Women on Bikes Series: Susan Ward

My given name is Susan Ward. My biking name is "Kitty". I am from the midwest and live in Janesville, Wisconsin. I have two sisters who live in other states. My favorite time of year is summer. I got my first bike when I was three years old and my latest bike this summer. I love cycling and ride many different bikes many different ways with many different people in many different places all year long. I love my bike family!

I'm working on being a better climber of hills. I do not possess a racer's heart.
I keep a roof over my head and support my bike life by working as a registered nurse.

Favorite web sites: www.bellhelmets.com > Bell Joy Ride: Madison, Wisconsin

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!" 
I like to read at night. One night in November 2012 I was reading a Bicycling Magazine article about Fat Biking. Never heard of it. The tires were crazy wide and you could ride it in the snow. At this point, I bicycled the roads and went out weather permitting year-round to keep active. So I was not riding much but wanted to... Winter is long in Wisconsin and can keep you indoors if you let it. Come to find out a local bike shop, Backyard Bikes, in Lagrange, Wisconsin rented fat bikes. Gasp. I went over to their shop and rented one asap. They recommended riding in the nearby Kettle Moraine State Park John Muir Trail system on the beginner loops. If you've ever been on a fat bike, you get reminded of when you were a kid and first able to ride on two wheels. Two fat bouncy wheels in this case. The trail was exciting compared to the road. It challenged and channeled my attention. I had to really focus on the trail, trees, rocks, roots, and steering. It was F U N. I rented that bike a couple times and bought it. Still have it, ride it and love it. 

I was empty nesting at this same time and my only child now lived in Mammoth Lakes, CA. He kept telling me about all his mountain bike adventures and we talked about riding together when I visited next. 

My personal life had been on a downward turn for a while and I found myself feeling relief from my crappy sad "day to day". Riding this little bike made me feel better, so I started to ride it and ride it. This riding helped me press my "reset button" so to speak. Salvation. That's when I said, "Yes, this is for me!"

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Reading a trail was new compared to riding on the road. We all know the road is... you know...boring.

Riding uphill over roots and rocks was a momentum problem. You gotta ride faster and remember to make the most of downhill speed. Put your speed acquired descending into the "momentum bank" to conquer the next hill.

Berms and off camber riding was a confidence and equipment trust issue. Trust your bike, tires, balance, gravity, and muscle memory. It's real folks! Don't freak out.

Adjusting fat bike tire pressures was trial and error on snow, sand, pumice, and any soft loose terrain. For the tire pressure, I was taught to start out with extra air and adjust as/when needed, because it's easier to let out air than pump it in.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Definitely. I'm not a fast (but would like to be)...so going up hills remains challenging. Same for going over bigger or complicated obstacles when climbing.

I feel anxiety when I'm the last rider. Is that herd anxiety? Anyway, I'm working at letting that go. I gotta get rid of the trash talk in my head that tells me I can't get up a hill or ride faster. I let it defeat me at times. I personally do not possess the heart of a racer.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I use flats, the wide platform spiked type, for mountain biking with sticky bottom shoes. I like to have my feet immediately free! I want to be thrown free from the wreckage! Flats are an accessory you know! So many pretty ones are available.

Clips for 2019 on the Lefty? Maybe. Definitely clips for riding gravel and road.

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?

Go rent a mountain bike and ride with a friend or small group of friends who know you're just getting started. By renting you can get the right size/fit for the trail you plan to ride. You can rent different bikes or have the mechanic "build" it different for you each time you rent. The shop knows you're a potential buyer at this point and will be excited to accommodate you. Try as many bikes as you can. Go on a short comfortable ride because you can repeat a trail loop most likely. Doing this helped me most to figure out where I felt comfortable riding. Work at it.

Both beach and snow riding can be a really good place to start riding soft terrain and going over obstacles. If you tip over or fall these terrains are forgiving.

Find a fun non-threatening event because there are plenty of non-race rides out there. I was really fortunate to have access to so many fun biking get-togethers nearby. The founder of Fat-Bike.com lives in Wisconsin. His name is Gary Lake and he hosts countless bike events for cyclists of all skill levels. His events are really creative and fun! Also, you can really keep up on equipment and the industry by reading the online magazine. https://fat-bike.com/ A side note about fat bikes...they roll over almost any obstacle and they do it confidently. It's a forgiving way to start out on a trail. Fat bikes are mountain bikes.

