Monday, November 27, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Kirsten Jensen

My name is Kirsten Jensen, I'm 39 (turning 40 in March of '18) I am a mom of two young kids (5 yr old Daughter and 7 year old son) and my husband and I have been mountain biking in Bellingham for 15 years and racing for 10 years. I am a Teacher Educator, Senior Instructor for undergraduate and graduate students in the teacher education program at WWU as well as an Educational Literacy Consultant. I grew up in Seattle, WA with two brothers and in a very active and outdoor oriented family. We played a lot of sports in our family and I love watching my parents kick around the soccer ball now with my own kids.

Four years ago, I co-founded the annual Queens of Dirt Bellingham Women’s Mountain Bike Weekend with Leah Kiviat, Javon Smith and lead coaches Angi Weston and Lindsey Vorheis. It began with 16 women and this year we are 60 participants, including 10 junior girls and 30 volunteers (each year it sells out in under an hour with a long waiting list).

Leah, Javon and I also co-founded an all women and junior girls race team, Queens of Dirt sponsored by Jacks Bicycle Center and Liv Cycling, we are now 20 women with 10 junior girls. In addition, we also started the annual QOD Cyclocross series of clinics with Coaches Kristi Berg and Courtenay McFadden to support the development of women in cyclocross racing, which doubled the women’s field in 2015-2017 for our local series. We also host multiple trail build days each year and women's Goldsprint roller racing!

I ride and race both cross country and enduro Mtb as well as Cyclocross. I have mountain biked all over Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, California, and British Columbia, to name a few places. This year, I am completing the 6-day stage race, Singletrack 6, in July in BC as a team with my husband (last year I raced BC bike race with my QOD teammate Leah Kiviat)

I am passionate about supporting the growth of women’s and junior girl’s cycling, and specifically about getting more women and girls into off-road cycling such as mountain biking and mountain bike racing. I am currently a US Liv Ambassador in Bellingham, Washington. Every day I am proud to represent a company that listens to the voices of women and also works to educate and encourage more women to become competent, self-sufficient riders, which I believe extends beyond cycling to others parts of women and girl’s lives. I believe that racing provides women with a unique benefit. When women and girls race, they learn to overcome doubt and get to the start line. They learn how to deal with the feeling of uncertainty and nervousness, and when things get uncomfortable or difficult, they learn to push through those moments and commit to finishing what they started without giving up. I believe when women finish a race, it adds to their level of appreciation and confidence in the strength of their bodies. Women and girls are sometimes bombarded with media images that could contribute to feelings of insecurity around body type, but when women and girls race, they walk to the start line more concerned with the strength and power in their legs than the size of them.

I believe that challenging myself with racing makes me a stronger, more self-sufficient and confident person, which in turn makes me a better partner, mother, friend, and role model to my two children. I love racing because it pushes me to do more than I think I can do. I grew up in an athletic family with two brothers and very athletic and supportive parents. This helped me to see that I can accomplish anything I commit to with perseverance, regardless of gender. Because of this, I am passionate about showing women and girls that they have the ability to effectively participate in and contribute to sports and professions dominated by men, and that in doing so, they are paving the ways for others to do the same. By helping in my small part to grow the women’s cycling community, I truly believe I am also supporting the growth of powerful, confident, women and girls who can become influential people and change agents within their own communities.

Recent race history:
I race in the Open/Competitive/Expert category and have the following race accomplishments:
- 2017 NW Epic Stottlemeyer 60 mile, Open Women/Overall 1st place
- 2017 Budu Race Cookin’ in the Kettles XC Open Women/Overall 1st place
- 2016 BC Bike Race (7-day stage race) Open Women Team of Two, 2nd place, top 200 (out of 600 racers, 90 percent of which were men)
- 2016 NW Epic 60 miler, Open Women 2nd place overall
- 2016 Cascadia Dirt Cup Hood River Enduro 4th place Expert Women
-2017 Sturdy Dirt Enduro 4th place expert women
- 2014 Capitol Forest Classic, Queen of the Mountain/All Mountain Winner (Expert Women XC race winner and Enduro winner):
- 2015 NW Epic, Stottlemeyer, Open Women, 2nd place overall 30 miler
- 2014-2016 Budu West Side Mountain Bike Series, overall series winner Expert Open Women 2014/2015
- Ski to Sea Competitive Women’s Division Captain, 2017 fastest woman overall in the Cyclocross leg, team placed 1st in open women division and 26th overall out of 340 teams.


Take us back to your first few mountain bike rides (of any style) what did you learn and what inspired you to stick with it?
The first few mountain bike rides I went on were with my husband in 2003 and I remember feeling extremely frustrated and incompetent. Growing up I played a lot of sports and tried to keep up with my two brothers, so I was used to picking up athletics somewhat quickly, but mountain biking was a huge learning curve for me. I remember going over the handlebars a few times and even at one point throwing my bike into a bush. Ha! I learned that I needed to leave my ego at the door and to start slow, on easy trails, and build confidence and skill over time. To be patient with myself. To remember that feeling failure and frustration was a part of learning and developing new skills (something I teach as an educator but sometimes forget in my own life). I found that riding the same trail over and over helped me to learn how to navigate tricky sections, begin riding with more speed and I saw progress over time which inspired me. I wish I had attended a clinic or had some coaching early on because once I finally did get some incredible coaching from Angi Weston 10 years later, I had to unlearn many bad habits. 

You enjoy several styles of riding, can you share with us why you enjoy them?

I enjoy finding flow on steep or technical terrain, long smooth cross-country trails, endurance rides, and on shorter cyclocross courses, they all bring me joy. I mostly just love challenging myself to do more than I think I can do and spending time with friends, on our bikes, in the woods, with fresh air and exercise. When I ride I feel calm, satisfied, strong and focused and I think this carries over into my life at home with my family and in my career. I had a pretty severe bike accident and was hit by a car, so because of that, I prefer to stick to dirt and off the roads when possible. We are very lucky in our town that we have WMBC Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, our local trail building/mountain biking organization and they recently just built a world-class pumptrack, with support from Jill Kintner and Bellingham Parks and Recreation, incredibly close to our house. This is a new style of off-road riding I am learning alongside my husband, 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son and we are really enjoying it!

What has been your favorite mountain bike event that you've participated in?
I can’t pick one, but TransRockies Singletrack 6, BC Bike Race, and Sturdy Dirty have been some of my favorite mountain bike races so far. I have a new obsession with xc stage racing and BC mountain biking is some of the best riding I have ever experienced. Last year, my Queens of Dirt teammate Leah Kiviat and I competed in BC Bike Race as women team of two and placed 2nd and in the top third of the race with over 90% men, we were proud of that. I loved racing as a team and supporting each other during each of the 7 races. This year, I competed as a team of two with my husband Eric Malsbary in Singletrack 6. This was by far the most challenging race I have done. 6 days of BC technical riding with 5-6k of climbing and 95-degree heat and smoke from fires made it a difficult by very fun and exciting race. We were happy with our top 30% result in a very competitive field of incredible riders. I have competed in the Sturdy Dirty each year and it is what first got me interested in enduro racing. After racing for years with only a handful of women, it is so much fun to race with 250 women at this all women’s enduro each year. But by far my MOST favorite event of the year is our Queens of Dirt labor of love, QOD Women’s Mountain Bike Weekend. This is a weekend women/junior girls skills clinic we run the second weekend of June each year with some of the best professional female coaches in the country including Angi Weston, Lindsey Richter, Lisa Mason, Meredith Brandt, Katie Holden, Erika Schmidt, Tina Brubaker, and Junior Coaches Char Waller and Javon Smith. This year will be our 5th Annual and we love supporting the growth of women and girls in mountain biking and seeing them progress throughout the weekend.

