Monday, August 27, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Kiatonda Oslin

My name is Kit and I have been riding/racing since 2009 and I'm a Bianchi addict.  I currently own a
Bianchi San Jose Single Speed (fun commuter bike), Infinito CV (endurance and racing) and a Zurigo (gravel & snow)


My daughter went away to college and I needed to find something new to occupy my time. So I was introduced to the Beginner Race Program and St. Paul Bicycle Racing club with the intentions of taking my new road bike and meeting some new friends to ride with. After the 1st class, I knew I wanted to try racing.


My first year I did 47 races, from Crits, to Time Trials and Road Races, as I was not sure what my favorite would be. I came to learn Crits were my favorite.


However, with racing, I also did a lot of 100 miles events with friends and loved the long distance riding as well. After about 4 years of racing, a friend of mine introduced me to Randonneuring (self-supported, long distanced, timed riding) I immediately fell in love and Super Randonneured my first year. (this is doing a 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K within a season) My 3rd year of Radonneuring I wanted to try gravel, so purchased a gravel bike and hit the dirt and found another way to ride bikes that took a different skill set and again found a way to add onto my passion. Last year I continued to increase what I was doing with Randonneuring by completing a Super Randonneur Series, earning my 2nd R12 (this is doing a 200K every month of the year consecutively) doing a 1000K and a week after that a 1200K. I also found gravel was getting longer too, so I did some 100mi events and then finished 3rd woman in DaMN (day across MN on gravel- 240mi). The things I love about biking are the amazing people you meet and the friendships you develop. Biking always gives you an opportunity to explore and see just how far you can push yourself and what you can overcome. No matter what happens in my life (good or bad) I have found a bike ride with friends or alone seems to bring things back into perspective. If you need to think through an issue, have some catch-up time and good conversation or just laugh and enjoy the day... This is always my go-to outlet.

Many people think I do not have a job, that all I do is bike. However, I do have a full-time job managing a sales support team for an envelope manufacturer that has plants in Iowa, Minnesota, and Portland, OR. I also work for Lifetime Fitness leading outdoor rides and I also lead women's rides for NOW bikes and fitness in Arden Hills. I am an empty nester with my daughter being 28. So, other than work, I do spend most of my time on a bike, and quite honestly would not have it any other way.

kiatonda (Kit) oslin - facebook
kito1968 - instagram
@kiatonda - twitter

Biking became a central part of your life in adulthood vs. childhood, how would you say that has benefited you?
I honestly feel it gave me a renewed spirit and love for life and what more is out there to explore and experience. I was a young mother and I was not sure what my future would look like after my daughter would go away to college. I’m so grateful for the introduction to cycling and the cycling community, it feels like PT 2 of life, and I love every second.

Take us back to when you first started participating in cycling events, what made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
Mostly it was the learning and the amazing encouraging women (and men) in the sport when I started. We used to have a W Cat4 – 40+ field that had some amazing lady racers that would teach you as you raced. I love learning and I wanted to just take it all in. It was so fun, exciting and the community is like family.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for folks who are nervous to participate in their first cycling event?
Find a mentor and listen to their stories and practice what they are telling you. On your own, with them, and just get in and race. No matter how much you play it over in your head and what you think you will do and not too, the race hardly ever plays out exactly as you imagined, but when it does… OMG that’s a rush! If you are not sure what type of riding or racing you want to do, give them all a shot. If you love biking you will find a place (or places) that you fit and feel energized by.

For those who are unfamiliar with crits, can you explain what they are and why you enjoy them?
Crits or Criteriums are a timed lap race. Typically races are from 25-45 min, with a less than a mile lap that you do over and over for the amount of time. They are quick and lots of strategy and can involve teamwork. They are a fun race to do as well as watch.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I clip in. It gives you a more efficient pedal stroke as you can use your entire leg muscles. However I do ride speed plays, so if I’m just riding a few blocks to the store or to grab a bite with friends, I will just hop on the bike with flip-flops and treat the speed play as if it were a flat pedal. However, if I’m riding 5 miles or more, I definitely clip in, mostly because that is how all my bikes are set up.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I have had 2 that come to mind.

My first 600K, it was raining steady all morning, I felt a little nervous but excited. I am not really a fan of starting events in the rain. If it starts raining after I start, it seemed like just another obstacle to overcome, but starting used to seem just mentally more challenging. Anyway, I had committed to doing this and once I say I’m going to do something, as long as I’m physically able, I’m all in. 30 miles into this 373-mile event I was riding in a pace line with about 14 guys and the guy's wheel I was on, skimmed a pothole filled with water as we were crossing a bridge deck. I’m not sure if he didn’t see it, but he didn’t point it out either and I saw it too late and went into it. I tried to pull my bike up to get out of the hole and thought for a second I had recovered, but then hydroplaned across the bridge deck. I ran and grabbed my bike out of the road, everything was working fine (probably thank goodness to the wet surface) and I had nothing broken it seemed but lots of road rash with gravel. The 1st control stop was just about 3-5 miles away so I road to the control, cleaned up my wounds and pedaled on. When we got about 400K into the ride, we have our “sleep stop” I opted to shower, change kits, eat food and then wait for the 1st person that was ready to roll out. I was afraid if I laid still for too long I would stiffen up from my crash and my mind was just set on accomplishing this goal. I had two guys that were ready and rolled out with me. We finished the event in a really good place with no other issues. The finish was the most exciting finish for me at that time, to turn your last corner, see the finish, and know what you had been through the past 33 hours on the bike, especially when you have to overcome is one of the most amazing feelings.

My 2nd crash was this past year, last gravel event of the season at Green Acres. It was a great day and we were about 13 miles out when my front wheel was taken out, I went down, My bike was scraped and I only had a few gears I could get into, but it was only 13 more miles, and we were doing so great. My left hand hurt, but I thought it was just bruised and bad road rash on it. I got back on the bike, and me and two of my team mates road together the rest of the way back. It hurt to keep my left hand on the bars, so I road most of the way back with just my right hand. Got to the finish, loaded up my bike, changed, grabbed some food and visited with friends with ice on my hand. Decided I should take my bike into the shop as I knew it needed some love. On my way home my hand just kept getting more and more swollen, so went into urgent care and it was broken in two places. After being casted up, went home to figure out what training was going to look like with a broken hand. It’s doable! ☺

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
For me, it was just learning to ride in a group, how to hold a wheel, how to ride predictable and be sure to communicate (signals or verbal) to others in the group as to keep the group together and smooth. I was very fortunate to have some great cyclist that took me in to teach me these things. I did take the Beginner Race Program was introduced me to many of these people. And then I decided I wanted to pay it forward, so I coached BRP women’s group for a few years and now lead and teach group riding in the NE Region for LifeTime Fitness as well as for NOW Bikes Ladies Ride in Arden Hills.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I guess I would say mountain biking (big rocks and logs) and riding through thick mud or snow are probably areas that I continue to work on. I don’t really let it drag me down, I try to stay confident, remind myself to keep pedaling and if I get stuck, I just pick up and get through it. It’s just like most things in life, just keep working it. If you don’t give up you will get better. And what fun would it all be if there weren’t some challenges to overcome.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Every single thing. The freedom to just kit up and roll out of my house and go where I want, when I want for as long as I want. Exploring different towns, states, etc. The people you meet and it’s good for your body.

