Monday, July 30, 2018

Women Involved Series: Chris Schieffer

My name is Chris Schieffer (despite the fact that my facebook says Chris LeSchieffer) and I am a true Colorado Native - born and raised. "Who I am" is such a hard question, because what does that really mean? I am human. I value human interaction, being outdoors with friends and family whenever possible and getting exercised on a regular basis. I live a "normal" existence, in that I have two kids, a husband, a dog, a house, a van…. but the adventures we all take together are what really define me.

At my core, I am a teacher and a motivator. My greatest joy is helping others succeed in their endeavors and making people feel more confident in life. I am Sparkles.

Currently, I work for the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) a mountain biking non-profit focused on: creating, enhancing and protecting great places to ride mountain bikes. I started off working with the Instructor Certification Program (ICP) because I received my coaching certification through that program and asked if they needed help with it. At the time, they did not, four years later - I received an email for a part-time job opening and jumped on it. IMBA has subsequently sold that program, so now I am part of the development/fundraising team. Our mission/vision are things I care deeply about (for your reference you can find all our values here: https://www.imba.com/explore-imba/meet-imba).

My bike life consists of simply making time to bike. I enjoy being playful in life and in mountain biking, so for me, every ride is a great ride - because what's better than being outside on a bike? Right now I'm focused on making sure my children have a positive experience riding bikes. I really do believe that mountain biking changes lives and I strive to keep it real in that way.

Instagram: @mtb_ismyspiritanimal

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-
My introduction to bike life was very natural. I grew up outside a small mountain town in the woods of Colorado and had to bike if I wanted to get anywhere. I received my first mountain bike in 1988, it was a fully rigid Red GT, and was my sole source of independence and freedom. My parents would often send my siblings and I outside for the day and we could only come back for lunch and dinner. Biking made it possible to explore much more terrain and looking back at my summers, I’d say my brothers, sister, and I probably rode around 10-15 miles daily, just exploring and playing in the woods. We didn’t ride for sport, we rode to get around. I never learned any “skills” to speak of, but definitely built some endurance over the years.

I guess you could say that biking was the only source of fun I had at the time, and that has stuck with me through the years. From a young age all the way through college, mountain bikes were actually just my primary form of transportation, even in town. After college, however, I bought my first real mountain bike (because bikes are expensive!) and started participating with friends as a weekend warrior. Slowly but surely my skill set grew and I realized this was a sport I’d be interested in for life.

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!"
Caveat: When referring to the “first few mountain bike rides” I am going to refer to the first few rides I took once I got my “real bike” after college. To go back to 4 years old and remember my first rides would be a little difficult ;-)

To be honest, I was actually more excited about getting the “biking accouterments” (gear: shorts, shoes, helmets, gloves, etc….) than the actual bike. Which, as a side note, is the way A LOT of women feel when first getting into the sport… you’d think bike clothing manufacturers would capitalize on this a little more, I digress...

I bought the gear and Bike, a Specialized StumpJumper, and decided that my first bike ride/trip was going to be in Moab (because it was and still is the Jam!). So my first REAL bike ride was a camping situation with some friends. We camped “Behind the Rocks” in Moab, south of town on the (old) 24 hours of Moab course. To say I was a beginner at that point would be a misnomer.

I definitely wasn’t mentally prepared to ride a lot of the trails in Moab. I have a natural athletic tendency and love a physical challenge, so it wasn’t the fitness that got me, it was the headspace. It was amazing to me how much mental capacity mountain biking requires; the concentration and extreme focus on the present is absolutely paramount in this sport. The mental relief is what really drew me to the sport. Somehow in the midst of physical exhaustion and pain, I felt mental clarity. In that moment, it almost felt like I was meditating. “Active meditation(what I call it) is really what got me hooked on mountain biking.

On that trip, I got a fast intro to rocks and sand and crashed a fair number of times. I didn’t think to purchase pads, so I still have scars left over from those first few months on a bike. It’s easy to forget how much the sport has evolved even in the last 10 years. I didn’t REALLY know what gear I should have to make my experience better (no one told me). I was first trying to make the experience….
Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I use Clips (or as the original gangsta’s would say: Clipless, Isn’t that the most confusing thing?!?!?) I use them because that’s what I started using when I started biking for a few reasons:

1) People told me that’s what I should ride (and I didn’t know anything about it)

2) At the time, I was riding a lot more XC trails and it’s definitely helpful to have power on the upstroke with clips.

3) Where I live, in Golden CO, we MUST climb a lot in order to descend and it’s very technical, rocky, loose terrain, clips help there as well.

However, since I started coaching 5 years ago, I have RE-learned to ride with flats, and I prefer flats when coaching or riding at bike parks. It is important to remember how vital your feet are to your riding overall and if you have been riding clips for a long time and then switch to flats for a bit – you’ll see what I mean ;-)

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
First of all, I love that you used the term “Biffs” … AH-MAZE-ING. To answer your question, most of my “biffs” have been when I was going slow and uphill… because I couldn’t get out of those pesky clips fast enough.

Notable ones (in order):

1) Endo’ed riding with my then boyfriend and now husband who were in some weird bro competition on the trail and left me behind while I bled from my elbows the entire time.

a. Emotional Takeaway: This was a POSITIVE fall because I learned that I could fall and be bleeding and be totally fine. I also learned that when riding with men, you have to be prepared for no one to care that you are bleeding or in pain.

2) Fell off ledge backwards trying to do a step up in Moab (on that first trip).

a. Physical takeaway: Humans are good at suffering through pain. I had to finish that ride because we were in the middle of nowhere. I did, and it was fine.

3) Fell backwards down part of Slick Rock (on that first trip) and slid down the side of a rock for a while (this makes me chuckle now that I’ve ridden slick rock a handful of times).

a. Mental Takeaway: Must learn more skills, that seemed avoidable.

4) A few years ago in Bentonville, AR I was riding someone else’s bike, which was too big for me) and I fell off a rock ledge in the middle of a switchback into a small creek, where I couldn’t get out of those DAMN CLIP PEDALS! Lol. I sat in the creek until some passersby came and helped me untangle myself. I really scraped up my legs and have a lot of scars from that one, but overall nothing major happened (see the falling off of ledges theme here?)

Of course, I’ve fallen a lot, as everyone has. Typically, in life and biking, I like to take negative situations and turn them into a positive growth opportunity. I try NOT to dwell on the pain or the fear that is associated with those crashes. Rather, I identify the skills, mental or physical, that will help me get better in the future and I focus on what I CAN do, not what I didn’t do.

In general, I try to let go of the past if it doesn’t serve me.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
1) Front wheel lifts (important in Moab)

2) Bike body separation

3) Track Stands

All of these skills can be learned in women’s clinics, which is what I typically recommend to women first starting out. Perhaps I am biased because I only coach women’s clinics, but I do find it extremely important for people to get useful positive feedback and encouragement from someone other than a spouse. Women are amazing encouraging in that setting and it’s incredible how important those basic skills are to the foundation of your riding. I wish I had taken a clinic WAYYYY before I actually found myself in one.

While clinics are a good introduction, the proof is in the pudding – practice, practice, practice! I’m lucky enough to have a few skills parks near me, which are always great places to practice. However, you can practice all three of the skills I listed on the trail and in your driveway. I pick ONE skill to work on every time I ride. Last time, I practiced my track stands because I rode with my kids who make sudden stops without warning. The time before that, I focused on my gaze – looking 15 feet ahead of my tire consistently. Honestly, there’s not a pro in the world who doesn’t continually work on their skills, if you make it a priority every time you ride; you will get better one bite at a time.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I’m not particularly good at cornering and the counter balance associated with that. There aren’t many berms where I ride typically (in the desert). However, that doesn’t get me down. In fact, it motivates me to practice that skill when I do find myself riding somewhere with berms. I know that I won’t be the fastest on those sections, but BOY HOWDY can I ride some chunky rocks. I often tell women in my clinics to appreciate the skills you do have and constantly strive to acquire more. We can all high five ourselves for something, and we really should more often!

