Women on Bikes Series: Jes VanDerPuy

I'm a wife. I'm a mom. I'm a mountain biker. I work in management at UPS and and I love a good adventure. Preferably outdoors. I love Jesus and the opportunities I have through mountain biking to show it. I started cycling after my second baby mostly because my husband couldn't shut up about how awesome it was. (Turns out he was right, but don't tell him that.) He raced in the Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) and I remember watching all the fast girls and thinking that it looked really tough but would be cool to try. So I did.

I trained all summer for that one race and all I kept thinking was... "Don't be dead last. Just finish."

It turned out to be a life-changer for me. I won. By a lot. But I really didn't think I would even finish going in. I took that as a lesson and have been racing ever since.

I love mountain biking because it's a chance as a woman to feel secure in a place that I would never walk alone, but on a bike, you feel so free and able to venture into the unknown unafraid and confident. It allows me to get that little bit of peace in a chaotic world. And it's an absolute blast.

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
It’s funny because years ago I always thought biking in the woods sounded cool. I never realized it was something that you could actually do and compete at until I met my husband. He raced through four of my pregnancies and I would tag along and watch all the women race and think how hard it must be. I contemplated trying it but never really thought I actually would. I actually rode with my husband a couple of times and decided that mountain biking sucked. It was extremely difficult and I hated it. All I could remember was rolling my eyes as he would say, “just wait…. Once you get enough fitness it will be fun. I promise.” Then he conned me into buying a road bike. I used that to increase my fitness level and actually started to enjoy mountain biking. Once I realized I could actually do it and enjoy it, I was in.

How did you learn the basics of mountain biking? Did you figure things out solo, take a clinic, or did your husband help?
I had a lot of help from my husband as far as getting started, but once I figured out what I needed to learn I just rode. I rode as much as I could. I would re-ride things I couldn’t quite get. I used an extremely heavy mountain bike to learn on, which I truly believe helped me master a lot of my skills. Then when I hopped on a new bike it was like magic. I just flew.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I have always used clips. Flats scare me. I feel more secure in clips. However, my first time using them I fell flat on my face from a complete standstill because I couldn’t get unclipped.

Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I really haven’t had anything too serious. I have a few scars that remind me that I don’t have to kill myself out there. I have four kids at home that need me. I try and remember that.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I couldn’t climb. It was so frustrating. We have a section of trail in my hometown that is uphill with probably a million roots. I watched some YouTube videos on climbing and went out and climbed for days. Once I got that section down, I moved onto the next one. There is still one hill I have yet to conquer. But I will.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Of course. There will always be things that need some work. Cornering will forever be a work in progress for me. Also, I’d really like to learn the manual. I can’t let it drag me down, because I’m the kind of person that always needs something to work on. It keeps me interested and gives me something to look forward to.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Remember that you may not love it overnight. Ride with people who are patient and remember, you’re just riding a bike. Stick with it. Get in some road bike miles so you have the fitness and spend the money on a good bike.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The freedom. The fact that I can get lost in the middle of nowhere. I clear my head and just pedal. I love that it is a sport that I can do with my entire family. I don’t have to sit on the sidelines of a soccer field on Saturdays, we can all do it together. And it keeps me healthy and fit enough to be able to do so many other things.

Tell us about your first mountain bike race! What was the experience like?
It was a WEMS race. My husband and I did the 6-hour duo. It was awful and I was so ridiculously slow. But I really did have fun and it piqued my interest in racing. It gave me a starting point to train for something else. When it was done, despite being dead last it was the most amazing feeling to actually have finished. I was hooked from there.

Why do you feel should folks try at least one mountain bike event?
Racing is different than just mountain biking and it’s hard to tell where you are at without competing against other people. It is a great way to meet people to ride with and an awesome chance to show your skills.

What has been your favorite event to participate in?
We have a winter series here in Wisconsin called Hugh Jass. It’s a one of a kind winter fat bike series. We get to drink beer at every lap and wear ridiculous outfits. It’s actually pretty stiff competition if you want it to be but it’s an absolute blast.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Giant OCR-1 road bike. It’s old, but it’s the bike that made me fall in love with cycling. I got it cheap on craigslist and don’t love road biking enough to buy a new one. My hardtail is a Trek Superfly AI. I absolutely love this bike. We fly together. Also, a craigslist purchase.

I also just recently purchased a Salsa Spearfish from a friend. This bike is my dream bike. And she knew it. When I ride this bike, I feel like a superhero. I remember where it came from and how hard I worked to get here and it gives me the drive to keep moving forward. There is something special about each and every bike you own and it’s always a cool story to tell.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Have you seen women racing mountain bikes? They look like they’re about ready to kill someone. It’s extremely intimidating. I remember watching these girls race and thinking, whoa. That would be so cool to try, but I could never take anything that serious. I get it now. It’s a sport that requires you to be intense. And it’s tough. But conquering something you never thought you could is so empowering and extremely worth it.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
We as women mountain bikers need to encourage our friends and especially the younger generation. Be intense in your race, but afterward remember to make yourself approachable. There are so many people that would be so much more willing to try new things if people made a point to make them feel comfortable. Not just on the bike, but socially as well. I would have tried it a lot sooner if one of the women I watched would have said, “Hey, have you ever tried mountain biking?” Or something like that. Get yourself out there and encourage other women to give it a shot

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
My daughters. I want them to be able to try anything they want in life. The best gift my parents gave me was that chance to try new things. I never stuck with anything for very long, but now I have so many options.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I’m a private pilot. I got my license when I was 16. I had a near death experience and haven’t flown much since then, but still go up whenever I get the chance.