Monday, April 29, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Holly LaVesser

My name is Holly LaVesser. I'm 36 years old & I'm a competitive mountain biker. I work as a Benefit Analyst. I was a devoted runner, but started mountain biking in 2011 when I was dating my now-husband because he did it. Around the same time, I started to develop an issue in my left leg that didn't allow me to run as aggressively. By 2016, I had moved my way up through the Citizen, Sport, and Open categories and competed as an Elite for the first time in the Wisconsin Offroad Series (WORS), which I have done ever since.

That is the first year that mountain biking finally overtook running, and I quit running altogether as a result of my leg weakness and gait deficiency (ultimately diagnosed as focal dystonia). I generally mountain bike about 4 days/week, strength train, and pop in other cardio when needed (and XC ski in the winter). Outside of this hobby, I also enjoy geocaching, traveling, my rabbit, Coconut, and skydiving.

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I was a competitive runner, so I was fit and had motivation. My husband (then boyfriend) would go mountain bike and I sometimes came along and would run. I'm not sure what made me want to try it, but he took me out to an easy double-wide trail, and I decided I wanted more, though looking back, I can't place my finger on why. Perhaps just to have another activity to do with him?

When you were new to mountain biking, did you learn most of what you know from your now-husband, go to a clinic, or learn from other women riders?
I learned everything from my now husband. I still have never been to a clinic, and I don't ride with others all that frequently. My husband grew up doing BMX bike tricks and got into mountain biking. Therefore, he has an entire host of skills when it comes to technical riding. He would always ride behind me and suggest things I could do better (not constantly, but when I was open to feedback). As the years passed, the comments lessened and it turned more into me asking for feedback or how to do something better.
If someone is learning primarily from their significant other, do you have tips or suggestions that may help?
I am quite lucky that my husband gets a lot out of teaching others to do something and watching the excitement it brings them. I'd say if your significant other is deeply into training & racing, it might not be the best idea to have them guide you, or you'll want to be on the same page about planning certain days for that. I say that because I know I wouldn't make a great teacher because I am so focused on my own performance right now, that I wouldn't have the time to invest into riding at someone else's pace and skill level on a frequent basis. You want this to be a positive thing that you do together, so you both need to want to go on these rides together.

You got involved with mountain biking in adulthood, how do you feel this benefited your learning experience?
One way I benefited by starting as an adult, was that I didn't have to scrape together cash to get the gear or equipment I wanted, or compromise on choosing one component over another. I started at a point in my life that I was settled, and had a decent job. When I decided to buy a bike, I definitely didn't go all out, but I was able to get something nice enough that was comfortable, things on it worked reliably, and the bike didn't make me dislike the sport, as could be the case with a cheap-o bike! The other benefit I can see is that I was living on my own, free to make my own decisions about when and where to ride. I never had to rely on a parent to drive me to a trail, and I wasn't living with my parents, who tended to be conscious of driving distance & the associated cost. If I had the time to drive an hour to a trail, I was willing to deal with that cost to have the enjoyment of the ride.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Clips always! It feels funny now when I don't have clips. I would have told you that I still mostly push down on my pedals, but when I'm not clipped in, I realize that I actually do pull-up. I am one with the bike!

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?
While I have had my share of crashes, I am fortunate that none have taken me down for more than a day. Only one stands out as causing a slight mental setback. I was pre-riding a race course and had to majorly slow down in a tricky rock spot. I thought I might be able to carry more speed if I took a different line, so I decided to practice it. Turns out what I took was not a line. I flipped over the handlebars when I hit with speed and landed on the palm of my hand. A large welt appeared, and I couldn't continue riding because the pressure of my hand on the handlebars was too much. I was so upset because I wanted to race the next day. I fretted that night and kept icing. The next morning, it was tolerable and I did race. However, during the race, I went super slow, and in a couple other spots on the course where I never had an issue, I was now stepping down to make sure I got through, even though this was a race! It took me a few weeks to get back to what I'd call "normal." The injury obviously wasn't that severe since I could ride the next day, but just all the associated feelings of anxiety with the possibility of it wrecking my season must have got to me. I think also the fact that the crash was so unexpected. It's one thing to approach something on a trail you never rode and biff, but I scouted this out, had an expectation of what my bike would do, and when it didn't happen that way, it just put fear into me - at what other point on the trail when I thought I had it together, would things come apart? It just took time and continuing to ride the techy stuff I always ride to get back confidence.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Nearly everything was challenging! Taking corners with speed was something I worked 1-2 years ago. I still often ask my husband for advice on how to do these types of things. I still don't have great skills on getting over large logs, but doing them and conquering them over and over makes things like that become more of a non-event. I also get a weekly newsletter from Singletracks and read any articles or watch videos that I feel pertain to me.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I definitely have my moods. One day I'll be willing to try things that may be over my head, and another day, I am stepping off my bike, feeling the frustration build as I miss riding feature after feature. I try to balance these moods. I don't ever want to have every day be the stepping off my bike day. At that point, I stop learning. However, I'm not going to force something either. I'd rather live to ride another day, and that's what I tell myself on those frustrating days.

I find that I am fearful of jumping new things. There are a few trails I am familiar with, that over time, I have developed the skills to launch off things, however, these are few and far between. I rarely launch off anything on a new trail, and even though I must possess these skills since I do it where I'm comfortable, I am so afraid of drops. I also lack the skills to lift my front end up onto a boardwalk if it's more than a couple inches. I'm not a fan of any boardwalk, in general, but have gotten more comfortable with wider ones by riding them. Sometimes riding a trail that you are unfamiliar with forces you to do things you wouldn't do if you had scoped it out ahead. I find I have most of the skills, and it always comes down to fear that stops me.

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?
Start on an easier trail with someone who knows what they're doing, and that knows the trail well enough to call out features ahead of time. My first ride was on a double-wide grassy trail. In retrospect, that ride was probably more about learning what the bike feels like, what clipless pedals feel like, and navigating some very gentle features. After one ride, we were off to singletrack trail, with my husband warning me of features ahead of time. I also found when I was learning, that having other stressors going on made me get frustrated much more quickly when I couldn't bike-handle out on the trail. Early on, I was learning to skydive, and was doing that the same day as a technical ride. I had a bad day on the trail, likely because I was stressed about the skydiving, and I didn't ride again for about 6 weeks. Now, riding is a stress reliever, but early on, that wasn't the case, and I really had to show up with focus if I was riding anything the least bit technical.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being in the outdoors and getting a workout at the same time. I'm not a gym rat, and want to workout outdoors. I often ride alone, and that allows me to set the pace and push hard when I feel good, and scale it back when I'm tired. This means that after most workouts, I am happy with my effort. The solitude in the woods can be so enjoyable at times. When I do have the opportunity to ride with others, I find it such a social experience and it makes it so easy to just open up to the people you are with.

Tell us about your first mountain bike race! What was the experience like?
It was in 2012 at the Alterra Coffee Bean Classic WORS race. At that time, I was still a devoted runner, so I started my day with the WORS trail race that morning and won! Then, I entered the Citizen bike race and was so ridiculously nervous because my skills weren't the best, and the thought of passing made me cringe. I recall riding at the front of the field with other women, and that I felt impeded in the technical parts because this was a trail I knew well. We caught men almost immediately and the race was mostly me frustrated in the technical sections, unable to open up any sort of lead because of all the men in my way. I did work my way up, and I did win that race. I enjoyed the experience, but wouldn't race again until it was held the next year, because I still didn't want to race on a course I didn't know well. I also didn't get the same joy out of racing as I did running. Running was so pure and free, where everyone had a clear path to go as fast as they could and others didn't affect your performance. With MTB racing, I couldn't race to my full potential because of men clogging the course.
Why do you feel should folks try at least one mountain bike event?
If you already mountain bike, you should try an event solely to see what you're capable of, and to overcome your fears. My guess is anyone that rides, but hasn't raced, hasn't done so because some aspect of the race brings some fear. Whether it's not knowing how to pass like me, or just being fearful you'll be last or impede others, don't let that hold you back. You may find that more joy comes out of the experience than you expected, and if it doesn't, then you know and won't wonder about it. That said, there are different types of races. Some are serious atmospheres, and other are laid back and may even have beer hand-ups. If you don't like one atmosphere or environment, give another one a shot.

