Women on Bikes Series: Josie Welsh

I am a junior in high school and spend a ton of time working on school. All of my spare time is dedicated to bikes. I work as a mechanic at a bike shop, which is super fun.

In the winter I cross country ski, run and road ride as preparation for the season. During the warm months of the year, I ride my bike almost every day.

While I train on the road, I am really a mountain biker. I race during the summer on my own and when fall comes around, I ride for my high school team in the Minnesota High School Cycling League. Over the summer, I helped out at the high school league's summer camp and was a junior mentor for Little Bellas.

What inspired you to participate in mountain bike events?
There were a few things that pulled me into mountain bike events. I’ve always been competitive --especially when I was younger-- so once I started riding, I knew that I wanted to do races. My dad was the one who got me into mountain biking and he always made me feel confident in myself. 

What suggestions would you give to someone new to event participation?
Be positive and stay calm. If you are anything like me, your brain will go into overdrive thinking of every possible scenario-- especially the bad ones. I do a lot better when I slow my brain down and focus on the positive. I like to think about things that make me feel more confident in myself. For example, if the race is a technical race, then I think about how I really do a lot of technical riding so I should be able to get through the technical sections.

Take us back to your first mountain bike ride(s), what did you learn and what made you continue with the sport?
My first few mountain bike rides were awesome! When I was ten, my dad and I rode down to the trail by our house. We did a 3ish mile loop of single track and then rode home. These rides were by far the most fun as well as the most exhausting thing I did the entire summer. I was hooked. The biggest thing that I took away from the first few rides was how impressed my dad was. He gave me a ton of confidence and made me feel like I was amazing at mountain biking.

Clips or flats? What works for you and why-
I use clips almost all of the time, but I trade them in for flats for a few weeks every year. Riding with flats helps me develop my technique. When I put my clipless pedals back on, I have more power and control, but still using the technique I have learned. I use clips most of the time because of all of the racing that I do. They give me more effective power transfer and make sure I have control after I have been racing for an hour.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Lucky for me, I haven’t had any really bad crashes (knock on wood.) I spend a lot of time doing technical riding, because it is fun and it minimizes risk of crashing. Anytime that I crash, it slows me down for a few rides because I lose the confidence required to ride aggressively. After every crash, I always consciously think about good technique. I think to myself: Where are you looking? How is your body position? Thinking about these things help me mentally recover from a crash. 

What are some handling skills that have or still challenge you? What has helped you better your skills?
The skill that I am working on right now is holding wheelies and manuals. I spend a lot of time working on slow speed skills, which has really helped me ride faster and smoother. It also makes riding a lot more fun! I find that watching videos of people who know how to ride helps me visualize what I am supposed to be doing. Other than that, I just practice a LOT. Every ride that I go on has a block of time dedicated to practice wheelies, bunny hops, manuals, pumping, etc. 

What do you love about riding your bike?
There are so many things that I love about riding my bike! First of all, it is fun. There is truly nothing I would rather be doing with my time. Something about the speed and flow of a trail puts a smile on my face. I love the feeling of satisfaction and confidence that I get when I ride a technical section or do well at a race. Up until a few months ago when I got my driver's license, my bike was also my form of transportation. If I wanted to go somewhere, my bike was there and it gave me a lot of freedom. One of the things that I like the most is that riding can be really hard and can push you out of your comfort zone, which is not something that I get almost anywhere else. 

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Specialized Fate carbon, with a 90mm SID brain fork, SRAM XO1 groupset, Shimano XT brakes and Roval control carbon wheels. I got this bike because a hardtail fits Minnesota riding and racing. I was really interested in Specialized because of their women’s specific design (WSD) and it has been a perfect fit. It's comfortable, rolls fast and can do some serious shredding!

I also have a 2017 S-Works Era with 100mm of suspension in the front and 95mm in the rear. It has Roval Control SL wheels, a XX1 Eagle groupset and SRAM Level Ultimate brakes. I got it because I am going to Nationals next year, which will be in Snowshoe West Virginia. East coast riding is notorious for having a lot of root-and-rock, so I wanted to have a little more suspension, but not be weighed down. Like the Fate, this bike has a women's specific design, which works really well with my body type. I got this bike at the end of last season, so I haven’t ridden it very much yet, but from what I can tell it is really fun and really fast. 

