Women Involved Series: Dee Bartlam

Squamish, BC Trip
My name is Dee Bartlam. I've lived in Duluth, MN for 20 years. I started mountain biking 10 years ago. I found my niche a few years ago when enduro came to Duluth. I love going fast down rocky, technical terrain!

We have the amazing new Duluth Traverse linking all the trails so XC is pretty fun too! This spring I became certified to coach through PMBIA (Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Association), with the goal of teaching more women how to gain confidence through a skills based approach to mountain biking.

This summer I coached the Spirit Mountain Divas and with Vida Mountain Bike Series.

I'm amazed at the increase in women who are getting into mountain biking! When I first started riding I didn't know any other women to ride with, nor did we have beginner friendly trails in Duluth. I often rode alone and fell a lot! I took a clinic and saw improvement, but soon realized this wasn't a one and done. Taking a clinic every once in a while and/or from a different person is a great way to increase and hone your skills.

It was through a women's mountain bike clinic that I learned so much more: there exists this amazing community of women who may not have yet met or realize what they are capable of until they take a mountain bike clinic!! By the end of the clinic weekend friendships are formed and most ladies have this new found confidence in what they achieved. This is what I love about coaching, leading rides, being an advocate for women riders!!

When I'm not riding I love spending time with my family!

Tell us about when you discovered your #bikelife- when did you realize that you found something you loved?
I really didn't get into biking until I was thirty. I wanted a mountain bike but a friend said I would get more use out of a road bike. So I bought a used LeMond on eBay and fell in love with road riding. Through road riding I met a gal who did triathlons, so I spent the next 7 years doing triathlons, centuries, trail runs, an Ironman 70.5, a marathon, a half marathon, and then...I had my first hip replacement!

Just prior to the hip replacement I fell in love with mountain biking.

Riding the Makwa Trail in Hayward, Wisconsin was where I fell in love with it. This was the first time I had ridden on this type of trail: it was flowy, rolling, winding, and exhilarating! I wasn't gasping for breath or having to get off my bike to walk up or down hills. It was so much more...fun...than my first experience mountain biking.

I spent the next couple of years driving an hour and a half on days off from work to ride there. The trail seemed to go in one direction for as long as I was willing to ride! I was hooked.

So after the hip replacement running was out of the question (thank goodness, never like it), so I biked all the time. Road and off road, I love to ride my bikes!

What has been your biggest motivation for riding?
My biggest motivation for riding is the fear of one day not being able to ride my bike! That fear has been all to real with the hip issues I've had!

Tell us about the world of Enduro for you and why it's so fun!
Dave Cizmas introduced enduro to Duluth's mountain bike scene a few years ago. I rolled up in my Ski Hut kit the first race, unsure if I was just going to go ride or check it out. I stuck around and here's why:

Enduro racing is composed of 3-5 stages. You are timed only on the actual stage, which can be cross country-ish but is generally downhill. (You have to work with the terrain you've got!) After you have completed the stage you are given ample time to get to the next stage start. You're combined stage times are added and the fastest overall time wins.

I have seen this grow in popularity over the last few years. There would be at most 20 people, with a few gals, to this last summer upwards of 60+ riders at each of the Wednesday evening races.

My friend Pam Schmitt likes to call it the Beer League of mountain biking (Lycra bike shorts and jerseys have been replaced by baggie shorts and tops to accommodate knee and elbow pads). It is extremely social. There's a lot of time waiting for your stage to start, as riders go out 15-30 seconds apart. So social that I have almost missed my start from gabbing too much!

In addition to the local Wednesday races in the summer there is a regional Lake Superior Gravity Series, which includes Copper Harbor, Marquette, and Duluth. Fun stuff! It's less about racing and more about having a good time with a broader community of mountainbikers.

What is your favorite competitive event and why?
My favorite competitive event would have to be the Copper Harbor Trails Fest. It's just a whole weekend of fun events with xc, Enduro, downhill, dock jumping, and just fun riding all weekend. It's less about the competitiveness and more about the camaraderie for me: pre-riding the stages, "sessioning" the more difficult sections, and having a beer or two at the end of the day.

Do you have suggestions for those who are on the fence about participating in an event?
Yes. I like to call it just that: participation in an event. I don't like to do "races" because that puts me in a different mind set that makes me bike outside of my limits and do stupid things that can lead to injury. Participate, have fun, do the best you can and realize this is just mountain biking. It is supposed to be FUN!!