Tell us more about Randonneuring and why you enjoy the longer-distance rides/events-
I enjoy Randonneuring as it is an entirely different mindset of trying to keep yourself balanced, physically, mentally, nutritionally, and to take care of your bike and your body. Also when you have to check into control stops and then start up again, about 30 times in a 1200K event, it can be quite challenging to keep going no matter what and learning how to break things down was how I found my way. I remember saying to myself over and over on my 1st 1000K event; This is only 20, 50 mile rides. I can do that. And now that is how I approach all of them, from 200K to 1200K, I break them down into 30 or 50 mile rides. And it seems to work for me. I love checking things off a list, so if I can mentally keep telling myself only 19 more, only 18 more, only 17 more…. It keep me motived like “just keep pedaling” or “just one foot in front of the other.

Do you have any tips or suggestions that would be beneficial for folks to think about while they are planning their first long distance event/ride? (100+ miles)
This was said to me when I first started Randonneuring, and for some reason, I believed it with all my heart, and it has not failed me yet. “If you can ride 100 miles, you can do any distance you want.” And before I was told that I was told, if you can ride 75-80 miles, you can do 100. If I get something in my head like this, I then make it a challenge to see if these things are true.

What do you enjoy most about helping women become more confident with cycling?
This is one of my most favorite things to have women come to our ladies rides and tell me they want to learn to ride in a group, as they are tired of riding alone. And secondly, they don’t ride very far, because what if they have a flat? So I like to start there… I show them how easy it is to change a flat and what to be prepared for, new tube, patches, boots, food wrappers, dollar bills. ☺ Once they get that down, their confidence builds and then we start working group riding skills. I have been doing this for a few years now, and I think the things that lights me up most, is when our season if over and a group of the girls want to keep riding and start organizing group rides on their own and invite me. My heart swells!

Tell us more about the women's rides that you lead and how women can join-
The ladies ride I help lead in NOW Bikes in Arden Hills on Tuesday nights starting in May. We will have a ladies night on Tues April 24th at 6PM to learn more information and to get to know all the ladies wanting to ride. We have 3 ride leads and many women that return year after year. So we typically break up into 2 groups. A/B group avg – 17-20MPH and a B/C group avg 15-17MPH. This gives ladies an opportunity to get the ride they are looking for. We typically have had about 12-18 ladies on an evening. But all are welcome as long as they can ride these paces. We keep the groups together and talk through and lead by example, pace line riding, signaling, communicating, taking pulls, etc. We just require you have a bike in good working condition and a helmet.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I am a Bianchi fan. I have had other bikes in the past, but I kept finding myself coming back to Bianchi. It just fits my body and feels like an extension of me. And I believe if you find a bike that you feel one with and you ride it and enjoy it every single time, then that’s YOUR bike!

I have a Bianchi Infinito CV that I race on and Randonneur on

I have a Bianchi Zurigo that I gravel and ride in the snow/ice with (with studded tires in the snow)

I have a Bianchi San Jose single speed that I just adore riding around town and commuting

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think from the outside, it just seems like it takes up a lot of time, and if women have children and families they need to take care of, it does take some work to see how it will fit into your life and you do need to have a supportive group (significant other, friends, etc) or it can become a hard thing to manage. But if you try it, love it, just like with all things, you find a way to make it a priority and fit it in.

Mountain biking, I can speak from experience of being intimidated, but I just went and bought a bike and decided I was going to try it. I started out on gravel, and then went to single track at some different parks with friends. It was a blast and one of the best ways I have ever experienced to improve your handling skills.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think we just need to keep doing what we are doing, by organizing and leading events specifically for women. Lead by example and be open to talk and teach.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I just love seeing them get to experience all the things I love about biking. When I have one of the girls that have riding with me, get into racing, or try a long distance ride and to see them light up… I love that, and I know exactly how it feels, so it makes me excited for them.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I’m pretty much an open book, so not sure there is any random fact that I could share that people probably don’t already know. However, I have been working for the last 3 years towards my ultimate Randonneur goal of doing Paris Brest Paris in 2019, this is coming up next year and I’m super stoked to be part of it! Also, I’m thinking after PBP, I might try to get involved in track racing as my next goal.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Katrin Deetz

My name is Katrin Deetz, and I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. I'm a Seventh Grade Math and Science teacher and am married to my adventure-partner-in-crime Ron.

We share a love of outdoor sports, including snowboarding in Winter, but mountain biking is our main passion.

We live near many amazing trails, and I love riding, and running, them as often as I can. Flowing through nature is what keeps me inspired, strong, and happy.


I've been riding since my college days at UC Santa Cruz, when I'd ride my hardtail from my rental in Bonny Doon in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where I was introduced to the plethora of awesome trails in the area. I knew Santa Cruz was a surf-town but learned then it was also one of the best places for mountain biking.

It wasn't until about five years ago, however, that I finally bought a proper full-suspension bike - one that wouldn't rattle my neck on the downhill, and wasn't a Frankenbike. Taking that leap opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities, and I was riding features and trails I'd never done before.
It's been a love affair of epic proportions ever since, and in the last couple of years, I've started Enduro racing.

Check out my blog www.flowandgrace.com for more on my adventures, mountain biking, musings, and more!

Instagram: @katrindeetz

Tell us about the introduction to mountain biking and how it influenced you from then on:
When I was a college student at UC Santa Cruz, I lived in a mountain community called Bonny Doon. With the encouragement of a few friends, I began riding my hardtail bike to school on some really neat, backcountry trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains, specifically Woodcutter's Trail. It was here that I was introduced to the plethora of awesome mountain biking trails in the area. I kept riding after my college days on that same bike, but my neck would hurt from the lack of suspension so I didn’t ride very often.

About five years ago, I finally decided I’d “made it” enough to treat myself to my first full-suspension bike: a 2013 Specialized Camber Comp 29’er. Taking that leap opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities, and I was riding features and trails I'd never done before within days. It was on; all I wanted to do was be on that bike. Everything else was a distraction. I rode every single day for a year, through sporadic rain (it was a drought year, mind you), several falls (including a few over-the-bars), and cold Winter days. I was hooked on the level of riding that was suddenly possible with some decent equipment. It's been a love affair of epic proportions ever since, and in the last couple of years, I've started Enduro racing.

In 2017, I raced the California Enduro Series Beginner Women category, and after seven races, won series First Place. I'm excited to race in the CES again this year in the Sport 35+ category, and am looking forward to the Sea Otter ClassicOld Cabin Classic, and the Downieville Classic. I'm excited to race on my new Santa Cruz Hightower LT, representing Santa Cruz Bikes and Fox Factory. 29'er for life, Bra!

