Monday, January 29, 2018

Women Involved Series: Katie Macarelli

Katie Macarelli: Marketing Manager for Feedback Sports. I'm a mom of two teenage girls, a wife to a fellow bike lover and I'm an equal-opportunity lover of all types of cycling. I commute year round in Colorado choosing from my road bike, Cx, Cx w/studded tires, MTB, and a fat bike. I love riding in Colorado. I do race a bit but I don't really train (aside from commuting intervals plus a daily lunch-ride). Whenever I've tried to get on a "training plan" it doesn't last very long because I can't resist rolling with the weather and changing things up on a whim. If I want to ride 50 miles and the weather is good, how can I resist because I'm supposed to do intervals that day? If it's snowing, I'm not likely to ever hop on a trainer. I'm just going to put on more layers.

I wasn't ever really a great athlete as a kid. In fact, I was chubby and slow. But (like many former chubby kids) I used that as motivation. And I have a pretty good sense of humor (also like many former chubby kids). I always preferred individual sports like swimming and track where I could compete mostly against myself and not have to be the center of attention on the court.

How I got into cycling:
I grew up on a farm in eastern Colorado. Aside from hearing about the Tour de France, I didn't really know anything about bike racing. We were a football town (puke). In grad school at Boulder, a friend introduced me to triathlons. As someone who loved swimming, I instantly fell in love (even though I'd never ridden a road bike in my life). I rented one from a local shop for my first race...which was comical.

I enjoyed racing as an age-grouper and was able to get on the podium a few times with the sprint distance. I went on to Olympic distance and did one 1/2 Ironman. Training for that race and finishing it made me realize that running isn't my favorite. :) This is how I found cycling as a passion. When my daughters were both in school full time, I got a job with Bicycle Colorado as a Safe Routes to School educator. This was the perfect job for me (formerly an elementary school teacher). I could still teach kids, but it was in PE and out on the playground. This opened up the world of advocacy to me. As a teacher, a parent and an athlete, I started to realize the overwhelming importance of keeping our roads safe. And then I started to use them by bike more than I did by car.
I still dabble in triathlons about once a season. I was proud (and shocked) when I got 1st at a tri I was expo-ing and announcing at in my 40+ age group this summer. Imagine my surprise when I flipped the page to read the winners and saw my own name. "And first place...well, folks, this is a little awkward and really unexpected...". Hadn't done that race since I was 30. I compared my times, this year I was faster. Maybe I'll race it again when I'm 50. #boom

I've "been in the cycling industry" now for 7 years. From Bicycle Colorado to and now Feedback Sports. I like that I am fairly new to this industry because it gives me a fresh perspective. I see the importance of getting more women into roles like mine. For instance, I have a say in the events we do, in the ads we run and I am the voice of our company's social media accounts. You have no idea how many men say "thanks, dude!" when we converse over social media. I want to say, "Dude, you're WELCOME! P.s. I am a woman." Lately, I've been announcing a few of the local races. So many women tell me how much they appreciate a woman being up there and actually acknowledging them as racers. This is both wonderful to hear and sad. Things are getting better on this front. It's just a slow process. Lucky for me I've never been fast. I'm in it for the long haul.

Your #bikelife is diverse mixed with several styles! What was the inspiration to expand beyond one format of biking?

I went from being a beginner road cyclist for triathlons. I was very shaky at stops and turns and super pleased when I first rode 10 miles. It became my favorite portion of training for triathlons. Then my only training and form of exercise. I went on to train for centuries and such and then found road racing--mostly as a method to find more women to ride with. Around this time I met a mommy friend through mutual pre-school children and was introduced to mountain biking (something I always just thought wasn't really for me). Having other women to ride with and follow lines was massive. I was still fairly shaky on the mountain bike, so when the team manager told me about cyclocross, I thought I'd give it a try--mostly to get better at the mountain bike! I borrowed a bike to give it a shot at a team intro to Cx practice. I instantly fell in love. I stopped racing road/crits and mostly raced cyclocross and a few mountain bike races. I was so amazed at the transfer of skills from each bike to the next. Riding in the snow is like riding in the sand. 'Cross is like crits only you have to get off and hop over things. It's messy. Getting on and off the bike fast is a great skill to have if you ever want to rob a bike, but also when you mountain bike. Then I started commuting to work. That brought it alllllllllllllll together. And I realized I needed a fat bike. :)
Triathlons were what got you firmly vested in cycling, what do you enjoy most about the triathlon experience?
How inclusive the community is. Everyone is competing against themselves and each other but they are very willing to share what helps them succeed. This information isn't kept close to the chest as I feel it is in road racing. I also love that with short races you don't really ever have time to get in your head. Too much going on. If one leg wasn't the best, boom. It's done and you move on to the next. There is a beauty to the transition area. I really enjoy getting there early before the sun comes up and seeing the nervous faces. People aren't really trying to look tough and psyche each other out--at least at the level I compete at. And for short races (unless I'm expo'-ing AND racing) you're done by 10 am and home with your family.

What inspired you to compete in the first place? Any suggestions for folks nervous to participate in an event?
As I rambled above--I wanted to find more fast women to ride with. I got to a point where none of my friends wanted to ride with me. It got old. And I've always feared competition a bit (okay, a lot). In school, I loved track and swimming way more than team sports which seemed to make me crumble under pressure. Competing in bike racing, in the end, is only competing against myself. Plus, I figured it would be a good example for our children.

Can you take us back to your first couple mountain bike rides? What inspired you to stick with it?

Yes. Total shit-show. Shaky, nervous on the dirt, everything seemed like a huge obstacle that wanted to end my life. ;) Again, the women I rode with is what kept me going. It helps to ride with people who are better than you, but not too much better. Good teachers. Patient. That's who you want to ride with. I had actually tried mountain biking with my husband when we were first married (pre-kids). I did one ride with him and ended up crying. I've cried on rides with women too...but it's been from laughing so hard. Now that I've ridden and taught our daughters to ride (now 13 and 15), I know exactly what it takes to help someone nervous succeed. And it's my duty to do this as payment to the women who taught me.
What was your inspiration to commute by bike? Especially all year-round?
Moving to the place we really wanted to be was a financial sacrifice for us. We went from 3 cars and a camper to 1 car. But the place we chose to live was somewhere that we could pull it off. When we first made this change we were 1 mile from pretty much anything we needed. The library, the elementary school, the Community Rec Center, restaurants, our family doctor, dentist, hair stylists, etc. And at the time I was working from home. This worked out fine (for the most part). We moved about a mile farther up a HUGE hill so we're still in walking/biking range of everything, but it's a little bit farther and harder. I have become faster and a better climber, though. ;) And our girls are older now so they can take it.

Clips or flats? What works for you and why? 

Clips. I used to have an urban and cruiser bike with flats. But that was about it. If I have to commute in regular clothes--like to a meeting at the school or something like that, I can make it work. It just works better for me for the majority of my riding.

Have you had any biffs (crashes) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Yes. The first season of cyclocross I fell all the time. Hard. It actually helped me get over the fear of falling. Commuting on ice and snow will do the same. I am afraid of falling on ice, but I know it's not likely to kill me having done it several times. I've crashed pretty hard on my mtb, but broke nothing. I got a concussion crashing on a mountain bike racing my daughter to a concert in a park back in August. That was dumb. And I was lucky. Didn't realize I had a concussion until the next day. A few years ago I fell really hard on my road bike going about 26 mph. Hit a lip of grooved pavement in the rain that I didn't see due to puddled water. That was definitely the hardest I've ever crashed. I seemed to slide on my side with my bike for a minute. Last February I got hit by a car on my way into work. That one just made me really mad. Thankfully I was able to adjust at the last second so I mostly bounced. But that one really shook me up--you shouldn't have to have mad skills to ride through our sleepy little town. Most other people would have been dead. But I still rode to work that day.

