Women Involved Series: Kristy Henderson

Photo Credit: TMB Images
I grew up riding my bike up and down the block with the neighborhood kids like most people. However, when I got my license, I hung up my bike and didn’t look back. Fast-forward to 26 yrs old, I was madly into the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” going through my own relationship ending and major life transitional phase. I decided one night to buy a bike and go on a European wine tour within the next year.

A co-worker had a picture of herself mtn biking on her desk so I asked her where to go and she advised: “Go see Jay Hollywood.
I showed up at the shop the next week, but he was too busy to see me, so we scheduled an appointment for the following week. After a few bike fittings, I had myself a new road bike… but I didn’t know where to ride or who to ride with. So, a week or so later, I started calling the shop owner asking if he’d ride with me.

It was fall, so we started riding before his races (of which I’d never heard of – cyclocross), and I’d stay and watch. I was instantly hooked on both him and the races. I asked “How do I try this?”, and he sold me a single speed mountain bike with platform pedals so I could try CX. I did 6 races that season, including Jingle CX and state CX and loved every minute of it. Come winter, I saw people racing on the ice with studded tires and wanted to play… so my 7th race ever was the Chilly Chili Ice Race in Bloomington on borrowed homemade studded tires. Every season that followed was the same – how do I play? Which led me to own zero to six bikes in a year flat. CX, Mtn, time trials, road, crits, and ice races – I love it all and sometimes raced up to 75 races per year! (Except the track – mama loves a freewheel). And go figure, Jay was hosting a trip to Europe the following April, so I got to go on my trip! Plus, we fell in love and got engaged while there watching some of the Spring Classics.

I rode for Silver Cycling for many years but, after being the only woman on the team for a few years and not really loving the look, I created my own team in December 2012, “Girl Fiend Cycling Team”. The designs were inspired by the art of one of my best friends, Teri Harriet, and t-shirt designs we were creating. Hot pink, black, and white, spikes, skulls, hell on wheels… I invited some of my former teammates and close friends to join in the beginning, starting with 6 of us. Through friends and the love of the kit design, we’re now at almost 30 ladies, ranging from 11 – 40+ years old! Our driving vision is to have fun on bikes and encourage others to do the same (aka ‘don’t be a douchebag’). It’s been awesome creating and riding under the Girl Fiend banner. I’ve seen a lot of personal growth and major bike goals crushed. My proudest victories were winning Single Speed USA in 2013 and 2015!

Other not-so-secret passion = competitive pole sport (aka pole dance, but meets gymnastics and cirque). 2015 Level 1 Regional Champ, 2015 Level 2 Nationals 2nd place, 2016 Level 3 Regional 2nd Place.

Your #bikelife originally started in childhood but didn't really take off until adulthood. Tell us why your "re-introduction" was life changing- 
Before I bought my 'first' bike at 26 years old, I was in an unhappy relationship that caused me to distance myself from most of my friends, I was a pack-a-day smoker, played online video games all night long, and would fantasize about what my life could be. I left the relationship and bought a bike, figuring that maybe if I signed up for a local triathlon, I'd quit smoking and get healthy. I did just that. But even better, within that cycling community, I found all the things I dreamt of... adventures, travel, friendships, health, fitness, and best of all true love. It was the exact opposite of where my life had been going but ended up exactly where I was meant to be.

You enjoy several different styles of riding from pavement to dirt. Why do you enjoy the diversity?
I love how different styles of riding gives me a bike outlet for all seasons. And the dirt and the snow make me feel even more like a big kid, which makes me feel alive! Racing on the road challenges my brain by teaching me to watch my opponents and strategize.

What would you say has been the biggest eye-opener for yourself since becoming so involved with cycling? 
Before I started racing and hanging out with a cyclist, I never knew such a community existed. So many welcoming people that bond over bikes.. and it's no matter where you go. I have cycling friends in Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado. We tell stories, share tips, go on adventures (cross country and even towny rides), and it's always fun.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Single Speed USA (single speed mtn bikes) - The first cyclocross / mtn bike I had was a rigid singlespeed Bianchi MUSS and my love for singlespeeds has crossed over every year. I went to my first Single Speed USA in 2013 when it was in Winona, MN. From the pre-reg party to the race to the final contests and after party, the entire collection of racers, riders, and supports played, rode, and enjoyed our time together for an entire weekend. Besides the "come as you are attitude" (costume vs. lycra, pro racer vs. beginner, etc), all are welcome. Plus, since it travels to a new state each year, it has given me the opportunity to ride trails and states I may have never known about! Why do I compete? I'm an only child of a single father - working to make my dad proud of me has always made me competitive and want to be better. Heck, I even race my husband to see who can fill out a registration form faster. (He cheats and always wins!) Competing in sport pushes me to be faster, stronger, work harder, and challenge my limitations. It helps me grow.

