Sunday, August 13, 2017

Ability Over Aesthetics

As a female athlete, I often find myself under differing amounts of scrutiny from many outlets on varying topics, but one of the most prevalent topics is physical appearance. 

Some weeks back after placing well at a US national race, I was reading the comments on a recap article about the results here on Pinkbike and came across a comment about my legs from another Pinkbike member. Granted, in the accompanying photo of the podium, I look like a fat kid whose shorts are hiked way too far in the awkward direction; it was an awkward picture, to say the least. But what really caught me off guard was the fact that this male commenter felt the need to comment on my legs in the first place. Yes, they looked AWFUL. Yes, I looked fat. But to publicly point it out? Is that really necessary? After an angry, emotional rant to a friend and a few beers, I calmly sat down at my computer and patiently explained to this gentleman why I love my chubby little stems. It ended fairly well.

What stuck with me from this experience, however, was that a large portion of the public, as well as members of the action sports industry truly believe that female athletes are all supposed to look like the models displayed in the magazines and ads. This false advertisement and hype not only creates perception issues for the general public, but it creates an economy within the action sports industry that punishes and devalues women who prioritize their skills and athletic ability over their physical appearance and 'look'. Many companies and sponsors will outsource product shoots and advertising campaigns and tradeshow appearances to professional models while the very athletes who test and use their products get 'budget cuts' and reduced incentive payouts, despite being the people doing the work... It creates a false public belief that athletes are these beautiful people who always look perfect and instills in young women a lie about the definition of success. Some of the strongest female athletes I have ever met are women who don't give a damn about how they look; they're usually more concerned with progressing their sports and pushing the performance line than smudging their mascara. These women are the girls going huge, 'chicking' the boys and changing perspectives and ideas about female athleticism, yet they don't get advertising campaigns devoted to their competitive prowess or total athletic domination. They don't receive accolades for building outreach programs for other women and girls and they don't get press for pushing boundaries, because someone has already given that ad space to a pretty face who 'looks' athletic. 

Now, I clearly understand the issue from a marketing standpoint: a brand needs to look attractive to trigger an aspirational response within a potential consumer, which usually leads to a purchase, aka the "buy this because this product makes you pretty" campaign. This campaign is why models are paid to stand around in the first place. I get it. Believe me. But my problem is that this is required in an industry built around skill and progression. Male athletes are endorsed because they are particularly talented or skilled in a certain discipline or area, or because they're personable and make the sport fun, or because they do crazy shit. That's great. But female athletes get press for being pretty. If you have skills, great! If not? Well, that's okay... You can still be a professional athlete! We'll just make sure you don't race or film or do any sort of event where raw skill is required. A pretty face is literally a golden ticket to success in our appearance-obsessed world, and sadly, the bike industry is no exception. In a world of followers, likes, and comments, an athlete's value is based on how much 'influence' they have across social media platforms, and it can be easy to get caught up in the waves of lustful adoration from pervy lurkers. It's easy to confuse attention for respect and followers for influence; it can happen before we even know what's going on. 

Anyone with enough motivation can be 'fit'. Anyone can train to look good. Anyone can wake up, hit the gym, eat right and get a great body. Anyone can wear makeup and have their hair done for some cute photos. How do I know this? Because I've done it. It's a whole lot easier than you'd think. Sexy bodies reflect commitment to fitness, but anyone can just go out and exercise -- training for and excelling at a sport requires dedication to a long-term vision of success, and a strong body often looks much different than a 'sexy' body. It's not easy to consistently push back what we want now for what we want most. It's not easy to go to bed early and wake up early and mix jobs and training and riding and skills work and travel and family. But it's worth it because it goes far deeper than what any of us 'look like' on the surface. We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation of athletes and girls to build a realistic concept of 'strong' and 'successful' that isn't based on appearance. 

It no longer surprises me when people make comments about the attractiveness of female athletes as related to their value ("yeah, but she's HOT!"), because that's what we've allowed our industry to become. We objectifiy female riders and athletes every time we fail to speak up during a conversation or debate. We demean our female athletes every time there's an ad, an Instagram post or a video of bouncing boobs that casts the women of our sport in a sexual light and we stand idly by, waiting for someone else to step forward and create change. 

