NOT JUST PEDALING
A LIFESTYLE & COMMUNITY
Josie Smith, who, with her husband, own Decorah Bicycles in Decorah Iowa reached out earlier this year and asked if she could publish a profile about me and my life on a bike. She's been posting about women of all experience and skill levels ON BIKES and INVOLVED WITH BIKES for four years on Josie's Bike Life and I think it's a pretty cool way to showcase many different women who simply love two wheels, two pedals, the beautiful outdoors, and the community riding can bring.
Here's my life on a bike....
I was introduced to mountain biking in 1991 by a college boyfriend and kicked off my journey on a steel fully rigid Trek 830. However, I was immediately hooked, returned the bike and upgraded to the Trek 970 - the love affair grew from there. In 1993, something was calling me to Colorado and once I got here, there was no looking back. So I now live in Golden Colorado where I can ride to almost countless miles of trail from my doorstep.
Years later I met my husband in the Mount Falcon parking lot before a ride with friends in Morrison Colorado. Having just purchased the orange Schwinn Homegrown, I was more interested in his shiny 2000 gold Homegrown and didn't even notice him! Luckily, he did notice me and our first date soon took us back out to the trail for a ride. We got engaged in 2001, after he already had two failed attempts due to mechanicals with his VW Camper Van, on Georgia Pass (symbolic of my husband’s home state) while mountain biking Kenosha/Georgia. Three times are definitely a charm!
Our VW camper, aptly named Iggy after Ignaz Schwinn, was our touring/biking vehicle for over 15 years. We still have Iggy but recently added a new van to the family with a bathroom, furnace, and more space to take us on longer adventures off the grid. In fact, we hit the road for a 6 month ‘forever Spring’ tour discovering new trails and meeting amazing people in Arizona, Nevada, up and down the California coast, and Utah. It was truly one of the best experiences of our lives.
My racing journey has been both on and off for many years but haven't taken it to a level that would kill my passion for the sport. One of my favorite races was the 24hrs of Moab. A small tent city was erected just South of Moab every year for a truly memorable event. Though 24-Hour and other extended endurance races are out there, this stopped many years ago. Currently, I’m on the Pedal Pushers KIND Racing team representing Cafe13, Pedal Pushers Cyclery, SCOTT Bikes, KIND Snacks, and Maxxis Tires and I’m on SCOTT’s Contessa Spark RC 700 carbon race bike. Despite some injuries, I’m really jazzed to mention that I took 2nd place in the 50k Fruita Desert RATS Classic this year!
I love volunteering at races, saying ‘hello’ to other trail users while out riding, and simply experiencing good flow on a beautiful day!
I’m also a Transformational Nutrition Coach, leveraging my over 25 years of experience working in high tech, to help companies transform their culture of health and women get wellness and movement back in their lives after injury, surgery, or getting lost in the corporate grind. Between my experience with personal injuries and past career burnout, I've developed many tools and techniques to help others bring health and sport back into their lives.
Tell us more about the introduction to your #bikelife and how your passion for cycling grew from that experience-
I grew up playing with the boys and we spent most of our time on bikes because they offered freedom and fun. However, the sport of mountain biking formally took off during college. I was introduced to the trails in Duluth Minnesota, got hooked, and asked for help to buy my first bike as a college graduation gift from my parents.
Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what inspired you to keep at it?
Wow, to go back to 1991… Like I mentioned, my first riding was in Duluth Minnesota. I had to borrow a bike to ride because I didn’t own a mountain bike yet. It’s so wet in Minnesota that we went riding in the rain, in the mud, and with slick, wet roots. Hartley Park offered the first trails I ever rode. I loved the tight winding single track, being outdoors, and the beautiful views. I aspired to get better so I could keep up with my boyfriend.
What inspired you to participate in competitive mountain bike events? What did you learn from your experiences?
I simply love the atmosphere and camaraderie at the races. I love being outside and with others who love the sport. I never bore watching or talking about mountain biking. So, I’d have to say it was friends and like-passioned people.
I learned that I get wicked nerves before a race, that my pain threshold is higher than I ever knew, and that once the race starts I get laser focused melting everything else away. I also learned that I don’t like forcing my passion into a training regimen. My love is being outside, the trails, the views, and testing my limits.
