Women Involved Series: Keely Shannon

I'm a mountain biker living the dream in Bellingham, WA! I started a small fender company, Ground Keeper Fenders, in December of 2017 and gradually made the leap from side hustle to full-blown job. Our “fancy bicycle fenders” are all made in Bellingham, use recycled plastic, and feature funky, loud designs.

After months of testing different plastics and printing methods, a rad product was born and people are STOKED! It’s really been amazing to be on this side of a business and watch your baby grow. I still get a big ole’ smile every time I see one of our fenders on the local trails :)

Before the GK hustle became a full-time gig, I had been working as a graphic design contractor for clients in the bike, motorcycle, startup, and financial industries. Having worked in the bicycle industry for the last 7 years, it was really cool to dip my toes in other industries. 

I’ve been self-employed for almost four years, but prior to that, I worked as a graphic designer, and eventually marketing manager, at Specialized Bicycles in California.

My time at Specialized was incredible - it shaped me as a young professional, taught me how to work with people from all over the world, and gave me a genuine love for the bike industry. But awesome times were also accompanied my bathroom cries and being a young woman in the bike industry did not come without it’s challenges. My ideas were trampled on a daily basis and I felt like I was never taken seriously. A week after calling out several teams for not including women in their marketing plans, I was “quitted”, a Specialized term for being let go. Later, I even learned my male counterparts with the same job title were making double what I was. It was a rough time for me, but it gave me the kick in the butt I needed to start my own business. And so began the hustle….

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
It’s hard to remember when I first started riding because it was so long ago! My parents had me on two wheels at a very early age and I’m fortunate to have started riding mountain bikes so early. But in my later years, jumping has been something that continues to challenge me. I suck at jumping, but I’d say spending as much time pumping on a pump track helps you learn timing and the basic feeling.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I’ve been battling injury for the last two years so have been off and on the bike between surgeries. Upon returning, just about everything seems a bit trickier than it used to be. Roots and chutes have been a mind battle for me lately, and it’s been frustrating to walk things I used to ride without hesitation. For me, it’s all mental so the best thing I can do is try to shut my brain off. And maybe have a beer before the descent ;) I also have to make a conscious decision not to compare myself to others, or to pre-injured Keely.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?

Clips on the MTB. I’d like to try flats though. I feel like I’ve picked up bad habits with clips so I may give flats a try one of these days. I did recently get some magnetic pedals for my gravel bike and I’m not a big fan of those.

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 small and work your way up. Don’t go out for a three-hour ride with seasoned riders - you’ll get frustrated and will hate life. Try and find people of similar skill-level and start with manageable rides that you can enjoy. Facebook and other online groups make it easy to find riding buddies. Once you start to feel comfortable on your bike and new trails, build up from there! If there’s a tricky section of trail you struggle with, go out by yourself or with a patient friend and session that section a few times until you feel comfortable.

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?
Yup, sure did! Like I said before, it’s a huge mental battle. In May of 2017, I fell off a weird skinny/bridge and completely destroyed my knee. I’ve had 6 knee surgeries in the last 2 years and am currently dealing with some chronic knee issues. In between surgeries, I would start riding again and quickly get myself in over my head trying to follow friends or ride moves I used to. Honestly, the best thing for me was to ride by myself for the first few weeks. This allowed me to walk what I needed and not feel pressured to go fast or ride moves that everyone else is.

What do you love about riding your bike?

So many things! I used to be a lot more competitive and always enjoyed pushing myself harder and faster, but in the last few years I’ve really enjoyed the social aspect more than anything (this makes me sound old! Ha). Living in Bellingham a mile from the trail, it’s so easy to meet up with friends and head out for a rip. Also, there’s no better feeling than finding your flow on familiar singletrack :)
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I JUST got a new Transition Sentinel that I’m super stoked on. I just started riding again since my last surgery and it’s nice to start fresh with a fancy new whip!

