Women Involved Series: Selene Yeager

Today we meet Fit Chick, Selene Yeager, who many of you may recognize from her articles featured in Bicycling Magazine. You may have picked up one or more of her books on cycling or fitness.
Selene is a woman who made cycling and fitness her life, and made it her mission to share her experiences and wealth of knowledge thru writing.

I decided to make contact with the rider and author, so we could all learn about her #bikelife and what fuels her passion for life.

"I’ve always ridden bikes. Then at some point I got into writing about them and racing them. That’s taken me all over the world: Brazil, South Africa, Israel, Cuba, British Columbia, and beyond. I ride every kind of bike everywhere. I race mostly off road. Gravel, mountain, some enduro."

Biking has always been a part of your life, what would you say has been the driving force behind your active #bikelife?
DNA. I’ve always just loved it. My grandfather used to go out and ride to see how far he could get, long before anyone I knew ever talked about that kind of recreational endurance riding. I didn’t know anyone in my small town who rode like that. He didn’t either. He just did it because it gave him joy. When I was in middle school I just started riding my bike everywhere. When I got to high school, I too, liked to see how far I could go—sometimes riding 20 miles to a friend’s house when everyone else was driving. I’ve always inherently loved the way it feels and makes me feel. Still do.

What was your inspiration to start participating in competitive biking events?
Friends and colleagues. After I got a job at Rodale (the parent company that publishes Bicycling), I started riding with a lot of other people who worked there. People kept saying, “You should race.” I didn’t think I wanted to do that. But eventually I caved and signed up. I was the only woman who showed up! But I had a good experience and started racing pretty regularly.

Out of the events you have participated in, what would you say is your most favorite?
I love mountain bike stage racing. Pedaling across the countryside is the most amazing way to take in a place. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been able to line up in some of the iconic ones like BC Bike Race and Cape Epic as well as Hot Israel Epic and Titan Tropic Cuba. My favorite of all the ones I’ve done is Brasil Ride because it was spectacularly beautiful and every day felt very different as you passed through coffee plantations and lush bamboo forests. One that I do nearly every year and is near and dear to my heart is the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic (a stage race in Central PA) because it’s close to home and it feels like summer camp. It’s also very technical riding, which I like best.

Do you have any suggestions for those who are planning to attend their first competitive event? What should they keep in mind?
Keep in mind that everyone is just like you! People have this idea that they’re going to go to a race and everyone is going to be PRO. Untrue. Most racers are there for the camaraderie and the challenge and the fun as much if not more than for the result. Relax and enjoy it. You’ll have a better time and probably do better, too.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? How was your introduction to off-road riding and what about it inspired you to keep at it?
I remember my first official introduction to “real mountain biking” (as opposed to taking my 10 speed in the woods like I used to) very clearly. I was on a fully rigid Cannondale on some super technical trails that are right in town here where Bicycling is located. I was with a small crew that included friends and colleagues I still ride with now and then (though some have since moved on). I was dumbfounded! People were just popping their bikes over rocks and logs and riding through streams. I couldn’t stop laughing it was so fun and ridiculous. I loved it immediately. I had no idea what I was doing, so I just followed the person in front of me and tried to imitate what they were doing. It worked pretty well. At one point one of the guys looked back and smiled and said, “I think you’re going to be pretty good at this.” After the ride, Bill Strickland (still my boss at Bicycling today!) gave me an old Rock Shox Judy fork that he had in the garage. It was awesome. I still love those backyard trails best of all.

Besides mountain biking, you have done quite a few endurance mountain bike rides/events. What do you enjoy about endurance rides?
I love going places on my bike. And I like going far. You really feel a sense of place and accomplishment and it soothes my mind and fills my creative well, so when I go back to writing I have something to say! That’s not to say there aren’t moments when I’m out there and I’m suffering wondering what the hell I’m doing and swearing that I’ll never do whatever it is ever again. But I nearly always do. I’m an optimist at heart and tend to remember mostly the good stuff in life; so I forget those moments pretty quickly and come back for more.
For someone interested in trying out an endurance-type event, what are some things they should take into consideration when preparing?
Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. In the end, your fuel pretty much makes or breaks you on a very long day. It’s very overlooked, especially when people are first starting out. Practice eating and drinking on your long rides. See what works—and what doesn’t—for you. Go into endurance rides with a fueling plan—i.e. “I’m going to drink a bottle an hour and eat 200 calories an hour”—or whatever works for you and DO it.

