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!