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!"
I’ll never forget those first rides on Woodcutter’s Trail from Bonny Doon to UC Santa Cruz. I came across a wild boar on the trail, who snarled at me before running off. I’d see Red-Tailed Hawks catching ground squirrels as I rode through the meadow; bobcats stalking in the tall grass. The Santa Cruz Mountains are beautiful and quite peaceful. I’ve always loved nature and wildlife, and it was during those rides I realized how much fun it was to experience them on two wheels. It made me so happy in quite a profound way; I felt more aware and in tune with everything. And it was hella fun! Nature was my first hook into mountain biking, but the pure fun of it sealed the deal.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I ride flats and always have for mountain biking. I dabbled in road-biking years ago and used clips then. I can’t argue with the efficiency they provide, but when it came to mountain biking, I couldn’t imagine being stuck to my bike. Shifting my weight, adjusting my stance, and putting my foot down on corners are more important to me than efficiency. I feel safer with flats. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to jump off my bike out of a fall or put my foot out to counterbalance. I fear I’d crumple like aluminum foil if I fell while wearing clips.

I also like to push with different parts of my foot if I’m climbing versus going downhill. When climbing, I like to be in my midsole; on flats, I like to be more toward my toes. On a downhill, there’s a sweet spot around the ball of my foot and midsole. Being able to make minor adjustments quickly helps me feel stable on my flats.

What inspired you to start racing and do you have any suggestions for folks nervous about participating in mountain bike races?
I was inspired to race by a few people. Once, while out on a ride, a stranger approached on his bike and asked if I was training for a race. I laughed and said no; he said I should be, that he was a racer, and I was climbing at his pace.

I realized he was right: not to sound cocky, but I was fast. And I thrived in technical, steep terrain. Why not try racing and see how I compared to others?

In 2015, at 34 years old, I did my first race: the Sea Otter Classic Enduro. I didn’t pre-ride the course, a total newbie mistake. I ate it on the first stage - the downhill course. It was a total learning experience, specifically in the lesson of pre-riding and researching the course. It took me a while to learn this; I rode many courses blind last year. But the ones I did preride I did so much better on; more importantly, I felt more confident knowing what to expect. I also watch YouTube videos of the race stages repeatedly, which really helps when I show up to ride it. Thank you to all those Enduro racers who post footage of the race stages! It’s such a gift to see that point of view before hitting the dirt yourself and to read the comments about challenging sections.

Pre-riding a course is advantageous, hands down; I think that’s a pretty obvious first piece of advice to anyone new to racing. Second, there is no arguing with the physicality of mountain bike racing; the need for strength and endurance. Riding as often as you can, and cross-training with other sports of your liking are good ways to keep fit and ready to charge. Be consistent, and take excellent care of yourself. There is no better comfort than feeling like you’re in fighting shape when race day arrives. That’s what allows you to ride a stage blindly (if you have to) without feeling like it’s dangerous.

My third and perhaps most important piece of advice to anyone racing is to enjoy it. A race is not just a couple of hours carved out of a day off your calendar. It’s weeks of planning: hotel or camping reservations, days off work, pre-rides, training rides, watching videos of the ride, reading about said ride on forums. When race day finally arrives, I always feel a sense of accomplishment just getting to that starting gate. Then I really try to enjoy the experience. Though I want to race my best and get a fast time, I also want to have fun. There are so many cool people at the races, and soaking up that tribal mtb community lifts my spirits. Here we all are in a beautiful setting doing what we love; we should be celebrating and having fun!

When it comes down to it, my racing philosophy is quite simple: 1) Ride each course safely with flow and grace; 2) Enjoy the ride, and 3) Kick ass! In that order, every time. My final piece of advice is to just do you. What works well for one person doesn’t always translate to another. I try not to get too caught up in what others are riding, wearing, or the latest trends. Find whatever routine, philosophy, or gear for racing that works for you. Yes, it’s helpful to get advice from others. But in the end, you’ll end up doing what’s right for you, and that’s what’s most important. You don’t have to ride with a matching kit: I raced my way to first place in cotton T’s and workout pants. It’s not what you wear, but how you ride. Just do you.

What do you love about Enduro?
Community. I would say that’s the #1 thing I love about racing Enduro, and it took me a few races to realize it. For how individualized mountain bike racing is, the common thread we all share is a love of being on two wheels flowing through nature. I think people can get too caught up in the independent aspect of racing - comparing times, focusing on edging out a competitor - that we can lose sight of the magic that’s happening around us. Looking out into the crowd at the Ashland California Enduro Series Finale last year, I got emotional seeing everyone. Different ages, backgrounds, and journeys, but all sharing a love for riding.

I also love the challenge of Enduro racing; it’s sometimes more mental than physical. I love knowing that something is going to be hard, but I’m going to prepare for it, do it, and then celebrate its completion. There are climbs on hot, dusty trails that feel incessant; times when I’m exhausted and want to be done. But you keep pedaling, and before you know it, you’re passing through that final gate, its beep confirming you’ve made it to the end. And that is a wonderful feeling! Being done always feels like such a relief; you’re spent, but happy. When you feel you’ve ridden a course truly at your best potential, that feels really good.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
For sure. I’d had a few falls on my hardtail bike back in the day, but when I got my Camber five years ago, I must’ve fallen a dozen times in the first few years riding it. I’d endo over the handlebars, sometimes rolling out of it semi-okay, other times busting myself up. I’ve been separated shoulders, been concussed, and had bone bruises that bordered on hairline fractures. Each fall taught me something important, whether it was the importance of keeping my weight back, having my seat at the right height or laying off my front brake on the downhill. I think we all have this learning curve at some point in our riding careers to learn these textbook lessons.

One of the hardest challenges was a lesson in the importance of preparation. Long story short, my husband and I spent the night on a trail in Downieville because we were unprepared. You can read the full story on my blog if you like.

The hardest physical biff I’ve had to overcome was an endo over the bars that left me with a separated shoulder, severe whiplash, and a bad concussion. I spent a week just sitting around the house in a brain fog healing from that, and it was humbling. It was my worst concussion yet and it scared me a bit. Though I was off my bike for a few weeks, fortunately, I didn’t have any lingering injuries from that fall.

That changed in 2016 at Northstar, bottom of Flameout, when I rode off the center steepest jump with more speed than I should’ve for my ability. Soaring higher than I’d ever before, I had time in the air to realize my weight was too far forward. In an awkward attempt to correct myself, I landed in a semi-controlled slideout, crushing my bike frame onto the inside of my left knee. I was mostly okay, but my knee was swollen and hurt like crazy. I made the mistake of not going to see a doctor until six months later when I saw the atrophy in my knee. It was then I was told I’d probably bruised the bone, muscles, and tendons in that region, and there was no guarantee it’d ever be as strong as it once was. I was advised to keep up with the exercise I was doing - riding, running, and yoga - and that hopefully, it would get stronger over time. It’s been a year and a half now, and though it’s gotten stronger, it still troubles me. I’d never had a lingering injury until now, and it’s super frustrating. I just keep on moving, hoping all those one-legged yoga poses and hill climbs pay off.