It's the responsibility of all of us to rise above the sexual shitstorm that plagues women in sport, and that includes the female athletes. As women we need to focus on what our bodies can do, not what they look like. If we do this... If we refuse to exploit our sexuality for profit, our sponsors, our companies, our male counterparts, our industries and the public will follow suit. At the end of the day, much of the responsibility comes down to those of us in the spotlight earning our places as professional athletes. Not by having pretty faces or great bodies and using our appearance to 'get ahead', but by pushing the boundaries and limits of our sport every time we're on our bikes. We need to set an example for those coming generations about what we will and will not tolerate from our own industry, and what we will and will not do for the sake of notoriety, glossy pages or social media fame. If we truly want equality in sport, we need to behave equally and stop commercializing our sexuality. All of us have to be willing to put the work in, step outside of societal roles and start earning those equal payouts. We DO have something to prove, and that's why we're out here: to prove that we're more than a genetic lottery. That's the beauty of sport. 

As a culture, as athletes, as a community and as an industry, it's high time we start paying attention to the messages we're sending to the members of our sport and the image we project to those outside. It's time to start asking ourselves what we REALLY want as a sport: athletic-looking models who capitalize on the status quo of companies looking to send the wrong message? Or women who really do throw down and have committed to the permanent health and growth of our sport? It's time to start seeing these powerful, incredible women as what they are: the building blocks of a healthy future.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mud, Sweat and 'Why The Hell Am I Here?!': Lucky Number 13



I've never been a wet rider. 

Living in Utah doesn't provide much opportunity for it without doing some serious damage to trails and with the influx of new riders, flow trails and 'trail improvement' (aka sanitization) around the state, finding a wet trail that's both rideable in the rain and has any technical difficulty beyond chunky rocks is a little like the holy grail: still missing... Much like my wet-riding skills.

I've had a few chances to hone them over the last ten years but have generally approached it with caution, denial or a frank "fuck that shit". Begrudgingly, I've been forced out of my comfort zone enough that my basic understanding of water + roots + mud + rocks + gravity = less pain, but even after a few wet trips to Whistler (one including watching Katie Holden dislocate shoulders after tumbling down a waterfall while riding and shooting for Deep Summer during a storm), it's still something I'm uncomfortable with. Seriously uncomfortable, if 'uncomfortable' means 'everything inside of me screams violently and shrivels into a tiny ball while bleeding from the eyes'.

It's an understatement to say I dislike the mud. 

After all, I'm a desert rat, born and bred. Give me blown out moon dust and sandy landings and I'll hand you a podium finish and the best photos you've ever asked for. I'll toss you dirt-filled teeth in the middle of a grin and laugh with lungs full of dried earth. But if you add water, I'm out. It's always been that way. Who wouldn't, though? I broke a shoulder in the rain at Windham in 2013 during my first bid for UCI points as a new pro. I destroyed both hands in 2014 at Beech in a mud- and water-filled waste of a weekend that ended up costing me my trips to Mont Ste Anne and Crankworx that year as well as a rebreak at Windham, again in the rain.

Getting the picture yet? 

I DON'T DO WET.

And yet... Last Wednesday, after flying to West Virginia to drive through a summer monsoon the day before, I found myself staring up at a dark sky and cursing everything inside of me and anything within a 2,000-mile radius. It was going to fucking rain. It was National Champs week and instead of the rare and dusty conditions I had raced in during the 2014 ProGRT, we were going to have a mud bog. On a death track. In the middle of nowhere. It was going to... Nope. It was raining.

I laughed. Because, really, what else is there to do at that point? You have a bad history of rain racing, you suck at east coast riding, you can't help but die every time you spend tons of money to come ride your bike and... Now it's raining. Great. Pile it on, right? So I went to see Mark.

