Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Admitting You Are Stuck In A Rut

It's not easy to write about how you had to admit that your significant other was right- "you are stuck in a rut." I've started and stopped on this post trying to figure out how I wanted to tell the story, but each time I came to a stalemate. I feel the message is important, and one that probably every rider comes to at some point and continues to re-visit at various times in their riding years.

I went out for a ride last week and decided to hit up the trails in Dunnings rather than my favorites over in Van Peenen. To start off at Dunnings from the get go, regardless of which trail you take, will result in a good bit of climbing before you get to the top. I opted to take the route of Luge to Lower Randy's, and by the time I was midway up Lower Randy's I realized that my legs were made of lead. This would be a challenging day.

To add more spice to the mix, this was also my first non-fatbike ride of the season, my Carbon Lush was the lucky bike to get some 60-degree sunshine on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon.

Riding a 27.5 after riding a fatbike for a few months was a completely different experience. Luckily, the trails had amazing traction, but I still had spots where I spun out due to skinnier tires. I had to remember how to ride with finesse. My arms appreciated the suspension instead of feeling like I was being bounced around all over the place. All in all, you could say that it balanced out.

I do not ride Dunnings as often as I should.
I somewhat avoid the trails over there.
They challenge me.
They have (what I feel) more substantial climbs that I find difficult to ride thru 100% of the time.
I get discouraged- I feel like I have little endurance when I ride the Dunnings trails.
Mother's Day (all three) have areas that make my stomach flutter.
So my solution? Well, it's not a solution at all. It is simply not riding them unless I "have to."

I had done my first set of usual trails and had to take a rest break.
Nothing sets the tone of wanting to see how well you maintained your fitness level over the winter with fatbiking, only to realize you're pushing yourself when you are most run down and there isn't much you can do about it. Thankfully this was a solo ride I didn't have to worry about keeping up with another rider or having them be a snail with me. (Fellas, be glad you don't have periods.)
So instead of using this ride as my "base" to compare the other rides on Dunnings, it would simply be "just ride."

As I sat on the log I realized that Travis had spoken truth. I was in a rut and I needed to push myself out of this sinkhole that I had fallen into. I rode the same trails all the time because I felt comfortable with them; I was doing nothing to improve my skill set.
I rode only what made me feel confident.
Most of the time I was looking to see how fast I could go on my "loop" rather than challenging myself to ride trails that I wasn't so adept with.
My desire is to be skilled rather than just "fast."

I knew the only thing to do was to make a commitment to myself to start riding the trails that pushed me outside my comfort zone. I want to be able to ride Dunnings as well and as smoothly as I do most of Van Peenen.

I made my way to Backside, letting my tires roll over the roots and my suspension cushion the impact. I was feeling pretty good, until my front tire hit a lump of roots...I think. Next thing I know, I'm falling sideways over the trail and landing into shrubbery. My bike was laying on its side, I was sitting on my butt- I assessed the damage to my legs: scraped left knee and a golf-ball width lump on the front of my right thigh.

I heard the unmistakable sound of a rider coming down the same trail, I looked up and internally I went "AW MAN!!!" Of course it was one of the most proficient and skilled riders of Decorah who saw me looking like a hot mess. He asked how I was and if I was taking a break or if I had crashed- we laughed and both agreed that the first ride on a non-fatbike is always different. You get solid reminders of what you can and can't do.

The only way to improve with mountain biking is to ride what you don't always love riding. Maybe I'm afraid I won't improve or perhaps I think (subconsciously) I'm already at my peak. Regardless of the reasons, I have re-committed to accepting the challenge of mountain biking. I will focus my time on the trails that make me nervous in order to grow as a rider. It's not always the easy choice, but it's the one that will make me stronger physically and mentally.

If you find yourself in a rut, take some time to think about why you're there. Is it because you are afraid of not accomplishing a goal? Do you feel your riding level is at a plateau? It's all too easy to focus our efforts on what we can do easily and push aside what we can't ride successfully or what we deem too hard.

If you've gotten to the point where you avoid riding the trails that are difficult, get out there and ride the crap out of them. Do not bring perfectionism into mountain biking- bring optimism and openness instead.

Challenge equals growth and growth equals confidence, and that is what makes mountain biking so special. Embrace it!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Women on Bikes Series: Meg Zapalowski

My name is Meg Zapalowski and I currently work as a high school teacher and the owner of Infinity Cycling Consulting. Lately, I’ve been working hard as the President of Team Clark Logic racing, the Vice President of the Southwest Michigan Mountain Biking Association, a member of the Team Taylor cycling team, and a US Ambassador for the Strongher organization.

My husband, Brad and daughter, Isabelle are the first love of my life. I have a strong belief in creating a community that embraces cycling, health and wellness, and the outdoor lifestyle.

When did you start riding and why has it been important for your life?
I started riding my mountain bike in 2012 with some girlfriends and our husbands. The girls would have weekly rides and afterwards we would grab a beer or a glass of wine at our local watering hole. Over the next several years we all began racing and really ripping it up through the woods.

In 2014 I decided to dust off the old road bike and give it a go. After my very first 20 mile group ride, I was hooked. I began riding every week with the Kalamazoo Bike Club who taught me how to ride in a group, give proper commands, and they guided me to go further and further on each ride.

I set a goal for myself the following summer in 2015 on the “encouragement” of some local riding buddies to participate in the 300 mile Wish-A-Mile (WAM) tour and join Team Taylor (a local team in Kalamazoo) on a ride that raises money for the Make a Wish Foundation. Little did I know the impact that this ride would have on my life.

Team Taylor developed in 2007 after the passing of Taylor Grainger, the daughter of Rob and Karen Grainger. Taylor was a Make-A-Wish kiddo and unfortunately, passed away before ever getting her wish. Rob and 7 other cyclists started cycling in the event that same year and began raising money for WAM. Since 2007, Team Taylor has raised close to $2,000,000.00 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

At first, the ride was about challenging myself and pushing myself to limits that I never thought possible. It wasn’t until about half way through my first 100 miles that I realized why I was really there. I was granting wishes and riding miles for children and families that can’t do it on their own.

I pushed through 300 miles of Michigan roads because they physically can’t. At each rest stop we would see families of Wish Kids, shake their hands, and hear their stories. Even now, I struggle to hold back tears thinking about my experience over those 300 miles and I can’t wait to experience it again in 2016.

So when asked why riding has been important for my life? It’s because riding isn’t just a sport or an athletic event, it’s not about my business or making money, it has become a purpose for me. I ride because it has changed my life in a way that couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.

When it comes to competing, do you have any tips or suggestions for those new to the sport who are on the fence about attending an event?
Talk to your local bike shops and clubs about boutique or newly established races in your area. These tend to be a little less intimidating since they are typically on a smaller scale and they seem not so overwhelming. At the end of the day, remember that you are better than the person still at home on the couch. No matter what place you finish, the sweetest reward is the finish line and the sense of accomplishment. Feeling and watching yourself improve from one event to the next is an incredible feeling.

Tell us about your bikes and why you enjoy them-
1.) Fat Tire Bike – 2013 Pugsley Necormancer: Every person should own a fat bike. It’s the only bike that you can use in every type of weather.

2.) Cycolcross Bike – 2016 Specialized Crux e5: I just purchased this bike TODAY! It was a birthday gift from my amazing husband, Brad. It is BEAUTIFUL!

3.) Mountain Bike - 2014 Kona Cinder Cone: Mountain Biking is an amazing sport that connects people with nature.

4.) Road Bike - 2015 Jamis Xenith: While I’ve only been road riding for a short period of time, nothing compares to my road bike. From the moment I’m on it, I feel incredible. I wonder if my new CX bike will trump my road bike? Hmmmm….