What advice would you give to someone who is nervous about attending their first event?
If you know someone in the sport that can be there to support you, do it. I think that was a huge help for me being a total outsider. But, if you don't, no worries. Giving something new a try is always scary, but often rewarding. Be open to new experiences and take it all in. And remember, the first time any of us try anything, it's likely not a slam dunk, so try it again! See if you can improve yourself the next time.

Can you take us back to your first mountain bike rides? What kept you coming back for more?
The dirt! I loved that I was a grown adult playing in the dirt, something that was not part of the lives of the adults around me as I grew up. It made me feel alive and adventurous and still does. When we go on vacations, it's almost always with mtn bikes because they can take us to some beautiful places to just sit and breathe in nature.

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
I love clips. I was super clumsy at first, falling each time I stopped my bike, but now I can't picture life without them. I feel like I have so much more control over the bike. Even my bar bike has clips and I have tennies with cleats in them.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
The worst bike injury I had was actually trying to walk my bike over an uphill log at Lebanon Hills. Remounting my bike, I twisted my back and slipped a disk. I couldn't breathe or stand up straight, but the mosquitos were aggressive and we needed to get help. I had to lightly pedal and coast my bike out of the course, luckily to find a friend in the parking lot that was a Phys. Therapist who helped get me into the car and make medical suggestions. I was laid up for days, barely able to walk, until I started chiropractic treatment with my amazing doctor. I went twice a day for weeks, had to make ergonomic changes to my work desk and how I sat on the couch, had to do exercises to strengthen my back but worst of all was hanging up my mountain bike. I was so heartbroken that the pain and injury made it painful to ride and diminished my strength and power greatly. But I kept with the treatments and tried to go easy on myself and listen to my body. It has taken me a few years to really get it down, but I now know when to see the doctor, how to be mindful of my back and best pre- and post-ride stretches for my body, and am happily back on the bike. I haven't done a century since it happened... that's still one more goal to overcome. Hopefully in 2017!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Rock gardens (big or small) were the hardest thing for me in the beginning. I would look at them and picture crashing my face into the rocks and leaving blood (it only happened once, but I got over it). In the beginning, I just ran sections I was scared of. Each year I would challenge myself to give them a try over and over. Also, I try to channel my husband's advice of staying loose, looking for good lines, and point the bike forward. Starting on a rigid singlespeed mountain bike, you quickly learn how to choose a good line since they don't just plow through the rocks like a full-suspension bike.

Cycling is what introduced you to your husband, what do you enjoy most about having something that you both can do together?
I love getting to cheer him on as he does something he loves, and love his hugs and support while I'm doing something I love. And, since we're doing this together, we both get to enjoy our passions w/o sacrificing time with each other. And who wouldn't love always having their biggest fan around, even for a Tuesday night crit? :)

Do you have any suggestions for folks who want to get their partner involved with cycling?
If they're curious, get them to try it! Get friends together and go for a group ride that ends at an eating establishment or BBQ so you can enjoy the sport and then the fellowship. But, be open to listening to what they like or don't like about it. I used to struggle with feeling like I let my husband down when I'd need a season off of racing, but soon realized that just an afternoon riding in the woods together was better than anything. Racing if you don't want to isn't fun, so don't pressure them to do it if it's not authentic to them. You can still share the love of bikes together on a nice ride around town.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that my bike takes me places and I get to connect to the outdoors. On a mtn bike, we'll likely see hawks or eagles, or cougar prints in the snow. We'll stop on my favorite bluff at Levis Mound and just breathe in the fresh air, quietly looking out over the treetops. On the road, we'll ride for 50-60 miles with friends, catching up together, stopping for donuts and some laughs, and getting us through those early season bonks if needed. It just feels like living.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My first problem was falling in love with a bike.. and then a bike shop owner.. so I got hooked early on collecting (10 to be exact.. but they all have a purpose!). My first was a Javelin Fara road bike named "Casper". I learned to road ride and time trial on it, took it to Europe (my original bicycle dream), and traveled thousands of miles on it. I later upgraded my road race bike to a BMC Pro Machine, "Princess", but the Fara is still my spring riding bike. "Princess" is my carbon dream machine - recommended by my husband, it's fast and responsive and knows when I want to ramp it up before I do. We've had two big crashes and survived them both. My mountain bike, a 29" LaMere Hardtail "the ninja", blew open the doors for my mountain biking the first time I road it. I started mtn biking on a 26", but once I moved to 29", I finally felt balanced and fast. Tied as favorite with the BMC, hands down. My fat bike, also a LaMere (kinda nameless), has a race geometry designed by my husband. Perfect for a winter race or a couple hour cruise down at the MN River Bottoms. For cyclocross, my love is split between two bikes - 1) a Stevens built up as a singlespeed, and 2) a LaMere cx built up as a 1x10 my hubby gave me as an anniversary gift. I typically grab whichever one is the best for the course, often leaning towards the SS, but they both ride like awesome little speed demons in the dirt. My original mountain and cyclocross bike was my 26" Bianchi MUSS. My husband loaned it to me to attend my first Homey Fall Fun Fest in 2006 - it was a night that solidified my love for bikes and the community - so I was quick to trade labor for the bike. I road my first couple seasons of Mtn and CX on it and still take it out for Homey and singlespeed antics each year. Lastly, I have an old Tomac 26" mtn bike with frankenstein parts and spot welds to repair old injuries to it's frame. My husband got it from a friend and built it up with old parts so I could have an ice racing bike. It goes by the name "Mad Maxx - the Thunder Pig" and we have had years of fun on the winter lakes together!

