Monday, April 25, 2016

Women on Bikes Series: Erika Sawinski

Photo Credit: Hannah Hoglund Photography
Hello! My name is Erika and I’m a 27 year old Minneapolis native working in the agriculture commodities industry.

 I currently live in Uptown right near Lake Calhoun and love being able to easily go for a run around the chain of lakes or ride my bike up to Theo for some time on the dirt.

Four years ago I signed up for my 1st sprint triathlon to try to become more active after college.

That not only led to my 1st bike purchase but also me competing in many triathlons, duathlons, and running races of all distances culminating in my first full marathon this past fall. For the past few years I have also been dipping my toes into mountain biking while still training for running events but after my marathon I was ready to make the plunge. I am now in the middle of my first season racing bikes and since I’m a Minnesotan naturally it is racing my fat bike, Tank, in the middle of winter. I have plans for a fun summer of racing on dirt as well and absolutely cannot wait!

When not riding one of my bikes (or going on the occasional run) you can also find me jamming out to awesome music (90’s rock is my fav and Dave Grohl is my hero), drinking lots of coffee (Caribou!), spending time with my horse Braveheart and planning my next adventure.

You started riding after you signed up for a sprint triathlon, tell us about that bike purchase and why it inspired you to keep riding-
I had no idea what I was looking for or what I needed and pretty much went into it blindly. I did not do much biking as a child and it had been at least a decade since I had ridden a bike. I walked into my local bike shop one day and got very lucky with the guidance and patience they offered. I went into it thinking I was going to buy a tri bike but thankfully they guided me in a better direction for me. They wheeled out the most perfect, snazzy road bike…and it was on a closeout sale! It was a women’s specific Trek Lexa SLX and I have been so happy with the purchase. Once I got through training and the triathlon I realized that riding was a bit easier than I remembered as a child and since I had invested in the bike I should keep using it! Although running won me over for a while, I still rode the bike in tris and dus and would adventure on my own around town.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?

Well, so far I have only competed in fat biking events this winter but I am definitely enjoying the ones that have more singletrack. Also, the shorter distance ones are fun because you can really just go all out and push your limits.

I have always been competitive and in sports since childhood so I’m naturally drawn to the option of racing bikes. I love the adrenaline rush and putting yourself out there and testing your limits. For me, it’s not as much about winning but more about seeing how I stack up against myself. It’s a good way for me to test my progress and give myself areas to improve.

What inspired you to give mountain biking a go?

At the time, I was dating someone who mountain biked with his friends. They seemed to have so much fun doing it and would take trips to ride and race together. I had literally never heard of mountain biking before which made me curious about what exactly they were doing out there in the woods, sometimes coming back bloodied and still going back for more. I just had to try it out. Towards the end of that summer there was a women’s weekend clinic put on by the local park district so I signed up to find out what all the hype was about.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?

I was pretty nervous pulling into the parking lot for the first day of the clinic but once I got on my demo bike and started practicing small skills and going through drills I became less and less nervous. And then when I hit the trail with the group for the first time I remember clearly thinking “How have I never done this before?” It just felt so right. I was in love immediately.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?

Other than my initial parking lot nerves I really don’t remember being too nervous. I just went with the process of the clinic and took things step by step with the group. But I think that since my initial experience was during a women’s only clinic taught by women, it really made a difference. There was so much support, positivity and encouragement throughout the weekend that it was hard to be too nervous or intimidated.

Did you have any fears/worries about mountain biking when you originally started? (Such as not being very good, getting hurt, etc.) what helped you alleviate those concerns?
Well I would say I am still just starting out as last summer was my 1st full season and most of that time I was dedicated to my marathon training. I am excited to see what kind of progress I make this summer when I am only focused on biking. I do not have a lot of fear about getting hurt. I already have and I’ve learned that if you’re too focused on the possibility of getting hurt or crashing you are less likely to get in the groove and actually more likely to biff it.
I have tried my best to just be confident, have a positive attitude and tackle each section of the trail as it comes. I swear talking to and yelling at the rocks and trees in your way helps too.
The biggest hurdle that I have dealt with actually, is feeling guilty about being too slow or not skilled enough for the people that I am riding with. My boyfriend Joe and his family have been mountain biking for 20+ years and as a beginner I found it somewhat intimidating to jump into the group for fear of holding everyone up. I still struggle with apologizing too much when he and I are on a ride together but I am trying to change my thinking and instead thank him for riding with me and teaching me new skills or waiting ahead on the trail for me occasionally.

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?

It depends on what bike I am riding and where. I have always ridden clipless on my road bike. When I purchased it I remember telling myself that if I was truly going to commit to the bike I needed the clipless pedals. Something that helped me learn was riding around the yard a lot clipping and unclipping over and over…the yard is much softer than the road, which I have also done the slow tip over in. Just keep practicing and pretty soon you really won’t have to think about it, I promise! As far as mountain and fat biking I have played around with both clipless and platform pedals. I felt more comfortable being able to get my feet out quickly while learning technical skills so I stuck with platforms on my mountain bike. I am hoping to make the transition over to clipless this summer though as I am starting to feel more comfortable and confident.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?

Last Spring Joe and I rode over to the Theodore Wirth mountain bike trails for a weeknight spin. It was my 4th time ever on a mountain bike and I had decided to use clipless pedals. I was already so nervous that I forgot to unclip at a road intersection prior to the trail and did the slow tip over. That shook my confidence and about 2 minutes into the singletrack I encountered a large rock at the top of a hill, on a curve, and the next thing I knew I was laying the opposite way on my back with my bike on me. Apparently I had caught quite a bit of air over my handlebars and also landed on some smaller rocks down the trail. I knew right away that I had hurt my ribs pretty badly. Urgent care deemed that they were not broken but very badly bruised and prescribed pain meds and rest. The physical healing took about a month but the mental healing took a little longer. That is when I decided to start using platform pedals and for my 1st ride back I chose to go to Elm Creek which I was told was less technical and more flowy. I found that the more positive experiences I had, the more my confidence built and the fear slowly started going away. I have had plenty of less serious crashes since then but all of the triumphs and progress I’ve made have far outweighed them.

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

Initially getting back into biking as an adult on my road bike I had a hard time getting used to how twitchy it was. Definitely very different than my bike growing up! Just simply getting miles in helped out a lot and now I only get a little nervous if it’s my first ride after winter. On the mountain bike I had a hard time grasping how to fully utilize all my gears. It helped a lot to ride with Joe because he knows all of the trails so well that he could let me know what was coming up ahead and whether to shift up or down. I would definitely say if you have the opportunity to ride with people more advanced than you do it! I have learned so much just by riding behind Joe and watching what he does. I also made it a point to start leading so he could see what I needed to work on. I ask him to give me specific things to work on and then I choose one to really pay attention to that ride. One ride I might decide to really focus on my cadence, the next maybe choosing good lines or not braking in corners. I have found it really helps me to keep the focus specific. We also go out to the skills area at Lebanon or even a local parking lot to practice features and small curbs, etc. Sometimes it is easier to practice those type of skills off of the trail where you aren’t worried about people riding up on you.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?