When it comes to mountain bike skills, what were the ones that challenged you most and how did you overcome?
The downhill is the most intimidating for me on any trail system. I always tend to lay on the break a little too much which causes me to fishtail on steep terrain. In order to overcome it, I try to face the downhill section with determination and a deep breath. Practice, practice, practice and let her rip.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Safety is the largest deterrent for women in cycling. Whether they are considering mountain biking or road cycling, women are concerned about their safety and rightfully so. This is why it is so important to create a strong community support system for the cyclists in every town. Proper education on riding a bike can help to alleviate a lot of the anxiety. Through Infinity Cycling and our local bike shop, Pedal Bicycles we have established educational opportunities for women to participate in events and classes such as “Mountain Biking for Women 101” and “Bike Maintenance for Ladies”. This has helped increase our women’s mountain bike population and ease the anxiety of riding through the woods.

You started up Infinity Cycling, could you tell us about Infinity Cycling and what it's all about?
Absolutely! Think of Infinity Cycling as a personal assistant or third hand when you need it most.
Infinity Cycling is a consulting business that provides professional event planning and social media/web development for the biking and outdoor industry. We work together with local bike shops, businesses, community out-reach programs, and non-profit organizations to help create events that connect individuals on and off the road. Events might include directing a race/ride, setting up clinics, hosting educational seminars, and more.

Our goal is to connect the ever growing need and demand for women in cycling to the resources that they need. We are advocates for creating a bike friendly infrastructure in communities across the United States and creating sustainable trail systems for years to come.

What has been your greatest moment since starting Infinity Cycling?

My greatest moment was the day I established my business. I’ve always wanted to take a leap of faith and a chance on an idea, and here I am. I’m overwhelmed and humbled by the amount of support and encouragement that I have received from family and friends.

What do you hope for Infinity Cycling in the next several years?
The future for Infinity Cycling is bright and the possibilities are endless. My dream is that over the next several years I am able to encounter opportunities where I can further advocate and develop programs that support biking and women in the cycling industry.

What do you feel could happen industry-wise and/or locally to encourage more women to become involved with riding?
According to a 2014 study by the People for Bikes organization who surveyed more than 16,000 individuals and weighted that sample to represent the U.S. population, they found that more than 104 million people (that’s a 1/3 of the population) rode a bicycle last year. Of those, 45 million (43%) were women compared to 59 million men (57%). What does this mean? Women are on the rise in the bike industry and the industry needs to take notice.

A majority of bike shops are owned and operated by men. While I’m not typically intimidated by a bunch of men in a bike shop, a lot of women are. Studies have shown that many women won’t enter into a shop without another girlfriend or significant other alongside of them. Kristi Gunderson, a friend of mine, recently made the greatest compliment about one of our local bike shops, Pedal Bicycles and the customer service that she received from J’son while picking out a new bike. She said, “When I went to purchase my fat bike, they didn’t ask Matt (her husband) about the bike, they asked me what I thought after I had taken it around the parking lot. He asked me what MY goals were and instead of giving me a pink and girlie bike, he listened, measured, and tested for what I wanted.” This is the kind of service that needs to start happening with all bike shops. Shops need to start creating a less male dominated feel and seek out assistance from their brands for a makeover on their storefront and overall appeal.

If shops, clubs, and organizations began branding themselves towards a _____________ , they would see an increase in sales due to families participating in cycling, membership would grow for clubs, and organizations would expand their field of interest.

In your words, why should more women become involved with the cycling industry-
Cycling is for women of all ages and it’s amazing for your overall health and wellness. Many women love to run however, it’s so hard on your body. Cycling offers women a low impact alternative that can burn just as many calories as running (I’ve actually tested this theory). Not only is it great for losing weight, but it’s incredible for your mental health. It connects you with the outdoors in ways that you never dreamed of. You can drive down a street every day for years, but the second you ride your bike down that very same street, you see a whole different side of it – beauty!

You are also an ambassador for Strongher, how did you learn about them and what inspired you to become an advocate?
When I first started Infinity Cycling I was looking for other organizations or businesses out there that were similar to mine. I realized that there are very few businesses like the one I’ve developed that are really focused on the cycling industry. However, what I did find was that there are a lot of advocacy groups that are doing great things for women in cycling. When I stumbled upon Strongher I was immediately drawn to what they stood for.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
My seven year old daughter, Isabelle. I want to be a good role model for her and show her that girls can do anything boys can do. Sometimes, they can even do it better. She inspires me to encourage other women to do the same; be good role models for not just our immediate daughters, but to every little girl out there. Show them that you can be an athlete at any age.

What do you love about riding?

Where do I start? I love that when my husband and I have a date night, it usually involves a bike ride rain, snow, or sunshine. I love that I riding a bike has opened up my eyes to a whole new world of friendships and camaraderie. I love that riding has given me a purpose.

Tell us a random fact about yourself-
No matter what time of year, I always have a lot of fresh flowers in my house. Especially if I know that I am having guests over. I love to have some in the bathroom, on the dining table and in the kitchen. They make me smile.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Women on Bikes Series: Stacey "Flionfree" Jimenez

Stacey is 37 and from Voluntown, CT...She's the President and founder of Quiet Corner NEMBA (a chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association) and Director of the NEMBA Racing Gravity Team.

Sponsors/Supporters: Santa Cruz Bicycles, Deity Components, SixSixOne, ODI, Atlas Brace, DirtyJane.com
Flionfree on Facebook
@Flionfree – Twitter & Instagram

2015 was my first year racing. Raced the Eastern States Cup, New England Downhill Series.
Attended every race. Struggled sick and coughing trough the championship race run without being able to practice due to fever and fatigue the day before, and ended up with the overall championship trophy for the Eastern State Cup Atlantic DH Series, as well as the overall for the New England Series. Sometimes it’s about showing up.

I tried out a few Enduro races during the Eastern States Cup Box Series. (Box series is a combined weekend of racing DH and Enduro. Place points in each race are tallied for an overall standing in the Box challenge. You must race both disciplines that weekend to compete. http://www.easternstatescup.com/box-components-east-coast-showdown/) I didn’t place in the individual enduro races, but won a 3rd place amateur for the Box Series weekend at Sugarbush, and took 2nd place overall amateur in the Box Series for 2015.

When did you first start riding a bike?
I've been on a bike as long as I can remember. In the little chair behind my mom as she pedaled us around the neighborhood, to training wheels, no training wheels, to a three speed, ten speed, and finally a full on mountain bike in 8th or 9th grade. I grew up in a small town with not much to do, so we basically lived on our bikes. In 1997, I began venturing into the forest for full single track rides, but then took a long hiatus as I had my children, went to school, and advanced my career. I always had a bike, but never made the time to get back out and ride. I did periodic rides with my kids as they grew old enough to handle the trails, but not too much. I got into road riding for a few years, but in 2012 a mix of the right timing in my life and a local ladies' ride presented me the opportunity I was waiting for to get back into the woods on a regular basis.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
The small town I grew up in was, and still is more forest than anything else. It is home to the largest forest in our State. I have always loved the solitude of the woods, and have always retreated to them when I needed a break from the world. Biking, mountain biking in particular, has always presented a stress release and mental getaway. I love the physical challenge, but it is really the escape from the world that mountain biking provides that gets me out riding as much I do. I am always happiest on my bike.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
My favorite competitive event each year is a creative concoction of crazy, sketchy looking obstacles at the RideYourAssOff Urban Assault Race. It is such a fun environment, put on by some of the best people in our local mountain bike community. You enter this old mill complex that seems like it should be condemned, and among the overgrown grounds, broken windows, and rubble, an obstacle course appears. They do such a great job putting it all together and making the stunts look as sketchy as the complex itself. Everyone has such a great time and there are perma smiles all around.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Actually, yes. I loved having my bike in the woods, which was nothing new, but I remember this one hill... loose, sandy, and steep. I got off the bike and made my way down. I was nowhere near as comfortable with those type of challenges as I am today. Besides that, I was completely at home. The bike, the woods... it's where I was raised. I spent my childhood in the woods, and on my bike. The pairing of the two was only natural.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I'll admit there is rarely a ride that something does not make me nervous. I, personally, thrive on pushing my skills and challenging myself. These days I partake in a lot of freeriding, and the consequences of a mistake are often much greater.

