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.

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Van Tour Video

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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.

1 comment:

  1. Hannah - you are such an inspiration! I am so proud of the journey you are leading. #girlsridebikes

    ReplyDelete