But the bottom line remains: if you push your limits riding, you will fall at some point. What matters is being able to get back on the saddle again. As I get older, I find myself reconsidering where that limit is.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Learning how to maneuver my front tire over obstacles on the trail was one of my biggest challenges when I first started riding. I would hit a rock or root and be punched off-axis. I’d go over a rough section with my weight forward, and feel like I’d been rattled to my spine. I didn’t yet know how to anticipate the dynamic nature of a trail; I thought you could just passively sit on your seat and off you went. After a few rides, I naturally equated it to a somewhat familiar activity: horseback riding. You have to use your legs for suspension, and constantly adapt to the changes of your horse. Once I visualized that, it helped me think of the handlebars like the horse’s reins; you could pull up to go over something, like a rock in the trail. Just like riding a horse, you had to keep your weight back on rough sections of the trail and use your arms and legs to absorb the shock (especially on that hardtail I was riding!). It was all about finding that balance, which was continually changing and dynamic.

Once I had that mindset, I focused on how to finesse that balance. I practiced simple laws of physics to gain or lose speed, using my inertia to tackle tougher terrain. I paid attention and learned. I think you can learn a lot by just simply riding a lot; that’s how I learned. For a kinesthetic learner like myself, I need to experience if to really get it. Though there are a myriad of instructional mountain bike videos and clinics these days, good old Experience is the most valuable teacher. In the words of my late good friend Peter Miller, “Just ride, Man. Just RIDE!

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 really working on jumping at the moment - progressing into bigger, longer jumps. I’m comfortable on small jumps, log drops, and step downs, but I would love to hit bonafide gap jumps someday. Not to say I don’t have areas of improvement on the trail, but it feels more like a philosophical quandary that I’m having now. I’m getting older, and don’t want to crash from jumping. But I don’t want to let age hold me back from pushing my limits. Part of me wants to reconcile that as we get older, gap jumps just aren’t part of our repertoire, while the other part of me sees age as no barrier. At 37 years old, I know I won’t recover from a hard crash like I would at 27. But I also know I’m not too old to give up! I can wear the best protective gear out there, but I’ve crashed enough in my life to not want to test it anymore. I’m riding on my plateau right now, contemplating my mortality and risk-taking.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Riding is my escape, therapy, joyride, and passion - all the cliches you’ve probably heard before. They’re cliches for a reason, though: they’re timeless and true. Flowing through nature on two wheels is one of the funnest things to do; it was fun as a kid, and it’s even more fun now on a nice bike. Being outside in beautiful places is a huge draw to ride. I love riding through the forest, absorbing the phytoncides linked to “forest bathing”. I’ve always loved to move outside, and riding is the perfect medium to manifest this flow state.

I love the intense focus of riding downhill on pure instinct; mind empty, totally present to the moment. Finding a graceful way to flow down a trail is like dancing - rhythmic, balanced, totally engaged. Rapt. It feels like heaven to dance with the trail, one with your bike, solid in your frame. Being on my bike is like being Home.

There’s both comfort and inspiration in the saddle of a bike. I have some of my best think-time when I’m climbing; it’s quiet, peaceful, and brings clarity. Since most of mountain biking is climbing (unless you’re riding park), I enjoy it as a sort of meditation. It’s also a great time to observe wildlife at a low speed.

I am spoiled for trail choices where I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains: there’s upper UCSC (my favorite), Soquel Demonstration Forest (“Demo”), Nisene Marks, Wilder Ranch, Graywhale, Henry Cowell State Park, Bear Mountain...the list goes on. The overarching theme is gorgeous nature - we are fortunate to have so many options!

Assuming you and your husband are close to the same riding level, do you have any suggestions or thoughts on how other couples can make their riding experiences together more enjoyable?
I feel super lucky that I have a husband I get to share the joy of mountain biking with. Ron is my favorite person to hit the trail with! I admit he’s my mobile mechanic, and he has a laugh-a-minute personality. Most of the time, I feel truly blessed to be sharing a ride together.

Sometimes? I’m cursing under my breath: Why did he choose that line? Is he seriously stopping in the middle of the trail?! Where is he?!

I admit, there are times when we’re not in the same rhythm on the trail; when we want a different experience. There are times I’ve actually been mad at him for leading us down a joke of a trail with no flow to it; we climbed all the way for this! I complained. Or I’ve waited impatiently for him when I wanted to just keep going. Sometimes we prefer different lines. Conversely, he’s been mad at me for dragging him up steep climbs, like one nicknamed Suffer Springs at Demo. We have to give each other that grace and leeway to not like what the other is riding without taking it personally; to understand we may have different opinions. Flexibility is key to mountain biking, and this becomes especially more important when you add other riders into the mix. We must be adaptable and compromising, at least some of the time. When he feels me charging with energy, he tells me to ride ahead of him, and visa-versa.

We are fortunate to ride at relatively equal abilities, so there’s not a lot of holding each other back, just a lot of waxing philosophical on what makes each ride a good one. Most days, we share the same vision; some days, we don’t see eye to eye. It’s a gift to share a passion with your loved one, and it’s okay to bicker about it, like the old married couple we are becoming, every now and then. The important part is we can ride together at all, so I try to appreciate that first and foremost.

What do you enjoy most about helping women become more confident with mountain biking?
I honestly don’t know how much I’m helping women become more confident with mountain biking! Though I love people, I’m an introvert by nature and spent years riding by myself, happily so. Riding is such an independent activity as it is. Now that there is an influx of women’s rides and clinics, I’m happy to see the increase in female ridership, but I still love the solitude of riding. I admit I don’t have the natural inclination to ride in any sort of group; I have some room to grow in that regard. To that end, I am racing the California Enduro Series this year with a women’s team, Women’s MTB Experience, led by a cool girl I raced with last year, Jeni Boltshauer. I’m looking forward to coming out of my shell a bit more and learning from the group experience!

Culturally speaking, I am happy we live in a time when most girls in the US are being raised to believe they can do any sport. When I was growing up, there certainly was a lot of encouragement for girls, but deep-ingrained stereotypes prevailed; if you did “boy sports”, you were a “tomboy”. I rode a BMX Mongoose bike as a kid, a “boy’s bike” as it was called by some. That gender exclusivity always bothered me, and I am hypersensitive to it today (read my “Just Do You: I Got This” post for more on that).

It’s awesome to see so many young women out there today who don’t bat an eyelash at charging a technical trail, despite the occasional unsolicited, “Maybe you should walk this?” from a doubting dude on the sidelines. It seems like the younger generation of men is getting used to seeing more women on the trails as well, and when I see gaggles of both girl and boy teenagers at the races, I know the sport is growing.

What was the inspiration behind creating your website/blog?
I’ve always loved to write, from the time I was a kid. I love to read nonfiction, and enjoy many different blogs; I daydreamed about starting my own for years. Last year, I decided to start Flow and Grace, a blog centered around two words paramount to a good bike ride. The more I rode, the more I found myself contemplating Flow and Grace. These themes not only made for an awesome ride but translated to life in general. I wanted to share my adventures and musings with others, but mostly I started my blog to fulfill my passion for writing. Sometimes I connect better with people through the written word and hope to foster that human connection through my blog. I also love the idea of being an old woman in my nineties looking back on all of my writing.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My first bike was a Cannondale Delta V-400 hardtail; it was given to me for free my college boyfriend. I have to thank him for that because it’s what got me into riding in Santa Cruz. In 2013, I got a Specialized Camber Comp 29’er, which was my first full-suspension bike. That’s the bike that opened the door to a whole new level of riding. It was fast, capable, and attacked the trail. But with only 110mm of travel, I longed for more bike- especially in rocky, Sierra Nevada terrain.

