Women on Bikes Series: Ella Shively

My name is Ella Shively, I graduated from the La Crosse high school in 2017 and am starting my first year of college. I have been mountain biking since I was twelve years old.

I've been a part of the La Crosse Area Mountain Bike Team since its inaugural season three years ago.

I enjoy doing pretty much anything in the outdoors! I also love writing, reading, singing, and knitting.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how has it influenced your life?
I was introduced to mountain biking through my dad. I had been spectating at his races and going to trail work with him since I was a toddler, but I was twelve before I got past the fear factor and decided to try it for myself.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? Were you excited? Nervous?
I don’t remember being scared at all, just excited. At twelve, I didn’t have the inhibitions an older rider might have - I wasn’t afraid of falling, nor was I embarrassed by the number of times I did fall! I liked the challenge of it, and I loved being out in the woods on my bike.

What about mountain biking made you think "Yes! I want to get better at this!"-
I love being outdoors, and I knew that mountain biking would allow me to spend more time in the woods. I could get to the trails faster, spend more time there, and explore more widely. I also just loved the satisfaction of figuring out how to ride through a rock garden or down steps. Every time I fell off, I learned something new. Overall, though, there was something that just felt right when I got into a zone in the singletrack. Mountain biking is the closest I will ever get to flying.

You are involved with the La Crosse Area Mountain Bike Team, tell us what it's like being on a cycling team-
So much fun! Not only has being part of a team challenged me to push myself harder, I have also gotten to spend time with an awesome group of people! Having a group to ride with is a great motivator to get out and bike. And even though biking is an individual sport, just showing up to race earns points for the team as a whole, so everyone’s work contributes.

You've been part of the team since it came to fruition, why do you feel it's important to have mountain biking be part of an athletic program?

I’m not sure if I’m interpreting the question correctly, but I’ll take a stab at it. Mountain biking is not your typical high school sport (football, basketball, etc). Silent sports like mountain biking draw a different crowd. Having a mountain bike team validates what we do - yes, there are occasionally people who say that biking isn’t a sport! - and reels in kids who might not have been involved in athletics otherwise.
For folks that aren't familiar with the La Crosse Area Mountain Bike Team, tell us what goes on and what future riders can expect if they were to join-
The team is a blast! We always camp out the night before a race, so imagine yourself hanging out around a bonfire with friends and eating s’mores. Racing isn’t mandatory, but racing and/or spectating are some of the best aspects of being on the team.

The team is also very respectful of the fact that students have other things happening in their lives. I’ve been involved in a varsity show choir the last three years, so I would usually stay for as much mountain bike practice as I could, bike to show choir, and do my own rides on different days. Currently, we have two official practice days, but we’re encouraged to ride outside of practice.

I’d also like to add that there is a strong emphasis on safety. Everyone always wears a helmet. If you are inexperienced with mountain biking, we will teach you how to ride safely.

Tell us about your experience with working as a NICA coach for riders, what have you enjoyed the most about giving back to the program you were part of?
I really enjoyed coaching over the summer! I can't go to weekly practices anymore now that I'm in college, but I'm still hoping to go back and help at a race or two.

The best part of being a coach is connecting with the riders and seeing their confidence grow. I especially enjoyed watching incoming riders go from zero mountain bike experience to fearlessly tackling new skills.

Why should folks consider joining NICA as a coach? What would be the first step?

Coaching is a super rewarding experience that I would recommend for people of all experience levels. Potential coaches can find instructions for getting licensed on the NICA website. The process to become a level one coach is very simple and does not take much time.

You participate in races, tell us about one of your favorite races and why you enjoy participating-

I love the Chequamegon Fat Tire event because it’s a family tradition. I’ve been participating since I was 12, and my sister started 2 years ago. There are so many people that it feels more like a big group ride than a race. For a more technical and singletrack-heavy course, I love the Borah Epic, and, of course, the Decorah Time Trials. Oh, and La Crosse has a WORS (Wisconsin Off Road Series) race now! Come to La Crosse and check out our trail system!

Do you have any suggestions for folks new to racing?

Don’t let the fear of falling keep you down! This is the biggest obstacle for most people. If I lose my balance, I usually just end up wobbling a little and putting a foot down. Even on the rare occasions when I full-out crashed, I never suffered any injuries. After the first few crashes, I realized I was going to be fine.

