Women Involved Series: Chris Schieffer
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.
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….
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.
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):
Lack of confidence/Insecurities
Staying motivated with new trails & riding partners
Getting to the trails/access
Life priorities (specifically children)
Finding Riding buddies
Fear of holding the group
When open spaces and parks do not connect
City traffic, getting to trail complications
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.