How do you strike balance with participating in events, preparing yourself for them, yet not burning yourself out?
We are all wired differently and I’m not wired to put my all into prepping and participating in events. I ride with a light focus on training by choosing certain days for easy rides, hard rides with intervals, long rides, and rest. I have a pretty good base built up after riding for over 25 years, so fitness and strength in the sport come together well. I also stay hydrated, practice yoga regularly, see a personal trainer, go on walks often, eat clean, and get to bed early. It’s really a lifestyle that doesn’t even need to be tied to participating in events but rather simply doing what’s best for my body, mind, and soul.
Any suggestions or tips for folks who have yet to attend their first event?
Find a group that provides community. There are many women’s specific groups that offer no-drop rides, skills clinics, and great education on what to expect and how to prepare for an event. You’ll not only make new friends but you’ll have a great support system cheering you on! They can ask their local bike shop about local women’s clubs and teams or they can even look for a mountain biking Meetup.
Clips or flats? What works for you?
I’ve been a clip rider since 1995 so I rarely use flats. If I’m on a hard core skills training session I’ll put on flats but otherwise I ride everything clipped in.
Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I’ve witnessed and experienced countless ‘biffs’ that physically and/or mentally affected me. I have such a deep passion for mountain biking that I am always jonesing to get back on the trail. However, some of the injuries were so severe they required major surgery. Here are some of the things I did to overcome the loss, depression, fear, and sadness:
- Got laser focused on my health, physical therapy, and fully healing
- Journaling - put my feelings on paper, celebrated progress and accomplishments no matter how small
- Talked to others who’d recovered from the same injury
- Added other activities to the mix
- Once I was back on the bike, I took a skills clinic to help with confidence
- Told myself often that “You have to start somewhere” which gave myself continuous affirmation that it’s ok to be where I’m at and I’m getting better from here.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Looking where I wanted to go vs. what I was trying to avoid. That is one of the most important fundamental skills with riding. It’s amazing what you can ride when you don’t look at that big rock, root, or cliff! However, if you do want to ride over the rock or root, don’t break, keep some speed and you’ll be amazed at what you cleanly roll over.
Other more advanced skills were switchbacks and getting the front wheel up. There are a few tricks that work for switchbacks: Go wide and turn early, but most importantly, look where you want to go. When you are in the turn look ahead and down the trail and your body and bike will take you there.
I was on a fully rigid bike when I first started riding so the technique to unweight the front wheel and get it up was different. However, with full suspension, I love practicing the timing of weighting the front fork to then lighten and lift it to get the wheel up an obstacle. I then stand and bring my weight forward for the final pedal stroke bringing the rear wheel over. You can really feel the flow of it when you do it right.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I’m very inconsistent with cornering. Sometimes when the trail conditions are just right I can tell that I’m leaning my bike into a corner. However, I don’t have the feel of my tires hooking up in the corners mastered, so I don’t fully trust my tires and know their limits. So, I’ll find myself slowing down, getting rigid, or using my fat head to lean over which is a big no-go!
What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the feeling of flow and being immersed in nature. Getting away from concrete, crowds, and the sounds of lawn mowers to enjoy the peace and beauty that only the outdoors can offer is very soul-fulfilling for me. I love accomplishing a long climb, figuring out tech, and the bouncy splashy flow of a great descent. I also love it when I’m faster and better than the guys!
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My current bike is the 2017 Scott Spark Contessa. It’s a beautiful, 27.5” light, fast, carbon fiber cross county race bike. I love the 1x12 gearing with the 50-tooth eagle bail out, 3-level suspension lockout, larger front brake rotor, and slacker head angle making the bike really stable at high speeds. After riding a custom built Santa Cruz carbon XC Blur for 6 years I chose Scott because I know many Scott owners who love their bikes, world-class racers are on Scott, and most importantly, I really liked the riding and handling feel when I demo’d the bike. It was the right next bike for me and my style of riding.