After much research and a demo, I just bought myself a 2018 Santa Cruz Hightower LT Carbon XX1 29’er, and am totally in love! I was lucky to get a Grassroots discount for this one. With only a few rides on it, I can already feel it raring to go get some! I can’t wait to race with it this season and hope it’ll lead to faster race times.

Just the dropper post alone has been game-changing: a RockShox Reverb. It’s the first time I’ve had a dropper, and I know it’ll help me on the pedaly stages at the enduro races. Last year, I had to drop my seat low for the timed downhill stages, but then have to stand up for the pedaly sections with my seat all the way down. It was exhausting. I’d put my seat back up for the transfers, of course, but it was hard to be stuck with one seat height for the timed stages. I was probably the only one racing without a dropper.

Do you have any tips or suggestions that could be helpful for someone looking to buy their first full suspension? What did you learn during your bike buying process?
With the internet these days, there is so much research you can do before setting foot in a bike shop. Read reviews and forums; watch videos. There is so much value in doing your homework. Then go to the bike shop and ask questions. Consider the kind of bike you need for the majority of the trail riding you do; also factor in the kind of riding you plan to do over the next few years. There’s no need to buy a Ferrari for a first car, but buying a BMW is something you can grow into as a new driver. Everyone has their own views on wheel size, something riders will fiercely defend if question. Where ever you are in your riding journey, demoing a bike for a few hours is preferable and highly recommended. It definitely helped me decide on my new bike. Don’t make any rash decisions. Take your time until you’re 100% certain. Ultimately, go with what feels best to you.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think there’s some misunderstanding out there about cycling. One of the main things non-riders will ask me is if it hurts to sit on the saddle so long; that highlights a huge misunderstanding that acts as a deterrent to riding. If a woman thinks she’s going to be uncomfortable on a bike seat, she’s not going to want to ride one. I think mountain biking can also be a little intimidating to anyone not already in top physical shape; there’s no getting around the need for strength and fitness to ride a bike. But as I like to say, “It’s not what you’re riding; it’s that you’re riding”. It’s okay to start small on mellow fire roads while you build your strengths and skills. It’s better to leave in one piece than in no peace. It doesn’t matter what trail you’re riding. It matters that you’re outside riding at all. Start by celebrating that; then, progress at your own pace.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I’ve seen a lot of growth in the nearly twenty years since I first started riding: more women’s specific gear, online forums, and group rides. It’s fantastic to see so much outreach toward women. At this point, I don’t know how much more I personally need the pendulum to swing. Mountain biking isn’t gender specific in my opinion; riding is riding, and whatever works, works. I don’t need any special equipment because I’m a girl, and I don’t need any special treatment.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
There is such simple pleasure in mountain biking, and when you share it with someone else, you really see it reflected in their faces. It’s that jubilant, excited smile, with a sparkle in the eye. Like other outdoor sports including snowboarding and surfing, mountain biking gives you that deeply happy, excited but calmly contented, endorphin high. Seeing someone getting stoked on riding for the first time makes you even more excited because it reaffirms why you ride in the first place: the simple joy of it all. That’s all there is to it!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love birdwatching and can identify many birds by their call. When I was a student at UCSC, I participated in Natural History Field Quarter at five different sites in California. From there my love of Ornithology grew, and I’ve been an avid birder since. I have two feeders in my garden, and especially love hummingbirds.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Just Riding Along

I heard a sound above and in my peripheral vision above me, saw something moving down fast. "Oh Sh*t" The sound of wood cracking after hitting the trail, literally behind my rear tire, made me scream.

Yes. I screamed in the woods.
I looked down at the offending branch, which had broken in two upon impact. It was obviously, very dead.

It wasn't terribly wide around, but it would've been close to my height before it broke.

The fact that it was right behind my tire. The concept of my just being missed.
I had braced myself for impact, to feel something smack the back of my head.
My body had tensed. My nerves were high. 
I started to cry.
I almost started to panic. 

This "almost" accident shook me to my core. 
I think the largest reason for it was the anticipation of the unknown.
The fear.

The sound of something above me, and my going fast enough to not actually see it, yet not sure if I was fast enough to miss it. Panic brain.
The sound of cracking behind me.
The shock of not being hit.

I was shaking.

All I could think about was my Dad hearing some sort of sound. A warning crack. Something similar to the rustling above me that I heard, indicating something was plummeting down. Except for him, it would've been a literal tree explosion.

All I could do was live in my moment of pure fear.
That feeling washed over me like a wave. I hated it. It made me mad.
I was scared of a STICK. A glorified stick.
I had to convince myself that my dad wasn't trying to send me a message. Why the hell would he send me a message that involves a tree branch almost hitting me or my bike? I mean...that would be really sh*tty.

I moved the branch off the trail. I looked up the trail. The sun was shining. It was a freak (almost) accident. I was okay.
Stop worrying about what you'll never know.
Stop thinking your Dad wants you to live with the thought he was overcome with fear during his final moments of being cognizant. No. He would never want that.
You will believe it happened so fast, he never felt a thing.
No, you were not being punished for going on a bike ride.

"I'm going to blame this on my lack of sleep."

It's so funny. How last year I probably would've felt a rush of relief and laughed off the whole ordeal. "Dude! I almost got hit by a branch!"
It's not funny, how something like this can so quickly and powerfully transform feelings of a calm, leisurely ride into one with tears.

I couldn't help but feel a bit mad at myself for how I reacted.
"I'm supposed to be strong."

I think, one of the things I've learned through this whole experience of losing my dad, is that it's okay to not feel strong.
It's okay to feel vulnerable. You need to.
I've been trying so much over the past few months to really shutter everything up inside when it comes to dealing with everything. My dad, the riding (or lack of), FWD, and my feeling of simply feeling displaced in life.

I've needed time away and couldn't. I'm mentally and emotionally exhausted from having to deal with things remotely. I'm tired of the trips. I'm tired of spending money. I'm tired of the decisions. I'm tired of the waiting. I'm tired of the unknown. I'm tired of the known.

Uncle Bill said my dad did not want me to have to deal with what I'm currently dealing with in terms of his property. He had goals of taking care of everything. He just needed time. He needed to retire. He was afraid to retire. He needed to retire. Time stopped short. Time can be just what you need or fall short of your expectations. Time can give and time can take away.

I also realized that I need to be selfish with my time.
I need to honor myself.
What I want to do.
I can still do something special- but I need to ensure that I don't burn myself out.
If I don't want to. Don't.
If I do...then do it.
I'll never be able to really live life or enjoy it if I'm always worried about not being or doing "enough."
Dad spent time doing what made him happy, but he had a legitimate worry and fear setting him back from doing what he should've done.
I'll always have this nagging feeling of sadness....that my dad had something robbed from him.
I don't want to be robbed.

