Monday, August 28, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Lauren Wolfe

My name is Lauren Wolfe and I hail from the Quad Cities area (IL/IA) and have been riding bikes since grade school, although I just got back into riding bikes in the last five years or so. I discovered mountain biking in the summer of 2014 and have been hooked since! I have been interested in sports and outdoor activities all my life (sort of a tomboy, ya know...)

My first passion was snowboarding and I got into biking after riding my commuter-style bike on the paved paths around the area to pass time during the summer months. One bike path passes near a mountain bike trail (Illiniwek Forest Preserve) and I used to look across the street and see all these bikes and see all these people riding bikes into the woods! I was intrigued because frankly, bike paths get boring! I researched online and found that we had a local mountain bike club, Friends of  Off-Road Cycling ( that builds and maintains area trails. After reading up on the internet and working up the courage, I decided I needed to ride my bike on the trails!

Of course, I  needed a "mountain bike" first and I went to Wal-Mart and bought a cheap Mongoose (that I managed to break like four times) and a helmet and set off! After struggling to bike up hills (read: walk-a-bike), being thirsty, hot, eaten by bugs, and "surely lost" I hit my first downhill and was hooked! The rest (n+1, group rides, venturing to other trail systems, and *gasp*racing) was history! I now cannot get enough of any type of biking and it gives me something to look forward to--in the summer I think about snowboarding and the winter I think about mountain biking.

My Instagram is @fewdfreak

Your #bikelife started in 2014, tell us how you feel cycling has changed your life in a few short years-
I feel like cycling has provided me with the opportunity to go out and have fun while staying fit. It allows me to get away from the daily grind, be out in nature, have fun, and set goals for myself. It is also cool to meet similar (b)ike-minded folks to share the experience with.

If you can recall, tell us about your first mountain bike ride. How was the experience and what did you learn?
Wow, if you can call it a ride, LOL. More of a walk—a lot of walking hills and being eaten alive by bugs in ridiculous heat—than a ride. My first ride was mid-summer and super humid and I really didn't know what to expect. The trail system had a lot of climbing. I was by myself so I guess I felt no pressure to go fast until I encountered other riders who were flying but the people that I met on the trails were super nice and I let them pass and they thanked me so it was a good experience. After struggling up climbs I hit my first flowy downhill that I bombed and I was in love! My biggest take away from my first ride was that I needed to do this again and next time bring more water!

For those nervous about off-road riding, do you have tips or suggestions that may help them cope?
I would say just go for it, there really isn't anything holding you back but yourself. My suggestion is to try mountain biking at your own pace, maybe go out by yourself and ride the trails at "off times" when you won't encounter a ton of other traffic. Maybe do a little bit of research as well; there are a ton of videos out there for mountain bike beginners that can give you tips and tricks to help you along
that don't come with the pressure of riding with someone more experienced giving you instructions that you may feel intimidated by. Most of all though do what brings you the most fun!

You enjoy participating in mountain bike events, tell us your favorite events (so far) and why you enjoy them-
The easy answer to this would be to say the events that I enjoy the most are the ones that I finish well at! This is probably true for everyone but I think the most satisfaction I get out of races is racing in the first place! I've raced one season + one race. The races that I am most proud of are the ones where I have like a milestone--conquer a hard climb, ride a solid line on a techy course, or just feel stoked about my effort. I raced most of the Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series (IMBCS) and some Illinois series MTB races this season and have learned a lot about my strengths and opportunities. If I had to rank, I'd say I really liked the Sugar Cubed Marathon at Sugar Bottom near Iowa City. This was my first "endurance" distance mountain bike ride at a "race pace" (40 miles in 4 hours, although I only got in 24 before time was up) and I was riding it coming one day after a hard crash, it was pure agonizing suffering but I pushed through it and finished. I also enjoyed my first Decorah Time Trials even though the weather was less than favorable (read horrible!) and my biggest goal was to push through and finish even though it would have been easy to throw in the towel.
Another fun race was Wildlife Wild at Wildlife Prairie Park near Peoria, IL. The geography is unlike any other Midwest singletrack I have ridden as it is built on an old quarry (it's like you are riding in the mountains because it is sooo rocky!). I placed DFL in my class in the race due to crashing, a few mechanicals, and a pity party but I felt I rode the techy parts so well (go Strava QOM!) and pushed on hard even though I knew I was going to be last. The comradery is also a big part of mountain biking and getting to chat with other bike racing friends is fun as well and is a big part of why I race.

