Women on Bikes Series: Cheryl Barker

I been cycling since around 2005. I was a burned out marathon runner and decided after my second child to try something new - at age 35. I started with spin class and was introduced by some special friends to road riding and then coached into racing. As an adult this was a very strange but truly wonderful thing to discover.

I have slowly added to my bicycle collection and skills. I love road racing. I have had good luck in the Time Trialing. I have entertained my friends in Cyclocross. 

My husband and I like to ride Fatbike all year round. I have also dabbled in Triathlon. Lately we have been trying to get our girls involved in cycling ( Ages 11 & 14) but most of the times it turns into a shitshow. My older daughter Sophie will be participating in a local MTB for girls club this summer -(I hope). Both girls are so very naturally talented but I do not want them to be pressured as I was at a young age in running. I’m busy teaching them how to be aware and smarter than I was at their age…about everything! It’s a new and wonderful world for young women - not just in sports, but that is mostly what I relate to.

I love to race and to challenge myself and learn new things. Just because I’m middle aged doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn an entirely new and crazy skill! Women’s sports in particular have risen to the occasion in the last few years and allowed me to join in on the fun. Women’s cycling and racing in the Twin Cities area has exploded and I am so happy to be a part of it! Every kind!! There isn’t a weekend you cannot find a race if you are searching for one! So when my girls ask me as I’m on my way out the door to a race or ride- “Mom - you’re going to ride AGAIN?” I say “Yep - and you should too!” Ride, Run Swim, Sail, Paint, Cook…… do whatever makes your heart happy!

After feeling burnt out from running, what inspired you to take up cycling vs. some other physical activity?
I still run to this day as part of training but I was just needing something different. I began to go to spin class when my 2nd daughter was 3 months old. It was convenient and I was driven to work out as usual but my life was not my own anymore. I had a little postpartum blues and needed to get back to training. I was in a spin class and the instructor (Kathy Ostlund) was a female who had road raced. She inspired me to get a bicycle and eventually introduced me to the right people to get onto a team. Kathy and Ted Free coached me for a few years to learn the sport. I was drawn to new challenges…something new to conquer! You are never too old to learn something new. I was 35 at the time - still bright eyed and bushy tailed! My husband gave me the freedom to try this new type of racing out by supporting me in ride time and racing. This was a commitment that was hard to juggle with 2 young children at home. He knew that what makes me happy -makes me a happy mom and wife.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I love the freedom a bike gives you. I enjoy the relationships I’ve made from race peers to social beer & ice cream rides. The many kinds of cycling are refreshing too. I can ride my bike all year round and I do!! Riding with all sorts of people has given me the confidence to challenge myself and to encourage others as well. When I look back at how far I have come in experiences, it is truly a wonder. I have become more knowledgeable and independent. I feel confident, free and happy riding my bike. I also feel that you should have something of your own to enjoy. This is my thing.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
I love Crit racing. I love the speed and action going on with in the race. The women’s field has grown so much in the last few years so it makes it even more fun! I have overcome many fears to race with confidence. I used to have a crippling bout of nervousness before racing and now that has been converted to excitement- as it should be. I am so honored to be able to race with these lovely(and tough) ladies.

What inspired you to try out various styles of cycling? Why do you enjoy them?
I started with Road Racing, Crits and TTs. I also have done a few Triathlons. One Fall I was introduced to Cx. This is a sport I am definitely NOT good at but it is so fun - why not???? The cx peeps are a rare breed! It’s hard work but we can all laugh at ourselves when we take a huge digger trying to hop over barriers. Baker Orchard Cx race is my favorite race!! This is the MOST fun you will ever have on a bike!
I love being outdoors, even in the cold temps. There is something about exercising in the cold that is invigorating. Sweat freezing on your face and lashes, breathing out steam… and spinning over crunching snow.

The past few years have not been the best for XC skiing so Fatbiking has filled in there. I love being in the woods and moving over bumps and rocks. Mountain biking is not my most skilled type of riding but with the fat bike I’ve been learning to love it! If you live in a cold climate state - fat biking is a must! Get out there!