It takes a bit of time to get over these things--physically and emotionally. Taking stock of your body, your bike, then your life. With the car crash, it actually spurred me to get in touch with my estranged older sister and make amends. I rolled away from that and went through a mental check-list: 1. Told my kids I loved them this morning. 2. Told my husband. 3. My friends know too. 4. My co-workers are pretty rad people. 5. I live in a great place and am thankful for that. The only thing nagging at me was my relationship with my sister. I realized that truthfully, "life is too short". And I got more hi-vis stuff and better lights. You'd have to be drunk, high, stupid and texting to hit me now. And if you kill me, I'll definitely haunt the hell out of you.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
It seems silly, but stopping and starting can be the scariest for everyone. We take it for granted but I taught a looooooooooooot of kids to ride of all ages while at Bicycle Colorado. Basically, any skill you see a child struggle with is a skill worth practicing. Riding through sand. Over curbs. Cornering safely and confidently. Being able to look over your shoulder while you ride without veering into traffic or off the trail. All great skills. I encourage people to go to an elementary school playground on the weekend. You have everything. You have marked lines to practice riding on (balance beam style) on the blacktop. You have sand to ride through. You can pick a start/stop point. You can practice weaving. Stop suddenly with your weight back. Ride down a grassy hill. Ride UP a grassy hill. Ride that hill sideways. PLAY.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I could definitely be better at riding off large drops. Big chunks of rock still freak my roadie heart out. Things that help:

1. Check it out first. Ride up to what scares you and watch a few people do it. Or preview just a section and have a bail-out in mind.

2. Eyes ahead instead of down. This helps for EVERYTHING. Don't look immediately in front of you or AT the obstacle. Look beyond it.

3. Instead of thinking "I suck at _____________" think "I am getting better at _______________".

4. Compare you to you and your own growth. Not to the Olympic athlete (and in Colorado, they are EVERYWHERE). ;)

What do you love about riding your bike?

Speed. I love that my body powers my travel. I love the colors, the weather, the sun-rises, and sunsets. I love being a little afraid that first week after the day-light savings time change and it's pitch black after work. There's a beauty about riding in the dark and when it changes back in the Spring I miss it. I love that I'm not ever dependent on a car. I want our girls to know that. Particularly if there is ever a Zombie Apocalypse.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Giant Road bike (TCR). I've had that for probably 10 years now. It's fast and somewhat light--though not as light as my HUSBAND'S and reliable. It was my upgrade bike after starting with a steel Jamis. That was also a good bike. If I still had it, it would be perfect for commuting.
Trek women's TopFuel 9.8 SL MTB-It's simply amazing. It's a 29'er. Went from Yeti 575 full suspension that my husband and I SHARED for a few years, then it became mine and now it belongs to our daughters. I love this bike so much. I have a lovely friend--Katie Compton who rides Cx and MTB for Trek. She let me try hers at a bike camp-out and I was in love. She walked me through finding the perfect bike, knowing my riding style and what I'd be using it for. I still text her pictures of it sometimes. And we used it in a life-size photo ad for our booth at Eurobike. I took a selfie with it and sent it to her. ;)
Rocky Mountain Blizzard fat bike. It gets the job done. You'll never feel like such a kid, laughing your face off than when you ride a fat bike. They are a blast. Racing them is great fun. Very fun, silly community.
Ridley Cx Bike. I love this bike. It's fun and nimble. And now it has red Feedback branded bar tape. The only downside is the brakes are not the easiest to adjust, and it's getting a bit old. But it's still my all-around fave. Fun to race Cx and after Cx season, I swap out the wheels for studded tires. It's bulletproof.

What do you enjoy most about being a woman in the cycling industry?
I love redefining what this means on a daily basis to myself and others. We still have a long way to go but it's getting better. It's also nice when meeting other women in the industry--you have an instant bond. Defenses are usually down because you're so HAPPY to have found ANOTHER LIKE YOU! Instant friends.

Why should more women consider employment in the cycling industry?
Most industries could probably use more women. The cycling industry is worse than others...and maybe better than others...although I can't think of any off the top of my head. ;) It will only change if there are more of us. I've almost thrown in the towel a few times but the next day is always brighter and I work with a really solid crew. That helps.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
Men. No joke. Even well-meaning men can get in the way. I'm a firm believer in "women-only" events at shops, clinics, practices, etc. And then there's body image and self-doubt. "Oh, I could never do that." Well, yes. You could. You don't have to look any particular way. You don't have to wear any particular thing. Think back to riding bikes as a kid. How great that was. Heck. Watch Stranger Things and you'll be reminded of what a lost art it is! Bring back that joy and freedom. HOP ON A BIKE. ANY BIKE WILL DO. Entry level bikes at your local shop, Craigslist, Facebook markets/groups--all of these are options for finding an inexpensive bike to ride.

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

Gosh. The obvious--less sexism, talk, ads, articles. HIRE WOMEN. PROMOTE THEM. We work hard. We are invested. We have grand ideas. We will rock your company.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

My old self, my children, and my bikes.

Tell us a random fact about yourself! 
Having grown up on a farm, I can give antibiotics to baby calves and can drive a tractor.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Delilah Guertin

Lilah. Living in Minnesota and commuting via bike year round. I've been racing on the velodrome for almost 5 years and travel to race track crits and other velodromes around the nation. I work at an amazing brewery in NE that allows me to problem solve and be creative. I've recently started a new photojournalism path (follow femme_oral_order on insta) which lifts up women/femme aligning folx in the cycling, moto, sports world. I'm really bummed about gender inequality in sports and want to do my part in lifting others up. I grew up riding motos with my grandpa and volunteering in our community with my grandma. I male up characters when I go out and do impressions/comedy which my friends get easily annoyed with.

I started Wreckhouse Racing and travel for Podium Punx (both on instagram.) I'm cultivating a new brand #somethinginspirational

Tell us the introduction to your #bikelife and how it has influenced your life over the years?

Really I started commuting only in 2011 which turned into year-round commuting in all seasons of MN. Using my bike for the only transportation is very exciting.

Commuting year-round is awesome! Do you have any tips/suggestions for budding commuters?

To remember what outdoor attire worked for me a few years ago I started writing down what temperature it was daily and what I wore. This helped immensely for the following years. Then I can always reference if it is 36 degrees out what to wear for my 30-40 minute commute.

You have been racing on the velodrome for several years, what was the original pull to give it a go?

I met some women that were starting a women's only track team and joined. Primarily because I thought track racing was so thrilling and secondly due to the small women's field which kept getting canceled during the race season weekly because less than 6 women were showing up to race. We immediately saw an opportunity to raise the women's race population.

For people who have either- never raced on a velodrome or have never seen a velodrome race, what should they know about it?

There are many different races within one race night at the track ranging from 2 laps to 60 on average. Although there are special nights in the season that we have long distance races.

For individuals who have never raced before, do you have any words of encouragement/tips to make their experience enjoyable?
There are clinics available out there and if not there are friendly people that want to pass on their knowledge a vast network to do so. Make sure you observe those disciplines before you jump into a race so you get an idea of what you are getting into. You are one hundred percent awesome if you even start a race you feel you are interested. Most of my race season is all about showing up at the starting line.

