Women on Bikes Series: Jen Malik

My name is Jen Malik and I just earned my PhD in Biomedical Engineering two months ago from The Ohio State University. I started riding/racing bikes in 2014 and immediately fell in love with the sport!

My primary focuses have been in cyclocross and mountain biking but I do love a nice long road ride.

When I first started riding the Columbus cycling community was so welcoming and even lent me a majority of the gear I rode for that first year of racing. I can honestly say that without having such a supportive community I probably would not have been able to progress in the sport as quickly nor would it be such a huge part of who I am. I do my best to "pay it forward" and volunteer at local cross practices as well as serve on the board of the Central Ohio Mountain Biking Organization. This past year I won the Collegiate National Championship race in Reno and competed in my first ever European races for cyclocross -- it was epic! I also am one of the founding members of the KS Kenda Women's Elite MTB team which has been an amazing experience in and of itself!

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Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I was introduced to mountain biking after my first cyclocross clinic when some of the ladies there invited me to come join them for a mountain bike ride the next day. It was myself and 6 other women most of whom I had never actually met before but everybody was so warm and welcoming that I just immediately fell in love with it! I have always loved being out in nature and the warmth of the mountain bike community especially the women who welcomed me with open arms (bikes, gear, food, trail help... etc ha).

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 really struggled with maintaining momentum through roots or rocks and often times would just get off the bike and run through them. It is still something that I am working through but what has really helped is being light on the bars and remembering to stand up and pedal into ("attack") the features. Also, hopping off the bike and walking the section and then going back to try it a couple of times has really helped me with confidence building.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I still struggle with rock gardens or bumpy terrain but look at each one as a challenge and focus on the little victories/ progress I am making each time. Some times I will go back and retry a feature if I cannot get it but if after a couple of tries I am still unsuccessful I will wait until I can come back and ride it with a friend who can help me figure out the lines and get pumped for the challenge.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I tend to use both. I predominately use clips but when I am practicing skills work or out riding and want to work on my technique I will use flats. I noticed that flat pedals keep my honest and help me work on body/foot position while giving me that nice safety detachment from the bike if I need to bail ha!

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 would say that going with the right group of people is huge! Mountain biking doesn't have to be about who can get up the hill fastest or racing your friends. Some of my favorite rides have been with newer riders and just chilling and tackling features that looked scary and all getting pumped when we clear them!

What was your inspiration to start participating in mountain bike events?
We had a local short track series that I really enjoyed and through that I made friends who traveled to races and started going along.

What helped you make the decision to race in the elite field?
I am a very competitive person by nature so as soon as I started racing I started watching the UCI Elite XCO races and was inspired to compete at that level. Also, seeing the level of difficulty and mental toughness needed in order to complete the races was really inspiring.

What were you surprised to learn when you started racing elite?

I was surprised at how fast the starts were and definitely underestimated the level of focus it takes when you are red-lined and exhausted yet still have to navigate tricky descents or rooty/rocky sections.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the KS Kenda Women's Elite MTB team?
This is a tough one because I absolutely love everything about the team and my teammates! I would have to say I love having teammates that are my friends, my family, and my support system. We talk pretty much daily and even when I am racing cyclocross both Nikki and Emma still find time to ask how my races are going, wish me good luck, and talk about whatever we are thinking about that day. I am seriously counting down the days until our team camp when I can see them again!!

Tell us about your favorite event!
My favorite event this past year was MTB Nats. We rented a hutch right on the mountain and spent the whole week pre-riding and hanging out. It was really cool to be able to spend more than one day pre-riding and to work together as a team to help each other dial lines and then be there to catch each other at the finish.

Why should folks participate in at least one event?
It is a really neat way to push yourself and test your limits. Also, even though it is a race I have found that everybody is so encouraging and stoked to see more people out racing that you can form some amazing friendships.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that when I am riding my bike it is the only thing I am focusing on. I am in nature, not worrying about work, or any other problems. It is just me, my bike, the random trail nature. I also love the feeling of being able to ride a feature that I hadn't been able to previously.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I ride the Pivot Mach 4 (27.5) and Pivot Les (29). I love how playful the Mach 4 is and I feel like I can bomb down descents -- it has definitely been a confidence builder. The Les is incredibly lightweight and can climb like a beast as well as has a more relaxed geometry which allows for easier handling down steep technical descents. Next year I will be switching to the Pivot Mach 429SL but still keeping the Mach 4. I seriously love how it can ride both as a playful shredder and an aggressive race machine (having a KS dropper post definitely helps with that one!).

Tell us about volunteering with the Central Ohio Mountain Biking Organization and what it entails-
Volunteering for COMBO has given me a huge appreciation for the amount of time it takes to maintain trails, build them, and also run events. While we only meet once a month as a group, we are in constant communication and have several small meetings to make sure events are organized and do trail work. Being a board member on COMBO and getting more involved with the mountain bike community actually inspired me to lead the charge to bring NICA to Ohio!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I feel that riding with the wrong people can really deter anybody especially women from cycling/mountain biking. A ride can turn into a frustrating experience if you get dropped and are left to pedal by yourself while seeing everybody waiting up ahead only to leave you again when you catch up. I am lucky to have experienced this type of ride only once but riding by yourself and being overwhelmed by the trail (and also scared) can be deterring enough and then to have a group of people "ditching" you can make for a very negative experience.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think more women's group rides or reminding experienced riders what it is like to first start mountain biking would make a huge difference.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

I am inspired by the excitement and stories of new ride successes after a day on the trail. It gets me so pumped and excited to see my friends/new riders confidence grow after riding. I feel like mountain biking has given me a sense of self-confidence that I was missing and I want every woman to experience that light bulb "I'm a Boss!" or "Yes I can do it!" moment.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Before every race, I like to listen to Rock Lobster by the B-52s. It gets me pumped ha!