What race would you say is your most favorite to participate in?
My favorite race is the Fall Color Festival at the John Muir trails. Many years ago I set out to try the 35-mile event which was probably 15 miles longer than I had ever ridden. It was a big part of my summer to make sure I got build-up rides in, and I approached it similar to marathon training. It is the trail I probably have logged the most miles on, and know inside out. It is also an easy-going atmosphere with music, food, merchandise, and a place where people stick around to hang out. The women's field is usually pretty small, but I usually find myself able to ride with some men for long portions of the race. I've done it many years and now find I don't need to specifically train for it like I did that first year. I can more or less just pop into it now based on the rides I do all summer. It is a no-pressure, fun race!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My very first mountain bike was a Specialized Epic with 26" wheels. I got the smaller wheels because it was more fun to ride. I didn't know much. We went to the bike shop and wanted to know what kind of scratch & dents they had available in my size so that I could get more for my money. That fit the bill. I had that for several years when a piece of the frame started to fail, and it was something that could not be fixed. After a trip out west, where I rented a Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt, I tried looking around a bit for demos to try out other bikes, but then I finally said forget it. I loved that bike, and being a bad decision maker, I decided to buy it before clouding my mind with other options. My husband wanted to build the bike, so I was just trying to order a frame, and that was quite the ordeal. Those bikes weren't around the area, and I hunted down a bike shop that was a dealer. They told me the frames were out of stock, and I had to wait for the next model year release. We were only months away, so that is what I did. Chris built this, and that was the new bike that I loved. After a season racing it and getting more focused on mountain biking, I struggled with hills and knew that if I wanted to have more of an advantage, I'd need a bike with 29" wheels. I naturally looked to what Rocky Mountain had, and the Element seemed to fit the bill. I started inquiring with the few bike shops in the area that now carried this brand, but none of them had that bike, and the demo fleet didn't carry it either. It was at this time I was recruited to be on a new bike team, Neff Cycle Service, where the founder, Isaac Neff, was a Rocky dealer. I was able to express my concerns about never having tried this bike and what it would be like, and he said I'd love it. I ordered one, and have 2 full race seasons on it and I do love it! When I got a fatbike last winter, I didn't even flinch, and just went for the Rocky Mountain (Suzi Q) without even trying it. I really have loved that brand! I also do cyclocross and love the Van Dessel Full Tilt Boogie that I got after last season. It was the same story where it was a bike I demo'd, and I decided I wanted it without ever trying anything else. Lucky for me, Isaac Neff had a fleet of pit bikes to sell post-season.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
As far as the sport itself, I don't know that it is unique to women, but access to resources is enough to make someone look for something easier. You have to get a bike, find a trail, have shoes, know how to fix the bike, and on and on. Even if the desire is mildly there, it's so much easier to pick up something like running where you just have to step out your door. I think more women lack confidence than men, and can be intimidated. You have to get over that intimidation multiple times (at the bike shop, in trying to fix/maintain the bike, at the trailhead, etc.) to even get to the trail. Probably not worth it to most people that don't have an invested friend tugging them into it.

Because I had the easy route with my riding boyfriend, I found my deterrence centered around racing. He had only casually entered a couple races, so that was something he didn't have the scoop on. What deterred me from getting into it, and has made me progress slower than is probably necessary, is the lack of understanding and answers around categories. I was a runner. If you wanted to run a 5k, you signed up and showed up at the start time. Now, I wanted to compete in mountain biking, and I had to decide if I was Cat 1, 2, 3, or Open (or Cat 4 & 5 in cyclocross!) These were foreign terms to me - what did they even mean? Shouldn't the fastest person just win the race?! Once I was in the Open category of WORS, I found that race schedules never referenced this category, and I always felt it was unclear when and what distance I would be doing in that class. When I got better and started looking at National races, now there were differing UCI categories, and it became unclear if you needed a Pro license to compete in a race labeled "Pro," and would your domestic USA Cycling license work in a UCI event? Because I didn't grow up doing bike races or have a parent that raced, I had no one to turn to with these questions, so I often dragged my feet, or threw away the idea of competing in something because I didn't understand what I'd register in and if I was eligible to do so. When I joined a team, I remember asking questions about categories, but few were competing at the level I was, or they weren't looking to do similar events, so I didn't get always get answers there either. Even now, I just lack someone to look up to. At least I now have some men on my team that compete at a very high level and have more experience & familiarity with racing. However, it frustrates me that I need to rely on other people to get answers and that these things aren't laid out in a clear manner that I can just understand! I am detail oriented, so I need my answers!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Not having raced much outside of WI, but reading national articles that are published, I am encouraged that WI has things right. I still see articles written about the need for equal payouts for women, and that is foreign to me. That has been a staple of WI racing, both in WORS & cyclocross since I started, so I never realized there was that inequality. There are also several cyclocross races that have free entries for first-time women riders. I think taking it a step further and having bikes available for women to use at an event whether it's a race or a demo takes one large hurdle out of the way. Who wants to spend thousands of dollars on gear if they don't know they'll like something? Not me! More demos could offer Small & Medium bikes, or go as far as to offer a woman leading an informal loop to ride as a group would only further help. While I enjoy riding alone, I think many women do not, either because they are social people, or feel uncomfortable in the woods alone. Any type of rider-connect forums or scheduled rides by shops or groups can help women to avoid that too. It's almost as if there needs to be a central online forum for women to go to either find a mentor or just ask all their questions, especially since many don't have the first clue how to fix their bike!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
It is always amazing to show up to a race and find that there are 20 other women on the starting line with you. That type of field size doesn't often happen. It's exciting when you see all those other women riding, and know that there are even more not at the race. And, it's not just about racing. It's about having other women to ride with and talk bikes with. It's knowing the success I feel when I ride a line clean and wanting other women to feel that sense of accomplishment. Sport, in general, is a good, healthy thing to have in your life.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
In my lifetime, I have donated 6 gallons of blood.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Men on Bikes Series: Brady Howe

I'm originally from Holmen, WI, just outside of LaCrosse. I lived outside of town so if I wanted to hang out with friends I had to bike. I started mountain biking in middle school and I bought my first "real" mountain bike in 1995, a Trek 800. I upgraded to a Trek 7000 the next summer and did my first race that year. I still have the 1996 Trek 7000 and currently use it as a commuter bike, converted to single speed.

I love mountain biking and being outside, so when I went to college to be a Park Ranger.

Over my life I've worked for WI State Parks, the National Park Service (Chiricahua National Monument/Fort Bowie National Historic Site), and the US Forest Service (Arapaho National Forest, Black Hills National Forest, and now the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest). I've worked in recreation this whole time, working on a backcountry trail crew with the Park Service, to developed rec and trails with the USFS. Part of the reason I chose this career path is advocacy. Back in the day, many public land managers weren't too fond of mountain bikers. Many of them thought we would ruin the trails and were unsafe for other users. Some of those issues are still around today but part of that is trail design and educating trail users on etiquette. I figured if I got a job in one of those agencies then someday I could be the one setting policy and work on building awesome trails to bike. I'm really lucky too that my wife got into cycling and mountain biking so I always have someone to go on bike adventures with. We left on our honeymoon right after I crossed the finish line of my first Chequamegon MTB Fest, and we went to Fruita and Moab, so that was pretty awesome. We got fatbikes this year and had fun going out today for Global Fat Bike Day too and we're currently at 12 bikes between us (n+1), mainly because I get attached to my bikes and have a hard time selling them. We also have two cats because cats are awesome. My wife wants to do RAGBRAI in 2021 too.

My love of mountain biking has been a huge influence on my career choice and I hope I get the opportunity to advance enough to make a big difference for mountain bikers. Plus I just love to ride and see other people out having fun on the trails. I've always been a mid-pack racer, will never win anything. But that's OK, I'm still having a shit ton of fun on my bike. I was never good a stick and ball sports, but in cycling and mountain biking, it doesn't matter how good you are to have fun, just being out there and doing it is all that matters.

Tell us about your mountain biking introduction, what about it made you go "Yes! This is for me!"
The year was 1995 and I had a good buddy since kindergarten that was big into dirt bikes and he got a real mountain bike, so I had to get one too. I saved up my allowance and I got a Trek 800, not as cool as his 930 but it worked for me. It had bar ends, toe clips, and brakes that worked! Several of my buddies got "real" mountain bikes that summer too and we used to cruise around causing the type of mayhem that only 13-year-old boys can cause. It was about this time that I was realizing that I really wasn't that good at stick and ball sports. But on a bike it didn't matter, you got to run your own race, do your own thing. The next summer I got a Trek 7000 and I did my first race and was hooked. It kicked my butt but it was so much fun.