You are a student who races with the Minnesota High School Cycling League, tell us why you feel having mountain biking as a high school program is beneficial to students-
Cycling is good for a lot of reasons. For starters, cycling attracts a lot of kids who probably wouldn’t be doing a high school sport otherwise. Cycling has a lot of health benefits associated with it as well; it helps kids maintain a healthy weight, improves muscle strength and flexibility, reduces risk of heart disease, obesity and other lifestyle related problems. It can help kids with ADHD focus in school. It reduces stress and anxiety, and is a known sleep aid. Cycling also teaches a number of important skills like determination and perseverance. It also helps kids become confident in themselves, which for kids in high school is huge. Unlike a lot of high school sports, cycling is something that you can do for the rest of your life.The high school cycling league is also a safe space for students to have fun and be themselves. Anyone who has ever been to any race knows just how awesome this community is. People are competitive when they are racing, but very friendly afterwards. 

Do you feel having the league available in school has encouraged more young women to participate in the sport?
I do. I think that in general, girls are less likely than boys to go out and start doing an action sport on their own. What the cycling league does is help give girls (and boys) a place and a group of people that will help them learn how to ride and keep them safe. I think that the structure and support system that the high school league gives makes an action sport like mountain biking more approachable. The other thing is that it helps girls ride with other girls, which is often a problem. The majority of the time, I ride with guys-- and I don’t have a problem with that. But I have met a lot girls and women through the high school league that I ride with now. 
As a young woman and student- what would you like to tell parents who are unsure of having their daughter participate in mountain biking (in general) or the cycling league?
I would say that they should keep an open mind. Often times, the main reason that people are concerned about mountain biking is that it is dangerous. But contrary to popular belief, most of the time it isn’t that dangerous. This is especially true in the high school league. Every kid who joins it taught how to ride safely and in a way where they won’t get themselves into trouble. I would also tell them about all of the benefits that cycling can bring. I would definitely focus on how mountain biking is really good for developing confidence and high self esteem.

You volunteered with Little Bellas last summer. What did you enjoy most about your experience?
I really enjoyed watching the little girls go from being nervous to being excited, and confident in themselves. It was cool to be a part of that experience for them. 

You work at Erik's Bike Shop as a mechanic- what was your inspiration for seeking employment in the industry?
When I was just getting into mountain biking, I had a 400 dollar bike, which I managed to break just about every time I rode it. I have always liked to take stuff apart, put it back together and try and fix the problems and naturally, I began to tinker with my bike. When I started going into the shop and asking to buy parts without installation, the manager took notice. When I was 15, he asked me if I wanted a job, which I immediately said yes to. This job gave me a professional training course and a ton of hands on experience.

Why do you feel more women should seek employment/be active in the cycling industry?
When there are more women in the industry, it helps encourage more women to join in on the action. Bike shops become more approachable for women-- when you are a new female rider, going to a bike shop and talking to knowledgeable men can be intimidating. Women’s products also start being designed by the people who actually use them, which makes them better. Companies will start marketing towards women more and more women will be exposed to cycling and its benefits.

What has been the most fun/interesting thing you've learned since working at the shop?
Being in a position where I can work on just about any problem that arises with any bike is extremely nice. When I am out on a ride by myself or with other people and something goes wrong with my bike or somebody else’s and I can fix it, it is very satisfying. 

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think the biggest problem is that they don’t believe that they are capable of doing it. When I ask girls that I know if they want to go mountain biking, almost everyone says, “Oh no. I would kill myself! There’s no way I could do that!” I know that they are capable of riding, but they don’t think they are and they don’t believe me. I think that women and girls are taught by society to not believe in themselves when it comes to physical challenges. And for mountain biking I think that this feeling is compounded because of the fact that they are riding a machine, which is another thing that women aren’t traditionally pushed towards. 

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Having programs like Little Bellas and the high school league is the key to having more women in the sport. Teaching young girls to be confident in themselves and believe that they are capable of doing whatever they set their minds to. Also, having more women in the sport will make new riders more comfortable joining in on the fun. 

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
When I think about all of the things that cycling has done for me, I can’t help but want to share that with as many people as I can. All of the amazing experiences and things that I would never have been a part of or seen is what inspires me. Cycling has sculpted every part of my life and I can't imagine my life without it. If I can share that with anyone, I most definitely will. I feel like women are more likely to miss out on the opportunity, because they aren’t always pushed into cycling. 

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Last year I took a ceramics class in school, and I loved it. I signed up for the advanced class and I am hooked! Ceramics is really fun!