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.