For those on the fence with event participation, do you have any suggestions that might help them take the next step and sign up?
I think the biggest motivator for me in event participation is the community. Meeting other riders and racers and developing these friendships makes mountain biking all the more enjoyable for me. I have met some of my closest friends through clinics and races. I would encourage women especially to take that next step and sign up knowing that you will meet more incredible women and continue to build your community and support network through riding and racing.

Clips or flats? What do you enjoy and why?

Clips. It feels more efficient and in more control for me and I will always be an XC rider at heart. I like feeling connected and a part of my bike like it’s an extension of my body. I see the benefits of flats, but I have been riding clips for so many years and I don’t really see that changing.

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 biggest biff was riding my bike training for Ski to Sea (our local relay race) and being hit by a car going 45mph near my home. After a week in the hospital and a rod and screws in my tib/fib it was a long road to recovery that still impacts me today. I can no longer run without pain and I tape that leg regularly on longer rides. But the accident also taught me a lot and really made me appreciate my life and the people in it. I was humbled by the outpouring of love and support from my husband (whom I had married in Kauai 3 days prior to the accident), my family, my parents, my parents-in-law, friends, and the community. I was so incredibly grateful to be alive and to have the opportunity to heal and recover. Because weight bearing is still difficult at times, biking became basically my one and only form of exercise. This allowed me to spend significantly more time on the bike and then really get more into racing my bike after this accident. Racing for me forces me to really push what I think are my perceived limits and to work through discomfort and the pain cave, to not give up and to come through the finish line a stronger person than when I started. This is why we started a women’s race team because we love supporting the growth of more women racing their bikes. Years later, I broke my hand pre-riding an enduro course and I think the recovery mentally was pretty smooth due to the strength I gained from being hit by that car and a very supportive family. Parenting one-handed was also good motivation to get my youngest out of diapers!
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
We have some pretty good rooty, rocky terrain here in Bellingham. It’s hard to remember what handling skills challenged me most when I first started riding, maybe everything? But I remember the biggest AHAs for me included: momentum was my friend, looking ahead, & bike-body position and separation. I also learned how much mental game was at play. That I couldn’t hesitate or question whether I could do what I was about to do. I learned I needed to commit, to visualize myself successfully riding it and to go in with confidence and belief in my abilities and strength. These are all examples of things mountain biking teaches me about life.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?

There will always be. Just like with my job, with parenting, with relationships, I am always learning, every day. I think if I didn’t find things I found tricky each ride I would get bored and I wouldn’t be growing. I like having projects and problems I am working on with certain trails and working toward riding more smoothly and with more flow.

What do you love about riding your bike?

Feeling free, confident, capable, solving problems of tricky terrain, overcoming fear and obstacles, the necessary focus which clears my mind and riding with people I love and enjoying it together.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Liv Pique Advanced 1 - best all around bike I have ever owned! I love the 120 of travel front and back on a cross country bike, it’s light, pedals like a rocket and is very capable on the descent. It was the perfect bike for racing steep descents on BC black diamond trails but also climbing up steep and long logging roads.

Liv Intrigue SX - whenever I go to my shed to pick a bike to ride it’s mostly this one. This is the most fun bike I have owned. It is heavier and more slack than my xc bike but with a 160 Pike fork and 150 rear travel it descends like butter and I feel like I can ride more aggressively and with more speed. It pedals well but also feels burly. Love this bike.

Liv Brava SLR - Cyclocross is such a fun sport in the winter months. I love getting out to our cyclocross clinics, cross-practice and local Cascade Cross races in the rain, wind and bad weather to play on bikes in the mud. Our cross community is a blast with fun heckling spectators, technical courses and of course great beer and bacon hand-ups. I don’t take myself very seriously in cyclocross and I love to have fun with this type of racing. I have learned that a bacon hand up is hard to eat when racing with nothing to drink and if you take the next drink hand up in a dixie cup it might be a fireball and not water so be prepared!

You are a Liv Ambassador, tell us about your experience as an ambassador for Liv and what you've learned since joining the program-
Fellow Queens of Dirt teammates and I had just begun organizing Bellingham women’s mountain bike and cyclocross clinics immediately prior to partnering with Liv. We learned more about Liv, the brand and the ambassador program at a maintenance clinic for women held at Jack’s Bicycle Center with Ash Bocast (now with Roam Events). The mission of Liv was inspiring to us and aligned with the mission we were beginning to develop locally. Liv became a sponsor of our Jacks Bicycle Center Queens of Dirt racing team and then I also signed on as a Liv Ambassador for this area at the same time. The Liv Ambassador program and support of Liv Cycling for Queens of Dirt has allowed us to broaden our reach and helped us grow in hosting more Liv events such as the Liv/QOD Women’s Mountain Bike Weekend, Liv/QOD Women’s Cyclocross clinics we host with Courtenay McFadden and Kristi Berg, Liv Bike Fit clinic, Liv/QOD Goldsprint Races, Liv/QOD Trail Build Days with WMBC, Liv Junior Girls Rides, Liv Night Rides, Liv Enduro Course Pre-rides, and more. We are proud to represent a brand that is committed to growing the women’s cycling community.
Why do you feel programs like the Liv Ambassador program are a great way of getting more women involved in cycling?
The Liv Ambassador program is dedicated to welcoming women into the sport. Liv supports ambassadors at the local level in designing events, clinics, and rides that are less intimidating, where women are supporting women, and educating and empowering each other. Liv also listens to the voices of both recreational and professional female athletes in their product development and strives to make products that meet their needs. I am proud to represent this brand.

Why should folks apply for programs, even if there is the chance they may not get chosen?

Just like I tell my teacher candidates, if you decide to try for something and put yourself out there, and think of all the things that make you special and strong, that process of reflecting and articulating those things is healthy and confidence building. I also think it’s healthy to experience not getting chosen, dealing with that disappointment, and then trying again for other opportunities. I think it builds resiliency and confidence, and you never know, you might get an opportunity that has a significant impact on you and your community.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think women can be deterred from cycling and mountain biking because they think it is intimidating. Perhaps they know that the learning curve for some is big. I also think it is hard for some to get involved in a male-dominated sport. We are lucky in Bellingham to have such a large and supportive female cycling community. The many organizations, clubs and bike shops that support this community help create a pathway for more and more women and girls to enter the sport. I also think that access to a bike deters some women. Our team is continually brainstorming ways we can support better access for all women and girls into the sport. Currently, we provide scholarships for clinics and demo bikes, but we also want to one day provide more access to bikes to use both for events but also for regular rides.