Starting out, singletrack along a steep river bank made me nervous. Rolling down steep banks or rocks scared me. I was scared to the point of uncontrollable shaking when it came to bridges. Now I have a yard full of them. I hated rocks. New England is littered with brutal rock gardens and I could not fathom how people rode through them. Now, I absolutely LOVE the challenge.

The nervousness... ugh. Can I admit that I struggle with anxiety? That in itself creates a challenge. I used to repeat "Trust the bike." over and over in my head, and would take deep breaths to relax my heart rate before going for it. I still use this technique. I learned by trial and error quite often, but I am also a student of the sport. I study videos, read articles and go out and practice.

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?
The short response... I have used clipless, platform clipless Shimano M647DX, but I now ride flats. Currently, I am on Deity Bladerunners. My position on this is, learn on flats. Flats provide you the confidence to try more technical things, they promote proper body position and force you to weight your feet. I feel the same about hard tails, they respond differently than a full suspension and the skills you learn on the hard tail will make you an immensely better rider. The key factors to flat pedals are flat pedal specific shoes and quality flat pedals. When you have developed a good base of skills and confidence on obstacles, climbs, rocks...then try clipless if you wish. Much of the choice has to do with riding style, environment, and your preference. Don't let anyone tell you what you should be using.

Your most challenging biff was in '13 when you found out that you had broken your face in several places. How did you recuperate physically and emotionally?
I've had several instances where a good crash has stunted me for a little while. A few years ago, on the one year anniversary of my reintroduction to mountain biking, I went OTB into full scorpion, bike still attacked to my feet and all. I went over so fast and so hard, I broke my face in two places.

One of my personality traits is my stubbornness. It happened on a Tuesday night, I had surgery to install a plate and screws on Friday, and was back on the trails Saturday. I refused to be kept down, BUT I was skittish for some time. I constantly had to overcome the PTSD of that crash. It took me a year to go back to that very spot and ride through the section that took me out. I did it. I got through with no issue, but my anxiety was through the roof and I had to take a minute to stop shaking when I got down to the bottom. Anxiety is not your friend on the trails. You need to remain calm and go with the flow.

Do you have any suggestions for those who have had traumatic biffs (emotionally/physically) on how they can work towards healing?
We all react and heal in our own ways and on our own time. Some of us bounce back like nothing happened and some of us take time to recoup, and reengage again. If you’re struggling, but determined, take it one day at a time. Take small steps to regain your confidence, and work your way back.

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 was challenging in a way. That is what was so invigorating. Learning to corner instead of turn, struggling to get over logs, the endless rocks of New England, learning to read the trail and find my line….When I started riding I hated bridges. I forced myself to try them and would push myself to the breaking point. I would start shaking so uncontrollably I could barley even walk the bike. I now have a back yard full of bridges. The best way to overcome them was to build some and keep riding them, over and over. I started with them on the ground and then raised them up as I gained confidence.

Overall, I am still learning. Handling the bike is such an art. More than most people realize, I think. Riding is one level. Handling is another level completely. Body position, pressure points, lifting, throwing, moving the bike around underneath you... there is so much to learn. Practice. Practice. Practice. I spent a lot of time on the trail studying it, learning to read and find lines. It’s not much different from what we now do during downhill race practice. Even the pros take time to walk and study the course to find the best lines. Watch BMX, watch other riders, and practice.
The little, seemingly insignificant, hops, wheel twists, wheelies, track standing and other "tricks" are all useful on the trail.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Oh boy. That is a loaded question. My bike is my escape, my "partner in grime". She challenges me, teaches me, relaxes me, invigorates me, and the rest of the world disappears. My bike inspires strength and confidence that transfers to the rest of life. On my bike, in the woods, I feel alive. I feel safe. I feel at home.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Boudica, my everyday and enduro race bike is a Santa Cruz Bronson, 650B, all mountain bike.
She is beautiful with her two toned green frame, dec’d out with purple Deity components including; purple ano Bladerunner pedals, a purple ano seat post clamp, purple ano Topsoilbars, purple ano valve stem caps, and a purple and black Pinner saddle. She is rocking the Green Monster Race Face Atlas cranks, with green Race Face crank boots. She originally came with a 150mm FOX Evolution 34, but I recently upgraded to a 160mm Fox Factory Float 36 with RC2 dampering to increase stiffness, performance and the aggressive slack geometry in order to attack the steep rugged terrain at local enduro races. A LEV dropper post and bash guard were a must right from the beginning, and the newest upgrade of Industry Nine Enduro wheelset making my wheels lighter, stiffer, more durable, and insanely quick to engaged at only 3°.

Thanks to a sponsorship from Santa Cruz, I will be racing a new Santa Cruz V-10 for the upcoming 2016 season. She too, will be dec’d out in Deity components thanks to the support ofthe Deity Fresh Blood Program. I also have a road bike I train on. It sits collecting dust much of the year, but I do enjoy riding it.
I am looking to purchase or build a dirt jumper soon. N+1

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Baggie shorts, 510s, and endure style jerseys or tech tees are my go to riding clothes. In thecooler months I have an assortment of fun knee high socks to keep me warm.Many of my favorite I have found on Dirtyjane.com. TroyLee Skylines, and Zoic Navaeh Camos, DHaRCO… I’ve heard great things about the Shredly line, but I haven’t tried them out yet.

What inspired you to blog about your experiences?
I don’t write and share nearly as much as I should, but I always have the intention to become more consistent with it. I have a ton of drafts started. I’m sure many of us struggle with this.I started to blog to share some reality. Women need to hear from other women. We need to know that our experiences and struggles are not entirely unique. We don’t all fit in the cycling industry clothes sizing. We don’t all ride like Rachel Atherton. We don’t all train day in and day out. We all ride at different levels. Many of us ride different disciplines of the sport. Riding is about the experience.

You are also a Dirty Jane Ambassador- how did you learn about Dirty Jane and what prompted you to become an ambassador with them?
I discovered DirtyJane on facebook and was following for a while. I saw the option to apply to become a Jane a few years ago. Not being a racer at the time, but having plenty of passion for riding, I decided to apply anyway. I was accepted and through the support, conversations, insight, and sharing of experiences from other Janes, my confidence grew to try out the racing scene.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Presumptions of the sport, especially mountain biking. The majority of mountain biking that is widely broadcast are Red Bull type events and Pro UCI racing. For the majority of riders, those scenes are not what is found on an average ride, but who wants to watch a leisurely ride through the woods on their TV?
Our sport is so diverse in intensity and disciplines; there really is something for everyone. Getting the general public to realize that is the key.

What do you feel could happen (in the industry or in general) encourage more women to ride?
This is a tough question. Women are as diverse as our sport. I think the industry has finally realized this is an area they need to focus on. There are a lot of positive marketing campaigns coming out, and there are more women coming out to ride, but we have a ways to go.

Being a regular at a local women's ride really encouraged you to grow as a rider- Do you have any advice for those wishing to start up their own group?
Riding with the girls is different from riding with the guys. I enjoy both. Starting out, I strictly rode with the girls for a while. The support, willingness to stop and help, teach and/or encourage each other is what makes women’s rides so inviting. We giggle, cheer, and have no pressure to perform at any certain level. Getting out to ride is what was important. What we’ve learned is that many will come and go, but you’ll find a core group that is always willing to ride. Each year we pick up a few more dedicated riders, while others continue to come and go. Don’t let this discourage your group. Life happens, and sometimes the timing is just not right for an individual, but for some, riding may be just the escape they need. Another thing we learned, as our group continued to progress was we could no longer be limited to only hosting a beginner level ride. Last year, we decided to make the ladies ride an intermediate ride in order to support the core group. We then added a ride on a separate day that was open to ALL beginners and levels; men, women and youngsters. In determining it wasn’t fair to have the only women’s ride have always be a beginner level ride, we also found it wasn’t fair that men and youngsters didn’t seem to have a dedicated beginner level ride option. Regardless of the ride, we always ride as a group, and now have plenty of riders confident enough to lead, and help teach.