P.S. I also suck at manuals and wheelies, but I have no practical use for wheelies and the risk vs. reward on that one isn’t large enough for me to try very hard. However, my husband built a “manual machine” for us to practice in our driveway. Check out my Instagram or Facebook to see that thing – it’s fun.

What inspired you to become certified in mountain bike instructor and how has it been beneficial?
I decided to get certified in mountain bike instruction because at that time I was making a career switch to a personal trainer and nutritionist and it required me to have a certain amount of continuing education credits. Since mountain biking is technically a fitness skill, the course counted for my continuing education AND I thought it would be fun to also coach. It’s amazing how much personal training has helped with mountain bike instruction actually… being able to explain movements and feelings and WHY you should be doing things is one of the most useful skills in my toolbox.

As a side note: I know my purpose in life is to be a teacher a guide and a helper, so this fit the bill by also coinciding with one of my passions.

What do you love about riding your bike?
In the midst of physical chaos, my mind finds peace. Mental, it’s mental relief.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
You assume I have more than one…? *wink wink* Technically I have three bikes, although one of them is on order. I can’t hoard bikes because I have a husband who bikes and two children who bike and our garage only has so much space.

1) Salsa Mariachi (steel hard tail 29er) which I got for my 30th birthday with the sole purpose of toting my kids around town in a bike trailer. My kids are now 7 & 8 and just graduated to 24” tires, so no need to pull that trailer any longer. However, I keep the bike because I love the feel, it’s tough and light at the same time, it’s challenging to move from full suspension to hard tail and it reveals a lot of weakness’ in my riding. So like to ride it every now and again to remind me of things I would like to continue to improve. I also have a dream of bike packing someday…. Which has yet to be realized.

2) Ibis Mojo 3 – My first high, high end bike was an ibis mojo and I just fell in love with the feel of the DW-link suspension and the geometry that ibis has. Ibis bikes in general are fun and playful, yet climb nimbly and descend like beasts. The 27.5+ is also really fun, in my personal opinion.

3) I just purchased an Ibis Ripmo (the long travel 29er) and am SOOOOOO STOKED! I decided to go to 29er because I do race enduros a few times a year and I feel like the 27.5+ tire is too slow. For racing, I like to TRY and win and the 27.5+ isn’t really the bike for that.

You work for IMBA, what inspired you to seek employment with IMBA and what do you love most about your job?
Up until very recently, IMBA owned and operated the Instructor Certification Program – a program in which mountain bikers got certified to guide/lead groups and to also teach skills/clinics. I took this certification in 2013, as a means in which to get continuing education credit for my personal training certification and also because I had intentions of guiding people locally in Colorado.

At that time, IMBA has just started the program and were in the building phases. I loved it so much that I told the manager at the time that if she ever needed help, please call me. Three years later I got an email asking for part-time help and I jumped on it. I’d wanted to work in the bike industry for a long time and this was a door into that world. It doesn’t hurt that I am also EXTREMELY passionate about what IMBA does and had been an IMBA supporter for many years prior to being employed there.

I’ve moved around a lot since working for ICP; currently, I’m working on the Marketing and Communications team, generating content, creating women’s education and dabbling in social media. The thing I’m most STOKED on right now, is the Women’s movement that has been happening with IMBA and the industry in general. IMBA recently created and celebrated the first-ever International Women’s Mountain Biking Day (May 5th this year, the first Saturday of May going forward) and there was a TON of engagement, even though it was only officially announced a week or so prior to the day. The fact that the industry, in general, is seeing an uptake in women’s participation is HUGE! Right now, I’m loving that we get to be a major part in that.

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry- working for companies, bike shops, etc.?
Have you ever heard of the term group think? The practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility. That’s what too many men in the kitchen amounts to. The same ole same ole in a new package isn’t going to cut it any longer. Group think is not helping the bike industry thrive. At some point, the men have to realize that women will most certainly help shape the future of Mountain Biking, whether the like it or not.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
The most Common Answers (according to the women’s UPRISING event we just conducted):
Fear/Questioning ability
Time/Scheduling conflicts
Lack of confidence/Insecurities
Staying motivated with new trails & riding partners
Getting to the trails/access
Life priorities (specifically children)
Work
Injury
Finding Riding buddies
Fear of holding the group
When open spaces and parks do not connect
Difficult Terrain
City traffic, getting to trail complications
What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Industry: Trust that women know what women want and utilize their expertise to further grow the sport and in turn your business’.

Locally: Having women’s only groups has been a huge success in giving women the confidence to even try mountain biking. Find local groups (even groups within groups) and ask to join. It’s important that existing female leaders help lift newbies up, meet people where they’re at and always send out positive vibes.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Mountain biking provides me with meditation. It allows me to be fully present in the moment and because I am able to focus on just one thing while I’m doing it, it gives me full freedom from life for a short period of time. It has also given me a sense of accomplishment and confidence that is irreplaceable. Not only am I more confident on the bike, I am more confident in life because I’ve done things that I never thought I could.

It’s this sense of freedom and confidence that inspires me to get more women to ride. Most women have a swirling to do list in their heads and it’s often hard to check out of our brains for even an hour. Mountain Biking allows the brain to shift gears and really does provide relaxation in the midst of chaos. I want everyone to experience this, especially women who often take on the mental burdens of life.

What inspires you to encourage your kids to ride?
I have two kids (7&8) and selfishly, I would way rather spend weekends at biking events that at a
baseball tournament! Honestly, bikes have given kids the same sense of freedom and independence. It gives them a physical outlet for their energy and a mental outlet to focus on as well. It’s also important that we teach the youth how to be good stewards of the trail, to respect the trail users and the land itself. If we don’t teach the youth, then who will?

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I worked at Chuck E Cheese during my freshman year in College. I didn’t have a car and it was within walking distance of my dorm. Yes, I was actually the mouse AT LEAST once every shift.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Lisa Land

My name is Lisa Land, I am a nurse practitioner, avid mountain biker, and runner and I love seeing women go out and kick ASS on any spectrum of life!

My main passion was running before I discovered how awesome mountain biking is. I can thank my wonderful husband for that. I was previously a road biker (and this was rare as well) but after riding dirt for a bit it reignited my passion for the bike. Now I can say I prefer mountain biking but have been known to ride the road when necessary. I am married to my best friend and best husband a girl can ask for. We have been happily married for two and a half years but together for 8 years. We have the best dog, her name is Dingo, no kids. I am the oldest of six kids so I think that kind of pushed having kids out the window for me, lol. I love my siblings and make a great AUNT.

I just recently finished the Absa Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa. I was chosen to be apart of an all-women XC race team called the Liv Trail Squad.

Liv Cycling started a project to promote more women on bikes and empower them to do something EPIC. A global social media contest was conducted and 6 women were chosen across the globe to represent the Trail Squad. I was the USA rep for the team. The other women chosen; Kate Ross; Australia, Madeleine Gerard; France, Olivia Smedley; UK, Sandy Savagar; Mexico, Anna Barea; Spain. Among being chosen for the team, we found out our EPIC race was going to be the Cape Epic. Talk about EPIC!! This adventure was a once in a lifetime, Liv Cycling provided all the gear, gave each of us a Liv Pique, coaching options and we also had two pro racers Serena Bishop Gordon and Kaysee Armstrong as mentors. My partner Kate and I were successful finishers of the Absa Cape Epic, this did not come without work, tears, blood or pain. The sisterhood that was developed with the Trail Squad and Liv Cyclings project can never be undone and has forever changed me! There is so much to be told of this adventure...so please ask me more questions if you want specifics because I can write a novel on this...it was an incredibly humbling but empowering experience!

