Women Involved Series: Lora Curtis

They say you find true love when you least expect it, and this is certainly true of my relationship with the #bikelife.
I bought my first mountain bike in the late 1990's, as my husband wanted us to have bikes to ride to work (a very short commute) and to ride campground trails on our weekends away. My conversation with the bike shop employee went something along the lines of, "I'll just take your cheapest bike because I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like this." I could not have been more wrong. 

My bike path rides soon led into more challenging and technical trails, as I found within myself a sense of adventure that I never knew I had.

A few short years later, I bought my first full suspension trail bike and not long after that, in 2006, my husband and brother bought our bike shop, Totally Spoke'd which is located in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.

Being a part of the bike industry has introduced me to the most incredible people and they have helped me expand my skills, and my love for bikes in more ways than I could imagine! Recently, I've been getting to know Josie after contacting her to let her know that an article I read on her FWD movement inspired me to start a women's trail riding group based on her principles.

Tell us what has inspired you to share the love of your #bikelife?
When I was learning to ride, I was so focused on just keeping the rubber-side down that I honestly wasn't aware of how few women there were on the trails in my area. As the years went on, I began to travel to places such as Whistler, where I noticed that many more women were not only riding, but could seriously shred on a bike! I realized just how unbalanced the ratio of men to women here in Ontario was when I overheard a couple of guys discussing a ride they were on where they saw a unicorn. When I asked what they meant, I was told that a unicorn was a solo female rider. At that moment, I knew that something needed to change. After I read your article, "Even New Mountain Bikers Can Welcome Others Into the Fold", I decided that I should be a part of making that change happen.

What clicked when you went on your first few rides and turned the "I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like this" into "I love this!"

What I immediately discovered was that riding my begrudgingly purchased, entry level, hard tail made me REALLY happy! OK, I know how that sounds, but seriously, I had never been one to be involved in anything athletic. I was petite, and left handed, so when it came to most organized sports, my skills were awkward at best. My bike and I, however, we were doing this, and it felt good! I had a lot yet to learn, but even on the days when the learning curve seemed to be a line going straight up, riding that bike always made me smile! All these years later, I can't recall one time that I've come back from a ride that I wasn't in a better mood then when I went out. I believe this is why people often say that mountain biking is addictive, you always end up feeling happier and more alive after a ride.

Knowing what you know now, what suggestions do you have for women looking to buy their first bike who have not been riders before?
Please go out and test ride as many bikes as possible. Most shops will be more than helpful with this and finding a shop that you feel comfortable with should be part of your purchasing decision: they will become your family. Try an entry-level bike and get a feel for the response in shifting gears and the way the brakes feel, then take a higher-end bike and do the same. Try a full suspension bike; demo days held at various trails are popular in the industry these days and are a great place to try out the higher end bikes on the terrain for which they are intended (note - Don't be offended when the person setting up the bike boldly asks how much you weigh. They are calculating suspension set up, that is all. I promise). Consider the fit of the bike; we are each unique. Some women are longer in the leg and shorter in the torso, others carry their height more evenly. Be sure you have a reasonable amount of bend in your arms when holding the handlebars so that you will have good control over the bike. Once you are ready to buy, the best advice I was ever given was that if funds allow, to buy a little more bike than you think you need. I took this advice when I made my first serious bike purchase and I appreciated it, as we tend to grow quickly in this sport and that bike more than fulfilled my needs for five years. Had I had purchased the lesser spec'ed bike, I am certain I would have wished for upgrades after the first year or two.
Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
There was a lot of walking. It was a group ride with a large number of men but thankfully, there were two other women that were convinced by their partners to come out and try this as well. It felt good that at least we had each other while facing all the craziness of this new biking surface. Did I mention there was a lot of walking? We walked up, and sometimes even down, the steep hills. We stood at trail features and talked about how we thought you might ride them, and then walked over those too. Over the next few months, we became stronger, more daring, and really good friends! I really owe it all to these two; I am certain that I wouldn't have become the rider that I am today had I not had Sue and Amy by my side while we learned to ride.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?

Oh, there was certainly some nervousness in those early days and a great deal of it had to do with the trail surface. All my childhood riding had been on pavement, so all this rooty, rocky, unevenness was a concern to me. I was an apprehensive rider until I realized that everyone else's bike was capably handling this gnarly surface and that the bike I was riding was, in fact, designed and built for this very purpose. Mountain bikes love roots and rocks! Having confidence in the bike made it was easier for me to stay loose and ride without worry. I often share this with my new riders to help them get over those first ride jitters. I believe it is always important to acknowledge feelings such as being nervous, and I still have times where I get butterflies when I'm pushing my comfort zone on the bike. It serves as a reminder for me to take a minute and go over the skills I need to bring forward in my mind. Once it's sorted in my head, I do a quick grounding breath and go for it!

