Women on Bikes Series: Elisabeth Reinkordt

Elisabeth Reinkordt is a cyclocross and MTB racer living in Philadelphia. She's a co-founder of Team Laser Cats, a fun-loving W/T/F cycling team known for very bright kits and a commitment to community. 

She is also a founding co-director of WBPHL Racing, a beginner bike racing development program for women, non-binary, and trans cyclists, and a mentor with Little Bellas, a national organization where adult women mentor girls age 7-13 on mountain bikes. 

Originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, she got into bike commuting while living in a one-car household, and then got into bike racing on a dare in the fall of 2009, where she did a cyclocross race on a fixed gear with slick tires. She's been hooked on bikes ever since and is more excited about seeing someone new fall in love with the sport than any of her own race results. 

She's done everything from alleycats to Dirty Kanza, and finished a big 2018 season of UCI cyclocross season just off the podium at CX Nationals after clinching the series win in the Mid-Atlantic XC Super Series for the pro/elite women.

Outside of bikes, she's a documentary filmmaker, writer, and education researcher and communications specialist working in university communications. She grew up operating farm machinery and is proud her dad calls her "the best damn tractor driver I've got." She and her husband Willem live in Philadelphia with their cat Elliot. 

Social media: @egrindcore on Instagram/Twitter, @teamlasercats on Instagram, @WBPHLRacing on Instagram

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
My introduction to mountain biking was kind of accidental. I went from being a bike commuter to a use-your-bike-for-around-town-adventures to an alleycat racer to getting dared into a cyclocross race (more on that below) in the course of a couple summers, a few years after finishing college. My hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, has a long stretch of mostly flat, flowy singletrack called Wilderness Park, and after getting a cyclocross bike, I went for a trail ride. A bunch of my friends were doing a MTB time trial the next day at Jewell Park in Omaha, and my friend CVO suggested I just give it a shot. I didn’t have a MTB, so we dropped the saddle on my boyfriend’s bike and I gave that a try. It was a very narrow track and a real up-and-down roller coaster. Using momentum was key, and I had NO idea how to do that. It took me so long to do the lap – so long that they had to move my boyfriend’s start time for his time trial back because I wasn’t yet back with his bike. I watched my experienced friends in awe, and I wanted to get better at this thing, stat. This was in 2010, the first year I did any bike racing, and I wanted to try everything. I promptly bought my friend’s old Karate Monkey and signed up for a bunch of races that summer. I really wanted to get better at it, and the puzzle solving nature of mountain biking was really appealing to me. And unlike road races or crits, it didn’t matter (as much) that the women’s fields were small, because I was always racing the course, even if I wasn’t competing against other people. I love how encouraging lots of the people involved in mountain biking are. It’s a sport of mastery – refining your skills, continually improving, and finding new ways to play. It can be really frustrating, but so, so rewarding, too. I love how many different places you can ride, from the big skies of high desert riding to the dense, rocky, incredibly technical trails of Pennsylvania, where I live now. A mountain bike ride always makes me happy.
When you were dared to do a cyclocross race, what were your thoughts after you completed the event?
I was HOOKED! I was so completely unprepared for it, and all I wanted to do was figure out how to get better. Growing up in a household that emphasized academics and not sports, I didn’t have any real experience in competitive athletic events. I had been really competitive academically, and competed on my high school’s speech and debate teams, even going to Nationals in Student Congress. After going to a demanding college, I didn’t really have an outlet for my competitive impulses as an adult. Plus, cyclocross was just so funny to me – it’s a very silly sport while simultaneously being incredibly difficult and physically demanding. That suited me, and so did the really fun-loving group of people who did it.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Getting up and over stuff. Where I learned to ride, the trails didn’t really have any log-overs or rocks. So while I got good at flow and cornering, I would freeze up when it came to lifting my bike. When I moved to Philadelphia, I HAD to learn how to get over logs, because the closest place to ride, the Belmont Plateau, is absolutely full of them, and I was so much slower because I had to stop all the time. My advice? Get a patient friend who will help teach you – but go out by yourself and practice, practice, practice. Do the same thing over and over. Get someone to take slo-mo video of you so you can see what you’re doing (or not doing). Then do it again. Recently, I’ve been working on hopping the planks on my cyclocross bike, and SO much of it is mental. As cheesy as it sounds, you have to believe in yourself. Ask yourself what risks you’re taking, assess what’s the worst that could happen, and be OK with failing. There’s often not much difference between an awkward bail-out and a successful clearing of an obstacle, so get some video, create some steps you repeat in your head (or out loud) to remind you what to do and try again.