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

I think the more female role models the better. As more women enter the sport there are more women seen riding. I was riding in the Chuckanuts the other day and a man stopped me and asked: "Is there a women’s riding event happening today?” I said I didn’t think so, why? “Because I just passed three separate groups of women riding”. I smiled thinking how awesome it is to have such a large female mountain bike community in Bellingham. Last week someone emailed me saying his wife had seen the women’s weekend clinic and wanted to participate next year, and a dad saying how wonderful it was for his 11 year old to be coached by and to watch so many strong women riding mountain bikes, so I think visually seeing more women riding and racing in advertisements, magazines, and photos, supports getting more women into the sport. I still flip through some mountain bike magazines and the photos of females actually riding are still too few. In the same vein, supporting the growth of women in the industry would get more women into the sport. More female bike mechanics, more female industry reps, more female coaches. Companies can financially support programs that assist women in getting the training and experiences to be better represented within the industry itself.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

Confidence building that riding gives women, supporting the growth of more self-sufficient, the experiences of women supporting women. I am also inspired by local women’s cycling groups supporting each other. The Kona Supremes another local women’s mountain bike race team supported our QOD weekend clinic in many ways, the Fanatik Hot Flashes, another local women’s race team leads some really fun events and rides in town throughout the year, the WMBC Joyriders women’s mountain bike club hosts regular spring and summer rides for women of all levels in Bellingham, the Flying Squirrels with Kari Young is a new junior girls mountain bike club that hosts regular rides for girls, and March Northwest also hosts multiple clinics for women/girls throughout the year. We are so lucky to live in a town with a large and growing female riding community with a strong support network surrounding it.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
When a student at UW, I researched and traveled to Africa to study women’s changing roles in music in Ghana and Senegal, West Africa in 1998 and 2001.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Review on Shebeest Gear

This year, Shebeest did it again and came out with some rad jerseys and shorts I felt would make my closet beam with pride! I have found myself going back and forth with either liking patterns, colors, or both. Shebeest came out with some kits that sparked my interest and I felt like I had to give them a shot. I finally figured out my true top sizing for the Divine jersey and with my proportions I'm an XS for the fit I prefer. Otherwise, if wear a small, the sleeves are too loose and the waist goes past my inseam.

The fit and feel of the Divine jersey is silky smooth, soft, and luxurious! I love full-zip jerseys so I can easily regulate my temperature, especially when layering. The arm bands are super comfortable and I love the length of the sleeves. I like to try and keep as much of my skin covered (sun protection!) and the grips on the sleeves do not tug or pull your skin at all!

The waist band is also very comfortable too! It's wide in the back and "disappears" towards the front. It doesn't dig- really, it's more of a gripper style vs. elastic and I think many will appreciate its forgiving nature. It stays down where needed without sacrificing comfort.

I'm totally digging the Bias Rose Divine short sleeve jersey with the fun pattern and black & white coloring. It can go with everything! I'm going to pull on a pair of Marirose Skinny Americano shorts in the menthe color next season when it's warmer for a pop of color!
Basic black shorts are great, but I've fallen in love with the sleek and chic design of the Marirose Petunia short with it's black on black pattern. The subtle pattern of roses on this short can totally play up any jersey. I have a pair of Petunia shorts in the Kelo design that is black on black and I wore them with our Decorah Bicycles jersey just about every FWD Sunday ride! The fit of the Petunia shorts is fantastic. There are no biting bands that dig into your legs or waist. The chamois pad is awesome too! It's a fantastic update to the original Shelastic pad. Now using the Shelastic 2.0 pad, the quality and comfort is definitely increased.

The Skinny Americano Shorts are a nice way to add a little casual style to my usual ride outfits without sacrificing comfort or fun patterns. True to my love of roses this season, the Marirose Skinny Americano short in black offers the same as the lycra short. A subtle pattern that will work with every top because it's black in color.

The fit of the Skinny Americano short is snug, but not too snug. They hugged my butt, but didn't swallow my legs- a problem I've had with other shorts is how billowy they are to the rest of my body.

The fit was comfortable in a size Small. I do not wear XS sizes in shorts- Shebeest recommends you size up. To be sure, I tried on a pair of Mediums and was able to shimmy out of them without undoing the zipper or snap closure. I think the XS would've been impossible to button/zip up. The small was perfect.

Wearing these shorts for a couple rides, I was happy to not have the material snag my seat. That is what pushed me away from baggies for so long. Especially when most of the baggy shorts I had access to were more Freeride style without tapered legs, or too casual and short for my liking. I wanted something that provided some coverage but didn't drown my legs in fabric. Tough call. I also wanted a short that fit well, didn't have back gap, and would work with my muscular frame. These tick a lot of boxes!

You have a zipper and snap button closure and one zippered pocket to keep essentials in.

You can wear the shorts over liner shorts, but I've found them to be perfectly comfortable worn over my favorite Petunia shorts.

Last up for new Shebeest gear this year is the Overexposed Virtue Jersey. Same soft and silky material as the Divine jersey line, but long sleeves! Again with full-zip and some reflective details for those who would be riding in low-light conditions. The neck area is plenty long, allowing you to have coverage for the back of your neck/under the chin for those brisk rides. The coloring is awesome! Bright with fun colors- it's perfect for your favorite group ride out on the roads or trails.
With this jersey in the XS size, I still had ample room for wearing a base layer under it. This makes an excellent layering jersey for slightly cool temps, or more brisk fall temperatures where a layer provides just enough additional warmth.

I've found myself gravitating towards my Shebeest jerseys/shorts quite often this season, and with good reason. The pattern/color and fit make me feel good with either the shorts or jerseys I've tried out. I told myself that I wouldn't purchase any new gear this year, but found myself bending that rule several times! In doing so, I've found several pieces of cycling apparel that I will be wearing for years to come.

What I dig the most is that Shebeest has provided fun, colorful designs and/or patterns, but still has the sensibility of creating bottoms (and a top or two) in a colorway or pattern that can go with the more exciting stuff, but still is subtle enough to wear with all of your other jerseys/shorts. Also- some of their items are great mix/match pieces, I would say more this year than last. Which makes it fun and easy to swap around pieces of your favorite kit allowing for more looks. Treat yo' self!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Women Involved Series: Katrina Strand

Photo Credit: Sven Martin
I’m complicated haha! I live in Whistler BC, and have been racing and riding bikes for close to 20 years now. World Cup DH, EWS, Trans Provence, BC Bike race . . . the list goes on. I’ve also been coaching for just over 10 years, and now focus on high-performance conditioning as well as mountain bike programs and mentorship for youth.

I also do brand ambassador projects for my sponsors, with a focus on passing on my experience and knowledge to those that want to listen! There’s a lot going on!

Besides bikes though, I love skiing, ski touring, scrambling, yoga, eating healthy good food, my dog and fiancé Yoann.

Instagram: katrinastrand

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you want to come back for more?
My good friend Lisa Lefroy and I took her parent cruisers up the bike park one rainy muddy afternoon and slipped our way down the mountain, crashing and laughing. That day started it all. Soon after I bought my first bike. The challenge was the main attractor at first, but soon the social part, the fitness part, simply being in the woods part . . .It flipped to a passion quite quickly. The more you ride, the better you get and soon after I tried racing, I was on the National Team racing the World Champs. The traveling was a HUGE attractor too, going to all these cool places with my bike and friends – life couldn’t be better! I always loved adventure.