Hold whatever it is you're questioning to your heart. Does it bring you joy or do you question it? If you don't feel joy- put it back. It's time to reclaim life.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Hannah Levine


After growing up in Michigan, I moved west in pursuit of sunshine and mountains and to attended the University of Colorado.

I stayed in Boulder for 12 years dabbling in triathlons, road riding and trail running and was eventually introduced to mountain biking in 2012.

I always wanted to love mountain biking – I mean, it looked so badass! But, if I’m being honest, I was completely terrified by the sport.

Every time I got on my bike my heart rate spiked, my palms got sweaty and my anxiety kicked in. Despite all that, for some crazy reason, I still pursued riding my bike. I wanted to find my confidence; perhaps a metaphor for a greater personal transformation that needed to happen.

After college, I did what I thought I was “supposed” to do. I got a good job, worked hard, saved up money and bought a house. 10 years after graduating from college I started looking critically at my life trying to figure out how to prioritize my personal wellbeing over the pursuit of material goods. I quickly realized that I was happiest when I was camping in the middle of the woods wearing an old t-shirt and flip-flops. Cubicle life was not the right path for me. I needed to shift gears.

In 2016, I left my corporate job, bought a camper van, sold all my possessions and hit the road with my pup, Bud, in pursuit of the things that made me happiest. It was on this VanLife journey that I made the transition from being a nervous weekend rider to a fully-in-love-can’t-stop-won’t-stop mountain biker.

Over the course of 9 months, Bud and I drove 35,000 miles around North America visiting 33 states and 3 Canadian provinces. I had the opportunity to ride some of the most famous trails in North America along with countless yet-to-be-discovered trails. I saw the country, made riding friends from around the world, was introduced to some of the most inspiring women you’ll ever meet and FINALLY found my “tribe”.

Following life on the road, I spent a year in the outdoor mecca of Chattanooga, TN. In 2017 I received my Level 1 mountain bike coaching certification through PMBI and shortly thereafter, landed my dream job managing mountain bike skills events for Ninja Mountain Bike Performance. This spring, I packed up all my belongings (again) and hit the road (again) with my life and business partner, Richard. We are spending the summer traveling in our 19ft travel trailer and teaching Ninja skills clinics, eventually making our way to build a new home together in Southern Oregon.

These days I get to spend my time traveling, building a small business, introducing more people to the sport and coaching. Looking back, I’d say I made the right move.

Instagram

Van Tour Video

Website

Facebook
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Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-
After riding road bikes for a few years, I started noticing all these cool kids talking about mountain biking. I wanted in on the fun! I didn’t know anything about mountain bikes. I figured I would meet someone who could introduce me to the sport - preferably a charming, handsome mountain biker wearing flannel and driving a pickup truck.

Well, that never happened. So after getting tired of waiting for someone else to tell me what to buy or how to mountain bike, I saved up some money, walked into a bike shop and bought myself a new mountain bike. I took that bike straight to the beginner trails in South Boulder and started pedaling. Haven’t stopped pedaling since.

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!"
I remember walking my bike a lot, breathing REALLY hard and getting pretty frustrated when I first started riding. I was terrified of loose gravel and riding over cattle guards on my home trails. I did my fair share of OTB crashes courtesy of not knowing how to use my front brake. At the beginning, mountain biking was Type 2 Fun. Eventually, with a lot of dedication (stubbornness) and the influence of an older brother who helped to show me the way, I started to figure it out.

I wasn’t until I hit the road in van that I really truly fell in love with the sport. Riding by myself with no pressure and no agenda gave me the space I needed to learn how to really enjoy the sport.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I started clipped-in simply because that’s what I was used to from road biking. I switched over to flats last fall and haven’t looked back.

I transitioned for two main reasons. First, as I started hitting drops and jumps, I wanted to know, with confidence. that I wasn’t relying on my clips to get my bike off the ground. Second, as an instructor, it was really important that I could teach students who were learning on flat pedals and speak from a place of experience. In the end, I’ve found that riding flats has improved my form, given me more confidence to try things (technical climbs) and made me a better instructor.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I remember my first emotionally traumatic fall. I was riding by myself in a remote part of Colorado. I was on a solo road trip and had taken a last minute unplanned detour to check out a recommended trail. My first mistake - I didn’t tell anyone where I was going and when I arrived at the trailhead, I had no cell signal and no way to notify my family of my whereabouts. While out on my ride, I got nervous on a technical section of trail and attempted to dismount on the downhill side of the trail. I was sent cartwheeling down a hillside towards a small creek. I remember thinking to myself as I was falling “You cannot break anything. You cannot knock yourself out. No one knows you are here.” When I finally stopped rolling I sat there - shocked - and wiggled every finger, toe, elbow, wrist…..I was okay! Bruised and cut, but not broken. I was lucky to be able to ride away from that crash and quickly learned the importance of notifying friends and family when I’m out riding by myself.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Technical descents were a struggle for me when I started riding; probably because no one had ever told me how to ride technical terrain. Attending a skills clinic gave me the tools I needed to tackle the technical stuff with confidence. All of a sudden, I wasn’t guessing. I actually understood what I needed to do. It took time and practice to build up my toolbox but now I feel empowered to tackle the technical!

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 still working on all aspects of my ride. I’m especially focused on improving my technical climbing, high-speed cornering and jumping form. I fell in love with mountain biking because it constantly challenges me. These challenges don’t drag me down, they motivate me!

What do you love about riding your bike?
While I’ve had the opportunity to do all sorts of seemingly “cool” things in my life, I always struggled to be truly passionate about something. I’ve done a lot of things in my life because I thought I was supposed to. Mountain biking is the first thing I’ve found that I am 100% passionate about. I love being outside and traveling the country, I love the people I’ve met through the sport, I love knowing that my body is strong and powerful….I could go on and on.

When you set out to pursue Van Life, did you do research ahead of time? What were things you needed to consider?
Absolutely. I researched types of vans, traveling with a pet, costs, budgets, travel routes, camping options. I learned a lot but in the end, the most important thing that I learned is that there is no “perfect”. There is no perfect van build, you can’t predict all of your costs, you can’t plan out your route too far in advance. All you can do is equip yourself with information and get comfortable going with the flow.

For folks interested in living Van Life, what do you feel would be good to know ahead of time?
Here is my secret tip for van lifers - Cracker Barrels are great (better than Walmart or a truck stop). Free overnight parking, clean bathrooms and hot coffee and biscuits in the morning!

Out of the areas you visited, what was your favorite and why?
I have so many favorites and all for different reasons. Here are a few highlights….

Favorite Riding Region // British Columbia
There is more to riding BC than Whistler! A few of my favorite spots: Rossland, Nelson, Fernie, Cranbrook, Golden, Revelstoke, Kelowna, Penticton, Kamloops.

Favorite small town // McCall, ID
I fell in love with the small town of McCall, ID just 2 hours north of Boise. Good food, a beautiful lake, incredibly welcoming people and a growing network of trails gave this place charm and endless potential.