Now, I could tell you stories about Mark that would make you think he's Jesus, but I'll just say that Mark Wallace is the real deal. He understands racer mentality on a level that few mechanics will ever even glimpse and he deals with our neuroses with grace, compassion and solutions. There are few mechanics I'd ever listen to in any situation, but Mark will be the first person I call when my life/house/career/racing burns to the ground. He's simply that good. We argued for a few minutes about mud tires, he told me I'd have already missed the boat except that he saved my lackadaisical ass by pulling a couple out for me and we moved forward. 

Because that's what Mark does. He moves us forward. 

Forward was where I needed to go -- after a brutal crash in practice in what were relatively 'dry' conditions, I needed to put one foot in front of the other and just do the damn thing. National champs is not the place to get stuck in a bad headspace of minutiae; national champs at Snowshoe in the rain is an even worse place to do it. So forward I went, practicing the sections I could and literally walking everything else because body-sledding down the face of a mountain isn't my preferred choice of transit. Weird, right? I know. We were on rain delay on and off on Friday, but a course change announcement Thursday night had us all chomping at the bit to check out the new section, get some rubber on dirt and start working out the kinks.  

Now, we've discussed how I'm not a wet rider, but I can honestly say that the first day or so of dry practice was likely my salvation for the week -- even one or two days of mostly-dry track enabled me to simply focus on doing my job without the double distraction of weather. I've been racing for five years but only recently have discovered that the solution to my brain freeze/fear instinct isn't, in fact, getting towed into an obstacle. It's sacking up and having the courage to tackle it alone that leaves me in the best mindset. The first day of practice, I miraculously sent both road gaps (!) and despite a massive speed miscalculation, survived unscathed. After a rolling course walk on the first run, I just committed and doubled down in what was one of the best moves of my experience at Nat Champs. I tell you all of this not to boast but rather to describe the intimate details of what (I suspect) goes on in the head of a pro racer faced with fresh or unfamiliar stuff. I'll be real with you for a hot second: I wasn't truly hitting legitimate gaps before last fall other than on-and-off flirtation stuff where I'd get broken off. I seriously wasn't. I've always gotten hurt on gaps and the related nonsense and they terrified the hell out of me; these jumps were no different. But training somewhere that tests every limit one has tends to force growth; hunger for reward turns normal humans into forces of nature. After the letdown at the ProGRT in June, I was hungry. I still am. And training in Angel Fire has built me into a better, more capable rider. I guess we could say that I built on the confidence and the hunger and the rage and the supportive, loving compassion from those watching it all unfold. But something inside kind of snapped open on Thursday and said 'enough is enough, bitch'. "Just do the damn thing". And although the video footage shows me overshooting the second gap while cursing my way through massive amounts of panic and fear, 'do the damn thing', I did.

Like I said: I really believe that was the building block for the rest of my week. Rolling into unfamiliar territory and decisively throwing down creates momentum for anyone faced with a challenge. Humans are geared to build on success and chase reward -- as I struggled through the rest of my week, I began realizing a few seriously valuable lessons. When we focus on the small details of a task, when we break a course down into little tasks to do each day, the big job of "LEARN THE COURSE" suddenly becomes a series of boxes to tick off. Instead of an overwhelmingly intimidating course, I gave myself one challenge a day to beat. First day were the road gaps. Second day was the rock shelf drop and the off-camber triangle rock jump. Third day was simply staying up (and keeping my pants on!) during qualifiers and come race day, all of the little bits of work I'd put in over the week started pulling themselves together.  

You know the saying "focus on the little stuff and the big stuff will take care of itself"? Yeah. I suck at that. I'm great at big-picture thinking but thanks to my ferret brain and desire to achieve, I often skip over the smaller details that ensure success. But last week, having a mechanic who happens to be the king of detail-oriented attention and emotional support and being able to prioritize and sort through my mental shitstorm was imperative. I'm not sure I'd have been able to get through any of it without the help of other riders, too -- I shared a condo with Jaquie Thomas and Kim Godfrey, and the hilarity was an appropriate offset for a situation I've always taken far too seriously. 

I guess what I'm saying is that I did everything different this time around.