DT Swiss was also one of my additional sponsors for the Cape Epic and provided me with some pretty rad lightweight wheels!!

So back to my life...lol...When I'm not working...my husband and I travel! We often will spend the weekends camping or racing...and usually spend at least one holiday on an extended camp trip. Our camp locations usually are chosen with riding or running in mind. If its a weekend warrior type trip we will go to Big Bear, Sedona, Flagstaff or Phoenix area. Most of our longer travels are spent in Utah and Colorado. We absolutely love these areas for riding and running; Moab and Telluride.

I am on the board for the Colorado River Area Trail Alliance (CRATA) which is our IMBA chapter in this region and on the leadership team for the Girlz Gone Riding Mojave Chapter.

Social Media
Instagram handle: @runningnative
Liv Cycling: Liv-Cycling.com/Trail-Squad
Dt Swiss: dtswiss.com
IG handle: @dtswiss

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-
Well, lets see...my #bikelife started when I was fresh out of college in Tulsa, OK, 2008. I bought my first bike when I decided I was going to do a triathlon. I had learned of triathlon from my fellow runners in Tulsa. I had not ridden a bike since probably middle school. I didn't do any research, to be honest, and went into a bike shop...I asked them about a road bike in my size and at first...they said they didn't have anything available. However, a moment later, the gentleman helping me ran to back and rolled out a beautiful “Made in Italy” Bianchi SHE road bike. The bike shop owner gave a great deal because it was the last years model and a hard size to sell. I bought it right then and there, no researching of specs or weight or blah, blah, blah. It fit and it was pretty...by far the most important aspects of riding right, lol!

Fast forward 3 years...I live in Arizona...travel nursing and not doing much riding. This super cute guy I was dating at the time (who is actually my husband now) introduced me to the world of mountain biking. I loved running and he loved dirt biking, so he thought we should try a hobby together. He chose mountain biking as we had just got back from an adventurous weekend of me trying to learn to ride off the beaten path. Plus, my husband absolutely despises running. He helped me pick out my beginner mountain bike...a Giant Revel...I rode that bike until the wheels almost fell off...probably riding that bike on trails it wasn't equipped to go on. But a few miles in the dirt and I fell in love with the dirt life.

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!"
First mountain bike ride EVER...wasn’t even on dirt. My husband and I were in San Diego for my birthday one year and we decided to rent bikes to ride along La Jolla for the weekend to the shops and restaurants. I had never been on a mountain bike prior to this so everything was foreign to me. I didn't really know how to shift and riding on anything other than flat road was something unheard of. I literally was afraid to “roll” off a curb on this bike. I remember my husband just jumping off these curbs and I would roll to them and stop immediately, get off the bike and step down. I thought my husband was crazy for riding down that “ginormous” drop!

After this, my husband helped me pick out a beginner mountain bike and took me out on some trails in Lake Havasu City, AZ. One dirt ride and I pretty much became hooked...I loved the challenge...the burn in the legs and the lungs and mostly it was just exciting to learn something new. I met other women riders who took me on a beginner MTB course and somehow I was talked into doing a 12-hour MTB team race...literally 2-3 mos after I started riding. That race in itself just added fuel to the fire. I have a competitive spirit by nature and doing that 12-hour race just made it for me...I fell in love with the sport of mountain biking. I loved the dirt!

Your husband was the one to introduce you to mountain biking. How did he help make the experience a positive one?
For me, my husband always encouraged me on our rides together but he was also VERY patient and kind. He never made me feel “slow” or that I was ruining his ride in any way even though he was significantly more skilled and faster than I was THEN. Personally, I am the hardest on myself and I wanted to be able to ride like he did...climb the obstacles he did and ride as smoothly as he did. I would get frustrated with myself and he would always be the calm for me...telling me things come with time and encouraging me to be patient with myself. Each ride, I became better and faster and he would always be my number one cheerleader on the trail. He is still my number one cheerleader, except now he’s on the sidelines as I have taken to the world of mountain bike racing.

Do you have any tips or suggestions on how to ride with your partner or introduce a partner to mountain biking?
Take the beginning rides slow and easy...understand that this will be the agenda for a while. Don't push your partner to do more technical or difficult terrain if they are not ready. Part of enjoying the sport of mountain biking is to enjoy the fun stuff...but building the technical skills, confidence and endurance takes time and should be established before going out on that black diamond trail. In the beginning, shoot for a timed ride versus a “miles were gonna cover today” ride. This allows both the beginner to not worry about the “mph” goal or how long it is taking to cover a certain mileage.

Communication and understanding is key! My husband and I don't always have amazing rides together, sometimes I feel like he's riding me on technical sections or giving me advice I don't want to hear, lol! We’ve all been there...it's important to know how to communicate respectfully to each other the frustrations that we may be having and what we expect out of that ride...which moves us to the next tip!

Don't make your partner, your ONLY riding buddy. Encourage your partner to ride with other people...I've learned so much from riding with other women riders. The camaraderie and bonding only increased my love and confidence in the sport. Its ok to not ride every ride with your husband/spouse/boyfriend etc. In fact, it's healthy to ride without each other and much can be learned on those separate rides, this only makes riding with your partner later on more fun.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I started with flats when on the mountain bike...mostly because I was used to riding smooth and flat roads. So, the thought of riding over rocks and uneven terrain clipped into my bike was just crazy. Now, I ride with clips...mostly because I love XC style riding and I feel more in control on descents and stronger on climbs when I have the full pull from the pedal. The style of riding you like to do I believe plays a big role in deciding clips vs. flats. There is much to be debated on this topic in the two-wheel world. I believe you just have to ride with what's comfortable for you. Some of the best riders in the world ride with flats and some ride with clips. You have to do you...

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
When I first started riding, I had a decent crash in Sedona on a horseshoe turn and broke my ankle. I didn't realize it was broken until three days later when I finally got an x-ray. I did not have to have surgery but it was a long 8 weeks to not be able to bike or run. I remember feeling very sorry for myself at one point and to be completely honest what got me out of this was the 2013 Boston Marathon. I watched this race on the day of, and as many of you know this was a terrible and unfortunately memorable year for this race. I watched the runners on my laptop and when the bombing occurred and the feed stopped, I followed along as best as I could with the news reports. I read and followed up on the injured runners who had lost a limb or were injured or killed. I immediately stopped my own pity party...I cried for those injured and could not imagine the recovery process both physically and mentally that these athletes would have to endure. So, point in the story...is that each of us are blessed to be out doing what we love...whether that be running, biking, swimming, hiking…(insert your outdoor activity here). The point is to enjoy it because it isn't a right it's a gift.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I had trouble riding drops and loose technical terrain...for me it took time and practice. I even attended a couple of mountain bike skills camps. Sometimes it's important to see what you are really doing on the bike when you ride. So taking some short video clips of what your bike and body are doing are great ways to analyze your form. I would feel that I have great bike/body separation but when I looked at myself riding I realized I was a very stiff rider and not as loose as I needed to be. Once, you can SEE what you're doing wrong, then you KNOW what needs to be corrected.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding.
Absolutely, I still can't do a manual and when I'm tired I have trouble riding loose, off cambered terrain. I feel that riding is a transient and fluid motion....some days I'm “sending it” and feeling strong and other days I'm getting off my bike and walking those same sections. When I'm having “bad” ride days...I try to focus on what I am enjoying about my ride. I love being outside and having the opportunity to even be able to get to ride my bike. I love the freedom it provides and how strong it makes me feel. Sometimes, this is all I have to give and its ok. I don’t have to be awesome at riding, it's my hobby and I have a day job that pays the bills. So, just ENJOY it!!!

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that my bike keeps me healthy and fit and also makes me feel strong and empowered!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Juliana Furtado CC that I purchased for a steal from a friend. I love this bike for places like Moab and Sedona.

My XC MTB is a Liv Pique SX with XM 1501 DT Swiss wheels. This bike is very sentimental to me as is was the bike given to me from Liv Cycling and the bike that I completed the Cape Epic on.

