Women on Bikes Series: Emily Oppliger

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoorMy name is Emily Oppliger, and here is a little bit about me. I grew up in a world of adventure tucked away in the middle of Lake Superior, the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. My parents, both incredible athletes, opened my world to so many adventure sports, including cycling.

I started working at the local bike and ski shop Down Wind Sports and I would not be where I am today without that job. It didn’t take long to take my mountain biking passion to the next level.

I was emerged in the sport and tried to learn as much as I could about the industry and mechanics of mountain bikes. I raced cross country since I was a young girl but by the time I was in college I was intrigued to another side of the sport and never turned back.

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Tell us about your mountain biking introduction? What made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
Well, I have been riding bikes since I was a young girl, but there definitely was a turning point in my riding. The tables turned when I working in a bike shop I started riding with the shop employees more and more. Our rides were mostly based around how much fun you could have, while hitting the most jumps, and drinking the most beer. This was a side of the sport I had never seen as I was previously only riding endurance cross country. I quickly got the craving for adrenaline from hitting features and fixating on downhill speed. That was it. The turning point.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you-
Although it all started with jumping around on my home trails, my bikelife accelerated fast. I dove into downhill racing and dedicated my time to it. I raced professional downhill and enduro around North America, gaining incredible riding experience and building a network within the outdoor industry. I always thought my passion was racing but the tables quickly took another turn. I started working with Lindsey Richter and coaching for Liv Ladies AllRide. My racing ego was suddenly ripped from my soul and my passion shifted. Lindsey took me under her wing and my career as a ladies mountain bike coach began. I could not get enough of it. Being surrounded and included by the leading women in the industry was eye-opening. My perception of the sport was changed again… into the bikelife I know today. I pour my enthusiasm into my coaching and encourage women to overcome obstacles and build self-confidence in riding and life!

Tell us about your favorite mountain biking event?
The riding event that means the most to me is the Copper Harbor Women’s Weekend. This women’s event takes place at the tip the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan in one of the most special and unknown mountain biking meccas, and sold out in 6 minutes this year. Every year in a town with a population of 100 people, we double the population with the women on mountain bikes. This is a mountain bike skills clinic that is driven by the incredible Lindsey Ritcher herself and the dedicated Copper Harbor Trails Club. We have an amazing team of coaches from across the country and bike industry who travel to coach this special event. Copper Harbor is a Disney World of all varieties of trail and your face will always be sore from smiling when you ride there. The energy of this event is truly unique and the people and location make it so. Honestly, I will never be able to give the spark by words, so you’ll just have to come and see for yourself!

What do you love about coaching/teaching mtb skills?
Honestly, what I love about coaching/teaching mtb skills is showing people there is an actual technique to a sport that many people jump into without much advice, support, or confidence. I am fascinated by how everyone learns differently and problem-solving to flick that switch of a lightbulb, usually followed by a huge smile.
What has been one of your favorite skill-teaching moments?
This is so hard to choose but there is one that comes to mind. I was coaching for SRAM MTB at CrankWorx for their women’s program. I had a beginner group on a green trail - which I don’t usually have because most the time I am working with advanced riders. But I love to teach beginners just as much because I get to go back into looking at the sport from a new perspective. AND this story is great because it just supports how important the more basic skills are. So I am on this green trail with my beginner group and we are working on looking ahead on the trail. I am leading the group down a kitty litter, wide and flat trail, so I decide to reach down and set the compression on my shock. I gaze down at the switch for just a moment and BAM I am hit the ground HARD.

Which proves the point, everybody falls! This is one of the best lessons you can burn in a new rider's brain, and really just for general life. Even though I had to take stitches in the knee and not race the Garbo DH, I think the lesson is still worth it.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Both!! I think both pedals have their place. I use my flats for dirt jumping and my first couple seasons of DH racing, to make bailing easier. Now almost all my bikes are clips even my DH bike, although for dirt jumping and BMX I will still go flats. Flats are GREAT because they can teach you so much about the importance of your footing on the pedals and pressure points to keep traction at all times - especially in the air!