Tell us about Ground Keeper Fenders, what inspired you to start creating fun and colorful front fenders for mountain bikes?
I definitely didn’t set out to create a fender company, but discovered a gap in the market and went for it. It all started when I tried to order a small run of fenders for a project I was doing with my finance, Tony (of Made Rad By Tony). To my surprise, I couldn’t find any fender company who could print what we wanted. Most of the companies were in Europe and only screen print, so colors and designs are very limited. Not to mention, minimum order quantities were upwards of 200! So I decided to try and make the fenders myself. After months of testing prototypes and printing methods, I solved the puzzle and decided to start a fender company! We have no minimum order quantity, no printing restrictions, quick turnaround and sweet graphics! In the end, I’m really just tired of lame race graphics so I’ve really enjoyed bringing rad art to the bike industry!
Being your "own boss" what has been the most challenging aspect of owning your own business? The most exciting?
I’ve been self-employed for about four years, and I’m not sure I could ever not be anymore! Besides the obvious benefits of setting your own schedule, traveling, etc, it’s exhilarating to build something from scratch and watch it grow. I suppose a challenging aspect is just holding yourself accountable. If I don’t do basic things like make Instagram posts or reach out to shops, we don’t have sales. And when we don’t have sales, we don’t pay mortgage! So when the couch and a good movie are calling my name on a rainy morning, I just remind myself of that.

You also work as a graphics designer, what do you enjoy most about working with other industries?
As a freelance graphic designer, it’s been fun to dip my toes in lots of different industries. When I started freelancing, I made it a point to take on jobs outside the bike industry in order to gain another business perspective. I have clients in the motorcycle, health care, and finance worlds and each of them have unique challenges and processes- all of which gave me great insights for starting my own business.

Being involved in the cycling industry for so long, what has been your biggest frustration?
I started working in the bike industry immediately out of college. As you might expect, being a young woman in the cycling industry has its challenges. Pay discrimination, mansplaining, general lack of respect: these are all very real things that I experienced quite often.
Aside from gender inequality, the other frustration for me was how serious everything was. When a launch plan has to go through 15 people and is completely watered down by the time it’s approved, you've lost the point. Bikes are fun! This isn’t rocket science. I applaud the brands, big and small, who are able to keep it light and not take themselves too seriously.

With Ground Keeper, I try to keep it fun. At the end of the day, we’re making pizza fenders for bicycles….

Do you feel there has been progress during the past year? What are you most stoked about?
For sure! It seems like there’s been some progress for professional female racers in the last couple of years, which is good to see. I can only hope ladies working in the bike industry are seeing progress also. From the mechanic in the bike shop who isn’t trusted by their male customer, to the marketing managers and product developers. I hope they see equal pay and feel respected.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think the best thing we can do is start with kids. My two nephews are on NICA mountain bike teams but when I ask my niece why she doesn’t join, she shrugs her shoulders and has no good reason. When I go to her brothers’ practice, it’s obvious why she doesn’t join. It’s all boys! WHY IS THIS STILL THE CASE??? Programs like Little Bellas are what will make a difference. We need to change the perception that mountain biking is not a boys sport.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Again, perception. Mountain biking is seen as a boys sport. And it’s true - there are way more men on mountain bikes than women. We need more women in order to get more women. Last year, one of my friends asked who cut my hair. Within a year, my whole lady friend circle used the same hairdresser. Women talk and word of mouth is very real. When Susie Que tells a couple friends about this awesome sport of mountain biking, they’ll buy a bike! We just need more Susie Ques :)

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Women like my friend, Haley. She’s incredible. She rides a very old school Specialized Endruo Y-frame that her dad bought at Goodwill for $60 many years ago. She is the ultimate “rung what ya brung” girl and she absolutely kills it. She is proof that you can be a mountain biker and have fun with everyone else no matter what you ride. 

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I can walk on my hands. You can take the girl out of gymnastics but you can’t take the gymnast out of the girl ;)