Women Involved Series: Jordana Blackman

Jordana is the founder of Chicks Who Ride Bikes, a social network based in Australia, which was created for women who want to get out there and have a good time on two wheels. She started riding 4 years ago, after recovering from cancer and wanting to help raise money for the hospital who treated her by completing the Ride to Conquer Cancer in Melbourne.

To do this 200km journey over 2 days, Jordana had to learn how to ride (some hilarious stories here by themselves!) and has tried to make things easier for other women wanting fun and friendships by removing some of the obstacles she encountered when riding.

Tell us about when you discovered your #bikelife- when did you realize that you found something you wanted to continue to do vs. just for a one-time event?
I basically knew from the minute I set off on my first solo journey. I had learned to ride through a professional instructor (think ‘special’ backpack and cones) and had only really ever been out riding with a few chaperones. One Saturday, I decided it was “the day”. I packed a backpack with about a week’s worth of food, because, you know, hangry, and rode 70km. It took me almost 5 hours and I could not have been more proud. It was at that moment I realized I was capable of so much on my own and I couldn’t wait to get out and explore.

What has been your biggest motivation for riding?

Helping other people. Of course, I love the feeling of freedom and wind on my face, but I ride for friendship. I think women have so much going on in their lives, jobs, partners, children, family… we’re givers. Nurturers. And a lot of the time we don’t prioritize ourselves the way we should. And by prioritize ourselves I mean invest time in having FUN. For me, riding is ‘me time’… and for me, ‘me time’ is time with friends.

You've had several instances where your health was not at it's best- cancer, a stroke, etc. How has cycling been an important aspect of your healing both physically and mentally?I truly couldn’t even begin to describe how critical it has been for me. Riding has been a constant throughout a lot of ups and downs. After eating a savory muffin (for reasons that still aren’t clear to me), the first thing I wanted to be able to do after the stroke was ride my bike. I knew that as soon as I could get those pedals turning, I would be home free. I find riding reflects what’s going on within me, and I actually use it as a bit of a barometer of mental and physical health. If I don’t feel like riding for more than a few days in a row, often there is something wrong in my life that I haven’t addressed. It’s my body’s way of trying to say “if you aren’t going to look after yourself, I’m going to take away your desire for fun stuff.

As a woman who was with an abusive partner, how was cycling a helpful way for you to heal on multiple levels?
I wish I had cycling in my life during that time, but I hadn’t yet discovered it. Even now, when I think about the place I was in, how quickly I let myself, my true self, slip away… it would have made all of the difference to have something that was mine. To process and to think and to be able to tie reason to, you know? When you’re in an abusive relationship, you sort of know, but you don’t at the same time. The brain is an amazing thing. If you are compromised or in a tough situation, it can just change all of the facts and make you see what you want to see. You turn away from those who try to talk to you and reject help, because there’s nothing wrong. I can’t help but feel as though if I was riding then, he would never have let me out on my own, and maybe I would have been able to jar my thinking earlier to “what do you mean I can’t go riding? This isn’t right.”

Out of the events that you've participated in (cycling specific or not) what have been 3 that have been the most influential for you and why?
Great Wall Marathon in China was really important to me. I wanted to celebrate the 12 month cancer free milestone with an event that was really out there… I trained for 3 months (I’m a terrible runner) and it took FOREVER… like over 6 hours to complete it. But I remember crossing the line and just thinking “yeah, that’s right. F*&k you, I can beat your sorry ass any day.”

Ride To Conquer Cancer was very influential. I cried when I crossed the finish line. I had put so much effort into being ready for it – physically and mentally – and I was just so effing happy to cross that line.

Ironman NZ was pretty awesome. I had done a 70.3 the year before I registered and swore I’d never go full… but one of those promo videos got me and I was signed up quicker than I knew what I was doing! The preparation it takes to get ready for an event like that is like nothing else. You have to eat, sleep and breathe training. It’s all consuming. In a lot of ways, it’s not healthy, and I learned a lot about myself in the process, but it was a huge influence on my life. I firmly believe I can do anything I set my mind to.

Do you have suggestions for those who are on the fence about participating in an event?
I can totally understand it, that’s the thing. It’s such an anxious time. You have no idea what it’s going to be like, you might not know anyone you can ask about it. The negative voice turns up which says “you’re shit, you can’t do this!” and then it’s all too easy to talk yourself out of it.

My advice would be to not be afraid of being a newbie. Own it! People respond really well to saying “Hey, can you please show/tell me how to do this? I’m new to this...”

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?

Frustrated, terrified, exhilarated. I made the mistake of riding with my partner who is much more experienced than me. He took me on trails that I felt were far too advanced. I was scared of every stick and stone, and had a fair few tanties – throwing my bike into the bush, sitting down with arms folded and refusing to move anywhere. But at the same time, there was something about it that I knew I wanted to keep doing…

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

The thing about me is I’m not naturally sporty. I think I’m naturally a scaredy-cat. My first road ride I was scared of everything. Cars, dogs, other riders, the wind… On the mountain bike it was single track, trees, roots, rocks, mud, sand… basically I think the best way to overcome anything is to obey the 80/20 rule. Be 80% in the comfort zone, 20% outside it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do anything radical, but maybe if you’re doing 5 trails, try braking 1 less time on 1 trail. Making deliberate attempts to be brave is what helps you get past the fear humps. I’m really happy when I’m riding in my comfort zone… and every time I ride, what trails and obstacles fall into that comfort zone gradually shift to more complex things without me putting too much pressure on myself.

