Women on Bikes Series: Betsy Van Cleve Stiegler

My name is Betsy Van Cleve Stiegler, and I'm a 28yo from Saint Louis Park, MN. I work in development at a local private high school. My first bike was a dumpy Marin mountain bike I got when I was about 12 -- it carried me through my high school years of biking to and from school and around the neighborhood with friends. At that point in time, I had no idea what mountain biking (or even road riding) was. I was much more into the soccer circuit at that point in my life.

I headed off to school at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University.

I took up long-distance running to save my knees from soccer injuries, finishing my first half marathon in 2008 up in Saint Cloud. It was around that time that I met a Johnnie. This Johnnie, Keir, just happened to be an avid biker and Nordic skier. Not only was he a bike enthusiast, but his immediate family (Mike, Sonja, and younger brother Cole Stiegler) was also into biking... AND a lot of his extended family.

I didn't know what I was getting into, especially with my over-sized and recently purchased Specialized road bike. I start to accompany Keir on a few rides along the Wobegon in Stearns County which moved into road rides with his family in the Cities. Those turned into to week long trips in Colorado and New Mexico -- which were at times trying since I had NO experience shifting on hills. I was convinced to join the Stiegler's on a few mountain bike rides through the trails in Elm Creek in Maple Grove. Sonja loaned me her beloved Trek bike for the rides since I only had my one road bike. Even after a few rides and the energy that comes along with mountain biking, I still preferred my long runs on the Luce Line and city trails. I've run too many half marathons and recently completed my 3rd full marathon (Twin Cities Marathon) in October.

 After Keir proposed in July 2013, the running joke became that I would have to complete a Chequamegon race before officially joining the Stiegler family. The Stiegler's have been riding the Chequamegon for YEARS AND YEARS -- so this is a tradition for them. With a wedding date of 10/4/14, I had some work to do. I continued to borrow Sonja's bike from time to time in the summer 2013 -- and officially signed up for the 2014 Short and Fat -- which also happened to be two weeks before our wedding. Training became a lot easier when I was gifted my own mountain bike spring 2014 -- and before I knew it I was riding/pushing my bike up Big Bertha. I'll ride my 3rd Short and Fat this coming September as an "official" member of the Stiegler family.

I love the Chequamegon trails up in Hayward, WI because of how open they are. I've never been a huge fan of single track riding because I hate feeling like I'm holding others up. I take technical courses like Theodore Wirth here in Minneapolis slowly -- I'm still getting used to maneuvering my bike.

First Chequamegon 2014 finish

My husband would like say that my riding still is a bit like a "bull in a China shop" -- I love taking the descents fast! I've had some memorable crashes -- which have forced me to be a bit more cautious. My heart beat on a mountain bike races a lot faster that an other activities I've been involved with -- you just never know what the trails will bring which is exciting.

You weren’t an avid cyclist when you met your future husband, what was the experience on immersing yourself into a cycling family?
It was definitely a challenge. I had never really ridden a bike more than a few blocks before I met Keir. I had an over sized bike which made it all the more uncomfortable to go out on longer rides. But, alas, I pushed through and made it work. Our solo rides soon became joint rides which I came to enjoy over time. As I became a stronger rider (and actually knowing HOW to properly shift), I was able to keep up with the group and actually have a conversation instead of struggling to breathe.

You enjoy running and marathons- do you feel cycling has helped you in any way with your athletic passion?
Definitely. Running, especially longer distances, beats down your body -- and it definitely burns you out. I've found that cycling really is a "replenisher" - it gives my body time to recover after committing to long distance running training. My knees and body hurts less on a bike -- and when I hurt less, I feel much more active and alert which drives my athletic passion further.

What would you say is your motivation for riding?
Keeping my husband, Keir, happy. No, no -- in all seriousness, I like riding because it's a great cross-training exercise for me. Running gets to be boring. I'll spend hours on a treadmill or on the trail one foot after another. Biking gets me out into the world and allows a fresh routine for my mind and body.