I think a lot of people spend way too much time worrying about their fitness or chasing fast people around. Both those are important, but building your skills gives you free speed – and preserves your energy for using elsewhere. And it’s so, so rewarding to do something with finesse. Skills practice is good for days when the trails are too wet to ride, too – get out and find some curbs to hop, stairs to ride down (or up) or barriers to run. It’s also a great way to ride with people at various ability levels and fitness levels.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I struggle sometimes with steep, technical climbs, especially if I have to hop up a big rock on a steep slope. Recently, I was out riding at French Creek in PA, and it features a really big wall of a climb with 4 or 5 big step-ups. I just got my first full-suspension bike this winter (yay, very exciting!), and learning how to maneuver it up those rock step-ups at slow speeds feels like learning to ride all over again. I love sessioning stuff – stopping and trying something over and over again – but sometimes have to admit “today’s not the day for this feature” if it isn’t going well and I keep crashing. I try to remind myself to insert the word “yet” anytime I sense myself saying “I can’t do this.” This can be especially hard sometimes when you’re riding with other skilled riders and you feel like you can’t match up to what they’re doing.

I also think it’s really important to pair victories with frustrations. After sessioning that climb, we went to a rock garden (SO MUCH MORE FUN on my full-suspension that it was on my hardtail) and then a ripping descent (also SO MUCH FUN). So rather than remembering the ride for not making it up that steep climb, I left with the joyful feeling of flying over the rocks and pushing my comfort zone on the descent.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I use clips on everything except my commuter bike, or if it’s really cold in the winter, I’ll put flats on my MTB to go ride in the snow. (I have Reynaud’s Syndrome, so really cold feet in winter means it’s better for me to wear full-on snow boots sometimes.) In the past couple of years, I’ve spent a whole lot of time making up for the lack of technique I learned early on, and I’ve learned to rely far less on being clipped in for pulling my pedals up. For newer riders, I’d definitely recommend learning some basic techniques like wedging your feet and lifting the back wheel on flat pedals. Being clipped in is great for racing, though, and I’m just used to it.
For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
If you can find a local group doing intro rides, that can be a fun way to get into it, if that suits your personality. Or, if you’re really into maps, check out the MTB Project app, which has great trail maps and reviews of rides, and just go out and explore at your own pace. Make sure the bike you’re riding is in good working order and fits you well. If there’s a local shop hosting a truck of demo bikes, this is a great way to try out a fun bike, and they’re usually parked near great local trails. However you go about it, just relax and play on the bike. Mountain bikes are playful things, so relax and let yourself be a kid. No stress, just have 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’ve been very, very fortunate to have a whole lot of bruises and scrapes but no major injuries from riding. My husband broke his leg mountain biking a couple years ago, and it does shake me sometimes while I’m riding to think how quickly it can all go wrong. But I remind myself of something I heard a MTB instructor say at a camp I did last year – crashes happen from “personal protocol violations.” So whenever I feel myself getting a little out of control, I quickly run through the fundamentals of my body position and check myself. I know I may well get more seriously hurt at some point, but I love riding so much that I can’t let that stop me from doing it. And at the same time, I also know there’s more to life than bikes, so if it would come to that, I’d work hard to find other ways to be happy.

What has been your favorite event(s) to participate in so far?
Oh, this is such a hard question, so I’m just going to list off a bunch! Singlespeed Cyclocross Worlds 2013, Philly/Bilenky Junkyard Cross. The Sly Fox CX race at the Sly Fox Brewery. Gravel Worlds in Lincoln, NE. The Almanzo/Royal in Minnesota. DCCX, a UCI cyclocross race in the middle of Washington, DC. Ramsey’s Revenge MTB race in Delaware, where you jump in a river after you’re done. The Dakota 5-O in Spearfish, SD, where you jump in a river after you’re done. Jingle CX in Iowa City, back when it was in the winter. CX Nationals in Louisville, from my amazing just-off-the-podium finish in my age-group race to the most insane slog in the mud in the singlespeed race. All sorts of random bandit ‘cross races and bootstrap alley cats done just for fun. I feel like I could go on and on.
Why do you feel should folks try at least one mountain bike event?
The thing that’s great about doing a mountain bike race is that you don’t have to make decisions about what trails to ride in what order, you just go. Someone marked out the course, you don’t have to wait for anyone and don’t have to feel like you’re making anyone wait for you, and you get to challenge yourself to see just what you’re made of. You might be chasing someone or getting your pace pushed, or you might be by yourself in the woods, taking on the same challenges as so many others. When you finish, you’ll be exhausted and so proud of yourself for doing something hard. Sweaty finish line hugs are the best.