Have you had any biffs (crashes) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I feel very well versed in this question. There are many medical challenges that affect my year in and out riding and race seasons. My latest injury was earlier in the spring of 2017 during a criterium when my left patella had slipped just weeks before traveling to Brooklyn, NY for Red Hook Criterium. Not many athletes talk about how emotionally taxing and anxiety driven it becomes when injured. I felt useless on any kind of pressure from walking to riding. Unable to put any efforts down and needing to commute for work barred me from training for the RHC the way I wanted. Struggling with how my body reacted to doing some medical treatment the fall before and the changes in weight and muscle mass that happened after it was also affecting my mental state. If it wasn't for an amazing teammate Tiana Johnson of Podium Punx I would not be in the slightest prepared.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I would have never thought of hopping a curb or going through gravel or sand. When I was introduced to cyclocross that is when some very good friends had shown me how to take a barrier and jump a curb. With a ton of practice and falling a lot, I jump everything I can, even what I'm not supposed to now.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Where it takes me! You can ride beautiful gravel roads along countryside to riding through urban traffic. Two wheels gives me the freedom to travel in many ways.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I had 2 track bikes, one for city riding and my other an All City Thunderdome (which was recently stolen) for traveling to races and at my hometown track the NSC Velodrome. I also have 2 cyclocross bikes an All City Nature Boy 853 and Foundry Auger which are my commuters and race machines. I was fortunate to receive my All City braaap machines from a sponsorship when I was racing for Koochella Racing.

Tell us about your brand #somethinginspirational-

Last year I came up with this tattoo idea. All my bike friends have quotes or statements on their knees to encourage them to keep pedaling. Why not put “something inspirational” on mine? Then stemmed this idea I had to commit to. Using a new photojournalism project called femme_oral_order to start a series of images that lift up femme-oriented people in my immediate communities. The hashtag is a particular way of making the statement that everyone can make a difference and impact your peers daily with little effort.
You have started a photojournalism project at femme_oral_order on Instagram, what was your inspiration to start the project?
I was experiencing some growing pains within the women's cycling community locally and feeling like we needed a push in the positive direction. Our community has grown epically within the last 3 years. Sought better awareness about parity in amateur and pro cycling, threw clinics for each other to feel included and comfortable, creating spaces where women, trans, femme, queer aligning folx to learn about the many disciplines of racing near the metro with others they have common grounds with. Yet there are still social hiccups and miscommunication online and off and I wanted to show up to something and make a difference. Femme Oral Order is an online platform to show the many faces of cycling and other hobbies that make a daily impact no matter how great or small. It is pure in encouragement and primarily an opinion page based on my first-hand encounter. So far I am growing and learning my own ways to creatively make a daily impact.

What do you feel deters W/T/F from getting involved with cycling?
Safe spaces to learn. It is an intimidating sport when cycling is male-dominated and not many people have like-minded individuals around to show the way. Not everyone is open to the idea that there are people available inside your communities that do want to assist and coach new riders in any discipline. If you take the time to ask around I am sure you will find someone who is. This is the importance of having all different types of people aiding in being inclusive.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more W/T/F to be involved?
Not just a sponsor or organizations initial drive for more WTF riders, but an investment in creating an ongoing operation to continue growing numbers and striving to make cycling better.

What inspires you to encourage W/T/F to ride?

Seeing strong femme riders out enjoying what they are doing. Having the opportunity in watching a child's first experience on the bike.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

I used to be a singer/songwriter.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

What's The Best Part?

What has been the best thing to happen since I discovered mountain biking?

Would it be discovering that I could do something I thought impossible?
New bike day?
New kit day?
Seeing a different side of Decorah?

How about....
creating lasting friendships with awesome women.

Yes. I think above all, creating friendships with other women and establishing a positive, supportive, and encouraging environment for us to get together- that is it.

I've struggled with building and maintaining friendships with my female peers all throughout my school-years into adulthood. I found being myself was challenging, and often times I felt folks thought I was "weird" so it was safer for me to keep to myself and be on the outside looking in.

When I discovered I enjoyed riding my bike, I wanted to shout from the hilltops that everyone should buy a bike and ride it. I found myself feeling happier than ever, becoming more confident, and having better health. I also wanted friends to ride with- but I knew better than to think they would just "appear."

I had to make them.

I had to step outside my comfort zone and seek conversation with folks who I believed to ride bikes, to learn if they did, and to see if we could ride together- even tho I was afraid that I would suck at it. Yes, I was afraid I would be too slow or not skilled enough to ride the paved trail with my newfound biking friends.

I was assured I was fine.
We rode together regularly.
We didn't judge or criticize.
We bonded and had an open conversation- which for me was something refreshing as I wasn't able to open up and be vulnerable with many female peers while growing up or in early adulthood.

Then I was introduced to mountain biking, and after that introduction, I shared my fears, concerns, and excitement with my friends. It became intriguing, and even tho it had been years since they had been on a dirt trail, never for some, but they came out with me.
Then all of the fears I originally had riding had come back- but in reverse. I was the one to give reassurance that I wasn't judging or criticizing.
Celebrating newfound victories.
Bonding over raw conversation.
Comparing bruises from our slow-mo biffs.
Post-ride beers.

I didn't realize it until later on that I had started to create the beginnings of a women's mountain bike community in my town. How awesome and equally terrifying is that?!

I also made great friends from online, other women who supported and encouraged my "dream big" mentality. My optimistic mindset and determination bled into my wanting to make something legit. Something that would be recognized by others in Decorah and beyond. I was going to create something- I was determined to make a change. 

I wanted other women to find out how powerful mountain biking could be- for emotional, mental, and physical health.
I wanted women to discover and cultivate friendships- ones filled with encouragement, celebration, and positivity.

Women building each other up rather than competing with one another.
Women supporting each other.
Women encouraging each other.
Celebrating our victories on the trails.
Not judging, supporting, and inspiring.
That my friends is what Fearless Women of Dirt is all about.

This is what I bring to the table and this is who I am. I'm here for you- to help support, guide, and encourage you to discover how strong and capable you are. Please, if you have any doubts about the Fearless Women of Dirt community, I encourage you to stop by Decorah Bicycles and chat with me, or you can email me at You can also stop by the Fearless Women of Dirt Facebook page and direct message me. The Fearless Women of Dirt community is open and welcoming to any and all women of any skill level or age. We want young women and adults alike to experience the camaraderie, support, and inspiration of women coming together to ride bikes.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Women Involved Series: Nikki Peterson

My cycling passion developed later in life. After running competitively from 5th grade through college, I began riding bikes for fun around 26 years old. My first rides were on a large Santa Cruz in running shorts and running shoes and involved me crashing often and screaming down the mountain in Lander, WY with a group of guys! I thought it was a blast!

In just a few years, I ended up owning a Rocky Mountain Altitude, Salsa Mukluk fat bike, and a Salsa Ti-Vaya gravel bike.

I dabbled in each of these areas but remained focused on the two coffee shops that I co-owned at the time. I ended up going to Andrew Shandro’s Summer Gravity Camp in Whistler, Canada two summers in a row. The first year, in 2011, was very special because they put all of the ladies in one group. I had Lorraine Blancher as a coach and she was a huge inspiration to me. That lady can rip and she is so awesome to other female riders!

I eventually moved to Sedona, AZ where I began pedaling my Altitude more. I met some ladies who were excellent riders and they helped me a lot with my skills. With encouragement from a friend, I ended up trying a MBAA race in Scottsdale, AZ. I decided to enter the Expert category since I “knew how to suffer” from running. I was so scared to pass that when I finally did I skimmed a cactus and covered my glove! I ended up 7th out of 15 or 16 and was immediately hooked! After a short bout in Sedona, I moved to Big Bear Lake where I competed with a grassroots club team for the rest of the season. I ended up finishing first in the Kenda Cup Cat 1 series and followed that up with a 2nd place finish at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships for Cat 1 women!

I decided to take the plunge into the Pro field immediately following Nationals. To be honest, I didn’t train for that first season very much but I think it was okay because I did not burn out either. I rode sparingly throughout the fall and raced several US Cup races in Southern California before finishing up the Kenda Cup series again, this time winning the Pro division. Unfortunately, the Kenda Cup series does not get a lot of women in the field so all I had to do to win was essentially show up. This left me yearning for more. I wanted to be in races with a lot of competition. I was fortunate enough to be signed to Team RideBiker at the end of my first Pro Season. I also found some good form and finished 11th in my first USA Cycling National Championships, which was also my first race for RideBiker!