Tell us your mission with the Girl Fiend cycling team-
When I started Girl Fiend, I just wanted to wear something a little different and go my own path. I invited my friends because I was hoping we'd keep the team alive and grow. At first, we got a lot of interest based on our hot pink and black kits, bringing ladies to our group that I'd never met before. I've always said anyone is welcome, but no douchebags allowed. Really, we just want to have girls and women that like to ride, have fun doing it, and will be supportive of their teammates and others. I don't demand participation quotas, podium finishes, or the like - I don't think that helps grow the support. It should just be a welcoming group that says "I like bikes, you like bikes, wanna play?". :)

If there are folks interested in joining the team, how can they do so?
They can join anytime by talking to a member at an event, or reaching out to the me or the team site on facebook. We don't charge dues, have an awesome shop sponsor, clothing company, and even a massage sponsor!

What has been the most challenging part of starting up your own cycling team?
Organizing group rides is honestly my biggest challenge. I'm typically doing something every night of the week and often plan my bike rides the day-of, which doesn't usually work for teammates that are further away or have kids. Also, since we race so many types of cycling, we're often not around on weekends for group rides. We try to work around this through a private FB group where people can connect for rides with other teammates.

What would you say is the most rewarding experience you've had since the team started?
A couple years ago, one of my husband's customers talked to him about joining our team (Team Hollywood + Girl Fiend Cycling). His daughters wanted to race in the High School Mtn Bike League when they were old enough, and thought a team might help them out. Seeing Gabi and Bella in the smallest Girl Fiend jerseys and ripping up the trails with huge smiles on their face was one of the happiest moments I've had. As a non-parent, it was such a cool to see the joy of cycling through their eyes.

Any suggestions for folks to consider when looking to start up their own group or team?
Have a good vision and stand behind it, no matter how simple. I think that will help draw like-minded people to you. Invite your friends and welcome new people. And encourage others at events, including people you don't know. For all you know, they're just starting out and looking for a group to join!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially off-road riding?
I think the unexpected was the most scary for me when I was starting out. I would travel to this event, never having ridden the course before, and now need to do it with no oxygen in my brain?! For all styles of racing, though, I think anything in the dirt is the most welcoming. A road race or crit, you'll likely show up and find tents with racers on trainers and headphones on, drinking weird colored shakes and matching everything. Likely not how a beginner is going to be packing for a race. Where a race in the dirt is going on, you often find people riding around randomly, maybe not even warming up at all, some wearing mismatched kits or baggies, and there always seems to be food and beverages to be shared after.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think MN is doing an amazing job getting more women on bikes with the High School League, Little Bellas, and a huge increase in women on the track and in CX. Also, the industry needs to lay off the "shrink it and pink it" attitude with women's bikes... just sell bikes in different sizes. Male or female, we span all sizes. The right sized bike and a proper, professional bike fit will go a lot farther than one just because it's called a "women's" bike.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I love to share the things that bring me joy with others in case it will bring them the same joy. It's like finding my soul mate... I want everyone else to find such amazing love in their life, too.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I also compete in pole sport (aka competitive pole dancing) since 2015 and was a captain of Team Dollhouse for the 2016 season. I have won medals in my division in 2 regional and one national competition, performed in a show at Mill City Nights, and just began training for my May 2017 competition. Funny thing is, the strength in my legs from cycling helps me hang upside down by my knee pit with ease! ;)