My oldest bike is my Bianchi road bike...my very first bike ever! She’s about ten years old now and as heavy as a downhill bike but there is some nostalgia in this bike. I still ride this bike often as it sits on my Wahoo Kickr. One day, I plan to convert this bike into a single speed to give her new life on the road.

You were chosen as part of the Liv Trail Squad to participate at the Cape Epic, tell us why this opportunity was so special to you-
When I applied for the contest, I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be chosen. Things like this just don't happen to me. But I read the information and one of the recommendations was that you had to have a passion to get more women on bikes. I thought...I do this! I love doing this! So I decided to go for it...I worked with a great friend who helped me create my video and found out about two months later I was chosen for the Squad. The opportunity meant so much to me because it pushed me out of my own comfort zones and I met so many AMAZING women on this journey. The best part is hearing women's stories who have bought a bike and are getting out there and enjoying themselves, learning a new sport or fine-tuning an old one. I love to see these women progress and build confidence in themselves... tackle new obstacles on the bike and overcome fears! You can see it in their eyes, how much pride they have and I love seeing that in a woman.

I also learned much about myself on this journey with Liv Cycling. Trust me, completing a race such as the Cape Epic has never been on my bucket list or in my thoughts because I personally believed that I could not do a race like this. But, now I KNOW I am capable of more...this has actually changed my personal bucket list to include things that I know I can do. Like an Ironman!

For those who have no idea what the Cape Epic event is, can you tell us about the race and what it entails?
The Absa Cape Epic is an 8-day annual mountain bike stage race that takes place in the Western Cape. It has been accredited as hors categorie (beyond categorization) by the Union Cycliste International. First staged in 2004, the race typically covers more than 700 kilometres (435 miles) and lasts eight days - a prologue and seven stages. The race is completed in teams of two.

What was the best part of the Cape Epic for you?
There were so many amazing moments to this adventure it's hard to truly just pick one...many would say, the finish was the best part, which it truly was a feeling that is hard to put into words but It as a little anticlimactic and not what I think about when I think of the Cape Epic.

For me, the best moments were made up of the meat of the adventure...Stage 1 I felt so sick and was so sick, but to make it to the start line and pushing and pulling for 6+ hours and Kate and I figuring out how to get to the finish line together...the hardest day such as the Queens Stage and barely making the cutoff (30 min to spare) and just feeling so mentally and physically exhausted but knowing that you made it. Having your team and the other Liv girls there at the finish line to hug and help wipe your tears.

The best parts of the Cape Epic were more moments than anything….that's what I remember.

What was the most challenging part of the Cape Epic for you?
No doubt, the daily grind of the climbing. I thought I was a decent climber...but the Cape Epic does an excellent job of serving up a big ole slice of humble pie. I didn't think there was any terrain too technical at the Cape, even the Land Rover Technical terrain sections. The regions that I had to train for the cape epic (AZ, NV, CO, UT) all have similar terrain to what I experienced in South Africa. The Queens Stage had some pretty technical, loose single track that was super fun at first but after a while, it begins to wear you down. That's what made this stage though, it was 70+ miles of technical terrain with no easy miles...every pedal stroke was earned and worked for.

Are there more plans for the Liv Trail Squad this year?
As of now...we're all doing our own thing, in different countries with the same goal… motivating women to get out of their comfort zones...whether that be to ride a bike, start running or just taking the steps to try something new. Liv will be releasing video footage of our Epic journey at the Cape Epic in June. The Liv Trail Squad website also has more stories of the squad and blogs to motivate you to get out there!!

What do you love most about bike companies working to better support women riders?
Absolutely everything! But to be more specific, I truly appreciate the passion and time that these companies take to commit to research and development to fine-tune and create women-specific products. Women are so different anatomically...I know there are some women who prefer the fit of a mens bike but there are MANY women who can feel the difference when they get on a bike that was created for a woman. I, personally am on the extreme of short and petite...so I am thankful to know there are bikes that are made to fit my frame.

You are involved with your local IMBA chapter- why do you feel it is important for women to be part of their local trail organizations?
I believe as users of the trail, it is important for us to know what kind of work goes into the building and maintenance of your local trails. Being apart of your local IMBA chapter gives you a voice and provides a platform for cohesion amongst mountain bikers.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Having a bad First experience.

I feel the most important ride for a beginner is the FIRST RIDE. You can truly make or break an opportunity for someone depending on their perspective of their experience. Was it a good or bad experience? Most beginner women are already nervous to be trying something new, so if they come away from their first ride feeling frustrated and comparing themselves to experienced riders it can be demoralizing. I always tell beginners, “You do you...don't compare yourself to anyone else.

The concern that they slow other more experienced riders down or take away from their ride.

Read Section 3

Being out of mountain bike shape.

Mountain biking, in the beginning, is hard and can be a little painful on the legs and lungs. Let's face it, it is a demanding sport at times and being out of bike shape is tough. But this is where that whole patience and understanding come into play. The more one rides, the better and stronger we will get. Also, to the rider trying to get others out there, it is important to remember that we were all in the same boat at one time or another, so patience is key.

I don’t want to fall and get hurt.

Education and teaching about this sport is essential. Events like Red Bull Rampage have popularized the crazy downhill spectra of mountain biking and many women don't know there are other realms of this sport that don't require you to descend a mountain at warp speed.

Utilize resources to become a better rider to develop those skills and confidence on the bike. There are so many all-women mountain bike clinics and bike chapters that have beginner oriented rides. Take advantage of these!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Currently, there are big changes occurring industry wide on all platforms to get women more involved in this sport. I am a little biased as I have had the opportunity to be involved in Liv Cycling over the years, and this company has been completely dedicated to getting more women into this sport. I have seen pretty decent growth in bike companies and clothing companies that have begun to cater towards women. However, there is still much to be done! Industry-wise it would be great to see more

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
What inspires me is how much joy and growth I have gotten out of riding my bike. I feel that I am a better human because I ride my bike, lol! This may seem pretty cliche, but the years that I have been mountain biking I've met some really amazing people who have taught me patience and what a true love for a sport really is. I've learned to ENJOY what I'm doing and to be thankful for the opportunity. I've gained confidence in myself as an athlete and as a woman. I've been a beginner and went from walking down a street side curb in San Diego to clearing decent drops in Moab with ease. I've felt that pride in myself each time I've accomplished a goal on the bike I didn't think was possible and I love seeing this same excitement and joy on faces of women who are on the same or similar mountain bike journey.

I love seeing other women grow in this sport and watch them come from a ride saying, “I've never done that before...or I never rode that section before!” It truly makes me genuinely excited for them as I can recall those feelings for myself. One of my favorites is when a woman tells me she can't ride or that she's too old to do this sport; if my influencing powers are good enough I am able to get them on a GGR ride and they usually find out they actually CAN ride and thus begins their own journey of #bikelife! It's like reliving my own love and growth from the very beginning of my bike journey over and over again… It's really a gratifying and fulfilling experience to be able to empower women to push themselves out of their comfort zones and see them grow through this.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Hmmm….most random fact ever..when I was 12 years old I was in a Walker Texas Ranger episode. Many may not know this show but it was an epic series back in the day, starring Chuck Norris!!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

You Were the Light For Me to Find My Truth

It's been hard for me to write about life for a while because there has been so much on my mind about grief, processing, and general life stuff. However, I've had several folks tell me they appreciate me sharing my journey through loss and grief. So, here it goes.

Challenges have been:
I continually worry that people will get sick of me talking about how I'm feeling about the loss. The grief I'm really not allowing myself to feel right now. The general goings on of life.

Honestly, I feel incredibly boring right now. I am grateful for the friends who invite me on rides, sometimes I can make it work and sometimes I can't. I can't express in words how those invites make me feel. Thank you.

