Monday, March 26, 2018

Women Involved Series: Jeni Boltshauser

In 2015 I needed to take a break from running. I had recently finished an ultra race dragging my right leg for 17 miles. I had no more cartilage in my knee and was warned by an orthopedist this was coming. I was devastated as trail running was my life at that time.

My significant other Justin suggested I try mountain biking. I had ridden a road bike for 2 triathlons I had competed in and didn't care for it. I was really hesitant but desperate to get back onto the trails. I unexpectedly fell in love with it.

Now he is a stage 4 cancer survivor and thought we would leisurely bike around, stopping to take pictures.

I took to the more technical terrain immediately. The rockier, scarier the better. I quickly realized I needed skills or I was going to die. That led me to take my first women's only mountain biking skill building clinic over a weekend.

Prior to that weekend, I remember thinking, "Where are all the women?" They are everywhere in running. I was equally dismayed with the lack of choices in women's apparel. I set about finding the women. After attending the skills clinic I started working with a local bike shop to set up maintenance clinics and rides. At the same time, I created a Facebook group to meet other women to ride with. All I could think is there has to be more women out there being the only girl in a group of guys riding. Not to mention the more gravity style riding you get into the less frequent they become. Well, I found them. What was just me and maybe 3 other ladies in the group has grown to almost 700 members around the world. I am amazed at the women riding in places like Singapore, Philippines! I get so incredibly happy when one of those women posts about how excited they are to find other women in mountain biking. My goal is to grow the presence of ladies in the sport so we have the same choices as the male riders. In addition to supporting and encouraging women in a sport that requires quite a bit of skill and guts. Women are truly badass and I want to show them off.

At the beginning of 2017, I met Paige Ramsey. I wanted to hold skill-building clinics for women as well since skills is such an important piece of women staying in the sport. I started holding clinics for her to coach at. At the same time, I would learn alongside all the participants. I decided to get my IMBA ICP Instructors Certification to assist in the clinics. I am now Level 1 and Level 2 certified.

I also entered the world of Enduro Racing this year. I like racing because I like goals. Knowing you have a race coming up gets you out and exercising. Well, no surprise that there isn't a ton of women racing. For example in the California Enduro Series, in the beginner category, the men will have over 30 participants and the women are around 5. By the end of the 2017 season, I encouraged a friend to race which has set the tone for next year. I want to encourage and support women to try racing. I intend on providing support from pre-ride to race day while racing alongside them.

What started as a Facebook group has now become a company. We have a website with an online forum for women to connect with other riders around the world. We hold clinics, retreats, and rides. We post articles, podcasts, and videos to provide support and occasionally make fun of ourselves. I have a YouTube channel I started some time ago. I provide the female perspective of trails to help others who want to see what the trail is before riding. I also keep in my crashes because that is real riding. I leave in my scared moments too. Because we all have those.

As for my personal life, I actually have a corporate day job that I have had for over 20 years. My goal would be to eventually do this full-time but I have a child who will someday go to college so it might be awhile before I can quit:)

With a day job, family and running a company I am extremely busy. I am not going to lie somedays I think why am I doing this? Then I read a comment from a woman who is new to mountain biking and through our support and encouragement has conquered her fears and is loving it. Then I remember how it is all worth it. Tell us about your mountain #bikelife introduction and why it has been so inspiring for you-

I had been told by an orthopedic surgeon that I had very little cartilage left in my knees. I was devastated to hear my addiction to running would soon be ending. I couldn’t imagine what I was going to do with my life without running. Despite doctor’s advice I ran a 50k and had to drag one of my legs for 17 miles. I decided I better take a break. My significant other suggested I rent a mountain bike and ride with him. I was hesitant because I did not enjoy road riding. I rented a Trek Lush from a local shop and went for a ride. I unexpectedly fell in love with it. I really liked that I could still be out on the trails. I found it super fun to try to ride over rocks and was grinning on all the descents. I decided to buy a mountain bike and the rest is history.

Instagram: jenibolts and mtbexp
Facebook: MTB Experience
Facebook Private Women's Only
 (Primarily- there are some industry dudes on there!): Women's MTB Experience

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I immediately gravitated towards the downhill fun. However, I quickly realized if I don’t get skills I am going to die. I was riding places I should never have ridden as a beginner. I crashed a lot but I am extremely stubborn and will not give up until I master something. The constant challenge and thrill when I overcame a fear to ride through an obstacle was how I knew I had found my next passion.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Flats all the way! I knew right from the beginning that flats were for me versus clips. I am really uncoordinated and could barely handle switching gears while trying to navigate the terrain. This was one of the reasons I always shied away from cycling. There was way too much going on to have a good time. Wearing flats versus clips was one less thing to worry about. Then when I became a coach I was very glad I learned in flats. It really pays off in skill building.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I have had some spills but nothing major. I flew off a cliff recently and I always wondered what that would be like. It’s a surreal moment of seeing sky then dirt repeatedly until you stop. I tend to analyze my crashes. I want to know exactly what I did to contribute to it. Was I too far back and washed out the tire? Did I space out and not have enough pressure in my feet? I do that so I can learn from each crash and hopefully not repeat it.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
When I first started riding I hung out (and still do if I am scared) in the backseat. I was a get back and hope for the best kind of rider. When I met Paige (MTB Experience’s Skills Program Director) she quickly pointed that out. This is why skill-building clinics are so important. To have a coach watch you all day and point out what is most likely a reoccurring theme in your riding is extremely beneficial. It’s safe to say it is probably one fundamental you are not fully grasping that is holding you back in many aspects of your riding.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
High-Speed Cornering. I still don’t own that skill. I rent it, meaning it is inconsistent. I realized when I raced this year that in order to not lose time in the corners I had to pedal like mad in other places to make up for it. That seems super inefficient! It is a constant work in progress and I am determined not to let corners slow me down.