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Unfortunately, I have a pretty bad track record with crashing my body into dirt, trees, rocks, and about any other features on a downhill/enduro track. There isn’t really a specific crash that really broke me down but the accumulation of them definitely has… in different ways. Physically, my body has been strung out over these injuries which has led to some tough realizations as a 26-year-old. After multiple surgeries, concussions, and broken bones you can really see the impact on the body. This past year, I had a considerable crash that led to some internal bleeding and a very extensive concussion. My confidence in my riding and myself has been pretty broken since, but I am slowly training myself and working on building my confidence again.

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 say with handling skills when I started because that was so long ago but I would say the biggest challenge for me was the mental obstacles. Getting myself to try features I had never done before and scared me. I use to ride up to things a million times and psych myself out on the feature. Then I started subconsciously closing my eyes when I would hit features…. This had about a 50% success rating by the way (not recommended). I knew there had to be a better way so I started to train mentally and get myself to think through the process/skills and try to visualize myself riding it correctly. I think one of the crucial skills, often overlooked (no pun intended) is just looking ahead.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Mental blocks have always been and since my crash, have been very active in my riding. It makes riding tricky because it makes features and trails I have hit in the past, scary again and sometimes I feel like I have taken this huge step back. But, like I said I am practicing my confidence and reminding myself that I know the technique and have the skills. This is a huge part of cycling (and life) but confidence really is the key, and it might not go well every time but also remember the other key, everyone falls!

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?

It always seems like a good idea at first, and don’t worry you’ll be able to ride together for sure farther down the way. but learning can be very stressful, competitive and high tension when learning from a significant other. This isn’t always the case but for a good experience as a beginner, I would definitely suggest looking into a clinic or a local group of friends or peers. I know that joining a new group or clinic can be intimidating but the energy there is so welcoming! These groups are always excited to have gained a new rider.

What do you love about riding your bike?
What I really love about riding, is the places it brings me and the vast network of friends I have created from it. I have been able to travel all over the world for riding and just being outside breathing fresh mountain air in some of the most picturesque places in the world is what I cherish most.
Image may contain: one or more people, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Building a bicycle quiver for your riding style is important and exciting! I have many bikes in the quiver but let me tell you about some of my favorite steeds.

Number one all-around steed - Stumpjumper 27.5 - this bike is the most playful but stable bike I have ever ridden. Its responsiveness on the trail is incredible and it jumps just as well.

Number one Downhill Steed - Demo - talk about a nimble, quick, blaster DH ride.

Number one adventure bike - Diverge - This bike has a special place in my heart - this gravel/adventure bike has brought me to exciting places with the best adventure groups!

What do you do at Specialized?
I am a service representative at Specialized providing mechanical and informational responses to our riders. Most of my time is spent conversing, troubleshooting, and giving information on bicycles and gear. It keeps things interesting every day, and there is never a dull moment.

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
Like a bicycle - balance is essential to the ride. Having women in the industry keeps or at least starts a balance of thoughts, ideas, processes, and most of all perspective to be successful.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Well it is often jumped to that women do not have as much interest in cycling but a study by People for Bikes shows that the gap is not actually so large. ⅓ of the population over the period of the year rode a bicycle with 45 million (43%) women 59 million (57%) men. So essentially, I think many women are interested in cycling I just think that keeping them interested and them actually having good experiences is what deters many. And that is why I think women's activity in the industry is so important and most of all it's why I pour my soul into coaching, because those good experiences with the sport are everything!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think industry-wide many brands (not all) spend focus and money on elite athletes and racing which is incredible, and as a previous racer, I appreciate this support. I just believe that the women that need the industry the most to encourage them in the sport cannot relate to those athletes and elitist focus. I think brands that can relate to this general community of ladies who ride or want to ride will succeed most with women riders. I believe the key is creating content that women can make personal connections to and feel like they fit into the brand at any level.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and natureThere are so many reasons to be inspired to give ladies more confidence on bikes. I would say the biggest inspiration for me would be every time that light bulb goes off in a ladies mind and they conquer a skill or a feature for the first time. This is a contagious high from the riders happiness and confidence and those moments are what drive me in my coaching for sure.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
One time I got to be a double for Micayla Gatto and I am a twin!! (not with Micayla lol)