Monday, December 31, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Leah Barry

I'm Leah Barry and I love riding my bikes off-road! My love of dirt began as a little girl and was reignited as an adult when I discovered cyclocross racing in 2015. After trying triathlon but discovering I really only liked the biking part, I competed in Afterglow, a late-season, casual, cyclocross race. I raced on my single-speed commuter, with a slick back tire, and despite wiping out in the mud (or because of it?) I fell in love. I love racing the Chicago Cyclocross Cup each fall, and competing in various gravel races such as Barry Roubaix and Rough Road 100, but had wanted a mountain bike for as long as I'd been riding. I decided this year would be the year I finally go for it, and ended up falling in love with the Jamis Dragonfly.

On June 8, 2019, I plan to put my mountain bike and body to the test at the Sancho 200 in Traverse City, Michigan, riding 200 miles of scenic terrain. Until then, I'll enjoy my Dragonfly racing short track at Big Marsh Bike Park, riding the pump track, and hitting whatever trails I can throughout the Midwest.

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I had a mountain bike as a kid and enjoyed the ability to ride on dirt and grass, but I think I really became interested in mountain biking as an adult once I had discovered cyclocross and long-distance gravel riding. In adventuring off-road with my cyclocross bike, I’ve occasionally encountered sections of trail that were too rough or technical to ride, but with a mountain bike I can easily monster-truck over every root, rock, or log in my way. The confidence gained through technical, off-road riding has helped me grow in so many ways, and being an FWD ambassador will help me share that with others!

Tell us about the world of CX and why it's so dang fun!

Cyclocross in Chicago is basically a big, all-day party with your friends. I fell in love with CX racing in 2015, and raced my first full season in 2016. The Chicago Cyclocross Cup (CCC) is one of the biggest CX race series in the Midwest, featuring courses that run the gambit from technical climbs & descents at Dan Ryan Woods, to beach-racing in December at Montrose - but the crowd is what makes cyclocross so fun! During races, it’s not uncommon to hear an especially creative heckle, or be handed a beer or treat (Pro-tip: Don’t take the giant marshmallow when you’re huffing and puffing on lap 4)

Tell us about your favorite CX event-

I think my favorite CX event was racing Bloomer CX last year in Rochester, Michigan. A technical course featuring MTB singletrack and a steep, muddy, double-runup on the side of the Velodrome, my parents and grandmother came to the race, even bringing a cowbell! Coming from the CCC, where the crowd-noise can be a big factor, racing a small event where the only cheers were from my family was something special, and coming home with podium cash is always a plus!

Tell us about Sancho 200 event you plan to do. What inspired you to choose that event?
I’m from Michigan, and just about every year since I was born my family has traveled “up-north” to the Leelanau Peninsula to vacation with family friends. The region is beautiful, and when I heard there was an ultra gravel event happening there, I knew I had to check it out. Despite being a small event (limited to 100 participants, only offering the 200 mile distance), the race organizers offer two aid stations and drop points - something that really encouraged me to check it out, as drop points are a chance to swap bottles, change to clean clothes, and take a mental reset. I’ve never ridden 200 miles at once before, and have been consulting friends who have done Kanza, online race reports, and other resources to figure out how best to prepare myself for the event. I have no clock-based goals for the race, my only goal is to SUPERMAN MY BIKE AT SANCHO 200 because why not slap another ridiculous goal on top of riding 200 miles? Truly, I just want to finish the event, hell or high water.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I ride clipped in on my CX bike, and flats on my MTB and commuter. I personally feel there is a time and a place for both, and appreciate the nuances and quirks that come with each. When I’m mountain biking, I appreciate being able to make fine adjustments in foot positioning that I get with flats; I also like playing with my MTB at the bike park and pump track, so it’s just easier to stomp onto a flat pedal and take off on the pump track vs. fuddling around with clipping in. I ride Raceface Chesters on my MTB and Crankbrothers Eggbeaters on my CX.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
In mountain biking? Not anything too challenging to overcome (yet) - however, I went down hard on my first group ride and that was pretty embarrassing. The group ride I showed up on ended up being mostly cat 1 & 2 women, really strong riders, and I’d only gotten my mountain bike about three days prior, showed up late, hadn’t adjusted my tire pressure, etc. We were cruising through a section of a few steep dips into gullies that are designed to help drain the trails, and are lined with flat rocks at the bottom to assist with that task - I ended up focusing too much on the tree at the edge of the gully, and gave it a big hug, landing on the rocks with my butt and praying the woman behind me was able to stop in time. I was a little embarrassed, I felt like I wasn’t up to the level to be on the ride yet and maybe was holding everyone up, but what I realized as the day went on is EVERYONE FALLS mountain biking and even if you don’t see them do it - they’ve done it a million times before; the most important thing is you get up and keep going! I finished the ride and felt really proud of myself, but was definitely sore the next day!
Photo Credit: Robert Clark
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Cornering used to scare me so much! I’d scrub off so much speed I’d fall off in the corners and lose a lot of places, I was so scared of hurting myself (and my bike!) but one day, one of the mechanics at Bike Fix in Oak Park told me “Your bike is a tool! Use it like one!” and it helped change my perspective. Are my bikes expensive? Yeah, but a derailleur hanger is pretty cheap and it’s WAY MORE FUN to shred through corners than to timidly pull through them.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Manuals/getting my front end up are still a pickle for me. I developed a bad habit of using my clips to lift my rear on my CX bike, and have been working this summer to drop it, spending more time practicing popping my front end and bunny hops on my flat pedal bikes.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?

Go slow and go with a group! A group ride is a great opportunity for beginners to not only have a guide to local trails (so you don’t have to worry about getting lost!) but also gives you a line to follow, and someone to cheer you on when you session that big log that’s challenging you!

What do you love about riding your bike?
What I love about riding my bike is first and foremost, riding my bike: the simple fact that I have an able body to do so is a gift I am always grateful for. The thing I love most about riding my bike offroad is technical, low-speed handling skills (ratcheting tight spots, off-camber riding, riding over obstacles, riding sand). As children, I feel like we have a ton of opportunities to feel that “I did it!” sensation when doing something tricky, but we do not get that as much as an adult - however low-speed handling skills give me that little boost, especially when I overcome something that was a major challenge for me before.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have three bikes I ride on a regular basis and one 1994 Trek Singletrack that is in need of restoration before being enjoyed. The bike I ride most is my daily commuter, a steel, single speed CX bike. It’s a Retrospec Amok that is covered in stickers, geared for cruising, and most enjoyed riding no hands down side streets. I’ve been bike commuting from Chicago to Oak Park for about 4 years now, and this bike has been my partner through all of them! My other CX bike is an aluminum Fuji Cross 1.3, a copper-colored beauty with a carbon fiber fork (printed inside with pineapples!) that has brought me so much joy and really opened up the world of off-road riding for me; I’ve taken this bike everywhere from gravel events, to CX races, to long road rides, and have loved every minute I’ve spent piloting it. The newest addition to my stable is my mountain bike, a Jamis Dragonfly Sport. I spent a lot of time shopping around, comparing different mountain bikes, and contemplating what my goals were before settling on this model. While I’ve completed events on my aluminum CX bike with 35c tires, I wanted something a bit more plush for a 200-mile day at Sancho 200. The ability to switch the playful 26” wheelset that came stock on the bike with a 27.5” wheelset gives me the option to roll a bit faster on such a long ride.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Aguilar

What inspired you to want to be involved with Fearless Women of Dirt?
I’ve read Josie’s blog since late 2016, when I started racing more seriously and noticing all the cool women hanging out together - I wanted that! I started reading whatever blogs I could about women’s cycling (Pretty Damned Fast, Saddle Sore Women, Josie Bike Life, to name a few). I was on a very small, coed team at that point and was having trouble making headway in meeting other rad women riding bikes, so in April 2017 I left that team with the explicit goal of getting more connected with the Chicago women’s cycling community. I began attending a variety of rides offered by shops and teams, with the Women’s Monthly “WOMO” ride being integral in helping me meet people who I’ve become friends with now! My confidence and circle of friends have grown tremendously, and I want to share that with other folks (especially those who are into off-road riding!).

