Women on Bikes Series: Chelsea Strate
I have dabbled in most racing disciplines, but most enjoy snow, dirt, gravel, and cyclocross.
I race cyclocross for the All-City X Fulton team, and fat bikes for 45NRTH.
This past September I picked up what I like to think is my dream job with 45NRTH and Teravail as their brand ambassador, and have had an amazing winter working winter events and racing all over the Midwest and Colorado.
When I'm not riding, racing, or working bike-related events, I love camping and adventuring with my partner and the dogs, riding motorcycles, cooking, baking, and eating.
Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it has influenced you-
Oh dear! I don’t know if I can pinpoint the exact introduction, but that 1997 Dyno Air BMX bike that I got in middle school did grant me loads of freedom that I was lacking at the time. In 6th grade, I would ride it the 2 miles to school, meet my friends at the park, try to learn tricks (I pretty much dead-ended at riding off curbs and down steps), let my other friends do cool tricks on it, and I would regularly give my best friend bucks 3 miles across town on my pegs. Using my bike as transportation and exercise persisted from that point forward, and has continued to evolve! I have always loved taking on different challenges with bikes, and I still find new ones constantly.
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!"
Well, mountain biking was preceded by riding and racing cyclocross, so my first off-road experience was on a cx bike. In fact, my first cx race was at a park on the border of Minneapolis called Theodore Wirth Park, and it’s not uncommon for folks to toe the line with their MTBs. The course incorporated a little of their singletrack trails, and there were rocks and roots and woods: I was in love with off-road riding. Eventually, I found an old MTB on Craigslist, and a buddy took me on a ride on a full loop of the North trail of Theodore Wirth Singletrack, which is tight and windy and feels very old-school. He gave me tips as we were weaving our way through, and made it feel easy. I didn’t explore too many other trails at that time because I didn’t have a car, and the trails felt a little inaccessible, so I mostly found myself on pavement. I ended up selling that bike to fund a blind move to Leelanau County, Michigan, and there I kept racing cyclocross, then started racing Michigan MTB races on my cx bike! The trails in lower Michigan were mostly flowy and not really rocky or rooty, and I rarely felt at a disadvantage on my cx steed (except in the sand – there is a lot of sand there). Now I’m back in Minnesota, and I usually use my fat bike on the trails, but am looking to add a proper MTB to my arsenal!
What do you enjoy about each discipline of riding you prefer (CX/Fatbike/etc.)-
CX: My first love, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. The intensity and the challenge are a few things I love about the sport, but it mostly comes down to the culture. Spending all day cheering on your friends and teammates, then getting cheered on when it’s your turn to suffer is so fun.
Fat Bike: What can I say… winter and I make a good team! My partner and I joke that I’m a ‘Snow Princess’ since I race more in the winter than any other time of year at this point. There are so many variables in fat biking that pose challenges, like how much and what type of snow there is, ice, temperature, tire pressure, etc. No two races are ever the same, and quite often no two laps are the same! The courses vary from snowy singletrack to perfectly groomed cross-country ski trail, and sometimes a seemingly perfect course can deteriorate as the day goes on, or it can get better as the day goes on. The people that race fat bikes are a special breed, and I feel like I fit in well.
MTB: I find the act of riding off-road very therapeutic. You have to concentrate on what you’re doing, and nailing a difficult section of trail is so rewarding! I got a taste of mountain biking in the mountains this past summer, and I can’t wait to explore more downhill riding in the future.
Gravel: Quieter roads, amazing scenery, and a good excuse to spend all freakin’ day in the saddle! Most gravel events take place in the spring or early summer, and Minnesotans love to embrace the outdoors as soon as winter disappears. As the summer goes on, I usually give up on gravel roads and stick to the woods where there is more shade. I melt in the heat!
Aside from my townie bike, I ride exclusively clips year round. I have for years, and feel more secure on the pedals when maneuvering technical terrain. I’ve also grown to depend on the upstroke!