Why is Cyclocross so fun and/or why should folks consider giving it a go?
Cyclocross is, when it comes down to it, really absurd. Just when you get up to speed, there’s an obstacle. You have to get off and run with your bike. You’re doing circles in a park, and it’s really hard, somehow. A well-designed course is a good puzzle, and there are tons of people trying to solve it in a bunch of different ways. It’s really easy to give it a try on basically any bike you have – I did my first ‘cross race on a fixed gear with slick tires (NOT ADVISABLE!) – and there are lots of folks just getting out there to have fun. Plus, if you go to a big race, you get to watch the pros racing on exactly the same course you did. It’s great for kids, too, which makes it a much more accessible cycling discipline for the whole family to get into. And every weekend, going to a cyclocross race is like a fun family reunion. Every time when the season ends, I miss all my weekend friends.

Tell us more about Team Laser Cats, how did it get started and can folks join?
Team Laser Cats started in the winter/spring of 2015 as a women’s cycling team where racing is always encouraged, but never mandatory. I had recently moved to Philadelphia and was lucky to get asked by the initial group of 6 if I wanted to be part of it. We established early on that we prioritized snacks, wild kits designed by team founder Melissa Tabas, and emphasizing outreach and mentorship for new riders. We generally open our application once a year, and just expanded our roster to 18 for the 2019 season. Our squad is all in the Philadelphia area, with a couple riders in rural PA or away in grad school. We have one junior racer, who is a high school student. Team members do everything from racing downhill MTB and enduro to cross-country, and a bunch of our new riders are coming into their second season racing road. We have cyclocross racers, and one teammate has completed multiple Ironmans and just PR’d her last marathon (in the middle of ‘cross season!). If you want to sport looks similar to our team kit, check out Laser Cats and Such – it’s our kit designer’s company.

Any goals for Team Laser Cats for 2019?
The addition of a beginner road squad is exciting, and we’re looking forward to seeing what they get up to. Obviously, all the dirt-lovers on the team are also excited about getting them to try out some off-road things! We’re looking forward to a couple team camps, including a “family reunion” MTB camping weekend we do with another W/T/F team in Philly, Team VeloDash, where we take over a big section of campground at the Allegrippis Trails in Central Pennsylvania. We’ll have several riders in the Cat 1 XC series this year, as well as some Cat 3s. And as usual, lots of team members are going to be mentoring, whether it be for Little Bellas or WBPHL Racing. In general, our biggest goal is spreading the stoke about riding bikes with friends.

Tell us more about WBPHL Racing and what it's about-
WBPHL Racing emerged from Women Bike PHL, part of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. It’s a suite of development programs and a racing team for new women/trans/femme/non-binary racers in Philadelphia. What started as a pilot experiment turned into a full-throttle organization. Simply put, we take casual cyclists (or folks who’ve been athletes in other sports but are new to bikes) and introduce them to competitive cycling.

I’ll quote a bit from our origin story:
“There's an oft-repeated line about women's bike racing. “There's just not enough interest,” you might hear, or “we would put on a race if there were time in the schedule, but women just don't show up.” Tired of hearing this line — or of being one of a small handful of women showing up to races where all riders are grouped into one category or thrown in with a men's field — cyclists Elisabeth Reinkordt (Team Laser Cats) and Michelle Lee (Mathletes Racing) partnered to develop Women Bike PHL Racing (@WBPHLRacing). In 2015, Lee and Reinkordt piloted a six-week road skills development program with seven women in the so-called Women Bike PHL Devo Squad. After weekly practices, the racers made their debut at the Philly Phlyer. They continued to race through the spring and summer, attending events like the Navy Yard Criterium and Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo. A few tried cyclocross in the fall. One spent the summer riding the Continental Divide. Lee and Reinkordt opened up the 2016 application to women in Philadelphia in January of that year. They asked about bike experience, but they asked women to define their reasons for applying, too. They asked for a commitment to an intensive practice schedule, and, more importantly, a commitment to enter three weekends of road, criterium, and team time trial racing that spring. Seventy-two women in Philadelphia submitted their applications. Due to the overwhelming response, Lee and Reinkordt reformatted the program, choosing to accept sixteen women the second cohort. The 2017 application cycle was no different in terms of interest, but this time, applicants were also invited to apply to a mountain bike devo cohort, led by Nathalie Anderson (Arrow Racing). With the help of alums from the 2015 and 2016 cohorts, led by Carolyn Auwaerter, the program preserves the one-on-one coaching and mentorship elements. The program hosted a Fall 2017 cyclocross cohort, and a fourth road and second mountain bike cohort in the spring of 2018.”