Here’s more info from my review: 2017 Scott Spark Contessa
You originally started biking in Minnesota, tell us where your favorite areas were to mountain bike-
There weren’t a lot of trails available in Minnesota when I started riding in the early 90’s. In fact, even the local ski resorts hadn’t caught on to the summer money-maker yet. Most of my riding and learning was in Duluth, the Lusten ski area, and along Lake Superior. The introduction was perfect for me because the trails were interesting, challenging and beautiful. Though my love affair started in Northern Minnesota, it took a completely new shape when I moved to Colorado in late 1993. Front range, high altitude and desert terrain opened up such a vast diversity of riding. I remember the early days in Moab, Fruita, Grand Junction, Keystone, Winter Park… It’s hard to select a favorite.
Out of the places you have traveled, where would be your favorite destination for biking?
How can I choose a single favorite destination? I loved all the riding we discovered in Utah’s Wasatch mountains and the Park City area. Durango is a close second and there were some pretty cool trails we discovered in Arizona and along the California coast last year. Since I live in Colorado I live at a perfect riding destination, so some of the best local trails are just a short ride out my front door.
What do you love most about having a husband who enjoys riding with you?
This is the best question of them all! I love riding, trails, the outdoors, and my husband. To have the opportunity to combine all of these loves and passions feeds me beyond measure. I feel like our marriage is stronger because we share in the same passion and enjoy the sport together. We support each other, make sure we each get much needed time in the saddle and know it’s a priority for each of us.
Any suggestions/tips for couples who want to ride together? Especially those who may not be on the same experience level?
Patience and communication. My husband and I are generally well-suited riding partners though he’s much stronger and faster than me overall. There are days when he makes it clear that he needs to do his own thing and I don’t take it personally. There are days we start together then split up, ride together but gap each other if one’s having a stronger climbing day, or stay together the whole ride. Know and set your expectation ahead of time, don’t take it personally and don’t leave someone behind at a fork in the trail. If the intention is to ride together then my plea is for the stronger person to slow down and ride with their partner. It’s a gift of your time, shows respect, and they’ll love the sport more for it!
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Not knowing where or how to start and the fear of getting hurt. Bike shops are becoming more female friendly and patient with new riders by helping them select good basic gear, providing help with fit, and offering introductory maintenance and skills clinics. Some women’s passion for the sport transcends injury where they can’t wait to recover to get back on the bike. However, there are many women that just want to stay fit and ride with their boyfriend, husband, or friends.
A good local shop, club, or group can help with their fear of the unknown, provide riding tips, and direct them to the best beginner trails. Or, even better, take them out on their first ride.
What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
The sport and industry aren’t as ‘silent’ as they used to be. Mountain biking has become a much more mainstream sport and the collective user group voice is driving great strides in product, user needs, and trail access. Because of that, I’m going to focus on some of the local and industry changes that I see are already making a difference:
- There are more women’s teams and clubs available than ever before.
- Co-ed teams are getting really strong female representation.
- There are groups specifically supporting kids, helping get them on bikes and on the trails.
- Many high schools are adding mountain biking as an available sport.
- Companies are offering more women’s specific products like bikes, clothing, gear, and fuel.
- Because of communications on social media, bike shops are learning that women are a valid demographic and should be treated with respect, given time and energy, and provided great service.
- More high-end used bikes are available for sale making an introduction to the sport more accessible.
- There are Facebook groups with a focus on communicating local trail conditions and minimizing trail conflict amongst different user groups with very active female contributors.
- Other experienced riders, both men and women, enjoy helping new riders with skills and confidence development.
- There are trail maintenance teams that offer volunteer opportunities for all trail users. It’s a great way to meet new people and give back to the sport and community.
- With apps like MTB Project and Trailforks, all users have more access to trail beta.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I love the sport and activity so much that I simply love seeing other women grow in strength and confidence on the bike. It inspires me when I see others grow in their love of the outdoors, trails, the thrill of earning the descent after a long climb, and the joy and confidence earned after making a technical section.
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I am going through a major career change! I started my career as an engineer and then moved in to program management and consulting in high tech. However, I’ve always had a passion for nutrition, wellness, and sport. I now have my certification as a Transformational Nutrition Coach (CTNC) and I’m working with people who’ve experienced a setback due to illness, injury, or a busy life to bring a healthy and active lifestyle back to their Every-Day. I'm also working with companies to form and implement action plans rolling out a more modern culture of health, improving morale, productivity, and so much more. I am so jazzed to keep learning and to help others that I’m continuing my core education and starting a Master’s program.