Women on Bikes Series: Debbie Leaf

My name is Debbie Leaf, I'm 52 years old, I have twin boys who are 21. I've been a hairstylist for 33 years. I recently bought the 4 unit building that my salon has been in for 20 plus years. I'm on my own and needed to find a way to have the building earn for me. So I realized that vacation rental was something I should try, and since I'm a block off the trail, and I'm so passionate about the bike fellowship, I should try to aim for the bike community.

I was introduced to mountain biking by my kids' basketball coach. He and his son were so patient with me and took me out for around 13 miles.

I do not have an athletic background. I tried many sports, I am spirited but not athletically inclined. But the kindness and patience they showed me drove me straight to bike shop. A biker girl was born. I dove head first and within 2 months was on my second bike and clipping in.

My passion was so huge and I felt compelled to share my newfound joy. I think through Facebook my joy was contagious and I took risks and put myself out there to meet people and participate. I began volunteering to build trails, lead rides and bring girls out to share everything I learned. I am convinced that I MUST SHARE the knowledge and gifts I've been given in order to keep them. Because I really don't care to ride alone, I'm always looking to get rides together. I love all types of rides, especially when I feel like I've conquered features that I've struggled with. I love to feel as though I've had MY ASS BEAT! That's my HIGH. No drugs no alcohol, BIKE HIGH. I went to become an IMBA certified level 1 guide. I just kept opening doors and stepping across the threshold. I wanted to be A DEEP PART of this fellowship, so I kept asking "What can I help with? Or do?" And I am getting deeper. Meeting more women, holding my own little mini-clinics through the community schools, with kids and women. Being involved in the first Ishpeming high school 906 adventure team and helping with the summer program for the 906 adventure team. We had over 100 kids last summer. My next goal is to become a mechanic.

My passion is to inspire and uplift girls and women and build self-esteem. I use all my bike mentality in my everyday life. I push myself to limits and continually work on my self-talk. I work hard to accept myself for who I am and be kind to myself and others. I honestly can be shy, but I force myself to power through.

This may be more than you need but this was good for me to put my thoughts into words. I have a lot of growing to do, and I'm GAME! MY life is AMAZING, not easy...AMAZING.

Tell us about your introduction to #bikelife, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
My friend and his son took me biking for the first time 8 years ago, they were so patient and kind and they encouraged me. It felt so good to be outside and they kept on inviting me so I had to buy a bike right away because I was hooked. I had watched my friend on Facebook have great adventures on her bike but never thought I could be a part of that lifestyle. Well, here I was with a new bike and now I needed to reach out. I was invited to join a group on Facebook called women shifting gears, and so it began. I started to join the group rides and connected with some amazing women who guided me and held my hand.
What keeps me motivated is that I have so much yet to learn and I conquer skills every ride.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
A skill that challenges me is to keep my eyes ahead of me not down by the tire, and letting my bike ride with me and connecting to the bike. I tease myself and tell myself to mind my own business and to keep my eyes on the trail. If I look at the logs and rocks down right in front, that's when I get in trouble. I also think it's great if you are in a group ride to get behind a good rider and watch their body language.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Hell yea there are technical features that are tricky, that's what keeps me motivated. Amy calls it Slaying Dragons!!! I love going out and working on features in an afternoon. Conquering fears is a motivator for me. There is a trail that I love called The Flannel Shirt, it's full of features, I say it's like a boxing match. One fight after another. When you get to the end it feels like I've been in the ring. Fight after fight. I LOVE IT!!!

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
So I clip in all the time. I felt compelled to jump right into clips. I received candy egg beaters from a special someone who watches over me, I honor his spirit. I remember Amy saying she feels safer clipped than not. It was horrible getting used to clipping. Now I totally feel safer clipped to my pedals. A huge challenge going through my brain now is maybe not clipping and learning something new. It does get tough when you are getting on and off your bike.

What was your inspiration behind getting IMBA Level 1 Certified? Was the process challenging?
My inspiration to become IMBA level 1 certified was a girl in our fellowship just out of the blue said there was a session coming up and would I be interested. I was in a really tough time in my life and I was really vulnerable but willing to keep putting one step forward and do the next right thing in my life. So I powered through it because I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. I have grown tremendously through this journey and writing all of these things down on paper for this interview reminds me of where I came from and how I've grown through this process.

