Women Involved Series: Catherine Neff
Catherine holds skills instructor certifications through BICP, PMBIA, and USAC. She has developed a love of introducing new riders, especially women and youth, to mountain biking and helping experienced riders to hone in their skill. As a coach, her passion is rooted deeply in helping riders to find confidence, overcome fears, and develop a love of adventure. She loves helping riders turn an “I can’t” into “I just did it” through guiding, coaching, and encouraging. Catherine has done extensive coursework outside the cycling world in education and teaching. She is currently pursuing personal training certification. When not on a bike, you can find her in the lifting at the gym, writing, cooking, running, teaching piano lessons, or out exploring nature.
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When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
When I first started out, I had trouble with a lot of things and had very little confidence. I was pretty athletic so that helped me some, but I had no technique and often found myself on the ground. I didn’t like standing, narrow trails, and downhill anything really freaked me out. Catching air was out of the question and really anything more than just dirt kinda made me uneasy. It took me two years of trial and error, lots of bandaids, a couple stitches, and a lot of frustration before I participated in a skills clinic and took a private skills lessons with Angi Weston. Wow, did my riding change for the better. If you have the opportunity to work with a certified skills coach, DO IT! I’m the rider and coach I am today because of the mentoring and encouragement from my coaches and my own stubbornness, perseverance, and drive to be a better version of me. Working with a skills coach is one of the best things I’ve done. I have a very analytical mind and really like to understand the body mechanics of how, why, and what is required for each skill. I love to compare photos and videos of myself to other riders to see body positions, techniques, and what is and is not successful. Watching instructional videos is great, but nothing compares to working in person with a coach.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
A lot of the things I find tricky is usually in my head, but I do still find some of the more techy/super chunky riding tricky. It is one of my biggest weaknesses; that and riding super skinny bridges/trails with exposure. I used to really beat myself up when I’d walk a section of trail and often let it ruin my entire ride. I started approaching my riding with a different mindset and accepting where I am at that moment. Maybe I had a rough night's sleep and came into the ride already kind of tired or maybe I have had a lot on my plate that day and my mind was elsewhere. Allowing myself to accept and know that maybe I can’t do it right at this moment or I can’t do it YET, but the next time I will try again has been huge. It’s allowed me to grow my skills. I also give myself little pep talks and sometimes sing to myself while riding. I often hear the voices of my coaches during my pep talks; what they would say to coach me down something or what I would say to someone I was coaching. A lot of times telling myself “you know you have the ability to ride this, you know exactly what to do, keep your eyes up, breathe, and visualize success” is enough to not get dragged down.
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?
Being nervous is totally and completely normal and absolutely acceptable. I was there when I started too and still get nervous with trying new things! Sometimes taking that first step is the hardest, but once you do, you’ll be so glad. Remember to have fun with it, that it’s ok to walk sections of trail, and to not apologize for asking questions, not making it up a climb, falling, or riding slower. My suggestion is to find a skills coach or guide that is knowledgeable about the trails and can help with some basic riding techniques or sign up for a skills clinic. Have them also help find an appropriate bike- size and style and also gear (helmets, clothes, gloves, shoes) and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Looking for local group rides is also a great place to get to know other local riders.
What was your inspiration for becoming a mountain bike skills coach?
This one is has a deep connection for me. I have never really had a good self-image and lacked a lot of confidence in so many areas. Riding has helped to change that- it has given me confidence in my own ability to not only ride over that rock or down that drop, but it allowed me to start to see positives and believe I could do more than I thought. I originally got certified to develop my own riding skills and maybe help some local riders. That all changed after working with one of my biggest mentors, Angi Weston. I left my first clinic and lesson (and every one since) with more confidence than I can remember in not only my riding but in my personal endeavors. It re-energizes me and makes me want to strive for more. Her positive encouragement and belief that I was capable of so much more than I gave myself credit for helped me be a more confident person on and off the bike. Knowing how much I needed that encouragement and confidence, I knew others probably did too. So my “path” changed and I decided to pursue coaching more to be able to inspire others. I want to help them find the ability to believe in themselves and approach things with an open mind, self-love, freedom, and confidence.
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?
I’ve thankfully only had one minor biff. With anything, if you’re pushing yourself, you’ll eventually have that moment of failure or a setback and that’s what happened. I was pushing myself to go faster and harder and hit a jump too fast and launched. I ended up with some stitches in my chin and some ligament damage in my wrist. Any injury, big or small is always challenging to come back from. I’ve learned to be patient with healing both my body and mind and being gentle with myself on all fronts and to try to not get frustrated. Coming back after an injury is often accompanied by self-doubt and fear, but you can overcome it with patience. I try to break down what caused the accident and then “ride it again” in my mind successfully. Once back on the trail, I try to always visualize success, take it slow, and trust I know the skills to be successful. A lot of the times you come back wiser and stronger than before.
What do you love about riding your bike?