For women on the fence about giving off-road riding a go, do you have any suggestions/advice?
Obviously not a blanket rule because everyone is different, but I would say DON’T go riding with your partner – especially if he/she is an experienced rider. Take a lesson, or join a group like She Rides to give it a go and learn the basics. A lot of “good” riders don’t practice the basics and once you improve your skills and confidence, you will surpass them really quickly. Take your time and enjoy the learning!!

Clips or flats, what do you enjoy riding with and why.

I’m a clips girl all the way, but I started out with dual pedals on both the road and mtb to get used to them. That’s where there’s a clip mechanism on one side but flat pedals on the other. This way, you can be unclipped when you want, and give it a go when you’re feeling brave (that 80/20 rule again). I used an outdoor velodrome as practice for clipping in and out. I must have done hundreds of laps clipping in and out with both feet and trying to surprise myself with emergency stops… Once you get used to it, you never go back. It’s more efficient, safer (especially on the mountain bike – I have trashed shins from pre-clip days) and helps get you feeling ‘at one’ with your bike.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Many… so many. From a stack perspective, I’ve had tons. Some stationary (literally standing next to my bike and falling over), some going slowly (traffic lights, curbs, pedestrians) and only a few *touch wood* at speed. Because I learned to ride as an adult, I accepted falling off as part and parcel of learning to ride. I never had those falls as a kid. I had them all as a mid-20 year old!

It certainly knocks your confidence around, when you take a tumble. It’s making sure you balance between getting back on as soon as you can (so a phobia doesn’t develop) but also making sure you give yourself enough time. Bike paths, slow rides, easy stuff… all things that help me to move past the stack and 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?
ALL OF THEM. Drinking out of my drink bottle was a massive one. I had watched so many people do it that I really didn’t think it was going to be a problem. Then, when I started riding, the first time I had to take my hand off the handlebar to get my drink bottle I was like “Oh hell no! What kind of wizardry is this?! I’ll fall flat on my face!” It probably took me a few weeks to gain the skills and courage to be able to do it comfortably (i.e. without swerving into traffic). Getting on the drops was another one. I think that one took me over a year in my road bike to do, especially on descents. Mountain biking… everything. Popping the front to get over obstacles… hilarious. My key suggestions for people is to watch, watch, watch and take things slowly. Step by step if you can. For instance, drinking out of the drink bottle consisted of me riding around in circles around a parking lot while taking a hand off the handlebar and simply touching the drink bottle, then returning my hand to the handlebar. Then pulling it out and putting it back. Then pulling it out and resting it out the handlebar and putting it back. Then putting it out, touching it to my lips and putting it back. I take things super slow and make sure I’m comfy before moving on.

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!! For me, the comfort zone just moves slightly as you improve. Things I find tricky on the road bike are being in the right gear for sprinting… I’m bloody hopeless. I still get a bit tetchy on the brakes on alpine descents. On the mountain bike, if I don’t ride for more than 2 weeks I feel as though I have to learn everything all over again. Cornering (ugh)… goes out the window. I don’t let it drag me down because I just simply adjust my comfort zone. This is what I’m comfortable doing today. This is what doesn’t feel good… yet. I ride with people who make me feel great and don’t stress about stopping to have another go at that tricky section. We’re out for a good time, not a fast time.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the feeling of being in control… I get to decide where I go, how fast I get there and what route I take. I get to decide if I’m feeling energetic or tired. If I need a coffee or I want to push through.

I love the feeling of freedom. It’s a place to lose yourself, let your worries be a thing for another time. I also really love that bikes have a mechanical element. For me anyway, it’s a completely different way of using my brain than I do in every day life. A bike is a machine. Every component exists for a purpose, and has been refined over time to do better at whatever its job is.

Also (at least when I bike), you can ride and chat. I can’t socialize when I run (ew) and love that I can have a chat while riding. Either on the road or in between trails in the forest. Plus, I love the hero stories after a ride at the cafĂ© or the pub.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I’m big on choosing your own bikes – not letting a bike shop salesman or your partner choose them for you. I have 4 bikes currently. My cruiser/town bike is a Giant Via… a beautiful ‘Dutch style’ bike with a basket in the front. It’s grey with pink and white detailing, except for one black mudguard on the back – a replacement for one that cracked when I got a bit cocky going over a curb… I have two mountain bikes – one hard tail, a carbon Scott Scale, and the other a Nukeproof Mega enduro bike. I chose these because they are both weapons in their own rights. The Scott is light, nimble and super for climbing and general trail riding. It’s a 29er which I prefer (I’m tall for a girl at over 175 cm), and the duallie is just a cushion. Seriously it’s like riding on a cloud. Then I have my road bike which is an Avanti Questa… so clearly not a brand loyal purchaser haha.