I still have a long way to go technically but I really think fat biking this winter helped a lot with certain skills and also grew my confidence. I still find larger logs and log piles, especially uphill ones, tricky to get over. Also, rock gardens still get me most of the time. I have learned there is a limit to how many times you should try a certain feature each day before just moving on. There is no shame in walking features. Once I get too frustrated there is no chance of me executing it anymore. Also, carrying more speed into a rock garden or over a feature really does help in some cases even though it may seem counter intuitive. If I am having a really hard day on the trail or find myself starting to get negative I have learned to make myself take a “time out” and pull off to the side for a bit to get back into a more positive headspace. It almost always works as I feel like sometimes you just need to take a breather and remember that you’re out there to have fun.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the feeling of freedom and the pure joy and confidence I get when I conquer a technical feature, especially for the first time. I also love that you can simply cover more distance and see more of this beautiful world on the bike than on foot. I often think about how I could not have covered nearly as much ground running and just how many different places my bikes have taken me. I also love that it is something that my boyfriend Joe and I can do together.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them-

Road bike: Trek Lexa SLX “Lexi” – This is a light, responsive women’s specific road bike that I have absolutely loved since the day I first saw it. This bike really chose me at the beginning of my journey and has been the perfect bike for me to cruise the roads and trails on.

Fat Bike: Salsa Mukluk “Tank” – I am Tank’s 3rd owner. I wanted to try fat biking this winter but didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a bike. By buying used, I still was able to get a very nice bike for a much smaller price tag. And I love this bike!! It is sturdy yet fast and I have had a blast racing it this winter! Also, as a side note, in my opinion the Surly Nate tires that came on it are seriously the best…in all sorts of conditions. I think this bike is a great example of the fact that you don’t have to buy new if you aren’t sure you are going to like something.

Mountain Bikes:

1) Trek Top Fuel “Vintage” – This is actually Joe’s sister’s old bike that she graciously let me use and learn on last summer. It is an older full suspension model but a really nice bike and I felt more comfortable knowing that it had been put through the paces by her and others before me. It is reliable and super fun to ride.

2) Trek Top Fuel 9.8 WSD (yet to have a nickname) – This is my most recent “N+1” purchase and I also found this one used….although barely. It was an amazing deal! Once again I was able to get way more bike for my budget than I could have new. I wanted to upgrade to my own bike this season as I have committed to quite a few races and am really enjoying the sport so far. Also, this bike is an XS which for my size is something I needed and is somewhat hard/rare to find. This is a full suspension, full carbon bike that I cannot wait to actually be able to ride and race soon!

Fatbikes! Many people knock them before giving them a shot. What opened your eyes to fatbikes and what would you like others to know from your perspective?
I feel like since I was fairly new to the biking world that I didn’t really have any preconceived ideas about them. I was up at Cuyuna this fall spectating the Salsa Oremageddon and they had fliers for their winter race, the Whiteout. It sounded really fun so I took one with me and told everyone that I was going to do the race this winter. Their replies were, “But you don’t have a fatbike”. So I bought one and did the race! And so did Joe and the rest of his family! It ended up being a really fun winter being able to continue riding and racing together. I think people just need to try one out and most likely they’ll get hooked. It seems like everyone I know that has started riding fat bikes are having the time of their lives :)

Why do you love fatbiking in the winter months? Many people seem surprised that you can ride trails in the winter with snow on them. What are your thoughts?

That’s exactly why they’re so great…you can still ride the mountain bike trails in the winter! It just extends the fun throughout the entire year. Personally it can be hard to keep up motivation to stay active in the winter and I found that riding my fatbike made it a lot more enjoyable! Plus there is something to be said about being one of those very few people outside on a snowy, bitter cold day enjoying what nature has to offer.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?

I think cycling in general seems like a fairly complicated activity to get into. At least for me it always felt that way. There are so many different elements to worry about such as what the best/safest route is, how/where do I lock my bike, what if I get a flat, weather, gear, etc. Plus you have to invest in the bike after going through the process of figuring out what is right for you. I think it is much easier to get into cycling if you already know someone involved or like me you sign up for something cycling related and just kind of jump in. I also think that it is easier for women to get started biking, especially mountain biking, if there is a women’s only ride or clinic they can attend to start. That first introduction to mountain biking for me was perfect because it was women led and I didn’t feel intimidated. I think that would put a lot of first time women riders at ease and hopefully leave a good first impression so that they keep riding.

What do you feel could happen locally and/or industry-wise to encourage more women to be involved with cycling (and/or the industry)?
I honestly think that it is already happening more and more and that we just need to keep up that momentum. As a woman just getting involved in cycling and the local cycling community I have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of women only learning opportunities and groups available. And I may have just been lucky so far but pretty much every man I have encountered on the trails, at races, etc has been very nice and supportive. I really do think things are changing, at least locally, and it is especially evident to me when you look at past years race results and see just how many more women are showing up each year. This winter we seemed to have a significant increase in numbers and that is just amazing! The more we support each other the more the women’s cycling community will grow.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

Knowing just how empowering biking is and how much confidence you can build through riding makes me want to share those feelings and positive experiences with other women. Plus the camaraderie is great and the more the merrier!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

When I was born my parents named me Katrina but changed it to Erika when they had to fill out the birth certificate before leaving the hospital. However my middle name is Dee and that is what my family actually calls me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Putting Riders On a Pedestal

Over the past few years I have learned one very important thing about the women I’ve interviewed-they are human.

When I started out with contacting women to interview for my blog, I set my sights on locals and then progressed to women from all over. I reached out to anyone who seemed to love life on two wheels, in any shape or form.

Eventually, I became brave enough to contact riders who I felt were on the more “famous” side of the spectrum. Names heard all over on the internet or sometimes bike magazines- coaches, racers, and industry folk who truly set the bar high for inspiration.

Women who I would be afraid to ride with, given the opportunity…because I did not and still do not always see myself as being “good” at riding.

Let’s take a step back.

I just admitted that I would be afraid to ride with other women…other women that I deem “better” than myself. Why? Because I put them on a pedestal- and on one so high that I could probably never reach.

Why am I creating a setback?

At Frozen 40/20 when I met April Morgan at registration and then later met Martha Flynn post-race. I was so incredibly awe-struck over how wonderful and genuine those women were. It was one of the first times I actually met and had conversations with the women I had interviewed. I was nervous about how I looked and sounded. I didn’t see myself as a “great” rider like I had projected on to them- I got to smile and converse with mountain biking idols that day. Women that I would love to aspire to be like- an advocate for cycling and a damn strong rider.

I am an advocate for cycling/mountain biking and have grown into a stronger rider than I was in ’14. Why did I shortchange myself?

Why do we place people we admire and respect so high on a pedestal that we become intimidated by the mere thought of interaction?

When I started riding with Travis, it was extremely difficult for me to not put him high on a pedestal. This made the first few rides of the season extra challenging because I was ridiculously hard on myself. I wasn’t able to filter his comments/feedback and took everything as a negative criticism. I continually questioned why I was out there trying. 