And you're gonna wanna get yourself a "bike family".

Why do events like the CAMBA women's fatbike weekend help break barriers?
As I see it, the main barriers are knowledge deficit, lack of social support, lack of industry support, and cost. These barriers can cause fear and lead to intimidation from venturing out to give this kind of biking a try. For the ladies CAMBA fat bike weekend a woman could sign up for $65, try out a fat bike without having to rent or purchase one, have no prior knowledge of trail riding, winter riding, and be welcomed with open arms in a friendly social environment. For several women, this was their first experience on a fat bike or trail or snow. Break out groups worked on riding skills based on the group's input/needs. And because it was a three-day event ladies could build on previous days skills and friendships.

The event covered all the above barriers in detail(even though I'm not outlining all of that here). We left with so much good information and the stoke level was definitely high. It was a true camaraderie experience.
Tell us about your Bike Family! How did you meet them?
My grandparents got me my first bike, a trike. They started me out, but the story goes I saw a red trike and wouldn't get off the thing without crying, so my grandpa bought it for me. I knew what I wanted. My grandparents rode into their seventies around Florida and always had fun stories about stuff that happened when they were out and about. My own parents didn't ride though. Guess it skipped a generation there.

My sister, Mary, remains my favorite biking partner of all time and always will be. We like to explore on bikes, don't mind taking wrong turns, or getting lost. We ride for rewards too...like a cold Coke or a beer. We were quite the bike packers in the early 1980's. We loved the prevailing westerly winds at our backs.

My son, Nick, is the person who pushes me beyond my limits now. He encourages me and tells me I'm doing a good job when I'm pretty sure I'm just ok. He keeps me thinking young. I started Nick out by pulling him around in a Burley wagon until he could ride on his own.

I have fat bike "parents", Sue Franz and Craig Smith from Roscoe, IL. I was introduced to them by the folks at the Backyard Bikes in Lagrange, WI. Sue and Craig took me under their wings so to speak. They invited me to ride with them and nurtured me along without pressure and still do. They like to have fun riding bikes. They showed me the ropes and introduced me to lots of other fat bikers...my extended bike family! I'm not sure if they are cousins, brothers, or sisters, but they are definitely my bike family. I love these people!

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?
All my real accidents involved falling from horses actually. I used to distance ride, which is long distance trail riding only on horseback. I still "remember" the pain and immobility of a pelvic fracture I had in my 30 s. Lots of broken bones involved in that...geez. Don't get me wrong, I fall down plenty and get bruised/scraped up, but I kinda take it easy. It takes so long to heal.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The way it feels. To me, it feels like I'm flying. And riding when the sun shines through the trees-I love how that feels. Riding fast downhill is the best.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My first "mountain" bike was an orange 9ZERO7 fat bike-it brings smiles to all who ride it. I got orange because when I first started riding it was deer hunting season.

Next came another fat bike, a Borealis Echo. I chose it partly because it was on sale, partly to amp up my game, and partly to have a second fat bike so my friends could have a bike to ride along with me.

Last year my sister, Mary, gave me a Cannondale "Lefty" to use. I started campaigning it last summer. It's a 29er with full suspension and that crazy fork. I do love it. And you might know that Tinker Juarez rides one. And...well....he's famously fast! A girl like me can hope.

I also acquired a Surly Wednesday single speed last year with a baby blue and pink color scheme called "Cotton Candy". Pink fat tires! Goh! All I can say it's pure fun to ride. It has I-9 hubs and makes that "I-9 sound." As my friend, Bethany, says...single speeds actually have 3 speeds-sitting, standing, and pushing. Riding it is a real leg work out on the trail. This is my prettiest bike. send another pic to Josie.

An older Fuji Royale has been kinda converted to a "gravel" bike thanks to John Sotherland at Bicyclewise. He's an awesome mechanic.

We all know bikers almost always have more than one bike. You know the rule.

There are a couple cruisers in my garage too-an Electra "Betty" and Schwinn beach bike. Gotta keep it mixed up and get em all out for a ride, usually with a little help from others.