Another has been not relying on Travis too heavily to be my "rock" during this time because it's the busy season and frankly, there isn't time. Do you know how hard that is?

It's the busy season and business comes first- regardless if you suffered a major loss. It's your livelihood. It pays the bills and keeps a roof over your head. Some would say: "That's not true, family comes first!"

However, customers will not always see it the same way because time away means we're either closed OR it takes longer to get their bike back. Also, your partner hasn't gone through something quite so tragic and your coaster of emotions is something they can't quite understand.

It's frustrating when you feel like you're speaking a foreign language.
It's frustrating when you feel like you're a broken record.

I had to acknowledge my anxiety was getting to the point where it was feeling pretty rough. So, I decided to try an alternative to anti-depressants first. I did some research and am trying some products from CBD for Life. I was popping a lot of ibuprofen for pain/discomfort and got to the point where I decided that it wasn't good for me to keep doing that. Plus, if there was something that could help me ease the feeling of panic I had on a daily basis, that would be awesome.

The products have definitely helped. I've managed to not take ibuprofen for a couple weeks now, and my anxiety feels much more manageable. That alone makes me feel a bit better.

I also bought a blank journal, markers, and watercolor markers at Cardboard Robot to utilize in processing and feeling sharing when I'm not at a point where I'm ready to share it on here.

What else?
Well, I'll say that the reality of loss hits you once the life insurance premium comes.
I cried when I opened the envelope and saw the amount. It was a mixture of many emotions, and really I wanted to rip it up and tell it to f***off. I didn't want this. I want my Dad. Not money. It made me hate money.

My dad had multiple policies for accident insurance. I hope I know the right amount of policies. (I would imagine I'd figure it out eventually.) It's true. I would be taken care of. I just resent how I was financially taken care of when really, all I wanted was a close relationship with him from the start. He did what he did what he could.

The second is when you pay for the funeral home services- and you realize you sent the check a couple days before his birthday. Irony.

The third is when you get another life insurance check on his birthday.

The day before his birthday, I wanted to do what I felt would be a "tribute" ride. My goal was to ride 66 miles in one day. However, with everything I had already pre-scheduled, that would surely prove to be challenging. So a second goal was 52 (the year he was born.)
What came of the day wasn't what I had planned. The sky was beautiful and the temperature pleasant- after I got used to being in the saddle for more than a 6-mile mountain bike ride, it was good. Barrett and I rode together, chatted, and I'd sometimes break away to see how well I could attack a gravel roller. I felt positive for the first time this season pertaining to how I might fare at Chequamegon. Yes, gravel grinds were not happening for me like I thought they would, but I felt stronger than I thought I was.

I realized at the end of our ride, as we stopped by Luther College, my shoulder wasn't hurting in the front like it typically would after a ride. I felt strong. I felt great. I could ride 33 more miles! I'd have to do them solo, tho.

I opted to visit Travis and talk about the feeling of obligation over a "grand gesture" vs. the feeling I had of Dad really wanting me to enjoy the day with riding vs. making it some challenge or goal. I don't know if my dad really loved his birthday or not- I always try to make my birthday more special than an average day.

"Why am I pushing myself to do this long ride, when I had a great time on a long ride and feel good enough to mountain bike? I love mountain biking. Dad knows I love mountain biking. Wouldn't he like that, too?"
So, we decided that a great idea for a little "recovery" would be to visit Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Co. and get my first ice cream of the season. Mint Avalanche. I figured this would be the closest thing I could do to celebrate the life of someone I love, without committing myself to eat a whole pie. Dad loved pie. I think Banana Cream Pie was something he'd have Grandma make for him on his birthday. I love it, too...but not enough to make a whole pie. It was fun to hang out with Travis and not be at home or work...heck, we really weren't on our bikes (tho we did bike there.) A short break in the day for both of us- I enjoyed it immensely.

Then I went home so I could switch helmets and hit the trails.

It was glorious to be out on dirt, no concern over vehicles or dogs wanting to eat your leg for a snack. (Yes, we encountered a dog on River Road we had never seen before, and I found courage out of desperation to save myself from being bitten to yell "NO! GO AWAY!" as loud as I could. Channeling my inner "Dad"...a man who barely raised his voice, but when he did, you knew sh*t was going down. I was reminded as to why I've shied away from solo gravel grinds. I am anxious about dogs and traffic.)
The smells, the trees, the sound of my tire on the sticks and dirt. Climbing up Tombstone after biking 33+ miles already.
Hitting the 43 mile mark.
I felt I had made the right decision for my day- and as I snapped the picture of my bike on the Fred trail, I knew my Dad would be happy. He got quite the adventure. I finally put the keychain on my hip bag that has a tiny bit of his ashes, so he is getting out on rides with me now. Giving me strength, keeping me company, and wondering why I climb so much when it's really not my favorite- I'm just good at it.
On his actual birthday, we had a short ride where I finally rode up the Little Big Horn switchbacks perfectly for the first time this season. There was a tree on Upper Little Big Horn that had low branches, and my goal was to make it passable rather than having folks run into Freddy Kruger-like branches.

It was a lot of effort for someone of 5'2" with a bad shoulder and a small handsaw. The end result was positive, and I felt very accomplished- tho I worried if I would make my arm blow up. I'm a prideful person, and sometimes I can't help myself. I'll do what doesn't work for my body for the sake of proving that I give a damn about our local trails. I feel shame over what I'm unable to do, so sometimes I just "do" and hope for the best.

Thankfully, all I felt that morning was a sense of accomplishment, a job well-done, and physical tiredness that made me feel good. My body proved to be strong, as well as my mind- I was grateful to give Dad a tribute that involved several things he would enjoy, all of which were outdoors, and in those moments I felt close to him.

As I finish writing this, I had a dream last night where he was in it. In the storyline, he hadn't passed away, but I must not have seen him for a long while. I was having dinner at someone's house when he came in thru their back door. We ended up having the greatest, biggest, hug. It felt very real at the time. I think I finally got some sort of sign.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Amanda Cude

I’m Amanda and I am a blogger and REI employee. I started my blog plussidelife.com a little over a year ago. I try to encourage women of all shapes and sizes to get outside. After trying to find people like me online that enjoy the outdoors and are plus size I just wasn’t getting anywhere. So I decided I would lead the pack and start my own blog.

I started riding bikes as an adult back in 2014. I got a super cheap cruiser on Black Friday and would ride with my husband, Jeremy, to the grocery store across the street. It was fun but I wasn’t convinced yet.

Then we spent the summer of 2015 in Tucson, AZ and it changed everything for me. The city has over 100 miles of greenways that connect all the neighborhoods to all the businesses. We would go on casual rides on the greenway and I just loved it. I felt like a kid again. During this time my Jeremy started to get into mountain biking. He had a WalMart mountain bike and literally rode that bike until the bike shop couldn’t fix it anymore.

We moved back to Charlotte and wanted to take that love of cycling with us. I traded in my cheap cruiser and got a hardtail mountain bike (Elphaba) and Jeremy upgraded to a full suspension mountain bike. The first time I rode on a trail I went over the handlebars and down a ravine. I was bruised all along my side and had a black eye. I started to wonder if I bit off more then I could chew trying to ride trails.

I went back and forth riding a small green trail, getting hurt and wouldn’t ride again for another month. Then would stop riding because it was too cold. My skills never seemed to get better because every time I would ride I would hurt myself. After I sprained my ankle last fall I was ready to really ride on a regular basis and improve my skills once and for all. I hated not being able to move like I once could.

After my ankle healed we went to Santos, FL to see family and took our bikes with us. It was the perfect place for me to gain some confidence and get back on the bike. I even did my first wall ride there. At the same time, I switched jobs and started working at the local REI. Jeremy already worked there as a bike tech and had gotten into bike commuting. I talked about it for a year but finally committed to joining him. I got my e-bike (Topanga) to commute with and never looked back. Now I ride on group rides with friends once a week. I ride to work a few times and go on long rides around the city. I’ve also gotten better and handling my bike and am finally seeing improvements on the trail too.