Even tho he was more experienced and could ride forever (so it seemed) he made sure that we took time to session spots that were tricky and I had as many breaks as I needed. He was happy to show me how to do something multiple times if requested. He was far beyond my skill level but took the time and energy to show me he was there to help, support, and guide me.

The more I rode with Travis and with others, the more I saw that we ALL make mistakes- there is no such thing as perfection when it comes to mountain biking. I threw my “I could never _________, so why try?” mentality out the door.

Now, as a slightly more experienced rider going into her 3rd season, I have started to wonder how high on the pedestal I am to others- and how to help break away the insecurities that way of thinking can encourage.

I know that I have improved with my riding, but I am no "professional athlete." I'm just a woman who loves mountain biking.

I might not have to take breaks like I used to, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy time off the bike during a ride. I love taking photos, and sometimes my ride is filled with many stops to try and get a snapshot of a pretty flower or two. Maybe my bike, if I’m feeling particularly proud of her that day.

I’m at an awkward “youngish adult” age. Early 30’s seems to be some sort of grey area where you are a now mystical unicorn - it's difficult to attract other women to ride with you. You’re either “too young” or “too old.” It doesn’t help that I am also told that I look younger than my age.

I’m experienced enough to be intimidating yet not experienced enough to be believable or relatable. Add casually* attending events to the mix doesn’t help, either, but I enjoy going to them because I can find other women who are open for conversation and similar in age. Events are FUN!
(*I say casual because I do not have time to legitimately train and I'm not interested in competing on a regular basis.)

Here's the thing-
Placing another person you admire/respect on a pedestal can be a detriment, especially if what you are doing is comparing yourself and feeling poorly about your skills. Looking down on yourself is not working towards accomplishing short-term goals that fit within your long-term goals.

There will always be someone better, stronger, and faster- and sometimes those are the people that want to help you succeed

They go out of their way to invite you on rides and show support/encouragement; don't push those individuals so far back that you can’t see them. You'll probably be surprised with how well they can relate to what you are feeling or struggling with- they were there once, too. They still might be. We are our own worst critics- don't allow the insecurities you have keep you from enjoying the company of other rad riders!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Women on Bikes Series: Syd Schulz

Syd Schulz grew up riding mountain bikes for fun in rural Ohio. She started racing cross country at the collegiate level in 2011, with a special focus on the post-race keg party.

In 2014, she started racing enduro and signed up for the pro category because she didn't fancy the long wait times that the AM categories often had to endure.
This turned out to be a dubious decision and she limped through her first "pro" season, finishing it off with a lot of DFLs, bruises, seven new stitches in her face and an intense desire to get good at this enduro thing. 2015 went much better -- she finished 3rd in the Enduro Cup overall and signed with the Jamis Factory Race Team for the 2016 season.

She writes about the adventures, struggles and lessons of being a "newbie" pro on her blog,

When did you first start riding a bike?
Oh boy. Both my parents rode bikes so my dad put me on a bike as soon as I exited the womb. I rode on a little seat on his top tube when I was really small and then when I was six or seven years old I started riding on the back of his road tandem. This was awesome (for me, at least) because I got the experience of riding all day and actually going fast while my dad did all of the work (sorry, Dad).

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?

When I was in college, riding was definitely a de-stressor, and something I did with my friends, since most of my best friends were mountain bike people. I raced a bit of collegiate mountain biking, but mainly because it was an excuse to travel and party. Once we snuck our seven-person team and a keg into a hotel room that was supposed to only be for two. We somehow all slept in two king-size beds. Good times.

Post college, I’ve had the opportunity to really dedicate myself to riding and explore my motivations a bit. I’m drawn to racing and training because, deep down, I’m an extremely competitive person and I want to push my limits. But my riding motivation has never really changed – it’s just fun and I love it.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?

Yes, although somewhat vaguely, as I was 13 or 14 at the time. I remember I crashed like a banshee and had an amazing time. I was rubbish at getting out of my clipless pedals so I basically fell over every time I stopped. I remember at one point I tried to grab onto a tree when I stopped, but unfortunately I chose a bendy sapling so I went tumbling down an embankment. But I was 13, so I bounced.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I don’t remember being nervous, but at that age I think I was more prone to frustration than nervousness. I definitely remember some serious frustration on those early rides, especially when I couldn’t make it up steep little hills or get in the right gear or get out of my pedals or keep up or whatever. But then when the ride was over, I would block out the frustration and only remember the fun bits, so I’d go back and give it another go.

When did you decide to participate in competitive events? What pushed you to give them a shot instead of worrying about if you were "good enough" or not?
I think the better questions is “what pushed you to race DESPITE worrying if you were good enough,” because I still worry about that, pretty much every day. It doesn’t go away, you just learn to compartmentalize it better, or use it to your advantage. I started racing because it was an excuse to explore new trails and ride with my friends and I felt awesome afterwards --- ultimately, those reasons overrode the self-doubt.

What kept you inspired to keep participating, even when you weren't placing?

That’s a good question. I guess all the reasons listed above plus the fact that I’m extremely stubborn. When I started racing pro in 2014, my results were atrocious and I was really struggling to have fun racing, but I think a part of me knew I could do better and I didn’t want to quit before I found out what I was capable of. So I stuck with it, and I’m glad I have!

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?

Yes, although I basically started riding clipless when I started mountain biking at age 14, so I might not be the best person to ask. In fact, I’m open to any suggestions on how to ride with flat pedals because whenever I do, I just massacre my shins! That said, I’ve taught some beginners to ride clipless and I think practicing getting in and out (on both sides!) in a grassy field about a bajillion times before you go onto a trail is key.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I’ve been lucky enough to avoid any serious injuries (KNOCK ON ALL THE WOOD), but I’ve had quite a few crashes that shook me up. I tore my hamstring during the Whistler EWS last year and that was probably my most painful injury, partially because I didn’t realize how much damage I had done so I kept going and finished the race (and then raced again the next weekend, oops). It took forever to heal and I re-injured it pretty much every time I came off the bike for the next three months. So, that was really frustrating and made me petrified of even minor crashes. As for healing on the mental/emotional side, sometimes you have to just back it down and ride within your limits until your confidence gets back up. I’m not very good at this, but I think it’s an important skill – it’s good to push your limits, but you have to be smart about it, too.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
When I first started riding enduro and downhill style trails, everything was hard. Drops and jumps were probably the biggest challenge for me. It took me a really long time to figure out that movement of getting your front wheel up so you can send a little drop. This is a massively important skill for riding safely (for obvious reasons) so I really recommend practicing mini manuals jumping off curbs or playing around in a parking lot or field. If you can manual for even half a second on flat ground, you’ll be able to get your wheel up and out of the way when gravity is already working in your favor. Learning that little skill really changed my riding.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Yes, of course, 100% yes! Just a few days ago I got a QOM on a trail even when I thought I was riding like a hack and I joked that “oh, I thought when I went fast it would all feel smooth and amazing and there wouldn’t be any bumps.” While, I was joking, I think that’s a really important thing for beginners to remember – there’s never a point in mountain biking when, BAM, it’s suddenly easy. Or, at least, there shouldn’t be. There’s always more to learn and once you master one skill, there’s another one, or the same one but it’s harder because you’re going faster. But that’s what keeps it fun.