What do you enjoy most about helping other women find confidence in mountain biking?
I love helping anyone find confidence and joy in mountain biking, but I have a soft spot for women and kids. Seeing a kid or woman evolve into a confident rider over all or even just conquering a challenging spot on the trail is such a reward. There is a genuine stoked moment when they succeed. I, myself, usually scream joyfully when I finally conquer something that has been challenging me. It’s a personal, physical win.
The best part is, I believe that confidence found out on the trail often translates over into personal lives.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Random fact? Not being very “girly”, all the makeup and hair time has always been a chore to me. When I was living in AZ, the heat would make it impossible to quickly apply my simply makeup before work. I often messed up my eyeliner and had to start all over. One day, a coworker supplied me the greatest piece of intel… permanent makeup. I immediately scheduled an appointment and had my eyeliner tattooed on. I absolutely love it!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Getting Past "Don't Watch Me!"- The Mountain Biking Introduction

Working on bridge riding at Levis
One of my top concerns when Travis started introducing me to off-road riding was the concern of being "watched." My fitness level wasn't high and I really felt self-conscious about my riding skills. Rather, the lack of.

I remember after a few rides Travis really pushed me to lead, and I simply wouldn't have it. Why would I want him to see me mess up? Why would I want him to see me not make a climb or clean a section?

Eventually I decided to include some solo rides, which allowed me to work on some of the tricky areas or my handling skills without an audience.

This way, I could gauge if I felt comfortable enough riding in front and would lead on specific trails when we rode together. Of course, I would default to the rear if we took a trail I either hadn't ridden solo yet or if I simply felt I wasn't "ready."

My word of advice- do not push your partner into leading until they are ready to. It will save you a lot of headaches and frustration in the long run. However, someone may be stubborn (I know I was) and they might need to be coaxed into leading at some point if they do not initiate it themselves. Do this on a trail that is enjoyable and the partner has ridden dabless on. (Dabless, another term for riding clean and/or not putting a foot down.)
If Travis hadn't pushed me, I would've been stuck in a rut. I also wouldn't have pushed myself to get beyond my comfort zone. Growth can be scary, but it can be completely doable!

Taking the lead...

1. It allows your partner to follow you at a pace that is truly comfortable for YOU. If you have a partner who cares about your experience, they are probably spending most of the time on the ride wondering if they are going "too fast" or "too slow." Do them a favor, once you are able to ride a trail clean, start leading on that trail and go from there.

2. If you have not started riding by yourself, this is a great opportunity to experience what it's like seeing the trail first-hand. I found myself flubbing up more often when I rode behind Travis simply because I rode too close sometimes. I couldn't see what was coming up next and would pick a poor line. Being first allows you to see the "whole" picture, and gives you an advantage rather than seeing your partner's back tire.
Taken sometime in April '14, during one of my first few rides.

3. Not to put pressure on you as a new rider, but if you ride ahead your partner can see things you may not be aware of when it comes to how you ride. Maybe you aren't putting your foot up enough when cornering or possibly you aren't leaning back far enough on your seat when going down a steep hill. The thing to remember is when riding with someone more experienced, do not take their feedback as a criticism.

4. For the more experienced rider trying to assist their partner by pointing out everything they aren't doing correctly. Don't load them all up at once. It's best to offer a couple pointers but not completely unload on all of the wrongs that occurred during the ride. Also, keep comments to yourself if you see your partner messing up on something that is easy- everyone has off days and comments such as "What the h*ll was that?" or "Really?" will not be appreciated nor will it inspire them to feel comfortable riding with you. For the more sensitive rider, even joking about it may rub them the wrong way- they may feel shame over it vs. the casual "let it go" attitude. Sometimes the best thing is to let them "ride it out."

Once Travis and I were riding trails elsewhere. It had bridge features that I easily psyched myself out over (which is a long story.) There was one in particular that I made 3-4 attempts to go over while Travis waited further up the trail for me. I couldn't do it and I walked. I was on the brink of tears due to how frustrated I was and how I felt I let him down. He didn't make any comments or say anything- he knew that it was best to just let me keep riding and pedal thru it. Shortly after I was back to focusing on riding what was in front of me vs. dwelling on what I couldn't ride.

Another good idea is to ASK your partner what they want to learn for the day and focus attention on that. If they want to session a particular trail or feature- they made the decision on what to do, so they will expect feedback on that.

5. There may always be "performance anxiety" when riding with others and it is something you have to get used to, otherwise you won't have much fun. I remember the first few times my girlfriends wanted me to take them out on rides. Assuming the lead made me nervous, however I got over it quickly. I found it refreshing to ride with others who were closer to my level, it took away a lot of my worries/concerns and I put less pressure on myself. I was my harshest critic, my girlfriends didn't care if I didn't make a climb or walked a section. They were happy to be out riding bikes and that was their focus, not to judge my skills or lack of.

Group rides are also stressful sometimes, especially when there are really good riders in attendance. I have not been on a ride where I haven't had fun, and all I've gotten is props for my riding and simply being out there. Long story short- I battle a skewed view of myself and my riding abilities.

Really it boils down to this: There is always going to be someone better or worse than you- you need to find your own story, ride how you want to ride, and ENJOY it.

Taken the day I rode the climbs on River
Trail successfully for the first time.
The best thing about mountain biking is that you can progress with it in a way that works the best for you. Progression is one of the reasons I gravitated towards mountain biking- it was much more entertaining for me to make a rocky climb than it was for me to simply ride up a hill on a paved trail. Mountain biking also teaches you trust. You learn to trust your partner, you learn to trust your bike, and you learn to trust yourself. You'll find trust with your bike and yourself faster if you take the leap and ride on your own. You may find it's easier to handle making mistakes if you've made them solo vs. always with your riding partner. Soon you learn that mistakes are more like possibilities, then you make those possibilities into "I finally did it!"

It's all about the journey and discovering you really can accomplish far more than you thought possible.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Women Involved Series: Lisa and Kim of Velorosa

My name is Lisa Carponelli (right). I am a 43-year-old mother of two daughters. I am an associate professor of multimedia communication at Simpson College, near Des Moines, IA. I am also the co-founder of Velorosa Cycling Wear.

I’m Kim Hopkins (left). I am a Des Moines native and Freelance Graphic Designer. I have 2 wonderful daughters and have been married to my husband, Ben, for, 21 years.
I was a founding member of the Velorosa Women’s Cycling Team in Des Moines.

Most recently, I am Lisa’s partner in the Velorosa Cycling clothing company that we launched last summer at Ragbrai.

Kim Hopkins and Lisa Carponelli, are co-founders of Velorosa Cycling, a new women’s cycling wear company.

Find Velorosa on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram!

When did you first start riding a bike?
Lisa: This is a great question. It really made me think about my relationship to bicycles over the years. I learned to ride when I was 5-years-old. I remember taking my aunt’s bike out for rides around the block when I was 8. It was a green Schwinn with a white leather seat. I loved it. I thought it was so cool that her bike had gears and hand brakes. I couldn’t reach the seat so I just pedaled standing up. I’d say I was reintroduced to the sport in my early 30s.

Kim: I, like Lisa, spent a lot of time riding a bike as a kid. My bike provided transportation and freedom to explore the neighborhoods where I grew up. I remember my first 10-speed, a gold Schwinn Le Tour... I thought she was beautiful and regret that I ever got rid of her. My interest in cycling really ramped up again in my late 30s/early 40s when I began trying to get back in shape and find something to “call my own”... after 10 years of working out of my house and caring for young children, I was really needing something to do that was outside of my mommy role.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Lisa: I’ve found that if you actually put in the work, you see and feel yourself getting faster and stronger. That steep hill that nearly killed you last week, actually kills you a little less the next week. People who ride bikes are pretty social and fun to be around.

