Women on Bikes Series: Tina Ooley

My name is Tina Ooley. I live in Durango, Colorado with my husband and our two wild boys. I started riding mountain bikes in 2006 and I am a strong believer in the magic of riding a bicycle.

In 2010, I lost my brother to brain cancer. That is when everything changed for me, including my relationship with my bike. I pedaled through my grief, one day at a time, and my life unfolded in ways I never imagined. In 2013 I started coaching kids on bikes with the Durango Devo program and found a passion for mentoring/coaching. I am now a PMBI certified instructor, and I coach with the Trek Dirt Series.

This year I started my own mentoring/adventure program, EveryPedal Mountain Bike. 

The focus has been to get more girls on bikes in an inclusive, supportive, non-competitive environment where we share a connection and improve our mountain bike skills one pedal stroke at a time. EveryPedal has also worked with local nonprofits providing access to bikes for under-served youth in our community. Everyone deserves the opportunity to discover life from the seat of a bicycle and I am committed to sharing the love of bikes with anyone that might be curious about it.

Your #bikelife started in 2010, what would you say was the most therapeutic about being able to ride your bike?
Honestly, in the beginning, the therapy was in the suffering and physical discomfort of pedaling hard. That and doing something intimidating and a little scary! My brother passed away after a long battle with brain cancer in January of that year, so I had just watched him suffer unimaginable pain- with unimaginable grace - in the final four weeks of his battle. It feels a bit weird now to talk about, but I needed to suffer psychically. I was riding singlespeed at the time and really had no technical skill at all. I would put my head down and just push the pedals… and often cry. I was dealing with pain and grief and I literally pedaled it out.

If you can recall, tell us about your first mountain bike ride. How was the experience and what did you learn?
My very first bike ride was with my roommate back in 2000 in Prescott, Arizona. I had just moved there from NYC, fake nails and all, and riding beach cruisers on the boardwalk was the extent of my cycling experience. I remember thinking, “Mountain biking? Sure, sounds fun!” And off I went, not realizing that we were riding from the house uphill to the trailhead- I was miserable! We ended up at the top of what I now know to be an intermediate trail, but I was clueless. He told me he would wait for me at the bottom and off he went. I am lucky I got there without seriously hurting myself! I remember laughing out loud awkwardly the entire way down and not much else… I’m pretty sure my eyes were closed most of the way. The experience was exhilarating, but my intention was to never do it again. My main takeaway was that I clearly was not cut out to be a mountain biker! I didn’t ride again until six years later.

For those nervous about off-road riding, do you have tips or suggestions that may help them cope?
I often think of a quote by Neale Donald Walsch: "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." When I finally decided I wanted to mountain bike regularly, riding off-road made me really nervous, but I had made up my mind that I was done with allowing fear to stop me from exploring things that I was drawn to. Six years earlier, I told myself that I had no business riding a mountain bike, but there I was, a 36-year old mother of two learning something new and really enjoying it. So empowering!

Part of what makes mountain biking so powerful is the connection to others, especially women. So one mistake I’ve noticed is really easy to make is to avoid riding with others because we don’t want to hold up the group. Huge mistake! You’re missing out on the company of others and they’re missing out on you. Do yourself and others a favor: find a no-drop group ride. Get out there and share your stoke! No matter what that little voice of inadequacy tells you, there are lots of women who love getting other women pumped on bikes and they don't mind waiting for you. So ride with others. Also, be kind to yourself. We all start somewhere. Start where you are and celebrate every little bit of progress.

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?

I like both. I think it’s helpful to stay on flat pedals as long as you can when you are first learning and developing fundamental skills. One of my mentors told me that you should ride flats until you can do a proper bunny hop and I think that’s about right. It’s important to learn the proper mechanics of your feet when they are not clipped to the pedal.

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’ve had many. The mental piece is a big part of my process on the bike. Falling can really mess with your head and lead to a temporary regression in skills. That’s normal, but you just have to get back on the unicorn. Take it one ride at a time and again, start where you are, be patient and kind with yourself. Before too long you'll be back to making rainbows.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?