Favorite East Coast Riding // Pisgah National Forest, Brevard, NC
After living in Colorado for so many years, I was completely ignorant of the incredible riding the east coast has to offer. Pisgah offers my favorite type of riding on the planet - big days, long climbs, and gnarly rock-n-root filled descents. All ending with a beer at The Hub.

What was the inspiration to get certified in teaching MTB skills?
I had such a positive experience from attending clinics myself that I wanted to get more involved in the coaching community. To do that, I wanted to make sure I had something useful to offer and I wanted to make sure I was able to give accurate and constructive feedback to riders.


What was one of your favorite experiences with helping someone better their mountain biking skills?
I had a young teenager who attended one of my clinics at the beginning of this year. 2 months later she came to a second clinic and her progress was incredible! She had taken all of my suggested “homework” (sidewalk skills and drills) very seriously and had been practicing with her mom. I was so proud of her!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Living on the road means I have room for one bike right now - a 2018 Kona Process 153. I wanted a bike that could handle the big terrain of a bike park but still efficient enough for me to pedal uphill. This bike is an ANIMAL!

Tell us about Ninja Mountain Bike Performance and your job with them-
I am the Captain of Global Development with Ninja. My partner Richard founded the company 8 years ago and together, we work to expand and improve our clinics all over the country. I focus on organizing skills camps east of the Mississippi while Richard handles everything to the west. Together we both coach, manage sponsor relationships, answer customer service questions, maintain our website, write skills articles and all the other little things that go into running a small business.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Let’s be honest, getting into mountain biking typically comes with a lot of questions. What kind of bike do I get? What should I wear? Do I wear underwear with these padded liners? Do I sit on the saddle or stand up? Which brake do I use and when?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by such a long list of questions. Historically, it’s been hard to find answers to these questions without feeling stupid or completely intimidated. This creates a barrier of entry that deters a lot of women from dipping their toe into the wonderful world of mountain biking.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I’d like to see the industry go back to basics; be welcoming! Remember what it was like to be a total newbie. Make it easy for people to ask questions, get information that is digestible, walk into a bike shop and be spoken to with respect and patience. Make the mountain biking community a safe and welcoming place for all people, regardless of their goals with cycling.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I see myself differently since I found mountain biking; I’ve gained confidence, patience and re-discovered my inner-child. I hope I can help other women do the same!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I eat 6 squares (or two rows) of dark chocolate every day without fail. Doesn’t matter where I am in the world, I bring or find my dark chocolate. Always.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Standing On The Edge Face Up

'Cus You're A Natural.

Ha. Really. That's far from it.

My last bike ride.
I was pissed off.
It seemed no matter how hard I tried, the weather wouldn't cooperate. Life wouldn't cooperate.
I wanted to have a bike ride with Travis.
I didn't want to have to try and beat the upcoming storm.

You know when you go for a mountain bike ride and you're just blindingly emotional? You ride like sh*t. I fu*ked up a few times and I realized that my energy was just all over the damn place.

I took the opportunity (assuming I was legitimately alone in the woods) to have a conversation "at" Dad.

For those who don't follow me on Facebook, I discovered last Tuesday that I needed to get a new septic system for my dad's house. Tree.Roots.
Holy crap. Okay. So great.
Progress with cleaning up his home was being made, only to find out that fu*king tree roots have rendered the system useless.
Pump out the years...literally...years of sh*t.
Only to make removal easier.

I had to cry.
I was beyond frustrated.

This week on Tuesday I discovered that a majority of my dad's electrical setup was not up to code.
The joy of changes.
Also, Dad was smart enough to fix stuff up to be "enough" for him- but that didn't necessarily mean it was "correct."
Like...2 extension cords to plug in the (well) pump to the house?
Seriously.

I spent half of my ride saying "sh*t"...I did not have a lack of frustration.
I'm glad no one was around. I sounded like a very grumpy person.

The storm was coming- clouds darkening and thunder rumbled.
It felt like my heart and soul.
Everything feels "extra."

Stuff will feel extra happy or extra sad.
Disappointing
Euphoric

I'm so tired of having so many questions. Was my dad going to slowly start fixing stuff up? Was he going to let the septic system deteriorate further? Keep his janky electric setup?
I will never know.
You have to accept that there is a lot of sh*t you'll NEVER know.

You have to accept that everything is what it is. There isn't going back. You can't change anything.

All I could come up with was I would leave my dad's property better than it was when I came to it.
It's so funny. Ironic. How it was hidden from me for so long and then I have it shoved down my throat. It hurts. It also makes me feel humbled.
I wish I could ask more questions.
I would have to accept that my dad would likely not tell me the answers.
I get it.

It just sucks, because I think there was more to him in me than I realized. His insight could've helped me understand more.

There may be a lot that stresses me out.
That challenges me.
That makes me cry.
That makes me swear.
I will endure.
I will persevere.
I am a storm.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Women Involved Series: Michelle Dykstra

My background in the cycling industry is one that I fell into. When I was in college, I started working at the local bike shop for the summer. I wasn’t a cyclist at all. I just thought that it would be a fun job. I was the only girl in the store and thought it would be just answering phones and ringing up sales. My co-workers quickly schooled me on all things cycling and that’s when I realized it was so much more involved than the bike riding I did around the neighborhood. It didn’t take long for the guys to convince me I needed to buy a mountain bike. So like almost every other new bike shop employee, I spent my whole summer wages on my first mountain bike and that was the beginning of new passion and career I could have never even dreamed of.

I continued to work at that shop every summer and winter break from school. After I graduated, I was offered a manager position so I stayed there for a couple of years. When an opportunity came up to move to Chicago to be part of the opening of a brand new store, I jumped at it. I grew up vising the city often and had always wanted to live there. After just over a year at that store, I had met people that worked for my current company and I had an opportunity to start in the Dealer Service Department so I made the move from retail over to SRAM. I’ve been here for 9.5 yrs so far and have held jobs in Dealer Service, Aftermarket Sales, and now OEM Sales. I am an OEM Sales Account Manager so I am the main point of contact at SRAM for the bike brands that I work with. In addition to being an account manager, I am also the Chair of our SRAM Women’s Leadership Committee. Our committee is committed to attracting, developing, and retaining women at SRAM. I’m extremely passionate about getting more women into the industry and also helping to grow women’s cycling. I have had the opportunity to help out at various different women’s events that have been happening in the industry over the past 7+ years. It’s so exciting to see how it is really taking off and I’m so grateful to be a part of it.

When I’m not mountain biking, I enjoy traveling, cooking, SUP, hiking, volunteering, and other various hobbies.

My Instagram handle is shellylynn36

Tell us about the introduction to mountain biking and how it influenced you from then on-
My first introduction was when I started working in a shop. I wasn’t a cyclist then but I thought that working in the local bike shop would be way more fun as a summer college job than waiting tables or something else. My co-workers took me under their wing and took me out for my first ride and I was hooked. It’s influenced me greatly since then since it was the very first step of me making a career in the industry which I obviously had no idea of that back then.