What do you love about riding your bike?
It allows me to get away from my busy life and focus on only what is in front of me. I love seeing the progress of riding. I feel like you can never plateau on a bike. There is always something to work on or towards.

Tell us about MTB Experience and how it came to fruition-
I attended my first women’s clinic in November 2015. I was so excited to meet other women in mountain biking. After that, I partnered up with a local bike shop to hold a maintenance clinic for women. I started the Facebook group to find other women to ride with as well. I was introduced to Paige Ramsey, a local coach, through that bike shop. I told her I will bring her the women if she would coach them. I did that and would throw myself into the rotation to learn from her. We kept working together and I became certified as an IMBA Level 1 and 2 ICP Instructor so I could back her up at the clinics. I turned the Facebook group into a company and added the website. The name was originally Women’s MTB Experience and I dropped that to include all genders. We still kept the Women’s MTB Experience title on the group and our main focus is women but we wanted to not exclude men from what we offer as well. We added podcasts, youtube videos, an online women’s forum and lots of social media interaction so we could truly bring that entire mountain biking experience to women. I love the posts about shoes, saddles, struggles with certain skills etc. Although my favorite was when I was having certain body parts fall asleep on long rides so posted it up. I was not alone and many other women were quick to chime in- omg me too! I thought it was just me! Oh and no judging allowed. If a member posts a video of them going over a tiny rock- we all cheer- no negative comments about form or easy terrain allowed. However, if someone asks what they are doing wrong we will try to help.
What has been the biggest challenge with creating MTB Experience? What has been the greatest success?
TIME. I have a corporate day job. I am a risk manager for a bank that I have been with for 21 years. I work from home which is great. However, I have a son and so balancing a full-time job, family and running a company is quite challenging. We have so many ideas and just not enough time in the day to get them all done. The biggest success is the outreach. When I started the Facebook group it was me and about 3 other girls. Now we have over 770 members worldwide. I receive the greatest messages about how women feel like they have found their tribe and love having a place to share everything they love about mountain biking. Nothing makes my day more than the solo warrior who finds the group and posts for the first time, “I am so happy I found all of you!

Can you share some information about your clinics? Why do you feel women-specific clinics are an important asset?
MTB Experience holds skill-building clinics for all levels in the Auburn area during the winter and fall. We are coaches for Woodward Tahoe and the Specialized Academy at Northstar, California as well. At Woodward, we hold clinics for women and will be coaching a girls MTB camp in the summer. At Northstar, we are coaches for the Friday night Pumps on Pedals and two women’s only weekend clinics. I think any clinic, co-ed or women only, is beneficial. However, women tend to open up more and not feel as intimidated if they are surrounded by other women riders working through the same skills. Women are incredibly supportive of each other in this environment. It is always amazing to see. Lots of cheering going on at all times!

Why do you believe in the value of creating a women's mountain biking community for those locally and afar?
Since there are not as many women as men in the sport often women are the sole female on a ride. We get many women who say I am so excited to find other women to ride with! We all enjoy riding with men but it’s nice to change it up and ride with women as well. The reason we have a community that is worldwide is we provide support to the lone MTB girl wherever she is and hopefully find her other riders to ride with! I think that is one of the things that impresses me the most. Locally we have found the women but can you imagine taking up mountain biking in the Philippines or Japan where it is even more rare to see a girl mountain biking? We have found those girls and they are the true badasses of this sport.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have an Intense Recluse and a Norco Magnum for dirt jumping. I just bought a DVO fork for a downhill bike I am building up before next season. I got the Recluse when I was an ambassador for Intense. I was lucky enough to ride a few bikes in the year I was with them. I got the Recluse before it was made public. I knew it was one I wanted to own. It’s the Elite model so has all the good stuff. I feel pretty lucky to have it. It’s an amazing Enduro bike. I recently had the fork custom tuned and it is so good right now!

Tell us about your upcoming race season and why you would like to get more women involved with racing-
Well, we didn’t think we would do a team this year since we didn’t solicit any sponsorships. However one of our members who moderates our forum convinced us to do it anyway. One of the reasons I wanted to do a team was not to win but to provide support and encourage other females to try it out. Well, we don’t need sponsors for that. Within one day of posting, we are putting together a team for the 2018 California Enduro Series we had 12 women signed up! I received the nicest messages regarding the team. Women who had been scared to race felt they now had a support group to be a part of. We are going to make it fun and post stats about each rider that aren’t race stats. Stats that make each of them unique. We had one rider ask if she could continue to wear her cotton t-shirts to race in as opposed to a team jersey. I told her of course you can. You be you, this is what this is all about.