It's hard to say "yeah, I'm an idiot", but... Yeah. I can be an idiot. And instead of putting up mental blocks for myself like 'I'm not a wet rider' and 'I can't jump for shit', I just need to do the damn thing. Not only was my physical and skills preparation key, but untethering myself from the weight of expectation was simply liberating. And it sounds crazy, but focusing on one problem and one task to solve at a time mitigated the whole trainwreck that I often am and the morning of the race, I simply let go. I had put the work in, I'd done my job and when I dropped out of the gate, I think I knew that. I knew I had support from the best people on the planet, I knew there was a crew of rad chicks waiting at the bottom and I knew that whatever happened, it happened. I'd deal with it.

That's why I race -- to know things about myself. To find new things about myself. And I might not be wearing the stars-and-bars this week (because you know I'd rock that shit everywhere), but it all still feels triumphant to me. For the kid who can't ride wet and won't jump for shit, I'm okay with how it ended up and I'm proud of the lessons I learned and was able to share with fellow racers. I had a moment with another racer at the top of the course during a practice session near the end of the weekend, and they asked me about my line through a certain rock garden close to the bottom. Having just barely nailed that line, my response was the fresh candidness of a new discovery: don't look at the line. Don't look at the obstacle. Don't focus on that rock, on where you're at. Focus on where you're going. Look past the rock that keeps stopping you. Look past it and into the road, into your next line, into the tree section. 

As the words came out of my mouth, I was a little shocked to hear them. It rocked me back on my heels to vocalize what my subconscious had been doing for me all week and to realize that the tools were all there but that I simply hadn't been using them correctly. My lack of attention to detail had been a hindrance, until it wasn't. I learned that I'm able to gaze past the shit that would hitch me up and stare down the barrel into my next line. And I found out that while I tell all my coaching kids to "chin up, eyes forward, elbows out" I sometimes forget the logic of that statement. "You can't ride/ski what you can't see", I'll shout. But it's about seeing the details, handling them and then moving on to the stuff we can control. We gotta let it slide sometimes, put a foot down here, build up speed where we can, work that technical corner smarter and occasionally, just hang on for dear fucking life while we keep ourselves upright. 

National Champs taught me a lot about racing in the rain, but I think it taught me more about myself. And that's why we race. 

_____________________


** I'd be hugely remiss if I didn't mention the people responsible for getting me rolling, getting me out there, keeping me sane, hugging me at the bottom, making me laugh, making me crazy and holding my hair. So. In no particular order of things, please acknowledge that the following people made last week possible in every literal sense of the word and instead of congratulating me, thank them. Thank them for supporting me, believing in me (even when the smart option is to not), trusting me, pushing me, hugging me, drinking with me and preventing me from going on a homicidal rage. Ian Supple, for the bike. Without you, I'd never have ridden in the first place. There's a special place in my heart for folks who are just as crazily optimistic as I am and who can imagine these wild dreams alongside me. Clay Kimsey, for keeping me rolling, setting me up and not murdering me over my ongoing shop tab and complaints about how everything 'feels so off'. Rob Johnson, for getting me out there, getting me back and being a goddamn fucking champ when it comes to putting these dreams to work and literally handing me opportunity. I can't really begin to describe how much I owe you for this one. Steves: both of you. Twitter, us, the world. I won't name you, but you know what you did. Mark Wallce - for wrenching on both my bike and my brain and for letting me sob into your shop shirt afterwards without actually laughing at the trainwreck of emotions that I am. Thanks for always being so fucking gung-ho. You're listening and empathy skills are bested only by your attention to detail and I'm insanely lucky to have met you, to know you and to love you to death. Ashton and Amir: goddamn, you two are hilarious. This is our third (?) nationals race at which you've both made my sides hurt and if I weren't so damn happy, I'd probably be seriously upset. Ashton... I might wanna punch you, but I love you, soooo. Fuck off. Jaquie and Kim: Team FastTits for LIFE. Y'all were my salvation this week. I was a fuckin' head case, I am a wreck and you two are the most fabulous friends any bitch could ever have, particularly when she's blackout drunk before the sun goes down. The photos, the hugs, the hangovers and the killer riding (and really bad advice) will continue to remind me that this is why we race. Perhaps calling retirement was a smidge premature. ;) To Park City Bike Demos and Andre: thanks for letting me train, giving me leeway and believing in me enough to care. Thank you for being amazing. To Tyler and Amanda at SDG: GODDAMN. Sponsors who have my back can change a weekend and when everything feels upside down, being on 'my' shit meant everything to me. Thank you for continuously supporting me and my shenanigans and having my back when I burn the world down. To everyone at Angel Fire (yes, you too): you've given me a home, a training ground, a place of solace and an outlet. You've seen me at my best, my worst and everything in between and still continue to give the world the best goddamn trails this side of the Canadian border. Thank you. To my Big Fish: you're a pain in my ass, but the anchor in my life. You've given me the incredible joy that is mountain biking and the power to chase these crazy dreams. Xo. To my little brother who, even after all this time, still reminds me that the tough lessons are the ones that stick. You keep me humble, you keep me smart, and when the shit hits the fan, you're the first one there to make a joke about how I'm covered in feces. We might make our own families with the friends we choose, but you're both to me and I'm a better person because of you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I don't know how much I have to say it or how often i should, but there's nothing that was possible this last  week without all of you in every role you play and beyond -- the world is lucky to have you all in it, and I'm the luckiest one of all to have such an amazing combo team of badasses in my life. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Object Permanence And The Beauty Of Failure

