Women Involved Series: Lisa Uranga

My name is Lisa Uranga and am the President and Co-Founder of Dirt Side Sisters, a 501c3 non-profit organization. Our mission is to get more women riding mountain bikes confidently by increasing their skills and building community around them.

My husband and I have worked together as personal trainers for 11 years now. Generally speaking, we are pretty inseparable.

I dedicate most of my time working for Dirt Side Sisters while he works at a local bike shop, Mad Duck Cyclery.

Last year I was certified at United Bicycle Institute as a bike mechanic through QBP’s Women’s Mechanic Scholarship, and I also became RETUL Certified to do professional bike fitting. I am looking forward to partnering up with an amazing fitter in our area to pursue a career helping people achieve their cycling goals with a proper bike fit! This whole journey with cycling started in 2007 when my husband and I purchased our first mountain bikes. Next thing I knew we were racing nearly every weekend all around Texas and all I wanted to do was become a Pro Mountain Biker! I upgraded to a Pro UCI License in 2012 and competed in a few national-level races over the next couple of years. Through this time I’ve won five Texas State Championships in the disciplines of cross-country, marathon, and cyclocross.

In 2014 a friend and I had the idea to start a weekly women’s group ride. Week after week we saw major growth and it felt like we were on to something, definitely filling a void in our local female mtbing community. In 2016 we took the plunge and become a 501c3 non-profit organization. DSS takes up the majority of my time these days, but I am finally finding a balance where I am able to get back to riding hard and training for races with my husband and friends. If I can balance work, DSS, and still race myself I am a happy camper!

Tell us about your introduction to #bikelife, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
Oh my, the whole “Yes! This is for me!” was a little bit of an uphill battle. Haha! I have a pretty quirky body, including one leg being longer than the other. No matter what type of strength training I do this has caused random pain in my joints and muscles for as long as I can remember. I’ve played sports my whole life. As a kid I was in soccer, softball, basketball, and track, then focused on volleyball in high school and college. I began Personal Training in 2007 at a gym where I met my husband Carlos. We would work out together and run outside at local parks. My body finally had enough with running. Carlos saw how frustrated I was and wanted to find an outdoor activity we could do together where I wasn’t in pain all the time…mountain bikes ended up being the solution! It was so much fun to explore different trails every weekend and jump in the lake after a hot summer ride. The change of pace and the constant challenge of all the different trails held my attention, but it was a sort of love-hate relationship. I crashed ALL THE TIME and was always super sore and tired. In our first few months of riding and exploring trails, somehow we were talked into entering a cross country race. I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up or pass out! I remember feeling like I was going to die more than once, crashing right in front of a trail marshal, hopping back on my bike as quick as I could, and finishing in first place with my handlebars crooked! This was my exact, “Yes! This is for me!” moment.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I was absolutely HORRIBLE at mountain biking. I cannot even emphasize that enough. I crashed ALL THE TIME, especially on flat, tight corners. I fell so much that Carlos threatened to sell our bikes if I didn’t start wearing knee pads. Once I stopped crying (literally), I finally gave in and ordered some gnarly, hard shell, downhill Fox knee pads that also had shin guards attached. Haha. I was really embarrassed to wear them because they were so bulky and we only road cross-country style trails, but no local shops sold knee pads so I couldn’t try any on for size and fit. Although it was embarrassing for a little while, I don’t regret riding with them one bit! They gave me an extreme amount of confidence and saved my legs from getting banged up so many times.

I also distinctly remember the first time I came across a log lying across a trail and saying, “Who put that there?” Riding bikes over obstacles was such a foreign thought to me that I never even imagined that someone could ride OVER the log.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I think I still dislike cornering more than any other handling skill. This probably comes from years of racing and constantly testing the limits of my bike at high speeds…unfortunately sliding out is the consequence and the memories of that stick with me. I talk to myself a lot while I ride, giving myself ques like, “turn your hips,” “let go of your brakes,” “look ahead” and that helps me to relax and get out of my own head.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I started clipping in a few months after I started riding. I was SUPER scared to clip in, but I kept whacking my shins with flats. (Granted I wore tennis shoes with the cheap plastic pedals that came on my bike.) With that being said, I love being clipped in, BUT recently I started riding with a pair of flat shoes to help me become a more well-rounded rider and teacher. I figured, how could I teach someone who rides flats to lift their rear wheel if I can’t do it myself?

