Women on Bikes Series: Kristin Cleveland
The major portion of my graphic design work is art directing and designing magazines for the home and garden publishing industry.
I am also a semi-professional photographer (mainly shooting portraits) and my dream would be to work full time as a travel/landscape photographer.
I am a mom to 3 amazing sons and am married to my hubby of 25 years, Ole. I LOVE to spend time outdoors with my family. We are all avid runners, love mountain biking and skiing (downhill and XC), backpacking and camping.
Tell us about the introduction to mountain biking and how it influenced you from then on-
I purchased my first mountain bike (Giant Rincon) as a college graduation gift to myself with money I earned from an art show award. My husband and I would always ride dirt bike trails, gravel roads and old logging paths before we really knew anything about singletracks. I have 3 sons and when they were little we would spend weekends riding bikes (towing them in a Burley) on the Raccoon River bike trail near our home. In 2008, when my youngest was 5, my husband and I decided they were finally old enough (riding 2 wheels!) to give mountain biking on single tracks at try. I think deep down, I knew my boys would love it and it was something our family was building up for. We took them to North Carolina to ride at Tsali. In hindsight, we probably should have started on easier trails in Iowa first, but I think riding in the actual mountains gave us the adventure we were really looking for. We were all instantly hooked. We traded our bikes in for disk breaks with better front forks and haven’t stopped since! Our family vacations are centered around riding mountain bikes and we head to the Mountains and trails in the midwest every chance we get. My family thrives on time spent in the outdoors and mountain biking is the perfect way we share time together.
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 very first single track ride was in Tsali, which is literally mountain biking heaven. It was hard, I was biking with a 5-year-old (my husband and the older two were way ahead!) and I realized at that moment that having disc brakes would have been better as anyone and everyone riding the trails could hear my braking. After my son and I made it to the top, the view was out of this world. After several hours, we all made it back down without any broken bones, only a few scratches, a bit of mud caked on our legs and smiles on our faces. My boys begged to go back the next day and I knew mountain biking was for me, for my family. I loved the feeling of conquering my fears, enjoying nature, the view from the top, and feeling how strong my body was. It peddled a bike up and back down a winding, rocky trail and ended with a smile and sense of a HUGE accomplishment. My first few rides after that were definitely a struggle. Learning how to position yourself on the bike, falling, falling some more, facing your fears and finding your inner strength all while maintaining confidence is a real struggle every time I ride. But, I keep coming back to the joy that builds up inside as I ride. I love being on my bike. I love the sounds of nature urging me on. I love the peace and tranquility, my tires crunching in the leaves. I may not be the fastest and I know there is a lot of things I have yet to learn and conquer, but the sense of strength you find on a trail is unbeatable.
Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I have always ridden with clips, but have just made the switch to flats. For me, it is a comfort level thing. I would always clip out in sections where I felt really unsure of myself and I think it was causing me to second guess my ability and ride with too much caution. I had a couple of bad falls where I was clipped in and never felt confident after that. I like not having to think about the “what if…” and flats are helping me gain confidence in the really technical sections again.
Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Oh, dear lord, YES I have biffed it quite a few times! One time in Crested Butte, my family was just finishing a trail with a really flowy and fast section from a long mountain climb ride. I could see them all waiting at the end of the trail (I’m always last in my family) and as I approached my peeps, I came to a stop and fell to my side. I forgot I was clipped in. I never crashed the entire ride, except for the stop at the very end. I have learned you can’t dwell on the crashes and I have learned to laugh at myself. Mountain biking is FUN and it comes with some risks. If I don’t feel comfortable riding a section, I get off and walk my bike. It's okay to walk and play it safe. In the end, I just want it to be fun. I don’t take my self too seriously and I know that each time I ride, I gain new skills and continue to challenge my ability.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Turning tight corners on a 29” wheel can be a challenge and it's something I still continue to work at. I need to learn more about body positioning and my sons are great at teaching me things that help my riding. Also, for me, steep technical downhills are my nemesis. I’m still working at a lot of things and would really like to attend some clinics. I also have not attempted any jumps…my boys love them, I am scared stiff to try.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I have a TON yet to learn. I still find steep technical hairpin turns really hard and I hate the thought of doing a jump. If I can’t ride a section, I push myself to my limit and then walk my bike. Its okay to walk if you don’t feel confident. Mountain biking is supposed to be fun, don’t beat yourself up! I think what is most important is striving to develop your skills so that each time you can conquer something new or push your limit a bit further. Like anything else, you strive to get better. My sons study a lot of videos and read about mountain biking constantly. They are much better riders than I am and but riding with others helps you learn.
What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that I am powering my own transportation. Truthfully, I have large thighs (I like to think they are all muscle!) and biking has helped strengthen my body, legs, and core. I have always loved riding a bike. As a kid growing up on a farm 8 miles from town, my brother and I would ride our bikes around to visit neighbors or ride to town out of boredom. It has always meant freedom to me.
You were chosen as a Fearless Women of Dirt Ambassador for 2018, tell us how you learned about FWD and why you wanted to be part of the community-
I learned about FWD through Facebook (I follow Decorah Bicycles) and I was really looking for a group of women I could ride with. At the same time, I discovered FWD, I also found out about another group in the Cedar Valley area (Nature Force) and was thrilled to learn of more women who mountain bike. I have always ridden with my sons and husband and have NEVER ridden with any other women. I want to connect with other women who love mountain biking and if I can help get others involved, it means a larger base of support for us all.
What are your plans for the 2018 riding season?
To ride as much as I can around the midwest and to help grow the movement of women in mountain biking. I have always ridden with boys (I rarely see women on the trails wherever my family rides) and I am really looking forward to connecting and making friends with other women who are passionate about mountain biking. I also would like to enter a competition, but not sure when and where just yet.
What do you enjoy most about helping women become more confident with mountain biking?
I am looking forward to seeing their faces as they conquer a trail and find their inner strength.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Trek Cali WSD, 29er bike. It's a women’s specific bike. My bike is a gift from my husband and although I love him very much, I wouldn’t recommend this route for getting a bike. I am saving up to get a different bike as I don’t think it is the best fit for me. I am 5’9” and I feel at times that I sit upright too much on my bike as it has a shorter wheelbase. I know this affects cornering and my ability to get down lower on the bike in steeper descents so...I am considering a bike change in the near future. I will hang on to this bike as I do enjoy riding it on flat and flowy trails. I think it is really important to test different bikes to find the right fit so that you are comfortable and confident.
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
The cost of purchasing the right bike, knowledge, and network of friends who also mountain bike.
What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Always more marketing and promotion of women-only events. Demo days for women to try a bike on a trail. A larger support network so its easier to connect with a group that is local. And more options for women’s specific designed bikes. A lot of your confidence comes from a bike that you feel at one with and friends that make you smile.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
The chance to build friendships and to see others find the same joy that keeps me riding.
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I used to speak Norwegian quite well and was an exchange student in Stjørdal, Norway. (I’m not so good at it anymore…out of practice.)