In the fall of 2016, I began working with Adam Pulford of Carmichael Training Systems. After a good couple of months, I found myself fighting a never-ending virus. I missed about 12 weeks of training and had a hard time even going to work on some days! Around February I resumed training again and also began racing. Last season I learned so much! I traveled the country with my boyfriend, Nic, and competed in the full Pro XCT series, US Cup series, and Epic Ride series. I earned enough points to become World Cup qualified, which was a big goal of mine. I also got to line up continuously with the strongest women in the country and sometimes even the world. Many of these ladies are close friends now. I feel so fortunate to surround myself with these women. They are go-getters, both on and off the bike.

I am currently living in Idyllwild, CA (and will be for hopefully many, many years to come). I am substitute teaching full-time as I work on my teaching credential for Elementary ages. Though bike racing is fun, I really enjoy having a career as well. My training this fall has been going great, I am fully healthy, and most importantly, I am having a blast! When I am not on my bike I am hanging out with my wonderful boyfriend, Nic (who is a phenomenal cross country Pro racer and the sweetest guy ever), cooking or baking, laughing with friends and family, and loving on my pets. I will also be helping out in the NICA league with Hemet High and Idyllwild Jr. High. As far as racing goes, I have some exciting plans in the works for the 2018 season that I am so stoked about! Basically, I am a lucky lady! I get to peddle my bike in all sorts of beautiful places and I am surrounded by the most amazing people.

During your first few mountain bike rides, what about it made you go "Yes! This is for me!"
I ran cross country and track on a scholarship in college. Being on a scholarship meant that I wasn’t able to do much outside of running. I was always interested in mountain biking because it seemed really neat that you could go for so much longer! After college, I borrowed a friend’s large Santa Cruz and went on some rides. I can’t explain what it was that clicked….but I just LOVED it!

You started mountain biking in your mid-20's vs. your younger years. Do you feel that this has been a benefit to you? Would you go back and change it?
Yes and no. As a racer, I wish I had known about it when I was younger. It is hard to catch up technically with women who have been on bikes since they were teenagers or younger. Also, as a kid, you tend to have that fearless attitude. As an adult, my thought process is that I have to be able to go to work the next day so I can support myself. However, as a lifelong cyclist, I think it is just fine that I started later in life. I hope to have many cycling adventures throughout my life!

Do you have any suggestions for folks looking to start mountain biking in adulthood?
Find someone, male or female, who is patient and will not rush you into anything that makes you uncomfortable. It takes time to develop skills, balance, and strength. Also, I would highly suggest either attending a camp or getting private lessons. I really like what Richard La China has done with the Ninja Mountain Bike Skills camps. They are all over the country now and they do a fantastic job! I helped out a few summers ago and was really impressed with how well the camps are run.

Tell us about your favorite competitive event and why you enjoy it so much.
Oh boy, this is a really hard question! I love ALL races! I really enjoy the Epic Rides Whiskey 50. The whole weekend is a festival and there are riders of all levels. The expo is great and they really encourage the Pros to hang out downtown during the amateur race on Saturday to mingle with the crowd. I have met some really awesome folks at that event! The race has also provided different challenges both times I have competed in it. Last year I slid out on a slick corner near the beginning of the race and had to ride for 4 more hours with a deep cut on my elbow. I ended up getting 14 stitches at the ER after the race (and a hamburger).

I also have had a lot of fun at the Quick n’ Dirty races this fall. Victor Sheldon does a fantastic job creating a fun environment that is welcoming to everyone. In fact, if you live in Southern California and have never raced I would recommend one of his events to get started. The courses are challenging yet rideable for a new competitor and it is a very low-pressure environment.

Do you have any suggestions for folks who are on the fence about participating in an event?
Do it!!! Seriously- find a fun, low key event to try out. Talk to friends or your local bike shop if you need suggestions. My bike shop, Incycle, has a staff that rides and races all of the time so they are constantly giving customers advice on which events are fun.

Remember that even if you are there to compete and push yourself the ultimate goal is to have fun! Bikes are rad!

Since making the move to pro, what have you learned about yourself? What has been your biggest challenge and biggest success?
I have learned so much. Last year I threw myself into the fire and followed a regimented coaching plan for the first time and decided to travel the country to race the fastest women in the country week in and week out. I learned that I really like the structure of a training plan. I also learned the importance of having personal goals rather than constantly comparing myself to others. Furthermore, I have learned that I really enjoy pushing myself physically and mentally with a community of like-minded people.

Also, I have met some of the most amazing people through cycling! My boyfriend, Nic Beechan, who is a really amazing cross country racer (I have to brag: he got 5th at XC nationals last year in the Pro Men’s field), is one of the best things that has happened to me through cycling. He is so patient, kind, and hard working. When I am struggling with something he is always there to listen and give advice. I am so thankful to have him in my life!

Clips or flats? What do you enjoy and why?
I clip in. It can be hard at first but once you get used to them they are great. I do cross country riding though. If a rider is doing more all mountain or downhill they may not want to clip in. Ultimately it is whatever makes a rider feel the most comfortable.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
This summer, two days before USA Cycling Nationals, I was pre-riding the course and slid out in a loose corner (it ended up pouring the next several days and there were NO loose corners). I ended up ripping open my elbow that had been stitched at the Whiskey 50, hurting my shoulder and bicep tendon A LOT, and possibly bruising my kidneys. It really put a damper on my Nationals and the several races after that. It was heartbreaking because I had put in so much work to even show up to the line. I still raced and gave it everything I had but I did not perform how I had hoped. It was a good reminder that there are always things that cannot be controlled. Instead of focusing on performance I chose to focus on being grateful to even show up to race.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Technical climbing was really difficult for me in the beginning. I did group rides in Big Bear when I lived there and the local guys really helped me a lot. I also did rides where I would go out by myself and session areas that were challenging.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I am constantly working on my technical skills- both ascending and descending. Though I have improved drastically since moving to Idyllwild, which has really difficult trails, I am always learning and working on my skills. Now that I am a NICA coach and helping out with the Idyllwild Middle School and Hemet High School, I am working on my basic skills a lot. I can’t even tell you how good it has been to work on the basics again! They are so important!
What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being outside! Every time I go out on a ride I am smiling because it is so beautiful. My coach at Indiana University told me that one of the highlights of spending time with her toddler was that he stopped to look at the beauty in everything, even a tiny little flower that adults would walk by. I took that to heart and really try to take the time to appreciate the little things now.

I also love all of the people I have met through riding my bike. For instance, my best friend, Larissa Connors, is the funniest person I have ever met. I can also talk to her about anything in the entire world. The crew at Incycle is like family now. They have the best customer service and have made me feel like family. The middle school kids make me smile so big when they conquer features that are challenging them. You get the point. Bikes are the best! They bring together all sorts of people from every area of the world. It is pretty amazing!

And now I am about to begin a new adventure! Last season I met three amazing women at the races while traveling. We became good friends and decided to make another UCI elite women’s mountain biking team! We have poured our hearts into this project and it is so cool to watch it come together. We are called KS-Kenda Elite Women’s Team. We are all extremely driven women who balance a career with training and racing at the elite level. We actually figured out that we have 12 degrees between the four of us! We want to get more women on bikes and spread the stoke!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
For 2018 there will be some big changes! As we embark on KS-Kenda Women’s Elite Women’s Team, I will be making some sponsor changes. We will be doing clinics, hosting ice cream socials after races, and creating other platforms where we can spread our passion for riding with other women. Whether they like to race or ride for the adventure, we will be aiming to connect with women all over. With that said, we have been working extremely hard to get a team of sponsors together and I couldn’t be more excited about
our 2018 set-up!!!