It evolved from Dh racing to Enduro and even XC racing . . . But the most enjoyment I’d ever get was from big adventure rides. That won’t change, I know it.

The other angle of progression comes from the coaching/mentorship. What started out as mostly instructional coaching, has shifted to high-performance coaching. Although my fire for personal competition has fizzled (at least for now), it is quite the opposite when it comes to helping others. That’s where my business ‘Strand Training’ comes in, which is constantly evolving as I find new ways to support mountain bikers and other athletes.
Photo Credit: Collin Dodd

Clips or flats? What do you prefer and why?
Clips. Then I don’t have to think about my feet! They just stay put as I’m bouncing around, and generally, I feel I have a more efficient pedal stroke. That being said, I learned on flats and have spent a lot of time on them since. You really can’t cheat with flats, and they teach you a lot about how to use your feet properly while riding your bike.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I’ve had a lot of big crashes, and really quite a few that have ended in injury ranging from a 1 month turn around to 9 months off the bike healing and rehabbing. Injuries are hard physically, mentally and emotionally . . . you are on your own, really, no one can put in a day or week for you. It’s your journey, and the journey can be taxing and sometimes boring!

If you only identify yourself as a mountain biker, then they will be much harder to overcome. If you identify yourself as more (writer, musician, etc. the list goes on), then you can turn your focus to other parts of your being and work on those areas instead.

I also believe that often it’s a sign that you need to take a break, that something ‘is not right’. It’s a hard idea to swallow, but for me, this has often been the case and so the injury gives me the space to stop, take a break and reflect on what I really need at the moment.

All this being said, it is important to use all possible resources to heal properly. If that means therapy (hands-on or mental) or gym work, you do it. It’s always a lot harder to come back from injury physically, mentally and emotionally if you don’t put the effort in. I’ve often come back from my injuries stronger than when I went in . . . that gives me the confidence to ride how I was before the injury.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
All the skills challenged me! But that is one of the main aspects that attracted me to mountain biking, it is super challenging and always will be. For me back then it was time on the bike with the right people that would push me to learn. I simply spent A LOT of time on my bike. But now, there are all these instructional coaching camps and clinics that give you the tools to learn. Of course, you need to use these tools in order for it all to work, but it does save a lot of time when you work with a coach.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Well, of course, I am a normal person who has fear sometimes! I won’t do something unless I am 100 percent confident that I can do it. There can be adrenalin attached to that, but I am SURE it will work out. I am never ‘oh ya mayyyyybe I’ll make that 40 foot gap jump, let’s find out!’. I have to know it. And this can change day to day, week to week and even depend on who I am riding with . . so if I’m not feeling it, I don’t do it and know I can come back another day when it suits. If it drags me down, it’s my ego getting in the way ☺

What do you love about riding your bike?
Loaded question! I guess at the end of the day, I love the challenge, the exercise, the adventure, the places it has brought me and the people I have met through bikes. I LOVE being in the mountains, in the woods, in nature, and bikes bring me there every day.
Photo Credit: Collin Dodd
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a few for different reasons. I have my Commencal Supreme DH, Commencal Meta AM, Commencal TR, road bike and cruiser. Since I ride up, down and all around from bike parks to epic 10-hour adventures to cruises to the lake, I have a choice for whatever type of riding I am doing that day.

What was your inspiration to become involved with coaching?
I was instructional coaching really right from the beginning, and even had my own business going for kids and youth. I decided that in order to make it all bigger and better, my best bet was to go back to school for human kinetics and add strength and conditioning coaching to the mix. I finished my degree at the University of BC, got my Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach certificate and continued to move forward with both instruction, training, and coaching. ‘Strand Training’ now incorporates all sorts of projects from high-performance conditioning to a youth development team.

The inspiration really stemmed from the success I would see in my clients, and the gratification I would get that I helped them get there.

Tell us about one of your most inspirational moments with coaching-
Much like what inspired me to become involved in coaching has kept me there. My most inspirational moments are seeing the young athletes that I train and coach learn how to be better mountain bikers, athletes, and people. Their successes, and knowing I’ve been a part of it, are my biggest career highlights, much more than any win of my own.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
My guess is that the concept can be intimidating and overwhelming – riding bikes on uneven terrain and surrounded by obstacles that are not forgiving?! The truth is, is that there are so many levels of mountain biking, from crushed gravel to gnarly descents and if you take it one step at a time, with the right guidance and equipment, chances are you will be just fine.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Locally, here in Whistler, I feel we have a lot of programs for the girls. Mentorship programs, coaching, ladies rides . . . the list goes on. A community has been created, a supportive environment exists, and the possibilities are attainable.

It seems to me that this trend is filtering to other parts of the world too. There is room for loads of improvement of course, but I do feel that the industry is finally realizing the impact of women riders and helping to support projects that not only encourage women to get involved but encourage them to stay! I know Fox Head, who supports me, is VERY keen on these concepts in an authentic way.
Photo Credit: Derrick Busch

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Well, I know the positive impact it has had on my life so of course, I’m going to encourage women (and men) to bring bikes into their lives!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Baby arrives end of November! New adventure!

The Beauty of Supporting Local Businesses.

I transitioned in 2015 from working for a business to becoming the right-hand woman at a small, brick and mortar bike shop. This was a decision that wasn't made lightly, but one that I knew would bring forth great opportunities to learn, grow, and better serve the community.

When you go from the predictable comfort of working for a larger business to start working as a two-4 person team, you lose that shell that protected you from the "real world" and you get a very insightful and sometimes nerve-wracking perspective on what it's like to be part of a small business. Especially when that small business is seasonal and you go from being as busy as the Co-Op on a MAD sale day to literally not seeing one other human walk thru the door for 8 hours.

It is daunting at times. "What" and "If" are mentioned a lot.

The period of time when the riding season seems to end abruptly for most of the population seems to happen overnight. We go from having foot traffic and rentals to literally nothing in less than 24 hours. Bikes stop coming in for service work, folks aren't buying bikes or accessories. It is as if cycling, in general, has gone on hiatus. We know it's the weather; that dismal time when it's not winter but feels bone-chilling cold outside. Everyone huddles indoors during this time period, saying "If there was snow, I'd be fine" as it seems virtually impossible to recreate when it's cold and not a winter wonderland.

I am the perpetual optimist and take the time to learn more about how to do a better job with social media, our website, and blogging. We also have time to start training new hires and get (in general) a lot of good things done, like prepping the store for winter recreation. I know that once the snow flies, we'll have folks coming in again to rent skis, snowshoes, ice skates, and fatbikes for wintertime fun.

The holidays will come and folks will stop in and either look for the perfect accessory or item to purchase for their husband/wife/best friend. Sometimes you'll still find parents or grandparents coming in to purchase that coveted new bike for a child. Those times are very exciting because it might be, possibly, their first "Bike Shop" bike!