What would you consider your favorite event to participate in?
This year I was lucky enough to go out to Fat Bike Worlds in Crested Butte, and it was one of the best race experiences that I’ve had. There was a fun race on Thursday, a fat bike demo on Friday, the championship race on Saturday, and a chance to take the lifts and ride down the ski runs on Sunday (I had to miss Sunday, and I’m bummed!). The organizers did a great job of hospitality by providing food, beverage, and entertainment throughout, making it fun for those that didn’t want to take the race seriously, and fast for the fast people. Costumes were encouraged, and there were a lot of good ones out there! Also, the course was designed to double back on itself, so you get to see people throughout the race all on different parts of the lap. There were lots cheers and hootin’ and hollerin’ from the racers on the course!
You never regret giving it a shot, so just do it! Every race that I do I learn something new, so even when I feel out of shape and my confidence is low, I try to get as much out of the race as I can, and I try to remember that racing is training too!
Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
ALL OF THE TIME. Whenever I crash or am close to crashing, I often times will lose my riding confidence for at least a little bit, and sometimes for weeks or months. I just keep riding, but definitely let myself be a little more cautious. If I have to walk a section or feature that I have nailed before, I don’t let it get to me. Earlier on, I wasn’t as aware of the element of confidence, and would get down on myself for all of a sudden losing my groove, and it was starting to get a little toxic. Once I realized that confidence is something that comes and goes, I just try to stay aware of it and ride within my abilities at that moment.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Riding up curbs was so nerve-racking for so long! I definitely had the skills to do it, but it was all mental! To get over it (both the fear and the curb, haha), I would just keep practicing, starting with shorter curbs and working my way up to normal curb height. Also, riding slower and more intentionally, then working my way up in speed. Now I don’t think twice about it. I was simultaneously learning how to ride over roots, rocks, and logs on my CX and MTB, but for some reason curbs always seemed scarier!
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Cornering is something that I would like to improve on. I feel like I slow down too much to get around corners for fear of losing traction in my rear wheel. I do this on pavement, dirt, gravel, grass, snow, etc. To get over this, I just try to sprint out of the corner to make up any time that I lost. It works ok, but I hate the feeling of holding people behind me up during races and such.
What do you love about riding your bike?
Freedom, exercise, fresh air, it gets me places, it’s therapeutic…
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a lot of bikes, so I’m going to list them in order of most ridden in case you start to lose interest:
All-City Cosmic Stallion – I love the All-City brand’s style, and wanted a gravel-specific racing bike! I’ve had it for a year and absolutely love it.
Salsa Beargrease Fat Bike – I believe that this is the best [fat] bike in the world. It’s a killer fat bike racing bike, and I think it handles amazingly on MTB trails! I have a Bluto suspension fork that I’ll throw on in the summer for an added factor of fun.
All-City Nature Girl – I’ve had this bike for years! It’s one of the smoothest rolling bikes I have. I built it from scratch, including the wheels, and still use it to race CX!
All-City Macho Queen Team Edition – I loved my Nature Girl, so I decided to go for something similar with gears and disc brakes, and it’s painted to match our All-City X Fulton Racing Team kits!
Focus Izalco Donna– I started dabbling in road racing, and didn’t feel like my CX bike was keeping up! I sprung for this carbon road bike with Shimano Ultegra components that was mostly white but is complemented with a few different shades of purple. It’s light. It’s beautiful.
All-City Big Block – I have this fixed gear bike set up with sweeping bars and a front rack for the ultimate city bike.
Surly ECR – This is a newer addition to my stable, and is set up as my bikepacking rig. It’s only been on one sub 24-hour trip, but will be ridden a whole lot this summer!