We will be riding on Pivot frames. For cross country, I will be racing on the Pivot 492SL full suspension bike with Fox Suspension, a Shimano drivetrain, Novatec wheels, and Kenda tires! For road/gravel training, my bike will be the Pivot Vault. It will also have a Shimano drivetrain, Novatec wheels, and Kenda tires. To have fun on all the trails, I will be adding my dream squishy bike to the collection: the Pivot Mach 5.5 Carbon. My bike shop, Incycle, carries Pivot bikes and I am excited to continue working with them!

You plan to help out with the local NICA league, what do you enjoy most about helping out with NICA?
I love kids and I love bikes! It is going to be the best season ever!! I am also in school working on elementary credential so it all meshes really well. I attended the First Aid and Mountain Bike Skills Coaching class with Matt Gunnell and a few other instructors two weekends ago and it got me even more pumped. My high school cross country and track coach had such a huge impact on my life. I ended up being the first person on my mom’s side of the family to graduate from college and she played a large role in that. Not only did she help me win 11 state titles so that I could earn a scholarship but she also set the expectation that I go to college.

She helped me look at colleges and made sure I had guidance along the way. I hope I can do the same for these student-athletes. I feel really fortunate to be able to get involved!

Why do you feel kids should get involved with NICA?
NICA has a really great mission: to create lifelong cyclists. Competing is great and I think it is really good to have goals to work towards but at the end of the day, cycling is a healthy, fun activity to participate in. NICA creates an environment where students can be social while pushing themselves physically and mentally. Also, sports are great because they teach students to have excellent time management skills, which is an invaluable skill.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think that this is a two-fold answer. First of all, mountain biking can be scary. You are supposed to go up and down these skinny dirt trails, going over rocks, around trees, and finish in one piece?! I think that women are afraid that they can’t do it or that they will get hurt. And let’s be honest, everyone crashes when they are first learning. I still crash! That is why I said earlier that it is good to go out with a patient friend in the beginning. I have been giving private lessons to a local woman and it has been so neat to see her progress into a solid rider. She has mentioned over and over again that she would not be into biking as much if she had not reached out for help. Women are completely capable of mountain biking, we just need support and encouragement.

Next, women are not always nice. Luckily, I have a rad group of women in SoCal who are nice, inspiring, and positive but I have also had an experience with three women who were beyond mean. They did everything they could to try and make me feel bad. For a while, they were doing a good job of it. My local race series became not fun and I wasn’t enjoying riding as much. As soon as I got away from the toxic environment, everything got better again. This winter I am choosing to not participate in the series because I want to make sure I have fun riding and racing.

It is important to find women who will be supportive of you. Girlz Gone Riding is a great example! Wendy has made a group that is accepting of ALL women, regardless of skill level. At any one of her rides, you will see Pros out with first-time riders all having a blast! I helped out with the Big Bear chapter for a bit when I lived up there and I was so amazed at the positive environment that Wendy and Ali created.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I am hoping that KS-Kenda will be able to have a positive impact on getting #morewomenonbikes! We have some really great ideas and I can’t wait to get them going. We have found companies that believe in our mission, which is also very important!

Something that I could go on and on about is equal payout. It is so important that races do this. Epic Rides offers equal payout and their events are getting more and more popular. I try to only support races that offer equal payout. I had a Facebook post that was hot a month or so ago that discussed a race in Texas that offered the winning female HALF of the male winner. I was amazed that people actually defended it. Hopefully, we will continue to see more race director’s follow the Epic Rides model: EQUAL PAYOUT!

Overall, I believe that Southern California has a very supportive women’s scene but we can always get more women out. If we continue to be supportive and encouraging when we see women on bikes, I think that will help a lot. Also, I talk about cycling a lot at work. A lot of times women seem interested in it. If I can get even one woman on a bike by talking about my passion, I will consider that a win. As a pro, women can be intimidated to ride with me so when I attend no-drop rides I make sure that it is very clear that I am there to have fun and enjoy the ladies ride. Being approachable is definitely important to help get more women on bikes!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I have found so much happiness and joy from bikes and I want to help others feel the same way. I had two women in Sedona who were so great when I started riding bikes more (shoutout to Cory and Gina!!!) and it really helped me fall in love with cycling. I want to be like them: encouraging, positive, and passionate.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have 30 hours towards my private pilot license. I have landed a taildragger on a riverbed near the Knick Glacier in Alaska and performed a Hammerhead at Sean Tucker’s Aerobatics School in King City, CA. I hope to earn my license one day and miss flying so much!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Breaking Down Barriers with Mountain Biking

2018 S-Works Women's EpicThis year, give yourself the gift of proving to yourself that you can mountain bike. I'm serious. Keep reading.

I bet that you would be able to ride an easy trail or two if you simply gave yourself the opportunity to try. This is coming from someone who was going to judge how fun mountain biking could be on her first, second, and third experience.

This is coming from someone who tried to convince herself she couldn't do it. This is coming from someone who gave herself the opportunity to keep trying

Misconceptions of mountain biking abound due to there being several types and styles of riding off-road. More times than not, folks are seeing clips of "mountain biking" on Redbull TV and believe that is the only style of mountain biking out there. They see full face helmets, knee/elbow pads, folks riding down the sides of cliffs, and some even doing epic backflips. I'm not even going to get into the crashes that you may see from these runs. Because of media- this is what people associate to be "all mountain biking" while their location may not have Redbull-style mountain biking whatsoever.

My goal in life is to break down the stigmas associated with riding off-road. I'm not going to sugar coat the mountain biking learning curve. It might take a few rides before you believe me when I say "It can be what you make it." The problem is, many don't stick with it; they experience "failure" and find it too hard to overcome. They are scared, nervous, afraid, fearful, and the thought of expanding past that mindset seems impossible. They fall once and decide they can't mountain bike- it's learning to push past the "fight or flight" and power thru. It's not easy to talk yourself into "fight" but it can be done.

My mountain biking journey started out like so:
An attempt sometime in mid-2012.
3 attempts in fall of 2013.
It was fatbiking in the winter months of late 2013/early 2014.
Then I spent as much of my free time in May of 2014 mountain biking as much as possible with a lot of ups and downs along the way. Simultaneously loving and being frustrated with it.

My first off-road ride had me feeling stripped down and vulnerable. I barely had any handling skills as I was still relatively new to paved trail riding and commuting. I didn't know how to mount or dismount properly and I didn't feel stable or confident on anything other than pavement. Honestly, I was still at a point where I was likely not super confident with riding on pavement yet, either.

In 2014 I had a plus bike which boosted my confidence in terms of feeling more stable on the bike, but I became overwhelmed with everything I wasn't comfortable with.

Each time we went out we seemed to go somewhere new and I didn't establish a comfort level. I felt that I wasn't cut out for mountain biking. The lesson I learned: I wasn't giving myself a chance to grow, learn, or improve.

I also was holding onto fears that I used continually as reasons to keep myself from going outside of my comfort zone...I had all of the following worries and concerns:
I'm afraid of the unknown.
I'm afraid to get hurt.
I'm afraid to be slow.
I'm afraid to fall down in front of you.
I'm afraid to hold you back.
I don't believe you'll ride with me.
I don't believe you won't judge me.
I don't believe you when you say it hurts to fall on pavement more than dirt.
I don't believe you when you say I'll get better.

The hardest thing for myself to learn was to give me room to accept and grow. In no way would I become skilled in a day. The second hardest was to actually believe what my riding partner was telling me and showing me. He went out with me with full intent to be positive, supportive, encouraging, and to not leave me in the dust. The biggest disservice I did to him was to not believe in him or his efforts.

You think you want to try mountain biking but you talk yourself out of it every time. My answer to that is "Stop it."

It's far easier to talk ourselves out of trying something that we feel we're not cut out for, but most times we do not feel we're any good at something until we've spent hours....and I mean hours applying ourselves. You do not start Pilates or yoga for the first time and do everything perfectly, especially if you haven't done it before. It takes time, patience, practice, and the ability to accept the stages of learning.

