Women Involved Series: Angela Brooks

I’ve been riding bikes since I was very young. I remember thinking how awesome I was because I could ride my bike while standing on the pink banana seat and not falling. My parents bought me my first 21 speed Schwinn race bike when I was 11 and I would ride 30 miles with my dad from Illinois to Wisconsin on many occasions.

I started coaching biking over 20 years ago while working for a summer camp. They had a fleet of mountain bikes and I became the “go to” for bikes. I would take a dozen 11-13-year-old kids out every day on our local gravel trails and teach them trail etiquette and basic riding techniques. In the last 10 years, my passion has focused on single track riding and coaching women and kids. I became a certified International Mountain Bike (IMBA) ICP level 2 coach which has given me a vocabulary allowing me to explain the techniques I already use.

I started coaching with our local HS MTB Team and became a certified National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) coach, level 3, and I joined the National & Wisconsin Mountain Bike Patrol.

I enjoy camping and biking all around the US but my home state is Wisconsin where the trails change from lush and green to slick and icy. I am not afraid to bundle up and ride all winter long, even in 6" of snow covered ice. Want to join me?

In 2018 I signed up for my first mountain bike race series (Wisconsin Off-Road Series, WORS) and placed 1st in my age group in every race I participated in. I coach for Grit Clinics. I am a community leader for Vida MTB.

I actively encourage women on bikes by organizing and running my Women on Wheels Mountain Bike Camps and work hard to instill a passion for biking in kids as a high school MTB coach.
Next year my goal is to host my 3rd Women on Wheels MTB Camp in Southern WI and a Girls and Guys weekend MTB retreat in the area.

When I am not on my bike you will find me cheering on my 3 daughters in their MTB races or busy planning another “Adventure with Angela”. My day job is video production.

On FB and Instagram you can find info for the camps at WoWMTBCamp.

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!”
I started teaching “mountain biking” to middle schoolers at a summer camp in my early 20s. This was simply riding a bike on gravel trails. It was not risky, and it was not technical. But it was fun and exhilarating.

During that time I met my future husband. He loved the fact that I had a Giant mountain bike. I think that is part of the reason he fell for me. ;) He convinced me to try his style of biking, single-track. He took me to a place called Petrifying Springs in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

I was a confident lady. I thought sure, I can do this, I can do anything. Wow, was I in for a rude awakening! I thought he was trying to kill me on our first couple of dates. I had never done that kind of riding. There were 10-foot cliffs inches from my tires and looming trees inches from my head.

It scared me for sure but also amazed me. We continued riding until I became pregnant. He and I became busy with marriage and family quickly and pregnancy and biking don’t go well together. It wasn't until my youngest child was about five that I got on the single tracks again.

I was out of shape and practice after the 8-year hiatus and I remember one of the first times out we went to an easier trail in Kettle Moraine. He was so excited to get me back on the trails. I had a newer bike by then and was ready to go too. Matt assured me it would be an easy and short ride. 12 miles into that “easy ride” (I was ready to be done at 6) I was exhausted and I was done. It was hot, muggy and the mosquitoes were on a mission to kill. I remember coming up to another hill and giving up, on life. I crumbled to the ground crying and surrendered to the mosquitoes. I was DONE. He had to carry my bike up the hill and sweet talk me out of the woods.

What made me fall in love with biking was a combination of several things. I love being outside and in the woods. I love conquering my fears and I love spending time with my husband. Biking, when I wasn’t being eaten alive, made me feel alive. It gave me confidence that I could balance my body on 2 wheels and ride over roots or rocks or not fall off cliffs. He took me to some challenging places but they were beautiful and he was a good and patient teacher.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Mosquito spay! Lifting my wheel. Rocks and roots that were too big to roll scared me. I had to get off my bike and walk them. Once I upgraded to a full suspension I learned to “bounce” on my bike. I love “bouncing” on my bike. Learning to and practicing, load and lift, helped my grasp and conquer rocks and roots.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I have a hard time with skinnies that are both, taller than 6” and skinnier than 6”. I cannot get out of my head to ride them. I want to so I try whenever I find one I try. I usually can get my bike on it then I chicken out and put a foot down. It’s frustrating for me but for now, I’m ok with it. I’ll keep practicing and then I ride around it, glaring at it.

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?
Don’t start too hard and stay within your comfort zone. If you are not ready to ride something on the trail walk it. Walk your bike over it to feel it and understand that your bike will go over anything. Watch your bike roll over it.

Find a good teacher. I became so much better with Matt, my husband, helping me ride features. He would show me how to do it then encourage me to try. It was as simple as him standing next to a rock garden assuring me he would catch me if….. I didn’t ride it right. Sometimes he did catch me. Most of the time I was able to ride it just knowing he was there.

