Women Involved Series: Amber Hoadley

I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. I grew up horseback riding, and when I got to college I started running marathons. I found out in 2012 that I had some stress fractures in my feet, so I went out and bought a road bike! I had no idea what I was doing, and I spent about $600 on a little aluminum frame entry level road bike.

The guys at the shop really didn't tell me much, and I bought a helmet and left, having no idea how to shift. I remember feeling very nervous to shift gears, because I was afraid the chain was going to fall off.

I started commuting 12 miles to work every day, even in bad weather. I loved it! I remember people trying to offer me rides, and telling me I was crazy. But biking was so exciting to me! I couldn't get enough. I commuted everywhere.

Eventually the fractures healed, and, growing up swimming in Florida, I decided I might as well attempt a triathlon. I started out doing sprint tri's, and eventually the olympic distance triathlon, only a year later. Of course, after that the next thing was to do a half Ironman, right?!? So I spent 8 months training for that. I got a job working part time at my local bike shop, and I upgraded to a carbon fiber road racing bike, and eventually picked up a used tri bike on eBay.

In the summer of 2014, my roommate at the time and I decided we wanted to drive cross country. We rented a car and drove from Florida out to the Grand Canyon for the half marathon there. We tent camped along the way, and eventually ended up in L.A., and drove up the PCH to Oregon and then Mount Ranier. When I got home from the trip it occurred to me that I had lived my entire life in the same city. I wanted to experience another part of America, even if it was just for a year.

I wanted to be challenged with my riding, I wanted to be able to train at elevation, in the mountains. I ended up visiting Bozeman, Montana in February of 2015, and after being there for just 2 days I was in love. I flew home and told my family and friends I was moving. In April, I drove to southwest Montana with a friend in my tiny car, with my 3 bikes on the trunk rack. We took the scenic route and had a chance to see a lot of beautiful country out there.

I arrived in town on Sunday, and started work at the local Specialized and Trek dealer that following Monday. I have spent the last 9 years being a wedding photographer, but I slowly kept working more and more hours at the shop until I was eventually full time. then I got a promotion, and, here we are, another year later. And I'm the floor manager here at Bangtail Bikes in Bozeman Montana! I absolutely love it here; I plan on staying at least one more. I absolutely love love love my job!

Working at the bike shop has been absolutely amazing. I love that I get to meet new people, and ultimately my goal is to be the person that I didn't have when I first got into cycling. I want to teach and educate new riders and help them have the absolute best cycling experience possible - especially women! I'm one of 2 women here in Bozeman who is a bicycle tech, so I strive to have the best bike shop in town with top women's products and apparel. I also help lead a local road ride here on Monday nights; it is a no-drop ride; and we discuss various techniques each week, and ride different routes in town.

I recently got back from Waterloo, Wisconsin where I attended the Trek Certified Service course there. I learned so many amazing things there, including full bike assembly, and how to perform safety checks on bikes. I am looking forward to planning my next women's clinic, which will focus on shifting and brake adjustments. Until then, I'm training for cyclocross season; I am working on getting as many women to come race with me as I can! 

Your #bikelife started in 2012 and you went full force into the unknown! If you could go back to your 2012 self, do you have any advice you would give her that you learned thru your experiences?
Well, I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy cycling, so I bought a cheap bike and some really cheap accessories on the internet... if I could go back, I wish I had enough courage to go into a nicer shop with a well-known bike brand and just talked to the staff about my options! Looking back I definitely wasted money by having to re-purchase items after realizing that those cheap tools really don't last, and aren't worth it.

You jumped into commuting 12 miles to work every day, even in bad weather- awesome! What advice do you have for those who worry that they can't commute by bike successfully?
I would say that riding with lights all the time makes a huge difference! "daytime running lights" for your bike to help you be seen, as well as neon socks/ shoes to show motion. If you are being safe and riding with a helmet and lights, you can be confident in your bike lane ! Also, it is super helpful to look at maps of your commute. You might be adding on a few extra miles, but taking backroads can be a really nice break from heavy traffic when you are starting out!

