Monday, September 9, 2019

Women Involved Series: Erin Wells

I founded Muddy Pedals in 2013 out of the desire to create an inviting environment to introduce more women to mountain biking. The sport had such an incredibly positive impact on my life, I wanted to make it as accessible as possible for other women, breaking down barriers and opening doors.

People would always ask what my plans were for Muddy Pedals, and I honestly never had an answer. I wanted it to evolve into what women needed at the time. And it certainly has evolved and changed in ways I could never imagine. I lead rides, clinics, and camps both for women and kids. And now it has evolved into a great community of women supporting and encouraging one another. It is so much bigger and more important than bikes.

@muddypedals
@campsidesessions

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I moved to Richmond, VA right after college and needed something to do! I signed up for a Balance Bar Adventure race which involved kayaking, trail running, and mountain biking. Once I signed up I figured I should probably learn how to mountain bike! I had a real job just out of school and felt like, “Oh man, I can afford a REAL mountain bike!”. And so I bought a Kona Kikapu for what felt like a whole TON of money at the time. It quickly became “my thing” to do with downtime. I had moved to Richmond not knowing anyone and this gave me an outlet and a way to meet people. With all of that being said, I don’t actually think it was until many years later that I would understand the true impact it would have on my life.

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 thought I was such a good rider for so long. I wasn’t. I rode with the same people, at my same ability so it appeared to myself that I was good. I wish I would have taken clinics by professional instructors early on in my mountain bike life. One of the things I struggled with that I just assumed everyone had problems with was log overs. I would get to the other side of the log and my bars would just turn and over I would go. Well, now I know, get those elbows out and be in control of the bike, don’t let the bike control me! The other big misconception that I think still plagues new riders, is the need to push people to wear clipless shoes. I almost stopped riding after I switched to clipless and felt like if I couldn’t wear clipless I just shouldn’t ride. This is so wrong. I actually had a shop tell one of my clinic participants that she shouldn’t even put a bashguard on her bike (pre 1x drivetrains) if she wasn’t wearing clipless because she wasn’t going over any logs anyway...after I had just taught her how to do log overs with flat pedals. I wanted to be like “listen bike shop dude, just because you don’t have skill enough to get over that log without clipless pedals doesn’t mean she doesn’t”.

So my suggestions are to take clinics, no matter how long you have been riding. Ride with other women on regular group rides. A crew of women who encourage you along the way and share life’s joys and passions cannot be discounted. You will conquer obstacles that you never thought possible.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Absolutely. I find that if I am working on a particular skill, some of my other skills go to the wayside. But the skill I constantly find myself tweaking is cornering. And it always comes back to fundamentals. I teach it over and over and over and I know the whys and hows and I still find myself getting too far in the backseat if I am not paying super close attention. I don’t let it get me down because though I may have skills that need constant tweaking, I also see progress in other areas. It is so important to focus on the progression, not the regression. And when looking back over the course of years, I am still a better rider overall.
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?
I will go back to clinics again on this one. In my level I clinic, we focus on balance and stability on the bike. So before you even hit the trail, you feel more confident than when you arrived that morning. And then on top of that, join a women’s only group ride. I know, some people are opposed to women-only group rides, but I am telling you from experience, this is a game-changer. I have a ride for beginners. Like, beginner beginners. So when people say, “No, I’m like...a BEGINNER”, yes, this ride is for you. The environment is so comfortable, encouraging and inspiring.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I rode clips for many years...until I started coaching. I had to pass certification on flats, which is a hard task when you have been in clips forever. But once I understood the use of my feet on the pedals, I actually felt more in tune and one with my bike. That being said, I am now flats 90% of the time. I will wear clips on a ride sometimes just to change it up.

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?
During an enduro race several years ago, I was heading down the most challenging section of trail. I was on it. It felt good. There was a photographer in my line of site up to the right. I must have just caught him in my vision and my wheel followed up the rock ledge to the right instead of down through the chute. It ended with me flipping on my back from about 8 feet up. It could have been worse, but it knocked the wind out of me and I had an instant bruise down my spine. Because of that, my hydration pack feels like my safety blanket. It’s really hard to ride without it. Thinking about what would have happened had I not been wearing one is… terrifying. I just can’t imagine life without biking being a part of it, so I would hope, that no matter the injury, I would figure out how to return.

Overall, I feel like I usually ride the line of pushing my limits and riding safely within my ability. I’m a calculated rider, always weighing my skill versus the obstacle ahead.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the sound of the dirt crunching under the tires. I love the people that biking has brought into my life. I love that when I am on the bike, problems seem so small and insignificant. I love that even once the bike ride is over, life feels better than it did before the ride started. I love how empowered and courageous a good bike ride can make me feel.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I currently ride a Trek Slash and a Trek Remedy.

I chose the Slash because it really does it all. I love the feel of a big bike tearing down the trail eating up rock gardens, sending drops and jumps and landing with that endless feel in the suspension. It also pedals like a rockstar considering the amount of travel.

