Women on Bikes Series: Catherine Gardella

I work at Great Basin Bicycles and consider myself the "Shop Mom" and love every minute I'm at the store.

I'm 50 years-old, I've been married for 23 years, I have two beautiful teen age girls and absolutely love to mountain bike.

I'm a roadie when need to be and have loved sharing my story through the Shebeest brand.

What inspired you to discover your #bikelife?
It was more like “who” inspired me to discover my #bikelife. For several years, I watched my husband and his best friend head out into the hills surrounding our neighborhood for hours on end.
When they’d finish a ride, they would both have these big cheesy grins on their faces and all these exciting details to share about their adventure. I loved seeing how much fun they were having as well as how in-shape they were becoming.

Can you take us back to when you first started mountain biking? What inspired you to give off-road riding a shot?
It was spring of 2012, the snow had melted in the lower Sierra and I found myself with a block of free time during the school day. My husband had just upgraded his mountain bike so I thought it would be safe for me to take out his old bike. Thinking back, I must have looked hilarious. I wore his helmet, riding pants and a pair of athletic shoes I used for hiking. I went out every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for six weeks. I rode the same trail each day, going a little further each time. When I’d come home, I would wash his riding pants, put everything back in its place and not say a word to anyone about my quest to learn how to mountain bike.

When I finally reached the top of the 3.7 mile trail successfully, I told my husband I had learned how to mountain bike. The look on his face was one of shock, curiosity and fear. It was a Saturday morning so he said, “Show me what you got.” We went out and we had a great time together. He enjoyed helping me learn same basic riding skills and he kept taking me out each weekend.

By fall of 2012, I had proved to him mountain biking was something I wanted to continue doing. He surprised me with a flat black, Gary Fisher Trek Rumblefish 29er! She became my “black diamond” and I’ve never stopped riding since.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I started talking non-stop about my rides with my husband and just kept listening as well as following his advice. I also learn you need to check your ego at the trail head. There is so much you have to learn in order to be a safe rider. It’s very important to listen and apply the advice of other riders.

Looking at yourself now and what you have learned- what tips or suggestions would you give to women who are off-road curious?
Just give it a try. Nobody needs the latest and greatest bike or kit to get started. You just need show up, check your ego at the trail head and ride as far as you feel confident and then turn around and go back before you get too tired or too discouraged. Then show up to the same trail and go a bit further every time.

Clips or flats?
Definitely flats for mounting biking. There’s something about my FiveTens and flat pedals that gives me the opportunity to instantly connect with my inner tomboy.

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 encountered to two major biffs. Both were very serious however, neither biff changed my mind-set about mountain biking.

In July 2013, I dislocated my right elbow! Yep, it was a total out of body experience. I tore all the major tendons surrounding my elbow. I couldn’t touch my face for nearly eight weeks and it was a six month recovery. I was back on the bike and completing physical therapy on the exact days my doctor told me I would be.

My second biff happened on August 24, 2015. I was riding a demo and descending on a very familiar trail. I was not used to the sensitive brakes. I was going very fast and managed to lock out the brakes; the bike slid out to my right side and I reached out to brace my fall with my left arm. To be honest with you, it really didn’t hurt. I was super embarrassed. I managed to ride out and even waited 24 hours before going to see my doctor. To make a very long story short, I found myself in surgery four days later and woke up with three screws running down my right humorous.
Recovery was tough. In addition to the physically recovery, I’ve also had to deal with the emotional recovery. Ask my husband, girls, co-workers and friends…I’m riding very cautious this season.

Both injuries were significant. However, my ability to process and work through both of my injuries with support from family, friends and professionals I discovered a sense of strength personally, mentally and physically I never even knew existed inside of 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?
Rock gardens used to really freak me out. I just did not trust my bike or myself. Following my husband’s line and installing a dropper post helped immensely. My husband took the time, got off his bike and had me walk the section before attempting it on the bike. Being able to drop my seat post gave me the ability to lower my center of gravity, connect with my inner tomboy and go for it.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Yes, absolutely. There is never a ride were I don’t find a challenge. I’ve just become more comfortable and confident on my bike. Going out on rides with other women has really helped with my confidence. I find when I’m with my girl friends we spend the majority of our time enjoying each other’s company. We laugh, we talk, we push each other and first and for most…WE HAVE FUN!

What do you love about riding your bike?
Absolutely everything! I love being out in nature. I love the smells, the silence, the sights and the solitude. I love how I get to solve all the world’s problems without saying a single word. I love how I’ve become stronger. I love how I’ve become a better version of myself.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
This past spring, I used my 50th birthday as the perfect excuse to buy myself two new bikes!