Check Facebook for local riding groups. I have found that mountain bikers are some of the most incredible people. I have encountered the most amazing people while riding my bike. I have found a group of women that support each other while riding and encourage each other to ride. Some of them are my best friends. I have also gotten some of my older friends addicted to biking now.

If you don’t have someone, find a coach. It is worth paying to learn the basics of riding. Balance, position, techniques are all real things on a bike. Learn why riders move their bodies the way they do on bikes. Having a great vocabulary and understanding the reasons for positions on bikes helps TREMENDOUSLY.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Flats on my MTB, clips on my road bike. I can do anything on my bike on flats that I can do clipped in. Its all in the technique. I jump, wheelie, and lift my bike. I’ll never be a leg model but I’m ok with that too.
I like being able to put a foot down when attempting a feature without thinking about how to get it out.

On my road bike, I like the power of the clips.

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?
Biffs are part of the sport. My legs are scared, I almost always have a huge bruise somewhere on my body. I tore my ear and needed stitches. I wrenched my ankle so badly that I couldn’t ride for 1/2 a year. I definitely have become gun-shy in places that I have spilled and it takes me some time to mentally get over it so I take that time until I am confident to ride it again.

The thing about riding is I love the thrill. It's my drug and it’s healthy for me.

Tell us about your experience racing in the WORS series, what has it been like and has there been a favorite?
I have been telling my husband that I wanted to try racing for the past 6 or so years but I never got the courage because I didn’t want to do it alone. Last year some of my biking girls encouraged me to try a race. I liked it. This year they encouraged me to join a team and race the series. I am so glad I did. I’ve met even more awesome people and I proved to myself that I can do it; I can race my bike!
Racing has pushed me to ride more and think about my techniques. I am a 43-year-old woman and I am racing a mountain bike! And, I’m winning. With the exception of one race when someone crashed into my bike, snapped my derailleur hanger, and took me out of the race, I won first in my age group! Most races I ranked in the top 10 women in my category. I’m pretty proud of that.

My favorite was the WORS Cup. It was fast and flowing and had a lot of single track. I am much better on downhill and single track than I am climbing hills.

For those who are on the fence about participating in a cycling event, do you have any tips or suggestions?
Sign up for a local event with the mindset that you are going to finish. Bring a friend to cheer you on. Don’t think about winning or being good at it. Just get out, ride your bike, and finish. That will tell you if you like it. That will tell you if you want to do it again.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the freedom I have when riding my bike. I love the control I have over this amazing machine with 2 wheels. I love being in the woods and hearing the sounds of nature. I love seeing wildlife. I love the thrill of flying through the woods and feeling the wind on my face, the plants brushing my legs and the rocks, dirt, and roots under my wheels. I love that I move so fast that I can’t think about anything else except what's ahead in the next 20 feet or few seconds. I love that it clears my mind.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Before I became an addict. (to bikes) I did not understand why my husband would obsess over all the different bikes he wanted. I would ask him, why do you need another bike? You can’t ride more than one at a time….. I get it now. I won’t admit it to him but I get it.

I have 5 bikes at the moment. My newest and favorite is a Trek Fuel EX 9.8. It is beautiful! Its purple, orange and neon yellow! I call it my unicorn. It’s a full suspension and it flies over everything! It is magical!

For several years I rode a fat bike exclusively. I loved it and learned so much on my hard-tail Farley Fat Bike. It’s a radiant neon green bike with many stickers and purple accents. I have multiple tires for different riding. It's fast in spite of it's fatness. It has made winter enjoyable for me. I used to dread winter before I fat-biked; now I look forward to winter and snow. I will race that bike this winter.

I have a Domane road bike which I use when the trails are too wet to ride or just want to go really fast.

My last bikes are for fun. One we found in the trash. It's a fire-engine red Felt Indian beach cruiser. My husband geared it for me. We put fenders, baskets, chopper handlebars and a bell on it for when we go on our fun beer rides. It's a very cool bike. I don’t know why anyone would through it away! One man’s trash……

The last one is hanging in my house as a decoration. It’s another cruiser that I retired when I started using the Felt.

What inspired you to become a certified coach?
I have been teaching in some form most of my life. I have my master’s in teaching; it is part of who I am. Several years ago I participated in a women’s mtb clinic and had a blast. I loved that there were opportunities for me to be taught and knew, if I became a great and confident rider, that it was something I would enjoy. It was after that clinic that I decided I wanted to have my own clinic. It took some time to pull together and friends to encourage and volunteer their time. I decided that to make it a successful clinic that I needed some formal training. It was then that I enrolled in the, then, IMBA, bike certification class near me. I loved it and learned so much! The course gave me a vocabulary and reasons explaining many of the biking techniques I was already practicing.