When you started working for parks, what did your job(s) primarily entail?
When I was in college I got a summer job working at Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, WI. My jobs there varied, the manager did a great job of making sure we all got to experience a little bit of everything as several of us were going to college for natural resources. I did everything from general facility maintenance like painting picnic tables, cleaning outhouses, selling passes to visitors, and my favorite doing trail work. We would work one week focusing on one area, then do something different the next week. It really kept things fun as I got to learn a lot those two summers.

What do you love most about being able to have a career that had you so closely involved with the outdoors?
I love that I get to provide people with the opportunity to go out and enjoy their public land and have great experiences recreating on it. I remember one day when I was in Colorado working on the Arapaho National Forest. I ran into a father and son that were on a family vacation from somewhere where this isn't really any public land. The dad wanted to take his son out camping for a night, and the wound up at a campground. He wanted more of a backcountry experience for his son but wasn't sure what he could go, what was legal and what wasn't.

I pointed out to the mountain range behind us and told them that they could camp anywhere they wanted out there, it was all their land. The look on their face was priceless. I gave them a map, went over the fire regulations, and sent them on their way. I'm sure that they have some great memories from camping out that night that neither one of them will ever forget. Being able to be a part of that really makes me happy.

Why is being an advocate important to you? Have you faced challenges?
Being an advocate is important to me because without advocacy we wouldn't have trails, and I can only ride the road so much before I need my dirt fix. Some of the challenges I've faced have been the misconceptions that people have towards bikes. Many people, including public land managers, don't have a firm grasp on what all mountain biking is. They see Red Bull Rampage pop up on their YouTube feed and think that's what we all do. I remember reading something in a hunting magazine where the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation took some public land managers that don't hunt out target shooting and then hunting so they could experience it first hand. That trip gave the land managers a great perspective on why that activity is so important to so many people. I think if mountain bikers did something similar we could help with some of the misconceptions that are out there. All in all, though it has been getting better as more mountain bikers become organized, and get jobs in public land management! (Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow,

Why is education on trail use/etiquette important? Are there resources for new riders?
Education on trail etiquette is important because it helps everyone have a fun and safe time on the trails. No one want's to get into an accident with someone trying to set a STRAVA pr. I know I've been run off the trail by this more times that I like to admit. Having good etiquette is important too because many trails are multi-use, we all have to play in the same sandbox. It only takes one individual doing bad things on a multi-use trail to leave a bad impression of mountain bikers on other trail users. And unfortunately, a black eye for one is a black eye for us all in many cases. I remember bike magazines having more articles on this back in the day, but now you see stuff on social media and other formats as well. Pretty much every trail system or club has a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram where they post messages on trail conditions, safety and etiquette. It seems like many riders get introduced to the sport by a friend, so I guess it's up to use to make sure that we teach and educate each other on what is and isn't appropriate so we all can enjoy this sport. We are our brother's keeper.

What has been the most exciting improvement you've seen/helped with since working with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest?
Fat Bikes! When I first started on the CNNF fat bikes weren't allowed on any of the xc ski trails, but now we allow that mixed use on a couple of systems. The CNNF doesn't actually have a lot of single track for mountain biking, so for fat biking the options were snowmobile or forest roads that may or may not be plowed. Giving fat bikers this option has been great, but having single track would definitely be better! We've also done a lot of improvements on our motorized trails as well to allow side by side UTVs. This has been exciting as it's something that we have done to keep up with trends in recreation as more people are buying side by sides instead of traditional ATVs, and keeping the forest open to more people.
Your wife also mountain bikes, tell us what you enjoy most about being able to share the experience with her-
Everything. I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to go on adventures with her. When we started dating the majority of my rides were solo endeavors. When we moved to Rapid City, SD I was blown away by all the mountain biking I could do from our house in town, and how they had trails for every skill level. She is pretty adventurous and talked about getting a bike and going out with me. We hit up a couple of shops and got her a bike and she's been hooked ever since. At first, it was a little bit of an adjustment, getting used to riding with someone else especially considering she was new to the sport, but after a while, it got great, really great. Watching her progress in her fitness and skills, to doing her first race and then this year doing the full 40 at the Chequamegon MTB Fest for the first time, it's been an amazing journey. I was so stoked when I heard her name announced as she crossed the finish line this year. We even took our honeymoon to Fruita and Moab to ride bikes, and went to Winter Park in Colorado to ride for our anniversary one year, wouldn't have been able to pull that one off if she didn't ride! Now when I go on rides without her I almost feel like I'm cheating on her or something and I feel a little guilty like I hope she won't see my STRAVA or anything.

Do you have any tips/suggestions for those who would like to introduce their partner to mountain biking?
Take it slow, and get them good stuff that fits them. If you're 5'11" and give your 5'2" girlfriend your old clapped out bike to ride chances are she won't have a good time. The same thing goes for a helmet, clothes, etc. You don't have to go all in and get them a kit from Rapha to start out, but get them stuff that works and that fits them. I don't know how many bikes my wife tested before she picked out her first bike, but it was a lot. But when she found one that fit her she came back from that little trip around the block with a big grin on her face. Having a bike that she got to pick out and liked definitely helped her get into the sport.

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?
Nobody cares how good or bad you are (or at least they shouldn't). Go out and have fun, that's what it's all about. You don't have to be a superfreak shaving your legs and counting calories training for Leadville to have a good time. Mountain biking is for everyone. Ride in jean cutoffs? Cool, enjoy your ride! Riding with friends after work? Cool, enjoy your ride! Riding to get out and enjoy nature and fresh air? Cool, enjoy your ride! Just make sure that you're on a bike that is safe and fits you, and wear a helmet. Bring some water, some snacks, and if you got a friend that already rides that can show you a thing or two then even better. Also for the love of God and all that is holy and pure, yield to the uphill rider, let others pass, and don't skid.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything. I can be having the crappiest day, and go for a ride and all is well with the world. Since I started using Zwift even the trainer can be fun! I don't think I've ever taken a bike ride that I regret. I've had some bad rides where I've wrecked and wound up at the hospital, or where my bike was being a jerk (bent derailleur hangers are the bane of my existence), but I don't regret going on them. I'd rather spend my life living and doing fun stuff than sitting on the couch. Plus all the cool places my bike has taken. I don't think I would have pursued a career in public land management if it wasn't for mountain bikes. Riding a bike has a way of clearing your head, and it's a lot more fun than running.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My wife and I currently have 12 bikes. I have every mountain bike I've ever owned except the first, going back to my 1996 Trek 7000 that I did my first race on, which has since been converted to a single speed commuter bike. What can I say, I get attached to my bikes and have a hard time selling them when I get something new. My main bikes though are my Trek Fuel EX 9, and my Kona Jake the Snake. My wife has a Fuel 8 WSD and a matching Kona, except her bar tape, is pink and she has a different saddle. We both run 27.5 for our mountain bikes so we can share tubes, less to carry in our packs. I'm really tempted to buy a 29" hardtail though. One of my buddies got a Santa Cruz Chameleon and it's so much fun. We got cross bikes for gravel riding, they're a few years old and this was before gravel bikes were really a thing. They work for us on our weekly road group rides, and for exploring the roads less traveled.
What has been your favorite cycling event(s) to participate in?
I work a lot of weekends so I'm limited on what I can do. But for what I've done it's tough to say, kind of like saying what kid is your favorite. I really like the Chequamegon MTB Fest because getting to ride that roll out with so many people gives me goosebumps. I did the Dairy Roubaix gravel "race" for the first time this past year and that one was really fun too. It was cold, and lightly raining during the ride. I even had to shovel snow out of our campsite the day before. I think the miserable conditions are what made it fun and memorable. When I was in college in Minneapolis I used to race the weekly series at Buck Hill and that was really fun too. I think it was either Bike or Dirt Rag magazine that once had a little write up on it and they said it was like a keg party where a bike race broke out, and that pretty much sums it up. My skills developed so much from that series, and I meet so many other mountain bikers that took me out on trails outside of racing that I probably never would have ridden. Pat at Penn Cycles really has done something great there. The weekly volunteer trail work nights that the La Crosse Velo Club put on when I was growing up was actually fun too, part of the reason why I went into a career playing in the woods. Beer By Bike Brigade in La Crosse, WI is pretty sweet too, a giant pub crawl for bikes, and they do a lot of great things for the community.

Why do you feel folks should consider participating in at least one event?