What benefit do you see from establishing a women's mountain biking community in your area?
I definitely can’t take any credit for establishing a women’s mountain biking community in my area! We already have some AMAZING women leading educational clinics through REI, SkunkWorks Racing & Half Acre Cycling women leading Lady Dirt Days (a series of group MTB Rides for femme folks), and other teams have tons of women competing in races at the local and national level as well. However, I’d like to be able to help build on all the hard work they’ve done by facilitating and organizing group rides, particularly for beginners, that start late enough that people can rent bikes if they don’t have one, and incorporate some basic skills education before hitting the trails. Having a community of women encouraging one another and doing tough stuff together is the best way to build confidence and friendship!

Why are you excited to be a Fearless Women of Dirt Ambassador?
I’m excited to be able to facilitate women exploring on bikes in a new way! I’ve been leading our BFF Beginner Ride this summer, showing new group-riders around the city of Chicago, and I look forward to being able to do so when it comes to hitting the pump track or the trails. Like I’ve said a zillion times already, I think the confidence and perseverance that comes with riding off-road is something that can change anyone’s life for the better!

You are on Team BFF- tell us about the team and the camaraderie you have-
Wow, where do I start? I LOVE MY TEAM, I LOVE BFF BIKES! When I first started racing in 2016 for a different team, I was encouraged to “chase the BFF girls because they’re strong”, and so I did - setting the target and beating some of the same people every race. When I left that team, I began looking for group rides near me, and the BFF Bikes shop was just down the street! I joined the Hammertime Sunday training rides and suffered every week, but got stronger and got to know the women I’d been trying to beat just a few months prior. Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! After racing “indie” (no team) for 2017, but spending almost every week of the CCC hanging at the BFF tent, I decided to make it official and join up. Joining BFF has been one of the best decisions I’ve made, the team is composed of some of the most badass, self-motivated women I’ve ever met, and they constantly inspire me to push harder and go farther.

Recently, I brought to the team my desire to fill a gap I’d observed in Chicago - the lack of a CX practice for women/trans/non-binary folks exclusively. The resounding support I received excited me, and we host practices every Saturday morning (BFF WTFNBCX), giving folks a space to practice and improve their skills without the nit-picks that have become one of my biggest peeves of being around Men Who Race Bikes (what pressure are you running? Are those clinchers? Isn’t that aluminum a harsh ride? Are those stock wheels?). Each week, we work together to fine tune skills ranging from remounts & dismounts, to high & low-speed cornering, off cambers, starts, and hill work, on up to the fundamentals of bunny hopping; at the end of practice, we engage in a peanut pursuit, or hot laps race (depending on what we’re working on that week) with the winner taking home a lobster-shaped cake.
Were you nervous to join a team/group? What helped you alleviate those fears?
A little, but the benefits outweighed the nerves! I wanted to make absolutely sure that the team I chose was going to hit all the pros and cons I’d laid out after leaving the first team I was on. I wanted a team with a large presence of women, especially at cyclocross races, that was friendly, welcoming, and felt open to new members. I spent a lot of time riding with and getting to know other women from other teams and waited until nearly the end of the 2017 cyclocross season to make my final decision.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking? (or CX?)
The cost is a huge, HUGE, barrier to so many people - including myself. Bikes are expensive, even a “cheap” bike is going to be an expense in the long run. Is it cheaper than a car? Of course! But particularly for a bike that has little day-to-day utility, such as a mountain bike, it can take a long time and a lot of figuring out what you enjoy before you’re ready to drop the money on a bike you may only ride 3-5 times a month. I waited years before I was able to justify the cost and the space taken up in my apartment, and I am so glad I have a mountain bike now, but truly I think this is the biggest barrier to women - not just mountain biking, but cycling as well.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Part of BFF Bikes Racing Team’s ethos is to “be an excellent ambassador to the sport of cycling”, which boils down to being a friendly, welcoming face to all sorts of cyclists. I make an effort to approach new racers I may not have seen last year, and invite them to hang out at our team tent at races, or come to our practice. I try and be the person I would’ve wanted to meet when I first started racing, a welcome wagon to the wide world of the wonderful Chicago women’s cycling community. I feel that’s the best thing I can do locally. Nationally, I think there needs to be more access to women’s mountain bike rides and clinics. It’s more accessible and friendly than riding with a bunch of dudes, and a great way to make friends!

Tell us what Fearless means to you-
What does fearless mean to me? As someone who has struggled with anxiety, and, in the past, let it completely dictate my life - I define fearless as “feeling the fear, but doing it anyway”. I refuse to allow my life to be ruled by past traumas and hurts warping my perception of the current experience. Acknowledging that the anxiety I may be feeling is colored by past experiences has allowed me to enrich my life in wonderful new ways - I connected with some amazing folks in the Chicago women’s cycling community and found a great team and support system, I’ve hit skills and ridden lines I would’ve been terrified of just a couple of years ago, I’ve gained the confidence and beat down “imposter syndrome” to do something I’ve wanted to do for years - get more women into cyclocross. So, yeah, I don’t think fearless to me is about being “fearless” as in free from fear, it means you take a moment to acknowledge it and say “fear and anxiety, you’re not making the decision, I am!”

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
The people who’ve encouraged me to ride! I wouldn’t have gotten into bike commuting without the encouragement and support I’ve received from my partner, Frank. After my first crash, I was hit and run pretty severely, requiring major dental work and a new fork for my bike (that I’d only gotten a few months prior), he found me a fork, installed it, and encouraged me to keep riding. He woke up at 4:30am to watch me race my first (and only) triathlon in the rain, suggested I try cyclocross, helped make me the bike handler I am today and has been one of my greatest supporters since I was just a baby biker in the city. Not everyone has that, so I try and be that person for the women I know by being a steady wheel to follow, a wrench when you need it, and a competent and patient teacher of what I know (and unashamed to direct to youtube when I do not).
Photo Credit: Joe Frost

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a lively sourdough starter that I’ve kept for almost three years, and I bake at least one loaf of bread on a weekly basis. Baking bread began as a form of self-care through a particularly difficult winter and has become a special ritual for me.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Women Involved Series: Lora Glasel

My journey started 8 years ago. I sustained many injuries as an endurance runner and my friend told me to check out road riding as a way to satisfy my need to participate in an endurance sport but to also keep me from continually fracturing bones :-)

My first experience trying to be involved in this world was lacking. I bought a road bike from a local shop because it was the only one they had at the level I wanted in my size. I borrowed a friend from a helmet and hit the road completely un-educated.

I spent the next weekend driving around to all the local shops gathering the accessories I needed to be successful and getting little bits of information.

Often times the shops directed their conversations to the male I was with.

I went on a women's specific group ride and no one told me what to do and I ended up getting dropped on a no-drop ride because the majority of the women were training for a race. The first few weeks of my attempt to be a road cyclist were discouraging.

I spent the majority of my life in a director-level position for a chain of regional retail stores. The opportunity for me to purchase an existing bicycle shop with my close friend was presented to us and we decided to go for it. A large part of our business plan included supporting local women. Making sure they have products they can touch and try. Making sure they have people who will find out what their hopes and dreams are and get them the gear they need to be successful. Making sure we cultivated or sought out opportunities for them to participate in this sport regardless of what their goals are.

I am mostly a road cyclist but love mountain biking when I can. I do not race but I love to ride with my friends who are training. I love being able to help people get to the level they want to be at - seeing women succeed at something they never thought that could do is always what I strive for.