I have plans to take my e-bike and do my first half-century this fall. So far the longest distance I’ve done is 32 miles. I’m also working on mountain biking and hope to tackle a trail or two in Pisgah and/or DuPont in western NC.

Instagram: @plusside_life
Facebook: @theplussideoflife

Tell us about your introduction to #bikelife and what inspired you to start cycling as an adult?
It started very organically. Eight years ago we rented bikes to ride on the beach during our honeymoon and realized how out of shape we were but we had fun. We decided a few years ago to get cheap ‘walmart’ bikes to ride the sidewalks to get to a few places that were close by. It felt good to be ‘green’ and cycle to get groceries instead of taking the car. When we moved to Tucson it just exploded and we were opened up to a whole new world of what riding a bike could mean. I felt like a kid again and had a huge smile on my face every time. I wanted that fun experience to last so I kept riding my bike.

What was the deciding factor to get involved with mountain biking?
FOMO My husband, Jeremy started mountain biking in Tucson and would tell me about his rides. It sounded like so much fun to be out in nature and ride. So when we moved back to Charlotte I wanted to be able to join him. We lived right next to the US Whitewater Center and he would bike the trails while I walked them. It wasn’t as fun walking by myself while he literally rode laps around me. So I wanted a bike to join him.

You ride with Race Face Chester pedals, tell us why you like riding with grippy flat pedals-
I’m already clumsy and have very little handling skills on the bike. So the last thing I need is to be clipped in. I kept having issues with my feet falling off the pedal when I rode, either from pedal strikes or just not getting my cadence and gears in balance. When Jeremy started working in the bike shop he learned that people buy these pedals all the time and always say good things about them. Once he told me I could get lime green and match my bike I was sold. I tried them out and felt so much better and more confident riding. I haven’t looked back since.

Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome? 
I got my mountain bike for my birthday two years ago. The first time I rode it I went on a simple green trail that I had hiked before. I started to get more speed then I felt comfortable with and tried to break but I couldn’t stop. Next thing I know I’m down a ravine about 6-8 feet below the trail. I went over the handlebars, took down a baby tree, and was covered in bruises. I felt like a badass going into work that week because I had a story to tell but in reality, I was scared to get on my bike. This process continued for the next year and a half. I would finally get the courage to ride my bike, crash and then take off a few months before I would try again.

The worst was right before Thanksgiving last year. We had visited family and decided to take our bikes with us to ride afterward at a trail we had never gone to before. It was starting to get dark and the park was closing down. Instead of finishing the trail we decided to turn around and ride back to the car. I went up a rooty section and loss momentum, in trying to bail on my bike my hoodie got wrapped around the handlebars and my bike landed with pedal hitting my foot. Once I caught my breath I tried to stand up but I was in so much pain I couldn’t put any pressure on it. We tried to see if I could ride down the hills and walk up the other side but I could barely walk. We ended up with Jeremy riding down the service road beside the trail in the car and picking me up. I thought it would be a normal injury where I’m sore for a few hours but then it goes away. The next day it was worse and I went to the urgent care. I had a sprained foot and was put in a boot and told to stay off of it for 6-8 weeks. This was my first time getting seriously hurt ever in my life. I took a lot out of me mentally to not be able to do anything normal. Physically I gained 10 pounds from lack of moving around.

I was so determined and I didn’t want to feel helpless. I gave myself all of winter to heal took a very level and simple trail to ride. It built up my confidence so I did it again. Now after a few months of riding on a regular basis, I’m starting to actually see improvements in my riding but also having fun because I’m not hurting myself every time I ride.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I’m honestly not good at any handling skills. I’m just now starting to get the hang of leaning in the turns and feeling comfortable with speed in certain sections. I will say that I practiced my skills a few times on a regular basis and it has helped me out. I don’t like spending 30 minutes to an hour working on lifting my front tire or riding up and down curbs but the next time I go on the trail I always see improvement so clearly working on skills does help.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I feel free when I ride my bike. I see strangers looking at me weird and I just think “You’re missing out on the fun

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them? 

First is Elphaba she is my Cannondale Tango hardtail mountain bike. Yes she is named after the character from Wicked. It is the first bike I ever spent a good chunk of money on and I really enjoy riding it. For the most part, she is all stock parts, I switched out the saddle and pedals but other then that not much has changed. We have a saying that you can’t upgrade bikes until you out ride what your bike is capable of. So I see this bike being with me for a few years. Second is Topanga, my Specialized Como 2.0 Ebike, and yes I loved watching Boy Meets World as a kid. I got this bike because I wanted to be able to keep up with Jeremy on the road and commute to work. This bike has completely changed my life and made me ride more than even I imagined.

You have recently purchased a Specialized Turbo Como 2.0, tell us about your decision to go with a pedal assist bike and why you chose the Specialized Turbo Como 2.0-
I had looked into getting an ebike for well over a year. I probably looked at about 10 different options and test rode about 5 different bikes. I’m overweight and out of shape and I knew that by getting an ebike it would level the playing field so to speak. When Jeremy and I would ride on the greenways on my mountain bike I naturally went about 8-9 MPH, on my ebike I naturally go about 12-13 MPH. I wasn’t holding him back anymore, in fact, I could actually outclimb him. When it came down to what bike to choose all of them were in the same relative price point. They all felt the same as far as comfort and ease of using the pedal assist. I ended up with the Como because it looked the prettiest. It may sound cheesy but I really wanted the battery to be integrated into the down tube instead of looking like a brick glued to the side. I couldn’t stop thinking about the color and how much it matched my personality.

There are folks out there who feel that they aren't getting a "workout" when riding an e-bike or they are "cheating", tell us how this bike has opened up doors for you-
I would say those people are missing the point. The very first ride I did with my ebike was a group ride around town. We did 10 miles at a relaxed pace. My friend had invited me on this ride for months and I wouldn’t do it because I knew I couldn’t do the distance or climb some of the hills. No one knew it was an ebike until after the ride was done. In fact, I’ve never gotten a bad comment about riding an ebike. The opposite happens, people ask questions and want to know how it works. I find that I’ve become an unofficial spokesperson for ebikes because I'm normally the first one they have ever seen.

I tell people all the time that I’m riding a bike just like them. I just have a little help and modified it to work for me. It is very common to see people modify workouts for yoga or CrossFit. It is the same idea here. I still have to pedal or the bike doesn’t move, I’m still putting in the effort.

For folks who have not tried an e-bike, what would you tell them?
Don’t start in Turbo! But seriously give it a try. I know a lot of people want to be pure when it comes to bikes and that's great. But I believe that ebikes open a door to allow other people to ride who might not or could otherwise. Think of the motor as your front chainring. When going downhill or level stay in eco mode. When you get to a steep section then turn up the assistance to touring or turbo. Understand that the assistance stops at a certain speed, for most bikes, it is 20 or 28MPH. Once I get close to that speed the bike will actually drag to purposefully not go over that limit when trying to use that assistance, similar to a car that has a governor on it. That being said you can ride really fast and it doesn’t stop when going downhill and you aren’t pedaling.

How has purchasing an e-bike bettered your #bikelife experience?
This bike really has changed my life. I find myself wanting to ride more then I had originally expected. It is now common for us to ride after work for 45 minutes or longer. It has made riding fun and not just work. The other day we rode for a few miles after a thunderstorm came through and Jeremy was like we never use to do this. I didn’t have to think I just jump on the bike and go. I’m riding longer distances then I thought I could. I even put my mountain bike tires on the ebike and took it on gravel roads. Last year I rode about 100 miles all year, now I average 100 miles a month.