I still struggle immensely with riding in the wet, especially on steep, rooty trails. To be completely honest, wet trails have dragged me down on many a ride and really threw me off in a few races last year. Luckily I had the opportunity to spend six weeks riding in England and Scotland this past fall, which forced me to ride wet gnarly trails pretty much every day. I’m still not a fan of wet riding, but I’m way less scared of it, which is a start!

Before you started racing as Pro, what was it like to be the non-Pro partner to a fellow Pro-rider? Do you feel there were additional challenges or higher expectations placed on you as a rider?
I don’t think others’ expectations of me were that much higher, but I know my expectations of myself were very over-inflated. I was often the slowest one in the group, and that was challenging and frustrating. Now that I’m fitter that’s gotten better but it’s still easy to have a warped perspective of what’s actually hard when your boyfriend makes even the trickiest lines look easy. I still struggle with this to a certain extent – just last year, on a ride in Queenstown, we decided to meet at the bottom of a trail I had never ridden. Macky told me it was “no big deal” and it turned out being the steepest, most insane thing I had ever ridden. I berated myself the entire way down thinking that I was just that much worse than him at riding bikes. Turns out I had taken a wrong turn and ridden a completely different trail – a trail that was, by pretty much anyone’s standards, epic. But that didn’t even occur to me, I just went straight to beating myself up. So yeah, perspective is a challenge when you’re dating a pro.

What is the best part about being able to ride with your partner?
We get to spend a lot of time together, doing what we love, traveling the world and seeing beautiful places. We’re able to support each other in our training and racing and we both understand that pretty much all the money we make is going to get spent on bikes. So what’s not to like? Of course, sometimes we get frustrated and crabby with each other, but usually only when we’re hungry (and we’ve gotten pretty good at reminding each other to eat on rides).

Do you have any suggestions for partners who are just starting to ride together?
Bring snacks.

What do you love about riding your bike?
All of it. Specifically the going down bits, and when you get that really meditative flow feeling on a descent and you just feel completely in control and kind of invincible. I love that.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My main bike at the moment is a Jamis Defcon. It’s a great enduro rig – 160mm of travel front and rear, super sturdy and stable at speed and through the rough stuff. I love it! As a sponsored athlete, a lot more goes into a choosing a bike than people think. First, of course, you need to make sure the bike is race-worthy, which the Defcon definitely is. But you also need to make sure you’re working with a company that supports you and gets what you’re trying to do. And you want to work with people that are fun to work with, because you’ll be seeing a lot of them. Working with Jamis has been an absolute dream come true, in all these aspects.

While I’ll mainly be riding the Defcon this year, I’m also getting a Jamis Dakar XCT, which is a carbon, 130mm trail bike. I haven’t had a small(er) travel bike since 2013, so I’m stoked to have a trail whip!

What inspired you to start blogging about your off-road adventures?

I’ve always loved writing, so it just sort of made sense. I started writing about travel but then it not-so-surprisingly morphed into a bike blog as I started taking my racing more seriously.

What has been the greatest thing you've discovered since you started blogging about your experiences?
I’ve been absolutely blown away by the response to some of my posts about racing and developing as a pro rider. I honestly didn’t think people would be that interested, but they are, and that’s cool and awesome, but also kind of intimidating at times. I want to say the right things to inspire people to get out there and follow their dreams, but I also want to be honest and authentic, because there are a lot of challenges to this life, and I want people to see that side as well.

Do you have any advice/food for thought for those curious about mountain biking?

Go for it. Have fun. Make mistakes. Always bring food. Learn to fix a flat. Spend some money on a decent bike. And kneepads are awesome.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Unfortunately, I think a big part of the problem is the insidious societal conditioning that women start absorbing at a really young age – look cute, be polite, don’t offend anyone, be cautious, follow the rules, don’t fail. Blah blah blah. This programming is hard to reverse.

But there are other, more blatant factors at work – a lack of coverage of female athletes in major mountain biking news sites, the absolutely horrific comments about female athletes and their bodies on sites like Pinkbike, and the general lack of respect that many men have toward women’s racing and female athletes in general. I’m lucky to have an extremely strong network of male mountain bikers who support me in what I do (my dad, my boyfriend, my friends, my sponsors), but I’ve walked into bike shops alone enough to understand why it’s intimidating for women to get involved. The level of patronization can be unreal.

What do you feel could industry-wise and/or locally to encourage more women to be involved with mountain biking?
Ultimately, women just want to be taken seriously. The bike industry acts like this is rocket science, but it really isn’t. I don’t think women’s specific products are that necessary (except for the obvious -- clothing, saddles, etc.), but I think the industry can do a lot just by using more women in ads, supporting more female athletes, etc. Just in the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of companies really step it up and commit to promoting and supporting women in mountain biking and this is awesome. I really believe the industry is moving in the right direction, albeit slowly.

At a more grassroots level, I think programs like NICA offer a massive opportunity to get more young girls on bikes. Having a group, “fun-ride” infrastructure is key to getting beginners, male or female, more involved. I’ve had the opportunity to do some work with Team F.I.Taos and the Taos NICA team in the past few years and hope to work with them some more in 2016 as well.

A lot of people seem to think that “women’s only” rides or clinics are the answer, but I’m not so sure. I think there’s definitely a place for these, and I’ve enjoyed quite a few of them, but I also think it’s crucially important to foster positive, co-ed mountain biking experiences as well. A lot of women find mountain biking with men to be too intimidating and competitive (or assume it would be), but that doesn’t have to be the case. I think there’s a massive opportunity for men (and faster female riders) to be more accommodating of beginners, male or female. The idea that women can only ride with women is limiting, especially when you live in an area where not that many women ride. Realistically, a lot of women don’t have the opportunity or the cash to make it to a women’s only clinic, so they’re either going to ride with dudes, or not ride. So, hey dudes – support your local women!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

Mountain biking has made me a stronger, better person in almost every way. I want to share that with everyone, but I think women especially can gain a lot from the sport. I know far too many women, of all ages, who suffer from low self-esteem, poor body image, lack of confidence, etc. Mountain biking teaches you to take smart risks and be strong and get back up after you’ve crashed – it’s incredibly empowering and so many women need that.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I’ve read all the Harry Potter books at least seven times. In English and Spanish.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Men Involved: Stego

Stego is a long time friend of Travis who has recently been hired on by DHPT to work on maintaining our local mountain bike trails. He's been a rider in the area for years, and it's obvious he has been thriving with the outdoor work!

Local riders have been amazed at the quality and quantity of the work he has done. 

One of the local trails, IPT, has gotten a couple fun new and re-worked features to make it even more enjoyable.

There are areas throughout that have new shoring in place (Dust Bowl, Lower Little Big Horn) and much more. Stego truly has a knack for seeing what works and making improvements. I watched a berm being built one Sunday evening, and it really was fascinating to watch! So, it seemed like a short interview with Stego to help introduce him to the Decorah Trail System would be good, since you'll see him out there a lot this season!