We started a women's winter series to make sure these amazing women stay connected with each other and continue to cultivate themselves. We are in our 4th year of the Women's Empower Series. We partner with local professionals to present topics such as:
Whoo-Haa for the New-Haa (all things saddle and pelvic floor)
Mindfulness Coaching with Training
Pain Diversion Techniques for Competition
Round-Table Discussions
and much more

Your introduction to #bikelife was not the smoothest, why did this inspire you to create an environment that could better introduce women to cycling? 
When I started cycling my initial goal was to find something to stay in shape (former distance runner with many foot injuries) but I soon realized that there was this community around the sport I wanted to be a part of. I didn't have the initial resources of someone like minded to help me succeed, explain the gear I needed, teach me how to shift, ride in a group, ride over a root, etc. I wanted to help create an environment where those resources where also available to women, and then cultivate a supportive group around that.

What helped you not feel deterred by the lack of support or encouragement when you first became involved? 
Honestly, I'm pretty stubborn. When someone tells me I can't do something or if there is something I can't figure out I am pretty determined to get the job done with whatever resources I can find. I read books, watched online tutorials, I made a ton of mistakes and learned from them. I knew that I loved being on my bicycle even when I had no clue what I was doing, it could only be better after I mastered some basic skills!

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!" 
Funny story, the first time I ever rode single track I was on a bike where the suspension wasn't set up properly for me. I bottomed it out on the top of a descent, my foot hit a stump, and I went sailing down a descent too fast for a total beginner and slammed into a tree and broke my wrist. It was another situation where I was determined once I was healed to work hard to do something that scared me or seemed hard. I rode every chance I could and took every piece of advice. Above all, I really love being outside pushing my limits and I wasn't going to let another injury stop me.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I use Crankbrothers Candys. I put them on my first bike and I've used them ever since. There is enough platform that when I was a beginner you could pedal and work your way into the cleat and they were easy to unclip. Whenever I'm attending a skills clinic or working on a new skill I'll sometimes use flats.
Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome? 
That accident the first time I rode made me very nervous afterward, especially descending. I spent a lot of my rides that next year feeling anxious. I forced myself to trust my bike and use a little speed and over time I become more comfortable descending.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
The best advice I was given was to look ahead on the trail. Initially, I was always looking down at what I was about to go over and by that point, there was nothing I could technically about what was 1 inch in front of me - I crashed all the time at slow speeds :-)

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
This year I've been riding mostly on the road. Both for road and mountain I wish I was better at cornering. I lose a lot of speed in corners because I don't trust I can lay the bike down as much as the bike will let me. I don't race mountain bikes, so I try to just enjoy the time I'm on the trail and focus on technique at times and others I just ride my bike and enjoy being in the woods. Sometimes when I take my mind off of what I'm working on and not overthink it, it just happens naturally.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Ride with someone supportive and who knows what they are doing and wants to help you out. I spent a lot of time making mistakes and trying to learn skills on my own. Once I started riding with someone who gave me little tips and told me what to do, I became a much better rider much more quickly. And it's always more fun to have a beer and a meal with someone after a good ride in the woods!

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the feeling of freedom and moving fast on a bike. There's nothing like the feeling of flying down a country road with no stop signs with your best cycling friends. I love the feeling of being in the woods, working hard to get over a feature or get thru a hard section of single track with your mind on nothing else.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I've been on an S-Works Amira/Tarmac for the past 7 years. I love the feeling of that bike - it's stiff but comfortable and seems to fit me like a glove. It's responsive, fast, and a great climber. I just sold my last mountain bike - A Specialized Epic Full Suspension. I've always been a 29er girl, but I'm going to dip into the world of 650b with a Giant/Liv Intrigue for 2019.
What inspired you go the route of purchasing a bike shop with your friend?
It was time to make a career move. There wasn't much upward movement I could make at my current job or in that industry. We really felt that we could make a difference and a great experience for riders in our community if we could open or purchase a bike shop. The Recyclist had been in our community for 20 years and had a great reputation, great brands, and was right on a bike path. Timing really was in our favor and the owner was strictly an investor and wanted to sell. We have now been here for 5 years.

What has been the most challenging aspect of co-owning a bike shop?
I love being on a bicycle and sometimes being a bicycle shop owner or employee means riding your bike very early in the morning or after work when you're tired, so planning balance is important. At times being a female in this industry is difficult and other times its very rewarding. I've been "man-splained" things, spoken to like I am clueless and also treated non-respectfully verbally and physically. Those moments are very few and far between, but it is not something that I expected to run into in an industry that is a little more progressive and fresh.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of co-owning a bike shop?
I have met some of the most amazing people that have absolutely changed my life. The women I ride with have some pretty amazing stories of overcoming obstacles (often times cycling was their therapy). They are strong, determined, and nurturing and I have learned a lot from them. Recently I had a customer, unbeknownst to me, and undergone a tremendous tragedy that was all over our local and national news. I was having the absolute worst day for a variety of reasons the day she came in and was throwing myself a little internal pity party. She bought a bike because she wanted to get into shape. Many weeks later I learned about what she had experienced and that she had purchased the bike, ridden it daily and eventually rode to the area where multiple family members lost their lives as part of her healing journey. This really had a tremendous impact on me and the importance of not taking things so seriously and being able to help people enjoy being on their bicycle is very rewarding, and sometimes it's a bigger tool in peoples lives than you expect. Being able to help people no matter what their story is is rewarding, but if you can contribute a little bit of joy into someone's life thru a bicycle, that's pretty amazing.

Why was it vital that the shop support local women?
I think it's important for the community to have a safe place for women to learn about this sport and support them at whatever level they chose to participate. In my community there is no lack of female cyclists, it's great! Having a place that has the products we need for our bodies, the customer service we need to help figure out what we need to meet our goals with no judgment and the resources to be involved in the cycling community is important if we want to keep women on their bicycles.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
It's intimidating to walk into a shop if you don't totally know what you need or want. It's expensive to get started and not all women feel like they deserve to spend money on themselves for something that is not deemed a necessity to the rest of the world. If you want to race it's difficult for some women to justify time away from their families and they don't have the resources to get involved. If you don't want to race it can be embarrassing to talk to a shop full of fit/racer type employees. From the outside, cycling seems very intimidating. Once you're inside you realize it really is a supportive community.

Tell us more about your Women's Empower Series! Who should join? 
The Empower Series is a winter-long women specific series to keep women engaged in their wellness after the weather turns not-so-nice. We have a monthly session where we cover cycling specific topics such as "Whoo-Ha for the New-Haw: A Girls Guide to the Saddle and Everything That Touches It". We also cover non-cycling topics such as mindfulness coaching, pain diversion technique for racing, nutrition, and goal setting. We have interactive classes such as yoga, pelvic floor exercises, Tri 101, and spin class. It's a great way to stay connected with your cycling friends and do something to improve yourself and surround yourself with like-minded people.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved? 
More women working in this industry: mechanics, sales associates, product developers, marketing associates, etc. More training on how to work with all types of customers and to read their signs and figure out how to help them appropriately. For the beginner cyclist, I think it's important to have someone relatable the first time you really dive into this world guide you.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride? 
There is not a better feeling than riding with a group of women who support and encourage each other. The women I ride with inspire me to ride...the community, working together, socializing afterward, it doesn't get better than that.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love, love, love cheese-ball Hallmark Movies.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

What Mountain Biking Helped Me Learn

The process of learning to mountain bike has gifted me several life lessons along the way. I feel extremely fortunate to have been given the push and encouragement to learn how to mountain bike. It was challenging and pushed me outside of my comfort zone, yet has given me the tools I need to be a better version of myself.