The first trail I rode flats with was super rocky and technical. I was surprised with how well my feet stayed on the pedals. There were even a few rock gardens I cleared because I wasn’t scared of tipping over if I got stuck. I still prefer being clipped in for the majority of my riding because my knees feel better being in one exact position, but I think changing to flats periodically is a great way to switch up your riding style and practice certain skills. It helps take away the fear of not getting clipped out fast enough to bail.

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?
Yes! Talk to locals and get several opinions on what trails are the most beginner-friendly. Not all riders may categorize the same trails as beginner, and if there’s one trail (or section of trail) that people keep mentioning it’s probably a winner. There’s nothing more defeating than a first-time rider trying to learn when there’s too much elevation change, super technical terrain, or tons of scary-looking obstacles. Starting out on a dirt road before hitting the trails is also very helpful to practice shifting gears, stand up on your pedals, and how to use your brakes.
You founded Dirt Side Sisters, tell us about the group and why it was started-
In 2013 I was super focused on my training and was trying to get to as many Pro XCT races around the country as possible. I also wanted to do something to be able to give back to my local bike shop sponsor who had helped support my efforts to become a pro cross country racer. I always felt that having a career in the fitness and nutrition industry as a personal trainer was one of the biggest reasons why I was able to excel at mountain biking so quickly. I was also super frustrated with how few women I would see out riding trails, and especially the lack of women at the starting line of races. In an attempt to pass on the knowledge I had gained along my personal fitness journey, I began putting on small clinics at my local bike shop specifically for women, on the topics of nutrition, strength training, and stretching for cyclists. Soon after this clinic series, two separate women reached out to ask if I’d collaborate with them in their own efforts to get more women riding. My train of thought was that if we were all working toward the same goal individually, how much greater could our impact be if we came together? In our very first meeting, we agreed that there was a lack of community amongst female mountain bikers in our area. This is when we decided to start a women’s weekly group ride, where we would teach skills to new and beginner riders. Consistency was the KEY ingredient to what is now Dirt Side Sisters!

How can folks join Dirt Side Sisters?
We always invite folks to participate in one of our group rides before deciding they want to become a member of Dirt Side Sisters. Our rides are FREE to join, but if they like what they see and how our organization is run, they can go to our website www.dirtsidesisters.org/join-us to join. Their membership helps us keep doing what we’re doing to get more women riding, and in turn, they get to take advantage of all the membership perks that we’ve put together for them! We have member-only events, discounts, swag, free skills clinics and maintenance clinics, and more!

Why do you feel mountain bike groups geared toward women are important?
Oh my goodness. They are SOOOO IMPORTANT! I always say that magic happens when a group of women come together to ride. The energy is like no other and there is something so extremely powerful about one woman watching another ride through a challenging obstacle or trail feature smoothly and flawlessly. It makes them realize that riding has nothing to do with gender, and sometimes it’s not even about strength if you have the correct technique. This experience creates a contagious desire to become a better rider and a positive atmosphere to learn when everyone is helping each other, encouraging but not pushy and allowing each person to ride within their own comfort zone.

Tell us about Dirt Side Misters!-
Our Misters are our biggest supporters so we finally decided that they’ve earned their own kit! Haha! We’re kind of kidding and kind of not. I was lucky enough to be taught how to ride by my Mister and he was a fantastic teacher. We know that’s not always the case and are super thankful for all the Misters who are open-minded for us to teach their lady friend or wife how to ride while standing wayside to cheer her on and be supportive. Ultimately the Misters reap the benefits when they realize they’ve gained an awesome shredding partner and they really enjoy seeing their other half or female riding friends succeed on two wheels!!!

So to sum it up…our Dirt Side Misters makeup all the men who love what we do and truly are our biggest supporters.

