Women Involved Series: Cat Caperello-Snyder

I'm a writer, bike nerd and open road enthusiast! I started my blog, GirlEatsBike, 5 years ago as a public journal of my journey to lose weight and find fitness. I loved the way riding a bike made me feel, and once I made the connection of food-as-fuel, everything changed.
My wife and I moved across country in 2013 from New Jersey to Portland, Oregon and since then I've been immersed in all things bike - with a keen interest in bike camping and touring. Talk about getting my nerd juices flowing!

I recently launched a podcast called The Joyride which is a celebration of women on bikes, and GirlEatsBike is evolving to help bike-curious women get into the saddle, because I believe in the transformative power of the bike in our personal lives, our communities and the world at large.

When I'm not on the bike, writing about bikes, or day dreaming about rides, I can often be found walking or hiking with my supermutt Ziggy, cooking chana masala or sampling craft beer with my wife.

When did you first start riding a bike-
I rode when I was a kid. I remember falling in front of my grandmom's house and then getting lost - probably in the same weekend. I rode throughout youth and into my preteens and lost touch right after that until I was in my late 20s. I've written widely about it at this point, but I was in college in Albany, New York and wanted to work off some pounds and save time and money parking in the dense urban neighborhood. I knew I needed something different in my life, but had no idea how transformational this would prove to be.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
The feeling of freedom. The ability to get some place by your own power. Discovering I could do it. Pride. Feeling my body work and thrive and get stronger. And seeing what other people are doing too. I love adventure, I love discovery. I think I’m really into that sense of “awe” that you get when you get to the top of a climb and see an amazing view. I love going fast. It’s really surprised me to feel how much I’ve changed over the years. I’ll never forget the first time I looked at a map to expand the loop I was planning.

Your blog, Girl Eats Bike, has been quite the journey! What inspired you to make your adventures with biking/weight loss public?
I started GirlEatsBike as a place for me to be public and honest about my journey and what I was learning in one place, without alienating my Facebook friends. I wanted a place to have a weekly weight check in, how I was doing, where I was at. I did lose a lot, but I my writing interest turned to the biking more than the weight loss, and eventually I just got to a place where I wasn’t compelled to write about. I’ve learned that the weight thing for me is a lifelong practice of finding balance between ambition and acceptance. Striving to improve my physicality, and also being at peace with where I am. Even yesterday - yesterday - I felt myself relax a little about being in a bigger body. I’ve lost over 120 pounds since age 21 when I was at my heaviest and the scale topped out somewhere around 315. I’m finally just okay with where I’m at right now, even though I can sometimes feel my stomach hit my legs when I’m riding in the drops. You know what? I don’t care. I used to have this point of view that I was less than, that I was not a real cyclist because of my weight. Sure, I still have room for improvement with my conditioning, but I’m celebrating my body and what I’ve accomplished.

Looking at your blog now compared to when you first started, what would you say is the biggest change/shift?
Actually, this question is huge. GirlEatsBike started as my own personal “losing-weight-finding-fitness” journal and the name was inspired the by my first “bonking” experience. I’ll never forget that ride where the light bulb went off: The better I eat, the stronger and further I can ride. At the same time, the more I ride, the more I get to eat! It’s a win-win! But GEB has lacked a clear focus over the five and a half years since I started it, and didn't satisfy my desire to create content that built community. That’s one reason why I’m so excited about the Joyride! It’s been a really wonderful to connect with so many awesome people. I’m keeping GirlEatsBike but reclaiming it as my personal journal again where I write about whatever, and instead shifting (no pun intended) my content creation energy into the Joyride Podcast and building community there.

Why is social media such a valuable tool and outlet for your adventures/advocacy?
I think the way that social media helps people to connect and build community is unprecedented. It has never been easier to click on a hashtag and see all these cool things that people are doing in the world. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite things about biking anyway - so many different ways to do things. Social media is a double-edged sword though, because as much as we can take a peak into someone else’s journey and get inspired by that, it also has this uncanny effect of inducing more of the “grass is greener” thing, where someone compares themselves to others.

Tell us more about the riding styles you enjoy and why-
Ahh! I’m so into bike camping! I love camping (gear nerd alert) and maps and bikes. So this is a place where I can just let that freak flag fly. Plus, I’m pretty introverted and perpetually connected via the digital leash of the iPhone. It feels good to get myself outside where I’m “forced” to disconnect and bring things down into the most simple, essential needs: Eat. Sleep. Ride. It feels really good instead of how overly complex things get in this world. Just: Eat. Sleep. Ride. The longest tour I’ve ever been on has only been two nights. I’ve done mostly overnights - they're a great place to start, but I’m really looking forward to expanding that.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about yourself since you started biking?
How resilient and strong I am. For real. I’ve spent so much time - years and years - being critical of myself and my body. I had no idea how truly amazing my body is. I think a lot of women have a similar epiphany at some point. It can be tremendously eye-opening and smile-inducing.

Do you have tips/suggestions for those looking to get involved with cycling for fitness purposes?
Be patient. Start slow. Look for your people, but don’t be afraid to give things a try on your own in safe ways. Also, you can start with any bike, but try to get on something that fits you - it makes a world of difference. And if you’re going to spend money, try to do it at a bike shop you feel good going to, where you’ll build relationships over time.