1. To better accept challenges
Let's face it, mountain biking did not come easily to me and it took a lot of repetition for me to gain confidence riding singletrack. Living in Iowa, I can say I learned on challenging, man-made singletrack that definitely intimidates some riders.

I had to accept that these trails were what I had to learn on and to make the most of it, even if it scared me sometimes. Because I was persistent, I managed to build up my skill level pretty quickly. I became more confident in myself and my ability to "read" trails. Sometimes I need to stop and look at what I'm going to attempt to ride, assess it, and then ride it.

Fearless Women of Dirt is a great example of an ongoing challenge that I've taken steps to morph into something awesome for the Midwest. Locally, we do not have an ideal setup to get new riders into the fold without asking them to be extremely patient with themselves and the learning curve. However, Fearless Women of Dirt has had great success in other communities that have more trail options for new riders than we do. This gives me hope that once Decorah has a new trail system- we will have the opportunity for the same kind of success. Until then, I'm not necessarily expanding the local FWD riding community- I've started expanding FWD into other communities.

Going through the process of dealing with my dad's estate is another example. You have to make difficult phone calls. It's a struggle when you call a company and you have to state you have no idea what the process is, but your dad died and you are the executor. Trying to understand the process, in general, is challenging. Eventually, things become a bit easier as paperwork gets filed. You know that in time, it's an uphill that you'll eventually ride and you won't be walking the bike. It takes time and patience.

2. To enjoy the moment
Winding through the trees, climbing up a hill, or standing off to the side of the trail to watch a deer. Sometimes I'm riding, sometimes I'm taking pictures of wildflowers, or I might be looking up at the sky admiring the puffy clouds against the bright blue color. Either way, I'm doing something I enjoy- I might be enjoying it however I want to that particular day.

This year, my desire to ride was minimized because of my loss. I didn't have the same passion for being outdoors because it made me feel sad. The outdoors was my dad's favorite place to be, and even tho it was a way for me to be close to him- I had a hard time doing so. Depression can do that.
What helped me was getting a GoPro camera, and that gave me a "reason" to go outside. I had something to "do" besides ride my bike and feel like crying. Sometimes I did feel like "just riding my bike" so I would. I left the house prepared so I could do whatever it was I wanted, ride bikes, take photos, or both.

3. To be adventurous
Once I became confident riding our trails, I wanted to seek out other areas to ride. We have great trails but it can become a little monotonous riding the same ones over and over again. Mountain biking itself takes a sense of adventure to really dive into it. You have to want to experience something new, even if it scares you.

The courage I gained from mountain biking on the local trails helped me make decisions for adventures. I went by myself up to Hayward, Wisconsin and in 2019 I'm going to take a trip to Arizona and attend the Roam Bike Fest in Sedona. I'm really excited to experience new trails, meet new friends, and let myself have a sense of adventure.

I'm nervous, of course, as I'm not one who really travels much nor have I flown solo. However, I know if I have questions I'll find people who can help. All I need to do is allow myself to have the opportunity- in the end, it will help me grow and feel more confident in other areas of my life.

Had I not fallen in love with mountain biking I know I would not be looking for adventures.

4. To have a voice
I loved writing, but I didn't have a direction, and my journey with mountain biking gave me something to talk about. There was a journey to unveil and I could use my words to make the experience less mysterious. I also utilized my passion for mountain biking to seek out others who loved it, too. There have been so many wonderful interviews shared over the years, and if I'm lucky, I can keep them coming.

I feel telling a story is important and mountain biking gave me a platform to work with. My humble wish is that either with my words or the words of those interviewed can inspire others to find #bikelife.

5. To be patient
In the Midwest, we can have variable trail conditions based on the time of year. There are a couple of times during the year when trail conditions aren't great and you have to adapt to the changing of the season. Winters have changed and can lend to icy conditions rather than snow in some instances. I miss the outdoors and my riding outside is limited to commuting to work rather than on trails. I take to riding indoors, and this year, I'm working on rehabbing my shoulder. It's a process that will require a lot of patience as I've dealt with shoulder issues for multiple years. I ride indoors and catch up on shows, appreciating how I can make my legs feel like jelly after 10 miles. I feel like I've noticed a difference already with my riding. My hope is to regain lost fitness from 2018 and bring back my best self for 2019. More so I can feel healthy and vibrant and really enjoy my time on the trails.

6. To be passionate
When I discover something I'm passionate about, I tend to go "all in" and immerse myself. I want to know everything there is to know about what I am getting into. This can seem a bit extreme because you ultimately find way too many things to purchase to help fuel the fire. I am a firm believer that if you live within your means, why not?

My passion for riding exists because I enjoy the challenge, but I also enjoy the other aspects that go into mountain biking. Trying different things, like gear and accessories to figure out my preferences.  Bikes, tire sizes, tire tread, baggy shorts vs. lycra shorts, hydration pack vs. water bottle.
It's interesting to look at my evolution from when I started mountain biking to the present-day Josie.
This has possibly led me to collect multiple mountain bikes. I look at it like my dad's gun collection. To someone not educated with guns, you could say that they all had the ability to do the same thing- shoot. Why would you need different ones? My dad had multiple different guns in multiple styles because he could. They made him happy. With a couple of my bikes, you could ask me why I need multiple, and my answer would be "Because I can. They make me happy."

7. To be expressive
I look at my bikes as tho they are art, and also as if they have human personalities. To me, they are more than a bike. They are a tool to help me through life. They give me something that resets my mind/soul, they keep me healthy, and they keep me happy. They are loved as tho they are family.
Biking clothes are also a way for me to express what I feel my personality truly is- colorful and vibrant. Fun and likely a little obnoxious. I snort when I laugh (really laugh) and I sometimes talk way too much. I love unicorns, mermaids, narwhals, and manatees. In my world, a shared interest in mountain biking, pizza, beer, coffee, and sparkles makes us the best of friends.

I spent much of my life hiding from my quirks and doing what I could to make sure I didn't seem "too weird" to other folks. During the workday, I keep my appearance simple and approachable, but on the bike for an actual bike ride? I'll blow myself up with as much color as I want. Bright helmet, jersey, shorts, and/or socks...whatever I want. I'll also utilize the opportunity to put together a smashing outfit- like wearing a kit (shorts/jersey that match) or wear something that matches my bike.

In my school days, as much as I tried, I was not "fashionable" even tho I wanted to be. In real life, not bike life, I am truly a jeans/t-shirt/zip-up hoodie person who loves to wear fun socks in secret. In #bikelife I let out my inner diva, if you will. Yes, I'll be that person who matches their wind jacket to the glittery rim strips of their fatbike wheel. I'll wear a helmet that matches my race bike. I'll wear socks that match my jersey. I seriously love putting together my biking outfits!

I feel more confident and comfortable with myself when I'm on my bike, it's something that's given me a way to shine.

8. To better accept imperfections
When you start the mountain biking journey, you will find yourself feeling very humble. There is a large learning curve and it can feel a bit daunting at times. You'll fumble. You'll tip over. You'll realize that you may be able to ride something one day and the next day you're struggling. It takes time to figure out the bike/body relationship you need to have to make certain things work.
Sometimes you'll feel back to square one when you hop on a new bike. I look at each bike of mine as a partner, and you develop a relationship with that bike. You know what you need to do on that bike to get the desired result. A new bike can throw a curveball you aren't expecting (unless you're one of those folks who can hop on any bike and ride it like you've owned it for years.)

There will be perfect riding days and then other times you'll find that you're battling with extremely dry trails (which can be challenging) or slick trails due to humidity or rain (which can be challenging.) Unless you are ride only when you'll have "hero dirt" you'll have to accept that there will be trail conditions that aren't your favorite, but they aren't impossible to ride. In fact, learning to ride in less than ideal conditions will help your handling skills.