Last year I made it a focus to shop as local as possible for gifts. These are tumultuous times that we're in, and I feel that everyone feels a bit strapped emotionally and mentally. In the eyes of a small business owner, I feel that keeping dollars local as much as possible is very important for our community. We've heard it over and over again this year from various sources stating how wonderful, awesome, scenic, beautiful, and welcoming Decorah is. We need to, as a community, keep it that way. We can't always rely on tourism to keep our shops afloat- we shouldn't...we can't...have tourism as our only source of income. What happens when tourism slows down? What if we have flooding again like we did in '16 that impacted heavily on our recreational resources? We need to remember that we, as a community, need our businesses to thrive- not simply survive.

On that note, like last year, I am going to do my best to make my gift buying for the holidays local. With saying local, I mean literally buying in the Decorah community.

If I'm purchasing a book for my mom, I'll order it at Dragonfly Books.
If I'm purchasing some warm socks, I'll go to the Decorah Hatchery.
If I'm purchasing some bread or soup mix, I'll go to Pinters.
Maybe I'll gift the gift of craft beer, thus I'll go to Pulpit Rock Brewery or Toppling Goliath.
If I'm purchasing some chocolate or other fun treats like essential oils, I'll go to the Co-Op.

The list goes on.

We've all done it at some point in time. We've gone to the beloved computer and plugged in the item we're looking for and purchased it online due to convenience. You save the hassle of having to talk to someone. You sometimes save dollars and cents. You don't have to wait forever to get the item when you order it. You can stay in your pajamas with your cat on your lap, sipping coffee, and not step foot outside if you didn't want to. Yes. Online can be convenient. Online can provide low pricing. Online can't do things for you that your local businesses can. Shopping local provides you an experience. Of course, you have to want that experience and appreciate it in order for it to be important.

Some businesses are not as affected by online shopping as others, for example, I wouldn't go online and purchase a tattoo gun to give myself my own ink. Unless you like being hands on, you'll still go to someone for vehicle maintenance. I don't think too many folks try to give themselves a dental cleaning at home.

Most of those jobs are service jobs. However, every small business I know is part of the service industry in some way.

Shopping online is seriously one of those things that's "too good to be true." We cannot always compete with the prices you see and we need to charge sales tax. We know that folks don't always understand, but those dollars don't "just" go into our pockets.

What do your local dollars go to when you purchase items at a small business?
Wages for staff.
Health insurance.
Bills. Loads of bills. You're looking at electricity, possibly gas, insurance, phone/internet, and any bill that comes from ordering in inventory.
Maintenance of said business.

The owners of said business need their income to also pay any or all of the following (and likely more)-

Bills. Anything from electric to gas, Dr. bills to the Internet, and everything in-between.
House payments.
Maintenance of their home/Vehicle.
Home/Vehicle insurance.

You may say "Well, it's their choice to own a business vs. work for someone."
Yes, you're right. It is a choice that we decided to provide you an opportunity to stay in town vs. drive to La Crosse or Rochester to go book shopping. A store providing you the gear and clothing to go on adventures chose to exist so you could come into the building to purchase your favorite Patagonia/Outdoor Research apparel without having to go online or out of town. A small Co-Op has grown into a larger entity with the same mission as they had from the start- to have a location where folks could easily go to purchase local, organic, and wholesome food. The list goes on. Next time, ask why someone started the business they did and what their hopes are for their community by having that business exist.

We are damn lucky to be in the town we're in. Really, compared to some towns I've visited, we are so extremely fortunate to have our town as OUR town. I'm saying this as a person who calls Decorah home and as one half of a small business which is a bike shop. We are a business that provides you the opportunity to explore outside of town, inside town, and promotes a more healthful lifestyle. Bikes, man. Bikes are a good thing.

No one said it would be easy.

No one ever said owning a business was easy. I would imagine many have gone into business ownership knowing that they can't look at it with rose-colored glasses, even if they might want to.

All we can do is hope that our customer service, knowledge, and dedication to our business will bring forth a solid consumer base that can help us keep doing what we hope to do for years to come, even if they are purchase things online. Our mission is simple, to get more folks on bikes and to keep things working mechanically for them.

From personal experience, I know it can be daunting to walk into a bike shop. You have no idea what experience you'll have. You probably don't want sales shoved down your throat and you might not really have any idea what you need. I walked into two bike shops as the person who knew they needed a bike but had no idea where to start. Many would rather avoid conversation and simply gravitate towards something that looks pretty/cool but might not be the right size or right type of bike for their needs. I'm someone who likes to just go in, purchase what I want, and leave. With some things, you can get to that point once you have some things figured out- but it can take awhile to get there. We want to help and do so in a kind, respectful, and encouraging fashion...we're excited for you! It might be #newbikeday for you and we're so stoked to be part of it!

Our goal isn't to sell you the most expensive bike or product in the store. Our mission is to find you the best product or bike that meets your needs and will suit the experience you're wishing to have.
However, sometimes that can be challenging because we might not have it in the store that day. So, if you're looking around and not seeing what you were hoping to see, but not willing to talk with us- we can't easily tell you that we can very likely order in that bike or accessory for you.

Did you know-
If we order an accessory for you, you might get it the very next day. Literally. No joke!
Most bikes arrive within 2-3 days after we place the order. We also try to get bikes that are ordered in for folks built within 24 hours.

You aren't waiting months, you may not even be waiting weeks. You might literally be waiting 24 hours to 4 days and I've waited longer than that when I would order items on Amazon to get free shipping because I'm not a Prime member. I've waited less than 4 days to get a book in from Dragonfly books! I've had similar wait times ordering something from the Decorah Hatchery! Yeah!

For service work this year, even with RAGBRAI happening so close to us, we maintained a 48 hour or less turnaround time. We were so stoked to say to folks that they wouldn't be waiting weeks for their bike to get done! We were able to maintain that turnaround even with building bikes for folks, awesome!

The retail experience when purchasing a bicycle is hands-on and sometimes it can be stressful because yes- you have to ride bikes. However, we do what we can to make the experience as painless as possible. We've been there, we've bought bikes before, and we know that it can be a process. For some, the concept of renting a bike for a week or a month helps make the choice come easier. Especially if it's a mountain bike or a fatbike.

Did you know that if you rent from us for a month you have up to 30 days after you return the bike to use 100% of your rental dollars off the purchase of a bike?

We are passionate about helping you make the best decision for your biking needs. We're happy to talk to you in store, on the phone, or even email! Whatever it takes. We're here for you!

We also stand strong by being involved in the cycling community either locally or elsewhere so you may have noticed some closures so we could attend some cycling events. We believe it's important for us to establish and maintain comradery with our riding community and riders in other areas by doing the thing we love most: biking!

This year we:
Helped out at the Park and Rec Mountain Biking class for kids with fellow DHPT volunteers.
Hosted Sunday Mountain Bike group rides.
Hosted Fearless Women of Dirt women's nights and Fearless Women of Dirt specific group rides.
Hosted a couple FWD Mother/Daughter rides that were successful, and will happen again next year.
We closed up shop to ride with our friends during the Decorah Time Trials.
Hosted a fundraiser every May during Bike Month for Decorah Human Powered Trails: DHPT
We took a pilgrimage with our local cycling friends to Chequamegon.
We closed up to share the love of mountain biking with our friends in Viroqua at the PertNear 20, which raises money for their mountain bike trail system.
Bike shops don't exist just to sell you a product or service; they help to build up a sense of community. We see the social bonding and strength that comes from investing our time in our cycling community and we hope you do, too.

