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): http://www.pinkbike.com/news/2014-capitol-forest-classic.html
- 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.