The last one in the stable is a 1981 Trek touring bike and we'll never part. We've seen the country together.
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think a lot of us get some kind of bike as a kid. Some of us will try out different kinds of bikes and riding, others not... A young girl will be fortunate to get an introduction to mountain biking by a family member I think. Even though my Mom didn't ride a bike, she promoted it so she didn't have to drive me and my sisters into town. She made me think of biking as transportation instead of just something to do...it translated into exercise, strength, and exploration later on. It's embarrassing because I really wanted that ride in the car. Inherent laziness? Anyway, thanks, Mom!

Transporting bikes, maintaining, troubleshooting your equipment, and emergencies are a real part of the sport and can be a deterrent to getting started. If you don't have a regular partner, this falls on you alone and you need to be prepared and know your resources. You have to be prepared for anything. I struggle at times figuring stuff out. I'm not a mechanic, but am trying. Thanks, Youtube. I call on friends and bike mechanics in the area. They are a "must have". Something I notice though...other bikers are genuinely supportive out on the trail. They stop to inquire and help out. You still have to be prepared, because you may not encounter any riders at times. There is definitely a serious side to this kind of biking.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women and youth to be involved?
A couple of years ago the Bell helmet company started the "Bell Joy Ride Program." It's designed to inspire and enable female mountain riders structured, fun, and social rides. It's for all levels of riders in a non-race environment. We have one in Madison, WI. Usually monthly or every other month rides take place at different locations in the area. Our Bell Joy Ride Ambassador is Meagan McGarry of Madison, Wisconsin. There are several "ride leaders" and I am one of these volunteers. There are nine Bell Joy Ride Program locations across the US. And two in Canada. Ours can be found on the internet and on Facebook. My "sisters" in this group support biking in many ways in Southern Wisconsin. It's a motivating group of people.

One of my bike buds, Brittany, unofficially started a spin-off group from the Bell Joys. It's a Tuesday night ride open to any riders at Camrock County Bike Park. The draw is, of course, riding with others and honing skills, but also half price homemade pizza at a local shop just off the trail.

About the industry...some guys don't like to hear this, but it's male-dominated. Guys are just different and when they get together to ride, testosterone can rule the day. Riding with them can be challenging and my goals are different it seems. Not all guys, but it's happened often enough for me to say it. It's true. I've observed comments about women's rides from guys.... they feel left out surprisingly! Although those were not the exact words...

Invite a friend. Invite a kid. Facebook is a wonderful way to get your biking buddies together or discover a group. Volunteer at a local race. Take your bike to the beach any time of year. Ride your bike across a frozen lake in the winter. Race your bike down a dual slalom course if you can find one. Go on a themed pub crawl. Be a local trail builder-there will be something to do-don't worry. Try a "Tweed" ride over hill and dale! Get out there and meet others like yourself. Shake hands first! Check out their bike. Lavish them with compliments and encouragement. It's not hard to do.

I met a gal at the Fat Bike Getaway Weekend in December. Her name is Wendy Crawford and she's from Lakeville, MN. Wendy really has the spark to get other women riding. In fact, she brought two women along to that event who she had met at Global Fat Bike day near the twin cities just a week prior. Wendy has since started Life Wellness Group Rides in Lakeville, MN. You don't have to ride alone! Wendy's group can be found on Facebook.

I think there are more and more women entering the industry. We definitely need more input and support from female cyclists, simply because we have some separate needs.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

I'm a kind of a gal's gal and live my life in a woman's world. I grew up with two sisters (no brothers) and am a nurse. Nursing school was mainly women and so is the profession. I work with a lot of women and have a lot of female friends. I'm comfortable with women. It's just a natural "location" for me. Riding makes me feel better mentally and physically. I feel like a better version of myself. It's a confidence booster. Plus I also feel myself getting older, so it's important for me to continue to ride.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one...I know "the kick" I get out of riding and I see that reaction in others when they give it a try. Women are problem solvers and have good endurance.

I think biking is a lifestyle for anyone and can make you "a better you" in ways you may not understand until you try it out. This is something we can all do for the rest of our lives. With so many types of "mountain" biking and bikes, what's not to encourage?

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a button collection.


  1. This is such a great article! I learned so much about you. Love you cousin!


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