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!"
I remember just loving being in the woods and in nature. I grew up doing a lot of hiking and skiing so mountain biking for me was kind of the perfect combination of those two activities. Downhill skiing prepared me for the feeling of being clipped in, choosing lines, being comfortable at higher speeds and arguably most important; crashing. Hiking prepared me for being used to narrow single track and reading the trail ahead. I learned that I had already developed skills through those two activities so I just needed to put them together. I also learned that mountain biking requires a lot more anticipation and reaction since there is a lot going on at once. Being in the right gear and body positioning was the biggest learning curve that first year or so.

From what you knew when you bought your first mountain bike to what you know now, would you make a different purchase or keep it the same/similar?
Well, bikes have come a long way since I bought my first mountain bike 16 years ago! I would keep my purchase the same because I bought one of the best options at the time for what I could afford. I guess my only advice on that front would be to say that components are so important and they have the ability to make or break your experience. If you’ve ridden a few times and really see yourself getting into it, I would say go for the bike of the type of riding you want to do even if you think you aren’t there yet. Better equipment can help you ride better and you will grow into it.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I ride mainly clips. I started with clips and rode on them for so many years that it is what I’m used to. I dedicated a whole season a couple years ago to learning flats and I did get used to it and I think it helped me become a better rider in many senses. You really can’t “cheat” in flats. I ride flats at the bike park now and clips on singletrack.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Knock on wood, all my major accidents have been on skis and not mountain biking. I’ve had some pretty knarly crashes that have really shaken me up and given me some scars but no broken bones. For me, the only way to mentally overcome something I crashed on is to keep riding it until I conquer it. It’s usually a mental thing and once I ride it successfully, then I know I can move on and try something harder and bigger next time.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
When I started riding, I think the hardest thing for me was shifting and speed. I was never in the right gear to get up that climb and when I came up on obstacles, I slowed down so much I had no momentum to help me get over them. Those were the days before all the women's clinics so I probably didn’t go about the best way of learning. I was mainly by myself or with a few friends that rode about the same level as me so I just kept on trying. Honestly, it was just repetition of not making it over things so I’d try something different next time. I approached it really by the process of elimination. There are so many wonderful skills clinics now that I highly recommend going to.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I struggle with technical climbing when there is a big rock or root you really have to get up and over. Climbing has never been my favorite thing. For me, it just a means to get to the downhill so I don’t worry about it too much. I’m fine with walking over stuff that I can’t ride.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love all of it! Exploring new trails, overcoming a tough obstacle for the first time, riding solo and with friends, staying physically fit, and unplugging from the stresses of life.

What did you love most about working in a bike shop and why is it important for women to be involved with working at bike shops?
I love seeing the excitement that someone has over their new bike and newfound passion. There is nothing better than when a customer comes back and sharing stories of how their life has been changed by the bicycle. It’s so rewarding to see them on their journey of being more healthy, connecting with new people, riding new distances, and overcoming obstacles. It’s important for women to be involved in working in shops because I think as women, we like to be in the community and see that if other women can do it, so can we. There are some questions that some women will only feel comfortable asking another woman about. When a female customer comes into a shop, I think there is a level of comfort that comes with seeing that women work in the shop and are thinking about what women want when they are shopping. When I visit a bike shop in my travels, I can instantly tell by the clothing section alone if they have a female buyer or not.

Where there challenges of being a woman working in a bike shop? How did you work through tough situations?
My challenges working in a shop never had to do with my co-workers, it was always with customers. Many men would assume that I didn’t know what I was talking about and would automatically ask for a man to help them before they even stated what they needed help with. I would respond by asking them if I could hear about what brought them in first in order to find the best person to assist them. I didn’t get defensive because sometimes, I would have to hand them off to an experienced mechanic if they were asking a tech question I couldn’t answer. More often, they had a question I could answer so I could confidently say that I would be happy to help them. After they discover that you know what you are talking about, I rarely received any further resistance. It’s all about being confident and breaking down barriers.

What do you enjoy most about working at SRAM?
There are so many things but the two that always rise to the top for me are the people and our passion. To me, SRAM is a really special place to work filled with amazing people that are passionate about the product that we are making. It is always designed from the heartfelt place of making riding a better experience for everyone. It sounds cheesy but it’s true. I love the people I work with.
Tell us about the SRAM Women's Leadership committee and what it's about- why is it important?
The SRAM Women’s Leadership Committee (SWLC) is dedicated to creating an inclusive community for all SRAM employees and to attract, develop, and retain women at SRAM. We believe that diversity in ideas, experiences, and knowledge will further expand the potential of cycling and inspire cyclists. In order to have the diversity we are seeking we need to have a balance between female and male employees in all departments so we are working on ways to better attract women to SRAM so that we get female applicants for job openings, and we’ve taken several steps internally to develop and retain the women that already work here.

Tell us why you feel women should seek out jobs in the cycling industry-
I think there is a lot of opportunity for women in the cycling industry whether you’re currently into cycling or not. I personally really enjoy the culture that the industry has that provides such a great work/life balance. We all work really hard and are passionate about what we do so we have a good balance of enjoying our hobby all while working to get more people on bikes. The industry could use more women in engineering, sales, operations, etc. There are opportunities to suit all career fields I think.

What do you enjoy most about helping women become more confident with mountain biking?
I personally enjoy all the smiles and sheer joy when you see someone tackle something they’ve never been able to get over before. It has a ripple effect. It’s cool to see people progress.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have 3 main bikes at the moment. My commuter is the one that I ride the most b/c I take it out every day and it’s so fun to ride. It’s a step through frame with fenders, front basket, rear fenders, etc. I love that I can load it up with groceries and other goods and run all over Chicago on it. My mountain bike is a Juliana Rubion. I chose that bike b/c I have always been a fan of Santa Cruz geometry and style and I like what they’ve done with the Juliana brand that it is the same frame as Santa Cruz but a different look for women that want it. Their bikes fit me well so I like they have that option. I chose the Rubion because I travel with my bike a lot so I wanted something that was good for all terrain no matter where I go. I put a Rockshox 160mm Lyrik on it when I travel to places out west and I put a 150mm Pike on it when I’m home. My road bike is a Trek Domane 5 Disc in women specific. I’ve got it set up with 35c tires so it’s my fun road/gravel bike.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think equipment is the biggest barrier to cycling for both men and women. It’s so much easier to get into running or some other sport that doesn’t require a lot of equipment. Biking can be challenging because if you want to try it before you make a purchase, having a bad rental bike or borrowing a bike that doesn’t fit right or work well can make for a really bad experience and make something think the sport isn’t for them. I think mountain biking might have more of a barrier than road because there are so many options like wheel size, travel, and a multitude of brands that it can be very overwhelming.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think we have already made great strides so we need to just keep doing what we’re doing with women’s rides, clinics, getting girls involved at a young age, offering opportunities for women to learn mechanic skills, target female college students for internships, recruiting more women for various positions, etc. It will be wonderful when we have more women in leadership but we will get there. A lot of those efforts feel grassroots at times but if enough companies get on board, the changes can have a huge impact.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I’ve met so many amazing people through riding and this industry that of course, I want to share that with others. Riding can create such a great community amongst people, it’s rewarding to learn new skills, and most of all, it’s fun!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I know how to play the oboe. A lot of people have to look that one up.