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!


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