Because it's fun, and you get to meet a lot of great people! There are plenty of events out there besides races where you can go out, meet new people and learn new things. You'd be surprised at how many cycling groups and clubs are actually out there, even in the smallest of towns. Going out on a weekly group ride is a great way to meet other cyclists and develop your skills. I've met some great people by participating in bike events. I even remember this one time a gal gave me a pull when I was hitting the wall during the Chequamegon Fat Tire Fest, and then a few years later I got to do an interview for her blog.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more folks to be involved?
As far as changing that's tough. But to encourage more people to be involved: NICA, promote NICA. The more kids on bikes mean that there will be more people on bikes in the future. More bikers also tend to lean towards more trails, more volunteers for trails, more people willing to donate for trails, more people to advocate for trails and cycling infrastructure... I think the new IMBA program of promoting more trails close to home has some real promise too. When you look at the maps on MTB Project and Trail Forks you see that there are quite a few areas with little to no trails, filling in those gaps would be great. It's tough to introduce someone to mountain biking when they have to drive an hour or longer to get to the closest trails.

What inspires you to encourage people to ride?
Seeing people happy on bikes, especially when recreating on their public land, makes me happy. Something about seeing others getting stoked about clearing a technical feature for the first time, or finally making it up a climb without walking, or going on their longest ride yet makes me happy. Happiness is contagious, and riding bikes makes people happy.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'll give you two! One, I'm 37 and I've yet to master the skills to do a proper wheelie. I can sometimes ride one for a couple of yards, but I can't do them consistently.

Two, my wife and I have two cats named Bill and Ted, and they are most excellent.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Entering The Next Phase Of BikeLife

I heard the sound of a bird in flight above me, looking up, I was in awe as I was certain I had just seen a Barn Owl. Whatever it was, I knew it wasn't a typical bird that I've seen countless times. It was larger, with white/cream feathers, and what looked like a flat face. I struggled to look and see if it would stay on a tree long enough for me to get a better look or maybe even a picture, but it was gone as quickly as it came.

I forgot up until a couple days later and decided to search for the meaning of seeing a Barn Owl.

"Owl spirit animals are symbolic of death in many traditions. In most cases however, it should not be taken literally: If the owl is associated with death, it can be viewed a symbolic death, meaning a transition in life, important changes that are taking place or about to happen.

When the owl shows up in your life, pay attention to the winds of change. Perhaps you are about to leave some old habits, a situation that no longer serves you or to bring something new in your life."
During my ride and the conversation with Travis on the day that I looked up the meaning, I had started the process of some serious soul searching. Specifically about the concept of racing and what else I would like to do in my "prime" years of mountain biking.
I realized that I just really didn't want to race anymore.
I spent that Tuesday mountain biking a total of 15 miles. My first ride was roughly 9 miles that included a break at home, then going out again to finish with a total of 15 for the day. What I loved the most was the fact I rode for a long time in a single day. I took my time and took breaks when I needed them. 
I have become disenchanted with the pressure that I put on myself when it comes to racing. Yes, I end up having fun riding my bike, but it takes a bit of time before I feel like I can calm my nerves and not worry or focus on the whole "race."

One could say "Just pretend it's a giant group ride!" However, that's not how my brain works. It becomes hyperaware of surroundings and anxious about passing and being passed. I want to be as respectful and responsive as possible, yet I'm trying hard to do as well as I can. I'm also doing this on #bikeshoplife scheduling, which isn't super easy. I don't have unlimited hours in the day to train. I'm at a continual disadvantage due to that, and the one day where I can put the most miles on doesn't always end up being free. Honestly, I hate the concept training and I just want to ride my bike as much as I can, whenever I can, without worrying about riding too much because I'm trying to get as many miles as possible in my limited time. I find myself burning out because of trying so damn hard.

I work very hard to do well at events I participate in while battling my chronic neck/shoulder muscle stuff. I'm seeing that I will be dealing with discomfort during riding regularly, even with all of the PT I've done. It's frustrating and having that chronic ache while trying to race can really mess with your emotions. I do not have the capacity to go to a race and just "ride." I'm doing my best to put out max effort because I am a prideful person. Because I can't turn that part of my brain off, I know that the only way to counteract that is to simply not race...I'm either in or I'm out.
What I've loved about attending races has been immersing myself in the local community where the event is held and engaging with fellow riders. It also gives us a mini-vacation away from the bike shop to spend time with friends and ride our bikes. However, there are times I wish I could enjoy the scenery and trails on my own terms, and not battle the continual "Should I pass or not pass?" and question whether or not I'm pushing too hard or just enough. I'm forcing nutrition in rather than eating when I want to and what I want to. I thought "What if we went up to Hayward for a mini-vacation that wasn't during Chequamegon weekend to ride mountain bike trails instead of racing?" We'd be able to ride way more for a longer period of time, and I could finally show Travis some fun stuff that I rode at the Borah Epic. We could easily find a table at a restaurant, we could do our own thing and ride at whatever pace we wanted without putting the hurt on. 
It sounded lovely.
Why not do what sounds lovely?

One could argue that I have the kit and the bike, but in the end, why should I continually push myself to do something that my body just obviously doesn't want to do. Also, my mental and emotional health might actually benefit from me not putting so much pressure on myself to do events. I've given it a solid go for a few years now and each year I go into the couple races I do with the hope that I'll feel fantastic in the end. Each year I've found myself continually lacking in training hours, and often not of my own choice. Each year I'm thinking that my shoulder and neck will improve, and in the end, I'm extremely uncomfortable.

How much more would I enjoy my time here on Earth if I rode my bike in ways that brought ME joy?

I like to take pictures. I like to watch the critters doing crittery stuff. I would like to enjoy my trailside snacks instead of choking on waffle crumbs and forcing gels down my throat. I would like to stop and stretch when I feel like it. I like to look at the clouds, hear the birdsong, and appreciate the flowers. I like to ride race pace when I want to, other times athletic pace is perfect, and then there are the days when I'm all over the place. Thing is, I'm riding how I want to when I want to.

My time is precious and I'm sick of feeling obligated to log extra miles to feel conditioned for a race.

I'd rather go out and do a gravel ride with my friend and enjoy the time outside rather than being focused on my average every ride. We had a great gravel ride not too long ago and it did not involve going fast. Instead, I was encouraged to go down by the "waterfall" and get a picture or two. We stopped to look at Trillium flowers on the side of the road. We went to ride over bridges literally to just ride over bridges and look at the river.
My shoulder and neck were tight, but I was able to appreciate the multiple breaks over the course of our ride.

I'd love to spend time with Travis mountain biking and 100% enjoying my time with him. When we are racing together, it's not that it's a bad time, but it's not the same as if we were just riding trails together. He has strengths that aren't really compatible with mine. We have to continually remind each other of those differences during a race, if we were just riding, we would be much more in sync.

Why not free up our lives for a little while? If I keep planning for us to do this race and that race and we keep closing shop for those, we'll always have the excuse to not go down to Arkansas or go to Copper Harbor. As great as our traditions have been for the past few years, I also have the stark reminder hanging over my head. Life is short, you just don't always know how short it is. If my neck and arm are going to ache from riding, it better be while biking oodles of singletrack with Travis rather than at a race.
This means that what I've decided to do event-wise for 2019 will likely be my last for some time. I'll make an exception for the local Decorah Time Trials if I'm feeling it, but beyond that, I'm putting all other event goings on hold.

This means I'm going to be a mountain biking ambassador for the non-competitive person. I'm going to be the ambassador for the person who likes to ride their bike, enjoy the scenery, and maybe take a picture or 20 of their bike leaning against trees n' stuff. Because why not?

I'm going to be the ambassador for casual gravel rolls that might lead off the beaten path to take in the scenery at a dam. I'm going to be the ambassador of trail-side cookies, high fives, and GoPro sessions because we all want to have a cool shot of us riding mountain bikes!

An ambassador for having fun on bikes.

At first, I felt a deep sadness when I came to these realizations, but at the same time, I felt a sense of relief. Acceptance. This isn't the first time I've questioned racing, but this is the first time I'm really acknowledging that it's something that I do not need to do in order to be a "mountain biker." It's the first time I said: "It's okay to not want to."

It's the first time I embraced that I can still be a damn good rider (who has a lot to learn) and I don't need to race in order to prove my mettle. I've done it. I've won a few things. I have had great pride in what I've been able to accomplish, but now it's time to take better care of me.

I need trips that really open up my heart and soul, that make me appreciate my time on the bike, that make me feel grateful for Travis and my biking friends.