What biking adventure is on your 5 year plan?
I want to do the Pacific Coast tour! Actually, perfect world, I would circle the U.S. ~ Trans am northern, Atlantic coast, southern tier, Pacific coast. I don’t really know if I would go clockwise or counterclockwise. Nor do I know where I would start/end. But it sure is fun to think about. :)
Tell us about the Joyride Podcast and what you hope to accomplish with the program-
I want to share the many, diverse voices that make up our community of women who ride bikes! The Joyride aims to share stories that celebrates women on bikes to build community, educate, and inspire each other. Everyone has a story and a point of view that is unique, yet we all share so many commonalities. I want women to be able to see themselves in each other, to inspire each other to ride more or try new things.

One more thing: I think it’s really important to make sure that the image of women's cycling is reflective of what women who ride bikes truly look like. The media is plastered with super lean, spandex-clad women or the fashionable and stylish (and believe me sisters, there is nothing wrong with this, I support you!) but I want to make sure that everyday, imperfect women are reflected here too. I think hearing women tell their stories helps other women to feel comfortable to start where they are and make their own relationships with riding a bike in their own way, wearing whatever the hell they want, doing whatever the hell they want.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
For riding on the road.. Really understanding how to shift gears and that personal cadence trumps struggle. Don’t try to be a hero, or make yourself suffer, just downshift. Try to find that perfect, juicy rhythm that your legs love, where you could just do that all day, and try to anticipate downshifting as you encounter hills and grades so that you can keep your legs going in that same rhythm even as you maybe have to slow down and climb a little. I don’t know if that’s professional-worthy advice, but when it clicked for me, it worked.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Power, joy, and freedom. I love how poetic it is, how so many aspects of riding are like metaphors for life. I love that there are never ending variations on bikes, and how they are vehicles for expression. I like how you can simultaneously be solo and part of a group at the same time. I love that you go slow enough to meet your neighbors. I love free parking. I love the way neighborhoods smell at dinner time. There's no better way to get to know a place - the very texture of a community than by bike. I love looking at a map and seeing how far I've powered myself. I love feeling fast and strong.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My main bike is a Soma Double Cross Disc. I love it! I got it last fall and have put heaven knows how many hundreds of miles on it since then. It’s a solid, well-made cross bike. I heard cross bikes might be a good fit because they have lots of braze-ons for fenders and racks, a higher bottom bracket to clear cross obstacles, enough clearance to add wider tires in the future, and a longer top tube which I thought would suite me. Plus it’s dead sexy and thanks to Ben at Block Bikes PDX I got a screaming deal on it, making a totally-out-of-my-price-range bike magically fit my budget. Too good to pass up. I really like it, but the fit still needs to be dialed in, and I want to put a triple crankset on it and gearing that’s better for loaded climbing.

I still have my Specialized Crosstrail hybrid that was my first big girl bike in 2009. It’s too small for me. I want to see if I can swap out some parts, and either try to find an Xtracycle Free Radical for it or set it up for gravel bikepacking. I think my next bike will be something quick and sporty. Feelin’ that.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Good bike shorts are so important to saddle comfort on long rides. A saddle that fits properly helps too! Other than that, I really like my Niteize Handleband - it's a rubberized doohickey that secures your smartphone to your bike (bars or toptube). It's pretty secure and fairly inconspicuous. I use it daily on my bike commute.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
Speaking for myself, where I was ten years ago: body shame, and shame around physical ability and conditioning. Additionally I think some women feel challenged by the mechanics of a bike - how to shift or "what if something goes wrong." I think a lot of women think that it's too hard or too complicated to try and understand the bike as a machine because they're just not mechanically inclined, when really it's a lot of conditioning thanks to the stories we tell ourselves, or have been feed culturally.

What do you feel change locally and/or industry-wise to encourage more women to be involved?
I’m a fairly gender non-conforming person. I always have been, so the “pink-it-and-shrink-it" thing really irks me about women’s specific gear. So personally, if things were a bit more gender neutral while still fitting my body, that would be awesome. I end up wearing a lot of mens stuff because it fits my personal style and aesthetic.

In terms of more women in general, I’d love to see more women-only events and rides to help women develop skills in a safe, welcoming space. More classes and clinics - especially free ones - to help demystify things and clear up the mechanical penumbra of the bike. I know there is debate in the community about the value of womens-only spaces and events, but I’m a firm believer in the power of women in groups, and the chilling effect that co-ed environments can have. I’ve witnessed it first hand.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I believe in the transformational power of the bike for both our personal landscapes and our communities at large. I have witnessed the personal growth that riding a bike has facilitated for me, along with a profound shift in my health. It’s a powerful antidepressant and stress reliever. There sure is enough data to go around proving how communities benefit. Elly Blue’s Bikeonomics, anyone?

Interestingly, women are considered the “indicator species” of the health of a biking community. When women are seen riding, the community is perceived as being safer for riding - this helps perpetuate more cycling for transportation, fitness, and recreation. As more people ride, the community becomes safer almost by default.

Finally, as a feminist, I believe the world is improved when women step into, embrace, and exercise their personal power. Women riding bikes is a win-win-win-win.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a deep and abiding love for hot sauce and spicy food. I keep chili flake at my desk at work, and of course, in my bike camping mess kit.