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 so many that I almost don’t even know where to start. I’d have to say that with ALL of the struggles I have faced, whether they were from crashes, injury, or illness, I’ve tried not to be too hard on myself. It’s important to have faith and realize that life is about the ups AND the downs. I use the down times to focus on things I feel like I don’t always have time for, and try to put my energy into something positive. In fact, the year I decided to turn Dirt Side Sisters into a 501c3 Non-Profit Organization, the only reason I was able to do all the work involved was because I had a knee injury that kept me off my bike for several months.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The CHALLENGE! I absolutely love that you can make any ride a different type of challenge whether it’s to ride a technical feature without putting your foot down, go faster, or clear a super hard climb. The variation keeps me focused and doesn’t allow me to think of anything else but the moment!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have four bikes:

2018 Specialized Epic Pro – with Fox Transfer dropper post (Name: Belle) I chose this bike because I wanted a fast cross country race bike in hopes of toeing the starting line again. I had ridden an Epic several years ago, and then in 2014 made the switch to a Liv 27.5” bike. I loved my small wheels, but recently I was in the market for a new cross country bike and Liv was no longer making 100mm or 120mm travel bikes. So I went back to my roots with the Specialized Epic. It was super weird to go back to big wheels, and I first thought maybe I had made a mistake…but now I love it just as much as my 27.5 because it’s so light and nimble!

2017 Liv Hail Advanced 0 – ready to rip out of the box! (Name: Hail-elujah) This is a super light and extremely capable downhill shredding machine. I got this bike for our trips to Arkansas, the El Paso Franklin Mountains, and the occasional Enduro adventure!

2018 Liv Langma Advanced Pro 0 – with a Stages power meter (Name: Cielo) I love this bike! She is comfortable, fits me like a glove, and is fast!

2019 Kona Libre – I love this bike! She’s so comfy and my first dedicated gravel bike!
You were a recipient of the QBP Mechanic scholarship, tell us about your experience!-
It was AH-MAZING!!! I would have never in my wildest dreams could have guessed how great this whole experience was going to be. I was super nervous to be gone for so long by myself, to a place I had never traveled to, with people I didn’t know. But from the moment I arrived, they had us so spoiled and the hospitality was amazing. We had the BEST instructors who were extremely passionate about teaching and so willing to help all of us learn. I loved the way everything was hands-on, super organized, and broken down incredibly well.

QBP did such an incredible job choosing the recipients, and I don’t mean that toward me. All the recipients are amazing human beings, with so much heart and passion toward cycling and their local communities. To be able to connect with people like that and share this unique opportunity together made the whole experience unforgettable. I am so grateful for the new friendships I made all around the country and to know how much support we have from a huge list of different companies in the cycling industry.

Why do you feel opportunities like that are important to get more w/t/f individuals involved in the cycling industry?

It is important to build awareness and to give confidence to w/t/f individuals who feel under or misrepresented in the cycling industry. Just like I mentioned in the previous question, knowing how much support we have will create movement and growth that our industry desperately needs.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with mountain biking?
There are a number of factors. The most common answer I get is that it is too scary and they don’t want to crash. This is actually where Dirt Side Sisters is able to jump in and break down those barriers with our first-time riders group and that our rides are very educational. We try to teach them the skills they need to feel safe and confident, and then build a community around them so there is always someone to ride with.

The other answer I get a lot is time. This one is hard to have a revolving for. Mountain biking is definitely more time consuming than road riding, for example.

The third most common answer is that they don’t have a bike. This is where our borrow-a-bike program started so that it would throw this reason out the door and they could at least put a foot in the door, absolutely FREE, to get a taste of mountain biking.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think having more “women’s only” organizations like ours around the country would make a huge difference. The challenge to this is finding the right people in your leadership team, who not only have a deep passion for riding, but ALSO for teaching. Having certified instructors who are all using the same terminology, speaking the same language, and teaching the same things also helps tremendously. We feel like we are creating a whole new generation of cyclists and building our community from the ground up with our first-time riders group and borrow-a-bike program is huge! It’s not always about the ones who are already riding, but most importantly about the ones who are not…yet!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I don’t have any kids of my own, and it almost feels like this is what it would be like if I did. Haha! To watch these ladies improve not only in their riding, right in front of your eyes, but also to see how they are happier, build friendships and relationships, are able to ride with their guy friends and spouses…it’s just so rewarding!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have the lung age of a 79-year-old. Yay me! Despite the old age of my lungs, it doesn’t seem to stop me from riding hard or fast…unless I’m not controlling my asthma or I have bronchitis.

Moral of the story, enjoy life when you’re healthy, and you don’t need the full capacity of your lungs to be a cyclist!