You attended your first Chequamegon event in ’14- what was your experience like?
It was a nerve-wracking first race! Being packed in to a start gate with not only a ton of people but a ton of bikes is a lot different than a running race. Getting clipped by a bike can be a lot more damaging than getting clipped by a runner. With a wedding date of a month later, I knew I had to keep my wheels up and take it real easy. Once I got the pre-race jitters out, the race was challenging and a lot of fun. I had one little mechanical when my chain came off, but I somehow muddled through putting it back on and went on my way. I was really happy to get across the finish line and even happier to get a beer in hand.

What do you feel helped you accomplish your first Short and Fat event? Any tips/suggestions?

I rode the course a couple of weeks beforehand with family which was really helpful. I could envision certain areas that were trickier than others so I could get pumped up before I encountered them on race day. I also went into the day with the only expectation of having fun which is exactly what I did.

Do you see the 40 mile event in your future?

HECK NO! I watch Keir and my in-law's push up Fire Tower every summer when we ride the trails in the Chequamegon -- and I would die. No pirate cheers or rum could get me up that thing. I really do love the Short and Fat because it's a manageable distance and terrain for me. I'm not a huge fan of single track, mainly because I don't like the feeling of holding people up -- and the Short and Fat is mostly open.

For those who have not attended a Chequamegon event, tell us why you enjoy attending/participating.

It is a beautiful course and in a wonderful area of Wisconsin. The organizers do a great job of balancing a competitive environment with a fun-filled weekend. Hayward, Cable, and Telemark are such fantastic hosts.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Really nervous. I used my mother-in-law's prized Trek for a spin with my husband up at Elm Creek in Maple Grove. Shifting on a mountain bike is an art -- and I was no Picasso. Keir and my in-laws are all really strong riders, and they are always very patient which I really appreciate. I don't remember the first ride being really eventful which is probably a good thing.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
Honestly, I just wanted to get it over with -- and I thought of exactly that. I didn't know what to expect and that insecurity made me really tense. It wasn't a really pleasant experience because I didn't take any time to really enjoy it. The first go at something new and adventurous is always scary, but they only get better from there.

New Mexico 2011 Top of Rollers -- yes, this is me wiping away the tears and sweat after powering up the set of awful rollers. I was upset and elated to have made it to the top.
Looking back on your first few rides, what suggestions would you give to yourself from what you’ve learned?
Take.it.SLOW. The excitement of the first few rides is overwhelming, and you really get lost in the pressure of every single movement. I wish now that I had taken the extra steps at the beginning to get used to my bike and all its confusing components. I think I would have avoided a lot of scrapes and bruises if I just took some time to get acclimated instead of charging headfirst.

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 am a regular pedal girl on both my road bike and my mountain bike. There are definitely pluses and minuses to my pedal methods. I've tried clipless pedals a few times, but I think I enjoy the flexibility and control of being able to move around my foot easily whenever I want to. I get nervous about the idea of falling off my bike or crashing and not being able to quickly detach from it. But, I know that clipless pedals can help with power, especially on a mountain bike. Sometimes downhills on bumpy terrain with regular pedals is unnerving -- your feet slip off and bounce around. I have never counted out trying again -- circle back with me in a year and see where I'm at.