Mountain biking, riding off road they're one in the same and many people sell themselves short based on their very first attempt. I didn't start to enjoy mountain biking until I had spent several hours working past my insecurities.
I learned many lessons from my first year of riding:
You don't have to ride fast to have fun.
Practice does make better.
Crashes are usually slow-mo and bruise the ego more than the body
After you fall a couple times, you get past the terrifying worry of "OMG I'M GOING TO DIE" mentality.
After you have your first accomplishment on the trails, you'll be hooked.
You'll have many frustrations during the learning process, but you'll be a better rider for overcoming them.
Flat pedals are your friends.
Giving yourself the opportunity to learn, grow, and become better at something new and challenging
is the best gift you can give yourself.

This experience inspired my next step: Fearless Women of Dirt

My goal for Fearless Women of Dirt in 2015 was to break down the barriers and stigma associated with mountain biking. Within a year of mountain biking, I became a self-designated spokeswoman of the joys that mountain biking can bring if, and only if, others would allow themselves the opportunity to experience it.
This has been a worthwhile and challenging experience much like mountain biking itself. Filled with ups and downs, successes and failures. If I treated the growth of Fearless Women of Dirt like many treat mountain biking, I would've given up after the first year. I learned what it's like to not have people believe you- until you've done a lot of convincing and they finally allow themselves to experience it first-hand. I continually have to break down the walls between myself and others- showing them one ride at a time that I truly believe in them. That I want to support their growth in this sport, that I will ride with them, and encourage them. I feel so fortunate to have put this goal and mission on my plate! I know I will have challenges to overcome and barriers to break down, but I truly believe that I can bring forth a richer mountain biking community.
Fearless Women of Dirt has grown from a group based in Decorah to a literal women's mountain bike movement. We have a family of Fearless Women of Dirt Ambassadors who believe in the power that off-road riding can bring to the mind, body, and soul. I want folks of all ride levels to experience the camaraderie that Fearless Women of Dirt brings to the table. The growth and support of the Fearless Women of Dirt community is incredible.

Won't you join us? 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Women Involved Series: Laura Wisner

Laura Wisner is President of Petunia Mafia Cycling, a women's club based in Colorado with other 125 members.

With a background in sports and active apparel marketing, leading the team was a natural progression, as she loves working with sponsors, events, and athletes.

Laura wonders when a cycling obsession has gone too far as she has cycling-themed art, wine glasses, pint glasses, jewelry, and pajamas.

She loves racing cyclocross and has a hard time choosing between her road, mountain, and cruiser bikes during the rest of the year. Her cycling team has brought her new friends, improved skills, and gets her motivated to ride new places she never thought she would.

Social Media: @larauski @petuniamafia

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it got started-
My first mountain bike in the late 80's was a freebie a store gave away when you bought a TV or toaster or something. It was rigid, heavy, and had toe cages. I had always liked recreational cycling growing up but it wasn't until well after college and moving to CO where I got serious and really understood bikelife. It was the late 90's when my boyfriend (now husband) got me into a higher level of cycling - and better bikes.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Cyclocross is my thing. I had never identified as a competitor - they always seemed to have way more motivation and training time than I was willing to give. But when I'm on the course and pushing myself I'm pretty happy. It's kind of like childbirth or a spin class; it sucks when you're in the moment but you feel elated afterward. Cyclocross is one of those sports the socializing afterward is as much part of the event as the race. While watching the next race group - perhaps with a coffee or beer in hand - you verbally break down the course feature by feature, how things went, laugh, lament, and already feel the urge to perform better at the next go-round.

For folks who have not raced before, but are curious, do you have any tips or suggestions for them?
Join a club that has a race contingent (it doesn't have to be a hard-core race team) and who is willing to walk you through the process from licensing, to training, to race-day tactics. The main deterrent is the intimidation factor. If you have friendly faces surrounding you, bellying up to the race start is so much more realistic.
Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike races? What did you learn and what inspired you to keep at it?
My first mountain bike race was part of the Winter Park (CO) series. I love climbing and was less afraid of climbing than descending. I passed a bunch of master men who were on bikes 5 times as expensive as mine and loved that. My next race was the women-only Beti Bike Bash, their very first event. The cross-country terrain was reasonably non-technical, and the whole scene was encouraging. I won my race category!

Tell us why you love cyclocross!
Cyclocross is my thing. I love the whole package: the atmosphere, the camaraderie of teammates on course, the goofiness of costumes and bacon/donut/beer handups, the intense workout. It's a serious sport that has an easy entry point for any cyclist, whether a roadie or mountain biker. You can tell who's a roadie and who's a mountain biker based on how they do on different parts of the course. Roadies are fast on the pavement, and mtb'ers kill it on the technical parts; leapfrogging is common between both sets of riders.

Clips or flats? What do you like for what style of riding?
I haven't tried flats - my clips are mounted as such that I can get out of them quickly and easily if needed. I'm working on bunny hops and lifting my rear wheel so clips are better for that.

Have you had any biffs (crashes) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
My problem is I don't push myself hard enough to try challenging technical problems and biff! I chicken out and walk instead of believing in my ability and strength. You have to be willing to take some knocks to improve, and my own brain keeps getting in my way.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I didn't know to drop from a rock or feature larger than a couple of inches. Now I know to let my arms take up that distance and get my arse back. That's not to say I don't still have demons, I do. But with every success, I get slightly less afraid. I tell everyone to enroll in skills clinics - there's never been one that hasn't been worth the time or money. Pro athletes and Olympians use coaches, so there's no shame in any of us going to skill clinics.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Looking at a feature like a big rock and freaking out still gets me. I'm working on that. I'm getting better at cornering as well, rolling the bike into a lean independently underneath so the tire does the work.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Freedom. Feeling physically powerful. Noticing surroundings that you just couldn't while in a car.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I went from a Gary Fisher steel single speed hardtail to a Liv Pique full-suspension geared bike this year. While I loved the challenge and simplistic elegance of a single speed, I can do so much more on my Liv. Good gear is always worth the investment. When I test drove the Liv I knew that it would be game-changing.

You are the president of Petunia Mafia Cycling, tell us more about Petunia Mafia cycling and what the group is about-
Petunia Mafia is a club; all are welcome. We're roadies and/or mountain bikers, with a sizeable contingent of cyclocross fanatics (CX is big in CO). The "team" started because our founder is an active apparel designer and she wanted to wear a cuter kit than what was available, and she wanted to create a community that wasn't crazy hard-core. She contacted friends in the cycling world and got sponsors. That was 8 years ago. We've developed this club to be what women want in their cycling life: ride options without mandatory obligations, skills clinics, weekend getaways, relevant sponsors, and CUTE KITS. Whether a woman is a weekend pedal pusher or a serious competitor, we try to offer a fantastic experience for all.

How did you originally become involved with Petunia Mafia Cycling?
Our founder and I worked together almost 20 years ago. She reached out and asked for help with marketing the team. After the first team president moved to another state, the board was like, "OK Laura, now you're the president." It's running a small business, which I have experience in, and coming from the sports marketing world this role is perfect for me.

Why do you feel women's cycling groups are a positive thing?
Women, of course, and thankfully, are a different animal than men. We need engagement, support, and emotive experiences to feel connected to our brands and community. A women-only team can offer those touch points in meaningful ways. Each year I have some woman tell me that this team has changed their lives. That tells me we fill an important need.

What do women need to do in order to join Petunia Mafia Cycling?
Register! There's no application, no vote, and no judgement. If you're a woman and ride a bike, we welcome you.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I like to say that if you put a kit with logos on Mother Teresa she would've intimidated people. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard "I'd join your team but I'm sure you all are much faster/better than me" I'd be writing this from a Caribbean beach house. Women self-undermine their abilities. Mountain biking can be gnarly and dangerous. That shouldn't deter anyone from finding a supportive group to ride with - there will always be someone who is above and below you in skills. So get on a bike and get on with it.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
It's a Catch-22; we need more women in the industry to attract more women. There has to be a concerted effort to appeal to women:
Women-only events, clinics, and races. Feeling judged or embarrassed is a major deterrent.