What originally inspired you to participate? What were your concerns and what did you learn?
My first race I signed up for was the FORC Side Thrill Ride in July 2015. I agonized about it, I wanted to participate so bad but I was scared that I would be the worst rider and people would think "why is she even here?" I practiced the course over and over and compared my Strava times with prior year’s times and felt that if I kept up a consistent pace, I could do it. The race ended up being postponed due to weather and when we did the race there were only three chicks in the beginner class. I rocked it. I still kinda feel like I don't "belong" when it’s wheels down at the starting line and you are lined up with some intimidating looking women on really nice bikes, but after making race-start small talk you get over that fear and realize everyone is out there from all levels of #bikelife and experience with their own issues.

Any tips or suggestions for folks who are on the fence about attending a mountain bike race?
Go for it! Don't worry that you are too inexperienced, don't have the right bike, are not a "racer", or are too slow. Heck, I have moved up a class and I am still slow. I had like early success or "beginners luck" in doing well at the first few races I participated in. As a result, it was hard for me when I did not do as well due to better riders, a more challenging course, or just being off my game. I almost felt out of place, like a phony or a poser when I get dropped or finish poorly. I think it is important to remember that the place in which you finish in a race does not legitimize you as a "bike racer" nor does it define who you are. I think as women we have a tendency to categorize and judge ourselves in comparison to others and it's very hard to not let that define us, especially in a competitive arena, such as racing. I like to believe that life isn't about who finishes first or results but about the journey, however, I am still trying to reconcile this in my mind 100% of the time! Let the fact that you showed up shine! DFL>DNF>DNS=truth
Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
I ride both; I started out as a beginner on flats with some horrible flexible soled shoes and rode these for a season and a half. Transitioned to SPD clips mid second season in for group rides and racing. I was blown away by the smoothness of the pedal stroke and the assist that I get in climbing but I do always have a nag in the back of my mind when riding clips that says "prepare to eject" especially on steep climbs and I gotta keep that fresh so I don't go down with the bike. This summer I transitioned to Eggbeaters because I felt they retained better on the rough stuff and were easier to clip into with crap in your shoes or pedals... they are also harder to eject out of in a crash! I got some 5 10's this summer and threw the flats back on in hopes to work on some of my technical skills such wheelies and drops.

I think I feel more confident in flats but ride better in clips. For the new rider I think it is important to start on flats to get that bike handling down before transitioning to clips and from there it's always interesting to move back and forth between the two to keep things interesting.

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 started biffing early on so I guess I was able to get this mental aspect out of my head fairly quickly. My first season I had an issue with skinny bridges and log drops as in every time I hit them I would fall off the bridge or go over the bars so eventually I would dismount and walk and not even attempt. The problem is that most of our bridges are at the bottom of a ravine so I was hike-a-bike up every single hill and that is tiring and of course I was not getting any better at climbing! I watched some videos and figured things out. My biggest crash was in May of 2016 and I was mid-pack in a group ride and we were cruising down this downhill that I have bombed hard tons of time. I had just upgraded my handlebars to a wider bar and was not used to how far they stuck out I guess. I clipped this small tree with my bars going about 17 mph, jackknifed, smacked my head, and was flung from the bike. I hit the ground super hard on my hip, whipped my head back, and totally ragdolled. My bell was rung but I finished the ride, albeit slowly. The worst part was that I had signed up for a marathon bike race for the next day and still raced it but I was not at 100%.

It had a Le Mans start on this frickin' sandy beach and I could not even run. I did get back into my groove, but I remember looking down at my bike computer and at mile 14 with 26 left to go being in complete utter agony with pain in of my nerve endings from my neck to my feet. I felt good about finishing and although the physical pain goes away I still am wary about clipping that tree anytime I ride that trail! The best medicine for getting beyond a crash is getting back on the bike and regaining your confidence.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
When I was a kid (before I could drive) I rode my bike everywhere. I had a Huffy White River mountain bike and it was gnarly--only like three gears worked, the seatpost slipped, and only the front brake worked and the rim was bent so it was crapshoot if you would go over the bars or not stop at all! We rode in the grass along the busy streets and on the dirtbike trails. When I picked up riding later in my adult life, I remembered the basics. My biggest issues were climbing, speed, and endurance. Basically, practice makes perfect, every time I would ride I might make it a little further. It also helps in riding with people that are faster than you. I was nervous on log overs and skinny bridges as well--on steep downhills get your butt back behind the seat, for log overs just remember to lift that front wheel in anticipation, for skinny bridges look to the end of the feature, keep your speed up, and hold your line (yes, easier said than done).

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky?
Even today I struggle with steep technical climbs and maintaining a "fast" pace through twisty singletrack. My latest issue is falling over backward on steep climbs. I would like to be better at wheel lifts, riding drops as well, and hitting any tech stuff at speed as I tend to slow way down on technical stuff and then it makes it more difficult to ride through.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything, LOL. Getting outside, being productive the smell, the sounds, doing something athletic, and the feeling of accomplishment I get after. Post-ride tacos and brews are pretty sweet benefits as
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I started out on a Wal-Mart Mongoose mountain bike; I rode this for about three months and made some minor upgrades until I got tired of repairing the things that were constantly breaking on it. This is when I started searching for a "real" bike.