For a long time, I struggled with switchbacks and cornering, which was usually about not looking where I wanted to go. It helps me to have a mantra that I would repeat in my head as I rolled up to something that I needed to work on. Sometimes it would come together and sometimes it wouldn’t. We all have particular things that are challenging for us and in my opinion, the key is allowing ourselves the time and space to practice and fail, then practice some more. Most of us want to improve ourselves more quickly than is actually realistic, and when those changes don’t happen as quickly as we’d like, it’s easy to let it get you down. We do ourselves a favor when we commit to enjoying the journey itself.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
There are lots of things that I still find tricky! Some of them I have struggled with from the beginning. Another mentor of mine often reminds me that it is a gift to be challenged on our bikes, it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to learn and to grow, ongoing. I have frustrating days on my bike and try to remember that even the frustrating days are a pretty great gift. Every pedal counts.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The freedom. The wind, the rainbows, the sunsets. I love the wild, magical places I can access on my bike. I love the people my bike has connected me to. I love what I have learned about myself and about life. I just love everything about a day on a bike.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a 2016 Trek Remedy with Fox suspension, which is the bike I ride most of the time. I have only been riding a full-suspension, geared bike for two years, and I love this bike! It is so playful and I am giddy when I am on it. It climbs well and then descends even better, but I would be lying if I said the purple lotus sparkle paint job had nothing to do with my decision!

I also have a steel singlespeed and that’s what I pedaled for six years. I’ve had a couple Spot Brand bikes and then a Surly Karate Monkey that was built primarily with parts from the bike that my friend, Sarah, used to ride. She lost her battle with breast cancer in 2013. My singlespeed is sacred space for me. The journey I had pedaling one gear for all those years really changed my life.

I also ride a Surly Pugsley fat bike, which I LOVE riding in the winter. We moved to Colorado from Arizona a few years ago. In Arizona, you could ride 350 days per year, so not pedaling for weeks on end didn’t sit well with me. And I can’t do the indoor trainer/rollers thing. I need to get outside for my mental well-being and because I crave the connection to the mountains, so fat bikes have been such a blessing. Riding in the snow is some of the most fun I’ve had on a bike.

What was your inspiration for getting PMBI certification?

Durango Devo. When we moved to Durango, I was definitely looking to create even more of a bike-centric lifestyle, but I didn't know much about mountain bike skills or coaching. I was just a woman from Arizona who loved to ride and maybe I was a bit evangelical about it… I’ve always loved turning others onto mountain biking. Within a few months of arriving, Sarah Tescher, one of the founders of Durango Devo, gave me an opportunity as an assistant coach with Devo Junior. I really tapped into my passion for coaching there and was inspired by what that organization was doing. I got my PMBI certification a year later when I started coaching U-14 Girls. Sarah really put her faith in me and supported my development as a coach. Devo is well-known for developing great riders, but it’s also great at developing coaches. I learned an incredible amount from the people I worked with there.

What have you enjoyed the most about being able to work with kids on off-road skills?
The confidence and connection that the kids can gain from riding a bike. What I love about biking is that you can really see how far you have come from one week to the next. Cleaning that climb that you thought you would never clean or finally letting it roll in that spot where you always grab your brakes too hard and get off. Watching these kids realize what they are capable of is awesome! And a bike is one more tool they’ll have to navigate their lives.

Tell us about the Trek Dirt Series program and why women should consider going to one of the clinics-
The Trek Dirt Series has been empowering beginner to advanced riders with its mountain bike skills camps for 17 years now. We offer both women-specific and co-ed camps in the U.S. and Canada. The weekends are full of skills instruction and group rides, as well as maintenance clinics. Whether you are just starting out or you’re a seasoned rider who wants to step it up, the Dirt Series is an incredible experience.

Attending a skills clinic can benefit just about any rider. The more tools you have in your skills toolbox, the better prepared you are to have awesome days on the trail. Beyond the skills you’ll pick up, Dirt Series camps and clinics offer a fun and supportive environment to get more comfortable on your bike and a connection to other riders in your community- a lot of mountain bike friendships have started at Dirt Series events!