The freedom, thrill, progression, and the community. I love pushing myself to go faster and ride harder and try new things.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a lot of bikes (road, cx, xc, trail, dj, fat bike), so I’ll tell you about my two most ridden. I ride a Transition Smuggler for my trail bike and have a Transition PBJ for my dirt jumper/Ray’s Indoor Bike Park bike. I chose the Smuggler because I am super finicky with my bikes- how it feels, how it fits, and how it rides. It has to feel just right for me to feel grounded on it. I love to feel stable and be aggressive, but also be able to be playful, and have the confidence that the bike will respond. I demoed a medium (they didn’t have a small) Smuggler and a small Patrol at a local demo and was amazed at how easy the bikes were to ride. They both just “fit” my picky style. The Smuggler is a 29er, I’m 5’5” and it handled as good if not better than the bike I was currently riding. I was worried about the stand-over and maneuverability going back to a 29er, but it was an amazing ride. It’s a simple bike to ride with top-notch components. I felt so at home on the bike and really the brand itself, I ordered my Smuggler shortly after the demo. The PBJ followed since I wanted to upgrade my dirt jumper. I rode a few different bikes and setups and then got to demo a PBJ and it was super responsive with jumping and handling. I was sold again on Transition Bikes!
You founded CAMBA Juniors to foster the love of mountain biking with local youth, how has the program been going and how can folks support it?
CAMBA Juniors was started really to get more kids out riding together as a community. We have adult group rides, but I would always see the kids riding with the parents. I wanted to foster a sense of community within the youth population. In the first year, we grew to 35 junior members over the course of 5 rides and we doubled that our second season. I have a group of amazing and supportive volunteers, including my dad that guide, cheer on and encourage each rider. This season we plan to continue to expand and grow the program with the hopes that our juniors will advance up into a NICA team and continue to be advocates for the sport. The best way to support us is to spread the word if you’re local. We are currently a free program open to all riders of all abilities. If you’re not local to the Cleveland/Akron, Ohio area, look for a similar organization near you and help grow the future of riding.
Tell us about your business, Ride Inspired Coaching-
The seed for Ride Inspired Coaching was planted on a road bike ride actually and at the time I had no idea what the seed would be. I do a lot of my best thinking and brainstorming while riding. I was about 30 miles into a ride and my mind started wandering to things people have said to me and I kept coming back to “you’re really an inspiration”. So, I started thinking, “ok, but why and how can I make a difference” and over the remainder of that ride I just kept tossing out ideas and thoughts into the universe and a year and a half later the seed grew into a coaching business. Ride Inspired offers indoor and outdoor skills clinics, private skills lessons, youth lessons, and fitness based workouts designed for the indoor bike park. My mission is to build confidence, grow a community, inspire self-growth through bikes and eventually strength training and nutrition for a healthy lifestyle.
What has been the best part about having your own coaching business?
The best part is really meeting and interacting with so many different people from so many backgrounds and sharing my knowledge. I absolutely love learning about what drives people to ride. Being able to get more people loving bikes while being active is a plus.
You have been a coach with several other organizations, like Ladies AllRide. Tell us about your experience volunteering and why it was fun?
It was a great experience being able to be a part of such a huge movement to get more women on bikes. There is a special kind of energy being with a group of 70-80 women of all abilities, ages, mindset, and backgrounds. It’s uplifting. Also, working with so many amazing coaches and being able grow not only as a rider, but as a coach is priceless. There is nothing that tops being cheered on by a group of lady shredders as you ride and conquer fears.
Why do you feel it's important for women to be involved with their local mountain bike trail organization/chapter?
Getting women involved with the local organizations helps to grow the cycling community. When women get involved, they become empowered. They learn about local trails, learn they can have an impact in a more male-dominated sport and meet other riders -it builds confidence and self-esteem. Getting women involved also encourages the youth to become more active and involved. It becomes a family sport.
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
It has been a very male-dominated sport for so long, so I sometimes think fear is a big factor. Fear of not knowing where or how to get started, the fear of holding up a group ride, messing up other riders, not knowing anyone, or the fear of the unknown stops a lot of women. It can also be an expensive sport to get started with especially if you aren’t sure you’ll like it and be doing it long term.
What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
It’s come a long way in a short amount of time but creating even more women’s events like rides and clinics. Make it as accessible as possible; sometimes being able to demo a bike and “try it” will encourage women to come out. Offer educational events where women can learn how to set up their bikes to ride, learn about different styles of bikes, basic repair, and create an opening, non-judgmental environment. I think also having events for women being run by women is huge.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Being able to show other women the positive impact riding has. I believe it is such an awesome way to get to know other women in the community; to laugh and have fun all while riding our bikes. I would love for more women to experience that. Having a tribe of lady shredders that you can count on is amazing. Riding has given me so much more confidence. It’s shown me I am a strong and capable woman.
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Ha! There are a lot of random facts… but, I love to cook and I cook almost all my meals from scratch and am playing with the idea of writing a cookbook of sorts.
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