Liv/Giant Revel-My first "real" mountain bike with disc brakes and a suspension fork and quickly became my gateway drug into n+1. Although this was an entry-level bike, it served me well on improving my technique and skills and I felt it fit me well. I purchased it used from Ebay and it was in need of some cleaning and TLC. I completely stripped the bike and repainted it (murdered out, yo!) and repaired or replaced some of the components. I learned a lot in bike mechanics in building up this bike. I eventually replaced the coil-sprung fork with an air-fork and went to hydraulic brakes. This bike is my go-to for farting around urban rides and race "training" as it is sloth-like heavy 26 incher and climbs like a pig.

Specialized Fate-My first 29er and my first carbon whip. Did not even intend to buy a new bike, was just looking around online and pricing 29ers. Wasn't even sure I wanted a 29er as I was kinda leaning toward a full squish 26er but then I saw this and was like "damn, I need that!" I got this bike a few days before my first race and it made me feel sooo fast. I have made a few changes to the cockpit but left it for the most part as is. It is a smidge too large for me so it is not the most comfortable of bikes on long distance rides but this bike climbs like King Kong on cocaine. I rode this in the time trails and the mud studs on its dawgs keep me wheels down for the most part!

Liv Intrigue-My first full suspension MTB and foray into the 27.5 world. I got this bike used this past summer after looking for something a little more "advanced" than my Revel but better to throw around (read: aluminum) than the carbon Fate (to this day as irrational as it may be, I am still kind of scared of "breaking" a carbon bike). Was kind of on the fence about going down in wheel size as I felt like such a boss on the 29er but it was hard to pass up so I loafed back and forth on two different bikes and finally decided on this as it was the women's model. I made a great choice! Although I still struggle with climbs on this bike, it kills it on the some of the more rugged terrain (if you can call it that) in the Midwest. I upgraded the drive train, brakes, and cockpit (and sharpened my bike mechanic skills!) so it is dialed. I also learned that I prefer to size down when it comes to bikes and am more comfortable on a smaller frame even though I am on the taller side.

Trek 1.1 WSD-My first road bike, I purchased this bike at a steal from a dude whose wife was planning on upgrading. It is a smidge too big for me but some of that may be me just getting used to the road bike positioning... I try to ride this outside on the paved trails prior to the off-road trails opening but right now it is currently on a trainer in my basement begging for some miles.

Giant Transend DX-A "commuter"-style bike. My first "adult" bike that I purchased in 2011 and the gateway drug into my modern day #bikelife. My mom wanted to get a bike to "get back in shape" and talked me into getting one as well. I rode that bike a ton that first year I had it and then didn't ride for about three years. I started back up again and didn't look back. I didn't ride the Transend much last year but I brought it back out this year and in hopes to repurpose it, threw some new "gravel" tires on it, and plan to get in some dirt/gravel-style long-distance rides with it.

Knowing what you know now with mountain biking and having the right tools, if you could go back in time would you keep the process the same or would you invest in a non-department bike right away?
Umm, I am kind of on the fence about this... Hindsight being 20/20, while it would have been awesome to start out on a "nice" bike I think part of the fun and excitement that I experienced was due to the struggle and my progression on the bike. If it was made "easier" when I started out by maybe having a more equip or lighter bike would have I liked it more? Less? Having an excuse to say I couldn't climb this or bomb that because of this POS bike also gave me an outlet for my frustration towards an object and not myself (when it probably was just me sucking) and then gave me a goal to improve and "reward" myself with a "better" bike. It's fun to upgrade. I am kind of an "experience" person as in journey over destination and value suffering if that makes any sense so I think is important to be forced to work hard at something #thestruggleisgood LOL. Having a janky whip also
forced me to learn how to fix things on a bike! On the flip, it is important to have a safe and well-fitting bike, this is will impact your enjoyment more than any brand, build, material, or component will. Be wary however, the bicycle addiction is real... but it's a healthy one! You can't take it with you so what else are you going to spend all your money on?

You have been adventurous with your #bikelife, traveling to other towns to ride their off-road trails- what would be your favorite trailsystems so far?
My favorite trail systems are those of my home trails--Sunderbruch Park in Davenport, IA and Illiniwek Forest Preserve in Hampton, IL. There is a nice mix of roots, tech, climbing, and of course wood berms! I also really enjoy Wildlife Prairie Park near Peoria, IL and Sugar Bottom near Iowa City, I have ridden these trail systems several times and they still challenge me. I would like to explore the Decorah trails more as I didn't get to ride them all! I kinda get paranoid like driving to unknown places by myself so I don't go out of town too often, but once I get to my destination my stress dissipates when I hit the trails!