What do you enjoy (so far) with trail work?

It's the beginning of the year and the dirt has been really easy to work with; not hard like concrete. The weather has cooperated a lot!

Big Berm on IPT

What has been your favorite trail project so far?
Building some new things on IPT (Iowa Public Television)

For those who have never experienced "true" berms- why are they fun?
It's like riding rails. You don't lose any speed at all and it's a much faster ride. They're built to add more fun.

You have several years of riding under your belt. What do you enjoy most about riding? 

I enjoy building and riding new things, and I also like meeting new people that love to ride bikes.

Rocky Road
What do you hope to accomplish during your first season as the trail guy?
To improve all the trails and add a few new things here and there to bring some of the younger generation out there.

Awesome! We feel it's vital to keep the younger generation interested in riding the local mountain bike trails, especially since they will be the ones (hopefully!) involved with DHPT and with the maintenance and building of said trails.

If you're out riding trails and see Stego, don't be afraid to stop and thank him for all the great work he's put into the trails. If you see any issues, say fallen trees or busted shoring, feel free to shoot a message to Decorah Mountain Bike Trails and the message will be passed on.

Special events happening soon:
Salsa Cycles Bike Demo (Thursday, April 28th- more details soon!)
Decorah Time Trials 2016 (Saturday, April 30th)
Decorah Bicycles Bike Month DHPT Fundraiser (May 1st-May 30th as we are closed Tuesdays)
Checking out the work!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Keeping It Real- Accepting the Ups and Downs of Your Cycling Journey

In light of a recent blog post published by Amanda Batty: "Don't Harsh My Happy, Bro." I feel what was written in the post transpires over into the cycling world very easily. Perhaps too easily.

I'll delve a little more into the topic of projecting the ideal "emotional reactions" and how focusing on that can be a detriment to your experience.

A couple years ago after I had started riding on a regular basis, I posed the question on Facebook if anyone had a ride that they wanted to quit. Maybe they physically were exhausted or mentally/emotionally it just wasn't going well. This thought process sparked a comment which stated that I needed to keep all conversation about cycling positive. I brought negativity into something that brought them great joy and that was upsetting. Never mind the fact that I was a new, fumbling rider who was looking for conversation and assurance that I wasn't the only one to think that way...ever.

It was alluded that if I made cycling sound the least bit hard or difficult, I would deter others from wanting to experience it themselves.

I was a bit drop-jawed at the whole commentary, thinking to myself that this was completely ridiculous. I felt in a way, that I had been lied to. No one told me that I would have struggles when I started out riding. No one told me that I would be challenging myself physically, mentally, and emotionally...and this was all on a PAVED trail. Don't get me started on mountain biking. (Ha! Too late!) For a brief moment I felt alone. I must be the only rider out there to feel frustrated over their struggles and no one would understand or care. All because it wasn't positive.

I felt that I couldn't be emotionally honest or mention the less-than-stellar experiences on the bike. If I wasn't able to write about how amazingly inspiring or fun my ride was, I had to keep all other thoughts/feelings "hush hush." Why does a crappy ride have to be seen as "negative?" Rather, it could be a moment where conversation could happen candidly and knowledge shared. I feel I have learned the most from the mistakes or mishaps of other riders (and myself)- never once did a perceived "negative experience" turn me away from my bike, never to ride it again.

I do not feel sugar coating the riding experience promotes authenticity, for the sport or life in general. If all we do is talk about the positive things and make no mention of the struggles we sometimes have, I feel it takes away from the journey as a whole. So often we're made to put on a happy face and show emotions that may not be fully true. There is a very real pressure on a large majority of the population to project their "best selves." This can be seen on the bike or off. I am thankful there are still riders out there who are sharing their less-than-ideal experiences on the bike. Talk about the struggles, frustrations, and future hopes. Let riders know that DNFs or DFLs are not the end of the world- that they can happen to anyone and it's okay. It does not mean you are a failure or a bad the saying goes: "Shit happens."

I am the rider I am because of the experiences- good and bad. The struggles I faced as a new rider were very real. The challenges I encounter now as a more seasoned rider are real as well. Everyone will have ups and downs and I feel it is a disservice to feel one can't freely admit the struggles they face. No one should feel bad or shamed for not loving a ride they went on, those days happen and it will not be the last time.

My time on the bike is when I feel the most honest with myself when it comes to emotions and thoughts. Riding my bike makes me happy and it gives me freedom for my soul- however there are days where I feel that I'm struggling to ride. I'm fumbling around on the trails, putting my foot down everywhere, getting new bruises, and just not on my a-game.

There are days where I have to admit that I just don't have the desire to go and spin my wheels.

There are days where riding my bike feels like the most amazing thing I've ever done in my life. I'm nailing the trails and feeling like a legit badass. I feel powerful and strong, I feel like I can take anything head on which leaves me thinking, "Where did my Wonder Woman cape go?!"

You can't take away the experiences with riding- there will be good ones and bad, ups and downs. This is why I advocate for realness and authenticity with cycling; I haven't been able to hide from myself and my emotions during rides and it's provided me some wonderful insight.

Riding your bike is YOUR story- but one has to remember that there are many stories out there. Don't judge an experience against your own.
We are the authors of our own stories.
We have the powerful ability to come together in support of one another and to embrace the cycling journey.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Women Involved: Jaimee Erickson (Red Frog Athletics)

I cycled across the US with a friend four years ago, and I have been in love with cycling and the freedom / endorphins it brings ever since. I am currently designing a line of women's specific cycling gear (focusing on jerseys first). The jerseys are super functional, made from merino wool blends (which means they don't smell and are super soft) and styled to flatter and comfort the body.

I finished the first samples this last summer and rode across Europe to test them out. I returned more excited than ever to launch the line and am currently in the process of working with manufacturers to produce my first run.

Follow Red Frog Athletics on

When did you first start riding a bike?
I started riding a bike when I was old enough to walk, but I kept it pretty casual for the first 20 years of life. I mainly rode on cheap bikes with limited gears and handle bars that left black residue all over my hands after use. It wasn't until I ended my field hockey career post college that I turned to cycling as an alternative for my fitness / competitive outlet.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Once I figured out my setup and started feeling comfortable on my bike, I was completely hooked. Cycling gave (continues to give) me an incredible endorphin high coupled with an amazing sense of independence. It is such a unique combination of both mental and physical challenges, and it has taught me so many things about myself (as challenges often do). I can, with 100% certainty, say that I have become a better person since I started cycling.

You rode across the US with a friend a few years ago, how long did it take to plan and complete your trip?
I did! I rode with my best friend Ale from Los Gatos, California to New York City, New York. This trip was planned over a 6 month period, and we took just under 100 days to complete it. We zigzagged all across America and ended up completing just over 5,000 miles.

What would be the 3 most favorite stops/locations on that trip be?
Portland, OR - I loved visiting Portland. The culture and people are wonderful. We ended up staying with an awesome group of open-minded, down to earth, Portlandia (ish) group of 30 somethings. The night included: great conversation, lots of super organic, high quality ice cream, and laughs for hours.
Guffey, CO - This little town was one of the strangest places I have ever been. It had animal / human skeletons and old machinery everywhere. It had a post apocalyptic vibe, and made us pretty uncomfortable but was definitely memorable.
Western KY - The landscape was surprisingly beautiful and the people were incredibly friendly and warm.