A good mountain biker is not made in a day. It, like any new activity that requires skill developing, takes hours of practice. You have to make the choice to keep working at it and know that you won't have cinematic riding days every time you go out. I still have off days where I'll do something completely stupid! (Like miss my footing when trying to stop by a log to check something out, subsequently falling down on said log, hard, leaving me with a lump on my leg that will probably stick around for 5 months.)

What's true for me is that even if I have a really wonky ride, it's better than not having a ride at all.

9. To appreciate my body
I have struggled with body-love for years. I've had an eating disorder and I know full well that I do not see myself like others would see me. It's something that I'm aware of and if I'm falling into a cycle of not appreciating my body- I can see it and tell myself that I need a break from "me."

I've always known I had legs built to be strong, and cycling helped them become quite solid. My forearms are trim, and I like how they flex when I'm using them to help me get up a hill.
My lungs have become healthier since I've added biking to my life, and that makes me feel a lot better about my overall endurance and fitness.

I have spider veins on my thighs and stretch marks on my lower back and thighs. I don't think about those at all when I'm riding. When I'm riding, I'm appreciating how strong and capable my body feels. It's really amazing to think of everything that goes into keeping a bike upright when you're riding in the woods!

Biking has also brought out my weakness- at times my chronic neck/shoulder discomfort can be triggered and it can be physically and mentally exhausting. I love mountain biking so much that I'm willing to go through the scary and time-consuming process to figure out what's going on and how to better my situation.

10. To be involved 
Biking is good for the environment, good for your health, and can increase confidence in adults and youth alike. I found the emotional and mental benefits of cycling to be powerful and I wanted to make it a mission to share that with other people. I also wanted to create connections and community between women riders and those working in the cycling industry.

Ultimately, I became more involved in my local community and wanted to help other communities find a way to bring women together and bond over mountain biking.

Mountain biking is more than simply riding your bike in the woods- it creates wonder and gives you valuable lessons that transfer over to other parts of life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Year of Lessons, Hope, and Change

2018 is coming to a close and I feel like my soul is letting out a sigh. It's not an expression of relief more than a release of emotion. I feel it will be some time before I can say I feel relieved of what 2018 gave me.

This year changed me deeply, more than any other year to date. The loss I experienced shook me to my core, and I'm far from over it. My dad's passing shocked me on multiple levels; I was forced to grow and learn during a difficult time. When I would rather hide and avoid, I had to make my presence known. I had to make difficult phone calls and decisions. I seemed to travel into the unknown almost daily, and that exhausted me. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically.

My dad left me everything. Every. Thing. Needless to say, there was a lot of "everything." It was completely overwhelming. He did what he could to provide for me financially, and that pained me. What should be seen as a cushion for the unexpected and a gift of financial security, felt like it crushed my heart. I saw the numbers and cried; the feeling of resentment took over for a short while. No dollar amount could soften the loss and seeing it filled me with disdain.

I had to spend a lot of time down at his place, which made me uncomfortable. I recall being in his house 2 times as a young kid. I remember spending time in the workshop with him. I would say "I'm a carpenter!" as I made holes in a block of wood with an old hand drill.

I remember going into the barn with him, in awe over all of the neat things in there. His home brought me a sense of wonder as a youth until it became something he sought to hide.

I remember walking in the woods and looking over at my dad's property. He'd be home taking a nap, and all I wanted to do was poke around and see what I could see. For some reason, I never violated the unspoken contract of my dad's wish for me not to. I think I was afraid he would get mad at me. Even if we didn't have the best relationship during my older youth/teens, I could not stand the thought of my dad being mad at me.

In the end, my goal was simple: Leave the place better than it was and make the improvements that Dad wasn't able to do. Improvements were made, but it didn't come without complication. At least the finances were there to cover everything. Not everyone can say they got to spend $16,000 on a new septic system, am I right?

In 2018 I learned a valuable lesson in how to say "no."
I removed everything from my plate pertaining to ride commitments. It pained me to do so, but I didn't have a clue with what the year would bring in terms of personal time. With the blank slate, I came to the realization that I have a wonderful capacity of burning my candle at both ends.

I have a tendency to dream big and sometimes that can lead to burnout.

My riding halted. Instead, I spent Tuesdays and Sundays breathing in years of dust and grime. My lungs would burn, I'd blow dirt-filled snot out of my nose, and the next day I would feel like I was run over by a train. It's amazing how awful I would feel the day after cleaning my dad's house, workshop, or barn. On top of that, I would sometimes trigger nerve pain that would radiate down both of my arms.
On a scale of 1-10, it was a 12. Sleepless nights ensued.

I knew I would go into two biking events at my lowest point when it came to fitness. I didn't care. I just wanted to escape! I knew I would push my limits, feel exhausted, and tears would fall. I would also smile because I knew my dad was happy I was doing something I loved. It (sometimes) felt wrong to enjoy life, but I knew that it's what my dad would've wanted.

I kept myself open to taking chances, and with that, found myself accepted as a Specialized USA Ambassador. I feel so excited about the opportunity to work with a company that has been doing awesome things for cycling. They align with my personal values and desire to get more youth and women involved with cycling.

I took the time to make some changes and (hopeful) improvements to the Fearless Women of Dirt ride set up. These changes will allow for a better structure for rides and open me up more for scheduled rides for those new to mountain biking. I would love to have lofty goals and have lots of rides, but I also have to stay true to my personal goals and allow myself time to be "me" after a year of not.

I also made a goal that 2019 would be the year of adventure and committed for myself to going to Roam Bike Fest in November 2019.
I'm on the introverted side, and the thought of flying by myself makes me really nervous. Seriously. The thought of riding somewhere I've never been before and meeting women I've interviewed (or could interview!) sounded too fun to miss. I figured if I planned enough in advance, I could make enough preparations ahead of time that would allow me to do this trip with as little anxiety as possible. I know I'll still have some, but if I can limit it, then I'll be a better human in the long run for this.

Make it to Arizona on my own and make it back on my own? Oh, the confidence it would create! Not that I would go on trips far away often, but I would at least prove to myself that it is doable. I would fear less and find more to be possible. I spent so much of 2018 with stress and fear clouding my world. It's time to put my own spin on things, to find what I'm capable of. Let that small, adventurous part of myself out and enjoy life.

I also started the incredibly challenging journey of trying to figure out what is going on with my arm/shoulder. The doctor visit resulted in a hopeful diagnosis, and also the recommendation of starting physical therapy. The physical therapist ultimately took away the tentative diagnosis and said I'm "complex." I'll be honest and admit I'm nervous...this has been part of my life for so long. I'm exhausted in more ways than one, and there would be no better wish than to figure out how I can be free of the discomfort that has plagued me for years.

This year has been filled with lessons. I've had to learn to adjust, overcome, face, cope, persevere, and mourn. I have had to figure out my own path on the grief journey- it's not the same for everyone. Connecting with a few women who had similar, but different stories really helped. You feel less alone.

I have this life to live and to make the most of. If anything, I learned how quickly things can change. That can be a very scary realization, especially when you're almost mid-30. My dad was doing something he's done probably a hundred times or more. Circumstance did not play out as he thought it would; something like that can happen to anyone. There was a lot of life yet to live, and it didn't get to happen.

For a period of time, I became very afraid of my mortality. I would lie in bed, trying to fall asleep, only to feel panic over thinking about not waking up again. What happens when it's really it? Have I done enough in my life to feel like I've made a difference? Have I done enough to feel happy when it's all said and done? I worried over my dad's last moments- did he have fear? Was there the slightest hint that he was heading into an "Oh sh*t" moment? Did he ever fear death? Eventually, I was able to quiet those thoughts from being so loud.

My dad didn't get to retire. The last few years of my dad's life were filled with pain, exhaustion/fatigue, and quite a bit of illness. It's not to say my dad didn't find happy moments, because I'm pretty sure he did. I could tell there was a sense of tiredness.

