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!