The trails in Duluth have literally exploded, making riding so much more accessible than ever before. Get out and make every ride an event!

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
My first experiences were disheartening. Lots of falls and frustrations. Those experiences have long been replaced by joy and exhilaration. I just love how going for a ride in the woods can make any day better. It makes me feel alive and relieves stress.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
Several falls, minor injuries, and the drive to ride better technically led me to my first mountain bike clinic. Learning the why and the how helped me so much. Most importantly I just kept at it. Practice, practice, practice with a lot of internal dialogue ("you got this!" "Look at the end of the bridge"). Go ahead and pat yourself on the back when you conquer a fear like crossing a bridge or rolling down a big rock. Reassure that brain that you've got this!

You spent a lot of time riding solo and learning by yourself- if you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself to do differently (if anything.)

I spent a lot of time riding by myself but kept reaching out to other women who were already in the sport or were interested in trying. Social media, women's mountain bike clinics, our local bike club, COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores), and IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association) have all helped cast that net further to build the women's mountain bike community. I don't think I could have done anything differently but am happy how the community of female mountain bikers has, and continues to, grow.

For women on the fence about giving off-road riding a go, do you have any suggestions/advice?
I would recommend that they are comfortable riding on the road and have a basic fitness level just for safety reasons.

In Duluth we have a Tuesday Ladies Ride that we market as first and foremost social and for riders of all abilities. We will ensure that you will not ride alone, will meet other gals at your level, and can ask questions in a supportive, friendly, non-intimidating atmosphere.
2016 Gitchee Gumee Gallivant
Tell us about how you feel women's clinics are vital for those new to off-road riding and even for those who are seasoned-
I have been a participant, volunteer, and coach at several women's mountain bike clinics. I have learned something new every time!

I believe these clinics are especially vital for the new mountain biker, before bad habits have had a chance to form. I am a PMBI certified coach as of this spring. PMBIA (professional mountain bike instructor association) teaches a progressive, skills based approach to learning the maneuvers involved in mountain biking. For example, cornering incorporates several "skills": body position, braking, scanning. It's a logical approach that makes sense. This skills based approach can accelerate the learning curve.

Aside from the practical skills, there is magic that happens at these clinics! Women learn more about the sport, they learn some skills, conquer some fears and make new friends. It's incredible to see this community come to life.

Clips or flats, what do you enjoy riding with and why.
Ah. The age old question. Whatever you are comfortable on. I started out clipped in with road riding and triathlons so it was an easy transition to off road. I've been encouraged to ride flat pedals because "it makes you a better rider", meaning that it makes you stay connected to your bike, to your pedals, whereas being clipped in you don't have to think about it, you take it for granted that the bike is connected to you.

If you are a new rider, I highly recommend flats for a couple of reasons: it is safer. Simply put your foot down if you lose your balance or are unsure. The other reason is you will learn to be connected to your bike through body position, without that false sense of connectedness you get being clipped in.

All this said, I ride both, but prefer to be clipped in.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Last October I crashed pretty hard coming out of a run at the base of Spirit Mountain. I had been riding for about 7 hours that day, having a blast, riding the most technical terrain Spirit has to offer. I had been really used to wearing flats that summer. I came out of the woods at the end of the run, got a little air and my back tire hit a bump and I got bucked off. I landed about 15 feet away onto my right shoulder and ribs. I didn't break anything but an MRI showed a tear in the cartilage of my shoulder. Unrelated, I had my other hip replaced a couple months after this crash. My hip healed long before my shoulder. This was tough mentally, emotionally, and physically. I felt like a broken mess and wasn't sure I'd be biking this year. I was pretty bummed, then I got a good cortisone injection into my shoulder. I was then able to do some strengthening and was back in shape in no time. I have had the most incredible year biking, coaching, and participating in enduros. Keep your chin up if you are injured and keep in contact with your biking buddies. Live vicariously through them even if you can't participate.

As my friend Todd McFadden says, "we are all one second between having fun and eating $h;t". Mitigate the risks. Falls happen. Get back on the bike.