What was the inspiration behind competing in biking events/triathlons?
I grew up in Florida close to the ocean, so I was always a swimmer. I started running in college, and then after a running injury, I began riding a lot more. Once I was recovered, I thought - why not try a triathlon?!? And it was so much fun! I really enjoyed participating in multiple events within the same race ... and it helped me realize that I am a much better cyclist than I am a runner!

Those new to events may worry about participating because they may not podium. Any suggestions for those curious about participating for the first time?
I think the smaller, local events are so great. Sometimes I call ahead and ask the race director how many people will be in my event / race! It calms my nerves so much when I find out that its a little smaller field. As far as cycling goes; I would highly recommend signing up for a time trial! These are great because you race individually - its just the cyclist vs. the clock. They stage you in 30 second gaps between each other. This is great for newer riders because you don't have to worry about the potential of crash, or racing in close proximity with other riders. When I started out cycling, I did quite a few time trials before signing up for road races and crits.
When you started out riding, what were the handling skills that gave you the most challenge?
What has helped you grasp them? For me I think some of the bike handling skills were tough; mainly because I started out road riding alone. I felt very uncomfortable with technical sections, such as sudden tight turns, etc. Once I moved to Montana I got a mountain bike, and that has been extremely helpful! After practicing on different bikes and various terrain, I definitely have a better sense of how my bike works, and I feel more connected to it also. I think adding variety is super important, even if its scary at first! Also, riding with other people is a BIG help. Especially riding behind other riders, and watching how they pedal, where they choose to ride a tight corner, etc.

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 been super lucky and only had 2 pretty big crashes this year. I crashed in a road race early on in the season, and then more recently I wrecked in a cyclocross race on some loose gravel and went over the bars. As soon as it was safe to ride again, I went back and rode the section where I crashed. I biked the exact same section over and over again until I felt I had mastered it! I think its important mentally to make sure something like that doesn't beat you! Back on the horse! ;) Falling off the bike is never fun, but learning how to fall properly can prevent you from being injured too bad.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I think the thing I love the most is just the freedom and adventure that I feel when I'm out riding. I've become more confident and independent as a person, and the bicycle has been able to take me places i have never been able to go before! I love all the different aspects of cycling. Commuting, adventuring, camping, and of course; racing! I'm a thrill seeker, and adrenaline junkie. I feel like I can do anything when I'm on my bike!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Oh boy! Well, for road I'm riding the 2016 Sworks Amira, its the one that changes color from blue to purple based on the light! By far the most beautiful bicycle I have ever owned. Its only 14 pounds, so I always feel really fast (and really pretty!). I also have a Specialized Crux Elite x1 for my cyclocross bike this year. This is my first time riding a bike that doesn't have a front derailleur, and I'm really enjoying the simplicity if it! Its great for racing. I also have the Specialized Rumor Elite, which is a full suspension 29er mountain bike. My favorite part is the dropper seat post! It makes descending so easy. And finally, I have a Specialized Langster (fixed gear) that I use for my daily commute. Its so cute! All tricked out with lights and fenders and leather toe cages.

You have worked at bike shops for several years now and currently work at Bozeman as the floor manager. What first inspired you to seek employment at a bike shop?
Well, to be completely honest, I really just started working part time because I wanted the discounts, and I wanted to learn a little bit more about my equipment. The first shop that hired me did such an amazing job of explaining things to me, and letting me get my hands dirty changing flats. I was super lucky! Although I started out part-time, I was quickly offered more hours, and eventually the promotion to full time and then manager, I have truly come to love everything about working in a shop. I used to own my own wedding photography business, and I basically put all of that on the back burner to be able to teach other women about cycling, and, ultimately, to be that person I didn't have when I started out on my cycling journey. I love it when I can help someone get their first bike! That's my favorite part.

What was the most valuable thing you learned once you started working at a bike shop?
Adjusting my derailleurs! It took WEEKS, but that is a skill that I use all the time, and its a skill that is always in high demand. That, and, probably wheel building.

What has been one of the most eye-opening experiences you've had while working in the industry?
I had the opportunity to watch a carbon rim made by hand from start to finish. WOW! Such an amazing process! Absolutely fascinating to me. So much work and care go into such an important component of the bicycle! I have a lot of respect for people that build wheels.