Fatbikes! They are a mystery to many. What do you enjoy most about fatbiking?
I love being able to go out even in below zero temps and get a good workout in and also feel relaxed. Fat biking seems like it’s more about nature and your surroundings than it is about fitness. Fitness is just an added bonus. BUT - you can also jazz it up with some fat bike Crits - WHAT? yep it’s what all the cool kids are doing!

Do you have any suggestions for those looking to purchase their first fatbike?
I own a Minnesota Framed. It was inexpensive and that price point allowed both my husband and I to both get fat bikes. We love to ride fat all year round so it has been a wonderful addition to my bike collection. Also as I had already stated, if you are leery of mountain biking, fat biking is the best for beginners. Fat bikes will go over anything! The fat bike has allowed me to better my off road skills and gain confidence in my trail riding. I am not the best at this kind of riding - I am still learning so much. I love being in this place- always learning and trying to better my skills. My fat bike is my most playful bike…. I take most chances on it.

Clips or flats? Which do you prefer and why?
I decided to go for it and clip in right away on my Fat bike. My secret is that I often keep on foot out for iffy sections. I have slowly worked up to keeping clipped in more and more. I suggest the egg beater type of clip in on the Fat as they are very easy to get in and out of.

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 MANY biffs! The ones on the fat bike are pretty mild because of the soft landing in snow. I have had a crash in a crit race that was hard to mentally get over. I just had some bumps and a good raspberry - no serious injuries but my confidence was shaken. Getting back into the race is the best medicine- even if you have to cry a little in fear. Nothing a pep talk from my pal Bonny Donzella cannot fix however. That is the uplifting spirit of the awesome ladies I race with. We are so lucky to have such a supportive group of ladies who race in Minnesota!
We may cry and or need a hug- but we’re still tough enough to get back on the bike and ride the last 2 blocks to the finish line.

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 had a hard time with riding thru sand /mud or thick gravel - either on a gravel ride or in a Cx race. My friends just made me ride thru it. We would actually practice it. Every Fall, a few of us get together and practice different obstacles, going over them several times to try to get more comfortable. Also, pre-riding courses and going back over the tough spots is a good idea pre race. Usually, you find the most educated rider you know and go thru the course with them and take notes. I also do this on the trail when I find spots I am particularly afraid to ride. I go back and ride it over and over ( or try to). I have my partner in crime and falling down with me on those occasions (Megan) - we cheer each other on and laugh at each other when we biff. We tell each other “we aren’t scared” but we are terrified most of the time. Find some friends to take some risks with. I double dog dare you!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Of course there are! I have not quite yet conquered the trail riding just yet. I am still trying to effortlessly ride the berm bridge at White Tail and the whoopdies at Red Wing. I scream a lot, that seems to help. Forcing yourself out of the comfort zone is important if you are going to try these things! It’s fun and scary at the same time. I try to bite off a little at a time and I realize that experience and time on the bike is the only way to improve. Sometimes your biggest breakthroughs come when you are just screwing around having fun. I have some awesome kick ass lady friends who are crazy good riders who have pushed me to learn as I have them. Just keep trying ! I am an old lady on a bike trying to ride whoopdies! If I can you can!

What do you love about riding your bike?
I just love hopping on a bike , feeling your legs - the wind in your hair and on your face and being outside. My bikes have brought me on many roads and trails- city and country all different and fun to explore. This helps my mind to rejuvenate and my body to feel alive.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have 4 bikes; Cx, Road, TT, and Fat bike. I think that each bike chose me. It was as if they said “ you HAVE to try riding this!” The more I got into racing the more bikes were needed. Each of those bikes gets miles on year after year so they are well worth having. The brands of the bikes are not necessarily super important to me. My Bianchi road bike gets the most miles on however. Bianchi love!