Any events you hope to attend this year?
I hope to ride in our local bike races (Illiniwek Abermination and FORC Side Thrill Ride) and possibly a few others in IA/IL as my work schedule (and the weather) permits. I also want to do a few more "marathon" MTB races. I would like to do the Sugar Cubed Marathon again this year and maybe a few others. I plan to do the Decorah Time Trials again, although I am not in nearly as good as shape as I was last year!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I am not sure, perhaps lack of a bike, time, previous bad experience, not having anyone on their level to ride with, generally feeling unmotivated. The media showing only "extreme" mountain biking, while cool, does not enamor the sport to most ladies. Group rides can go both ways, I think they are incredibly fun and helpful, but also give me the jitters every.single.time. First-timer or veteran, no one wants to ride slow or look stupid in front of a group of peers that you may consider more skilled than you... Get past this negative thinking, everyone probably is thinking the same thing about themselves or is in the zone hammering it out, so no one is focusing on how you ride. Women need positive role models that they can identify with and some encouragement to get them out there! 

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Maybe depicting more "typical" women getting out there and slaying it? Mountain biking does not have to mean cliff drops or super fit, kitted-out race teams but just riding your bike in the woods. From what I see when I browse like Instagram there are "real" people sharing their bike lives and that is encouraging and at least gets me motivated to ride! I have noticed a departure from the overt "shrink it and pink it" women's sports marketing mentality from when I started biking (although one could say that pink has just has been replaced by teal, I digress...) but I still think that there are miles to go in encouraging the entry-level bicyclist in making the jump from pavement to trail. I do think already active women whether it be runners, road bikers, or triathletes are less hesitant to make the transition to off-road riding due in part by being a member of that active community but anyone can mountain bike. You don't have to be in shape to get in shape.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I would say like if I can do it, you can do it. There is little to be afraid of. I have crashed a lot! I have been on rides with other girls and they have crashed too, no one has gotten hurt. Crashing happens! Just get out there and try it. You may not be good at first but keep at it and it will become fun and it is good for you! You don't have to be fast, you don't have to ride blacks, and there may be times where you have to get off the bike and walk, and that's okay.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a super good memory and remember everything! I love magazines, coffee, and trying new beers. I could eat Mexican food every day. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Julia Reich

I've been self-employed for 17 years as a graphic designer/ branding consultant/visual practitioner.

I've been riding for 4 years. Although I'm not one of those women that have been riding forever and ever, I am COMPLETELY ADDICTED. I ride almost every day. If the trails are dry I'm out there, all year-round. I'm not that interested in racing. I just want to be a better rider so I can ride anything without fear. I love trying new trails, but also getting to know my favorite trail systems really well.

I've enjoyed attending the Midwest Women's Mountain Bike Clinics and those experiences have given me the skills to ride with more confidence!

There's a really nice community growing at Griffin Bike Park and I hope as that community grows there will be more people riding, of all abilities, ages, gender.

Instagram: @motherofcoonhounds

You've been mountain biking for 4 years- do you wish you had been introduced to mountain biking earlier in life rather than in adulthood?
Oh God yes. I’d be such a badass by now.

Tell us why age has nothing to do with whether or not you can mountain bike-
Mountain biking came into my life just as I got a back injury, and I was so frustrated. I worked hard in physical therapy to feel better again and I was so excited to have mountain biking to help me get into shape. Believe it or not, I think mountain biking is a low-impact sport (crashing into trees notwithstanding). In general, I’m at an age (48) where I need/want to push myself to exercise more.

Your introduction to mountain biking wasn't the most desirable- how did you not let those experiences deter you from pursuing growth in mountain biking?
Yes, one day my husband decided he was going to get into mountain biking and he got a bike and loved it. Then he offered to get me a bike and I knew if I was ever going to see my husband again, I should take him up on it.

So every weekend we would go to a different trail system and he would take off and leave me to ride on my own. I had no idea what I was doing and would be riding along thinking, I’m scared and this sucks.

But for some reason, I stuck with it because I love being outside. I love being with my dog, who runs with me. And I loved the workout I was getting - I wanted to be more fit.

Tell us about a moment where "something clicked" when it came to mountain biking- what was it and how did it make you feel?
In 2015 I went to the Women’s Midwest Mountain Biking Clinic in Brown County State Park, Indiana. Two and a half days of learning and sharing and practicing with dozens of other women and amazing coaches from around the country. I learned enough skills that I was no longer scared when I rode. In fact, I felt powerful. Mountain biking became a rush. I went back for two more summers, as an intermediate-level rider.

Now when I ride, I’m happy! Riding my bike in the woods makes me happy. Is there anything more fun?? Seriously.