When I'm to that point in life, I want to be able to think fondly over what I've done. All of my biking adventures and the lives I touched with my words and interviews. I don't want to sit on the couch and think about all of the "what ifs" and experiences I skipped because of fear. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of that feeling right now.

2019 will have better experiences than this year. I'm very focused on making changes to better my outlook on life. I'm really excited for my new adventures. I feel like Dad is going to be with me, encouraging me to take steps to experience new things. To be brave. To be fearless.

I'm going to find myself in 2019.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Women Involved Series: Christina Spencer

I started mountain biking in 2013, coming from a background of collegiate cross country and track and triathlon in my post-college years. People assume I was "good" at mountain biking right away, but I don't think anyone is good at mountain biking right away. Thanks to the support of my now husband, Peter, I just did it a lot and acquired skills and speed along the way. Right away I fell in love with mountain biking, hiding in the woods and challenging yourself both physically and mentally, it's magical. I suppose I should mention I ride a single speed almost exclusively outside of winter. What started as a way just to keep mountain biking simple as I started out, became my "thing". I enjoy the simplicity of just pedaling the bike! I've completed a bunch of races in the last five years on the trusty SS, Lutsen 99er, Leadville 100, Dakota Five-0, Ore to Shore, Chequamegon 40. And in the last couple of years, have been sharing my nordic ski time in the winter with fatbiking!

Being on a fat bike is like being a kid again, and I love snow, although I call myself "the worlds coldest person". What I like most about training and racing is spending time making memories with friends, pushing myself to achieve a goal and seeing cool places!

When I'm not biking, I am a pediatric physician. I work as a hospitalist (a doctor that only works in the hospital) caring for children undergoing bone marrow transplant for a variety of life-threatening diseases. I find my work extremely rewarding, and although it is incredibly sad at times, I feel so fortunate that it brings perspective to life's challenges. Finally, Peter and I help coach a local high school mountain bike team. We have a blast working with the 7th to 12th graders, they are so energetic and acquire skills so fast, the future of our sport!

Instagram: single_speed_betty

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
Peter was passionate about mountain biking and I was looking for a new challenge. I purchased my first bike and hit the trails. The first ride was a disaster, as I hadn't tightened my cleats enough, couldn't clip out and had many unceremonious tip-overs. However, I loved being in the woods and I felt like it was good for my brain to process all of my surroundings as I rode down the trail.

"People assume I was "good" at mountain biking right away" How do you help folks understand that you truly had to work at it?
Middle-aged people are used to being good at things and many are frustrated when they aren't good right away. Those who didn't see me starting out assume I was good immediately, but definitely not true. I was shaky, slow and frustrated at the beginning. I also started out every ride for my first three years mountain biking shaky (adrenaline!) and slow. IT would take me 30 minutes to get into it and then I would be fine. That finally went away in my fourth year!

Your husband was very supportive of your mountain biking, what did he do that worked well?
He didn't say much, he just gave me some basic pointers and followed me around patiently. I asked him for two things I should do on my first ride - he said "look ahead" and "look where you want to go". To this day, when I get in a sketchy situation, I start mumbling to myself "look ahead, look where you want to go, look ahead, look where you want to go."

Any tips or suggestions for folks wanting to introduce someone to mountain biking, especially if it's a significant other?
I tell my male friends just to buy their wife/girlfriend a bike and shut up. No endless string of pointers, stick with a few safety basics - look ahead, use both brakes, don't ride anything you aren't comfortable with. Nothing can test a relationship more than learning a new skill so less is more.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Clips! Although I have taken a couple of skills courses with flats and can see the benefit of them, I just love the feeling of being one with my bike. Additionally, on my single speed, I need to be able to pull!

Tell us about your injury in 2017 and what helped you to heal/overcome said injury-
I fell off my bike riding an awesome single track trail in Nevada in March of 2017. It was the highest speed crash I have ever had and when I hit the ground I thought "this is probably my first serious mountain bike injury". My leg hurt that day, but it actually took months and eventually a consult with a specialist in Colorado to figure out I had torn part of my hamstring off my lower leg. I was able to ride my bike through the injury that summer, although I could definitely tell something wasn't right. I had surgery at the end of August 2017 and spent six weeks non-weight bearing on crutches, followed by months of slow recovery. I just tried to be really patient, do all of my physical therapy and follow all of the restrictions. (Although, I asked my therapists A LOT of questions about those restrictions.) And although people assumed I would miss working out, I was so exhausted from crutches and healing, I wasn't missing the bike. My work with really sick children helped give me perspective on the challenge and try to keep looking forward. It's still hard being away from sport and then having to work hard to get back in shape!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Oh downhill switchbacks for sure!! Especially to the right, so many dismounts, and dabs! I eventually figured out that if I used my brakes and pedaled through them it gave me the extra confidence and handling to get around them. That, and one million failed attempts! Now I can coast through pretty well. Every time I ride one, I'm still so proud of myself!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Long rock gardens, drops, skinnys . . . lots of things. I just focus on the skills I have gained. Also when riding the same trails, I may ride by a feature many times and eventually give it a shot when I'm feeling confident. There are features I can ride at my home trail that I walked through every time for three years, before giving it a go. If you aren't 100% committed, don't try it, wait until that perfect day when you think "I got this!", but don't beat yourself up for skipping things!

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?

Forgive yourself and be patient! It's not going to happen overnight. If you really want to get better and be more confident you have to do it regularly. I hate it when people tell me they just "aren't good" at mountain biking when they only go once a month. I believe anybody can be good at anything if you put the time in, but it won't magically come just because you bought a mountain bike. Also find a group you like to ride with and go - don't apologize if you are off the back, those people like you and chose to ride with you!

What do you love about riding your bike?
I just love being in the woods - challenging myself mentally and physically, and being with my bike buddies!

Tell us about your first mountain bike race! What was the experience like?
2014 Lutsen 39er - I was terrified. I figured out about six miles in you could draft (there's a pavement section at the beginning) and my chain fell off four times (I didn't realize I needed to re-tension the chain on my SS after break-in period). I loved being in the woods with other cool people.

What has been your favorite event to participate in so far?

I love the Lutsen 99er weekend every year. So many stories of accomplishment from first mountain bike race, to first 100-mile race, to the kids crushing it on Sunday. It's a family and woman-friendly event and everyone is just so darn happy all weekend!

My biggest race accomplishment was finishing the 2015 Leadville 100 on my SS. I wasn't sure I could do it and when I crossed that finish line, I was sobbing!

Why do you feel should folks try at least one mountain bike event?
It's all about the community. Fun, outdoorsy people who want to see you love it!

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

My Niner Air 9 RDO single speed was my first bike purchase. Peter encouraged me to buy a nice enough bike I wouldn't want to immediately upgrade and this was the perfect bike. I did my first Leadville on the original set-up. So many good memories on that bike. I have it geared now 34x16, for gravel or non-hilly single track.

My Otso fat bike set up with custom pink graphics. And Onyx Racing Products did custom anodizing of Wolf Tooth parts to match the new Onyx hubs! Lightweight race machine. I love fatbiking, makes me feel like a big kid again. And those wide tires give you so much confidence. I encourage beginners to try a fat bike, as they feel so much more stable than a standard mountain bike.

My new bling is a Firefly custom titanium mountain bike, it can accommodate a standard 29er wheelset, or I have it set-up 27.5 plus with 3" tires. It is amazingly smooth with Onyx hubs and Whisky carbon bits. It's set-up 32x18 for serious single track shredding. Its got these amazing snowflakes anodized into the titanium finish!

What is the most exciting part about having your husband as a race director?
I love to see people love his events. He puts his whole heart and soul into them. He's so focused on given the participants the very best experience and featuring the communities and areas where the events are held.

How excited for you both for Chequamegon 2019?