Clips or flats? What works for you and why?
I know I’m supposed to say flats. But clips. I like the power transfer of them. Yes, I know that flats make you a better rider. I’m still not going to use them. But I appreciate riders who do.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Oh, I’ve had a few. I wrecked on my road bike at about 30 mph a few years ago. I luckily walked away pretty physically unscathed, but mentally? I’d be lying if I said I still don’t have to remind myself to relax on long technical descents. On the mountain? Crashing is part of the learning curve for sure. I’ve broken ribs, fingers, my collarbone, and have had multiple shoulder injuries. I think the hardest part is when you first come back because it’s fresh in your head. But gradually you work back up to riding at speed and pushing your comfort zone and rebuilding that confidence. It’s important to know why your wrecks happen I think. Because it gives you something to keep in mind and try to prevent. Honestly, as I’ve gotten older, I also take less unnecessary risks. I weight the risk/reward a little more now. I’m not willing to lose a fully summer of riding for an injury that wasn’t worth it so to speak.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Fast cornering. I’m still not the best at it. It’s hard for me to trust that my tires will hook back up when they drift a bit. But I’ve gotten better. I think just riding with people who are better and watching and learning from them has been big. Also weight distribution is everything. It’s easy to be static on your bike and try to let it do the work. But being an active rider; shifting your weight and dancing on the bike is key to maneuvering rough terrain at speed.

What do you love about riding your bike?
It’s where I feel most peaceful and alive. Even when I’m hypoxic and suffering, I feel centered there. And I feel more centered when I’m done.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My current mountain bike is a Yeti Beti SB5 and everyone is sick of me telling them how much I love it every time we ride. It climbs well. It descends beautifully. It dances with me over rocks and logs. I just love it. On the road my bike of choice is a Liv Envie—she’s a rocket ship and super comfortable. Feels like flying. On gravel, it just depends. But my most trusty steed is a Specialized Crux because it’s super versatile. I can put giant tires on it for gravel races or skinnier rubber for more traditional cross races.

Cycling is one aspect you are well known for, health and fitness are the others- how did you originally become involved in those fields?
I think people just gravitate to what they’re interested in and what they’re good at. I’ve always been active. I played field hockey. I ran track and field. I danced. I kayaked and ran and swam. When I started writing it made sense to write about things I loved. Then it made sense to pursue some education and certification so I could speak from a place of a certain level of knowledge.

You have helped pen several books as well as magazine articles, when did writing become a way for you to share your passions?
It always has been. If I didn’t write, I don’t know what I would do. Probably work at a bike shop or coffee shop. I really don’t know. I’m writing in my head every minute of my life. Always have.

Do you have suggestions for folks who would like to write articles or a book about cycling or whatever sport they are involved in? What are some good first steps?
This is hard to answer, as the publishing world has changed so much since I first stepped into it. The web is a good place to hone your skills, though. Start writing and posting your own stuff. See how people respond to it. Then see if you can float it past some editors. It’s not easy. There’s a lot of rejection, always has been. But if you love to do it, persistence usually pays off.

Out of the books you have been an author of, what would you say is your favorite and why?
I’d have to say two. ROAR, which I co-wrote with Dr. Stacy Sims. It’s all about women’s specific nutrition and training and it was just a mind-blowing experience for me. She’s a goldmine of knowledge on the subject and the advice I learned and subsequently wrote about has changed the way I train and fuel. The other would be Rusch to Glory, which is Rebecca Rusch’s story. I’d never written anything like that before and it was amazingly challenging and gratifying. I loved the process.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I actually don’t think that’s true anymore. When I go on mountain bike rides now, sometimes the women outnumber the men. Women still don’t race bikes as much. Maybe they never will. But I don’t think we should judge the participation in the sport by the participation in competition. There are tons of women out there on bikes now, mountain bikes included. That number is only going to grow. I think it just took a while. When I first started riding, there weren’t any good clothes for women and everything was geared to men and it was sort of intimidating and you were worried about holding the ride up because you were a woman or whatever. That’s not 100% gone. But there’s so much fabulous gear for women and there are tons of women’s groups and women can go online and see other women being awesome and rad and riding and having fun. That only leads to more women riding.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think we’re doing it. There’s still some bro-industry bullshit. And yes, there’s still sexism. But those walls are crumbling. We just have to keep chipping away. The more women that get involved, the less you’ll see of that.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Riding makes you feel free. Every woman should feel free.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have 6 toes on my feet. (Kidding.) I don’t know if it’s random. But I think what surprises people about me when they really get to know me is that I battle fear of failure pretty much constantly in everything I do. I have some very loud demons that bang around in my head telling me I suck and I’m an imposture and I’m going to get my ass handed to me if I do any given event. I have to slay those demons just to get out of the house some days! But it’s totally worth it. It makes you stronger. And they just get in the way of having a good time. Probably deeper than what you wanted—like I collect lip gloss (which I do)—but ultimately more helpful I think!