Clips or flats? What do you enjoy and why?
Flats all the way, baby. I have these super-ugly men’s FiveTens that look like oversize orthotic shoes and together with studded pedals they are really grippy and comfy.

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 crash all the time, but nothing too serious, knock on wood. As I become a better biker I continue to try more challenging things and I guess wiping out just comes with the territory.

Recently I started trying to do little drops - we have some built wooden features at our local bike park. At first, I would ride up and get scared and think “nope, no way”. I kept riding up to it until I had the courage to just roll over it. Then when I didn’t die, I tried it with more speed. I still didn’t die, and it became fun! So I kept trying it, each time trying to improve my form, to get more air and lift my wheels. I think I’ll be able to progress soon to larger and larger drops.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Just knowing some basic riding technique goes a long way - one finger on each brake lever, neutral/ready positions, bike/body separation, equal weight on the pedals, eyes scanning ahead, moving my butt back over the rear wheel when I descend.

Sometimes when I go for a ride I’ll have a particular skill I want to keep in mind to practice and try to get better at. Cornering is a big one. So is climbing.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Oh, there are tons of things I need to work on.
There’s a 48-foot long bridge at my park about 8-ft high over a ravine with a little decline section and I’m currently too scared to ride that. It’s totally mental. I know I have the skill to ride it, but I’m scared.

I’m also a pretty poor climber. I can’t seem to get the air I need in my lungs. If I do successfully make a tough climb, I’ll sit at the top gasping for air for a few minutes. Or if it’s a steep downhill leading to a steep uphill, I have a hard time getting all the way up to the top on the ascent. I know I need to increase my leg strength and maybe switch it up sometimes and go for long road rides.

I have a hard time keeping up with a group. Even if it’s a no-drop ride and no one seems to care how slow I am, I can easily start to feel defeated when I’m in the back, struggling to keep up. I try to tell myself, this is *my* ride, and I love riding my bike in the woods and exploring new trails and having an adventure. But it’s hard to get the negativity out of my head.

There are things I am good at and I try to give myself credit. I am truly getting better at technical features. One recent day I did all 4 of the black diamond trails at my local park in one ride. It wasn’t fast or pretty, but it felt really good to overcome most of my fear.

What do you love about riding your bike?

I love that I can be having so much fun that I don’t want to stop, and then when I finally do I’m exhausted and have had a great workout.
I love feeling strong.
I love the mountain bike community. Mountain bikers are awesome people.
I love having a beer with other riders in the parking lot after a ride.
I love spending time with my dog out on the trails.
I love being outside in nature and looking around.
I love exploring new trails and having different experiences, but I also love riding my home trails hundreds of times and getting to know them really well.

I love helping others improve their bike skills. This summer I became an IMBA (International Mountain Bike Assoc) Level 1 certified coach.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?

I ride a Salsa Bucksaw, a full-suspension carbon fat bike with 4-inch tires. IT’S FREAKING AWESOME. I can ride it all year round in any conditions and not worry about it being too slick or icy or sandy and I can pretty much ride over anything.

Sometimes I get some flack from others - they’ll say things like “you don’t need much skill to ride that bike” or “that bike will make you lazy about picking a line”. But the way I see it empowers me to pick a more challenging line and become more confident. And riding straight through without dodging obstacles is more efficient. Plus it’s such a monster truck, I’ve become strong in order to handle it.

I also have a 29er, a 2014 Trek Excaliber 6 hardtail, which was my first bike. It fits me perfectly and I appreciate how nimble it is, but since I’ve had the Bucksaw, I ride the fat bike 95% of the time. It’s just more fun to ride, and I’m in it for the fun - not to be the fastest person out there.

You attended a women's mountain bike clinic- why was it beneficial for you and why should other new riders (or experienced) consider going to a clinic?
I touched on this above, but I would add that there’s something really nice about the camaraderie of like-minded women. I’m eager to improve my skills but don’t often have an opportunity to do so. The coaches are phenomenal. You can’t come away without having learned new skills.

What has been something you've learned about yourself since you started mountain biking?
OK, two things:
Finding the mountain bike community and making new mountain bike friends has completely changed my life. 
When I first moved to Indiana 4 years ago, I didn’t know anyone/ That’s all changed. I can pretty much go anywhere for a ride and find cool people to share mountain biking with.

I also have a new bucket list - to ride a mountain bike in all 50 states. I’ve got 12 so far. It can take the rest of my life to reach that goal, I don’t care. It’s the journey, right?

For women who ride with their partners or are introduced to mountain biking by their partner- any suggestions on how they can communicate to make the experience more positive?
I see some couples where the experienced rider is very patient introducing the sport to the inexperienced partner and they enjoy riding and learning together. That’s awesome.

But that’s not how it was in my case! The first few years my husband needed to pile on the miles every time he went out - he needs it for his physical and mental health, and it is difficult for him to ride with me at a slow pace. I get it. So most of the time we ride separately.