Any tips or suggestions for those looking to participate in their first race?
JUST DO IT! I like racing because I enjoy working towards a goal. If you have a race coming up you will get on your bike and practice. You will get long rides in or force yourself to go down terrain you wouldn’t normally go down. For us non pros, it is not about podiums or sponsorships- it’s about pushing yourself to be the best you want to be.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I am not sure I can speak to cycling in general. As far as mountain biking, I think it is the skill and overcoming of fear that can deter women. Women don’t like to get hurt. Women have an incredible sense of self-preservation. In order to not get hurt, skills must be learned. If a woman goes out with someone that is unable to teach her how to handle tough terrain she is going to be scared and frustrated. Then it is easy to think ‘Never mind. I’ll go find another sport that doesn’t scare the hell out of me.’ I think this is a big factor on why so many women’s clinics have popped up. Women want to be out on the trails but want to do it safely.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
More choices in the gear, apparel and bikes needed for the sport. This was one of the biggest issues I had going from being a runner to a mountain biker. How come I get 2 choices of colors in flats and my guy gets 10? This is the theme with jackets, gloves, shorts. Don’t even get me started on the non matching kits. In addition, we don’t want pink and purple. Well, some may but that takes us back to having choices. As far as bikes, I don’t want or need a women’s specific bike that has limited resale. How about you make a small bike that would fit a small rider of any gender?

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
This sport is amazing. It is so challenging and fun. You get to be in nature while feeling a bit like a thrill seeker as you ride challenging terrain. The feeling you get when making it through a tough section is like nothing else I have ever experienced. I want other women to experience that same sense of accomplishment. Not to mention it translates into so many other aspects of our lives. Women are inherently badass. They could rule this sport if they wanted to.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I was a blogger with a published monthly column for a parenting magazine. I didn’t write about how to make crafts with my child. I wrote about my inadequacies as a new parent. I thought I was funny and so did the editor at the time. Well as soon as she left the more straight-edged editor gave me the boot. I needed an outlet to write which led to my website. This is a great example of when one door closes, another door opens that is so much better.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Sarah Cooper

Photo Credit: Eddy Rayford
I am a mother of four and former cardiology nurse practitioner. I began cycling as a commuter in college but didn’t pick it up as a competitive sport until my late 30s when I started racing triathlons in 2008.

I made the switch to ultra distance cycling in 2013, and have been fortunate to race and win events all over the United States.

In 2016, I won overall in the 928 mile Race Across the West, and this year I was the top woman finisher at Race Across America.

You are putting ulta-endurance rides/races on the map! Tell us what inspired you to take on the ultra-scene?
Opportunity, and the desire to travel once my kids were a bit older and more self-sufficient. I started looking on Google for cycling events and opened a Pandora’s Box of potential adventures. I found the local options for cycling races not terribly interesting, and the idea of riding my bike someplace exciting like Death Valley or across an entire state appealed to me more than say riding in a circle for 45 minutes. I’ve since come to appreciate the strategy and intensity of shorter bike races, and I truly love a good time trial. But when it comes down to the choice of what I like to do for fun, the idea of hundreds of miles will make me laugh out loud and say, 'hell yeah, bring it on’.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?

Starting as a bike path riding triathlete, I’d say every handling skill was a challenge. I was hit by a car crossing the street on my bike when I was in my early 20’s. From that moment on, I lived in fear. Fear of crashing, fear of cars, fear of going too fast, fear of venturing out on my own... Fear on that level is a hard thing to live with, and it’s nearly impossible to ride well when you are afraid to take chances. I finally grew tired of it, and tired of sucking so bad. I left the bike trail and began riding on the road with friends, and eventually alone. That was a huge step in developing actual handling skills and confidence in managing myself in groups and in tricky situations.

Years ago, I had an opportunity to go west to California with my husband on a business trip. I rented a bike and proceeding to ride myself up a 10-mile switchback climb to the top of a mountain, where I then realized I had no idea how to safely get myself down. I survived that trip, and returned every year with my husband on that same business trip and rode those same mountains, alone, over and over again. I routinely would have to stop and pull my mental act together and would have nightmares the entire week we were there. After years of this, descending finally no longer scared me, and that opened up an entire world of cycling events I was then confident enough to try. I wouldn’t say I’m the most confident of descenders, or the fastest, but I can handle my bike at over 50mph, and routinely top 40mph here in Iowa descending large hills on gravel roads. If you ever have the opportunity to watch me descend a mountain, you can tell that I’m a self-taught Iowa gravel rider. I won’t get any points for style, but it works.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being in motion. I love that I can see so many more miles in one ride than I could ever accomplish on foot. I enjoy the scenery and the random conversations I have with people I meet as I train in rural Iowa. I love the challenge of dealing with bad weather and variable road conditions. I love the purity of focus that it takes to get through a long trainer session without losing my mind. There’s a lot to love about cycling, I could ramble on all day.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I’ve sold off most of my road racing bikes and wheels, but still have one road bike and a time trial bike. I used the proceeds from my sales to buy a Specialized Diverge, and a Specialized Epic. I plan to use the Diverge for both gravel and paved road events; it’s a do everything bike. I’m pretty excited about the Epic! I’ve always wanted to mountain bike, but the risk of injury was too great while also preparing for ultra events. The last thing I needed to be doing was risking an injury doing a non-essential cycling activity when I had crew and sponsors relying on me to show up to race fit and ready! Now that I am beyond RAAM and have recovered most of my hand strength, the door is wide open to new adventures.