What types of cycling do you enjoy and why?
I enjoy road biking, touring, mountain biking, and causal cruiser rides along the coast. All of them bring me different forms of happiness and serve their specific purpose in my life.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I am most creative, peaceful, and present when I am on my bike. I get into a rhythm of climbing, descending, pushing my heart rate, recovering, and then doing it all again. The exercise in combination with the peaceful mind state allows me to reset and work through anything that is going on in life. Cycling is my therapy :)

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
The first bike I bought was a tricross by Specialized. It has an aluminum frame and disc brakes (that have saved my life more times than I would like to admit), and a Brooke's saddle (which is potentially my favorite part of my whole set up). Full disclosure: I named this bike Elvis. Elvis was picked out by a friend, who had many more years of cycling experience, and was willing to help a sister out. I rode Elvis across the US a few years back and continue to use him for city commute and off roading adventures.
I recently purchased a road bike by Specialized (Amira). It lives with me in my room, because the garage is too much distance. I didn't know it was emotionally possible to become this attached to a non living thing. But alas, I am in love.

You are in the process of starting a clothing line, Red Frog Athletics, tell us the story behind the name?
Red Frog Athletics was born from a sticky note family brainstorm, where all of my family members wrote words or phrases that might describe our brand, product, mission, and story. Red is often associated with power, love, danger, adventure, seduction, and energy. I dig all of those things. And "frog" represents "transition, rebirth, opportunity, and renewal," which is what I want to do to the cycling market space. The word "frog" has also more recently been associated with high end design, which is an added bonus. 

What inspired you to create your own line of jerseys?

Short answer: I saw a gap in the market and thought the current status of cycling wear for women could use some improvement.
Long answer:

What has been the most interesting thing to happen since starting your clothing line?

The most interesting and awesome thing that has happened since starting Red Frog Athletics has been the response from people willing to help me build out the company. It is so inspiring and motivating to have friends, family, and random strangers donate their time and energy.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?

There are many factors that could potentially deter both men and women from cycling. I was horrified by my first experience on a road bike and have heard similar stories from many of my cycling friends. Let's be real: most "beginner" saddles feel awful on the bum (especially if you don't have the correct set up), the clothing is hideous and uncomfortable, the anxiety of forgetting to unclip your pedals at every stop to prevent toppling over is terrifying, the bike feels incredibly unstable, and the list goes on and on. BUT, for me, the adrenaline rush of my first down hill and the post ride endorphin high was enough to bring me back for more. With each ride, the pros slowly started to eliminate the cons, and now I can't imagine my life sans cycling.
But I am getting off topic. Women have a few more hoops to jump through to begin their cycling adventure simply because the industry caters to men.

All you have to do is walk into your local bike shop to notice the giant discrepancy between male and female gear. The male cycling apparel is everywhere. It is sleek, technical, and form fitting. The women specific jerseys are in the back left corner near the bathroom. They most likely have some sort of floral design or pink piece of flare and look like they were form fitted around a giant hour glass.

What do you feel could happen industry-wise and locally to encourage more women to ride?
The ratio between male and female cyclists in the US is a bit shocking and upsetting to me. In Denmark and the Netherlands, women outnumber the men in a 55:45 ratio, which leads me to believe that the giant imbalance in the US is something that can be improved upon. There are many strategies to improve these metrics, but I am choosing to focus my efforts in one area: women's cycling apparel.

I wore men's cycling gear in combination with women's running or yoga apparel for the first four years of riding my bike, simply because the women's cycling gear was not up to par (wasn't available). It fit horribly and most of it was covered in pink floral patterns. I am a bit of a gear junkie, so one of the most exciting parts about trying out a new sport or activity is to invest in some sweet gear. It was incredibly demotivating to visit my local bike shop and not find a single piece of apparel that would excite me to get on my bike and feel / look like a badass. I want to change that experience for female athletes looking to invest in some cycling wear. I want to excite them with products that motivate them to get out on their bikes with confidence wearing technical, stylish, super comfortable gear.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

Riding gives me such a wonderful sense of independence and brings me so much joy. It puts everything into perspective and serves as my reset, my outlet, my adventure source, and so much more. It blows my mind that our American male to female cyclist ratio is so uneven, as I think both genders can benefit from cycling. I would love to be involved in the motivation behind that initial decision to ride.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

I love doing handstands. I do them everywhere and incorporate them into most outdoor adventures.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Race Day Adventures: Night Shift '15

Many apologies for the late publication of this- it was too fun of an event for me to let it sit unpublished until the end of time! This event happened in October, on my birthday, and was also my first 1st place finish to date.

The Decorah Night Shift race has been around for 9 (maybe more?) years and is the last mountain bike event of the season for Decorah. Last year the Night Shift was scheduled in November- this year the consensus was to have the event earlier in hopes a few more people would attend. Irony would dictate that the race would be held on my birthday, October 3rd- because I was lucky enough to have my birthday fall on a Saturday.

The Night Shift is a nighttime mountain bike race, which adds additional challenge to the ride if one isn't "seasoned" with riding singletrack at night. Last year I was encouraged to participate but ultimately didn't due to having only gone on 3 rides at night. At that particular moment, it was still too new to me and I worried about my handling skills too much.

This season, I felt like I did great on my first night ride. I felt confident and wasn't so easily spooked by invisible cougars and bears- and in true Josie fashion- I wanted to attend all of our riding events this year.

Let me state plainly- I do not "train" for events. The most I do is maybe shift up a few gears to give more resistance and ride more consistently without breaks. I don't feel disciplined enough to try and legitimately train for something. Originally I was working on riding up Old Randy's on a weekly basis and that subsided for some reason or another. I guess I figured working on my cornering skills in the pines would be more worth my time than working on climbing a large hill slowly.

I do not have the best mentality when it comes to events. I get really anxious, more or less I psych myself up over performing and thus, put a lot of pressure on myself. It's a mixed bag- I seriously choose to participate to increase female rider numbers, but I also want to push myself and do the best I can. I also deal with nerves terribly. The more nervous I am, the less I want to eat- so when I managed to eat my 3 slices of pre-ride pizza I felt pretty darn proud of myself.

Getting ready for the race was also a challenge. Dissecting the heck out of the weather and wondering what would be too much or "just right" because I am not going to stop and take layers off. There isn't time for that. Of course, the main staple of my ride outfit would be my tutu (Tough Girl Tutus- check 'em out!) because if you are racing on your birthday, why not dress up?

We dressed and headed over to register. There was enough time to register and leave if we wanted, but I felt like that would be silly. Let's just stay in the warm building, see who shows up, and then I won't feel worried over coming back "on time."