You created the community Chicks Who Ride Bikes- what was the initial process of making this group into a world-wide community?
The initial process was simply to create a Facebook group and stop every girl I saw on or near a bike to the group! I just wanted to be able to meet people and make new friends!! I then began hosting rides and inviting people to join me on rides of various lengths and of various difficulties and started to notice a trend in what level women were active and wanting to come out and have a good time. It all really grew from there! In that time, I’ve had rides where I rode 5km an hour to be able to encourage someone through a tough time. We’ve also had members do Everesting attempts and 24 hour continuous rides… so it really has been the birthplace for riders of all sorts! And as long as you enjoy it, it doesn’t matter how far or fast you go.

What would you like folks to know about Chicks Who Ride Bikes?

I would like women to know that you are unique, but your fears are not. As different as everyone’s experiences are, there are generally only 4-5 true fears women have on the bike and ALL OF THEM can be conquered, in your own time and with a smile on your face.

I would like men to understand that some women learn differently to men (and other women!). A gung-ho approach is not helpful in some situations and though diving straight into the deep end may be what helped you over your obstacles, it can be damaging to some women’s confidence.

I would like EVERYONE to know that cwrb is a safe place for everyone in the LGBTIQ community. We do not tolerate hateful or bigoted speech and actively police our forums to ensure those who breach our community standards are dealt with swiftly.

What has been the most rewarding moment since you have created Chicks Who Ride Bikes?

So many to choose from. A standout moment that I’ll never forget is the first time I took a hills ride at one of our local climbs in Brisbane. A girl showed up (which took courage enough) who had recently had a fall going up a hill… she had tried to unclip and couldn’t and fell in the road and was really shaken up about it. A part of her wanted to conquer it, which is why she was there, but a big part of her was really nervous. I met a small group of riders this early winter morning, still dark outside, and she was visibly trembling and pale. She was wearing a heart rate monitor which was already reading 140 before we even set off. A dozen times she must have said “I don’t know what I’m doing here, I can’t do this.

By the end of the morning, when we returned for coffee, she was a different person. She was alive. She was smiling. And I saw a spark in her which must have been the faintest pilot light at the start of the morning but which was a bright flame 2 hours later. She now takes her own hill rides and helps those who feel nervous to conquer their fears every week.

What challenges do you face with keeping the community/website going? What keeps you inspired?

With any community, there are always going to be challenges that occur with putting so many people together. Although we might all connect over bikes, we all come from different neighborhoods, religious backgrounds, ethnicities, political preferences… and when conversations crop up – either on or off line – disagreements are bound to occur at some point. And the number one rule I live by is you can never please everyone, so make sure you are being true to yourself.

It can be challenging to cater for the number of beginners on an ongoing basis. It takes a certain kind of person to run rides that are truly beginner friendly on an ongoing basis and not get frustrated. Or even start with beginner rides but then as you improve, you want to start taking groups that are more advanced. Or you form cliques and smaller groups and become comfortable and don’t necessarily want to do the new person thing again. There are a lot of specific qualities you need to have to truly enjoy what I do, but the fact that I truly get joy out of it, inspires me to keep going.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I truly think that fear plays a huge part – fear of the unknown. Will I be the slowest? Will I be the fattest? Will I be dressed ok? Is my bike the right kind? What if I don’t know the way? What if I get a flat tyre? We tend to ask all of these questions in our minds before we’ve even given ourselves a chance to think about the positives and by then it’s all too hard and too scary.

For mtb specifically, I think there are generations of women who have been actively or passively discouraged from working with machines. From home ec and sewing being taught instead of wood or metal work, women have often been kept away from working with our hands and understanding the mechanical. And there’s something about the mountain bike which is inherently mechanical… it’s fearful because not only is it all the unknowns I mentioned above, there’s suspension and disc brakes and movement that we are unaccustomed to understanding.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?

For me, I heard a lot of shops and companies using the term ‘no drop rides’ but it was pretty much lip service. I heard so much feedback from women saying they felt slow and awful and people left them behind and they ended up just feeling as though they were horrible people who were crap at life and let everyone down.

The industry needs people who are committed to the beginners… and not just the beginners but the transition from beginner to intermediate. After women have had their lessons and done their She Rides courses… then what? They need a place to be able to practice what they have learned until they form their groups. And at the moment, we are the only network that really offers that for free.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

Honestly? The people that encouraged me to ride. It’s a pay it forward kind of thing. When I think about the women who have made me feel AWESOME on my bike, I want to give others that feeling. To take a woman from a place of anxiety, not knowing anyone and feeling awkward and showing her she is loved and belongs… it’s a powerful thing. Women form such strong bonds and friendships when the environment is encouraged in the right way. It’s unbeatable, the rush you get when seeing a group of women who didn’t know one another or in the ordinary course of life would never have met… and now they’re best friends.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

I’m Jewish and grew up at a school that taught Hebrew!