You have accomplished some amazing rides this year, like the RAAM. Can you tell us how you prepared yourself for the distance and what you learned about yourself from the experience?
Preparation for RAAM was a three-year process of training, racing, and logistical preparation. RAAM is said to be the toughest bicycle race in the world, and I don’t disagree. Anyone can get lucky and have a good 200 or 500-mile race on sketchy prep and a lot of determination. 3000 miles in less than 12 days requires a significant amount of discipline, experience, and sacrifice. I have done little else for the last three years except take care of my family and prepare for this race. I can’t say that I loved every minute of the preparation, but I loved the purity of discipline, the pursuit of a goal, and the passion it took to get through this event. An entire community of people threw the weight of their support behind me to get me to the start line in Oceanside, and 10 friends gave their all to get me across the country under very difficult circumstances. It was an incredible experience.
What I learned about life and love in pursuit of a RAAM finish could fill a book. When you go in search of your limits, you have to be prepared for what you will need to do when you find them. I knew... I believed in myself, and my crew believed in me. While I would never have wished for my race to go as sideways as it did (I had a lung infection, altitude sickness, several pounds of edema, and a small tear in the paraspinal muscles of my neck) it was an opportunity to test my strength in a way that I never had before, and may never have again.

Tell us about your Gravel Worlds experience of 2017! Why is this an event that gravel-lovers should look into?
I had persistent hand numbness and neck issues after RAAM. The only bike I could safely handle at Gravel Worlds was my fat bike, so I ended up withdrawing from the Masters women category and switching to the Fat Bike category. I had a great race on very bad preparation and ended up winning the Fat Bike category and finishing in just over 10 hours, a time that would’ve put me on the Masters Women podium in second place. I ended up fifth overall on 4-inch tires, which is just hilarious. Sometimes you get lucky. The course was fun and definitely fat bike friendly. The gravel in Nebraska tends to be sandy, and the better handling of the fat bike in those tough spots made it much easier to maintain momentum through the tough spots. Overall, the gravel scene is a great community of people, and this event has a fun vibe and a competitive group of athletes. I’ll be back to race it again.
Photo Credit: Eric Roccasecca
Tell us about the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra and why you created the event-
As I started venturing out farther from home on my training rides, I discovered an entire untapped area of Iowa that I thought would make a great race course. I can’t say I really needed anything else to do, but I decided to create and host an event. I’ve always longed for more ultra-endurance events closer to home, so this is my way of providing an opportunity to my fellow athletes that I wished I had had. 2017 was my second year, and despite some challenging weather, things went very well. My mission is to provide a low cost, scenic, and challenging ultra cycling event for as many years as I am free to do so. It’s turned out to be quite an enjoyable experience for me.
I also am the race director for the Elkhart Time Trial series. It is a small, Des Moines area time trial that races the second Thursday of every month, April to August. It’s a great way for area women to get involved in bike racing, and meet like-minded people.

You've been sponsored by an Iowa-based cycling clothing company, Velorosa. Tell us why you love the Velorosa brand and why folks should consider working with them-
Being on my bike for days at a time heavily influences what I am able to wear. I cannot wear ill-fitting clothing, or clothing that won’t hold up over time and repeated use. Minor chafing can turn into a disaster over the course of a multi-day event. The Velorosa kit has gotten me through many thousands of miles of training and racing in 2017.

In my early days of cycling, I settled for men’s clothing and inexpensive shorts that made me wonder how anyone could ride 100 miles, ever. All women can benefit from a nice kit that keeps them comfortable no matter the length of their ride. How do you ever venture off for that first century ride if you are uncomfortable after 20 miles?

Why do you want to encourage more women to discover the ultra-distance scene?
There is a purity of sport in ultra distance cycling that is hard to find elsewhere. There are few races with financial reward, and it takes a leap of faith to believe that hundreds or thousands of miles on a bike is possible and worth doing. The strength that you find within yourself as you take on these physical challenges can carry over into every aspect of your life.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Encouraging women that are not already involved in cycling to take up the sport can be a difficult task. At times it seems women engage me in conversation not out of genuine curiosity and an interest in my experiences within the sport, but to offer their judgements as to how they better spend their time, how much better parents they are because they would never miss their child’s anything for a bike race, or how they perceive their sanity as it relates to mine. It’s hard to offer encouragement and inspiration to a group of people that don’t seem to want to hear it. The mommy crowd can be tough, and very judgmental. It can be difficult for women who do not have encouraging people within their life to break out of that way of thinking. Even for women within the sport of cycling, breaking out of the “I am just doing this for fun” mode and pursuing self-improvement sometimes is met with resistance from family and friends. Skipping that social bar stop ride to get in a quality training ride can take some courage, and end up being a lonely road.

There is a multitude of opportunities within the world of cycling, but getting women to be open to them feels to me not so much an industry task at the entry level, but more like something that all cyclists are responsible for. Sometimes all it takes is one supportive voice to encourage someone to better themselves, find the love of the sport, and develop a passion for cycling. I did not have a lot of supportive voices in my life when I first began to pursue the sport, but there were a few, and that was enough. We all are ambassadors for cycling.

What are your plans for 2018?