I knew for sure that one other female would be riding and happily, Steph joined in last minute. 3 women would be riding vs. just 2 and I was stoked! My hope is that slowly and surely I can somehow inspire other women to participate in our local events. Start changing the 1-2 entries into more- because that would be just awesome. Take away the worry of "oh, what if I'm last?" and simply do it to do it, not care about placement. It's a fun environment if you go into it with a positive mindset- don't let the mental pressure stifle your experience. I find that my anxiousness melts away once I'm on my bike and pedaling.

We eventually were led to the starting line which had us on the road near the start of the trail called IPT and from there you had to ride up Quarry Hill to the Van Peenen park entrance. With a break the climb was not so grueling and I'll admit, I shifted so I could spin and spin I did. With exercise induced asthma my objective is to not blow myself up on areas I don't need to. Soon enough we were on the fire road to the pines and my confidence grew. The route for Van Peenen is something I ride a LOT and I was ready to take the pines head on. I was behind a fellow who was going a nice clip to where it would've been pointless to pass.

Once we were out of the pines I made my pass and went onto Little Big Horn. This is where my scrambling fumbled me up a bit. I can, apparently, ride fast- but when you are scrambling you can be a little sloppy. I was a little sloppy going over a log I go over hundreds of times, nothing detrimental, just not very graceful.

After Little Big Horn it was onward to Fred. Fred is one of my favorite trails and I've completely humanized it. The past few rides I didn't fully turn my suspension on so I could get the full effect of the steps that take you to the downhill. "Keep your arms relaxed..." "Be smooth." "Sit back, be steady." Riding down the last part of Fred makes me think of a washboard and there are some loose rocks that sometimes fly up at you or the bike. I take my time and try to ride smart while riding fast...not the easiest thing to do.

Making my way up Old Randy was somewhat successful.
I rode up most of it, tho had to stop and walk a short ways in the middle area. We passed Benji again as he gave encouragement; at the top my pedaling was slow to go simply so I could catch my breath. Travis was giving me kudos as well and all I could spit out was "I can't talk right now..."

There was one spot I knew I would walk and that was the corner at the bottom of Wold's. It just wasn't something I felt I needed to do to prove anything, and the last thing I wanted to do was DNF because I biffed it badly. On Lower Mother's Day I passed the fellow we had been riding behind most of the ride. There were points while on Lower Mother's Day I that I felt like I was going to throw up or simply questioned if I could keep going at the pace I was at. We rode up the new section of Boa and I almost psyched myself out- it felt at first the climb was going to be much steeper than it was- you bet I was thankful to find that it was pretty darn short!

At the top it was a "hammerfest" to Captian's and from there- Upper Randy's. After Randy's it was Backside to Rattlesnake Cave. Rattlesnake is a trail I don't go on much at all other than for events. It has a steep climb that takes a lot out of you for a short moment, then you come down and climb up a really loose and rocky section. After the climb you have a rooty downhill that shoots you down to the road and then a left turn takes you to River Trail. The downhill turn on River tripped me up last week, so I was hoping for a smooth downhill, which I accomplished.

River turned again into a "hammerfest"- I was happy to make the uphill climb successfully and then proceeded to lead Travis and Benji along the turns to the finish. Travis and Benji added some color to the night with hoots and hollers, keeping it lighthearted and fun. I pedaled as hard as I could to the finish line- I was stoked! My anxieties had all dissipated during the ride and I felt great. Maybe not super awesome in my lungs, but it was totally worth the experience.

Travis and I waited to see Carrie and Steph finish, he also was put to use by changing a tube for a fellow rider. After that we headed to the shop to grab the truck (because who am I kidding, I was going to celebrate and I had no plans of riding my bike after beers.)

The awards ceremony was at the Courtyard & Cellar and we gathered 'round and made merry! I can't promise things didn't get a wee bit silly, but who cares? It was my birthday and I was going to have fun!

I finished the course in 0:51:01.66
The best part? I was riding flats....and in a flouncy tutu. RAD!
Carrie came in 2nd and Steph was 3rd. Steph's biggest worry didn't happen and Carrie finished, so I would say all-in-all everyone had a great ride and I had one of the best birthdays ever! (How could you not? Especially when Sov serenades you "Happy Birthday"?)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Nixing the "What Ifs" and "I'm Nots" of Event Participation

Decorah Time Trials '15
Photo Credit: Tyler Rinken
Many new riders eventually become curious about local and perhaps not-so-local bike events as they get more involved with cycling.

There is something for everyone out there based on what type of riding you enjoy: road, gravel, endurance, mountain, fatbiking, triathlons, etc.

The biggest question of them all is "Do I do it?" and many times a person can easily psych themselves out, especially if they are new to riding.

If I had not convinced myself to participate in events, I would've missed out on some rad experiences that allowed me to meet new people and ride new trails. The ability to challenge myself has and continues to give me insight to myself and my riding.

I'm not the fastest and that's okay; I have not entered an event with expectations of a podium finish. I haven't officially trained for any event I've participated in (tho I will be racking up miles for Chequamegon 40, however that is to ensure I finish!) My plan is simple when attending events: go for the experience and finish the race, nothing more and nothing less.

So often I hear individuals stating any of the following-
"I'm not very good."

"I just started riding."

"I'm not fast."

"I'm not a racer."

"I'm too nervous."

"I haven't ridden those trails before."

"I don't want to hold people back."

"I don't want to finish last!"

"I'm not competitive."

If we always lived our life fearing the "what ifs" and "I'm nots" we surely wouldn't be enjoying much. I'm sure there has been a point in your life where you analyzed changing a job or making some sort of leap that was career, move, and/or relationship based. The "what ifs" and "I'm nots" are very loud, but did you make a move? Did you pursue a career that bettered your life? Did you find a partner who makes your world spin in a miraculous way? Maybe you found the perfect 4-legged companion. There are so many opportunities that we discover because we battled the "what ifs" and "I'm nots"- and for some they were goals accomplished and other times a lesson in growth.

Frozen 40/20
Photo Credit: TMB Images
There is no harm in participating in an event that you feel you might not be 100% ready for. Frankly, I never feel 100% certain on any event! I have the worst pre-race nerves imaginable, and one could tell me a thousand times "You got this." It doesn't matter that I can ride most of the local trails, I still get jitters. But...I do not let those jitters stop me. As for the competitive side of things- I do my best to keep the mentality that I'm competing against myself. I can be in a race and still have fun regardless of how I do. Coming off of my first year I had nothing prior to compare myself or my results with. This will change each season, but I refuse to have that be my primary focus.

When you do something you are uncertain of, it unravels another layer of your self. These opportunities are fantastic learning experiences- which can often surprise you. Speaking about events- there is always going to be "the first one" and that aspect never goes away. The first race will always be the hardest, it's the leap of faith that you must take in order to experience something outside your comfort zone. Look at an event that excites you and see if you can have a friend come along and join or at least be a supportive spectator. You have greater success at a local event of knowing someone and it may feel less daunting than an event that is hours away. You have to figure out what works best for your mentality, and only you can decide that.

It's best to be logical and not bite off more than you can chew at one time, otherwise you may find yourself feeling down. Goals are something to work towards! If you have hardly ridden 40 miles, don't sign up for a 40 mile fatbike race unless you can devote time to condition yourself to ride long distances in winter. Try the 20 mile one first, which is usually easier to work towards for mileage and cold-weather acclimation. If you have never done a century or anything remotely close, wait to sign up for a long-mile endurance event until you've attained longer miles in the saddle that are above/beyond your usual "weekend warrior" set.