Community is the glue that keeps us together.

We hope you continue to support us and visit us throughout the coming years as we do our best to continue supporting the wonderful cycling community that Decorah has. Biking isn't just something to do for "fun" it is also a lifestyle. Not only is it good for your body and mind, but it's beneficial for the planet. It's an easy way to transport yourself around town, but can also take you on adventures further away. You can take cycling with you, wherever you go!

We are so fortunate to live in Decorah and have this wonderful mecca of outdoor recreation so close to home. We have a beautiful downtown with thriving businesses, fantastic restaurants, and a glorious library. The list goes on with all of the features that make Decorah a wonderful place to call home. It isn't to say that economic stresses do not affect folks in Decorah, I know they do- and that is a constant worry. However, from my personal perspective, it seems we always have a way of making it thru. With the strength of our community and love of our local economy- I believe we'll be around for a very long, long time.

Thank you for the support that you've given us over the years- from the very start until now. I'm new to the Decorah Bicycles community, but I greatly appreciate the opportunity given for me to make my own niche in the cycling community.

Support local, because local supports you!

Women on Bikes Series: Nicole Werts

Five years ago, I would have never imagined that I would be biking 4 days per week or more all summer long. Then I met Tim (my now husband). I started out not realizing there were different types of bikes or the purposes and adventures they could open up. He shared his passion for biking with me and exposed me to many of the types of biking that exist. As I fell in love with him, I also fell in love with biking.

For having recently started the sport, I feel that I have been bitten hard by the bug. I have been exposed to many types and styles of biking from casually riding the trails, cyclocross, mountain biking, and road biking. My husband and I downhill patrol up at Spirit Mountain where there is lift access biking.

We do the local Thursday night mountain bike races at Buck Hill, race cyclocross in the fall, and did the Tuesday night crits this last summer. We also enjoy biking with Team Hollywood Cycles and GirlFiend Cycling Team (GirlFiend is the women’s branch of the team).

I grew up playing soccer and played Division III in college. After finishing college, there was a definite void left behind from no longer training and playing at a competitive level. Cycling has now filled that hole and given purpose to training and increasing intensity of workouts. I love being part of a team as it is fun to ride together and have a team that supports each other. The camaraderie, energy, and social around cycling is fun to be a part of! It is an awesome team of people who, like Tim and I, like to ride bikes.

Tell us the introduction to your #bikelife and what was the experience like?
I did bike as a kid with the neighborhood kids and with my family on the bike trails, but biking was not something that I stuck with. I played soccer and that consumed much of my time until college was over. It was when I met my husband that I started really biking again. It started with biking on the trails around Minneapolis. Eventually, it led to watching and then trying cyclocross. (Which included an intro to dirt riding). From there I got my first mountain bike and we started with cross country riding, this eventually progressed to lift access downhill. Most recently, we tried some crit racing. The experience has been awesome! There is always so much to learn, so many awesome people to meet, and so much fun to be had!

Out of the types of cycling that your husband introduced you to, which would you say was your favorite right from the start?
My favorite is the one with two wheels, pedals, and outdoors. All the forms of cycling are my favorite in some way or another! It can totally vary based on mood and the day! I really like the mountain biking as it is fun to go play in the woods. I enjoy the challenge and learning the lines. I downhill ski in the winter and the mountain biking really connects to some of the same sensations as skiing. However, road riding is totally different in that you can go out and just pedal forever and it can feel very smooth. I find that both riding on the road and in the woods can really present an opportunity to clear the mind.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Probably cyclocross, as that is where it all started. It has aspects of mountain biking and road biking that I enjoy. Plus, the people make it really fun! I am not always sure why I enjoy competing. As I really dislike the part when you are on the start line and just waiting for the race to start (it always seems to take forever). Sometimes during the races, I question why it is fun. However, afterwards, it is always fun. Cyclocross is fun to push yourself as you learn more about what you are capable of and develop new skill sets.

That being said, I feel a bit torn as I really enjoyed the crit races this summer. It took me a few races to figure out the strategy and not get dropped from the pack. It is very fun to fly quickly around the corners and reach speeds I did not know I was capable of on flat ground. It definitely brought on new and amazing sensations.

When it comes to folks who have not participated in a biking event, what advice would you give them?
Try it! Watch the event if able or talk to someone you know who has participated and learn what you can! We have all participated in our first bike event and are excited to have more women (and people) out there and enjoying it. I am more than happy to talk to someone about what I have learned along the way.

I know firsthand that this can be intimidating to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Thinking back to my first group ride and I was terrified that I would not be able to keep up, would get dropped, and end up lost, unable to find my way home. Tim came along to ease my worry and to guide me back if I got lost or could not keep pace with the group. However, I did not need him and was able to keep up with the group without issue. If it is a group ride you are looking to try, ask about what pace and distance is expected as that can help you to know you are ready to go or give you a goal to work towards.

Take us back to your first few mountain bike rides. What was your experience like and what kept you coming back for more?
First off, I feel truly blessed as Tim’s whole mission and goal, when I started, was to set me up for success. He wanted to make sure I had a good time so I would want to ride again. The first mountain bike ride I went on, I refused to ride over anything higher than about 3 inches high. That ruled out any logs and some rocks. Tim demoed what to do multiple times, but when I said not today, he respected that and I got off my bike walked it at all obstacles. The next time we rode, it was with another couple and when I watched her do it, then I started riding over stuff and found it was not as difficult as it looked. We did a lot of laps where I was comfortable and slowly worked up to more challenging terrain.

The fun and challenge of mountain biking kept me coming back for more. I found that the more I rode, the more comfortable I got with biking. It was really fun to work on technique and then look back and realize that I was no longer thinking about going over obstacles that I had stopped in front of the week or month before. Additionally, there is something very therapeutic about going out and riding and playing in the dirt with the beauty of the nature and trees around you.

Take us into the world of cyclocross- what do you enjoy about cyclocross and why should folks give it a shot?
It is a fun challenge. The terrain and conditions can really add to the challenge. I like that you get multiple laps within a race as it gives you a chance to change and improve how you did on features from lap to lap. The multiple laps can also add challenge as course conditions can change based on the amount of precipitation or how loose the course may be set up. I also like how it is okay to not be able to ride every section, but it is expected to sometimes get off the bike and run. It is about choosing how you can get through stuff the quickest and knowing your skill set. Additionally, the people are really what make the races fun. Spectating and cheering on friends and teammates helps to make the experience what it is.
Any tips or suggestions on getting started with 'cross?
Watch it and then go for it. See if you can meet up with someone to learn about how to properly mount, dismount, and shoulder your bike prior to your first race, then give it a go. I started doing cross before I had really learned how to bike on dirt. I had spent the summer riding on bike trails. I watched Tim race on a Saturday and it looked fun (but intimidating). Sunday, instead of him racing, we went to the river bottoms and I learned to ride on dirt. I fell over in the sand a lot as I learned to navigate the looseness. Middle of that week, the awesome Kristy Henderson taught me to mount, dismount, and shoulder my bike. She also gave some other pointers about what to do when racing. Then Saturday, I did my first cross race. It was challenging, but fun and has kept me coming back for more! There is a challenging learning curve, but it is worth it.

