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.