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 fell over a lot! Learning to be balanced on the bike has helped immensely. When you aren't pedaling, keep your pedals level. This is a more balanced position and you won't be as likely to hit your pedals on rocks and roots. A balanced position is a stable position.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I'm always working to be a better rider. I still struggle with cornering efficiency. Ideally, you brake before the corner, look through the corner, aim your body out of the corner. All corners and berms are different, requiring different degrees of bike body separation and lean so there is much to practice. When it is done correctly the centrifugal force pulls you through the corner and it feels AMAZING!! Practice. Practice. Practice. I don't let it get me down. I just keep saying "next time"! I love that there is always more to improve.

What do you love about riding your bike?
When riding by myself I love the solitude, getting lost in my thoughts, the beauty of nature. I'm always stopping and taking pictures with my iPhone.

When riding with others I love the camaraderie, I love "sessioning" steep, technical sections. I love being part of a "train" of riders flying through switch backing trails. I love sharing beer and food with others after epic and not so epic rides. I love traveling to other parts of the country and experiencing it by bike. I love being part of the community that is mountain biking. I love sharing that passion with others!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My quiver includes a Specialized Crux gravel race bike. I've done the Heck of the North gravel race on it and use it for shoulder season riding when the trails are too wet.

I have a Trek Madone that I used for several years for century rides and triathlons. It is now on my trainer in the basement. Still very much loved, it just didn't make it outside this year!

I have a Salsa Beargrease Fat Bike that is super fun. I can't wait for winter riding and riding the frozen beach this winter. Park Point is a seven mile sand bar in Duluth that makes for a super fun winter day or night ride!

I have a Trek Remedy 9 29'er that has been my fave. It loves being pointed downhill and climbs like a champ.

The newest member is the new Trek Fuel Ex 9.8 29'er. I've only gotten a few rides on it but I'm super impressed with its fun, agile capability. 20 miles of new Duluth Traverse single track recently was amazing!
Cuyuna Whiteout
Tell us about why you love owning a fatbike and why folks should consider one!
I got a fat bike because it enables me to bike year round. There's no end to biking season. The floatation through snow makes me feel like a little kid! I'm seeing a lot of women purchasing these as their primary bike. It offers more stability and all around fun than any other bike.

What was the inspiration to getting certification to be a coach?
I was inspired by all of the amazing women's coaches I've met in the past few years and by my daughter Madalyn, who is newer to mountain biking. I wanted to share everything with her but didn't know how to organize all those thoughts, to tailor them, without confusing or overwhelming her. Most of all, I've had this passion for Mountain biking that I want to share with others! Maybe make the learning curve a little less than it was for me.

What has been the most enriching experience since you have become a coach?
I've been surprised at how much I get out of coaching. Coaching has made me a better rider, a better listener, and a better coach each time I get that opportunity. But most importantly, I love when a woman learns something that truly makes a difference in her riding, like getting off the saddle when descending. Life changing!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Cost. Bikes are so expensive. As a result someone might borrow a bike or buy a used one that doesn't fit. A poor fitting bike can turn someone off biking forever.

So, go to bike demos, try out different bikes, and if you are going to buy a used one or borrow, know that a property fitting bike can increase your safety and enjoyment.

While a new bike can be expensive up front, consider the amount of fitness, fun, and good health you'll be getting in the long run!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Be the change you want to see! You can't change the world but you can change yourself. Want to see more women on bikes? Invite them! Make it social, make it fun, be encouraging. In Duluth we have a very successful Tuesday Ladies Ride. The success, I believe, is because the emphasis is on the social, the all inclusiveness, regardless of whether you are new or a seasoned rider.
Tuesday Ladies Ride!
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I remember how intimidating it was for me to bike. Everyone is going faster, everyone is more fit, no one else is falling. This was my internal dialogue when I started. What I didn't realize is that those things are achieved or overcome by riding more. I didn't have any one to share that process with.
By bringing more women together in a supportive environment, they will have an entire tribe to lean on!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm a grandma as of July and I love it!! My heart is full.


  1. What a great blog, Josie! Thank you Dee for being so awesome and sharing your story. You're a true inspiration! <3

  2. Thank you for your comment! Dee is really an amazing woman, it was really awesome to meet her in person. She lit a fire under me and I'm further inspired to help more women get involved with off-road riding! Duluth is lucky to have such a great role model!


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