Women on Bikes Series: Erica Swann
I grew up in a family that liked to commute on bikes and ride bikes for fun! My dad commuted every day to work by bike. My brother and I rode with him on the weekends growing up. As I grew older and life became busier, those weekend rides gave way to other competitive sports and traveling.
In my young adult life, I reconnected with the bike and embraced trail running as well. I fell in love with riding bikes all over again! I bought a used, but gorgeous, deep-dish wheelset, all carbon, TT bike. Every second I had free was spent riding. No one could come between me and my bike! I also rode my first century on it!
Not too long after, I sold it and bought a mountain bike and a road bike.
Fast forward and several bikes later...I was schooled in the way of a bike mechanic because I wanted to work on my own bike without taking it to a bike shop. I started working at a Specialized shop and was building and doing tuning ups like a pro. At the shop, I was asked by Specialized to apply for the women’s Specialized Ambassadorship. Months passed and I moved out to San Diego. I was contacted by Specialized for the Women’s Ambassadorship and I was over the moon!! I still am! I raced my Epic Carbon Comp 29er where I could, went on group rides and coordinated group rides with other women riders and new riders alike. I love the fun rides. But it always feels good to push your limits on hard rides.
I love riding my S-Works road bike too. It’s a great space to socialize or push or zone out and think. My last big ride was the BWR aka Belgium Waffle Ride and was 132 miles and 11k feet of climbing. I rode that on my Specialized Diverge gravel bike. Not easy when you’re returning from Vegas Super-cross supporting our race teams from work at 3:30am and on the BWR starting line at 7am. It was aggressive for sure as the President, John Hinz of Ktm North America, Inc. said to me. But I’d do it again! Was so great to see so many women on the line!
I currently work for KTM North America, Husqvarna Motorcycles North America, and WP Suspension Group. I love my job and I get to ride dirt bikes (my other passion) in some pretty amazing places.
I love skiing too and doing anything outside!
To me, it’s important to share with people my love for two-wheeled things in hopes that it will spark a new interest, teach them something new, or learn something new about themselves. We need more women on bikes with great attitudes! :-)
Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I used to supplement my road riding with trail running. I love dirt, rocks and everything gnarly that goes along with it. Short story short; I started suffering horrible IT Band pain and had to hang up my trail running shoes. Enter MTB! Still wanting to be on trails and play in the dirt and not as a hiker, I bought my first used Cannondale fatty with head shock back in the day. My seasoned MTB friends took me on my first ride and soon everyone else started inviting me to gnarlier, bigger rides in the desert. Skinned knees and elbows were all part of trying more technical terrain. I was so hooked!
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 think desert riding is some of the most technical riding there is. I had no choice but to jump right into it and learn. I rode with people who were moto veterans and MTB veterans. They gave me a few pointers on switchbacks and breaking techniques. But ultimately this is my outlook and what has helped me learn...It’s mostly mental! Yes, the more you ride the better you get but your mental attitude is 90% of it. If you have fear, that will inhibit your growth and learning curve as a rider.
I’d love to take downhill tight turns much faster. If I’m not constantly trying to push myself then I’m not learning anything new. My worst days are usually when I’m in a funky headspace and I’m picking horrible lines. Those are the days I usually take trails that are more chill or go ride road.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Chunky rock gardens can sometimes make me feel like I’d like to get faster and pick better lines. If it’s a new-to-me trail I try not to get down on myself or let fear control me. I just focus on what’s in front of me, keep pedaling and go with it. 9 times out of 10 when I get through it I feel like I leveled up on my riding skills or learned something new about myself. Even if I eat it I will go back and try again. Getting down on myself for not clearing something isn’t constructive so I just stay positive and happy that I’m on the trails. Plus getting down on myself on a technical trail would apt for some disastrous line choices for the rest of my ride. Staying positive with my mental attitude keeps me in a good place even when I feel like my skills are being tested.
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?
Definitely go out with someone who can take them out on some fire roads, double track, and maybe some easy-to-chew-on single track depending on how comfortable they are. There’s a level of trust here with the person who is taking you out. It’s nice to have a demo laying around to help introduce MTB to new lady riders too. As a guide, you have to listen to the rider as well and acknowledge their feelings about riding. You can’t push a new rider. If you do then you’ll most likely lose them forever.
Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
My very first ride was on clipless pedals. Horrible for climbing and horrible for jumps! I was like no way. I was already used to being clipped in on my road bike so I immediately switched to clip-ins. Crank Bros to be exact!
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?
My biggest accident was no fault of my own but frustrating nonetheless. When I first started riding MTB I signed up for the Over the Hump MTB summer races. My new-to-me MTB had a faulty rear brake that ended up needing to be fixed. Between a few crashes in one ride that happened with the faulty brake and two male elite riders taking me out at the race, I ended up opening one wound on my right leg 4 times total. Was really gross and the medical scrub that followed was worse than any of the crashes. It didn’t kill my ride vibe though and I kept racing Race OC and had fun!
You know when you see a dog hanging out of a truck with their face in the wind, tongue sticking out and they look like they are in pure bliss? Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Long ride, short ride, outside, solo or with friends. I’ve never ended a ride saying, “I wish I didn’t go riding.” What’s not to love!