Tell us about your blog and what inspired you to create it?
I actually was looking specifically for a blog that talked about being a woman and enjoying nature. I found a few but when I tried to find other plus size women who liked to hike and bike I couldn’t find anything. I knew we existed but no one was out there. So I started The Plus side of Life. I want to show women that size is just a number and the outdoors are there for everyone. It is a place where I try to inspire women by showing me out there trying but also to educate those who have never tried anything like this before. I didn’t grow up really outdoorsy, we would car camp a few times and maybe fish but that was about it. I didn’t really find this lifestyle until my mid-20s. I think a lot of people are out there wanting to connect with nature but don’t know where to start or get intimidated at stores. So I just let people know I get it, let me help you.

What has been the most interesting thing that you've experienced since you started blogging about your #bikelife?
I kept the idea of my blog in my head for a long time. I told Jeremy about it and he was 100% behind it. I wrote for a while but never consistently and never really promoted it. At the beginning of this year, I decided to really work on making this blog a priority. I told one of my friends about it and she was like yes this is needed. I wasn't sure if she would get it since she is a standard size and then she told me about her family that is plus size and loved the connection. When I started my new job I told a co-worker and she was like yeah I know I read it. I was so happy to hear someone say that they read it. Then she told me that her mother-in-law is plus size and is constantly talking about needing more women of size out there being represented. When I met her mother-in-law she was so happy to meet me. She told me to just keep doing it, that she loved that someone was stepping up to give a voice. 68% of American women are a size 16 or higher. I just want to show that we love to be outside too.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
I think women are afraid to ask questions and risk looking silly or dumb. At the same time, I think men give off that it is a boy’s club feel, whether it is intentional or not. I think it starts at the bike shop. Women need to feel comfortable and accepted.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
We need more representation of women. I would love to see more women being bike shop owners, mechanics or just working with bikes. At the same time, most companies that show women with their products show the same size women. It is very common to see Clydesdale men on the trail and clothing going up to a XXL for men. But they expect women who ride to be these small petite girls who only like pink. I would love to see Athenas get the same kind of love. There are currently three companies that show up when I search plus size cycling clothing. (SheBeest, Terry, and Aero) Like I said earlier the average woman is not a small or extra small, yet that is the most commonly stocked size. I think if more women see someone their size out there riding it will encourage them to ride and help them picture themselves easily right.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I just have so much fun riding that I want to share that joy with others. It is a great way to get outside,
workout and just have fun.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love color. I’m always wearing bright colors and I love coloring books. I even have an Instagram dedicated to documenting all of my coloring books. It’s my art. I’m inspired by Lisa Frank.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Women Involved Series: Ashley Frear Cooper

Hello, I’m Ashley. I’m a Nebraska native but now live, work, and ride in Kansas City, Missouri, with my fiancé and our yorkie-poo, Coco. I started cycling towards the end of college as a form of stress relief and alternative to driving/parking on campus. Since my early days of solo rides, I’ve found a community, even family, within cycling. I still come to riding as a form of mental and physical wellness, but I also come to it as a place for personal growth, camaraderie, and mentorship through sharing knowledge and experience.




Tell us about your introduction to your #bikelife and why it has become part of your life-
For me, #bikelife, in general, speaks to all that cycling has done to fill my life with love and adventure.

Josie’s #bikelife and FWD speak to the women who ride and spread their love (and fears) so that other women have an opportunity to see how cycling can liberate and activate a positive, supportive community.

You've embraced many styles of riding such as off-road, gravel, etc. What inspired you to become involved with so many different types of cycling?
I was inspired by the women I met who were kind enough to bring me into the fold and expose me to a wide range of riding — cyclocross, gravel, singletrack, and adventure racing. It’s really difficult to describe, it really seems serendipitous how it all happened. I’m forever thankful.

What would be your favorite cycling event and why do you enjoy participating in events?
I’ve found endurance gravel events are my favorite. They are largely solitary expeditions for me. I’m in it for the personal challenge, not a podium or award. It takes physical and mental stamina. Gravel Worlds is a favorite gravel “race”, and finishing the 150-mile course in 2017 is my greatest cycling accomplishment to date.

Any suggestions for those who have not participated in a cycling event before?
Ride your ride. By that I mean, ride for yourself, not anyone else. Push yourself within reason, but don’t use other as your benchmark for success. For example, my success criteria have been anything from riding cleanly (aka without crashing the mtb) to handling my own mechanical repair (like a flat at Dirty Kanza in 2017) with composure and without losing a ton of time.

Can you take us back to your first few off-road rides? What did you learn from those initial rides that kept you coming back for more?
Oh boy, I had my first mtb and gravel rides about the same time. I think the number one lesson has been to look where you want to go, not where you don’t! I have a difficult time getting out of my own head in many situations, so it’s no surprise that biking is one of them where overthinking gets me. Still, I try to give myself this simple little reminder, and it usually does the trick.

Any tips or suggestions you would give to a new off-road rider?
Be patient. This goes beyond riding for me. I’m not a patient person my nature. But I’m learning to enjoy the process. There is so much more to gain by trying than by giving up. I don’t expect to be a pro, but I can continue to build my skills and tackle new trails.

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
Clips. I went clipless for gravel and road riding, for efficiency and power. Once I went clipless it just became second nature, so it’s also what I’ve used on my MTB. Combined with my Specialized 2FO cliplite shoes, I have no desire to go to flats. I’m in and out instinctively it seems and I have tread around the cleat that provides a stable dismount and walking surface.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Yes, I face planted off a wooden (up-and-over) bike park feature. There were several reasons it was stupid to even attempt, but it left a salient mental scar. I haven’t mustered the courage to try many man-made features since.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Surely too many to list. In fact, I still need to go to a skills clinic to learn what I’m doing wrong and how to do it correctly. I think when I started two fundamentals challenged me: sighting a line and not oversteering. Releasing fear and establishing trust with your bike and yourself are paramount to truly overcoming these challenges. Again, not my natural character disposition; I tend towards analytical and guarded.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Freedom and new adventures
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I’ll be the first to admit I’m a little spoiled because my fiancé owns/operates an independent bicycle shop in KC. Nonetheless, I must say fit and function are key to enjoying your ride. Bikes are purpose-built machines and are by no means one-size-fits-all. As a woman, I really appreciate having a nicely spec’ed bike that also fits me really well. I have found that in Specialized and expect it from other brands too. Fit and function have made the biggest difference in my confidence on the MTB. My 2016 Rumor Expert 650b full-suspension MTB is and has been since my first ride, one with me (or, rather, I’m one with her). (Aside: In fact, the one I originally rode sold at the end of the demo season. I was so sad that I ultimately bought my very own even though I had another nice full-suspension I could ride.) There is something to be said for finding THE BIKE, one that inspires confidence and helps you overcome fears to gain new skills (and likely new fears)! My Rumor (now the women’s Camber) is capable and quick...exactly what I’m looking for in an MTB. *Note: As of 2018 the Specialized Camber is now the Specialized Stumpjumper ST

Your fiancé owns Epic Bike and Sport- even tho you do not work with him full time, what are your thoughts on being involved in the cycling industry?
I’m still learning about the industry. I’m still trying to determine where and how I can be involved. First and foremost, I’m an advocate for riding, which is the ethos of our entire shop. Since I’m a transplant to KC, I’ve spent the past 2 years learning the roads and riding community. I still feel on the fringes of the industry, but see my place as a voice for girls/women, and keen to see cycling be accessible to a more diverse audience than white men. More to come(...)!

Why do you feel more women should be involved in the cycling industry?
As in all areas, gender equity needs attention. Attention comes through representation, ambassadors who can share a point of view from roughly 1/2 of the population. The industry needs women, but not just pro riders; it needs amateurs and enthusiasts. From my standpoint, the industry needs women from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. It needs women who love mechanics as much as they love riding. It needs women who have experienced how cycling has contributed to their physical and mental well-being, and with it, enriched other facets of their life. It needs girls and youth, in general, to embrace nature and outdoor recreation.

