Women on Bikes Series: Stacy Chapin

Hi there - I'm Stacy and currently live in Hayward, WI which is home of the American Birkebeiner and the Cheguamegon Fattire Festival (among several other local race events).

My love of biking, specifically mountain biking and fat biking, began when I moved to the area a little over three years ago to be with my (now) husband, Scott. 

Prior to moving here, I was really into running and had completed two marathons but my body was not holding up to the sport very well anymore. I was looking to get into cycling and bought a used road bike (that I knew nothing about). Scott came into my life at the perfect time and introduced me to nordic skiing and biking. 

The CAMBA trail system and the American Birkebeiner “Birkie” trail are approximately 1.5 miles from our home and we are having a blast!

When did you first start riding a bike? 
Aside from a trike as a toddler, I think I got my first new bike around age 8. It was a Huffy girl’s “dirt” bike. I had a blast on it – I remember going over small jumps that my brother made and learning to do “wheelies”. I loved that bike!

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

As I grew older and got involved in school sports, my bike riding waned with the exception of using it to commute to summer swimming and tennis lessons. Eventually tennis and running became my focus. It would be years later that I came back to biking because running consistently became too hard on my body. Four years ago, when I started dating my husband (Scott), he introduced me to all things biking – road, gravel, mountain biking and fat biking.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing? 
At this point, I have only competed in the Fat Bike Birkie which I love! Last summer, I prepared for my first Chequamegon 40 (Fat Tire), however I didn’t compete due to a crash 6 days prior to the race.  I live near the course and ride parts of it frequently. I really enjoy that kind of riding (lots of ATV trails, gravel and parts of the “Birkie” trail). In addition, we ride a lot of single-track on the CAMBA trails and also ride gravel via the forest roads near our home. We’re doing ‘The Race to the Blue Lagoon’ this summer, which is a gravel race in Iceland that looks like a lot of fun as well. I’m finding that I enjoy participating in races because it pushes me to ride farther and harder. Also it gives me a little structure and keeps me motivated to get out there. More importantly the events are so fun – we know many of the volunteers because we live in the area. We really are spoiled in that sense!

Do you have any suggestions for those looking to compete in their first Birkie event? 
Depending on the distance, I would say get in some longer rides and find as many hills to ride as you can! The Birkie Trail has a lot of hills (some pretty big ones) and it can be a bit daunting if you are not used to descending and climbing these types of hills in the snow. Also, knowing how to adapt in different conditions (i.e. soft snow vs hard packed, adjusting tire pressure etc.) is helpful.

This year you are planning to attend Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, what are your hopes for this event? 
As with every event, I hope to finish safely and enjoy the race. Of course, I do have a finish time that I’m aiming for, but since it will be my first Fat Tire event, having fun and being safe are my two priorities.

Do you have any suggestions for those looking to ride an event over 20 miles? What has helped you out in the past? 

Definitely just get out and ride. If the distance is much longer than you typically ride then I would plan some weekly long rides and gradually increase the distance over the course of several weeks. When I signed up for the Chequamegon 40 last year, I looked at the calendar and planned a long ride every Saturday for several weeks. I tried to stick to the course during those rides and let myself have fun during the week riding single track or gravel rides with my husband. Also, having someone to ride with helps immensely – it can make the ride go much faster and it’s always safer.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride? 
I was terrified! Scott put me on a bike with clipless pedals and off we went. I can’t remember the terrain/route we did but the hills were really tough. I was out of shape and Scott didn’t really have a gauge for my strength and ability. Poor guy – he took a lot of whining and a few times there were tears. I really had to keep at it.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I just kept reminding myself how cool it was to be on a mountain bike. I never imagined I’d be riding this way. I had no idea all this fun was going on up here in northern Wisconsin.

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? 
Yep always clipless. I never really had the option of anything else. Like all things – practice, practice, practice. Also, they can be adjusted if they are too tight. I can’t imagine riding on flat pedals now. Plan on tipping over at least once :)

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome? 
Ohhh yes – I have two that specifically stand out. The first was when I was new to mountain biking. Scott and I were riding an ATV/double track trail in Copper Harbor, MI. He rode ahead at one point and I was not familiar with the trail. We were coming down a hill and quickly came upon a rock bed. I panicked and did exactly what not to do - hit the brakes. I crashed so hard that both of my brake levers were bent. Luckily I was not badly hurt (just a huge hematoma on my thigh with some other bruises). I think this set-in some constant anxiety when riding unfamiliar terrain with my husband. It took me a couple of years to overcome it simply by becoming more skilled. The second crash happened last fall, 6 days prior to the Chequamegon 40. I was feeling pretty fatigued that day so I probably should not have been on my bike. Anyway, I went out to do a short practice run of a section that had a steep rocky descent. I was on a gravel/double track road that connects to the part of the course where I was headed. I started to go down a hill and made a poorly timed decision to turn on my rear shock. It requires me to reach down below my seat post and the next thing I knew I was crashing down the hill. I sustained a slight concussion and injured my shoulder pretty badly. No race for me. I was devastated. Also, I couldn’t bike for two weeks (doctor’s orders). I thought that since I didn’t crash doing anything “technical” (it seemed like sort of a freak thing) that I would have no problem getting back to it. Ugh, I was wrong. My first ride back, I rode my fat bike to keep the jarring at a minimum (concussion) and just wanted more stability. It was tough. I had anxiety just going down a modest hill. So I just did some basic gravel riding for a while. Then the snow came and I started winter biking. Fat biking all winter has helped immensely.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I think one of the first things was simply how I positioned myself on my bike when riding single-track. I had a tendency to “sit” on my bike and once I figured out how to stand and hover over my seat, I noticed how much easier it was to absorb the bumps etc. Also, fear was an issue. I was always looking for excuses to ride anything other than single-track which drove Scott nuts (lol). I had to get over the mental aspect of it.