Also, ride as much as you can, even if it’s just commuting to and from work or school. You can make the most of your time by practicing skills like cornering, lifting your front wheel, and riding no-handed.

Most of all, slow down and enjoy the ride.

Clips or flats? What works for you and why?
I prefer clips, probably just because I’m used to them. I’ve been using clips for about five years now. I feel like they give a little extra power, and I don’t have to worry about my feet slipping off the pedals while climbing.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?

When I was six, I fell off a razor scooter and ended up with 30-50 stitches in my chin. For the next few years, I didn’t really want to have anything to do with bikes, let alone racing. Luckily, my dad just kept pushing me back to biking. I decided that I didn’t want to be afraid anymore. After I’d been comfortable with bike commuting for a while, it was a natural step to start mountain biking.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I never got back behind the seat far enough when I was descending. This is actually something I’m still working on. One of the drills we do in bike team is riding in a normal position for a few seconds, then coasting with your weight back as far as you can for a few seconds, and repeating.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Again, I’m still working on getting my weight back far enough behind the saddle on descents. The other tricky part is riding in poor weather. At the 2016 Decorah Time Trial, I ended up falling and pushing my bike a lot because there was so much mud and rain. I even fell over while standing next to my bike in the mud! I had to go slower than usual and stop when I got overly frustrated. When the ride doesn’t go as planned, I have to rethink my priorities. That day, my priority became finishing the time trial. How you physically ride something technical is important, but how your mind handles technical aspects of the trail is even more important.
What do you love about riding your bike?
Biking means freedom for me. I can leave for school as early as I want and leave as late as I want. I get to start the day with a cold wind to wake me up. And mountain biking is like flying. I love hitting the jumps, and I love when the singletrack flows and you hardly even have to pedal. I love getting to ride through nature for hours at a time. From my bike, I’ve seen mountains, sandhill cranes, and sleepy rattlesnakes. On my bike, I can go anywhere.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My mountain bike is a Trek Superfly. I like it because it’s light and sturdy, and the setup was similar to other bikes I’d had. Also, I love having 29” wheels! It just feels like they roll over things faster than when I had a bike with smaller wheels. I have a commuter bike now, which the awesome folks at Smith’s Cycling and Fitness built for me after my mountain bike was stolen! (It was later found in a sort of “bicycle chop shop!”) I also have a road bike since I’ve started doing triathlons. I’m very happy with these bikes, and very lucky to have them.

Adults and young people alike, why should they consider giving mountain biking a shot?

Once you get past the learning curve, it’s totally worth it! It’s an experience you can’t really compare to anything else. If you try it, you just might end up liking it.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
People often join sports more for the social group than for the sport itself, and I think women are less likely to join if they don’t see other already established women they can hang out with. Mountain biking is also sometimes presented as more dangerous than it actually is, and this can turn them away.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?

Professional women’s races - both road and mountain bike - could get a lot more coverage. For example, if the Tour de Feminin were in the public eye as much as the Tour de France is, women would be more aware of cycling and feel more encouraged to try it out. I appreciate groups like Ella CyclingTips (no relation to me) and Fearless Women of Dirt that put a spotlight on women’s cycling. On the other hand, for there to be more media coverage, sponsors need to see a demand from viewers. Individuals can help by reading articles and watching videos related to women’s cycling.

At the local level, it’s definitely about individual connections. Talk to other women about biking and invite them to go on rides so they don’t feel like they’re learning all on their own. My mom would like to chime in and add that when you’re first learning, the smaller the group, the better. It’s nice for beginning riders to get individual attention.

My advice to men is just to be encouraging and supportive. I wouldn’t have come as far as I have if not for men like my dad and coaches, who know that women are just as capable of anything that men are.

What inspires you to encourage women and your peers to ride?

I’ve introduced most of my friends to biking at some point or another. Although only one of them
decided to stick with it, seeing her confidence grow was worth it for me. She’s now hoping to sign up for next year’s Borah Epic. Furthermore, even my friends who only tried it once got to witness how far they could push themselves. I love watching people conquer a skill and realize how much they are capable of.

Overall, mountain biking is such a rewarding experience that it would be impossible not to share it! I’ve seen myself grow stronger - both physically and mentally - and I want everyone to have that opportunity.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

Usually when people ask me this, I say that I mountain bike! Okay, random fact… I love Lord of the Rings! My favorite character is Eowyn, because she’s a strong female character who surpasses expectations.