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 (www.qcforc.org) 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 every.single.one 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!