Tie in the whole female package: socialization and sport, such as wine, fashion shows, and shopping nights at bike shops
Confidence=power. Teach them how to fish to increase confidence.: bike maintenance clinics, race strategy clinics, coach/trainers who know how to teach according to how women typically learn

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I love the thrill of experiencing a new ride or nailing a technical section that scares the crap out of me. I want others to feel that.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have 3 older brothers who never taught me how to spit properly

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Choosing The Hard Line.

Photo Credit: Chad Berger
As we enter into the new year, I typically go into a self-reflection mode. I look back on the previous year, the successes, and challenges while thinking about what my newfound and continuing goals are. In truth, I wasn't planning to write a post about the 2017 season as I felt like I would be tooting my own horn. Yet, 2017 wasn't riddled with absolute success, there were struggles and challenges for sure. In reality, 2017 was very likely a turning point in my efforts to create a rich, diverse, and inspiring women's biking community locally (and beyond.)

Friends and family who have known me for years have likely seen me in a different light for part of my life. In full honesty, I think it's simply because I was too afraid to come into my own. I was afraid of failure, so I was afraid to try. Because of this fear, I would procrastinate and sometimes, likely not put forth full effort because of having to live up to "expectations."

I remember a creative writing assignment I had in High School, and the very first paper I did very well. The teacher had written on the paper that he had high expectations I would live up to the "A" and basically "earn it" the rest of the year. I'm pretty sure that was the only "A" grade I got. It wasn't for lack of trying, but I remember that teacher putting into my head that I would never be considered a "great writer" because I couldn't earn that damn "A" from then on.

I'm not entirely sure what switch got flipped in my brain, but a few years ago I bought a bicycle and found that I could prove myself wrong. What a concept!

After being introduced to mountain biking, I had to fight my ingrained reactions of flight mode. I was afraid. I was being challenged. I was outside my comfort zone. Why did anyone think this was a good idea!? It was probably the first few successes of conquering parts of a trail that had me thinking "Ok, you can do this. Prove yourself wrong."

So I set out to do so.
It wasn't without anger, fear, or tears. I can assure you there were whoops, joy, and happy tears, too.

Then we have Josie's Bike Life, formally Life on Two Wheels. Originally a blog that was started to be a safe space for me to talk about my challenges with biking. Eventually, it turned into a source of inspiration for women riders everywhere. I went into the interview concept with low expectations, and then found myself swimming in emails to turn into blog posts! The past few years of creating these awesome interviews have been very rewarding, and I will say again- I have no idea how long I can keep it going. It's harder to connect with more women, and people have to say "yes" and actually commit to answering questions. So far, 2018 is starting off strong, but I keep myself open to the concept that it may turn into a once-a-month posting vs. weekly.

It's also become a platform for my own growth in riding. I want people to see the person on the bike as a human being with feelings and concerns. I didn't start out fearless, and there are times where I still have fear (especially riding somewhere new!) but I want people to see how a person who has concern can work thru the "fight or flight" if they simply give themselves the opportunity to try. Try, try, and try again.
Fearless Women of Dirt was created in 2015 with a group of my girlfriends, and my hope was to create a literal world-wide movement. Basically, a "club" of sorts for anyone to join, anywhere. It's not an original idea because there are groups like that already- but I felt compelled to create something that could (at the very least) be recognized in the tri-state area. I dream big, and when you dream big- there are big fears that go along with.

I've had to quiet the voice of doubt not only from myself but from others too. Simply by being bullheaded and believing in my goal and purpose. My purpose is to help more women discover what they can do on a bike. I was the ultimate warrior in the game of "I can't!" and I had to use a lot of self-motivation to knock that "Can't" to the ground. It's a struggle because I still battle the thoughts of "What the heck do I think I'm doing?" but what I'm doing is creating something. I'm creating a movement. I'm making a ripple in the cycling industry.

I started with absolutely NOTHING.
I ended the year with having had a great run of Sunday FWD Rides, several FWD Women's Nights, two FWD Mother/Daughter rides, and a whole lot of inspiration to keep on keeping on.
For 2018 I will have 7 awesome women representing as ambassadors for Fearless Women of Dirt:
Kenzie, Kim, Amy, Kristin B, Kristin, Melody, and Beth.

Fearless Women of Dirt, the community, is growing. Slowly but surely I believe that more women in Decorah will accept what I'm doing as part of something greater than simply trying to get more women on our trails. I also hope to engage the youth to become a part of FWD, to ultimately create the next generation of badass women riders.
All of this: mountain biking, blogging, and establishing Fearless Women of Dirt...they are all things that I didn't believe I would be able to do. They are all things that I had big dreams of accomplishing, and they are all things that I feared would not be. I wasn't sure that I would actually "get" how to mountain bike. I didn't think anyone would read my blog. During 2016 I felt that maybe Fearless Women of Dirt was a pipe dream.

At some point in my life, I grew up. In doing so, I decided that I should be able to accomplish anything I put my mind to, even if it seems impossible. It's not easy starting from square one and becoming a somewhat proficient mountain biker when you didn't have basic handling skills down.
Creating a blog and readership takes a lot of time, dedication, and effort. There are frustrating times when I'm dealing with writer's block and not able to type out more than a paragraph. There are times when I fear I'll not be able to connect with awesome women, willing and able to do an interview via email. In the end, it all works out.

Lastly, Fearless Women of Dirt. An idea brought forth by inspiration; my wanting to create a women's ride community locally. Something that hasn't been done before, and an idea that has taken a couple years to really take off. It's slow going, and at times I could've easily thrown a flag in- but I believe in Fearless Women of Dirt. I believe it can grow, it can expand into other communities, and it can become a recognized name.

All of this has happened because I had a hope, and with that, I created a goal. In order to make a dream become reality, you have to put forth a lot of time, effort, and commitment. You can't quit when the going gets tough. You can't become afraid of failure, nor can you fear success.

I chose the path less traveled, I picked the hard line, and I'm ready to see what else I can accomplish.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Women Involved Series: Charlotte Batty

Often referred to as 'Minii Batty', I grew up riding bikes around our small town, cattle farm chasing after my three older siblings. These carefree childish rides evolved into a lifetime of competitive mountain biking for all of us. After 8 years of competing across North America and Europe at an international level, mountain biking is no longer a sport I am apart of, rather it has become my lifestyle. Upon hanging up the racing bikes, I discovered a passion for chasing the trails and sharing my knowledge and experience with other like-minded people on how to have more fun on their bikes.

In the last couple years this has become more narrowed on being an advocate for women's mountain biking with the support of my own business - Minii Adventures, Trek (Trek Women's Advocate Program), Sombrio Cartel (Sombrio Crew), and Professional Mountain Bike Instructors Association (PMBIA).

Instagram: @minii_adventures
Facebook: Minii Adventures

Biking has always been part of your life, for those who may have come into cycling later in life, tell us how biking has influenced you throughout the years-
Biking has literally become my lifestyle. My life revolves around my bike - my work, hobby, exercise and social life all have some link to it. It has taught me a lot of things, including, camaraderie, determination, hard work, and also brought to my life a chance to be active, and have friendship and community.

What was it like to grow up with siblings who were/are competitive mountain bikers? Did you feel like it was a struggle to find your niche or was it easy to do your own thing?
I really enjoyed sharing my racing passion with my three older siblings, but it always lingered in the back of my mind what my niche was. While I never really had direct competition (i.e. racing in the same age category) as my siblings, I always had these predetermined bench-markers as to what my siblings had accomplished. In some areas, I would feel like I had worked hard and it paid off, and others, I felt like I was way behind in comparison. It was when I finally moved away from the competitive side, and after 6 months off the bike, I landed a group-ride-leader role - and I knew then that I had found my niche.