What would you say was one of your most inspiring moments with Trek Dirt Series?
Every event has been super inspiring! For most riders, it takes a lot of courage and humility to step outside of your comfort zone and just show up. I have witnessed an endless number of "I did it!" moments. And just as many moments of frustration. Other rider’s effort and determination, the fact that they put themselves out there and push their limits… that inspires me!

Tell us about your EveryPedal Mountain Bike program what it's all about-

EveryPedal Mountain Bike is something I created with the intention of getting more people on bikes. I’ve dedicated EveryPedal to creating a fun, adventurous, connection-oriented environment for people to explore the sport. It's about fitness, technical skills, and adventure, but it’s also about noticing and embracing the ways that learning to mountain bike teaches us about life and about ourselves. My hope is that EveryPedal encourages people to connect with one another and share the ride.

What would you like to see happen for EveryPedal Mountain Bike in the next few years?
I’m expanding the girls programming this year and adding a couple women's weekends. I was really happy- and a little surprised- by how popular the program was in its first year. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so the response was encouraging and seeing the impact the program had on the lives of the girls was even more rewarding than I expected. More of that, please!

I also did a test program last summer with La Plata Backyard Adventures, which is a collaboration of Big Brothers Big Sisters, La Plata Youth Services, and SOS Outreach. Our goal was to get the kids engaged in outdoor activities via workshops, community service, and other outdoor pursuits during the summer. EveryPedal facilitated an introductory mountain biking workshop with the support of two local bike shops (thank you, 2nd Ave and Pedal the Peaks!). We were able to provide bikes, helmets, and other equipment and spent a few days throughout the summer riding bikes together. So much fun!

I believe in the power of the bicycle to promote positive change in our lives, so I’m really passionate about getting kids on bikes and want to look for more great ways of making the sport more accessible to them and their families.

What has been the most inspiring moment for you, to date, with EveryPedal?
I am inspired every day I spend on the trails with these kids. Showing up, pushing ourselves and being vulnerable isn’t easy for any of us, so the fact that they do is inspiring in itself. I have seen tears of joy, frustration, disbelief, you name it. These kids are brave, and they make a choice to show up, push themselves and push limits on their bikes. I get to share that ride with them and it’s the best.

Why do you feel it is important to get young women involved with mountain biking in a non-competitive environment?
I think it is important to create as many access points to the sport as possible. I race a few times a year and love it! But competition can be an intimidating introduction to the sport. There are a lot of people, and especially women, who are curious about mountain biking but never give it a try because it feels competitive or they otherwise get caught up in comparing themselves to others. They don’t feel confident enough to ride alone, but when they ride with other people they worry about holding the group up or whatever, they get anxious and then the magic is gone. And without that magic, the ride just isn't the same and maybe they stop showing up. People stay in the saddle when the environment is supportive and fun and when we focus on making connections to others, to ourselves, and to the outdoors.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?

Learning to mountain bike can be pretty scary. I think a lack of confidence can get in the way for a lot of women. Our tendency to compare ourselves to others can really be self-limiting. If we continue to create access for all types of riders and cultivate a culture that values an inclusive, supportive vibe, more and more women will get involved.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think the industry is doing a great job right now of encouraging more women to ride and be involved, which is so nice to see. Brand ambassadors and advocates, skills clinic support and sponsorship really help to bring women together and create access all over the world, so I’d love to see even more of that. And I applaud Epic Rides’ commitment to offering the same cash purses and prizes for women as they do for men. That has been a long time coming and even for women who aren’t competing, it conveys the message that the sport and the industry are welcoming to girls and women.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I am 44 years old and if someone would have told me 15 years ago that one day I would be an influential mountain biker (of sorts) and find my life's work through bicycles, I would have laughed at them. I never imagined this for myself and yet here I am and I have never felt more certain of my path. Mountain biking has brought me some of the greatest friendships and self-discoveries I’ve ever known and a depth of connection that I have craved all my life. What inspires me to get other women on bikes is knowing that for many women out there, mountain biking could be for them what it has been for me.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I worked in the television and music business
in NYC for most of the 90's. Never thought of mountain biking. Not once :)