Kim: For me, it started with spin classes to get ready for a few days of RAGBRAI. Within a few years, I was trying to keep up with some pretty fast people on my RAGBRAI team, which lead to doing even more spin classes in the off season. As Lisa said, the more miles you put in, the stronger you get. Somewhere in there, I was talked into trying a bike race. While that was one of the scariest and most intimidating things I’d ever done, I did discover a competitive side I hadn’t realized existed. Once I started doing some races, the motivation to ride really grew ... whether that was from fear of humiliation or a desire to do well was hard to tell! I’ve found that having those races on my calendar really keeps me honest in my training and motivates me to get out and ride on those days I’d rather stay parked on the couch in front of the TV.

I also agree with Lisa... there is a lot of fun to be had on the bike... it doesn’t require much motivation for me to want to hop on the bike and meet some friends for a beer!

What is your preferred riding style (road, gravel, mtb, etc.) and why do you enjoy it?
Lisa: I started riding road bikes, but seem the most eager to grab my cross bike for a hilly gravel ride these days.
Kim: Honestly, I enjoy them all at different times of the year... Mtb in the Spring, Road in the Summer, Cross/Mtb/Gravel in the Fall and Fat Bike in the Winter. If I had to chose only one, however, it would be mountain biking. I really love the challenge of the sport and the way it clears my mind since I am forced to be present in the moment. I love the connection with nature. It’s almost a spiritual thing for me. We joke about “Dirt Church” when we hit the trails on a Sunday morning, but it truly is where I feel a connection to something bigger than myself.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?

Lisa: I think the single best advice about riding a bike comes from my business partner, Kim. (She’s a wicked strong mountain biker.) Her saying is pretty simple: “Don’t look where you don’t want to go.” That adage has helped me overcome a lot of fear when riding near cracks, through narrow spaces and over tree roots.

Kim: On the road bike, I think the best handling skill is learning to “hold your line.” Squirrelly or sketchy riders don’t get invited back to group rides if they are compromising the safety of the other cyclists, so it’s important to master this. It takes practice, but mostly it’s about paying attention, keeping your eyes on the person in front of you and not making any sudden or jerky movements.

On the mountain bike, in addition to the tip Lisa mentioned above, I would say that lowering my tire pressure probably improved my riding more than anything else I’ve learned. I really wished someone had told me sooner! I used to pump my tires until they were rock hard thinking that would make me faster and would then get frustrated when I was bouncing off tree roots and sliding out in the corners. Now, I run my tires on the low side (depending on trail conditions) and have some much more control over my bike.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Lisa: I aspire to teach my daughters how to age well. I think riding is a sport that ages well. It can be adventurous and challenging, or it can be relaxing and leisurely. I feel a bike looks good on everyone at every age. It’s the greatest accessory. (Plus a good pair of cowboy boots.)

Kim: I think it’s the sense of freedom and adventure as well as the endorphin rush I get from riding. I’ve found that cycling is good for both my physical and mental health. I wouldn’t trade the memories and shared experiences I’ve had with friends and family while riding bikes and I feel extremely lucky to be connected with an amazing cycling community here in Des Moines. It’s all good.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Lisa: I can’t believe I’m one of those people who owns multiple bikes.
(Sheepish grin.) I have a Trek mountain bike, Specialized road bike, Ridley cyclocross bike AND I am now the proud owner of a fat bike. I sent a few of my friends a birth announcement for her arrival. Her name is Hellga (by Specialized). She ‘arrived’ on 1/16/16 weighing 32 lbs., 11 oz.

Photo Credit: David Mable Photography
Kim: Trek Madone 6.2 Road Bike with custom pink and black paint job... She makes me smile and is a delight to ride! Salsa Mariachi Ti Mountain Bike... was love at first sight and she’s never let me down although I think I’ve let her down plenty (most recently at Dakota Five-O 2015). Salsa Mukluk Fat Bike... We just have fun together. Giant Cross Bike... it’s kind of a love/hate relationship with us as most of our time together has been spent suffering. And lastly, my newest addition (which is still at the bike shop), a Salsa Marrakesh Touring Bike... I am really looking forward to a long, happy, easy relationship with this one. Hoping we’ll see the country, and possibly the world, together as my husband, Ben, and I begin this new Touring chapter of our cycling adventures.

As far as how I choose my bikes, I have to admit, I am not one to spend a lot of time reading and researching. I am a visual person, so it’s really important that I like how a bike looks. I also ask questions and seek the advice of friends, fellow cyclists and my local bike shop when making my purchasing decisions. I was once given this good advice, “buy the best bike you can afford and you won’t be sorry.” That means you get what you pay for when it comes to bikes. A higher price tag usually means better construction/components and a lighter weight which will all translate to a better cycling experience.

Tell us about Velorosa Cycling and what it's all about-
Velorosa is a cycling wear company created by women who ride, for women who ride. Our collections are race-inspired. It used to be that a ‘true’ cycling kit--one with matching jersey and shorts--was only available to riders on a team or covered with sponsor logos. The rest of us were left to purchase black cycling shorts and a single-colored jersey. Times and technology are changing. We now can create beautiful looking designs and match them with high performance fabrics and construction for a complete look. Women riders don’t have to wear the smaller version of a man’s kit anymore. We want women to feel good when they put on a Velorosa jersey and a pair of shorts. We want them to feel comfortable, and honestly, a little powerful at the same time. Our designs are created for the woman who wants to stand out. We often joke that if you want to blend in, then we probably aren’t your brand.
Photo Credit: K&K Images

What inspired the name?
When you break down the word it essentially means ‘pink bike.’ Velo is French for bike, and rosa is pink in Italian. We say it’s Fritalian. (Sometimes we get some funny looks.)

What inspired mix/match kit designs and what makes it work so well?
The idea was born when the Velorosa Cycling Team was founded several years ago. Kim is the creative vision behind the team’s name and look.

Photo Credit: K&K Images
Every season she designs a slightly different kit with the idea that it will coordinate with previous years designs. We figured if more than 80 women on the team liked this concept, so would a national audience. So, we set out to create mix-and-match options for our customers. If you really like a jersey and short combination, you can additional pieces as needed—maybe a sleeveless jersey, for example—and it will coordinate with your initial investment. Our online store, www.velorosacycling.com, groups cycling wear into “Collections.”

All pieces within a Collection can be worn together. This gives women more mileage out of just a few pieces in their cycling wardrobes.

Our “Collections” are meant to mix and match. We debuted our line with our Signature Collection shown here. We are excited to be introducing two new Collections in 2016. “Like” Velorosa on Facebook and be among the first to hear when our new collections become available. They’re pretty cool and completely different than what you see here!

What has been the biggest struggle starting your own business?
Getting out of the starting blocks was hard. I had this idea for a women’s clothing line for several years before Lisa approached me while out riding mountain bikes one day and said, “Hey, have you ever thought about branding Velorosa and making your designs available to the public?” To which my answer was, “Only every day!” Once we agreed we wanted to work together to make it happen, it was all about taking baby steps in the direction we wanted to go. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you’re not making progress fast enough. But if you put a lot of baby steps together, before long, you look back and see that you’ve really covered some ground. Our debut at the 2015 RAGBRAI Expo in July and the launch of our website in August were big steps. We are very excited about 2016 and the opportunity to present our new collections to an ever-growing population of women cyclists!

We both struggle with the passion and vision we have for this company and balancing that against the everyday realities of raising kids, working full-time, running a household, etc. One thing that has made it easier to start our business is having a partner to be accountable to. We are both more focused on completing tasks at hand when we know the other one is counting on us. We work well together and each bring something different to the table which has been a huge plus!

What has been the best thing?
Without question, the best thing about starting Velorosa is the encouragement and feedback we’ve received from the women who wear our clothing. Time and time again, women tell us our kit is ‘the’ kit they grab from their closets when they are headed out for a ride. They tell us they love how they look in our kits and how comfortable and confident they feel. Hearing these things assure us that we’re on the right track in creating “unique, great-fitting, high-performance cycling wear for the avid female cyclist.”