For some learning how to wrench is a whirlwind experience and does not come easily. What has helped you feel more confident about working on/assembling bikes?
I am not afraid to ask questions. If we are slow at the shop, I'll go up to one of the other mechanics and ask them to show me how a tool works, or to explain a repair process.
I also do A LOT of studying on my own. Online resources such as Trek University and Shimano School have been a big part of the learning experience for me.

What are 3 things you would love every new woman rider to know how to do in terms of bike maintenance?
Proper care and maintenance of the chain, correct use of the air pump and tire pressure, and proper care of brake pads!

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in bike shops? Either as an employee, customer, or ride lead?
I feel it is SUPER important for women to be involved in bike shops! We are passionate and genuine cyclists, and we are consumers! It makes the shopping experience so much more enjoyable for women when they actually have a woman to talk to! We understand each other, and can talk comfortably about various products, and solutions to problems! A lot of the work that I do here at my shop is window displays, working with the seasonal floor displays, mannequins, chalkboard art, and overall merchandising. these are things that I LOVE to do (especially being an art major) - and these are things that were not getting done by the mechanics at my shop when I began working there. I feel that I add a great amount of diversity to my shop by bringing my personality and organizational skills to the floor design. As far as a ride lead goes.... this is HUGE! Sure, its great to pedal fast and get in a great workout with the local guys, but its so important to have that recovery time, and just a nice social ride with other women! I cant tell you how successful my womens-only recovery ride has been. We go every Monday and spin for an hour, and then dinner or drinks afterwards! It reminds everyone that cycling is just supposed to be fun! I also use it as a teaching opportunity to discuss various skills such as cadence, or climbing tips. Hooray for women's cycling :)

Do you have suggestions for those who are starting up their rides/clinics and feeling deterred by the lack of participants? Especially in areas with smaller numbers of women who ride?
Yeah. Its hard, and it takes time! It really has a lot to do with the city/neighborhood you are in. I would just experiment with a variety of clinics such as free clinics vs. charging a fee, and then alternating between fix-a-flat classes, or group rides or movie nights. Figure out what works best in your area and then expand on that! Also, sometimes it might be fun to allow women to bring their kids too and let them learn as well! Especially if you are doing a bike wash clinic.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends? Some of my go-to items for commuting: super bright lights, a rain jacket that folds up to pocket size, and my Levi's Commuter Jeans! As for road cycling, think about your contact points. What is constantly connecting you to the bicycle? Okay now don't skimp on those things! Really nice padded gloves (I wear the Specialized BG Gel), a great pair of bib shorts; (I love the Specialized Pro bibs, or the Standard by Twin Six), and then some merino wool socks, and my Specialized road shoes. I also highly recommend using Chamois Butter for any ride lasting longer than an hour. If you're comfortable, you can ride longer!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
Probably just feeling intimidated about not being familiar with all the equipment and parts. I feel like in a lot of ways, its comparable to the auto industry. Just feeling overwhelmed and not knowing the names of the various components, etc. Walking into a new shop can be scary! So, probably that and then also not feeling safe on the road.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think just overall education about the bicycle and how it performs. Because once you understand how something is made, you can understand how it works! Knowledge is power. More learning! More clinics!
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I am so passionate about riding bikes. It has helped me in so many different aspects of my life. I want to share that love and joy with other women! Its truly such an amazing experience. I want as many people to be able to find that happiness as well.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Fully fluent in sign language, and I only drink IPA's. Haha!

I am​ sponsored by Bliz Eyewear; and I'm an ambassador for Levi's Commuter Jeans, FemmeVelo, and also a representative for Specialized Bicycles. I currently ride for Project X Cyclocross Club here in Bozeman, Montana. I am an advocate for Womens Cycling, and I lead weekly beginner rides, teach private lessons, and host clinics at my bike shop. My ultimate goal is to change bike shops for women, and to be the person that I didn't have when I got into the sport 4 years ago.

Instagram is @amber.hoadley
Tumblr is amberhoadley :my post-race blog/ online journal thing