Clips or flats? What do you use and why?
Clips. I do not have a good reason for using them other than that is how I learned when I started riding. I really want to try flats for mountain biking at some point. However, I really enjoy the connection to the bike you have with being clipped to the pedals. At this point, it feels weird to get on a bike and not be connected to the pedals.

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 had some difficulty learning road pedals this spring/summer and being able to competently get my feet out when stopping. I had a ride that I tipped over 2 times because I had to stop and could not get out of my pedals. I really disliked the helpless feeling of slowly falling to the side and not being able to get free. After that, I would start to panic if my foot did not come right out, which totally did not help the situation! To get over my fear, I put the bike on the trainer and did repetitions of just clipping in and out of my pedals. This definitely helped for the next time I went road riding (although I still made sure to prepare for stopping plenty early).

This summer I fell riding a green downhill trail and hit my hand on a rock, resulting in 2 broken fingers (ring and pinky on right hand). This has taken mostly physical healing, but a little mental as well. I was able to return to riding my bike relatively quickly and was able to continue mountain biking and crit racing with minimal impact (adjustment of handlebar grips and buddy taping fingers). The mental healing has not been completed at this time as I still have not ridden the section of trail where I broke my fingers. However, it is 100% mental as there are more challenging sections of trail that I am now riding more competently then I was prior to breaking the fingers.

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 started riding, all obstacles were challenging. Repetition helped a lot. Tim was very patient in letting me walk things when I did not feel comfortable. He was also willing to demo and repeat features. If I attempted something for the first time, whether successful or unsuccessful, we often went back immediately to ride it several more times.

I am also a really good nature walker (hike-a-biker). Especially with rock gardens or things that are spaced differently, I love walking through and holding the handlebars while letting my bike just bounce to see where it will go as it hits certain points.

Another thing that helped a lot was that I participated in a women’s mountain bike clinic in Copper Harbor last summer. It was AWESOME! I learned so much, rode with rad women, and had a great time. I really enjoyed learning more about the specifics regarding body positioning and bike handling.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Curbs! I still get uncomfortable with going up curbs. I will ride down them on any of my bikes. I have now gotten to the point that with my mountain bikes I will ride up them, but my road bike or cross bike I will put a foot down and lift the front wheel onto the curb. On my cross bike, I will attempt logs and curb sized items, but not the concrete curb. I do not let it drag me down, I figure that someday I will either master it or I will continue to stop in front of curbs and step over them.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything!!!!!!! What is there not to love when you are outside and have the wind in your face. It is always even better with company!!!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I feel like I did not choose my bikes, but they have chosen me. They have allowed my riding to grow and advance. I have a cross bike that I initially rode on the paved trails and now race cross on. I have a full suspension 26 inch mountain bike that is teal and I mostly ride downhill up at Spirit, but sometime ride crosscountry on. I have a hardtail 29er that is baby blue and orange and ride all over the cities and have used for the mountain bike races I have done. I have a black and celeste road bike that is fun to explore the cities on and I always feel fast when I start a ride on it.

What do you enjoy most about being able to share cycling with your husband?
It is wonderful to be able to spend time together! Tim gave up a lot of rides and speed to teach me to ride a bike. However, it has paid off for both of us as now we are able to ride together. He is still faster, but I am able to ride at a pace that keeps both of us happy and it is fun! We also bike for the same team, so it is great to go on group rides together. Additionally, we support each other at races and cheer each other on as much as possible. I look forward to days when we ride together after work as it is nice to have quality time together doing something we both enjoy

Do you have any specifics that might help a person introduce their partner to cycling?
Be patient. It was also helpful when some clear expectations were set. When I first started mountain biking, I apologized all the time. For being slow, for tipping over, for holding him back, and again for being slow. This was frustrating for him and it did not allow me to enjoy all the aspects of mountain biking. When he told me to stop apologizing as the expectation was that I would be slow and I would fall and that he did not care at that time that I was holding him back, I was then able to relax and ride my bike and started to ride and learn better. I still slow Tim up sometimes and he is the faster rider (and probably always will be), but I now ride at a pace that we can go out, have a good time and both feel like we got a workout. Plus it is awesome to ride and explore trails together.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think the fear of getting injured is a major part. I know that there are times that I see stuff and I really assess how I feel at that time as I want to make sure that I can still go to work the next day. Every woman is different though, but if hesitant, I think the fear of something is likely at least part of the cause. The great thing is, there are so many opportunities available now to get women started with cycling.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I like that I see many more group rides, clinics, and opportunities for women. It is very exciting with the number of youth getting involved in mountain biking and cycling in general. This is great for the future of cycling. However, I would love to see more women out racing and taking advantage of these opportunities. I keep trying to encourage friends who ride but do not race to join in. However, I think the initial cost to try racing deters some. It is nice to see some races offering discounted entry fees for beginner racers as it is a sport we can start at any age! I think we need to continue to encourage each other to race, ride, and achieve greatness.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
That is easy, I want more friends to ride with!!! I love seeing women and girls of all ages out riding
bikes in any form!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I enjoy inline skating. I train for and have competed in the North Shore Inline Marathon since the end of college. Last year I let a friend convince me to do the combined (half + full) and so we skated 39.3 miles. I finished first for the women and am signed up to do it again this fall.

First Review on the Specialized Women's S-Works Epic

Women's S-Works EpicI'm back with another "non-pro" review on a new bike that I've had a couple rides on: the 2018 Specialized Women's S-Works Epic.
If I'm lucky, I'll be able to get out on this bike one more time before the dry season officially ends. If I'm not, I had 2 excellent experiences on this bike and will count down the days to where I can take my Specialized Women's S-Works Epic on the trails again.

I'll report back with a second review in 2018.

This is my second race-style full suspension, we made the decision to purchase the new Women's S-Works for a couple reasons.

Reason #1- We are no longer Salsa dealers, thus my current race bike isn't a brand we sell and it seemed like I should be on a brand that we sell when I'm doing mountain bike races or posting to social media. It's a bittersweet move because I love my Spearfish, yet it's representing a brand we can't bring in- and being (basically) a co-owner of a bike shop, I should be on a shop brand.

Reason #2- I do not own a "dry season" Specialized mountain bike. I have a Specialized Fatboy for winter riding and a fitness hybrid- but nothing pertaining to actual mountain biking with front suspension (or full squish.)

Reason #3- The updated technology sounded intriguing and it was literally a bike we could purchase stock and not change much of anything at all. (Of course, we would change touch points- like my saddle and grips I prefer.) Drivetrain and brakes wise, it was stellar. I also hadn't had women-tuned suspension before, so I wanted to see if it would be a positive change. (Really, it should just say "tuned for smaller riders.")

