Women on Bikes Series: Holly Windschitl

I am a registered nurse living in Minneapolis. I've been biking for about 3 years. My main disciplines are gravel endurance (100 miles) and mountain biking.

I started mountain biking in July of 2014 and started racing mtbs this year. I'm starting to race cyclocross this fall too which is a whole new challenge and have my first official race on Saturday. I practice yoga as cross training for biking. 

When did you first start riding a bike?
I have my older brother, Justin, to thank for teaching me to ride a bike when I was about 4 years old. I rode a small amount as a kid, but often didn't like to due to not having a properly working bike or a saddle to fit my butt or friends who liked to ride. Justin managed to convince me to give biking another try about 5 years ago and said it wasn't as terrible as it was when we were kids and so I purchased my first 'nice' bike, a Marin Muirwoods 29'er in 2011.

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

It took me a year and a half before I actually got around to riding my Marin, but I soon realized how enjoyable it was. I initially used biking as part of a workout plan and I was so proud of myself when I would do a 15-20 mile ride. In winter of 2013 I decided I was going to give Almanzo 100 a try for the first time so used that as motivation to increase my mileage. Having such a huge network of trail systems so close to my house has made it very easy to get out and explore by bike. And by biking around Minneapolis I have learned more about the city than I ever would if traveling by car.

What would be your favorite competition and why do you enjoy competing?
Being so new to cycling and racing I have yet to pick a favorite, but I am definitely looking forward to the Dakota 5-0 in 2016. I had two flats during the 2015 race which was extremely frustrating and greatly impacted my finish time. I enjoy competing because it gives me a goal to work towards and a way to push myself. Without races to train for I would be a pretty lazy biker.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
My first mountain bike ride was in the fall of 2013 along the River Bottoms trails so it was nothing too technical or challenging, but I enjoyed it and wanted to do more of it. My next attempt was the following February on a winter getaway to Tucson, AZ. That experience was much different from the River Bottoms as it was actual mountain biking! I remember feeling scared and nervous, but I also had a lot of fun. In early summer I borrowed a friend's mountain bikes for a few rides before deciding to take the plunge and buy my current mountain bike. The rest they say is history!

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I still have nervousness when riding a new trail. It is the fear of the unknown that gets me every time. When riding a new trail I tend to take the first lap pretty slow to make sure there isn't anything I could launch myself off of or over and get hurt. I have learned the hard way when approaching obstacles/technical features that if I have even the slightest hesitation towards it that I am not allowed to try it. It has been those half-ass, no confidence attempts in the past that have led to some of my crashes. And sometimes the best way to overcome my nervousness is to watch a fellow rider do it first to see which line they pick and to see that it actually can be done.

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?
I do ride clipless, which I have always thought sounds backwards. I would suggest to loosen the tension on your pedals as much as possible so it is easier to get your foot out. This was especially helpful when I was new and super nervous about clipping in. I still unclip my foot if I am coming into a situation that makes me uncomfortable or I want to be able to put a foot down quickly. Even though I have been riding clipless for a couple years I still occasionally have a tipover. The good thing about a tipover is it generally happens at a very low speed and usually only bruises your ego more than anything.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Absolutely!!! I have had so many crashes and each of them have helped me learn an important lesson. In fall of 2014 I had two really big crashes at Lebanon Hills on features I had rode all summer long. As to why they finally got me towards the end, and not the beginning, I have no idea. I also was giving cyclocross a tiny attempt, but on the wrong kind of bike, which led to some crashes as well. After the second big crash at Leb I was talking to a good friend about how stressed out I was about mountain biking and cyclocross and how I didn't want to do it anymore. He looked at me and said "so don't do it then". That small comment was all it took for me to take a step back and allow myself to not do everything when it comes to biking. I had lost that fun feeling I get from riding and was a constant ball of stress and nerves. So I stopped my attempts at cyclocross and I took a break from Lebanon. This year I have worked harder on my overall bike handling skills and time on the trail. It has also been really helpful to talk with other women about mountain biking as a lot of us have had similar experiences or have similar fears. At this moment in biking I don't worry about crashing, but I do know that from time-to-time it will happen, and I am sure I can tell you why I think it happened. I like to remind non-bikers that they didn't learn to walk in one day, and that they probably had falls as they learned. Mountain biking is just a different way to 'walk'.

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

Being so new to mountain biking I feel I have so much to learn. It is amazing to see the improvements I made last summer and I can't wait to see how I improve this summer as well. It was really helpful to attend the Ladies AllRide Grit clinic with Lindsey Voreis. We worked in small groups on very basic mountain bike skills and body positioning. As much as I would like to say I didn't need that kind of instruction I truly did and still do. I didn't realize how many basic skills I lack and it was really cool to work on them with a bunch of rad women. It was after this clinic that I learned how to pump through rollers and really use my body weight to my advantage when I'm out on the trail. One of the simplest things I took away from the clinic was being in the 'ready' position: standing while downhilling, even weight on pedals, one finger on each brake, arms slightly bent with elbows slightly out and legs slightly lose so you're ready to react.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I struggle with short, steep descents and I have yet to figure out the best way to get down them. Giant rocks can always throw me for a loop. A mentor gave me some good advice though; he said just think of it as a giant pile of dirt, which doesn't seem nearly as scary. It helps sometimes, but not always. I don't let myself get dragged down by not doing a certain obstacle because each day out riding is different. Things you accomplished yesterday may not happen today and the obstacles you accomplished today might not happen tomorrow. You never know how your ride will unfold until you are out there doing it. I don't ever feel obligated to try an obstacle just because someone else thinks I should. My ride is not their ride and vice versa. I never look down on a rider for not trying something I tried.