The second best thing is the response we get when anyone sees our ‘Fast Ass’ t-shirt. It’s pretty sweet.We have a hard time keeping this sassy tee in stock. It’s a great conversation starter!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Kim: I guess I can only draw on my own experiences to answer this question and, for me, it was fear. Fear of getting hurt, fear of failure, fear of being a woman alone on the trails, fear of holding up faster people in a race situation. It’s funny when I think back and imagine all that I would have missed if I would have let my fear have the upper hand. I have gotten hurt (broken collar bone and torn ACL) as a result of cycling... but I healed and overall I think I’m healthier, both mentally and physically, because of the time I spend on the bike. I have failed in a race... I’ve come in DFL (dead f***ing last) in many races, but my ego survived and have come to find out that even the strongest riders/racers have shared this designation at some point. I ride by myself often now, and while, as women, I believe we need to be aware of what’s going around us at all times, I think my fear surrounding riding solo was way out of proportion to the actual risk. And lastly, I have had faster people behind me in many mountain bike race situations and you know what? They can usually ride right around me like I’m sitting still.

So, if there are women reading this who think they might enjoy riding/racing... I urge you to get out there and give it a go! Please don’t let fear be the thing that holds you back!!

What could change in the industry and/or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Kim: I had the opportunity to go to Interbike last September and, while an overwhelming majority of the products I saw were targeted to male cyclists, I do believe the Industry wants to cater more to female cyclists. They run into problems, however, when they categorize us as a “niche,” thinking one product or solution will work for all women. I just received a cycling catalog that had 4 or 5 pages of cycling clothing for men (multiple options for shorts, jerseys, outerwear, etc) and just one page of women’s cycling wear (1 sleeveless jersey, 2 pairs of shorts and a jacket). We want lots of options to choose from, not just one or two items meant to satisfy the the female “niche.” I’m not sure it this answers that question of how the Industry could encourage female involvement but it would certainly feel more welcoming!

On the local level, starting a women’s team is a great way to encourage women to get involved in cycling.
We started the Velorosa Team in 1997 with a handful of women who just wanted to get some cool jerseys and ride together. Today we have over 70 women on the team. We try to make it accessible to everyone, from the recreational cyclist to the competitive cyclist, by offering social rides/events as well as training rides/workshops to improve cycling skills. Anyone can join our team and you are not required to race. If you want to race, there are women who can help you do that. I think if women see other women out riding alone or in groups, it will inspire them to give it a try. A women’s team gives those women a safe place to get their feet wet, meet other women who ride and get involved. It’s a sort of “If you build it, they will come” mentality.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Kim: I think the joy I’ve gotten from riding a bike is something I would like to share with others. It’s empowering on so many levels. The connections and friendships that are made, the laughs that are shared, the goals that are achieved, the obstacles that are overcome are all reasons to get out and ride. The women I know spend a lot of time doing for others... spending time riding a bike is a great way to recharge and do something for themselves!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Lisa: I love mountain climbing. In June of 2005, I summited Denali in Alaska. That peak is at an elevation of 20,320 ft. (I can neither confirm nor deny that I have a tattoo representing that accomplishment.) Also, my nickname for Kim is Little Bo Peep. It’s ironic because Kim is one of the most inclusive people I have ever met. She loves to get women on bikes and will never leave a person off the back of a pace line or group ride. She never loses a sheep. Ever.
Lisa- Far Left
Kim: While trying to think of a clever answer to this question, my daughter, Megan, reminded me that I broke both my wrists at the same time in 1993 while rollerblading with my dog. Last March, I broke my right wrist again while roller skating at a friend’s birthday party. I have since deemed rollerskating too dangerous and have retired from the roller sports!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Women Involved Series: Lea Leopold (Lift Cyclewear)

My name’s Lea Leopold (married in to that name). I grew up on a farm in Northern Iowa, attended ISU, and have worked for 10 years in the apparel industry in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

I’m married and have a 20 month old son who brings me endless joy and pain on a daily basis. About a year ago I launched a line of women’s-specifc cycling apparel with my husband, and we’re just a few short weeks from launching our second season!

Visit/Follow Lift Cyclewear on:

When did you first start riding a bike?

I actually just wrote a blog post all about this! I got into cycling about eight years ago, and it wasn’t until I got a bike with skinnier tires and a more aerodynamic geometry that things really started clicking for me.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
It’s a healthy mix of exercise, suntanning exposure, and good old fashioned fun. My husband isn’t able to run with me anymore since a knee injury, so biking is something we can still do together.

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 think every newbie is at least a little concerned about clip-in pedals. No exception here! I’ve done the slow-motion, 90-degree bend onto the pavement more than once. It’s a rite of passage! However, I think I struggled with wrapping my mind around how to shift on my drop handlebars more than most people. Which hand adjusts the front gears versus the back? Which way is up and down? For me, the only way to get past this hurdle was practice. Even still, I give myself a 2-minute warmup at the beginning of each ride where I go through all the gears to refresh myself.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being outdoors working on a good sweat. Whether that’s running, hiking, SUP’ing or cycling, it refuels my energy levels. What’s great about riding my bike is the fact that I can cover so much more distance, allowing me to take in so much more beautiful landscape. There’s also an element of “play time” with a bike. It’s like my big kid toy and I look forward to playing with it any chance I get. And now that we have a toddler, we can finally strap him in the Burley and go for family rides!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My current bike is a Trek Madone (women’s geometry). I didn’t want to default to the Trek brand because it’s so common, so I test rode a bunch of other brands first - Specialized, Canondale, Felt, etc. In the end, the Trek was the most comfortable for me. My local bike shop also had it on closeout pricing, so I could get higher-end components and a full-carbon frame from a fraction of the original price, and within my budget. As I’ve progressed from a hybrid cruiser to my current road rocket, each upgrade has had an exponential impact on my distance and power output on each pedal stroke. April Morgan has me excited about trying out a fat bike next… :-)

You started Lift Cyclewear with your husband due to the lack of stylish and functional clothing options- tell us about your journey:
Throughout my cycling experience, I’ve always struggled to find clothes that were sport-specific that didn't make me look like I was smuggling a fruit basket in a spandex leotard. As I shared my frustration with other women, it was clear that when it comes to the traditional cycling kit, you either love it or you hate it. In my circle, the feedback was pretty unanimous - somebody needs to fix this! As it happens, I have a degree in Apparel Design from ISU and 10 years industry experience to draw from to design and produce my own line (something I’d always kicked around in the back of my mind). My husband has an MBA with an Entrepreneurship emphasis, so we combined forces to launch Lift Cyclewear. We’ll be coming upon our 1-year launch anniversary at the end of this month! We’ve learned so much in the last year, I can’t possibly cover it here. Some of the highlights include direct feedback from riders about what they like, what they don’t, and what they’re looking for but can’t find anywhere else. You’ll see a lot of those learnings come through in our 2016 collection, also launching at the end of this month.

What has been the biggest struggle starting your own business?
There are two.

1) Decision making. We don’t have anyone giving us goals or guidance about what to do. We have to be very self-directed and maintain a healthy amount of risk tolerance to see this venture through. We second guess ourselves all the time, and we’re working to be more decisive.

2) Distribution. A lot of neighborhood bike shops are understandably risk adverse to trying new brands, and you need to be pretty established before a regional or national retail chain will take you seriously. That means that we need to focus our efforts on selling directly through our own website to create meaningful scale that will hopefully snowball into bigger opportunities.

What has been the best thing?
Freedom. Every minute spent developing the business is a direct investment in our own future. I don’t have any corporate politics to navigate; I can just focus on what’s the very best thing for our target customer and immerse myself in doing that.

You attended Interbike in 2015- how was your experience?