Photo Credit: Alexander Hernandezz
In October of 2017, I underwent long overdue surgical repair for carpal tunnel syndrome. In the process of preparing for that surgery, I discovered that my triceps muscle has been choking the life out of my ulnar nerve at the elbow. In addition to the carpal tunnel release, I had a more complicated surgical release and relocation of my ulnar nerve in both arms. I’ve had good results and recovery of my hand strength, but my race plans for 2018 are still uncertain. I’m committed to racing Trans Iowa on a tandem, and I’ve been invited to participate in the inaugural DKXL in June, but whether I’ll do any competitive ultra cycling events beyond that I’m not certain. I do plan to race the Elkhart Time Trial series, and probably some local brevets and continue race directing and public speaking engagements as they come up.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
My first love before cycling was horses. My daughters and I recently adopted three off the track Thoroughbreds from the HART program (Hope After Racing Thoroughbreds) through Prairie Meadows.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Julie Zias

Julie loves mountain biking and champagne and can often be found combining the two. While she dabbles in all things cycling she prefers the dirt with Moab, Rabbit Valley, and Crested Butte being some of her favorite destinations. She considers a bike skirt essential to her riding kit. She leads women on mountain bike rides all over Colorado and Utah for Petunia Mafia Cycling. On her at all times is a well-stocked med kit…not because she is a nurse, but because she crashes so much!

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it got started-
My mom taught me how to ride a bike when I was three. My brothers and I would follow her around like little ducklings on our bikes to the park.

As I got older I continued to ride as a means of transportation around the neighborhood and to get to the candy store. When everyone started driving my pink Schwinn Caliente sat un-ridden in the shed. It wasn’t until years later when I was living in New Zealand that my true #bikelife started. I was playing rugby at the time and a bunch of guys on the men’s team were doing the Rainbow Rage, a 106km mountain bike race, and asked if I wanted to join. I didn’t have a bike, had never mountain biked, but I figured I would go for it. I bought my first pair of bike shorts, borrowed a men’s large bike (I ride a small) and headed out on my first mountain bike ride. I think I did three rides before the actual race, thankfully found a sized medium bike, and while it wasn’t pretty I finished the race. I was hooked.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what inspired you to keep at it?
Shortly after my initial mountain bike rides in New Zealand I moved back to the States and bought both a mountain and road bike. On my way to one of my first rides, my mountain bike flew off the top of my car and was run over by a semi…so this led to a few years of road riding. It wasn’t until I moved back to Colorado that I took up mountain biking again. My best friend was also just getting into it, so we started learning together. Colorado riding was so different than anything I had ever done before. It felt similar to when I skied in powder for the first time…I had no idea how to do it! I had way more passion and muscle than skill. The first year I don’t think I made it through a ride without crashing, but I gained skill and endurance with every ride. I still remember the day I finally figured out how to ride a switchback. Despite initially being horrible, I loved the comrade and support of the mountain biking community. I loved the challenge and the excitement of the sport, so I kept with it.

What tips would you give someone going on their first mountain bike ride?
First of all, have fun! Learning to mountain bike is hard and it can hurt, so find a supportive community that will help you work through the pain and at times embarrassment with laughter and smiles.

Then beyond having fun…ride…and then ride some more. I got better at mountain biking by mountain biking.

Why do you enjoy leading women's mountain bike rides?
There is just something special about being out there riding with a group of women. Leading women’s mountain bike rides gives me the opportunity to pay it forward for all the women who led me. I hope to inspire confidence and build skill so that hopefully one day they feel comfortable leading women’s rides or just get out there on their own. It’s my small way to help build the women’s cycling community.

Clips or flats? What do you like best and why?
Good question! I ride Crank Brother Mallet/E pedals. I like being clipped in for what I feel is better efficiency and power transfer when climbing, but I also like having the larger platform for long descents (less foot cramping) and technical areas where I may ride unclipped. If I’m going to be riding at a downhill park, or doing some skill practicing I may switch over to flats, but for my everyday riding I prefer to be clipped in.
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 crash all the time, but the hardest one for me to mentally come back from was when I broke my cheekbone riding Porcupine Rim in Moab. Porcupine Rim is one of my all-time favorite rides. About four years ago I was riding with a group and I let up on my concentration for a second on what I thought was an easy part of the trail. My front wheel got stuck between two rocks and I went over the bars so fast I didn’t have time to bring my arms up to protect my fall. My face struck directly on the rock. I can still remember the feeling of the impact and thinking that the right side of my face was crushed. Luckily my face was not crushed, and I just had microfractures along my cheekbone, which did not require any surgical intervention. I don’t know if it was the fact that I hit my face, but this crash shook me hard. On subsequent rides I was approaching anything technical scared and tense, so I wound up walking things I usually rode.

For me time, the support of my riding community, and going back and riding the trail again where what helped me overcome the fear I had after this crash. It took me about a year to feel confident in my technical riding again. I also got a full face helmet, which I seem to always forget to bring with me, but the fact that has it seems to help☺

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
The two things I distinctly remember struggling with were switchbacks and climbing technical rock gardens. It wasn’t until I had someone break down the correct body positioning and then practiced the skills over and over again that I became better at riding them. I highly recommend taking a skills clinic or series of skills clinics to help you work through problem areas and fine-tune your technique.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I still struggle with climbing technical rock gardens and jumping rather than dropping larger features on the downhill. My goal when I am riding is to always have fun. There are days when I get frustrated and I feel like I’m not having fun, and when that happens I have to check myself. I like to continually grow and be challenged, but when riding turns into self-doubt and judgment I know I have to get myself back to the basics and purity of the sport.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything! I love the mental and physical challenge of riding. I love the sweat pouring down my face on a climb and the wind blowing in my face on a descent. I love that with the combination of a bike and my power I can get almost anywhere. And mostly I love riding my bike because it is just fun!
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I follow the cyclist formula for how many bikes one should have: n+1! I have all sorts of bikes (including that pink Schwinn from my childhood) but have three main ones that I consistently ride.