If we go a trail system further away, the way we do it is he’ll ride fast to the next intersection or landmark and wait for me. Then he takes off again and waits for me.

With my skill and endurance improving, it’s more likely we have opportunities to ride together. He’s a stronger, more confident rider and he enjoys helping me learn new skills. We like to use our phones to take photos and videos of each other doing a tricky feature or whatever. Then we have fun afterward by reviewing them to see what’s working or what needs improvement.

This is how we’ve made it work for us.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Fear of getting hurt.
Fear of getting lost.
Fear of being alone.
Fear of feeling inadequate.
Lack of time; too many other commitments.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Women riding with other women who are supportive and non-critical.
Equipping more women with the training necessary to lead rides and offer coaching skills.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I want to share the fun!
I want other women to feel powerful and happy.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I lived in NYC for 15 years.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Catharine Pendrel

Photo Credit: Malcom Fearon
Catharine Pendrel is a Pro xc mtb racer for Clif Bar, Canadian Olympian/medalist, and  2x world champion from Kamloops, BC. 

Originally she started off as a horseback rider, but at the age of 16 she switched to biking and is known as a single track & travel lover.

You can follow Catharine on:

Tell us what inspired your #bikelife and how did it affect your life over the years?
I started riding when I was 16. My brother was racing and thought I should try it out and I just loved the vibe at races. Everyone seemed so fun and laid back. It was a community I wanted to get to know.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what about it made you want to continue/improve?
It was tough! Honestly, it was probably my brother's encouragement that kept me going. He made it fun and social, but I was pretty horrible. No fitness or technical skills and a bike that hardly worked!

Do you have suggestions for those who are nervous to give mountain biking a shot?
Look into ride groups that feel inviting. The people are a huge part of what makes mtn biking awesome and make learning something new fun.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
I love racing World Cups because I thrive on being pushed to find my best, but have recently found a love for mtn bike stage races like Single track 6, Moab rocks and BC Bike race. They are tough but the camaraderie is awesome.

Do you have any suggestions for folks who are nervous to attend their first event?
Dive in! Feeling nervous is normal, but you'll never know if you love it unless you try. Just enter to have fun and check it out.

Why would you love to see more women participate in mountain bike events (or other cycling events)?
Because it's awesome! The more women out there showing what is possible, the more other women can gain confidence that they're also capable of doing it.

You've had some great results racing on the professional level! Tell us about life as a professional racer and what you've learned from your experiences-
It's a pretty sweet job that's for sure. Mtn biking is so much a lifestyle for me. My husband also rides so it's a passion we share. I feel lucky that my job is to be was fit as possible and challenge myself to meet my goals.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your racing career? How did you manage/deal?
Failure. Being an athlete can be 24/7. That's a lot of energy to invest in something when it doesn't go well. It's tough when you do not perform to your expectations, but those races are always the ones I learn the most from so if you can keep results in perspective you can use those bad results to have amazing rides down the road.
Photo Credit: Malcom Fearon

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Everything! Be progressive, start small and build confidence and skill before progressing to something really tough that could discourage or scare you. There are a ton of great YouTube videos out there to work on skills like the GMBN series.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Yes! I am constantly working on my technical skills, especially the fundamentals like cornering, brake modulation, eyes through corners, weight transfer. I didn't start jumping until I was in my 30's so this is always something I am looking to improve.

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 broke my collarbone 8 weeks before the World Championships in 2013. Coming back from an injury in mtb is two part, the physical healing, but also the confidence building. I have never been so scared to ride features on a course as that year but luckily the day before the race I finally managed to ride all the scary sections....even after watching my competitor crash and break her collarbone in training in front of me! That race was more about overcoming fear and trusting my skills than having a stellar result.

What do you love about riding your bike?
It's dynamic, always changing and such a nice sensation when you find flow in the singletrack.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
The Clif team is sponsored by Orbea, a cooperative based in Spain. I race a dual suspension (Orbea Oiz) the most now. I find I both climb and descend better with the increased traction dual suspensions offer and it's fun! My suspension has three setting, fully open, partly open and closed so that my bike can be as stiff or cushy as I need for the terrain.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Mtn biking can be intimidating. A lot of images in media are of big jumps and gnarly single track that look scary, but the cool thing about mtn biking is that it is a varied as your area is. It can be smooth and fast, rocky, rooty. Every area offers a different challenge and there are a lot of different groups out there like the Dirt Chix in my town Kamloops that was created to offer women an inviting group to come learn how to ride with. I love over hearing 50+ year old women at the gym talking about getting out for a ride on the weekend! So cool! Mtn biking is a sport for life.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think creating social ride opportunities are key. If you feel you have a welcoming community to learn in it makes all the difference.
Photo Credit: Malcom Fearon
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Seeing how excited women are to improve their skills and fitness gives me more energy. If there is something you love you want to share that passion with others.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I got to know my husband because I bonked on my first university group ride and he bought me a chocolate bar!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Mel Cherry

My name is Mel Cherry. I am a Trek Women's Advocate and run Ride Like a Girl Cycling, a group created and supported by Penn Cycle. Ride Like a Girl Cycling was formed in order to give women more opportunities to ride and meet other cyclists in Minneapolis/St. Paul. This is my fourth year working with Penn Cycle, and the third year for Ride Like a Girl Cycling.