Over the course of the program, it’s been amazing to watch the beginner women’s fields balloon in size, and in the last two years in particular, to see local races take notice. We’re seeing more races offer more field choices for women, with some offering separate beginner, intermediate, and advanced race slots. The enthusiasm is incredible – so many folks pushing their personal limits and doing so in the comfort and camaraderie of a cohort all in it together. We’ve seen new teams emerge, and lasting friendships formed. It’s really special. The spring of 2019 saw the fifth year of road and third year of mountain bike cohorts, with alumni coaches emerging as leaders in both disciplines. It’s so cool to see this leadership grow.

Here’s a video link to a news story about WBPHL Racing: https://phl17.com/2018/08/19/women-bike-phl-racing/?fbclid=IwAR379lkX6LIlSD5pTeh48_KIxI8By2I-bjh8K6InMsHZe2x0_lBSFPe6-fk

What are your goals for WBPHL for 2019?
Our spring cohort for road is in full swing, and the MTB squad just completed their first race of the season. On top of that, I’ve been hearing from many alums that they’re setting ambitious goals for racing this year, and seeing that is super exciting, too. Personally, I’m more excited than ever to have so many alums returning as mentors. For the past 4 years, I’ve invested a whole lot of time into building curriculum, coaching and mentoring and supporting our new racers, refining and troubleshooting, basement bike fitting, and all around scrambling to keep things running. Especially during the six or eight weeks when the program is in full force, it’s basically a second job on top of my full-time one. One of the goals has always been to grow the program in such a way that our alums are empowered to pay it forward, and I’m excited to help transition more of them into leadership roles this year.

What do you love about being a Little Bellas mentor?
My love for Little Bellas has two main components. One, it’s just so fun to play on mountain bikes with young girls. I’ve worked with every age group, from the 7-year-olds who had never ridden bikes before our program to the 13-year-olds who were getting really good at it, and they’re all so fun in their own ways. Especially working in the program in Philadelphia, where our trails are adjacent to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country and many girls don’t get to be out in nature very often, I feel like the time we spend is really making a difference in their lives. Secondly, I love the collaborative environment of a group of adult women all working together to run the program. It’s a really important model to set for the girls – especially when there are so many examples from pop culture of women being pitted against each other. I’ve made some of my closest friends through being mentors together.

Why should folks consider becoming a Little Bellas mentor? What do you do?
I think the reasons I love it so much are great reasons to consider mentoring. You don’t even have to be a mountain biker to be a mentor – and we’ve had a mentor do it at 37 weeks pregnant! The Little Bellas organization has a really well-developed program, and each week is filled with bike games that teach basic bike skills. More than anything else, it’s a great opportunity to remember what makes bikes so fun and the girls are just so funny and fearless and it just feels good to be part of it. I highly recommend checking out the Little Bellas Instagram for inspiration. Here’s a video of one of the families in our Philadelphia program: https://littlebellas.com/its-just-like-riding-a-bike/
What do you love about riding your bike?
Above all else, the sense of freedom, of moving under my own power, of seeing the world at a really nice pace. I can travel great distances, but I still can look around at everything I’m passing by. It’s a nice way to experience places, from my neighborhood to new cities or the vast open spaces.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Oh goodness. I love my bikes. Starting with the MTBs – this winter, I got a Specialized Epic Pro, after a long time of debating getting a full-suspension bike and trying to choose what to get. I knew any sort of rear suspension would feel really squishy after 9 years on a hardtail, so I was mostly looking at more XC-oriented bikes. I borrowed and test rode as many bikes as I could. I settled on the Epic because of Specialized’s support of Little Bellas and NICA. I’m having a whole lot of fun on it so far! I also have a 27.5” Scott Scale hardtail that I’ve been riding and racing on since 2015. I’m a tall woman – 5’10” – and I’d been on a large bike until I demo’d a medium and realized I rode so much better on a slightly smaller bike. It just so happened that a friend of a friend was selling this bike at the time because they needed a large instead. This bike really upped my game. Nimble, light, snappy, and great at ripping through corners. I learned a whole lot riding it and even won the pro/elite category of the 2018 Mid-Atlantic SuperSeries on it!