My go-to mountain bike is a Specialized Stumpjumper 650B FSR carbon frame with an XT 1x11 drivetrain, Specialized Roval carbon wheels, Rock Shox Yari fork, and a Fox Float rear shock. Sorry I got a little dorky with that description. I felt like Goldilocks looking for the right bike for my size and riding style, so when my husband built this bike up for me it was like heaven riding it for the first time.

My back up bike, since I tend to crash a lot, is a Specialized Rhyme FSR Comp 6Fattie. This bike is a tank, but it is stable and descends like a champ.

And finally, I have a ridged steel Surly Wednesday fat bike. This is my winter go to or the bike I ride when I need to check myself and just head out for pure fun.

Tell us how you learned about Petunia Mafia Cycling-
When I moved back to Colorado I was looking for more ladies to ride with. I did not want a race team or anything with hardcore commitments, so a friend suggested Petunia Mafia. I went to their kick-off meeting and signed up that night.

Why did you decide to become a member of Petunia Mafia Cycling?
Petunia Mafia was exactly what I was looking for- a large group of women who like to ride hard (or not), drink champagne/beer (or not), and have fun! They have every level of rider, a great vibe, amazing sponsors, awesome kits, and are super supportive of the women’s cycling community. It was such a great decision. I have been on the team for 5 years. My riding has improved immensely but what I love the most are the women on the team.
Why do you feel women's cycling groups are a positive thing?
And as I said before, there is just something so special about being out there riding with a group of women. Cycling traditionally has been much more of a male-dominated sport. It can be hard for women to feel comfortable breaking into and learning how to ride in this type of environment. Women’s cycling groups help support the beginner to advanced cyclist which helps increase our overall participation in the sport. For me, anything that helps more women get out cycling is a positive thing!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Mountain biking can be really intimidating. If you didn’t grow up mountain biking compared to a road or commuter bike, mountain bikes are more complex and the gear is different. Add to that you now have to worry about trail navigation and riding over/around/through terrain obstacles and it can be scary. Just being able to ride a bike doesn’t equate to being able to mountain bike, which means you have to learn a whole new set of skills. I had never crashed on my road bike, however within the first ten minutes on my mountain bike I wrecked. I think it can be hard for women to find a supportive community where they can learn the skills necessary to grow as a cyclist.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
To me it feels like the cycling industry is starting to catch on, however, there is still room for growth. As someone who is married to a grouchy bearded bike mechanic, I always find myself saying that bike shops need to learn how to deal with women as customers. I often find the bike shop experience stressful. While I am an advanced rider, I am not a proficient mechanic, and honestly, I have no desire to be. I have questions that it seems men just can’t relate to. I would love to see more women present in the industry. If I walk into a shop that has a female fitter or mechanic I find myself more comfortable right away. I mean it’s not awesome speaking with a male about seat chaffing!


What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Riding has presented me with so many experiences, challenges, and relationships and I want others to have that same opportunity. Riding, especially mountain biking is not for everyone, but for those who do want to do it, I love helping in whatever I can to get them out there. Everyone has his or her own motivations for getting on a bike…the bike doesn’t judge…so get out and ride!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
When I was 16 I had bilateral fasciotomies to my calves for exercise-induced compartment syndrome. The scars are just a few in my giant collection.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Women Involved Series: Molly Hurford

I'm a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When I'm not outside, I'm writing about being outside, travel and all things cycling-related on TheOutdoorEdit.com, or interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete Podcast, which I co-host with my equally-active (cycling coach) husband. I also write for magazines: Outside, Map My Run, FloBikes, Nylon and a bunch more.

My main goal is to get girls and women interested on adventure and wellness, especially cycling, and Peter (the husband) and I host a lot of talks and coach clinics and camps for cyclists, many of them women-specific.

I'm also the author of multiple books on cycling and nutrition, including my women-specific "Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy" guide to all the awkward questions new and veteran riders have about chafing, saddle sores, hormones and more. My most recent project, Shred Girls, is a young adult fiction series and website/brand focused on getting girls excited about bikes. (The first book in the series is out next winter with Rodale Press!)

Social:
IG and twitter: @mollyjhurford 
IG: @shred.girls
Sites: 

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-
I’m Molly Hurford—I write books (mostly about bikes) and ride bikes—pretty much any kind. I’m a little bike-obsessed, to be honest. My most recent book was “Saddle, Sore: A Women-Only Guide to You and Your Bike,” and focuses on all the awkward questions that women have but are often too afraid to ask when getting started with riding. But my most recent—and most exciting—project is the Shred Girls series, and the first book of that will be out with Rodale next Winter. It’s a series about a group of girls who find friendship and adventure when they discover cycling, and between that and the Shred-Girls.com website where I feature “real life” Shred Girls, my goal is to introduce cycling to girls as early in life as possible!