2019 is the year of rebirth and re-evaluation and 2020 will be my year of adventure on my terms.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Jennifer Mettler

My name is Jennifer, and I’m cyclist based out of Minnesota. I have enjoyed racing since a young girl. I have done all 5 disciplines of cycling, but my 2 biggest focuses are road and cyclocross. I also do the NICA high school mountain bike series for fun to help get me into shape for cyclocross.

For a long time, my focus was BMX racing but I switched because endurance cycling suited me better. I am a cat 2 for cross and cat 3 for road and am the current state cat 4 crit champ. I also podiumed at nationals in the TT this year and I hope to do the same at cross nationals. I usually ride about 5 days a week. Although it’s hard to balance cycling and school, I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Tell us about your introduction to #bikelife, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I was introduced to cycling through my father, who was also a cyclist. Being the sporty kid I was, I loved it. My father would take me on rides and entered me in some races. The more races I did, the more I loved cycling.

I loved the satisfaction of leaving it all out there on the course, whether it be BMX or road or cyclocross or mountain biking, as well as setting goals and reaching them. It made me feel strong and still does. I love cycling just as much as I did the day I discovered it!

Tell us about your BMX riding and how you eventually found endurance riding was more your style-
I was really good at BMX when I was younger. I also was doing some road, cyclocross, mountain biking, and other sports too. I was talented at all forms of cycling: I consistently placed top 5 in the national ranking for BMX, road, and cyclocross, although I never was #1. I attribute my success to the raw strength doing so many activities gave me. Later, I had to give up endurance cycling because I was having issues with my breathing, so I shifted my focus to BMX. It was going well, but as I got older, I began to plateau while others continued to improve. I was getting really frustrated with myself, so I decided to randomly take up a new challenge: ride 100 miles in one day. I was successful and had so much fun. I really missed endurance cycling. I’m so glad I came back because after doing that 100 miles, that lit an entirely new fire in my heart. I did the NICA series and won most of the Freshman races, and after that, I gave cyclocross a shot. I fell in love, and caught the “cyclocross fever”. I went to as many races as I could, and during this time I realized I loved this more than anything else. My newfound love for endurance cycling made me feel happier and better than ever before.

You really jive with road and cyclocross, why do you love those two disciplines the most?
I think cyclocross is my strongest discipline, so naturally, I like it the most. I like how cyclocross is kind of a mix between road cycling and mountain biking. There's a perfect balance for me between power and skills. I prefer racing in a strung-out field that a super close pack, but I also prefer the wider grass courses over the narrower mountain bike trails. I like being able to ride on skinny wheels but still get to shred off road. Also, the atmosphere at cyclocross is awesome. It’s relaxed and fun but it’s still competitive.

For road, my favorite event is the time trial. I am naturally a good time trialist, and it’s my strongest road event. I like how I get to control my own race: nobody can crash me out in a time trial, and nobody else can out-sprint me or attack in an undesirable area. I also like pushing myself to the very limit and being surprised each time how far and fast I can really go. I also really like the long, 2-3 hour road races. Those are very fun. My favorite thing about road, in general, is going fast.

You also participate with your local NICA mtb series, tell us about your NICA experience and why it's been helpful-
I like NICA because I get to race the top high school girl cyclists from all around Minnesota, and I like how they are all my own age too. In road and cross, I am racing mostly all women older than me, so it’s cool to race other girls just like me. The NICA atmosphere is really chill and supportive. There is super good competition in the Varsity field, the field I race, and the races are awesome training for my other cycling disciplines. The races are fairly long, and the courses are set up well.

Why do you feel individuals should become involved with their local NICA league (or something similar?)
The atmosphere is great at NICA races, and I think that anyone would enjoy being involved. Through NICA you can support student-athletes and getting more kids on bikes, or if the right age, get the enjoyment of racing in the fun-filled atmosphere! I believe supporting the young generations of riders is important, they are the future of this sport!

I know many who wish they would have discovered cycling earlier, and by supporting and being involved with NICA or similar organizations you can help others discover the joys of riding bikes!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
The hardest thing I’ve ever had to get used to was riding in a pack. It was really scary at first. But the more I pushed myself to improve my pack riding skills the better and more comfortable I felt.

Another thing is off camber sections, for both cyclocross and mountain biking. I always felt like my wheels would just slide out from under me, and again it took a lot of practice of pushing myself to ride those sections and bit by bit I felt more confident on those sections.

For any skill, I would recommend trying to take things step by step, and continue to push your limits until eventually, you feel comfortable. For example, say you have trouble popping your front wheel up to get over a large root or rock that's like 8 inches. Start off by popping your wheel over a stick, until that feels comfortable, then try a 2-inch rock or root, then 4 inches, then 6 inches, and so on. Practice makes perfect if you want to improve a skill!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I do still get nervous riding through large rock gardens, or riding in very large tight packs, or taking corners really fast. But even if I feel nervous I just keep practicing and eventually I feel better about that one really tight corner, or that one daunting rock garden. If you feel nervous on certain sections, you know you are pushing your limits and improving your skills, and I find that empowering!

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I’m a clips person. When I first started I used flats, because when you first start riding, the idea of having your feet firmly attached to your bike may be scary, and even for very experienced riders the idea may feel daunting. Or maybe you just like the feeling of riding without being clipped in. Some people really like to have their feet ready to be taken out of their pedal if need be, others prefer their feet to be firmly attached to the pedal to put out more power and not have to worry about slipping a pedal. I like to have my feet clipped in because I feel like I am one with my bike that way, and I also can put more power into the pedals. I have been riding with clips since I was around 10 so I feel most comfortable with those and I rarely use flats anymore.

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?
Mountain biking is awesome and I highly recommend it for anyone! If you want to give it a shot, first thing is to make sure you have the right type of bike. If you aren’t sure you want to commit to mountain biking I would contact my local bike shop to rent a mountain bike. Your local bike shop can also give you suggestions on the right bike for trying out mountain bike riding. The right bike can really influence how good your first experience is! Second, ride with an experienced friend who is willing to help give you pointers on the trail and help it not feel overwhelming. If you don’t have one, that is ok! Third, do some research online about which trail you will go to, and be sure to pick one that isn’t so technical. You want a trail without too many roots and rocks, and that is wider and not as hilly to start, just to get familiar with riding mountain bike trails. Or maybe just ride on some gravel first with the bike, to feel familiar with it before you take on some trails.

Once you feel like you’ll stick with it, you can buy a bike (again, ask the bike shop for suggestions), and then try to get involved with a team or mountain bike group if you can. This is the best way to meet more people, which will make the sport more fun!

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 have had several bike crashes, but the most memorable one is when I was 11 and doing one of my first major road races. We were going 30 mph down a hill in a group when someone braked in front of me suddenly, and I overlapped wheels with them and went down hard. I had really bad road rash and other injuries from that and since then the memory likes to creep in the back of my mind during races. I’ve also fractured some bones and hit my head really hard through BMX. Those experiences made me worry a lot more about crashing and being out for another 8+ weeks. I did a good job at concealing it but I would get very very nervous before certain races. Since then, I’ve gotten so much better at managing those negative thoughts. I know I can’t control what happens, and I’ve grown to accept that. As I’ve become more experienced on the bike my fears continue to go away little by little.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love to go fast, and I love how strong cycling makes me feel. I love and appreciate the things my body can do on a bike. I love feeling free and riding away the stresses of everyday life on my bike.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Cyclocross bike- Red/black Specialized S-works (with bright yellow bar tape!). Super nice bike, very light and very fast. It’s slightly small on me but still fits well and I feel super comfortable on it. I got it on a huge discount from a past teammate of mine. I was in need of a new cyclocross bike and it was an amazing deal for such a great bike!

Road bike- Red Specialized Tarmac. A very light bike, and a fast bike too. The bike fits me very well so I like it a lot. This bike is my team’s bike. Very thankful to the team for loaning the bike to me, it is very nice and it saves a lot of money not needing to buy a whole new bike right now (my other one had gotten too small)

Mountain bike- Dark purple Specialized, 29-inch wheels. It is a fairly light bike, and before it belonged to me it belonged to a fellow Minnesota MTBer. I have had it for around 4 years, and I’ve ridden it through snow, mud, and ice, so it’s fairly worn down. For the conditions I’ve ridden it in, I would say it’s a very durable bike. I chose this bike because it was an upgrade from my old one, as well as it was used so therefore cheaper. Also, I liked the color.

Time Trial Bike- White/orange Kestrel 4000. It is an older bike and the past bike of an Olympian. Its very aero and fast. Being a used bike, it was a lot cheaper than having to buy a new TT bike (which are quite expensive) I love riding this bike, I feel like I can glide through the air.

