Women on Bikes Series: Sonia Pond
I have been trying to keep up with my brothers since I could crawl. I biked with them and my parents for fun my whole life, until last year when I started racing. I regret not getting into race scene sooner, but my fear of failure and "losing" held me back.
Luckily, last year I joined Midtown Cycling after encouragement from my brother Joe, where Randall Huskamp insisted I try a crit. The challenge, community, and my family/friends pushed me to race more road and mountain bike races.
Now with my boyfriend Chris by my side, we are able to share many experiences around cycling and racing.
Less about win vs. lose and more about seeing what I am capable of. "What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?" Sometimes it feels like both.
This year I joined Kingfield Women's Race Team for road racing and Freewheel Bike for mountain biking. Utilizing the amazing knowledge and resources of both teams is helping me do things I never thought possible!
When did you first start riding a bike?
I started riding bikes when I was around 5. I had a little trike before that so I could at least pretend to be riding. My parents, brothers, and I would ride almost every day in the summer, sometimes even venturing down to the river bottoms nearby or go on trips around Minnesota. It was a great way to spend time together as a family. I stopped riding after elementary school, and picked it up again in college when I decided to get out of the lacrosse scene. My dad used to pick me up from the U several times a week and we would tear around Theodore Wirth single track before my next class.
What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Definitely my family and the friends I have met over the years through cycling. My family meets up several times a week to mountain bike (and fat bike in the winter!). My parents encouraged me to buy a road bike after a bad break-up, and my brother Joe guided me to get into the road riding community last spring. From there, more encouragement came to race and do challenging rides.
What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
That’s a hard one! I’ve definitely learned to love the longer mountain bike races, though I am still inexperienced. I love that it is all up to me. There is time to make mistakes and recover, but I also have to concentrate on getting enough nutrition and hydration. I also love that I can’t just let myself sprint the whole time! That is the big challenge for me right now. I have to learn to save my matches because it’s going to be a long haul!
What tipped the scales and had you participate in your first race event?
My dad and my brother Joe have always been my guiding lights. They believe in me when I have a lot of self-doubt. I imagine my first race was one of the Freewheel Time Trials down in Murphy singletrack. It must have been in college or shortly after. I didn’t like racing much because I hadn’t learned how to learn and grow from not winning. My brother Joe and I had been riding up at Cuyuna 2 years ago when someone told us there was a race the next day. Neither of us had done many races. I remember thinking I had never ridden 21 miles, so opted for the 15 mile race though that distance was a real challenge for me at the time. We both did really well and felt so proud!
Last summer Randall Huskamp paid for my first criterium race at the state fairgrounds. I didn’t want to waste his money, so I pinned on a number and managed to stay with the pelaton! Since then, I’ve learned how to use each race to continue to improve and be inspired by the strength of others.
Do you have suggestions for those who are on the fence about entering a competitive event? Especially if they are worried about being last or “losing”?
Just do it! I regret not doing it sooner, letting the fear of failure hold me back. “What’s the worst that can happen?” I ask myself. Everyone is out there trying to do their best, and you should too.
You joined two teams this year, tell us about them and why it’s fun to participate with a team-
Kingfield Racing is a women’s road racing team out of Kingfield Crossfit and Endurance in Minneapolis. They are an amazing group! Road racing can be really brutal and grueling sometimes. But there is no better feeling than having teammates alongside you in the peloton. It’s fun going to races and having smiling faces there to take some of the pressure off. Growing up playing team sports, I also love the fact we can work as a team to meet our goals! My brother Joe told me last summer, “maybe someday you can join a women's team”. I never imagined I would…I feel so lucky to have met this group and have them inspire me every race and ride.
The Freewheel Mountain Bike Team has also been such a blessing. The resources available have been really valuable to helping me as I train to achieve some of my goals with the endurance mountain bike events. Kevin has provided some great information and mentorship for my brother Joe and I. There is so much to learn, and the more we can learn from the elite, the better! I’ve even had a few cheers of “go Freewheel!” at the past few races, and I feel so proud to represent a company I believe in!
Overall, what have you learned about yourself since you started participating in competitive events?
I’ve learned I am stronger mentally and physically than I thought. If I hear of something I want to do or see, I have the confidence to do it.
Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
I do recall going to Lebanon Hills when I was younger, and flying into the woods on a technical section. I was done with mountain biking after that, until after college like I mentioned. It is really hard! Once I returned, I remember the fun darting through the trees at Theo. There was lots of crashing and some tears but my dad stayed patient and made it fun for me.
If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
Lately, I have been trying to visualize my race before I start. I picture how I will start, how I will climb, and how I will finish. It helps me to think I have a plan and strategy. I still get nervous though. I’ve found the more races I do, the less nervous I get for the smaller or shorter races.
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, I use clipless pedals! I don’t remember when I made the switch. I am resistant to change, but seriously, the power difference is amazing, and it has helped me learn to accelerate over obstacles and rock gardens. Instead of thinking “I’ll just take my foot out and scoot over this section” I learned that I better keep pedaling to get over it before I tip over. You can use it as motivation to get over the tricky parts. However, if you are bruised and battered, switch over to the platforms for a bit and let yourself heal. Then try again!
