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!)

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

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.