For cyclocross, I have two great bikes. My main bike is a VonHof ACX – they’re a small batch family company based out of Hoboken, NJ, and have been really supportive of women’s cycling development here in the region. I love how this aluminum bike rides, and I have Stan’s Valor wheels on it for racing and training, which basically makes it feel like a drop-bar skinny MTB for trail rides and adventures. I also have a gorgeous art bike – a Pedalino hand built by amazing framebuilder Julie Ann Pedalino in Kansas City. She made it as a tribute to my mom and grandmother, and it has lug work that’s just out of this world. I’m a big fan of a steel bike, and love that I can shred in a UCI race on this incredibly special bike made just for me.

I also recently acquired a VonHof DIA -- the do-it-all steel road bike. After several years of doing lots of riding/training but not much racing on the road, I decided to go from the very snappy Madone I’d had since 2012 to more of a forever bike. I love the feel of a steel bike, especially for long days in the saddle, and I appreciate that VonHof spec’d it to handle a nice wide tire.

I get around town on a Surly Long-Haul Trucker, 26” fattie tires, set up singlespeed with very narrow flat bars for getting through Philadelphia traffic. The rule for the commuter is that it gets built out of hand-me-down parts from other bikes, so it’s a hilarious Frankenbike and I love it.
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking CX?
I think there are lots of deterrents, and they vary based on location, age, and more. In some places, the scene has women actively working to welcome new riders into the sport. In other places, you might be far more isolated, trying to navigate the rules of the boys’ club on your own. It’s not a cheap thing to get into, especially if you’re looking to do it competitively. But that said, part of that problem is the culture that emphasizes needing fancy gear, lighter gear, newer technology, multiple bikes, etc. etc. Sure, it’s very fun to have a nice new bike, but it’s not necessary, and we don’t do ourselves any favors as a community by letting this mindset that you have to have a certain level of stuff to participate be so pervasive. It’s a real turn-off to me, and it’s why I run the beginner cyclocross clinics I lead with a “run-what-you-brung” tagline. And I had some women showing up and absolutely shredding on road bikes or commuter bikes. Another thing is looking at the general setup of the sport and seeing a huge lack of equity from the very top professional levels to beginner amateur events. It sends a message that the sport doesn’t care about women if you see multiple master’s categories, junior categories, and ability categories for men, and maybe if you’re lucky two or three fields for women. As an example, in the mountain bike series I’ve raced the past two years, just at the elite level there’s an Open/Pro, a Pro 40+, a Cat 1, a Cat 1 40+, a Cat 1 50+, and a Cat 1 Singlespeed each with a separate start for the men. Then there’s a combined Open/Pro and 40+ start for the women. What that means is that the women are starting 12 minutes after the elite men, which means that on a shorter course, they might catch us by the end of the race. Look at the differences in prize money for the pro women in Europe, and you’ll get really, really bummed out – often, the 20th place man is getting more than the first place woman. There are also lots of pressures on women, between career and family and work/life balance, and depending on whether or if you have a supportive partner in those endeavors, or you’re expected to pick up more of that yourself, it can be very hard to make the time to ride, train, and race.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think we’d really benefit from seeing men take a step back. Listen. Stop thinking they have all the answers. Stop thinking the way to improve things is to model everything after the way it’s always been done for the men. Look for examples of grassroots programming that’s working, and support the folks making that happen. Support spaces that are good for all beginners, regardless of gender. Stop thinking on binaries, and start looking at experiences. Structure events that foster good competition instead of just focusing on winners.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I love seeing the smiles and hearing the laughs of camaraderie at the end of a hard ride or race. The joy of accomplishing something, of pushing limits, and of finding a healthy way to release competitive energy. There aren’t a whole lot of spaces for adult women to be competitive in ways that aren’t full of negative associations, and yet also ways in which women are lifting each other up and celebrating one another’s accomplishments. It’s very cool to see it grow.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
My dad says I’m the best tractor driver he knows.