Any tips or suggestions for those who are thinking about becoming certified?
Just do it. It’s a bit expensive but well worth the education! You will become a better rider whether you use the certification to teach or not.

You coach for your local NICA league- tell us what you enjoy about the NICA program and why you feel it's beneficial-
This is another opportunity for me to teach! I love working with older kids and watching them change as they build confidence on their bikes. It has been life-changing for many of the athletes on the team. It is truly awesome!

NICA offers students the opportunity to be part of something outside the normal curricular sports. Football, cheer, basketball, volleyball…..they are great sports. They are fun and exciting but you have to be good to get on the teams. And, when college is over if you got on the college team, for most kids the sport ends and you don’t participate anymore.

Mountain biking is a life-long sport. There are no try outs to get on the team. They team members aren’t sitting on the bench watching their teammates win or lose the game. They don’t have to race if they don’t want to. They can be on the team and learn and ride.

Kids are in the race because they want to ride their bike and become a better rider. They do their best on the course and everyone, including the other teams, support their efforts and cheers them on. Winning a race is a bonus to the fun of being in the woods with dozens of your peers.

Parents are encouraged to participate. Becoming a coach is easy and you simply need to know how to ride a bike (not even well but you learn a lot listening to the coaching of the kids). As a level one coach, you can ride with the kids at practice. You can ride with the kids during the race. You are there watching your kid succeed at something challenging and fun.

2017 was my first year coaching. I was amazed to see how the 20+ kids on the team supported each other. From seniors in HS to 6th graders, all of them got along and had an amazing time with each other. All of the kids came back and kept in touch offseason. We had several off-season team parties. This year is 4 months in and the team is 2x bigger and the dynamic is the same. Every kid includes every other and they all have a blast together. We camped for most of the races and the team became a family.

Tell us how you became involved with VIDA MTB and what you enjoy about the program-
I don’t do a lot with VIDA right now but I have been coaching with GRIT Clinics for about a year. I can tell you about that.

I found GRIT Clinics by chance. I was researching mountain bike coaching and came across their website. After checking it out I decided I wanted to be part of them. It is hard to find coaches in the Midwest. There are some but its not easy to find them. Most of the coaching companies are west. But MTB has been growing in the Midwest for years and I figured they could connect me with people looking to learn. I sent them my credentials and they put me on their website. Several people have found me through them and I have had a BLAST teaching with them.
Tell us about the Women on Wheels Camps and what they are all about!
Women on Wheels Camps are my way to encourage more women on bikes. The goal is just that. Women teaching other women confidence on their bikes. They are open to any level of rider but focus on the beginners and intermediate riders. We teach proper biking techniques including, balance, braking, shifting, and riding features. Our camps build confidence in women riders so they are not afraid to try new features and new trails. Our camps build friendships and relationships.
The last 2 have been very successful! The feedback has been great! I look for trail systems that can accommodate 40-60 women on open space and on the trails. I find sponsors that are willing donate fun biking goodies and support my mission. The bike shops love it as do local businesses.
We have fun and we ride!

With so many programs out there for women to attend, what inspired you to create your own program?
I love teaching and I love riding. I looked for clinics in my area and found very few. As a married mom of 3, it is hard to justify spending a lot of money on myself or leaving my family for days at a time traveling to far off places for pleasure. That is what inspired me to host my own women’s camp. I wanted something fun, educating, and exciting near me. I wanted to meet more like-minded women who were interested in riding bikes.

Because I have taught riding skills before, and because I have been riding for so long and have built my confidence on a bike, and because I LOVE to teach things I am passionate about I decided to start Women on Wheels Mountain Bike Camps.

You recently started a new venture with your husband, Brooks Adventures- tell us about it!
Brooks Adventures is our way to share our passion with people that want to try new experiences. We are opening up our private trails and encourage more people to ride bikes and snowshoe in the woods. We hope that this venture will be exciting to people in our area. This is a great way to build on what I have done already with the WoW MTB Camps. We hope to build on what we know how to do and take the adventures on the road to other trails throughout the midwest. Dream big right?

What was the inspiration for a fatbike-focused rental business?
My husband and I love teaching, we love biking and we love being outdoors. We heard from many of the parents on the high school mountain bike team that they and their kids want to ride all year round. We hear from non-bikers that they are curious about the bikes with the “big” wheels. We hear from summer riders that they would love to “try” riding a fat-bike.