Gary Crandall has created this iconic race in the beauty of the Northwoods. It's really a community effort with so many hard-working people coming together to create a great experience. It's a long-term tradition for so many mountain bikers and we are really both focused on trying to honor that legacy.

What do you enjoy most about helping youth enjoy mountain biking?
I just love to see them gain confidence! I want them to know they can do anything they put their minds to, and when you see that light bulb go off it's amazing. Because mountain biking is life - there's fun twisty single track, big hills, and fast downhills. I hope I am giving them life skills, not just mountain bike skills.
Why do you feel folks should have their kids participate in a local, high school mountain biking program?
Ha, see above! That and it's a great life-long sport. The leagues are focused on inclusivity - everybody ride and everybody races if they want to.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think there is a big hurdle to get started - the bike, the gear, finding trails and finding people to join you. Also, it's not something you are automatically good at and women have so many responsibilities on their mind, they are appropriately afraid of getting hurt and not being able to fulfill obligations. Finally, women have more safety concerns about riding alone in the woods, it's not something I do regularly. These are all challenges that can be overcome, but it really requires a supportive community to get started!

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

I feel very well supported overall in my community. However, I have only walked into one bike shop ever where I felt like I was being treated equally to the men in my sport. Additionally, many races (not Peter's, of course) are focused only on the male race and male racers. Same with many of the bike and component companies. Finally, some men in the bike community aren't welcoming, maybe they just want to feel more special and tough, but guess what, I'm coming in my pink helmet!!! You can feel things slowly changing, just takes time and more strong women!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

So many women think they can't and I think they can, I just love to see them succeed and love it! I also want to set an example for the young women out there. Finally, I love my guy biker friends, but I really just want more ladies to ride with me. You can't beat the camaraderie of other women out there shredding some trail!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
We have a 16-pound yorkie-poo named scruffy. He's really spoiled and doesn't think he's a dog

Monday, December 10, 2018

Women Involved Series: Heather Russell

Heather Russell, a licensed professional counselor, is the founder and executive director of the Colorado-based non-profit Sacred Cycle whose mission is to support survivors of sexual abuse and assault using cycling and other forms of movement to aid in healing.

Heather is trained in transpersonal counseling, EMDR therapy, sexual assault crisis, and mindfulness awareness. Heather has had a life-long passion for cycling and has been addicted to the ‘new bike feeling’ since she received her first bike in kindergarten. Heather believes in the power of cycling and its ability to heal the heart and soul, and has devoted her life to helping others live fuller lives.

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking and how it influenced you from then on-
I started mountain biking in 1989 on the rolling hills of Grand Rapids, Michigan when I was a freshman in college. My brother, who was very influential at the time, came home one day and said, “We’re getting mountain bikes”. It was that easy. We had matching Specialized Hard Rock Comp’s and I was hooked from the first ride. From the mid 90’s to about 2005 I was a whitewater person--commercial river guide and kayaker—riding was secondary. When I moved on from whitewater I got back into riding and I haven’t looked back.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
That was a long time ago so the memories are vague, but the overarching themes were solitude and freedom and I’ll never forget riding in the fall on beautiful leaf-lined trails. When I started road biking for fitness in high school and then mountain biking for fun in college I was also in the throes of an eating disorder and struggling with depression while my mom was dying of cancer. I didn’t realize it then, but riding was the only sane thing happening in my life –I felt pure joy for those brief moments and that sense of pleasure is something I can easily tap into when I jump on the saddle.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Clips all the way. I use both but I’m way more comfortable and confident clipped in. 

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 most significant injury I’ve had mountain biking was a collarbone fracture. It was an enlightening experience on many levels and helped define my riding/training going forward. I didn’t want to ride that day, I was drained, just coming from a 24-hour race, but I gave into peer pressure and went anyway. Sometimes getting pushed by friends is a blessing but in this case, didn’t listen to my body and I paid the price. It took a while to feel confident again, but the result is I pay closer attention to my body and can tell whether I’m feeling lazy or if my body legitimately needs a break.

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 of them! I truly had no confidence, on and off the bike, and I was very hard on myself. For me it all came down to time on the bike, the more I rode the more I settled into myself and my capabilities. When I started riding again, in my mid 30's, I came with tremendous more self-assurance and my riding took off.

I think the biggest mistake I see women make is comparing themselves to others; there will always be someone faster and more skilled than you. I try to encourage women to have fun and celebrate their accomplishments on the bike. With all the gear, how technical bikes have gotten, and the obstacles on the trail, it’s a challenging sport. If you actually make it onto a trail you’re amazing and should feel proud.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I’m challenged in wet conditions. I was reminded of this last night when riding after a rain on one of my home trails in Carbondale. I naturally start to ride slower and take fewer risks when the rocks and roots are slick. It’s something I’ve worked on over the years and at this point, I’ve relaxed into it; it’s just not a place I’m willing to push myself anymore and I focus on other areas. Luckily, I live in an arid climate!

What do you love about riding your bike?
It’s one of the purest aspects of my life and the closest I come to a flow state. From my first bike in kindergarten, bikes have represented freedom. One of the things I love the most is that I’m always learning something about myself or about handling my bike more efficiently. When you’ve spent as much time in the saddle as I have you come to notice the most minute sublimities about yourself and your form that keep you interested and craving more.

Tell us about Sacred Cycle and what it's all about-
We are a 501c3 nonprofit that supports survivors of sexual violence. We offer an opportunity to increase emotional tolerance through healthy risk-taking in nature and sport. Our ideal clients are women who are ready to move from merely just surviving their lives to thriving. We offer financial assistance with evidenced-based trauma therapy, access to bikes, bike gear and coaching, and a new community of fellow survivors.
Why do you feel cycling can be an important part of mental/emotional healing?
I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, incest, and neglect and nearly 25 years of my life were consumed by disordered eating a destructive relationship with my body--I suffered in silence for a very long time. Cycling helped me connect with my body in a new and powerful way. The bike and being in nature became my refuge.

In my second grad school, the realization that many of the people that seek mental health services are survivors of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault was striking for me and was the catalyst for the development of the Sacred Cycle program. At the time, I was training for some long-distance bike races and the thought occurred, “Wouldn’t it be cool to offer this experience to survivors, literally help them transform their relationship with bodies”. For me, the benefits of cycling are endless but here are a few: I feel physically strong which transfers to a feeling of empowerment, I feel capable of handling challenges, and the sense of freedom and playfulness are unmatched.

How can folks donate or support Sacred Cycle?
They can go to our website or shoot me an email
Please follow us on social media too!
Facebook & Instagram

What would you say has been one of your most inspiring moments with Sacred Cycle?
It’s moving when people—men and women-- reach out to me and say they’ve resonated with my story. Ultimately, that’s why I’m doing this--putting myself out there, even though it’s uncomfortable, to create a community so that other survivors don’t feel so alone.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Though it’s improving, it’s still a male-dominated sport. The ‘bro-brah’ culture at bike shops is alive and well and it’s intimidating for women to walk in a shop.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
The sport has grown drastically since I started and I’m pleased with the trajectory. That being said, I really wish there were more highly trained female bike techs and that shops and the industry valued this.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I think people are their best versions of themselves in nature and I love witnessing the transformation that inevitably occurs from the trailhead to the end of the ride.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
My dad was an avid hunter, trapper, and fisherman. He routinely brought home stray wild animals. My favorite was Chuckles, a raccoon whom we bottle fed and became close friends with our lab Joe.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Women Involved Series: Jacqui Ma

My name is Jacqui Ma, I’m the founder and designer of Goodordering, East London bag accessories company.

Learn more about Jacqui and Goodordering here.