As I'm ruminating on the events of the weekend (and last week, to be fair), I keep circling back to one remarkable thought: I didn't fail. I don't suck. I'm still a good person and a fast rider, and that those two things are completely separate.

Now, this series of thoughts may not seem remarkable to most, but they're a newly consistent narrative to an athlete who has often been insecure about her performance and how it ties in with who I am as a human being. I've 'lost' at a lot of races. I haven't won, but have made excuses about why (even with some very valid reasons peppered in there), and then been disappointed because the same thing keeps happening. Now, there are definitely some caveats to racing, like catching other racers, which is and likely always be a huge obstacle for me personally. I still haven't figured out how to solve that particular issue, but solving the problem isn't my biggest concern -- it's dealing with the "it's not fair!" attitude that comes with it. That I create, post-race. No. Racing isn't fair. But there are rules and regulations that are part of the reason I love racing: clear boundaries. But despite those rules, I often internalize the struggles I face on the course because for whatever reason, I have a sort of 'idea permanence' of how life should go and about how racing should be.

'Object permanence' is a developmental theory about the early growth stages of the human brain classified as "the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be observed (seen, heard, touched, smelled or sensed in any way)".Young children develop object permanence about 8-9 months into life and later extend it to people through association, such as parental attachment, pets, understanding of nuclear and extended family, etcetera. In thinking about this after the term popped into my head while making my coffee this morning, I realized that object permanence is what often leads us to grieve after loss. The concept of 'loss' itself is inherently fascinating and complex but when we combine the life fact of loss with object permanence, we run into immediate issues. Life cannot be lived without experiencing loss at some level. We'll all grieve over something at one point in our lives. But this 'unfairness' of loss stems from the first year of our existence when we learn that all things are permanent and that they're simply hiding under a blanket.

They aren't.

Now, take object permanence and extend it to ideas -- ideas and thoughts we have of ourselves, our perceptions of the world, our biases, learned knowledge, experience, patterns, observations. These cement concepts that we've built in our minds over the years and through relationships, careers, vacations, struggles. For example, the idea I have that I'm an exceptional athlete and because of that, I should excel at everything and anything. Immediately. Without practice. Without effort.

It's not realistic, but as humans go, few things are. So it doesn't have to be realistic, per se -- it's simply a 'truth' that's been embedded in my mind since I was a child. Through experiences, confirmation, assumption and even feedback from sources such as coaches and parents and my own perception of events, I've classified myself as a capable competitor (and eventual winner) in any arena from a very young age. If that isn't insane, I don't know what is. Now, mind you, there are some very clear indications of 'success' in children based on traits such as stubbornness, curiosity, rule-bending, work ethic, desire, imagination and more. Pediatric psychology has probed the depths of many traits and topics in search of the magical equation that will lead the human race to exceptionalism. The problem, however, is that we've created little monsters who feel entitled to success based on a few isolated personality traits that bring just as much trouble as they do 'success'. And while we could delve into the concepts of traditionally-defined 'success', I'll skip that in favor of staying on topic: idea permanence.