Bikes are expensive and who knows if you will even like the sport of riding in the snow. Buying another type of bike is very expensive. And buying more than one bike for every person in the family is unrealistic.

We live a mile and 1/2 from groomed winter fat-bike trails and fat-bike races are all around us. We know more people will participate if they have the opportunity to borrow a bike. Because of our proximity to these trails we thought “Hey, why don’t we buy a couple extra and offer them as rentals?" We have top of the line, new fat-bikes for rent that come equipped with bar-mitts and lights for night riding. Along with fat-bikes we are going to offer snowshoe rentals in the near future.

Can you tell us about the lessons you'll offer? Who are they for?

We will be offering courses and clinic like MTB 101 - Where Do I Start, which will include the basics of biking from balance to braking and how to use a bike on the trails. Snow Biking 101 will teaching participants what they need to know about riding in the snow. There are so many things we have learned from riding in winter over the past 6 years that will make snow biking more appealing to summer bikers and those that haven’t tried riding in the snow. We will give information on bike maintenance from tire pressure to what clothing to wear.

We had 2 classes scheduled in December, Snow Biking 101 - What You Need To Know, one for anyone and one for women. We also have 5 social rides- Fatty Rides that we are hosting at Silver Lake Park in Salem, WI, our local trails. Our lessons were open to everyone interested in trying out this new sport. That incuded kids 8 and up!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
The fear of dying, the fear of failing, the fear of being pushed too hard, and the intimidation of riding with men. So many women tell me things like, “I could never do that (mountain bike) I would get hurt or die.” “ Sure I can ride a bike but I’m so clumsy I would break something if I tried to ride over a that.” “I have ridden with my SO and it was too hard, I can’t do what they do.
Fear is a huge deterrent. We women don’t want to look silly trying something we are not confident about. We can’t afford to get hurt when we have families or work that depend on us. I think women are generally less likely to be risk-takers. Taking a risk, like riding 2 wheels in the woods, is really scary if you don’t know how to do it or don’t have a good teacher. Some of these fears are warranted but mostly they can be overcome.

Mountain biking can be as risky as you make it. I don’t know anyone that is going to “Red-Bull Rampage” off a cliff the first time they go out riding or even ride over a log if they are uneasy about it.

Bikes are machines. I think that can be intimidating too. Many women leave the mechanics to the guys. That are so many different elements to what makes a bike a good bike. Weight, brakes, suspension, gearing…. Yikes! It’s like buying a car but at least we learn about cars in commercials or school from a very young age. I didn’t know, until my husband explained it to me, that bikes need maintenance. Many women don’t know how or don’t want to learn how to maintain a bike or what makes a good bike. That can be overwhelming. I spent months researching the bike I have now. My other bikes I either bought because that was what was in the store and it looked good or my husband bought for me. It's a lot to learn and we often don’t have time to learn another machine so we don’t.
What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
This one is tough to answer. I think it could be as simple as having more women working in bike shops and more bike shops offering free or inexpensive ride clinics and bike maintenance to women who are interested in trying it and -prettier bikes-. Usually, when I walk into a bike shop it is a sea of black, grey and dull colors. BORING! Black bikes, black shoes, black clothes. I like color!

Knowing someone or finding a bike shop that will help teach women the basics without overwhelming them and finding a way to make it less intimidating is invaluable. Having bikes appealing to women (color) with information easy for a novice to understand would be helpful and having enthusiastic women in the shop would be encouraging.

I think it also needs to start with younger girls. Girls need to know this is a sport for anyone that loves to ride a bike. This is why I LOVE NICA. High School mountain biking is growing throughout the US and more girls are trying it out, loving it and winning! They are learning that they can jump their bikes, ride wheelies and ride fast; just like the boys. They can wear their hair in ponytails and put on makeup still but be really bad-ass kicking up dirt and finishing a race dirty. And even better then that is that NICA encourages the parents to participate as coaches! The moms can learn with their kids. Because it really is all about riding a bike.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
It's purely selfish. I just want more ladies to ride with. ;) Helping them learn cool stuff like jumping or riding awesome features and seeing their confidence grow is icing on the cake.

What inspires you to encourage your daughters to ride?
I know how it feels to be one of the only girls in my group of friends, or my husband’s group, that knows how to ride well and wants to ride. I love the feeling of being able to outride the boys. It's a huge confidence booster. I want my girls to be confident and I feel that if they know they can do something as challenging as riding their mountain bikes up and down hills in a rock and root infested woodland and come out unscathed and exhilarated they know they can do anything.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
My favorite color is purple and my nickname as a girl was Angeklutz.

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