It has been incredibly rewarding to grow our program from organically-created women's-only mountain bike rides to one with opportunities for women to ride road, gravel, mountain, or fat bikes together.

Biking has always been a part of my life, from jumping my first mountain bike at the local park as a kid to using a used beater bike during my first few winters in Minnesota. While attending graduate school, I chose to buy a road bike instead of a car. That decision later landed me a job at Penn Cycle. 

Graduate school wrapped up, and I stayed at Penn - I was hooked on two wheels. I had discovered the beauty of solitude and freedom on road bikes wanted to share that feeling with other women.

This is an exciting time to be a woman in the cycling industry. It is a privilege to lead and host rides and events as a Trek Women's Advocate. We're providing a fun, welcoming environment for women to try something new and build their riding skills and confidence. Never been on a mountain bike before? That's okay - we'll help you find the right bike and show you where to ride it. Learning how to shift on a road bike? Come on one of our group road rides, and myself or another ride leader will give you one-on-one coaching and tips. Trek and Penn Cycle have each gone to great lengths to support women in cycling, and I'm delighted to have the ability to help women empower themselves.

What would you say is the motivation behind your #bikelife?

My #bikelife has been largely utilitarian, with some events thrown in. I primarily use my bike to commute and run errands, with fitness being a fantastic side effect. As I've become more enmeshed in the cycling community and industry, my #bikelife has expanded. Last fall, I bought my first ever mountain bike and plan to try some BMX racing this next season. Now, I use bikes to take on new challenges, open new worlds, and meet new people.

Why has a bicycle been an important tool in your life?

A bicycle has always represented freedom and independence - a tool that I can use to get around, and that I can (mostly) repair myself.

For someone looking to get into riding for the first time, do you have suggestions on what can help the process be easier for them?

Find a friend or a group to join - they'll introduce you to the local trails, bike culture, and riding etiquette. It's just more fun to ride with others! As your fitness and skill set grows, you'll naturally start to branch out.

Tell us about the styles of cycling you enjoy-
I'm primarily a road and gravel rider. I have a cyclocross bike that I use for commuting, pavement rides, and gravel rides. This upcoming season, I'm challenging myself to ride a century a month, and have signed up for a few long gravel races. I enjoy the challenge of longer endurance events. It's great to ride empty country roads with music in my ears while pushing my body to its limits.

This past fall, I bought my first mountain bike and have been learning some new skills as well as the local MTB trails. It's such a different experience than riding on pavement. I find myself focusing on the trail, how my bike is reacting to the terrain, and my body positioning. On the road, I tend to get lost in the music and scenery, where on the singletrack, riding takes your primary focus.

Take us back to your first mountain bike ride(s), what did you learn from them?

My first mountain bike rides were about learning how to position my body on the bike, where to look while riding, and most importantly how to tackle obstacles. I quickly realized that the only way I would become adept at riding 'skinnies' or confidently taking my bike through a pump track was to jump in and try. There's a small skills park at one of our local MTB trailheads that I often ride to warm up and attempt new types of obstacles. The skills park is a nice low-pressure place to take on an obstacle I had been too intimidated to attempt before - there are no trees around, and I don't have to worry about being in someone's way while I scout the obstacle and ride it.

For someone nervous to try mountain biking, do you have any suggestions that might help them feel less intimidated?
Try to embrace your nerves - I find that the days where I tackle the most intimidating line or feature to be among the most rewarding. Also, the best piece of advice I got on my first day was, "The best way to hit a tree is to look at a tree." Eyes on the trail always.

With your riding (all styles) clips or flats and why-

I ride my drop-bar bikes with clips. Commuting, gravel rides and long pavement rides are all situations I feel most comfortable clipping in. I appreciate the benefits of being attached to the bike. When I'm on the singletrack or out in the snow on a fat bike, I ride flats. I'm working on building skill and confidence. Clips might find their way onto my mountain bike in a few seasons.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
At the end of my first season of riding, I tore my ACL playing Ultimate Frisbee. I had just begun to attain some fitness on the bike to where I could ride 30 miles uninterrupted and the knee surgery was a huge setback. I bought a trainer to rehabilitate over the winter and told my physical therapist that I wanted to get back to riding as soon as possible. When I started, I couldn't turn the pedals on my bike a full revolution - it bent my knee too much. After a couple months of therapy and a lot of time in the saddle, I was able to start doing some training rides outdoors again. As my recovery progressed, I signed up for my first century - six months after my surgery. On the day, it took me 6 1/2 hours to finish, but I was able to complete 100 miles!