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
My first mountain bike rides were admittedly pretty miserable. I was a cyclocrosser and bought a super heavy, super old mountain bike off of my teammate as a way to work on my technical skills. As a former triathlete, my power was there but any time there was an obstacle, I was toast. So, mountain biking became a way to work on that without destroying my ‘cross bike. As it turned out, I eventually fell in love with mountain biking, but not for a couple years after that. I moved to Massachusetts for a year and met up with a crew of rad ladies who invited me to ride with them on the local trails. And it turned out, riding with super cool women was actually fun. I realized I had been miserable simply because I was riding with people way more talented, but not interested in slowing down or teaching me. These women were crazy talented but had no problem dialing back the pace or sessioning parts of the trail where I was struggling. By the end of that year, I was helping lead the beginner rides—and loving it. That amazing community is what did it for me, 100 percent. I never found that in triathlon, and while it was there in cyclocross, mountain biking was the first time I connected with other women riders, and that completely was life-changing for me. Flash forward a few years, and my husband—a mountain bike skills coach—has helped me even more, and while I’m still not incredible at sailing over logs or floating over rocks, I’m a million times better than I was!
Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
As someone who came to MTB with a cyclocross background, clips were automatic for me. I’ve always been a fan of CrankBrothers, and I like the Candy pedals for MTB since if you don’t manage to clip in immediately, you still have a bit of a platform. But recently, I’ve gotten into playing with flat pedals to work on skills. I find that it’s a lot easier in some ways (less fear going over stuff knowing I can put a foot down) but also a lot more challenging, since you don’t have the easy ability to pull up on the pedals.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I spend my life trying to overcome biffs! I even saw a sports hypnotherapist for a while to help get over my fear of obstacles on the trail (and obviously wrote an article about it, because that’s how I roll). The only really big crash I’ve had so far (knock on wood) was the second MTB race I ever did—I ate it HARD going over a log, nothing epic, just hit the wet wood at just the wrong angle and slid out, but really tweaked my kneecap. I thought I tore my ACL, which is a weirdly intense fear that I have. Ended up getting brought out on a sled attached to a four-wheeler, and it was one of the more embarrassing moments of my racing career. Honestly, though, I’m pretty glad to have at least one experience like that: it wasn’t a worst-case situation, but it gave me a lot more empathy for people who crash and have to pull out of races since that was my first DNF. Some injuries need recovery, not an HTFU approach.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Obstacles of any kind have always been and continue to be a challenge for me. I wasn’t a cyclist as a kid, so didn’t really develop any ‘roll over it’ skills playing on bikes then. And as a triathlete, I just concentrated on the road ahead of me. It wasn’t until cyclocross that I had to suddenly think about lifting my wheels and trying to actually deal with obstacles. And then, with the mountain bike, because I started with no instruction, I opted for the ‘ride into it to ride over it’ approach, which works fine on tiny stuff, but as the obstacles get bigger, it stops being so effective! So, learning wheel lifts and any element of finesse has been a challenge. I’m getting better, slowly but surely. I still surprise myself when I make it over stuff! Honestly, my best suggestion is to go to a skills-specific coach and get some one-on-one training. Trying to figure it out on your own is tough! But really, it comes down to just riding A LOT more, and sessioning tricky stuff. Even if you don’t get over something after a few tries, you’re better for having attempted it a few times versus just walking your bike over and never trying.

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

Oh yeah! I have a tough time not being the fast one on group rides, and on MTB rides, while I can keep up in terms of fitness, my lack of finesse—especially on downhills—drops me to the back when I ride with my girlfriends up here in Ontario. I admit, when I first started riding with the girls, I’d have tears of frustration from not being able to get over an obstacle that they all made it through. I’m especially tentative during our rainy season up here, since the roots, logs, and rocks get super mossy and slick! But I’ve realized that I’m still a beginner compared to my crew up here and that I have other athletic skills that I excel at… Mountain biking is still new(ish) for me, and it’s OK for me to be a newbie! More than anything, though, I just realized I needed a mental shift. Riding bike is awesome, and I enjoy it… I just need to remember that I’m there for fun when I’m getting anxious about being slow. My friend Mandy gave me some amazing advice: whenever you’re hitting a section that scares you, think ‘Weeeee!’ instead of ‘Eeeeeeeeek!’ Total mental shift.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The people, 110 percent. I mean, the riding itself is awesome, and how great does it feel when you nail a section of the trail that you never have before? That ‘weeeeee!’ moment is amazing. But really, the people that I’ve met: my best friends, my husband, the tons and tons of people I’ve met through this sport just blows my mind.

Why do you feel movement, in general, is so beneficial to us not only physically, but mentally?
I’ve started to realize that if I can’t get outside and move around, whether that’s a walk, a ride, a run, or just doing a quick set of planks or something actually outside under the sky, it helps calm my brain down. As a super type A person, I’ve actually learned that for me, the leisurely time outside is SO important. I think it’s two types of mental clarity: there are the longer, slower walks that my husband and I take where we really talk without distraction, make plans, and figure out how we’re taking over the world. On the flip side, getting out and shredding on a mountain bike on some singletrack helps completely clear out my mind. (I gave in and bought an Apple Watch two years ago so I could easily record memos to myself since it’s those moments of clarity where I get the best ideas!)