Tell us about the CAMBA Women's Fatbike event you attended and what you helped with-
I was invited by Lori who is a seasoned coach and the executive director of the Noquemenon Trail Network, to help out with the Camba women's event in Seely, WI. It was an event to bring more women involved with fat biking. They had a group of Salsa women there to help out and to provide women with fat bike demos. I led a group of women along with Kim from the Salsa team. We made a great pair she had so many skills and tips to share. We worked on basic skills and drills and tried to get as much information to these ladies as we could. I'm sure they felt bombarded! I know I did after my first clinic. I really saw these women's confidence soar. That's why I participate in these events.

What was your favorite moment at the event?
My favorite moment was seeing and hearing one of the ladies reset her self talk. Instead of I can't, she heard me when I told her that she needs to say she CAN!!! That's a great moment in a woman's day. I feel very strongly about self-talk and keeping it positive.

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?
For women who are nervous about trying biking, I think that going to a bike shop and ask if they know any girls that may be able to work or take them out and share skills. Or ask anyone they may know who bike if they know any women that may share their skills. I offer a workshop through community schools to introduce women to biking, and am always offering women to take them out. They have to make the step to come through, I believe most of us women understand how scary it is and how we need to pay it forward and share our skills with others.

What do you love about riding your bike?
What I love about riding my bike are the skills I learn from biking that I can apply to my everyday life and vice versa. I love to conquer challenges and there are always so many challenges in the woods on trails for me.

My favorite day would be exploring trails and terrain and sessioning features. It's so rewarding to ride something that you were afraid of the last time you were there. But most of all I love the fellowship that I had built through biking, that's what it's all about for me.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Well I have many, I'm building a vintage bike with Clyde who is s vintage bike GOD! He is teaching me and sharing his wisdom and spirit. We are building a 1939 Cosway. He taught me how to build and true a wheel. I feel the need to learn from him and keep the history alive.

My first love is my 2016 Liv Lust adv. full suspension. I put a new eagle drive on it last summer, I love how light and playful this bike is. My only wish is if it had more suspension in front. That may happen. I really love riding technical terrain and this is the bike for it.I bought it because Jeff at the bike shop told me too!!!!

I also have a 2017 Borealis Echo which is a snow bike. Its beautiful and its light and gets me around in the snow. Jeff also told me to buy that one. I trust him to lead me in the right bike direction.

My next bike is a custom built 2017 Salsa Woodsmoke frame with 29-inch wheels and a great drive train. I spoke with Evan about this bike and he put his thinking cap on and put this bike together to fit my needs of a fast rolling hardtail for gravel grinding. I don't have many miles on it yet, but it sure is pretty and I rode it in a race and also a few technical rides and it sure was fun.

I also have a Liv Avail and I don't know a lot about it. It's a road bike and road biking is not my love. I've ridden it a couple of times and I'm grateful that I have it, and I hope to let ladies use it . I have a special lady who is inspiring her friends to ride the paved trails, so I'm hoping to put her on it as a gift for her work someday. Or at least turn her on to get herself something that is .ore comfy than what she is riding.

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
That's a tough one to answer. I think women should do whatever it is they are inspired to do. I did want to be an auto mechanic and took all of the classes in high school, and I cut all the guys hair in high school too! MULLETS!!!!! I was good at em. Had one myself. But I figured as opposed to dealing with being a girl in a Male dominated career, I'll just go to beauty school. Which it's kinda funny now because, after 33 years in the salon, I'm totally ready to explore and study bike mechanics. So I am following my dreams.

Why do you feel it's important for women to be involved with their local trails organization? (to help out on trail work days, etc.?)
I'm very involved with our local bike club RAMBA, Range Area Mountain Bike Association. I am a proud member of the board. I feel a sense of pride to be a part of the decision process to make us a great group and community. I feel my strength for this is my ability to bring people together. It also allows me to build and maintain trails which gives me such a sense of ownership and pride. I love to bring people on rides and tell them I built this trail. I'm very proud of the fellowship of our community and the people I represent.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
FEAR!!!!!! The "I could never do that!" self-talk. Excuses!!!! I have a million. I can share some!! Haha. It's scary to step outside of the box. The beauty is there are women out there to hold your hand. TAKE THAT FIRST STEP. Approach a woman no matter what is and ask for help. Share your fears and watch them go away!!!!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I truly think everyone is doing a great job encouraging women. It may be that it will take a bit more time to even out the field.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I'm inspired by the growth I've personally and physically seen in women. I think this might tie into the previous question, I feel that I am a part of what needs to happen to get women out and explore more options. Getting girls together builds fellowship and we can learn that our issues are universal and we are not alone In our struggles.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm an ADDICT! I'm addicted to a strong emotion called BIKE HIGH!!


  1. Thank you. Wonderful story lots of information. Don't give up cutting hair PLEASE.

  2. Good answers. You have found a gift to give others. Love you!


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