Women on Bikes Series: Meg Zapalowski
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.
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.
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.