We have these ideas about ourselves, the world, our place in the world; they aren't accurate (understatement of the year). But we become attached to these ideas about ourselves, these concepts of who we are and what we do. We internalize them and repeat them, believing them so much that we base our very behavior around them. But I'm wrong -- I'm not an anomalous athlete. I'm not so talented that my work matters more. I may have a slight advantage because of body composition, but someone who appreciates their art and works to refine themselves will have the upper hand every time.

And this is what I figured out this weekend. Again. Because it's a lesson I have to learn at least once a year. Of course. And because racing bikes is so punishing and so severe, small mistakes and oversights can be catastrophic. Lessons in racing aren't easy ones to learn. They're often painful (on multiple levels) and fraught with "could have, should have, would have" moments when hindsight is indeed 20/20. But because of these, our idea permanence can change. The ideas I hold about capability and skill can be altered if there is enough motivation to alter them -- and finding my face in the dirt twice in a row is hefty motivation. But what motivated me? What were my actions after the two practices crashes that now find me frantically searching for a chiropractor and icing every part of my body? I slowed down. I took more caution. And then I got sad. Because losing isn't fun and I'm not supposed to lose, remember? I'm an athlete of spectacular skill and innate talent, y'all. I'm a child prodigy of unmatched cunning and ability and when I lose, it's not because of me...

Yeah, right. That's the craziest idea in the whole world. That's nuts. How bananas does a person have to be to actually believe that?

Crazy enough to think I can make a living by throwing myself between trees and over rocks without consequence, apparently. But I don't think I'm alone in this idea -- I think I share it with a lot of other athletes (if we're all very honest with ourselves). I think to be an athlete, to live life as an addict to whatever we love, requires some sort of delusion. All of us have these delusions that drive us to what we do and for every athlete on the planet, it's the permanent idea that we're special. That we can make it. That we're the anomaly, the great, the one. Call it a delusion or an overblown sense of self, but we believe that we're the messiah of sport. We have to. If we didn't, we certainly wouldn't spend our lives obsessing over the smallest parts, winters on a glorified hamster wheel, summers in the sweltering heat or a hospital room. This idea permanence keeps us both sane and batshit crazy, and it keeps us coming back for more. I think that it doesn't just apply to sport, either, but that's an entire pandora's box of talking about all my ex-boyfriends and I'd really like to not go there on a Monday at 11 am.

So this permanence that brings me back to my bike, back to racing, back to crashing and expensive parts and battles over sport -- I don't think it's a bad thing. What's a life without loving something more than ourselves, after all? I'd argue that it's not much. But the things that keep me coming back have created an eternal optimist, a critic, a self-effacing egomaniac. They've built a woman who isn't afraid of bruises, who is slowly coming to terms with speaking openly about traumatic brain injuries and depression and illness and body issues. I hate failure as much as I ever have, but maybe I'm getting better at accepting that idea: that life isn't life without losing. That when we lose someone or something, it challenges us to grow beyond the idea of permanence and into something more malleable, more compassionate, more open. When we let go of everything we know about what 'should' be and our knowledge of self, perhaps that's when the truth slides in and settles slowly onto the branches of our minds like a soft, winter snow.

Maybe that's when we start to grow from all these 'learning experiences'.

I wasn't prepared. I didn't practice as much as I clearly needed to, I didn't religiously check or inspect my equipment and despite my current level of riding, I simply wasn't vigilant in making sure I was physically or mentally up to the task. It happens. When it happens, it creates a learning opportunity rather than a 'shrug it off and move on' moment. Because it does hurt to lose, despite the level of racing. Even if I'd won with that race run, I wasn't happy with it and I didn't reach any of the goals I set for myself for this race (elusive as they might have been). It wouldn't have been a win, it would have simply meant there wasn't enough competition. Because I wasn't ready. I hadn't prepared.

I doubt I'd currently be where I'm at mentally if I had won.