For the sake of transparency, Interbike taught us firsthand how much the bike industry is an old boys club. While there’s a lot written about the opportunity to invest in the “majority minority” of the bike industry (i.e., women), we didn’t see a lot of traffic in what they called the Women’s Neighborhood. That may be a result of the women’s area being situated in a less-than-prime location, but even as we listened to speaker panels next to our booth profess the untapped potential of the women's segment, buyers quickly left the panel and breezed right by all the women’s brands. It was a perfect depiction for why there are so few women’s cycling options out there. The industry just isn’t there yet, which reinforces our need to build our direct to consumer channel.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
Any new experience can be intimidating; especially when there’s already a strong subculture established and you don’t know anyone to help acquaint you with how it all works. It’s like drinking wine. There’s so much to “know” about drinking wine. No there’s not. Just drink what you like, and hopefully it’s not expensive. Riding a bike should be no different. Just get out there for the fun of it. That all being said, if you can seek out a women’s cycling group (check Facebook or local bike shops for organized rides), women are so inviting and approachable and will go out of their way to make sure you’re feeling confident in your abilities. Ride Like a Girl Cycling in Bloomington, MN is a perfect example for any women in the Twin Cities. Before my first mountain bike ride, Martha spent 30 minutes with me in the parking lot teaching me all the basics - from shifting to tire inflation, and how to descend and ascend hills. All my trepidation about the ride completely evaporated and I had a blast!

What could change in the industry (or in general areas) to encourage more women to ride?
We need more women working in the industry, first of all. Both, for the big bike brands so we have more product options to choose from, but even more so in the bike shops. A male bike shop employee isn’t going to be able to dish all the dirty details about how to pick the right products to make sure my undercarriage doesn’t get too sore. It’s not his fault. How would he know? Unfortunately, these are important questions for a woman and need to be answered by someone who can speak from experience.

Tell us about Ride Like A Girl Cycling and how you became involved-
Penn Cycle was one of the first bike shops to pick up our line, which is where I first met Teri. She invited me to a RLAGC event, which is where I made fast friends with a few of the other women who continue to be some of Lift Cyclewear’s greatest supporters.

Why do you feel women’s groups are a benefit and/or necessity?
(See my answer above about what deters women from getting involved with cycling).

Any suggestions on how a woman can find a group to join? What are some key points for people to consider before joining?
(Ditto to the first question). First, match your skill level (some groups may be more advanced, but most seem accepting of all skill levels). Second, just be sure you feel comfortable asking questions and have fun while you’re there.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

Cycling offers a life long hobby that actually makes you healthier inside and out as a side effect. My goal is to get more ponytails out on the trails.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
If you are what you eat, then I’m a candy jar.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mountain Biking Concerns- Holding Others Back and Getting Hurt

Holding others back was the top concern chosen by women for a mountain bike survey I created a few months ago and it overshadowed "getting hurt" by one vote.

Take someone who defines herself as an emotional person, put her on a mountain bike, and push her outside her comfort zones. One will find it's really easy to max her out in the beginning.

These were also my top 2 concerns when I started riding trails with Travis and at times, these concerns negatively impacted my learning experience.

When I had bad days where I was falling or dabbing all over the place I would plead for Travis to leave me behind. I was certain I was cramping his riding. He would have to stop behind me mid-climb or wait up for me as I huffed and puffed up a hill. I was embarrassed. I knew I wasn't going as fast as he could go. He rarely rides and here I was, completely taking up what could be a super rad time for him and turning it into a newbie session. "You can go ahead, I'll be fine." or "You don't have to wait for me, I'll find you eventually."

I would sometimes ignite a headbutting session out on the trails because Travis would not stand for my pity party. "I'm out here because I want to ride with you."

As I write this, my hope is that if you are a woman and your significant other is encouraging you to join them in mountain biking, that the above statement is what they are saying. "I want to ride with you." This means, if they ride ahead, they will stop and wait for you to catch up and do so happily- because you came out regardless of your worries/concerns.

They will not mind nor give it a second thought if they are behind you on a tough climb and you spin out- thus making it impossible for them to complete the climb. Both of you walk up the rest of the hill and continue on, knowing it's part of the learning experience.

To the fellows wanting to introduce their significant other to mountain biking- making it a point to do it together (in the beginning) is vital. If you take your partner out and leave them miles away in the dust, simply expecting them to follow behind (way behind) on blind faith that they will know where they are going and what they are doing, that is a perfect recipe for disaster. This spells bad news for many new riders who often decide after a ride of that nature that mountain biking "isn't for them."

Negative ride experiences with one person potentially leads the new rider to having a difficult time joining rides with others. They will assume it's all the same, regardless of who is there or not and their focus is "I will hold others back." I feel that group rides can be a positive situation for new riders because it gives them the opportunity to connect with others who are on their same level. Be specific when looking for rides in your area. 

Not all groups are the same, so it really comes down to researching and joining for a ride or two to see how it goes. Sometimes it takes time to find a group you really jive with, but the point of it all is to have fun! You can learn so much from other riders, you just have to let yourself have the chance.

Another lesson learned: If a more experienced rider invites you on a ride either with their group or solo- go for it. Especially if they know you are a newer rider. Why? Because they probably think it's awesome you're learning and they want to encourage you and thus, help you feel more confident out on the trails. 

About a year or so ago (when I wasn't working at Decorah Bicycles and had a 2nd shift schedule) I was invited on a ride with a local woman. She kicks ass and I hope I can be shredding trails as well as she does when I'm her age! I was intimidated at first, but I really felt it would be a good experience for me, and it was!

She helped to push me outside my usual pace a bit and we linked together trails that Travis and I didn't ride often. So I had a multi-level experience and the benefit of riding with another woman. I learned she was human and sometimes still puts a foot down when riding. Not every ride is going to be 100% perfect and beating yourself up for a dab isn't going to make it better in the long run. Dabs happen- best thing to do is get over it and keep riding.
Then I was challenged again- another woman showed interest in joining my friend and me for a ride. She had been riding for several years already and I went into the situation worrying far too much about my skills or lack thereof. She, too, had reservations of riding with other women because often times there was vocalized worry over how well they didn't ride, etc. The three of us had a great time and got over our concerns rather quickly. After Travis and I started our Sunday group rides, she joined us for as many rides as she could! She expressed how grateful she was for there to be a group ride such as ours- she'd been waiting for something like that for some time. She inspired me to open myself up to possibilities and to not over-analyze myself or my riding.

When I turned 30 I decided to have a birthday weekend filled with bike riding. I threw out that I was going on a ride Saturday morning and a local rider friend said he'd join. This guy is a strong, fast rider. You bet I was worried because I knew that there was no possible way I could keep up with him if he rode "normally" however, it ended up being awesome! We would alternate who led on certain trails, and when he rode ahead he would wait for me to catch up. I was never dropped and I did not feel judged at any point for how I rode.

Then there are the group rides thrown together on a whim (not shop led nor weekly rides) If our schedule works out, Travis and I go. Typically I find I'm one of two women to join. Travis will stick with me during the ride because I'm not one that can hammer for long periods of time. On the last ride we went on I was feeling particularly fatigued and slipped up on a climb. There was a fellow behind me who was completely cool with my re-situating myself and said I was doing great. He was probably thinking that it was awesome that there was a woman mountain biking at night, with a bunch of guys. Plus he appreciated that he had riders to follow who weren't trying to ride as hard/fast as they could.

As scary as it is, you have to let yourself go into situations that really freak you out in order to see the positives. There are going to be riders that aren't interested in helping out new mountain bikers, but there are riders out there that fully support and encourage them. The ones that offer to ride with you are the ones that will cheer you on. We've all been there, we've all been the "new rider" and someday, you'll be the one helping a new rider by either introducing them to a ride, trail, or simply giving some positive feedback.

Then we come to getting hurt....
You will have a collection of bruises and potentially pedal pin pricks in your shin. Add clipping in (once you are comfortable/ready) and you'll be right back at it. Try fatbiking in the winter months and you'll learn that you will fall, but that's part of the fun! Falling is part of the game. It happens, you brush yourself off, and you keep riding.