The more events you attend, the more you'll learn about what you like/dislike and what you might want to try in the future. Talk with friends or other riders you admire who do those events- they may be able to give you some helpful suggestions and tips!

There are some things to think about when you're participating in an event, these are a small sampling of what I've learned and observed. 

1. Be polite, being an arse just ruins it.

2. If others ask to pass, allow them to, but when you're at a safe place to do so.
You do not want to put yourself or others in jeopardy, most people want safety first- give acknowledgement that you heard, that's always nice. There will always be the person who will pass you before you have a chance to get over. Brush it off and don't dwell.

3. I personally do not recommend listening to music with earbuds when racing, especially if you have a mass start. (I don't promote listening to music on rides, period.) I found having my ears clear to hear allowed me to pick up on sounds behind me easily- which resulted in my letting people pass me before they had to ask. It's always a good thing to be aware of your surroundings- you will likely find you are more perceptive than you thought!

4. Being last is not a bad thing and sometimes people actually try to be last! I assure you that people will not look down on you for finishing last. I was last once, and no one told me that I should've stayed home. I was given props and kudos for simply being out there in the first place, especially as a first season rider. People find it impressive when new riders attend their first event, you'll find many try to make the experience positive for ALL who join- not just the podium finishers.

5. DNF is not a bad thing, either. Showing up and doing the best you can do is all you can ask. I've known several people who tried their hardest but were not able to finish. This doesn't mean you failed and it doesn't mean you're a bad person. Sometimes things happen- learn and come back to it again. Many people experience DNFs, you aren't the first nor the last.

6. Even if you feel like you can't eat anything at all...find something to eat! If you're like me and haven't perfected how to intake sustenance during a race, having calories in beforehand will help a lot. Know what works best for your gut, finding out what GU Gut Rot is afterwards isn't so fun. If you are persuaded by baked goods, try some Skratch Cookies. You can make them however you like and add yummy things like nuts or chocolate chips. I'm also a fan of Clif Bloks- as you can tell, I'd much rather have something to chew than just swallow.

Night Shift & 31st Birthday
7. Hydrate! When all else fails, fall back to fluid. Hydration is vital and learning how to hydrate well for yourself can be a challenge. I'm still challenged by it! Find what works for you- some use drink mixes for additional electrolytes and nutrients and others use plain water. As with food, it's all about experimenting to find what works. I would rather use a Camelbak for liquid vs. a water bottle, but sometimes a water bottle might be the better option.
I'm still perfecting wintertime hydration.

8. The most important suggestion of all- Have Fun! I have not been to an event that has not been fun or that wasn't enjoyable. Once you get going, the tension will lesson and it will seem more like a bike ride vs. a race.

These are some thoughts that I've come up with as I enter into my second season of sporadically attending events. Making the decision to participate at events on a local level and beyond has been a very positive thing for me, and I'm sure you will find that it can be an eye-opening experience for you as well! Throw away the worries, fears, and concerns and just do it- you just might surprise yourself and find yet another reason to love riding bikes!

If you find that events aren't really your cup of tea when it comes to participating, no problem! If you enjoy all the other aspects of the events, consider volunteering. Many times people who put on events look for assistance: timing, course set-up, registration, social media, and much more. Connect with the group that organizes and see what's possible! It's a super way to become more involved with the community.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Women Involved Series: Phoebe Cornog

I'm currently working as a graphic designer for Electra Bicycle Company. I design everything from the fender graphics for our fashion bikes to our socks and t-shirts. It's an exciting environment to work in. The range in products is huge and challenges me as a designer. I designed and created two large murals for Electra this year, and those were definitely my favorite projects. I'm finding that I'm becoming very interested in installation design and environmental graphics.

Some challenges working at Electra are designing products that sell in a bike shop. Bike shops are not frequented by many other people than avid cyclists. 

Our product is not used by avid cyclists but more for people who just want to get on a bike to relax and cruise. This brings up a larger discussion. Why is cycling such an elitist sport? Running has gone mainstream. Everyone owns a pair of sneakers. What makes cycling so intimidating? The clicky shoes? This is a hard aspect of my job at Electra and something that I am continuing to explore.

In terms of my own athletic career, I have halted training for races because I am focusing on my career. All of my extra time goes in to designing and I'm not really interested in paying $300 for triathlons anymore. However, I'm still a big runner. It's been fun working in Encinitas, because my coworkers and I will go on runs along the coast during our lunch hour. My favorite is running on the beach during low tide.

Check out Phoebe's On Bikes ('14) interview!

When we first connected you were just starting at Electra, how has the job been going and what are you loving about it?
Electra is great. I have learned so much about the action sports industry. I also love that I have been able to explore a lot of styles in my illustration/graphic work.

What has been the most fun thing you've designed so far? Or which design are you most proud of?
Well, it's always cool seeing your artwork on a fender. I designed two kids bikes that have ice cream sandwiches, cones, popsicles all over them. Those are super cute and were fun to do! Most recently though, I painted a massive mural at our headquarters. I'm really proud of that because I designed and painted it mostly on my own. There's something about creating something larger than life that gets my adrenaline going.

Being involved with a bike brand that is geared towards casual cycling- what do you try to do on your end make it feel more down to earth for the casual cyclist?
Everything from the designs of the frames to the padding in the saddles is tailored for the casual cyclist.
The best selling bike in America is our Townie and its because the ladies' frame is step through, so you can get on and off really easily. It also has flat foot technology, so that you can always be sitting upright.

Having had a bit of competitive cycling in the past (Triathlons) was the switch to a casual cycling company hard at first or did it feel natural?
It felt natural. It's definitely a different vibe but I find it to be more fun. It's not a pretentious atmosphere, definitely very welcoming, which is something I think the competitive cycling industry needs to work on.

What do you feel the industry could do to make cycling feel more inclusive vs. exclusive?
Color and texture could help a lot. People are intimidated by black spandex. It sounds silly, but it's true. Also, just supporting more brands like Electra, which feature cycling as a leisure activity rather than strictly exercise.

Why do you enjoy being involved with the cycling industry? What has been the most rewarding aspect?
I enjoy the challenge of getting more people on bikes. America is really lame in comparison to rest of the world in that way. Nobody bikes here like they do in Europe. I feel that being a part of an industry that is essentially making the world greener and healthier is rewarding.

Why do you feel more women should become involved in the cycling industry?
More women can be more involved in most industries. Why not?

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
Like I said before, cycling is intimidating. You need black spandex everything and clicky shoes. Why would that sound exciting to anyone?

What do you feel could happen industry-wise to encourage more women to be involved with cycling?
Bringing more color in to the sport the way running has would be a great start. Strides are being made but there is still more that can be done. Bicycle retailers need to step it up.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
They'd get mad street cred. Seriously, it's great exercise and saves gas!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I started a lettering club this summer. Follow us on Instagram @sandiegoletters !