Reason #4- I like 29" wheels. I'm 5'2". Between the two brands we carry in store: Trek & Specialized, I would not have a 29" wheel size with Trek. Trek would put me on 27.5" wheels. Specialized still gives me the option of going with a 29" wheel. Why do I like 29" wheels better on full squish? Because I do. I don't feel I have many issues at all with handling a 29" wheel. I like my Trek Procaliber 9.8 with 27.5" wheels very much, but something about the taller wheel size and suspension makes me more inclined to take the bike elsewhere. I feel more stable, secure, and confident.
2018 S-Works Epic
I'm going to do the same for this review like I did with the Trek Farley 9.8- I'm not going to nerd out on all of the geometry specs and such. You can find all of that information elsewhere.
With a few changes to the bike, like a different seat & grips. We added a computer, TOGS, and HT pedals. We also swapped the seatpost for one that accepts my preferred saddle (Bontrager Ajna). We changed the stem to make the reach exactly the same as my Spearfish.
Current weight is about 21.8 lbs or so (I never wrote it down when we weighed it-) by next season this bike may have different wheels and grips and the assumption would be that would lessen the weight. The weight of my Spearfish for comparison: 23.17 lbs.

We set it up as tubeless right away with the little plugs vs. using the tubeless rim tape. We did use the bottle cage included with the bike due to the frame geometry not being very forgiving with my Bontrager RXL cage. I put on pink ESI Extra Chunky grips that will likely be swapped for a less chunky style next spring (if I feel I need to.)

Getting the air pressure dialed in with both the front and rear suspension was simple. We put the rear shock setting on medium to start with.
Fast Trak
If you want some quick (tech-oriented) info on the bike that Specialized offers:
S-Works FACT 12m carbon fiber frame is the best combination of stiffness, strength, and light overall weight, resulting in the utmost efficiency and speed. Meanwhile, the new geometry, RockShox Brain shock, and 100mm of travel, make the Epic the best handling, fastest XC bike you've ever been on.
Our custom RockShox SID WC fork with Brain features a full-carbon upper, top-adjust Brain fade, and a custom offset, making it the perfect match to the new Epic.
SRAM XX1 Eagle bits handle the shifting duties, providing a wide range of useable gears that make climbing and descending equally doable.
Alloy 30T front chainring.
Front Tire: Fast Trak, GRIPTON compound, 2Bliss Ready, 29 x 2.3"
Rear Tire: Fast Trak, GRIPTON compound, 2Bliss Ready, 29 x 2.1"
Hand-built, featherweight Roval Control SL carbon fiber wheels.

My first ride on this bike was not a "put it thru the paces" ride as I was needing to burn the brakes in. We took the opportunity to grab some snapshots of the bike, too, as I thought it might be the only ride I'd get on it.
Specialized S-Works Epic
First initial impressions- the fit and feel of the bike was very comfortable. Standover wasn't an issue.
The bike rolled easily.
I wasn't as bothered by the rear shock as I thought I would be. Everyone talks about the "stutter" from the Brain, and I was under the impression I'd possibly hate it. On the medium setting it didn't seem so bad, barely noticed it. I did play around with the rear suspension settings to see how full, firm, or medium felt. I would say that for me, the medium setting takes the cake for me at this time.

I had my front suspension set more in the middle vs. fully on.

The handling of the bike didn't seem awkward, usually, when I ride a new bike I have moments of "relationship building" and this time it seemed very natural. I liked that a lot.

In reality, the second ride is more important than the let's jump to that.

It had rained that Thursday morning, so I wasn't sure if I'd ride the Epic or not. I deduced I should give the tires a spin in somewhat greasy conditions because that's what Time Trials more than likely is. I rode Bontrager Team Issue XR2 tires all this season, but was curious on the Fast Trak tires- they seemed somewhat similar.

This time, I put the bike thru the paces for as well as I could given the conditions. Wet and leafy trails aren't something I desire to ride fast, but I found it way too easy to get up and go with the Epic!

Things noticed:
#1. Climbing was great. I made it up some steeper/more tricky climbs without issue.
#2. Tires worked very well for the conditions. I was running about 18 psi front and rear- few times I spun on a root, but I never lost traction to the degree of having to put a foot down or stop.
#3. I felt like it had a lot of easy-foward momentum. I'm not sure if it's the weight of the bike, the wheels, or the front chainring was excellent!
#4. Eagle makes it possible for me to use a 30T chainring and be more in the middle- I quite enjoyed that. (I have a 28T on my 1x11 bikes.)
#5. I put my front suspension fully open this time. I'm not sure if it was the suspension, grips, or a combo of both- but my hands were not as sore/numb as they get on some rides. That was a treat.
#6. Cornering felt great. Overall my feeling of stability on the bike was top notch.
#7. Rear suspension on medium setting- didn't really notice it nor felt it was awkward or an issue. It's not the same as the Spearfish, but it definitely makes for an efficient bike for climbing hills, which Decorah has plenty of!
Pink ESI Extra Chunky Grips

I'm a "set it and forget it" type of rider, so I'm usually not fiddling with suspension settings on my bikes. The front fork is always on unless I'm on pavement...with the Spearfish I normally left the rear suspension on "Trail" for that happy medium feeling.

With two rides, I can say with certainty that I love this bike.
At the end of my loop, I had an average of 9.6, which isn't something I've had for quite awhile due to the leaf cover! (I've curbed the speed riding for the past several weeks due to feeling too sketchy.)

I also, almost, hit a deer. Yes, I'm totally not joking! I came up out of a little "dip" in the trail and when I came up a deer had been on the side of the trail probably having supper or something. It saw me, turned around, and ran in front of me. It was faster than my by just enough for me to not literally ram my bike into its hindquarters. I had a real "Oh $#*!" moment wondering what I'd do if I hit the badly would I get broken the bike would be.

This bike makes you almost as fast as a deer running away from mountain bikers!

For folks wondering, as it's a tradition that I name my bikes:
Stephen McNasty...but Stephen is pronounced like "Stefan" ...I kinda like to make up my own rules. All in all, we have for you BEASTFACE Squared...and this bike is a beast. I haven't felt quite like this since I first hammered down on Gaston in the pines and thought "This bike is badass!" Yup. This bike IS badass.
S-Works Epic
For folks looking to get in on some Epic goodness, they do have Comp Carbon and Alloy versions of the women's Epic available. You can look at the men's lineup too- the difference is touch points (grips/saddle) and not having the suspension tuned for smaller riders. Personally, I am appreciating the tuned suspension.

Keep in mind, my desire to try this bike out was strong enough that if I wasn't able to get the Women's S-Works Epic, I would've gotten a men's complete bike or frameset. The frames are EXACTLY the same regardless if you choose the men's or women's option. Most folks change saddles and grips to their preference- I've also ridden suspension setups not tuned to smaller riders without issue.

You have great looking options with looking at the men's lineup with some sweet color options! If you're hankering for carbon, you have 3 options to choose from: Pro, Expert, and Comp Carbon. Again, the difference is the Women's Epic has suspension tuned for smaller riders- this does not mean that a smaller male couldn't rock this bike. In the alloy versions of the women's option, you have smaller frame sizes available, unfortunately, there isn't an XS option in the men's frameset or complete bike.

Without a doubt, I'm completely sold on the Epic, and I can't wait to continue hitting the trails with it! 2018 should be a rad biking year!
Women's S-Works Epic