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