Clips or flats? What do you prefer and why?
Flats paired with good riding shoes! I have always been drawn to techy bits of trail, riding skinnies, over large rocks, whatever "extra" bits I can find. To have the confidence to ride those lines, I need to be able to save it when things start to go wrong, so flats have been the best choice for 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?
Descending was my biggest weakness; oh so many endos! Proper use of the brakes took me some time to learn, especially after being given some well intended, but poor, advice of "only use your rear brake". This, I learned in time, may minimize the flipping, but will also leave you very out of control and skidding on steep grades. Becoming very confident on the descents required me to learn to feather both brakes (apply a bit of brake, let go, repeat), and to become comfortable with the fact that keeping most of the momentum is actually helpful, again, trusting the bike to handle the terrain. The second key part is always remembering to always be off the saddle when not pedaling.
This was difficult in my early days as I wasn't very strong so I would get tired/lazy and stay on the saddle. I can't begin to tell you how much I love now having a dropper post!
How, and when, to change gears was also a struggle for me. Nothing worse than getting caught on a climb in the wrong gear, or than switching to a harder gear by mistake! To learn the basics of how to shift, I would go for short rides around my neighbourhood and would shift all the way through my rear cassette, up and then down, followed by the same with my front chainrings. Once my fingers had their part figured out , I turned my attention to my feet (cadence) whenever I was pedaling. I began to sense, and then anticipate, when to change gears in order to always be applying the same amount of effort to turn the pedals. As complicated as it may seem at first, please don't be tempted to just ride in your granny ring, with just a little practice, I promise that switching gears will become a subliminal part of riding.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?

To me, riding is a progression. There will always be a skill to learn, or a place to travel to ride and challenge myself. Each season, I choose a goal or two to work on and just last summer, in my mid forties, I learned to do wheelies with Ryan Leech's 30 Day Wheelie Challenge (https://www.ryanleech.com/wheelies/) Biking has brought the most amazing people into my life, and this is certainly true of Ryan. Through his coaching website, it is easy to tackle a new skill as they are broken down into short video practice sessions. This teaching method encourages me to work towards skills that often look too difficult when viewed as a whole, and if I am ever struggling, I can easily go back a few lessons and review. Presently, I'm working on mastering bunny hops, which will help me pop over a few trail obstacles that are rough to ride through, and I hope to soon find some practice time to work on manuals as well.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?

My bikes are real beauties this year! I've been riding the trails on a 2017 Norco Carbon Optic. I chose this bike as it is a perfect fit for me, both in geometry, and in being responsive and playful on the trail. I had been riding all mountain style trail bikes, but the Optic with less travel (130mm front and 120mm rear with 650b) is proving to have more performance for both pedaling and in holding it's ground while descending. I have to admit, I was so smitten with this bike that I actually chased a prototype of it through a hotel lobby last summer! It's been a good four months for us, I measured my chain wear the other day and found that it's already time for a replacement! This winter, I will be playing in the snow on my new fat bike, a Norco Ithaqua. I love being able to ride year round, and I'm pretty excited to get to know this beautiful, carbon frame fattie when our trails freeze over!

You created a women's ride group- tell us about Totally Spoke'd's Fearless Women of Dirt and what you're all about!
Our FWD was created using the same concept the group in Decorah, providing an opportunity for women that haven't tried trail riding, or are just beginning in the sport, to come together to ride at their own level in an encouraging environment. When I put out the first invitation for women to join me on the trails in a 'women only' group ride, I wasn't sure if anyone would actually show up. On that first ride, there were nineteen women, and most of them had never had their bike tires in the dirt! It was incredible, and our presence did not go unnoticed by the male riders that frequented the trail! It wasn't long until many of them were stopping to ask what we were about and if their wives/girlfriends would be able to join us. Our group has continued to grow over the past two years, and we meet each Saturday morning to ride and work on skills (while also discussing a diverse range of topics, often including wine, chocolate and perimenopause); always welcoming beginners, and helping them feel comfortable on the trail.

What are your future hopes and goals with the group?
My biggest hope is to see this movement grow, and I can see this starting to happen already. These women are becoming stronger riders, more confident on the trail and they are becoming leaders. I see them holding back on a ride to help out a beginner. They share stories of their first rides and offer encouragement to new riders. They are bringing their daughters out and introducing them to trail riding. They are posting their riding adventures on social media, their friends are expressing interest, and they are inviting them to join us. They are joining in on co-ed rides and signing up for their first races, and that helps other women to feel comfortable doing the same. Making women feel welcome and supported, and sharing with them our love for mountain biking will lead to more and more women out on the trails. I'm really excited to see where the FWD grows from here!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

It's the smiles; definitely those exhilarated smiles! We can't let the men have all the fun in this sport, can we?