What are your cycling related goals for 2018?
Goals for 2018: 3 endurance gravel events (100-150 miles each), 2 endurance MTB events (2-4 hours each), plus trail running and yoga/Pilates for cross-training

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Not knowing their options (trails, routes, bikes) or that other women ride

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
Do it yourself, socialize what you’re doing, and invite others along for the ride!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Youth, especially girls, including my nieces.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I’m the oldest in a blended/divorces family. I have 7 sisters and 1 brother. To say, I’m a champion for women and girls might be an understatement. I believe we can do anything we set our minds to and break long-standing gender barriers (and gendered mindsets) one by one.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Women Involved Series: Leia Schneeberger

Born, raised and still residing in Madison, Wisconsin. I've been in advertising as a senior account manager at Mid-West Family Broadcasting for 11 years. I enjoy the competition of sales and coming up with creative ways to help my client's tell their story to the masses.

I have a fiancé, his name is Ryan Rollins, he also competes. We met 3 summer's ago during the Wisconsin Off-Road Series.

I was never a cyclist, I was a soccer player growing up, played college ball then tore my ACL the year after I graduated. Knee was never the same. I continued playing through the pain, using spin class as a means of rehab. About 9 years ago the guy I was dating asked if I wanted to go for a ride in the woods. Took me out to Kettle Moraine, the John Muir Trails and off we went. No helmet, tennis shoes, soccer shorts, hybrid bike, 5 miles later I was completely cashed and in love. We started riding once a week just for a fun workout.

3 Years ago I had to give up my cleats so I started racing with goals in mind. Dedicating real time to training. I bike all year round now. Racing Fat Bikes in the Winter and Mountain Bikes in the Summer.

I race for Broken Spoke Bike Studio in Green Bay. 
I host a podcast show called, "Dose of Fat," you can find it on www.fat-bike.com
I am on Strava, people can find me by my name.
Facebook by my name.

Tell us about the introduction to mountain biking and how it influenced you from then on-
I had a boyfriend that asked me to go for a mountain bike ride one day. I had no idea what that was but I’m game for anything. He took me the John Muir trails at Kettle Moraine State Park in Wisconsin. I was on a $500 specialized, hardtail with hybrid (commuter) tires. No helmet, soccer shorts, tennis shoes t-shirt and no clue what I was about to get myself into. We made it around a 4-mile loop that day and I was toasted and roasted. What a great workout. We started going there once a week, we’d drive an hour for a 6-mile ride. Until this point, I just played soccer all the time so Mt biking was something to do to switch it up.

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!"
Mountain biking gets the adrenalin pumping, it’s exciting, challenging, you have to stay ultra-focused on the task at hand. Get lost in the moment, all exterior stress or anxiety from the day diminishes.
It was hard work, most weeks I couldn’t bring myself to do the 10-mile loop. Now I wouldn’t even make the trip to the Kettles without riding the 30-mile loop.

Tell us the process of buying your first mountain bike? Do you have advice or helpful tips for those looking to buy their first mountain bike?
Chat with all the mechanics at your local bike shops, they will give you some pointers.
I purchased my first Mountain bike after I learned there were races. Once I participated in a race I knew it was time to upgrade from my commuter bike to a full suspension Mt Bike.
Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Start with flats until you get used to riding the terrain, this way you can touch down more easily, less crashes. Flats are also a better tool for learning Mt bike skills. The clips let you cheat.
I waited a year before I got my first pair of clips.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Biffs are part of the gig. If you can’t take a couple hits, this is not the sport for you.
I still crash all the time as I am always pushing myself to the edge of my abilities.
I’ve gone into full whaling sessions in the middle of the trail
The worst was going over the bars, landing on my shoulder and severing the ligaments one week before my first race of the Wisconsin Off-Road Season. Obeyed all the rules of healing while off the bike and pushed through the pain during the races. My collar bone isn’t connected to the rest of me so you can push it down like a piano key. It’s funny looking but no longer affects me.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
My best advice on handling is to find another woman to help you and to take a skills clinic right away. You won’t feel as pressured to just roll on when you are with a woman. I was slow to learn handling because I only rode with a guy that didn’t know much about it either. I just rode and went with my natural instincts. I didn’t learn how to handle a bike until I took a weekend women’s skills clinic a couple of years after I started riding.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I am still looking for someone to teach me how to wheelie. It hasn’t slowed me down but it’s like a soccer player not being able to juggle a soccer ball. Feel like any mountain biker should just be able to do a wheelie
If there is ever something that sketches me out I try not to get discouraged about it. I get off the bike and walk it. Better to walk today and ride tomorrow then be out for a season.
What do you love about riding your bike?
I like going fast
The burning in my legs that lets me know I’m getting a fabulous workout
Ripping single track gives me a high
You can cover so much more ground, see so much more while on a bike rather than a hike
Nothing else matters when I am biking

You met your fiance while participating in a race series- awesome! What do you enjoy most about having a partner who loves to mountain bike as much as you?
Ryan and I plan trips all over the country to explore new trails.
I can’t imagine being with someone who didn’t ride a bike, who would take care of my bike?

What are your plans for the 2018 riding season?
My biggest goal is to win the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships this summer, everything I do up until that day is centered on winning that race.
I’ll be competing in the Wisconsin Off Road Series
Dakota 50
Ore 2 Shore
Coolest is Ryan and I are heading to New Zealand to race in the Pioneer 6 Day Stage Race for our Honeymoon!

Tell us about a race that you are the most excited to compete in this year-
USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships

For those on the fence with participating in a bike race, do you have any tips or suggestions that can make the experience more enjoyable?
Some races have a “learn to race clinic,” take the clinic.
Start in the easiest / shortest race they have available
When someone wants to pass you, try to move over to the right side of the trail and help them get by you as quickly as possible. I hate having someone behind me breathing down my neck wanting to get by. Don’t hold them back there, get them around you fast so that you can get back to focusing on your ride.
Chat with the people around you at the start line, make some friends.

You host a podcast over at Fat-Bike.Com- tell us how you got involved with Fat-Bike.com and the show you host-
Last year after winning the Fat Bike Birkie, Gomez, the director for the show asked to interview me about the race. The interview went well and there was some chemistry there.
A few months later Gomez asked if I’d like to be one of the hosts of the show. Didn’t hurt that I work for a company that owns 7 radio stations and so I have a nice fancy studio we can use to record the show.

What do you enjoy most about hosting a show over at Fat-Bike.com?
We gave each other these nicknames: Beer, Fun and Race.
What is funny to me is that of the 3 co-hosts, I am Race. It’s the female on the show that has the most competition experience.
Gomez and Spinner will get into some serious nerd speak and I have to shut them down, bring it back.
I enjoy giving race recaps and heckling my co-host Spinner about how slow he is.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My Mountain bikes are now chosen for me as I am sponsored by Broken Spoke Cycles up in Greenbay. I trust the owner, George Kapitz, to choose a bike that will help me accomplish my goals. This year I’ll be on the new Santa Cruz.
I tell my friends that they should choose a budget, buy a light, full suspension, carbon frame, take it to the shop and have them build out the rest based on their budget.
My fat bike is a Salsa Beargrease with HED Wheels. It’s only 23 lbs. I will never give up this bike, love it.
I have a Niner RDO Cross bike for training on the roads and bike paths in less than perfect conditions.
My road bike is a Trek Madone.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
We just didn’t know it existed. I had no idea what Mountain Biking was. None. Riding on dirt in the woods? Never crossed my mind. I think social media will really help spread awareness about the sport. More and more women are seeing other women’s posts about biking and racing and inquiring about how to get involved.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Many of the bicycle shops are offering up women’s rides and clinics.
The Youth programs will help, get them in while they are young and the sport will grow

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I’d like to have more ladies to race against!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I am a sucker for sappy Christmas Miracle Movies