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 pretty lucky (knock on wood) to not have anything stand out in my mind. I used to crash a lot several years back, once I picked up the pace and was still learning how my bike handled the speed. I would come home bruised and bloodied every day. My dad would tell me to just keep going. It’s a phase all mountain bikers go through. Once you’re on the other side, you learn how to crash and protect yourself (most of the time), and also become more in sync with the bicycle and the input you are feeling from the tires and suspension. AKA whether you need to slow down!
EDIT: A few weeks ago I unfortunately had my first road race crash. The worst part for me was and continues to be the pictures in my head of my friends/teammates bloody and hurt beside me. Since then, it has been a struggle to “get back on the saddle.” My teammates are encouraging me to get back out there as soon as I am healed to get over the mental block. The sooner I prove to my mind I can do it again, the better. My strategy will be to try to stay with the peloton and to keep a smile on my face the whole time. I’ll keep you updated on how it goes! I also think it gave me a reminder to respect the intensity of our sport and the racers around me.
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 used to have a tough time with off-camber root sections and rock fields. Practice makes perfect! Flying through tight trees and fast downhills doesn’t come naturally to most people. But the more you practice, the more it will become second nature. It’s helpful to visit the same trail or trails as you are gaining skills. You know where the roots, rocks, and tight sections are. Then you can move on to less familiar trails and get used to sighting out the trail as you go!
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I think hills have always been challenging for me! As I’ve worked on my endurance, I am able to recover quicker after a hard hill climb. But that doesn’t mean I don’t dread the next one…I try to push that out of my mind when I am hyper-focusing on a tough technical section or hill. I whisper “concentrate” to myself or even sing an upbeat song in my head!
What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being outside and the ability to make it a solo event or a group activity. It can be whatever I feel like that particular day. It gives me choice and freedom in a world where so much is out of our control. It’s my time to make life about me!
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Trek Lush: My first WSD mountain bike and I finally gave up the 26er. Kevin at Freewheel picked it for me. I love how the 650b wheelsize climbs and tackles obstacles. And the full suspension is so smooth. Sometimes it feels like it accelerates through corners without me even pedaling! It feels like we were meant to be!
Trek Silque: My beautiful roadbike! I picked it because it has pink accents. Oh, and it’s light. It’s fully stock, is a smooth ride, and light as can be. We have been on some amazing rides and races together. It never disappoints on the hills and sprints. Straight off the showroom floor.
Trek Farley 5: A reasonably priced fat bike that I know has the reliability of the Trek name. Wow this thing is fun…I’ve never spent so much time outdoors in the winter before I owned a fat bike! The frame and components are light, what gets heavy is the wheels and tires. A few upgrades for next fat season.
Fatbiking! Many people think fatbikes are heavy and cumbersome. What have you learned about fatbiking and why do you enjoy it?
Mine is a little heavy and cumbersome. However, that can be a huge advantage coming into the road and mountain bike season. Besides that, I learned through fat biking that winter in the Midwest is an absolute gift. At zero degrees, looking through the lense of your goggles, watching the snow fall, and you are tearing through the snow storm with your best friends. Now that’s paradise.
What do you enjoy most about having a partner who loves biking, too?
I feel like the possibilities are endless for what we can do together! We can talk for hours about the rides or races we had, what races we want to do someday, and the mountains we want to visit. It’s a great thing to share with my best friend. We can literally go anywhere, anytime, and be able to hop on bikes.
Do you have any tips/suggestions for couples who want to bike and/or compete together?
Be prepared there might be some stress from one or both sides just from adding the aspect of a hard ride or race! Luckily, Chris keeps me really grounded going into a tough trail or race. He believes in me 110% and is able to keep things light and fun.
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
It’s scary. And it’s a male-dominated scene. However, take advantage of that fact to ride with and learn from anyone you meet, male or female! Some of my favorite riding buddies are guys that have encouraged me yet push me to hang on every time I go with them. Though some riders may be threatened or doubtful of a female on “their ride”, by the end they are usually asking me to bring friends next time! Every time we ride with guys, we are breaking barriers for the next ladies that show up.
What do you feel could happen locally and/or industry-wise to encourage more women to be involved?
More women’s rides and women’s clinics! Though I have never been to one, I look forward to helping this summer as Freewheel organizes a clinic. I adore Martha Flynn’s efforts to bring Little Bella’s to Minnesota. This is the future of women and women cyclists. I have so much respect for each and every person involved in those efforts. As the years go on and things settle for my race schedule, I look forward to joining in on their work (and fun!).
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Biking has changed my life for the better. I want other women to have the feeling of community, improved self-confidence, and overall enjoyment of having a passion you can do anywhere, anytime, with others or by yourself. I don’t know what I would do or be like without biking, I want other women to experience it too!
Tell us a random fact about yourself:
Between cycling races, I race motorcycles too!