Jewel is my mountain bike. She’s a turquoise Yeti ASRC, 29er. I spec’d out each of her components and built her from the frame up. I chose the Yeti brand because I love the organic and old school vibe of the company. My 29" wheel set complements my love of climbing and gives me the ability to pop over Mother Nature's obstacles plus, added confidence to barrel through intimidating terrain.

My road bike is a Cannondale Quick Carbon. Ponce De Leon as I call him is an upright, 11-speed road bike. I chose the Cannondale upright to aid in my shoulder recovery and allow me to ride 50+ miles without too much upper body fatigue this year.

Last but not least is Clyde. He’s my flat black seven speed beach cruiser. My husband and girls game him to me for Mother’s Day seven years ago. I’d have to say Clyde was the bike that ignited my love of cycling.

Tell us what inspired you to become a Shebeest Ambassador.
I was three days post operation. I was sitting on the coach propped up with pillows, pain meds and the September issue of Bicycling magazine. I was just looking at the pictures, not really able to read any fine print and then I saw the Shebeest Ad! It was a picture of women’s legs sporting crazy, cool biking shorts. I knew immediately, I had to have them in Great Basin Bicycles for all my women riders. As I focused on the body copy, I was excited to learn it was a call to action for women to apply for their new ambassador program. I managed to type out an email on my lap top and apply.

A few weeks later, I pitched the line and my desire to become an ambassador to my boss Rich Staley, the owner of Great Basin Bicycles and like always, he trusted my judgment, approved my idea and gave me a budget to work with.

Fast forward a year later: our first Shebeest order sold out in six weeks, I convinced the majority of our lady riders to try wearing Shebeest bibs and Rich and I designed a custom Great Basin Bicycles jersey for our women riders with the talent created staff at Shebeest.

You also work at a bike shop, what does your job entail and why do you love it?
When I work with the media, my title is “Women’s Riding Specialist” but I really prefer “Shop Mom.” I do everything from sweep the floors, manage the retail side of the store, teach in-door cycling, develop media opportunities, sell bikes, and change flat tires. Recently, one of the mechanics paid me a very nice complement. He said, “Cat, you don’t know how to wrench on a bike but you sure can sell one.”

I love working at Great Basin Bicycles because it has given me the opportunity to share a variety of my talents and personality traits. It’s more than just a place of employment. It’s a community where I can laugh and have fun, provide a positive a healthy outlet for people to experience and contribute to the financial success of very unique business model.

Why do you feel women shouldn't be afraid to seek out employment at a bike shop? Why is having a female presence at a bike shop valuable?
If you eliminate bright colors and fashion from the cycling industry, women provide a very valuable perspective to the entire riding experience. Our bodies respond differently to the mechanics of the bike as well as the terrain.

Women entering the cycling industry need to realize: no guy will ever be able to explain with accurate detail, certainty and confidence why a women’s specific saddle is better than a unisex saddle, why women specific chamois are key to a comfortable ride and why one woman is better suited for woman’s specific frame vs. a unisex frame.

Women today have the potential to take the cycling industry and give it a HUGE financial growth spurt. We have the desire to expand and excel within the sport of cycling. We also have the financial means to support our cycling habit.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I’ve noticed the mechanics and components of a bike intimidate a lot of women from getting involved in cycling, especially mountain biking. However, when a woman takes the time and builds a general knowledge of her bike and its moving parts a whole new sense of confidence builds and suddenly, they want to ride.

An easy way to learn the names of the different components of a bike is to pick up a cycling magazine and read the articles highlighting the new bikes coming out. For goodness sakes, I’ve even googled and watched my fare share of YouTube videos just so I wouldn’t look and sound like such a rookie.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
By having women of all ages and skill levels ride together. I cannot tell how empowering it is to ride with younger women.

Recently, I rode a very technical 18 mile mountain bike trail with women whose ages ranged from 25-54 years-old! We all experience our own challenges, we encouraged each other, waited for each other and went out to eat burgers and drink beer afterwards.

This summer, my sixteen year-old daughter and I have also been attending a weekly women’s mountain biking clinic at our local ski resort in Lake Tahoe. It’s been a “Mommy & Me” experience but on steroids! These types of group settings develop such amazing opportunities to mentor and build empowerment communities for women riders.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
The over-whelming joy I experience from riding any bike inspires me to encourage women to ride. I believe bicycles are an addictive anti-depressant. Bicycles provide people the opportunity to reconnect with their youth, build confidence, strength and a sense of freedom.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Twenty years ago, I was climbing the corporate ladder and I all I wanted to do was prove to everybody how talented and smart I was. Then in the wee hours of 2000 a nurse placed a teeny, tiny red headed human in my arms and I knew my life had changed forever. Sixteen years later, I now have two beautiful teenage girls who challenge and inspire me each and every day to set a good example and be a good person.