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 have had some VERY memorable endo's -- and some have been very painful. One of my first rides at Elm Creek included a "silent crash". My family was ahead of me by a ways, and I hit a tree root wrong and went flying. We were nearing the end of the ride, and I was embarrassed and didn't want anyone to know. So, I hopped back up, wiped away my tears, and finished the ride. I had the gnarliest bruise (picture) I've EVER had in my life. We were just up in the Chequamegon a few weeks ago, and I took a downhill through deep sand too fast. Corrected once, corrected twice, and then boom! I flew off my bike and into the sandpit -- luckily, no big injuries. These crashes definitely rattled me a bit. I tend to take bikes a bit more cautiously immediately after them. I'm always learning about biking -- and I think these experiences have helped me ride smarter.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Shifting, shifting, shifting -- my gosh, the power of shifting. I had no clue how to properly shift on a bike. We took a trip to New Mexico for some road riding back in 2011 and ventured out to the "Infamous Albuquerque Rollers". Over sized bike + little to no shifting knowledge = bad idea. I have never walked so shamelessly up ginormous hills with tears rolling down my face. Keir has worked a lot with me on telling me when to shift, what levers to shift with -- a lot of "backseat biking" if you will. I finally feel comfortable maneuvering shifting, but it's taken a lot of practice.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Ruttier sections of trail (tree roots, rocks, etc.) are always a bit trickier to handle. A rock that looks stationary likely isn't -- so you really have to be ready to hold tight to your handlebars and feel out the terrain. Throw in some tight winding track, and you have to concentrate that much more. I get really discouraged when I'm feeling slow, or having to pop on and off my bike a lot. Sometimes I just have to remind myself to breathe and just have fun. Every ride isn't a race, and it shouldn't be. I'll always be a bit of a novice when it comes to riding -- and I like it that way.

My husband and I completed the MS 150 back in June 2014 from Duluth to the Twin Cities.
75 miles per day for back to back days -- quite the ride!
What do you love about riding your bike?
I'm never alone when I ride my bike -- I really love riding with Keir and family. They're the one's that are usually getting me out riding instead of logging hours at the gym or on the running trails.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have two bikes -- my road bike and my mountain bike. My road bike is a Specialized Dolce Elite. It's your typical aluminum frame -- a stock bike I got when Keir worked at Erik's a few years ago. It was a good buy -- and a reasonable beginner bike. We're not sure if it's a little too big or a little too small -- I do wish it was a little more comfortable, but it works for now. I definitely recommend getting a fit by a specialist before buying a bike just to be sure.

My mountain bike is the BOMB. My mother-in-law bought it for me as a "first mountain bike/first Chequamegon/thanks for marrying my son" gift. It's a Specialized Jett Expert 29er, and it rolls over everything in its path. It's comfortable, durable, and fast. My husband had a lot of input in the choice because "happy wife, happy life" -- and he knew if I loved it that meant more riding from me.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I love my College of Saint Benedict/St. John's Cycling gear -- I love representing a place that has always meant so much to me. I prefer bib shorts over regular shorts -- even though it's a hassle to use the bathroom, they're more snug and stay up. I always try to have my Specialized odometer/bike computer because I like celebrating mileage milestones or seeing how fast I go on a descent. I never go on a run or ride without my RoadID -- you never know what may happen on the trails/roads, and I want to make sure any first responder has my information.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
For me, there's a lot of "what if's" to biking that yoga, running, cardio, and other exercises don't have. What if I crash -- what if I get a flat tire and I don't know how to change it - what if I get lost - and so on. It's really "unknown territory" unless you're brought up living and breathing it.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
I think basic intro to biking classes offered by bike shops would be great. Bike shops should be passionate about all bikers -- no matter their skill set. If you buy a bike, you should be invited to have your first ride with a "professional"/employee of the shop and a group of beginners riders (whether this be by gender or not). Someone who will teach you the basics of shifting, how to change a flat, what biking etiquette is, and so on. It will enable female riders to be comfortable and knowledgeable -- and hey, the bike shop will gain a client for life.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
As I mentioned, I will never be an expert when it comes to biking - ever. But, I'm cool with that. Embracing adventure is the best -- and you're never going to experience the same exact ride twice. I think being active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for all women, and riding is just one of the most wonderful ways to do that.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm a twin! I have a twin brother, and we are NOTHING alike. I'm short and built and my brother is tall and skinny. I loves sports and the outdoors, and my brother enjoys the arts and being a smart cookies. He doesn't know how to ride a bike...but I like to think we're working on it.