And that's the best part.



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

​Solving Discrepancies In Cycling Starts With Diversity In Leadership And Organizational Structure.

I originally began writing this piece for publication by MTBProject.com during their March, 2017 coverage of women in the bike world as part of International Women's Day and their accompanying articles. Due to personal issues and issues with reaching different sources for expert opinions, I blew through my deadline and it was never published upon completion. I do, however, feel that this adds important points and data to the current bike industry narratives around the value of an emerging female market, and am publishing it here for free for the open use of the bike industry at large. If you'd like to use excerpts of this article or would like more documentation on sourcing, please cite proper ownership of this work or contact me for more information.



When we look at the biggest threats to mountain biking and cycling as a whole, some of the biggest challenges that immediately stand out tend to be growth, sustainable economics, investment potential and retention rate. There are panels, round tables, lectures and even entire weekend conferences structured around addressing these challenges inside of the bike industry; with the source of these issue constantly being debated, much of the industry focus often deals with putting out the fires that spring up. From retailers to bike parks and manufacturers to media, these problems are pervasive and demand immediate attention to stem the bleeding.

The bike industry has seen waves of growth and recess but our roughly $6B annual valuation has varied little over the last two decades. In twenty years, despite the progressions in technology and accessibility, our industry growth has stagnated. According to the National Bike Dealer's Association 2015 Industry Report (and the NSGA - National Sporting Goods Association), more Americans rode bikes in 1995 than they do now and that number has almost halved in the last two decades. From nearly 60 million riders in 1995 to 36 million in 2015, the data is a stark picture: the bike industry is splitting a smaller pie into more pieces than it can support.

Growth patterns show decreased use and annual rider numbers since 1995.


Between online bike dealers, Independent bike retailers and direct-to-consumer sales, increased players in the retail game has led to more availability of bikes as well as a wider selection to choose from, and all of that completely ignores the value of the used-bike sales market. With so much convenience and supply, why has the demand decreased? In a world where action-sports is a multi-billion dollar annual industry, why are bicycles falling so short? In fact, why does the bike industry continue to hover around the 1973 high-mark annual unit sales number of 15.2 million? In 2015, we were slightly above the forty-year-old measurement at 17.4 million bikes sold in the US, but over the course of forty years, that doesn't seem like a commensurate amount of growth.

Comparatively, the US population has skyrocketed from 211.91 million in 1973 (the same year as our 15.2M record) to 323.58 million in 2017. That doesn't bode well. But it's easy to get lost in sales numbers. We see huge changes in population growth, in sports spending growth, in the value of mainstream presence and the appearance of bicycles in media, but we're not seeing significant growth inside of cycling on many levels. There are many avenues we could walk down trying to find the one cause of stagnancy in cycling, but seeing the lack of growth as a symptom of a larger and entirely different issue might be more effective.

Outside of the burdens of the US national cultural change and the advent of electronic entertainment, the bike industry has largely failed to capitalize on demographic engagement outside of the middle-aged white male rider. Until as recently as 2014 when 'women's specific' became the norm for manufacturers desperate to see any growth, the average viewer would have been hard pressed to find a female presence in cycling let alone racial representation. From visibility in pro races to equal representation in boardrooms, the lack of diversity inside of the bike industry is stunning. One could argue that it's even whiter, more affluent and more male than even golf when we look at the participation rates. According to The League Of American Bicyclists' 2013 "The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity" report, white people made 53% of all commuter trips in the US in 2010. Even worse than that are USA Cycling's participation numbers: only 16% of USAC license holders are female. 83% of the user base is male. The problem with that? It's not representative of the actual presence of women in cycling, nor does it address the racial disparity.

According to a People For Bikes 2015 study, the gap isn't that big: "We found that 104 million people—a third of the population—rode a bicycle last year and of those, 45 million (43%) were women compared to 59 million men (57%). Our findings revealed less of a gender gap than the 2009 National Household Travel Survey which (using a different methodology) found that just 24% of bicycle trips were made by women." The People For Bikes study goes on to say that 95% of women ride for recreation.