Goodordering on Facebook
Goodordering on Instagram

Magnetic Sunglasses on Kickstarter

Tell us about your introduction to #bikelife and how it has influenced your life-

My introduction into cycling came when I borrowed a bike from the company I was working for and decided to see if it was quicker to get home by bike or by public transport. The bike won and I never looked back since.

You created the brand, Goodordering. Tell us about Goodordering and what it's all about-
Goodordering is all about getting people to ride bikes more. We do this through designing feel-good and functional cycling accessories for urban commuters, that simplify your ride experience, making it more enjoyable.

What are your plans for 2019 with Goodordering? What should folks look for?
In 2019 we will continue to grow the range, bringing out some new styles of bags that people have been asking for and looking at manufacturing our bags a little bit closer to home in Europe.
What do you enjoy most being a woman involved in the cycling industry?
The cycling industry is very friendly, I’ve found. My type of cycling is definitely more about lifestyle, family and commuting so I love to inspire more people to choose a bike ride more regularly, especially mums and kids.

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
Women need other women as role models, and especially with inspiration to cycle themselves. The global statistics show that girls cycle when they are kids but tend to stop for good as they become a teenager, unlike boys. Women working in bike shops, such as mechanics, are instrumental in removing the macho -sometimes intimidating- aspect of cycling. Being a role model for women to work in less traditional female roles is really important to me.

Tell us about the Girls Riding Bikes rides, what was your inspiration?
For this activity, the aim was to inspire influential bloggers to spread the word to encourage more women to give cycling a try, and then build their confidence as they ride. The more people converted to cycling, the better (for physical/mental wellbeing, for the environment etc.) especially those who are not typical cyclists. Our aim is to remove some of the main barriers to cycling for women; in London those include safety and fashion.

What do you love about riding your bike?

In a world overrun with technology these days, being on my bike forces me to switch off. It allows my mind to wander as I focus on the road or the traffic and i think this is great for my mental health and creative abilities.

Cycling is important to you and your family; how do you incorporate it in daily life?

My partner also cycles to work and we ride together as a family on the weekend around the park or to friends houses. We use bikes mainly for transport and hope that we have inspired our kids to lead a more healthy and outdoorsy life.

Do you have any suggestions for folks who are nervous to commute by bike?
Borrow a bike and go out with a friend to a local park. Get familiar with your bike -gears, seat height etc - so it feels ‘yours’, and can begin to feel like an extension of you. Start small and build your confidence up slowly would be my best advice to start riding.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
From my research, the two main reasons women don’t cycle more in the city, especially commuting, is that they either feel it’s too dangerous or they think it makes them too sweaty and not presentable. Many workplaces are changing to have showers and places for people to freshen up, which is great. The safety aspect is slowly changing too with better city infrastructure and more cyclists.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Changes need to be made on every level; I don’t believe there is one thing that could be done alone. Having more female cycling role models, along with good infrastructure and amenities. Also, as more pretty bikes and female-friendly accessories hit the market, women can realise they don’t have to settle, instead they can own the bike of their dreams.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I love to encourage women to ride because I have seen first hand the benefits of cycling - psychological, health-wise and saving time and money. Women traditionally suffer from less confidence than men across the board so cycling is just one avenue for evening up this confidence disparity.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I am really scared of snails!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Specialized S-Works Epic Hardtail Review

This review has been a long time coming, but I'm finally getting around to officially introduce the world to my Specialized S-Works Epic named Maui.

Maui was purchased as a frame that we would build up into a very capable & fun mountain bike that would take adventures on gravel roads.

I was super excited to have a lightweight and efficient bike that had capabilities of having a bottle cage!

My last hardtail was a WSD design and because of that, it didn't have room for a bottle cage. I felt like I was stepping up in the world!

This bike was built with a SID World Cup front suspension fork with a remote lockout. It doesn't have the brain tech like my full suspension Epic does. I don't find that to be an issue as I'm used to non-brain technology front suspension forks.

Travis put on a 32 tooth oval chainring and it's an 11-speed drivetrain. We went with the 32 tooth size so I could have gravel gearing that would suit my riding style, but also successfully ride this bike on trails. It's more important for my bikes to be able to go on mountain bike trails because that is my favorite type of riding, having the bike cross over into another territory is a bonus. I feel this ring size works well for me, and while it might not be enough for some, I find it is a good balance for my needs. I do tend to favor some of the easier gears when it comes to climbing on our mountain bike trails which is why the season prior we had changed several of my bikes to a smaller chainring to eliminate a crossed chainline (and to try and get me closer to using my middle gears more consistently.) This setup backtracks that whole concept, but I'm not using this as my daily dirt ride, so it doesn't matter too much.

We put on the Roval Control SL carbon wheelset from my full suspension Epic since that bike was getting a set of sweet Industry Nine wheels. We set the wheels/tires up as tubeless (no tubes) and that allows me to run lower air pressures for trail riding. Most times for gravel riding I'm around 20-23 psi and I feel that is fine for my rides. I like having a tubeless setup so I can worry less about puncture flats, even still, I'll carry a spare tube with me just in case.

I currently have the stock tire setup on the wheels: Fast Trak 2.3 in the front and 2.1 in the back. The Fast Trak tread worked quite well for the gravel rides I've gone on and I'm not sure I would feel as tho I need to go to a different style. I might consider trying the Renegade tires next year, to see if I like the lower profile. Overall, I would say I am not as confident on gravel as I am on singletrack, so I like having tires with decent traction and grip.

My first ride on Maui was a pavement ride to Bluffton and back, and let me tell you, I said: "I'll never need a road bike again!" I fell in love, and I fell hard. For being a mountain bike, I felt like it was so light and nimble. It's how I wished my road bike could've felt- I felt stable and confident, yet I could stand up and crank away with ease. I would not want this bike to be any lighter than it is, because that would almost be scary in terms of handling. I would say this bike felt like a sprite as it was very responsive and nothing felt out of control. I couldn't wait to see how this bike would handle on the mountain bike trails.

Fast forward a few months later and I got to find out!

Riding to the trails felt so effortless and that put a huge smile on my face!
On twists and turns, I felt like I could point it and go. It responded well, regardless of how tight the corners and trees were. I was surprised to feel like I could ride into turns more confidently on this Epic than my full suspension. I feel the posture of my hardtail is slightly more upright than on my full suspension Epic or it's because I have a traditional suspension fork on the bike vs. a Brain fork, and somehow that makes it feel more compliant.

Riding the Pines East and West trails would be the test in terms of how comfortable the bike could be on consistently bumpy terrain. There are many roots that lace within the trail and full suspension definitely keeps you from feeling so beat up. I found that the carbon hardtail absorbed some of the vibrations, and due to that, I had no issue with powering over roots at a decent clip. Would this be my bike choice for riding hours and hours on root and rock filled trails? Not likely. Did the bike handle well for riding my local trails for a couple hours? A resounding yes! I had an extremely good time riding this hardtail on my local trails.

This bike was my go-to for riding trails when I would have to do trail checks after some of our larger storms this season. I quickly found the bike was ideal for my exploration rides due to its weight. Have to climb over a tree (or five?) or jump across a natural stream? Easy! The bike takes little effort to lift, which my shoulder appreciates. Surprisingly, I felt really confident on the bike with less than ideal trail conditions. I was able to finesse my way over slick roots and rocks as well as climb up hills in relatively greasy conditions.

I found that this bike was a winner in dry or slick conditions. I have not ridden this bike in a race yet; It's not something I'd consider taking to Chequamegon due to how that course typically is, but I might consider riding it for our local Time Trials.

I had fallen hard for full suspension and this bike made me appreciate the joy that riding a hardtail can bring. You don't have rear suspension cushioning bumps, and it doesn't aid you with climbing- you learn how body position can affect the ride. It's been really fun to jump back on a hardtail after riding a full suspension so regularly. I'm really stoked to have Maui in the fleet and I can't wait to ride this bike more next season!