Tell us about why you enjoy gravel riding-
Because it's gravel!!!!! It is so beautiful and challenging in so many ways. It allows me to see rural parts of MN that I wouldn't see by car. I love the supportive atmosphere, whether you finish Almanzo in 5 hours or 12 hours everyone will be so stoked that you finished. It doesn't have the stuck up mentality that I have encountered in some other cycling disciplines.

Cyclocross- What prompted you to give it a go and what have you learned so far?

After feeling like I gave up on cyclocross (cx) in 2014 I decided I wanted to give it a better try this year. I purchased a new bike for gravel races and it just happened to be a cyclocross bike so I felt like I had no excuses left to not do it. I have learned a lot this year with cyclocross and have had a fair amount of success racing as a category 4 (beginner). I feel my mountain bike race experience and my endurance training earlier this year helped get me through my cx races. And although I had successes I find it very comical to look back on each of my races and realize how much I have to learn when it comes to cx. I have yet to figure out how to ride through sand and mud and my dismounts/remounts need a fair amount of work too. I am learning to push through the pain and know that the race is only temporary and I am strong enough to get through it. I have realized that callups (start position) at the race are important otherwise you have a lot of work to do to get past riders in the beginning of the race. Overall I need to become more aggressive with cx racing, and work on my passing game, as I often found myself feeling stuck behind other racers that I needed to get around. When you only have 30 minutes to race each minute and every second becomes extra important. And while I am sitting behind other riders the leaders are only getting farther ahead of me.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything! It can be done for leisure or for a challenge. And you never know how your ride is going to go until you get out and do it. I have felt miserable and dreaded doing a certain ride and then gone out and crushed my hill workout. I've also had the opposite and felt amazing before my ride and then everything was so hard to do on the bike. I love being able to leave my house without a set destination in mind. Biking allows me to clear my mind as I think about all sorts of random things as I push the pedals.

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

I have 6 bikes right now. I ride a Specialized Ruby for the road, Niner Air9 for mountain, Marin Cortina T3 CX for cyclocross, a singlespeed Surly Pugsley for my fat bike, Salsa Vaya for around town and a Marin Muirwoods 29er for my winter bike. I hate to say it but I generally pick my bikes based on their looks. 4 of my 6 bikes are mostly black, which allows me to add colored bar tape or water bottle cages or pedals. I am generally not a fan of super bright bikes or all the girly colors they put on women's specific bikes. My first bike was the Marin Muirwoods which I rode for a little over a year. After realizing I could go faster, but not on that bike I purchased my Specialized Ruby. The next bike was my Salsa Vaya after getting curious about gravel racing and not having a bike to ride for it. Then came my mountain bike in the summer of 2014. My Pugsley came in the fall of 2014 as I was thinking about riding in the winter for the first time. Late summer of 2015 is when my Marin Cortina entered my life as my new gravel racing machine and also for cyclocross. This year I am looking to get a different mountain bike because my current one is not the right size for me.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I love jerseys by Twin Six because they are long enough for my torso. I would purchase almost anything by Giro as it is super comfy and they offer neutral colors that work on and off the bike. I often feel with clothing and accessories it just comes down to personal choice and preference. What works for me may not work for someone else. And it takes trial and error to figure it all out. A chamois and chamois cream is a must for anything more than 20 miles for me.

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

I think with anything new it is the intimidation factor right from the start. I have often been worried about slowing other riders down when I've been new to something and that is a hard habit to break. I think the fact that it is a male dominated sport is the largest barrier. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by supportive males when it comes to cycling, but I know that is not always the case. All it takes is one bad experience with some bro to discourage you from trying something new. I think with mountain biking there is always the fear of falling and getting hurt. I've had some pretty rough crashes on the mountain bike trail, but thankfully it has only been scrapes, bumps and bruises at this point. At times though it has been hard to get back on the bike and pedal away because it does shake you up quite a bit. Most of the time I hear women say 'Oh I can't do that', which is so not true!!! You absolutely can be out on the trails and riding, but it is going to be slow and it's going to take time to learn those new skills you need.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride? What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I'm absolutely loving all of the women's specific clinics and rides that are popping up. I will be leading the Women's/Trans/Femme (WTF) ride for The Hub Bike Co-op this summer and one of my favorite things is to talk about cycling with those riders that are on the fence. I think being clear with what they can expect on a ride is super important (pace, mileage, terrain). I love to remind new riders that I was once, and still am, new to cycling. So although they can't imagine doing a 100 mile ride/race that isn't the place we all start from. Lately my Facebook memories from 3-4 years ago are when I first started riding and it is fun to see my first rides of the season were 12 miles and remembering how big of an accomplishment that was for me. We all start somewhere and sometimes we all just need a little more encouragement and support to push ourselves to find our limits.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have delivered a couple of babies and attended hundreds of births.

Most recently I was also featured in the Star Tribune.

I can be found on Facebook or Instagram as lostinmpls. I also have a blog but it has not been updated for a long time Beast-Biker-Beauty.