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 visiting 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.