BMX bike- blue supercross. Super light and super stiff, with 20-inch wheels. It really accelerates fast. I got this bike built for when I did worlds. It’s a beautiful looking bike.

What has been your favorite cycling event(s) to participate in?
I love going to the big pro series CX events in the USA, like jingle cross and trek cup. They are always so much fun, and the competition is top level and awesome. Plus once your done racing, you get to watch and admire the pros. The atmosphere at those races is energizing. The national championships events are super fun too since I get to see all my friends and make new ones from around the country, and get to race with the best!

Why do you feel women should consider participating in at least one event?
It is so much fun. You meet so many new people, and it doesn’t have to be competitive if you don’t want to do that. Racing is competitive, but not overly so. It’s also very fun and action-packed, and nothing beat the encouraging environment and the satisfaction of crossing the line after giving it your all. There are also many organized rides, which are super fun too. Everyone is there to have a good time, and the environment lifts you up. Up to personal preference which one you do, but both are great experiences!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
One is the common misconception that cycling is a guy sport. It is a sport and hobby for ALL people! It doesn’t matter who you are, you have a place in this community :) Another big thing, at least for me, is the mechanical aspect. It may seem overwhelming to newer riders, in fact, I’m still not the best at bike maintenance! But there are people willing to help you learn. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll start to realize it’s not as hard as you thought!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
What I am beginning to see more is women’s cycling clinics on the schedule of races, and I think this is a brilliant idea to help women get involved! The cat 4/5 race turnout has been bigger lately because of this! Another thing I would like to see is more events with equal women’s pay. Thankfully we are seeing that more frequently though. Also, I think there should be more women’s cycling broadcasting. It would show the public cycling is an all gender sport, not a guys-only sport. The most significant thing, however, is everyone should be welcoming toward women new to the sport. This may seem obvious, but it’s really something to pay attention to. Strike up a conversation with a new rider, know their name. Give them tips and pointers. I am thankful to the women in my community who are so kind, welcoming, and encouraging. They help me to feel comfortable and welcome, and I try to do the same for others.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
What inspires me most is the huge impact cycling has had on my life. The feeling riding and racing gives me is better than any other, and I want to share that with other women!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Aside from being a cyclist, I’m also pretty into figure skating!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Emma Rehm

I’m a rider, writer, and dispenser of high-fives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (ancestral Osage land). I’m a bike commuter, a mountain biker, backpacker, and a road joy-rider. I’m deeply motivated to learn and grow and expand my skills and abilities. I’m interested in inclusion and access in mountain biking, community building, learning the indigenous place names and history where I live and where I travel, and I’m not really interested in competition.

I bought my first ever brand-new bike when my partner and I decided we wanted to ride from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. I was reluctant to be a person who cared about “gear” but I found so much joy on a bike that fit and was reliable and suited to the task at hand! The next couple years were a rapid succession of getting into road touring, mountain biking, and bikepacking. We rode in Spain! In Idaho! In Mexico! In the Adirondacks! Across Pennsylvania twice!

Mountain biking is the first thing I’ve ever been bad at and loved anyway, and I think that’s because I got serious about yoga at the same time as I got serious about mountain biking and learned how to approach everything in life as a practice. I think of my writing as a storytelling practice, and I post my stories at I post on Instagram too @the.emmahazel.


Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
It wasn’t for me at first!

I thought mountain biking was a bunch of jerks yelling at each other to go harder and faster, trying to outdo each other, buzzing hikers on the trails, crashing in the woods, getting hurt and breaking expensive equipment, and then getting shitty drunk. Not for me, no thank you, this is not a community I have any interest in.

But a laid-back gentle-natured mountain biker friend of mine was certain that I would love it, encouraged me to try, and continued to invite me along on rides (that I declined) for at least a year before I finally agreed to come out. I found it scary but I loved riding bikes in the woods.

Even so, it took a long time for me to realize that I can choose to go as fast or slow as I want, I can say no if someone is encouraging me to do something I don’t want to do, I don’t have to drink, I don’t have to be a jerk. We can choose to be a community of people lifting each other up and helping each other be who and how we want to be.

The day I knew that mountain biking was for me was the day my partner and I went out to ride in freezing rain. You know you love something if you take any available opportunity to do it, no matter how questionable that opportunity is.

How were you able to overcome the challenge of not being "good" at mountain biking and still love it?
Learning to love the process rather than the end result is one of my favorite things to talk about. I was so excited to learn how to love something I’m bad at!

Growing up, I put a lot of pressure on myself, which turned into damaging perfectionist tendencies. I’ve worked hard to unlearn my perfectionism and train my mind to stop negative self-talk and to be kinder, gentler, and more compassionate toward myself. I have great resources I can recommend if anybody else out there is struggling with this (I know there are other people out there struggling with this).
One useful strategy for me is framing everything I do in terms of practice. My introduction to the idea of practice as an adult was an annual art project called Fun-a-Day, where participants do something fun every single day for an entire month, document it, and then have an art show at the end. It was such a novel concept for me, because it completely removed any pressure to make something good: the entire point was to have fun and to develop and maintain a regular artistic practice. But of course when you are maintaining a regular practice, you’re warmed up and your skills are fresh and you wind up making some great stuff!

Then I started to really enjoy the process of learning in the context of developing a yoga practice, so when I started to learn to mountain bike, my brain was primed to enjoy the process.

Syd Schulz has written about expectations and her racing performance, which has been cool for me to read, since she is a pro mountain biker experiencing and writing about the same things I am experiencing and writing about in a very different context.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?

All of it! I went into it thinking, ok, I ride my bike all the time, I have decent city and touring bike handling skills and I’m pretty strong, I’m sure I can do this! But a mismatch between expectation and reality is the source of suffering, so after discovering that I couldn’t figure out how to make switchback turns on the uphill and that slipping around on loose leaves made my heart jump out of my chest, I did a big reset of expectations and found more joy in the learning.

Early on, I went to a women's mountain bike skills weekend and that helped open my mind to the idea of learning as I go, and not needing to have a certain skill set before I could consider myself a mountain biker. That took off a lot of (self-imposed) pressure, which made it easier to learn.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
There will always be aspects that I find tricky, because as my skills progress, I keep trying harder things. I surround myself with folks who also focus on practice, and we ride with an understanding that pausing to session a feature is always welcome.

One thing I’m working on is getting more comfortable riding with the downhill on my left side. I have some anxiety about it, partly because I have significantly less vision in my left eye (which is what it is), and also because I’m a left-side dismounter (which I can work on).

If I find myself getting frustrated that I can’t ride something or I can’t ride it cleanly, I move on, because I’ve learned that the frustration is a clear indicator that I’m in some kind of deficit (sleep, calories, water) or that some other life stressor is manifesting on the trail. It is never about the actual trail, so that makes it easy to not get mad at myself.

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?
Do some expectation-setting first! Don’t go out on a first ride with somebody who wants to ride a trail straight through and is only willing to let you tag along and chase them. Go with somebody who is willing to stop and take their time and talk you through how to do things, and who won’t give you a hard time if you aren’t ready and want to walk a section.

I am lucky to live in a city with an indoor bike park, and double-lucky because they hold free weekly women’s skills clinics. It’s a great way to learn fundamentals. If you have access to coaching or skills clinics, I heartily recommend it!

What are your thoughts on inclusion and access pertaining to mountain biking?
As a white person who is into outdoor adventuring, I have easy and unquestioned access to any place I want to go. That’s an incredible privilege when you consider that the indigenous people who have been forcibly removed from these places have access that is limited by many factors, including the cost of travel and the degree of welcome that the present inhabitants may or may not offer.

For instance, I know several (white) folks who have hopped in a car and done biking and paddling adventures in the part of Lenapehoking that is presently called the Delaware Water Gap. Contrast that with the incredible effort to create and fund a program to send Lenape youth to visit the area, which is their ancestral homeland. There’s a beautiful documentary about the program, which you can watch here:

I think white folks have a responsibility to engage with land and people in an equitable way, and writer Carrot Quinn models this kind of engagement in a way that I think is really interesting. This post, about how wilderness is not apolitical, is a great starting point:

As my social world has begun to revolve more around bikes, my circle has become notably more cis/white/hetero/male, which tells me that something is going on here that makes this sport, this way of engaging with the woods, uncomfortable or unwelcoming for many people. If I, as a cis / white / hetero woman, sometimes feel alienated and uncomfortable in the mountain bike world, how much more alienating must it be for someone whose identity ticks fewer of those boxes?