What do you enjoy most about being able to share #bikelife and work life with your husband?
Funny enough, we don’t share a whole lot of our #BikeLife together—actually, we very, very rarely ride together. He’s a lot faster than me, and we both really love riding solo, so more often than not, we start together and go our separate ways on the trail, apart from occasional skills sessions where he’s helping me improve specific things. (We run at the same speed though, so we do that a lot together. I used to try to force us riding together since we met because of bikes, but I realized that we do need to do our own thing sometimes!) And obviously, our work life is very bike-focused. We run a lot of clinics together, we write together, and we co-host The Consummate Athlete Podcast—plus we travel together and when we are home, we share an office. (He’s actually two feet away as I type this!) I love that we can talk about anything work-related and really understand each other, not just smile and nod. And it’s great knowing that we’re both so passionate about the same thing—plus, it’s fun when you love your work and love your husband and get to combine those things!

Can you share some information about your clinics? Why do you feel women-specific clinics are an important asset?
I love women-specific clinics! I think they’re super important (although Peter and I coach a ton of co-ed clinics as well). I know that cycling can be super intimidating to new riders like I’ve said, and sometimes, showing up to a clinic with a boyfriend or husband can make you feel a lot more uncomfortable. And, to be totally honest, a lot of the co-ed clinics I’ve attended as a rider, I’ve noticed that the guys tend to be really vocal, while the women are nervous in the background. That’s obviously not true at every clinic, just a personal observation! So, we love hosting women’s clinics—but notice that I said ‘we.’ Peter and I realized that it’s not about having a women-only clinic that’s coached by women, it’s just about having only women riders there. I love seeing more women coming into coaching, and there are some great ones out there, but at the same time, I think it’s great that women get to work with Peter, who’s the best MTB skills coach I know. (And I don’t just say that because I’m married to him!) Women’s clinics are a great way for women to have an easier entrance into the sport, but to me, the best part about it is the connections. Every time we’ve done a clinic or a talk, I’ve seen women exchange numbers and make ride plans at the end, and to me, that’s almost more valuable than the skills portion!
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have so many! My mountain bike is a Trek Superfly, my first dual-suspension. What a huge difference that makes! I absolutely love it—and I love that it’s black and white, since I’m a major fan of neutrals and not a fan of the pink/purple/baby blue that women often get saddled with. (More power to you if you can rock a pink bike, but my old punk rock self still wants to wear all black, all the time.) I also have a Trek Emonda for the road and LIVE on my Moots custom cyclocross bike. (It’s one of the tiniest ones they made and paved the way for their smallest size Psychlo-X frame!)

Tell us about Shred Girls! What is it all about and who is it for?
So, Shred Girls is my middle-grade book series that comes out next winter, but it’s also a website and ‘lifestyle brand’ that helps get young girls into riding (or keeps them in riding, depending on where they start!). I realized a few years ago that most girls ride bikes as kids, but give them up as teenagers, so we miss a major skill development time in our lives. So, what if girls stayed in cycling longer? I’m a writer, so my immediate reaction was, what can I write? I came up with the Shred Girls—think Babysitter’s Club, but with bikes. The girls in the series aren’t just learning to shred on bikes, they’re learning about friendship and life in the process. So far, I’ve had test readers from 8 to 16 reading the first book—Lindsay’s Joy Ride—and loving it. That’s been great for me. I also started the Shred-Girls.com website in order to provide more resources for young shredders, with interviews of ‘real life shred girls’ of all ages, plus some how-to videos, tips from pros, and—coming soon—some favorite gear for each type of riding. Basically, I wrote and developed a brand that I wish I’d had access to as a kid!

How can folks support Shred Girls?
Head to Shred-Girls.com and check out the site! Read about some of the Real Life Shred Girls, buy a hat or t-shirt for the Shred Girl in your life, and nominate her to be featured on the site as well. The books will start coming out next year, so sign up for the newsletter so you know when they’ll hit the shelves—and follow along on instagram at @shred.girls to see upcoming events and cool stuff that the girls are up to!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?

It’s crazy intimidating! And, more often than not, women get into MTB because of a husband/boyfriend/partner who urges them to go for a ride… And well-meaning or not, he ends up spending the whole ride going way ahead of her, offering less-than-helpful advice, and when she does catch up, he takes off again immediately and she can’t even catch her breath, much less take a drink of water. I spotted a couple like this a few months ago on my local trails, and when I passed them the first time, I could see that the guy had stopped to wait until she caught up, and started as soon as she was back in eyesight. The second time I connected with them, she was walking up a hill with her bike and crying. I *may* have yelled at the guy to slow down and actually be helpful when I passed him. Ugh! The women I know who ride are so amazing and just want to help other women enjoy riding—so I think the best thing a woman can do when she wants to try cycling is to find other women to ride with! Most shops have women-only rides, so I always urge women to jump into one of those.

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

I think the more group rides and fun, social events that women who are already in the sport can plan, the better. For example, in Collingwood, Ontario, where we live right now, we’re working with a group to start an off-road cycling club that will kick off in May, focusing on 100% social, fun rides with post-ride hangouts. They aren’t going to be women-specific (though plans for a women’s day are in the works!) but I think more group stuff like that—that isn’t race-oriented—can be amazing for women hoping to get into the sport.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Knowing what riding has done for my life. It brought me out of my shell, introduced me to my best friends and my favorite humans, and it provides me with unlimited physical, mental, economic, spiritual and emotional benefits! Knowing what it did for me makes me want to pass that feeling on to as many women as possible. Best job ever.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

I own a turtle named Sven (after Sven Nys). He’s adorable and aggressively angry all the time, and I am a terrible absentee turtle parent since I travel so much, so he lives in New Jersey with his grandparents.