Originally, I started out by riding (single-track) with Scott who is extremely fast and skilled so I was mortified all the time. Finally, I just forced myself to ride on my own and go at my own pace - which has helped me so much. So perhaps riding with someone who has similar abilities and/or going at your own pace might be helpful.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding? 
Absolutely – I still consider myself pretty “green” when it comes to single-track. Big rocks or rock beds are very intimidating. Also going into banked turns can be tricky for me when leaning to the right. Steep downhills that have turns or some other change in course can be challenging for me especially if I have not been on that particular trail before. Lastly, super steep climbs are tough from a balance standpoint. The notorious “Fire Tower” climb on the Chequamegon 40 course has something like five passes and the first is so steep that it is difficult to stay on the bike. I flipped over backwards the first time I attempted it!

What inspired you to start fat biking? Many people have misconceptions that the bikes are heavy and hard to pedal. What can you share about your experience? 
Scott got me into it (big surprise, right?). When I started dating him in 2012, he already had a Salsa Mukluk. I moved to the Seeley area (Hayward, WI) in the fall of that same year. Learning to ski was naturally the thing to do in Birkie country so I was preoccupied with that. Fat biking was relatively new to the area, but I saw how much fun Scott was having so I expressed interest in it. The next year we were married in October 2013. We bought two Salsa Beargrease fat bikes as “wedding gifts”. They have a carbon frame so they are nice and light. It was a little challenging at first when riding in soft fresh snow, but you eventually learn how to handle the bike. When the snow is cold and packed it is a blast – very fast. We do have studs in our tires to prevent crashing on ice. Scott went down pretty hard once when we went out on a fire lane (forest road) ride. There was a sheet of ice hidden under a dusting of snow and down he went. He immediately bought and installed the studs. They are amazing! Also we put carbon rims on so I think they are about as a light as our mountain bikes. I absolutely LOVE this bike – it was a total game changer with respect to winter. We groom the single-track trails up here and at times the conditions are like riding on dirt. And of course there’s the Fat Bike Birkie – super fun! The sport has really caught on. It seems like everyone is getting a fat bike around here!

Your husband is a rider as well! What is the best part about being able to ride bikes with your husband? 
We have a blast! We’re both total goof balls and this is often manifested on our bikes. I’m not able to ride with him all the time as he is much faster and way more skilled, but over the years it has gotten much easier. Because we both love to bike so much, it’s nice to be able to spend that time together. I’ve learned so much from him and continue to learn. Furthermore, we love to travel and try to incorporate biking into every trip.

Do you have any suggestions for couples who are looking to mountain bike together? Especially if one is introducing the other to the sport? 

Oh my, where do I start?? It took a long time for me to enjoy riding with Scott because I was not as fit, lacked skills and always afraid of where he would take me. When I was new to the area, friends of his would tell me “you be careful out there with him – he’s nuts!” I thought it was funny at first but I had to learn to set boundaries…He was really ambitious to ride with me…and because of my first crash that I described above I didn’t trust him with my safety for a long time. We actually fought a lot at first (I expressed my fear as anger and frustration) but we both hung in there and was so worth it. So I would say be very, very patient with one another. You need to be able to communicate – how the bike feels, if something mechanically does not seem right, if you are having trouble with a skill or if you are fatigued etc…

What do you love about riding? 

I love the excitement, variety of terrain options, speed and the ability to see more of the outdoors. It feels like freedom. With running, I could only go so far for so long. Biking allows for so much more.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them? 
I currently have a LeMond road bike that we are in the process of selling. Because of the dangers of road biking and distracted drivers we no longer do much road biking. My Fat Bike is a Salsa Beargrease, and my mountain bike is the Trek Lush. Also we just purchased “gravel” bikes – the Salsa Cutthroat. Scott chose the bikes so it is difficult for me to articulate why but he has a lot of connections in the industry due to his career and knows a ton about what is out in the market. I’d say the common denominator in these bikes is a carbon frame which makes for a lighter bike. They are all great bikes!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking? 
I hate to say this but I really don’t know – at least in terms of gender. There seems to be a solid number of women who bike where I live so I hadn’t thought about this. Personally, I had never considered mountain biking prior to dating my husband. This is because I didn’t live near any trails or know anyone who rode until I moved here. So lack of access and awareness were my reasons. It is possible that the sport is more marketed to men but they seem to be the majority at this time. When I peek at race results, there is clearly a lopsided number of men vs women doing these events so it’s something to consider.

What do you feel could happen industry-wise and/or locally to encourage more women to be involved? 
I would say more women’s clinics that are well-marketed. We finally have a women’s clinic coming in the Hayward area this fall that is being run by CAMBA.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride? 
Comradery and friendship. It’s much more fun to ride with friends than riding alone (and safer too!).

Tell us a random fact about yourself! 
Hmm… we have two border collies that we adore. A two-year old brown and white male named “Bodo” and a seven-year old tri-color female named “Molly”. We consider them our “children” so they are totally spoiled!