I want to see straight/white/cis people doing the work to make this space comfortable/livable for queer and trans and nonbinary folks and nonwhite folks -- it’s not on a person with a historically marginalized identity to be a trailblazer, it’s on those of us who have social capital to make it a place that someone would want to be in. That means examining and rooting out our own internalized white supremacy (Do Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy Workbook! Read White Fragility by Robin Diangelo! Follow Rachel Cargle on Instagram!) and “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Representation is another crucial part of that work, and there are tons of resources.
Ayesha McGowan (who is aiming to be the first black pro-woman racer) wrote a great piece about tackling diversity in cycling:

This article about Daniel White, a black man who has hiked the AT and biked the Underground Railroad route, discusses the lack of diversity in the outdoor industry:

Anna Schwinn, bike industry insider, is building clubs that are explicitly inclusive of trans racers:

Mountain biking has helped me find my power and confidence, and I want everyone to have access to that feeling. Whether mountain biking is someone’s path to that feeling is a different story, but I want it to be an option.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Flats. I like that you can get a zillion colors of plastic platform pedals.

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 did a brutal superman-style full body dirt surf that scuffed me up pretty badly, including scrubbing off a bit of tattoo on my elbow. I didn’t break anything and I rode out, and then went mountain biking and paddling the next day, trying my best to keep The Fear from creeping in. But after the adrenaline comedown, it took a long time for my elbow to heal up, which meant several months away from mountain biking: plenty of time for The Fear to grow.

When I was healed up, mountain biking was hard and I didn’t know if it was because I was weak and out of practice, or if it was because I was scared. My strategy was to isolate the variable so I could do more targeted work to address the gap, and I figured it would be easier to address strength first, so I got totally shredded. But mountain biking was still hard, so I knew I had to address the fear directly. I signed up for a weekend skills clinic for people interested in doing stage racing (I wasn’t interested in stage racing, but I was interested in intensive coaching on tough rocky terrain), and it helped a ton. It took about eight months for me to stop feeling post-crash fear and just feel the regular everyday learning/growth/new things fear. I proudly celebrated my one-year crashiversary and have only had minor scraps since then.

What was your inspiration behind creating a blog about your adventures?
Initially, I started writing them down to remember them distinctly, to keep one adventure from blurring into another, and to remember the special moments that happen when you’re out in the world. I also used them as a reference point for myself, so that when I was getting ready for my next adventure, I could look back at my pack list, or see what I was worried about, what tools I was learning to use, what I was excited to try.

As I started doing bigger and longer adventures (and accumulated knowledge and skills), I discovered that it’s boring for me to write (and to read) adventure stories written in a day-by-day chronological format. My interests and focuses changed in terms of what I wanted to remember about a trip, so I started to practice different ways of thinking about and telling the stories.

For instance, looking back at our trip in Baja, I am not going to care much what bottle cage mounts I used. But I will want to remember camping in a steep-sided valley near a small stream and hearing a shy horse try to nerve itself up to walk past us as we ate tacos around a tiny campfire.

So I write these things down, like a snapshot of a moment in space and time and memory and senses. I like to go back and read my adventure stories as a way to witness my own growth, and to access the things I was feeling as I wrote them. I share them, but I write them for myself.

How can storytelling bring realness to mountain biking or other outdoor activities?
To tell a good story, you have to leave a lot of things out, so I think storytelling can but doesn’t always bring realness. The good stories are about the hard parts, the gross parts, the scary parts. The boring parts that enable the adventure are usually left out: breaking down camp exactly the same way every single morning, stuffing your things into your bags in exactly the same sequence, lubing your bike chain, all the everyday things that are actually the bulk of a trip -- the framework within which the adventure is possible.

Storytelling can also present a distorted version of reality, like glorifying a sunset vista without talking about how you were creeped out by the dude who circled in his truck three times while you were setting up camp. I think we often write about what we want to remember, and we don’t necessarily want to remember the mundane or the struggle. The story that is told is a representation of the person who is telling the story.

There’s no one objectively true experience -- we all focus on and feel and see and notice different things -- so one of my favorite things is when multiple people write about their experience of the same event. It’s such a rare treat to get a glimpse into how differently we all experience our own realities.
What do you love about riding your bike?
I spent most of my life feeling disconnected from my body, or feeling resentful of it, and riding bikes has helped me connect my mind and body, and to have a relationship with my body that is based in gratitude.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Surly Long Haul Trucker, my commuter and road-tourer. This is my first ever brand-new bike, fitted for me, and the beginning of a relationship with my local bike shop. Having a bike I loved changed everything for me, and it was the start of serious bike commuting and touring. It’s easy to load, rides like a dream, and fits perfectly.

Barbie Dream Bike (a purple Surly Troll), my adventure bike. Indestructible, warty with infinite mounting points, capable of getting rad and carrying everything. This is the bike I learned to mountain bike on, and having a bike with 26” wheels is probably the reason I stuck with mountain biking. I didn’t feel comfortable or in control on the 29ers that everyone else was riding, and I’m so glad I trusted my gut on that.

Specialized Fuse, my main dirt ripper. Incredibly, I won this bike in a giveaway, and it was my introduction to both suspension and to plus-size tires, which I think I wasn’t ready for until this bike arrived in my life. It’s so peppy! I love it!

When you became more involved with cycling, what were some of the accessory/gear purchases you felt were really beneficial for your experience?
I live in a rainy place that is cold for months of the year, so waterproof and windproof gear like jackets and gloves mean I can joyfully ride year-round.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
There is a lot of research about what deters people from marginalized groups from cycling, and to address it, we have to acknowledge and address the fact that institutionalized racism and sexism (plus the uniqueness of every individual’s existence) means that we don’t all have the same lived experiences. What can feel empowering for one person might feel scary for another person. Here’s an example of some research, including suggestions for steps to address the barriers, from a study of occasional urban cycling commuters in Portland OR:

It comes down to making sure people feel safe, physically and psychologically.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I will do anything to help people find their power. We are all so much more powerful than we have been lead to believe.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a budget for gummy candy.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Women Involved Series: Ash Bocast

Since y'all last heard from me (a few years ago, working for Liv Cycling, fresh off a career as an international adventure tour guide), a lot has happened.

In late 2016, despite this step being terrifying, I left my perfectly great job at Liv and started my own event management company - Roam Events. At Roam we partner with different brands to host women's bike events all over the country.

Our events are quite different from one-another, but they all share one commonality: no skills clinics, just shredding with other ladies until your legs stop working or, for us normal humans, until you are ready for a beer and a burrito.

I'm still traveling the country full-time with my pup Ryder, we have a new member of the family, my partner Andi (a pro racer and badass female bike mechanic)...and we've upgraded to a schmedium-sized school bus that we built-out ourselves and lovingly call Nancy. Nothing like being 33, professionally nomadic, and getting to ride bikes with hundreds of women for work!

Follow: @thisisroam (company) @roamrydes (Ash) @zoltonator (Andi) @theroambus (Nancy)

First off, for the folks who haven't met you or read your first interview- Why mountain biking?
Mountain biking is like soul medicine for me. Need a dose daily, even if it’s just catching up with fellow riders on Instagram or reading an article from Singletracks or Mountain Flyer Mag.

What inspired you to create Roam Events?
Two main reasons:
I was tired of women’s bike events being so hyper focused on beginner riders, it was like the industry forgot there are thousands of women out there who ride pretty damn well. I wanted to put on events for the experienced riders who just wanted to unapologetically shred with friends.

Traditional bike demos tended to suck (ie ride-a-bike-for-40-minutes-from-a-parking-lot). I knew we could do better with test rides; longer rides, multiple bikes, more variety of trails so that folks could feel great about their decision before dropping a few thousand on a new bike.

We’ve been hosting women’s-only events for three years and they just keep getting better and better. Our approval rating is insane, something like 99.8% across 50 events...and I feel especially stoked when we get the stamp of approval from former world champions and the “hardcore” ladies that I really look up to.

What has been the best part of creating Roam?
Seeing the industry change drastically once everyone recognized quality was more powerful than quantity. We’ve created a new mold for bike events, and are ecstatic to see others putting their own twist on it and putting on even more fun-first experiences for cyclists.

What has been the most interesting or challenging thing you've learned since creating Roam Events?
It was surprisingly hard to convince women that our events don’t suck.