Trek Singletrack 930 – My winter ‘beater’, though it’s a little too nice to be a beater. It was built for me by my partner, and he did an amazing job loading in as much purple as possible into the accents (my favorite color)
Surly Travelers Check – This bike comes with couplers so that you can disassemble the frame for traveling, but I still haven’t taken it on a trip! Silly me!
Tell us about your role as brand ambassador, what is your job like and why do you love it?
As the Brand Ambassador for both 45NRTH and Teravail, my job is to travel to different bike shops, races, and other events. I get to drive a big ol’ 4x4 adventure van around and educate shop staff, and provide a fun space for participants at events. In the office, I answer questions from both dealers and customers and get to plan out what the brands are going to do for events for each season.
At the time of answering these questions, I’ve had this job since September, so I’ve mostly been working with the 45NRTH side of things. I love getting more people into winter riding, and with this job, I am able to do that. 45NRTH made the gear that made it possible for me to enjoy riding in the winter (the Wölvhammer boots were life changing for me), and I love educating people about winter riding. I have 10+ years of experience riding in the winter through commuting, recreating, and racing, and I love sharing my experiences. Another thing I love about my job is traveling! It’s super fun, and I love meeting and working with the folks from the bike shops that sell our stuff, their customers, event organizers, and event participants.
Pretty soon we’ll be switching gears and concentrating on Teravail, so I get to do the same type of stuff, just for the other 3 seasons of the year!
What do you love most about the cycling community?
They’re my family! Athletes, commuters, industry folks… we all have something powerful in common! And everybody for their own reasons!
It makes me nervous just typing it, but I’ll do it anyway: Marji Gesick 100! From their website: “The Marji Gesick features 100-miles of rocks, roots, punchy climbs, jump lines, flow trails and soul-crushing grinding that DNFs nearly 60% of the field each year.”
Last year my goals were finishing the Dirty Kanza 200 mile gravel race and the Leadville 100 MTB trail race, which I did, so I guess it’s on to the next thing??? [insert panic emoji here]
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Cycling is extremely gear-heavy! Where do you even start when it comes to finding a bike to try or buy? Especially a mountain bike? Frame materials, sizing, levels of components, hydraulic vs. cable disc brakes, and shock technology are just a few of the aspects to a bike that can be overwhelming and confusing and can deter folks from getting into it. Then you have to figure out how and where to ride the darn bike!
What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
At my last job, The Hub Bike Co-op, I led a MTB ride for Women / Trans / Femme / Non-Binary (WTF / NB) folks, and we offered up our demo fleet for free for whoever needed or wanted to ride. I did my best to make it as inclusive and accessible as I could. I would set people up on bikes, then load up my little Subaru and bring people and bikes to the different trailheads where we’d meet the other riders. We always had people of all different abilities and usually had people that were brand new to mountain biking, or biking in general! Either I or other experienced riders would stick back with the newer riders and lead them through and offer advice. The idea was to eliminate the barrier of gear, transportation, and to help educate and show the riders how to maneuver through the trails in a safe and pressure-free space. Over the 4 years that I led this ride, I watched riders gain confidence and acquire their own bikes, and show others how to ride mountain bikes.
The industry should follow suit and create spaces and provide resources for WTF / NB folks, and they are more likely to get involved and stay involved.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Where do I start! Selfishly, I like having more like-minded folks to ride with and race against. The women’s fields in racing are generally a fraction of the size of the men’s fields. What would I give to have equal sized fields?! It’s a bummer that there are so many societal barriers and so much machismo in cycling that deters most non-white-cis-dudes from getting out there.
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
For many years in my youth, I worked carnival games (yes, I was a carnie!) for my amazing Great Aunt Peps. This woman is amazing! She helped pave the way for women in basketball and has been recognized with several awards for doing so. In fact, recently her old high school (which she graduated from in 1962) even named their gym after her! I worked my first day at the carnival when I was 8 years old, and helped on and off until I was 21. I was pretty crummy at sales, but I loved the traveling. I feel like those years definitely shaped who and where I am today.