You used to participate in competitive mountain biking events, what would you say you learned from that experience?
What hard work and determination is! It is not easy being a competitive endurance athlete, and it forced you to dig deep both physically and mentally, a lot. This is something that has helped me grow into a strong independent woman today. It also taught me about camaraderie and good sportsmanship - great things to bring with you in everyday life.

What was the motivating decision to stop riding competitively and why has that been a good choice for you?
*see second question’s answer*
I absolutely love riding my mountain bike - but one day I just had the thought that I could still ride my mountain bike and not have to train and race and it would be okay. It felt like I had just grown out of racing and it was time to find my own identity in the sport (after years of chasing after my older siblings in their footsteps). I am now a Level 2 Professional Mountain Bike Instructor (PMBIA) and am making a living as an instructor and guide, and having just as much, if not more, fun on my bike.

A lot of folks encourage others to participate in events, could you give us your two cents as to why you can still be an advocate for mountain biking, but not "race"-
*see first question’s answer*
There are so many other paths to ride down on a bike - it’s literally a pick your own adventure. Find a great group of people that you like to hang out with, get out on the bike and let the magic happen from there. For me - it’s a lifestyle, career, hobby, exercise and social life.

If you can, take us back to one of your first mountain bike rides. What did you love about it? What did you learn? What inspired you to keep at it?
Wow, we are going back a long time here. It was a XC Canada Cup in Canmore, Alberta, I think I was 15 (so U16 category). I remember I had worked so hard that season. My training had me feeling invincible on my bike. That year the course at the Nordic Centre was old school - long climb, short descent, short climb, long descent, which was the style of riding that I felt the most confident with - remaining consistent. I just remember leaving that start line and lingering at the back of the group, and then just ramping up the pace and holding it for what felt like ever. The feeling of zipping past every rider before reaching the top and not being totally gassed was exhilarating. Having the patience to make my race plan come to life, and trust what I had done in preparation for the race claimed me first place that day.
Clips or flats? What do you enjoy and why?
I literally learned how to mountain bike/ride on clipless, so I will always be more comfortable on them than flats. I just feel so much more connected and ‘one with the bike’, and my climbing is way more consistent. I have come to appreciate flats though, for having more precision in your technique (not relying on being clipped in) and they are a lot more forgiving in jumping and wheelie’ing when things go bad. They are also great for beginner mountain bike riders to learn on.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
There were a few things I found difficult about being a competitive mountain biker, but the hardest part was diet. I was a bit heavier than your average teenage female and so it always felt like I was in a battle with myself to eat fewer calories and try to lose those couple extra pounds. I guess I have my raging sweet tooth to thank for that. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I moved past this constant fight until I gave up competing altogether. I still to this day struggle with my body image, but I have learned to embrace what healthy looks like and what curves are. Women need to stop comparing themselves to others. You are uniquely you.

Another is getting out of my own head with difficult features - I always look at a new feature before sending it in (never blindly), and sometimes stopping to look at it too long can you make your brain start to wander about the consequences. I just have to remind myself that I am capable of doing this and to just get after it. And if I fail, then I pick myself up, figure out what I did wrong and try to learn from that for next time.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Techy rock gardens! When you’re just a tiny little rider, it was often hard to be able to drive enough momentum to get through some really rough sections and they pushed you around a lot. The biggest thing that helped me was remembering ‘Eyes on the prize’...keep your eyes looking where you want your bike to go, and in those cases, my exit of the feature or further down the trail from that. Your eyes are your most powerful tool to help you be a successful rider in any discipline.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Air time! I love it and it’s dangerously addicting, but I only started letting my wheels leave the ground in the last two seasons. My biggest barrier has been getting comfortable letting the brakes go and hitting big features with a lot of speed. I usually catch myself braking when I should be trying to build speed instead. The best way I have learned to overcome this is to follow a trusted/experienced wheel into a feature - this sets the pace for the minimum speed I need to safely clean a jump or drop feature. And I have some really awesome friends that love helping me on this.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love a lot of things about riding my bike - this is tough to narrow down! But, I would have to say the best thing about it is the feeling of smoothly and freely rolling through features - whether it is bermed corners, jumps or techy rock gardens, I just love having something to accomplish, and then aiming to ride it as smooth as possible - in some instances this feels like butter and its exhilarating.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Well, I live in an area that has a variety of technical and rough XC and DH riding, so I have one bike that does it all (a trail/all mountain/enduro bike). I am currently on a 2016 Trek Remedy 8 WSD, and have a 2018 Trek Remedy 9.8 WSD ready to go for next season. These enduro bikes (and dropper posts) will blow your mind with that they are capable of both descending and climbing, and are a load of fun!

Tell us about your business, Minii Adventures and what it's all about!
Gather, Motivate, Ride - this is what my I have built my business around. There is a huge lag still in the industry of getting more women, kids, and people in general on mountain bikes in all disciplines. Bringing my eight years of racing experience, NCCP and PMBIA instructing certifications to the table, I thought - what can I do to help share this amazing sport with others?! And it has grown from there. I offer group sessions (‘Clinics’), private instruction sessions, and open group rides for all levels of abilities for both cross-country and downhill mountain biking.

What inspired you to become PMBIA certified? Since your certification, what has been your most rewarding moment with coaching?
I came into the instructing industry with a lot of experience and knew that my passion for teaching would keep me on that path, but I wanted to make sure I had the best tools to teach those skills to other riders. I had been debating between a couple different certifying bodies, (after completing some NCCP courses in the past) when I decided to take up a part-time instructing job at our local bike park, Blue Mountain (Collingwood, Ontario). They require PMBIA certificate which made the decision for me. And it’s one that I am so glad I made. I am now a certified PMBIA Level 2 (Air) instructor and am working on bettering my riding so I can get my Level 3 (the highest offered). My favourite teaching moment was a woman I had in a downhill lesson recently. She was new to trail riding this summer and had the audacious goal of wanting to ride a drop. In less than an hour and a few tries later, I had her clearing a 3-foot drop. Her excitement over that accomplishment was so rewarding.
What was your motivation for becoming a women's mountain biking advocate?
That there are not enough of us - It makes me wonder how my life would have been shaped if I had approached the sport differently (rather than the competitive angle) at a younger age, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Mountain biking is such a positive experience and offers so many benefits beyond just exercise, that it’s something everyone should have an opportunity to try and decide for themselves if it’s right for them.

You were recently accepted to come on board as a Trek Women's Advocate, what about this opportunity excites you and why do you feel advocate programs like this is a good thing?
It makes me pumped to see the bike brand that I value so much, stepping in to provide support with the same aspirations and goals that I have. These programs are great because they create avenues to get more women out trying biking of any discipline in a no-pressure atmosphere. Which is a win-win for everyone.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Men! Haha I don’t mean this harshly, but so many women that I have worked with, have been taken for their ‘first ride’ with a boyfriend, spouse, partner, etc and been dragged onto trail that was way above their ability or confidence level - and this makes them want to run away from the mountain bike immediately.

Another big hurdle, is when a woman doesn’t have someone close enough to confide in and can guide her with things such as what bike to purchase, where to ride, chamois hygiene (no underwear!), or having people to ride with in general. So they shy away from it all together - which is where these women-advocate programs, such as the Trek Women Advocates, comes in.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Accessibility - see my second point in the question above.

Another big hurdle, is when a woman doesn’t have someone close enough to confide in and can guide her with things such as what bike to purchase, where to ride, chamois hygiene (no underwear!), or having people to ride with in general. So they shy away from it all together - which is where these women-advocate programs, such as the Trek Women Advocates, comes in.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
By creating the opportunity for like-minded women to find mountain biking - an opportunity that I never had, nor existed when I was growing up in the sport.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Growing up, my nickname was always Mini Batty - hence the name Minii Adventures!