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My bikes…hmmm. Like people, although inanimate objects, they all have different personalities. I have my Specialized Epic for all my local rides and races. I love the 29ers on this thing and the brain for rear suspension. So rad it automatically adjusts to the terrain I’m on. Plus, the color is To Die For! Epic rolls over rocks like nothing. Oh, and YES you can do switchbacks on a 29er. ;)
I have my Sworks Amira with di2 Dura Ace components for my road bike. This bike is amaze-balls on the roads and climbs. I have my new StumpJumper Carbon Comp 29er. Great for bike parks and single track trails for sure! I have an ancient 10-speed bike I sanded by hand, clear coated and turned into a single speed. My frankenbike!
I also have a Specialized Diverge I got for BWR that I leave at work to ride at lunch. Awesome for road, gravel and some singletrack.
You have worked at a bike shop, tell us what your experience was like as a woman working in the cycling industry-
I wanted to work at a bike shop because I wanted to work on my own bikes without having to ask someone to do it and wait. I worked with other mechanics in the shop and became a bike builder, then learned to actually work on bikes. I went to SRAM tech classes and learned so much about suspension, dropper posts, and brake systems and how to work on them. It was honestly so awesome to be a girl mechanic. Customers always thought it was rad. I don’t work in a bike shop anymore, but I created my own mechanic station in my garage. Friends bring me their bikes to work on and I work on my own bikes.
Learning to be a bicycle mechanic can be challenging, what helped you learn all that you know?
Being a mech can be challenging! Depending on the age, type and keep of the bike, easy fixes on a new top of the line bike can be difficult on an old bike. There were so many talented mechanics at the shop and everyone had a mechanic hack that worked for various problems. Hands-on training for me was the best way to learn.
Why should more women work at bike shops?
Women came into the shop with their husbands or alone. So many times I was asked by women to help with their bike, saddle issues, chamois, chamois creams and everything else relating to “girl bits”, riding and being comfortable. I was so happy to help them and educate them on what’s available to women riders. As a mechanic and a rider of both MTB and road, I felt like women appreciated they had another woman to ask and answer their questions. For this reason and to help grow the population of women riders we need more women ambassadors in shops and on the trail helping women riders of all ages.
You participate in races, tell us what you enjoy most about challenging yourself at an event.-
Oh gosh, the summer series for Quick and Dirty and any other races they put on, or the SoCal Endurance series…they’re all so fun. Feels good to push your body to the limits. The fun afterward is the cherry on top! Races give me a marker on how far I’ve come as a rider.
Specialized Ambassador, tell us why you are stoked about the opportunity to be an ambassador for Specialized.-
Oh man! There’s so much I can say about this. I worked for a Specialized dealer and I love their bikes! The Stoke is Real! I love the excitement of talking about our bikes. I love participating in demo days and at Specialized Ladies Nite. The Specialized Ambassadorship gives me a platform to share my stoke for riding the Specialized brand with new and seasoned women riders alike.
Why do you feel Ambassador programs are beneficial for the cycling industry?
With great power comes great responsibility. :) Women ambassadors help other women coming into the industry as riders and consumers. I feel excited and fortunate to be able to talk to women about their goals as a rider and to help match them up with the right bike. I am able to organize MTB rides like the one I have coming up with the Girl Scouts of America in October. They made me an honorary Girl Scout! So Rad! I’m excited to get the youth stoked on riding and introducing them to Specialized. They are the future of cycling. Plus, on top of all this, I get to introduce new riders, meet other riders, and make new riding buddies along the way. Some of my most fav rides have been taking women out on their first MTB ride. The cycling industry automatically benefits when ambassadors are out spreading rider stoke and bringing people together with bicycles.
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Lined up at an MTB race. Waiting for the pop. Looking around. There are a sea of men lined up with a million different categories and maybe 30 women lined up between three little categories: elite, sport and beginner. MTB women know what I’m saying here. We are the minority. Why? Most times I hear this: “It’s too hard.” “It’s dangerous.” “I don’t want to fall going down a hill.” And the biggest reason of all? “I have no one to ride with.” Most times it's fear-based. When I’ve taken brand new riders out on my old mtb they are surprised at how fun it is and how they can start off on terrain that’s good for new riders to ease into. It’s never a good idea to take new riders out on the gnarliest of trails. They can work their way up to that. We need more women ambassadors with the capabilities to be able to share a bike with a new rider and take them out. It’s awesome to have my extra bike around to take new riders out. I can’t tell everyone enough how important it is to take someone out on their first ride and be patient with them. Enjoy the moment and remember your own first ride. Pay it forward.
Specialized is definitely doing their part in the Encourage Her rides and Women Ambassadorships. I'd like to see local demo days just for ladies happen. Doesn’t have to be big but needs to be marketed local schools, bike shops, bike clubs, and social media. Creating and sharing a new experience with a new friend to try out bikes should be part of the theme. You can talk to people about their fears and acknowledge them and help show them the way from there. They just need a bike to ride. New riders don’t usually have access to a bike. If women ambassadors had access to bikes, taking a few new riders out in a group would be so awesome. Having the right people guiding them is just as important.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
The feeling I get from riding my MTB or road bike or any bike? Like that dog sticking his head out of a moving truck with its tongue flapping in the wind…it’s pure bliss! I want other women to feel that. It feels empowering and freeing. That’s what inspires me to encourage women to ride.
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Random fact about myself? I ride moto, as in dirt bikes on singletrack. OMG! So fun! I love skiing too.