Why do you feel it's important for your girls to be active in some sort of athletic activity?
I have 2 teenage, naturally blessed, athletic girls. Sophie and Maggie do not seem to have to try hard at sports and they do well. I learned so much about life from sports and competition as a girl their age. I want that for them. I want them to know it’s never too late to dream and learn and dare yourself. I hope that they see what I do as a good example. Running/biking/swimming or team sports have given me the confidence and feelings of accomplishment that I think is important to foster in girls. I do not like to pressure them to do things but I will give them a hard shove sometimes. It’s more like coercion but… I think it is important for them to learn what they are good at and reap the feelings of a PR or the best game - a winning catch or point. I want them to know the “I did it!” feeling from riding the mountain bike trail or swimming across the lake. I want them to know they can do it and should do it because it makes you feel good!! AND it’s good for you! It doesn’t matter that you are the best at it … just do it! It’s also oh so important to take care of our physical bodies.

How do you go about encouraging them to be active in cycling, yet not make it a high-pressure situation? Any tips/suggestions for parents?
I am still learning this one. We have had a few trips out to the trail that have turned in to crap shows. One or the other isn’t in the mood or something and it all goes down hill. I am going to take them to the girls MTB practice sessions with girls they know and leave them there with the instructors. I think it’s too hard when I am around when they are first trying to learn. I know that once they are around other girls their age it will be fine. I love that there are so many impressive local women cyclists my girls can look up to and strive to be like. I know one of my girls is particularly fond of Linda Sone….probably because I am too. These women are also giving back by helping young women and girls get more interested and involved in cycling and racing. I brought one of my daughters to the North Star races and introduced her to our local pro lady racers and she was inspired. I enjoyed seeing the excitement in her eyes. I know it left an impression, now I will foster that.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
It can be intimidating, but I do think that now there is such a female presence, we are overcoming that. It’s all about experience and knowledge. The more you ride, the more you will learn all the etiquette and handling etc of the sport. I have found so much freedom in cycling. Being on the Girl Fiend Women’s Cycling team has played a big role in my trying all the types of cycling. The encouragement and friendships on this team are top notch. I have learned from my cycling peers how to change a flat, work on my bike, race hard, win, lose, socially ride, epically ride, and support those who do the same. Everyone needs a little help at first and then… they realize the magical world of cycling and what it is for them.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think that seeing more women working in Bike shops is encouraging. I think promoting Women rides/clinics are also helpful. I found the mechanics type of knowledge extremely helpful. I also feel that understanding that all of us have different levels and goals that need to be respected. I feel very strongly about promoting independence through knowledge. I went on a 120 mile ride with my girlfriend Madonna a few years ago and my Mother was all worried about the situations we would get ourselves into…. what if we got a flat? - we’d fix it. What if we had a mechanical ?- we have tools. What if we got lost- we have maps. What if we got hungry- we had enough nutrition and stops planned. We have learned all these things along the way from our cycling community. We were confident in ourselves and had a very challenging yet successful ride.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Someone encouraged me at age 35. I had no idea how much fun I was going to have and where it would take me. We all start somewhere and we can all respect all levels of riding. Riding is like freedom! It’s for everyone! Where and what kind of ride you want to take is up to you. There are SO many more women helping women get into the biking scene now. These are some incredible ladies to know. They foster your desire to ride hard or to just ride easy. I am honored to be a part of the women’s cycling scene here. These women are my inspiration to keep training and smiling. If I can inspire others as well that would be an achievement. I’m still learning myself however, so most of my encouragement is that I’ll try with you! And I bet you will surprise yourself with what you can do! I love seeing women out there kicking some ass!

In your words- why should age not play a factor in whether or not someone gets involved with a new activity, like biking?
I got a late start in a few sports like cycling and triathlon. It helped me keep my sanity and find self worth. I am a mother and a wife, daughter and sister but I am also an athlete. I am selfish about my training and I won’t apologize for that. There is nothing one should not try if it interests you. Keep yourself on an upward learning curve! I can feel my age but that will not discourage me from doing the things I love.

I am so happy when I get to race into the water or toe up to the start of a bike race. I am honored to be in the company of the ones who dare to do the same. I cherish every break thru and PR because it means I’m still kicking ass or trying to. Racing has always been a part of my life. I cannot even comprehend being too old to do it. 
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have been a Master Gardener for 17 years - love to garden!