar, look for the registration times and jump in head first. And if that didn't convince you, get in touch with me!
How do you help prepare yourself for an event?
I didn't take myself too seriously, so I wasn't on any sort of training plan. The biggest prep was that a group of friends would either take a trip to the venue for a weekend prior to the event or went a day early to pre-ride. Other than that, I was committed to riding both weekend days and made a point to do rides with the tougher climbs (which I typically avoid). If I move up to the Expert class next year, I will have to get some more fitness. My biggest downfall is when we have to do a quick sprint uphill in the middle of a downhill track. I lose all of my time there.
When you started out mountain biking, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Everything is challenging and scary when you start. I spent many years developing bad habits. About 4 years ago I signed up for 2 of the Trek Dirt Series clinics. They are taught by highly skilled women in an approachable environment. There are all these little tricks that can increase your skill level fast which you might never figure out on your own. I've gotten much better recently at cornering by forcing myself to look where I want to go, turn my hips and shoulders, and to let go of the brakes. I've also been realizing that speed is my friend when going through technical sections. I used to slow to a crawl and pick my way through rocks and sometimes that is appropriate. But I realized that my bike can navigate through anything if I carry my speed.
Flats or clips?
I started in clips. When I moved to California and started tackling some harder rock gardens, jumping and steeper terrain I felt a lot more comfortable being able to take my feet off my pedals, so I switched to flats. Then at the Northstar race this year, one of my race friends started heckling me about racing in flats. I figured since she was a Pro, she probably knew what she is talking about. So, I got back into clips and it's been great.
What do you love about riding your bike?
Mostly that it makes me forget about everything. On a mountain bike ride, I always have to be fully engaged so I don't run into the multitudes of obstacles out there. It is the only thing I do that forces me to forget about the stress of everyday life.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I'm a 1 bike kind of gal. I have been riding a Nomad for a year. I test rode that and the Bronson one day down in Santa Cruz. The Nomad seemed to fit me better and felt like I was landing on pillows. I like the fun of going downhill and this bike helps me do things I never would have had the confidence to do. It's great to live close to the Santa Cruz demo factory and be able to demo a bike for free before making such a big purchase. I have my sights set on getting a Juliana Furtado next.
What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
My all time favorite is my Shredly shorts.. I don't know why it is such a challenge to find clothing options that fit well, but Shredly seems to have nailed it for all different body types. I like my POC sunglasses and also their gloves that slip on (any velcro gloves I've had always seem to fail after a while) my EVOC pack and bike bag. I don't leave home without my Gform pads and have recently started riding with the ISX Flow knee and eblow pads. Lastly, I have a great Giro helmet and I am a huge fan of the Bell Super 2R with the detachable chinbar.
You work for Clif Bar, a company that fuels many different kinds of athletes- what has been a positive being involved with a company that is part of the outdoor industry?
Aside from having access to great nutrition for my activities, I find that there is inspiration all around me. From our CEO who took on America Ninja Warrior to Megan who did the Spartan Beast last year. We have Ironmen and Ironwomen, people who bike centuries on the weekends and loads of other people who are trying new things or super stoked to cheer you on from the sidelines. The people are what makes Clif such a great place to work. Aside from that we have a gym and personal trainers, an athletic stipend to help you pay for races and a generous vacation offering. Lastly, and perhaps the best part, is that I've met the best friends I've had in my life at Clif and we have common interests.
Why do you feel it is valuable to have women involved in the outdoor/cycling industry? Perspective on product development, women control a disproportionate amount of purchase power, women represent the largest growth opportunity in mountain biking and lastly we have different skills and qualities that will round out your organization.
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Cycling appears to be much more accessible than mountain biking. With either sport there is a heavy equipment investment, however with cycling you can sometimes go out your front door and start spinning your wheels. For mountain biking there is a high intimidation factor and I think people envision themselves getting hurt. There are rocks, trees, streams, exposed narrow trails and speaking of trails, they aren't always easy to find and you probably don't want to go by yourself. The perfect recipe is to find a friend to "sponsor" you who is going to encourage you, but not push you too far. Demo, borrow or rent a bike and go to a reputable clinic.
What do you feel could change industry-wise/locally to encourage more women to ride?
I think there needs to be revolutionary change. Right now, there are a bunch of bike companies making women specific products and creating their own programs. Those might be ambassador programs, sponsoring female athletes, sponsoring clinics such as Trek Dirt Series or Liv Ladies All Ride. These are all amazing efforts that took a lot of advocating and hard work; however they are individually duplicating efforts.
I imagine there being a more national effort to consolidate all the resources. Those resources might be put towards national education and regional clinics with standardized training and trail access. I see this as building the foundation of women rather than each company fighting for a piece of a small pie.
As I write this from New Zealand, I also have a new perspective on how important trail access is. While riding in Rotorua, I was amazed at how many women and children were out on bikes. They had amazing amenities…showers and toilets, water stations, rentals, bike shops at the trail head, extensive trail maps and phone apps, shuttles, excellent trail signage and a 6 level rating system from beginner to expert. The networks of trails are enormous and hikers, horses and bikes seem to co-exist happily.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
It is simple, when I find something I love, I want to share it with other people. Tell us a random fact about yourself! I'm spending a month biking around New Zealand, living out of a van with my favorite biking partner, Courtney. Oh, and another good one is that I went to college for Music Business.