I’ll meet someone that is the exact kind of person that would have a killer time at our events (advanced rider, likes to let loose, self-sufficient) and she’ll say something like, “I don’t do women’s events.” I’m still trying to figure out what they think goes on at our events, but I’m sure if they saw the ladies shredding mach 10 through a sketchy drop, or enjoyed a shot of tequila with us while we were whipping up the taco bar...they would think differently.
It’s been awesome when the skeptics come to our events and have the best weekend of riding they’ve ever had...we even surprised the hell out of Jill Kintner, who had never been to a “women’s-only” event outside of competition. She’s since hired us to help her put on her own women’s-only events after attending our festival last fall.

Inquiring minds want to know why Roam doesn't offer skills clinics-
Plain and simple: we wanted to offer something for the lady shredders who would rather just have the support (food, demo bikes, trail leaders, shuttles) to just go ride their asses off all day.

Even still, why are skills clinics so beneficial for new and experienced riders?
We are the biggest supporters that everyone, men included, should take clinics or get private coaching. Seriously. I’m like a broken record, “Take a skills clinic! Take a skills clinic!

This list goes on and on as to why, but the biggest reason for me is that riding with better skills and more confidence is SO MUCH MORE FUN. I had no idea how bad I was at riding (I thought I was soooo good) until I started taking clinics - my riding has improved at light-speed since then and I smile much more out on the trail.

Tell us about the Roam Bike Fest and what it's all about-
Roam Bike Fest is the world’s only women’s mountain bike festival and shares more similarities with summer camp than a festival.

First things first - the festival is ridiculously fun. That’s coming from hundreds of participants telling us over and over again how much fun they had. We gear the event towards experienced riders who want to ride a world-class riding destination with friends (or new friends). Aside from a crazy amount of riding to be had, we offer hundreds of demo bikes, free shuttles with local guides, workshops, presentations, suspension clinics, film screenings, and an intimate setting to personally interact with women who work in the bike industry. Throw in the biggest taco bar you’ve ever seen, free beer, and our famous Saturday night dance party, and the festival is unlike any other bike event in the country.

Tell us about the Roam Retreats, and what makes them different than the Bike Fest?
Roam Retreats are all-inclusive bike vacations, meaning we take care of everything from the moment participants arrive. The retreats include accommodations, all meals, and are capped at around 25 participants - the three biggest differences from a Roam Bike Fest.

Our theme for our retreats is, choose your own adventure. If you are crazy fit and love to ride the biggest hardest most technical trails in the area, we got you...if a normal 2-3 hour spin on intermediate trails is more your thing, we encourage participants to enjoy the remaining afternoon in the pool with margaritas. Everyone gets to ride as much or as little and as fast or slow as they choose.

We scope out and lead all the best rides in the area, have shuttles, put together gourmet meals for every dietary preference, and have our own fleet of carbon demo bikes from Specialized with custom Industry Nine wheelsets that participants get to test ride all weekend.

Best of all, the retreats are really affordable (on average about $500-$1,000 less than a similar vacation). We don’t think high-quality mountain bike trips should only be for the super wealthy. Our business model is a lot different than other tour operators - participants only pay for what it costs us to put on the upcharge. We work really hard to secure partnerships that help offset the costs of the retreat - Specialized, in particular, has really stepped up because they believe in what we are doing.
What's the scoop on the Sturdy Dirty Enduro?
The Sturdy Dirty!!! Talk about fun. The Sturdy Dirty Enduro is a women’s race that was created to encourage more women to try out enduro racing in a fun-first environment. The race (hosted at Tiger Mountain near Seattle) follows a standard enduro format, but the entire atmosphere is wildly different from your typical bike race. From pro riders to beginners, the vibe is inclusive, the cheering supportive, and the aid stations and volunteers are next-level (like snow cones and bacon wrapped dates at the top of Stage 1 next-level). The founders of the race, Sturdy Bitch Racing, were tired of being the only women racing at enduros, so they created their own event to show how fun enduro racing is in the hopes more women would start racing in general. The race sells-out at 250 riders with 10 categories, including pro and masters beginner. It’s definitely a bucket-list race for every female rider.

Roam Events recently worked with Rebecca Rusch, tell us about the experience and what it entailed!
It was a little crazy getting a call from Rebecca last fall - I’ve idolized Rebecca since I was a kid, back when she was professionally adventure racing - so it was completely surreal.
Rebecca launched new endurance training camps, Rusch Academy, this summer and we were absolutely thrilled to work with her on that project. The multi-day event takes riders all around Rebecca’s stunning hometown, Ketchum Idaho, and they receive 1-on-1 coaching from Rebecca and her team. We take care of rider care and transportation logistics, which means we feed everyone, keep their bikes tip-top, and schlep everyone’s gear from place to place - which is way more fun than it sounds! We’re excited to be working with Rebecca for three more camps for summer 2019, as well as helping out with Rebecca’s Private Idaho a crazy fun gravel race primarily ridden by mtb and roadie crossovers. Also in Ketchum...another bucket-list race!

With your events, who would be the target audience? Advanced riders? New riders? Both?
Our target audience is definitely an advanced rider. The reality is about half of our participants are intermediate riders, 40% are advanced or experts, and about 10% of our shredders are newer to mountain biking.

If you are reading this and are a rider that can absolutely shred on a bike, and maybe don’t do women’s events...our events are for you! Haha. Really though, we despise the hand-holdy pandering BS that the bike industry has a bad habit of putting the word “women’s” in front of - so we stay far far away from anything resembling that.

Our rides and schedules are definitely focused on a more intermediate+ rider. Blue or black trails, multiple hours of riding…we are committed to targeting our events to a more skilled rider. Nothing against the new riders - just more reason to take skills clinics and then come play bikes with us!

How quickly do these events fill up?

We’ve sold out nearly every event we’ve put on. So we don’t recommend waiting to register.

For folks on the fence about attending one of the events, especially if they would be traveling solo, what should they know?
Over half of our participants come solo to our events! Regardless to who you join with, everyone leaves with new friends...and that’s not some mushy marketing crap - we’ve witnessed hundreds of friendships formed over the course of a weekend and do our best to encourage it.
Why do you feel it's important to have some #ladyshred events out there?
Actually, I don’t think it’s as important to explain the worthiness of #ladyshred events as it is for me to convince the non-believers that they are worth attending. We ride, we drink, we dance, we laugh and smile until our faces hurt, and at some point, probably go ride some even gnarlier stuff because there are so many other rad ladies shredding. The focus isn’t that we are women, it’s that we all love to ride, be outside, kick back with a drink and a laughter-inducing story, and enjoy being in the company of like-minded people. The #ladyshred effect is just a byproduct.

Who do you partner with to make these awesome events possible?
Specialized, Industry Nine, SRAM, Liv Cycling, and Sierra Nevada Brewing have all been vital to the success of our events this year. We ask a lot of our partners, it isn’t just, “give us some support and set up a tent here please.” Our partners are actively involved in helping us achieve our goals and creating uniquely rad offerings at our events.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
The changes are already happening - it’s been incredible to witness over the past three or four years. I’ve seen a lot more active engagement with women as employees and customers across the board in the industry, and it is hard to find a mountain bike community that doesn’t already have a women’s ride group etc.

The only sore point from my perspective continues to be appropriate coverage of and support of professional female riders - still see a lot of “fluffy” or “sexy” advertisements, and the race coverage and athlete profiles leave a lot to be desired...don’t get me started on the pay gap (sponsorship payouts, not race payouts). It will continue to be hard to get more women involved at this level when the currently reality is that only 5-10 female athletes worldwide can afford to be full-time professionals.

Tell us about Nancy the Bus!
I’ve lived out of a Sprinter, a minivan, the back of a Tacoma, and was time to go big or go home - so we bought a bus this winter and named her Nancy! She’s a 2004 International school bus (about the same length as the extended Sprinter, but SO MUCH MORE space inside) and is a total beast. We spent a few weeks, well, two exactly, converting her to live out of full time and it’s been so much fun. She’s been the perfect addition to the business and our lives.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Seeing the positive impact riding has on so many of us. Not just on the trail, but the community and relationships we develop through riding. Its powerful and I’m so grateful to be a part of it.

Tell us a random fact about yourself! 
I always travel with a full quiver of battery operated power tools - seriously, like enough tools to build a house. You never know when you might need an angle grinder in the middle of the desert!

Any final words on Roam Events and how women can support you?

Come play bikes with us!

We have 17 events throughout the year in a dozen states - you can learn about all of them at our website or follow us on Instagram @thisisroam