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

Recovering from a skidding rear tire was the first handling challenge that scared me. I'd turned on a wet sewer cover and felt my bike start to slide sideways. I didn't yet have the reaction time to get my foot off the pedal and onto the ground to push me back upright. To help practice keeping my bike rubber-side down, I would deliberately initiate a skid in loose sand or snow. Being mentally braced for the skid helped me teach myself the muscle memory to push myself back up while cornering.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Shifting! I am still learning how to shift appropriately when taking on a big climb. I often find myself gassed halfway up the hill, finally in the right gear, but with nothing left in the tank. To keep things positive, I remind myself that hills don't have to be such a drain, take a quick break at the top, and try the hill again, remembering to shift earlier.
What do you love about riding your bike?
I love pushing my body to the limits. I put my favorite mix on my iPod, throw some GU in my pocket, and head out for a day of riding. By the time I get home, I can barely walk, the sun has set, and there's a fresh 90 miles on the computer. During the ride, I'll have worked on solutions to any problems in my life, scripted thank yous to important people, and sung until my voice cracked. There's no substitute for how calm and centered I feel after a day on the bike.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?

My daily rider is a Trek Crockett. I wanted a ride that I could put skinny rubber on for pavement rides and commuting, but that could also handle the amazing gravel season Minnesota has. With a switch of rubber and air pressure, I transform my bike from a zippy road bike to a capable gravel grinder. I do most of my own service, so stuck with a mechanical drivetrain and mechanical disc brakes.

I also have a Trek Stache that I use for mountain biking and for snow riding. I chose the Stache because I wanted a versatile bike for singletrack - one that I could ride through winter, but also learn MTB skills on. I love how the 3" tires steamroll over everything on the trail, allowing me to choose a nimble line or to power through any line.

You are involved with Ride Like A Girl Cycling- tell us about the group and how you became involved-

Ride Like A Girl Cycling was started by Teri Holst with the support of Penn Cycle in 2015 with a focus on getting women on mountain bikes. I joined in 2016 to organize and run a program for getting women on road bikes. In this upcoming season, we have created a ton of events, clinics, and rides for mountain, road, and gravel riders. Our goal is to provide a fun, friendly place for women to learn about riding, build skills, and create friendships.

Why do you feel women's groups are a valuable asset to the cycling communities?
Women's groups take away a lot of the intimidation factor for riding. Cycling is a big investment (time, money) with inherent risks. By having a women's group comprised of riders who are a mix of riding abilities and experience, all riders feel welcome. We support the women who are getting on their first bike and women who are training for their thirtieth race. It is crucial to creating a space for women to feel comfortable asking questions, taking risks, and teaching each other.
You were chosen as a Trek Women's Advocate, tell us what this opportunity means for you-
I've always advocated women and women's athletics. Being chosen to be a Trek Women's Advocate is an honor. Trek is a fantastic company, often leading the edge within the cycling industry. I really appreciate the support from both Trek and Penn Cycle in efforts to get more women riding bikes and am thrilled to be a part of the movement.

Why do you feel programs, like the Trek Women's Advocate program, are important?

Cycling has historically been a male domain. Programs like the Trek Women's Advocate program are important in lowering barriers for women to enter cycling. This program can help women feel comfortable asking questions, learning the jargon, trying new bikes, and sharing their own stories.

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

For many women, it's time. Women are busy with careers and family - creating time to go on a bike ride alone or with a group can be challenging. Many women's rides are organized with this in mind - we schedule our rides on weeknights and weekend mornings to help accommodate family schedules.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
A lot of changes are already happening - we need to keep the momentum rolling. As we continue to see more women's-specific rides, groups, and races, more women will be encouraged to ride. In fact, this coming season will be the first time Ride Like A Girl Cycling puts on a women's-only race. We're planning 2 races, each about a month after a clinic. The idea is to teach women some mountain biking skills, give them time to practice, then give them a (safe) race to use the skills in. This season we'll start with 2 women's mountain bike races, and add some road and gravel races in coming seasons.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

I love helping people find their independence and confidence. The bike is a great place to improve both. There have been times when we finished riding and one of my riders exclaims, "Wow! We went ____ miles today! I had no idea." This makes me feel amazing - I want everyone to experience joy in their hearts when riding bikes.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

I'm terrified of snakes, so if I'm riding with you in the woods and we come on a snake - you'll have to fend for yourself. I'll have gone sprinting, screaming into the trees.