The Remedy is brand new to the fleet. Trek made some great changes this year. The 27.5 wheels are so nimble. The new geometry sits you on top of the bike, making it feel so efficient while pedaling, yet so capable on the downhill gnar as well.

What inspired you to become a certified coach?
I really just wanted to give other women an opportunity to experience life with mountain biking as a part of it. I wanted to help them overcome barriers to trying it. However, I quickly realized that though I may love biking, I had no idea how to teach women and make them feel comfortable. I was participating in a race and talking to one of the other racers and she suggested that I get certified so that we are all on the same page and teaching is consistent no matter where the women are learning. That was the best advice I could’ve been given.

Any tips or suggestions for those who are thinking about becoming certified?
Do it! Even if you don’t use it that often to coach, it will significantly improve your understanding of riding and the importance of fundamentals in your riding. It will teach you how to breakdown the fundamentals into pieces that are manageable and easily teachable. Whether for yourself or for teaching others,

Tell us about Muddy Pedals and your inspiration for founding it-

Muddy Pedals is a community. It is a place where women can feel comfortable and confident exploring mountain biking and how it may fit into their lives. There are so many obstacles to overcome in order to get into the sport. Whether they are physical obstacles or emotional obstacles. Muddy Pedals exists to break down those barriers.

There are many programs out there for women and mountain biking, who do you feel Muddy Pedals best suits?
Muddy Pedals exists for women looking for a community. Whether you have never been on a mountain bike or you have been riding for decades, there is a place for you here. We have weekly rides, social events throughout the year, we encourage volunteering at trail workdays and being involved with NICA, and all kinds of other fun things. On top of this, I host clinics for women throughout the year. This is such a good way to build a foundation and hone your skills. I also collaborate with a business similar to Muddy Pedals to put on women’s weekends called Campside Sessions. These are weekends where you will walk away with not only new found skills, but a group of incredibly rad friends.

You are a Trek Women's Ambassador, tell us why you love being an ambassador for a bike company-
When I was approached by Trek several years ago to be part of the Advocate program… I actually told them no! I hadn’t been on a Trek in a while, but I also didn’t want to ride something just because it was given to me or just because of the perks of the program. I want to ride bikes and use gear that I love and that I want to ride and use. They came back to me and simply offered up a bike for me to ride for the weekend. If I didn’t like it, no big deal, thanks for trying. Well, I didn’t like it, I loved it. I almost couldn't admit it. It rode so well. The suspension felt so bottomless. So, like every normal mountain biker would, I took out a different model just to prove myself wrong. Nope, loved it. PR’s on just about every trail I rode.

It gives me in-depth knowledge on the bikes, the gear and the company. When I talk to folks looking for a bike, I have real information for them and real options to point them towards. It’s also a movement. I want to be a part of this movement! More women on bikes, yes! I want to be involved with a company putting real efforts into women on bikes. I get to be a huge piece of that as a Trek Women’s Advocate.

Why do you feel Ambassador programs are beneficial for the cycling industry?

Ambassador programs are taking women who are already out there, riding and leading, and giving them more tools to do what they are already doing. These programs help give women a voice and a place in a male-dominated sport. They take feedback from these women and put them directly into products and the industry. I’m not even sure these programs understand their full potential yet.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think there are so many barriers. Both physical and emotional. Physical barriers such as not having a bike, or if they have a bike not being able to transport the bike, not knowing the trails, not having riding buddies, etc. Emotional barriers include fear of falling, fear of failure, feeling like they aren’t fit enough like they will slow people down. Any one of these barriers is enough to stop someone immediately, but overcoming those barriers is so rewarding!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Opportunities. We have to create opportunities for women to get on bikes in an environment that fosters confidence and encourages women outside of their comfort zone. I have been leading women-only rides for several years now and they continue to grow and the feedback is outstanding. Women love riding with other women and being encouraged by other women. You see someone you can relate to something that you thought was outside of your comfort zone and suddenly it becomes attainable.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I am inspired to encourage women to ride because I have seen how important riding is in life. This is so much bigger and so much more important than mountain bikes. Sure, that's how it starts. It starts by going on rides here and there with each other. Then you find yourself consistently riding with a crew. Then, because you are on your bike and adventuring together, you get worn down a little and start to let yourself show a little. You start to share life. You start to talk about things that are real and hard. Suddenly, you think, "Wait a second! These people are my friends, disguised as biking buddies."

Mountain biking has nothing and everything to do with real life. It can take you away from the pains and worries of life and let your brain focus on the trail, the sound of your tires tearing through the dirt and leaves, the feel of the wind in your hair and your adrenaline rush as you push up the hill or get rowdy on that gnarly downhill. In the totally opposite way, biking relates directly to life. You conquer that obstacle, you make it up that hill, you beat your original time- whatever it is that you conquer on the trails, translates directly to real life. You can overcome that life obstacle because you overcame some obstacle on the trail. You have confidence. You have the encouragement. You strive to push through the pain to get to the end goal. This is so much bigger and so much more important than mountain bikes.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I was super shy growing up. I sat by myself at lunch in high school for an uncomfortable amount of time. I would have never believed that the future me would be up in front of groups of women on a regular basis.

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