Getting hurt is not nearly as death-defying as it seemed when I first started out. I imagined I would be plummeting to my death or having my arm/leg in a cast. That hasn't happened and I've been riding since '14. Simply put, falling in dirt hurts a lot less than falling on pavement.

My first few tumbles when I started out were not that bad and they were pretty slow- I didn't fly off a cliff. Often times it was falling over on an uphill where I'd fall into the hillside vs. over the edge.
I have had some falls that scared me, but those aren't frequent in nature. 

Bruises are what you'll encounter 99% of the time and they're fun to show off. If you have friends who are new to riding I bet you'll start comparing them and sometimes taking photos of all that radness. After a season, I was less dinged up, but when I started riding clipped in it happened all over again. Winter months add color, too.

You can't let the fear/worry of getting hurt hold you back. I haven't had an injury from mountain biking that kept me off work or sent me to the E.R. I've had injuries that left me feeling a bit sore/stiff and I have chipped paint off my bike, but that's just part of learning. 

When it comes to mountain biking, it's putting yourself out of your comfort zone of what is deemed "safe" and that can be scary. The amazing part of this is that there are so many encouraging riders out there who are going to be supportive of you. Really! I've encountered several men during events or rides who had nothing but props to give for me being out there. I promise that there are some really awesome people out there who want to ride with you and think it's great you're out there, too! So what are you waiting for? Mountain biking has been one of the most confidence-boosting activities I've done. You will find yourself overcoming personal challenges and accomplishing goals you never thought possible and inspiring others to do the same.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

All About The Attitude- The Mountain Biking Introduction

"Because she might not like it."

I could only imagine what it's like being in the women's shoes as her significant other says she may not like something. Especially when that something is new and has a lot of perceived notions about it, such as mountain biking.

Compared to road/paved and gravel riding, I hear more worries and concerns over mountain biking than any other riding discipline.

I remember the fears I had when Travis had me go with him on an easy off-road ride on a store rental. I was scared as hell. I was still starting and stopping while seated and my handling skills were at the bare minimum. The Pines and Prairie were terrifying to me and the thought of being up and off my seat for climbs and downhills was out of the question.

For whatever reason, Travis thought I would really enjoy riding off road. Bound and determined to get me out on he trails, he put a new bike into the picture. The Surly Krampus. We made the decision to go with the plus bike option on the market at that time because I wanted beefier tires under me. I wanted to be able to plow over obstacles and take away the technical aspects of mountain biking- those could come later. Travis built the bike with quality parts, because he knew it would (under most circumstances) take more to break them than what I would put the bike thru. Full disclosure- I was not a graceful learner.

Having a great bike to learn on was 1/2 of the equation. The other half was attitude- like the bike, your attitude and the attitude of your partner can make or break the experience. If you go into the off-road introduction stating things with a negative lead such as "might not like it" some personalities may dwell on that for the entire experience. Thus, the continual worry of "I might not like it" will cloud the experience and probably make that statement come true.

Let's go back to the bike concept for a brief moment. If you are the experienced rider who is planning to introduce their partner to mountain biking, you are the "parent" in the situation. Often your partner will look to you for advice on what bike they should get. What did you start on and what are you on now? Growing up I heard: "I'm speaking from personal experience and I'm trying to save you from making the same mistakes I made." So why would you have your partner experience the same as you did when you know that it wasn't the best fit for you? The best chance of success is to start out with a bike that will instill stoke and confidence.

Learn to be patient, and when you think you are, be more patient.
You will need to curb your mad riding skills and tone it down to a level that might seem painstaking, but in the long run it will prove to be worth it. Ride with your partner, do not take them out for a ride and leave them hanging miles away. That puts them into the mindset of "I will hold everyone back, no one will wait for me, I'll be continually dropped..." which can often lead one to simply avoid rides altogether for fear they will never keep up.

Remember what seems ridiculously easy for you is likely not going to be easy for the new rider. Ride with them and show them you really want them out there with you they will be more inclined to ride.

Travis took time and initiative to roll slow. He also allowed me several rides on the same groups of trails a couple times before taking me off to somewhere new. My learning style liked visual and verbal cues- some people may find verbal cues to be too much for them (psych out) so pay attention and respect what your partner says works for them. Ask questions! There might not be an answer right away, but keep the doors of communication open.

Don't be afraid to push, just a little bit.
I was late to the off-road game and found myself extremely nervous of almost everything. Once I had 4 trails down, I was (in my head) perfectly content to ride them all the time. Travis did not want me stuck in a rut, and knowing I could ride those trails meant I could ride others. Much to my disdain, he led me to other trails, pushing me outside my comfort zone. A zone to which I wouldn't have pushed outside on my own. The key is to know when to start making those nudges- If you need to stop during the ride to allow your partner to regroup mentally, do so. Let them know it's okay to do it in steps. Eventually they may feel confident enough to go out on their own and explore- and that's great!

Let them know that accidents happen- No Judgement.
Some new riders are so worried about making mistakes, the fear of judgement can be debilitating. I didn't mind screwing up or crashing on my own, but in front of Travis I felt like the world caved in on my head. I felt the continual need to prove that I was a good enough rider to be his partner, which put a lot of pressure on myself.

I still screw up on the trails sometimes- but the concern about having to "prove my worth" is much less.

Be supportive. Don't knock your partner for making mistakes- and joking about it is not always the best route. Essentially, don't knock them when they are down. Making them feel bad for messing up or not making this or that usually does not inspire confidence.

It's not all rainbows and sunshine.
Long story short, you will probably encounter on-the-trail squabbles. One will feel their limits were pushed too far too soon or simply become overwhelmed with the stimulus of learning/concentration/anxiety/etc. Travis and I had many moments where we both were exasperated with each other. These were not "make or break" situations, and we eventually got over ourselves. Helping your partner learn to mountain bike is not a Disney movie- don't expect happy butterflies and singing critters to aid you. It can be nitty, gritty, and can downright suck...but the positives are completely worth it.

Acknowledge the concerns.
The phrase "It's just a dirt path thru the woods" will not work for everyone. Hearing that makes me cringe, really. Mountain biking introduced me to some deep fears, worries, and concerns that I didn't know I had. It also challenged me more than any other riding I had done. I felt that saying it was a "simple" dirt path was brushing off my feelings. If your partner hasn't been riding for years- mountain biking may very well be almost terrifying to her. Make sure you listen to her concerns and praise her for going outside her comfort zone. She needs to feel that you are legitimately in her corner...you believed in her enough to get her out there- so show it.

Encourage her to ride solo and with others.
I had an excellent teacher in Travis, but I will say that I learned a lot riding solo. Riding alone let me feel like I could work and session areas without worry of holding up an entire ride. I could get as frustrated or overjoyed as I wanted. It gave me time I needed to work on areas that really stressed me out. I also became more comfortable with my surroundings and getting into a groove.

Riding with others is also a great way to establish comfort levels. I really enjoy riding with my girlfriends. Sure, riding with Travis was awesome- but there is something different and equally special with being able to hit the trails with my girlfriends. Guys may wonder what the mystery is, and really I can't say other than it's different and that's good!

Also, encourage your partner to ride with other experienced riders. Everyone has something to share in terms of skills or ways to accomplish the same thing. Riding with other experienced riders can push a person in a good way (especially if those riders are encouraging of new riders!) The golden rule of mountain biking- "We've all been there."

Let her own her it.
Photo Credit: Hannah Hoglund Photography
The more comfortable I became with riding the more intrigued I was by attending events. I didn't see myself as an "excellent" rider, but I wanted to see what they were all about. Events led to new friends and experiences- and it something I really enjoy. You do not have to love events yourself, but showing encouragement and support is a huge step in keeping the experience positive. That's the beauty of mountain biking- making it "your own."

I reiterate- not all women are the same. Each individual will have their own ways of dealing or reacting- this is why attitude is vital. I feel if women are introduced in a more positive-focused manner, they will be more likely to find the experience rewarding and confidence-inspiring.