95% of women ride for recreation. Even wilder than that number is the fact that women make up 60% of bicycle owners between the ages of 18-27. SIXTY PERCENT. Women are vastly underrepresented in racing and media coverage but they're still present in cycling despite the lack of advertising and outreach prior to the womens-specific hardgoods push. The People For Bikes study has important value concerning the lack of bike industry knowledge about women on bikes, participation and buying habits, but marketing to women and minorities is one small piece of the growth pie: how much of this research will actually affect a change in leadership structure and inclusion?


People For Bikes' 2015 Infographic on Women in Cycling
Not only are women present in cycling, but they're leading the way. From female coaching programs and race teams such as SweetLines and Velocio-SRAM to charities like the World Bicycle Relief Fund and the Afghan Cycles documentary, many of the movements inside of cycling have women at the helm. The list of lady-led efforts to improve cycling as a sport is endless: media outlets like Total Women's Cycling, Ella Cycling Tips and Pretty Damned Fast continuously highlight the side of the bike industry that hasn't historically gotten as much coverage and the sheer number of female-led camps, clinics, forums, groups, races and brands should be recognized as legitimate entities inside of a growing sport that represent a valuable and vastly underserved audience. The volume and voice of these women and girls aren't just serious about riding bikes -- they're an economic force to be reckoned with. As such an integral part of both the bike industry and society at large, they deserve industry and company-wide equal representation.

But that's where the problem sits: representation. Harvard Business Review identified six basic female consumer segments but found, at large, that "Although women control spending in most categories of consumer goods, too many businesses behave as if they had no say over purchasing decisions. Companies continue to offer them poorly conceived products and services and outdated marketing narratives that promote female stereotypes." Sound familiar? It should. Women and minorities are often under-served due to lack of representation at multiple levels in the design and production process of nearly every product in the world, which leads to lackluster purchasing by women or minorities and thus often confirming existing purchasing biases. When a product is solely made by men, it's often made for men. Humans build and create around what we know, which is most often ourselves and the things familiar to us. Unfortunately, this is where implicit bias comes into play and not only inhibits the creative process, but infringes on the quality, profitability and even the safety of a product . However, when products are conceptualized, modeled, designed, studied, built and produced by a diverse range of people who reflect global population representation and wider individual needs, those products are simply more successful. Diversity doesn't just build great products, either. It makes for better companies. In February 2016, the Peterson Institute for International Economics cited "McKinsey Global Institute (2015) estimates that a scenario in which women achieved complete gender parity with men could increase global output by more than one-quarter relative to a business-as-usual scenario" in a peer-reviewed working paper entitled "Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey". PIIE also notes that the study "...results suggest that the presence of women in corporate leadership positions may improve firm performance and that the magnitudes of the correlations are not small. The largest gains are for the proportion of female executives, followed by the proportion of female board members; the presence of female CEOs has no noticeable effect on firm performance. This pattern underscores the importance of creating a pipeline of female managers and not simply getting lone women to the top."

In layman's terms, this supports evidence that companies make better products, have more inclusive marketing and that brands are simply more profitable when women and people of color are involved at every level.

On the other side of the issue, while many studies across the spectrum exist that show the positive effects of diversity within leadership, it's not always that simple: bad diversity policies can harm companies and create or worsen cultural barriers within an ecosystem. But bad diversity policies often come from boards and diversity panels that are misrepresentative of an entire organization which creates a cycle of fallout that is often contained only by curbing diversity efforts entirely rather than restructuring them. Tokenism cannot be the answer to an under-served market that's demanding equality and parity; the integration of inclusive and effective policies must be a series of steps taken willingly by organizations that are truly committed to creating growth.

When the bike industry starts to hire and listen to more women and people of color, companies will begin to avidly support female and minority athletes as equally as they support white, male athletes and when that support arrives, bike media will be forced to give an expanding and diverse audience appropriate images that represent a changing industry. Consumers buy into the things they see themselves doing: until we create an industry that welcomes and represents all riders, sustainable economic growth will elude cycling.


It takes all of us.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

10 Of The Best Bikes For Women in 2017

In response to RedBull's recent list of 2017's best womens-specific bikes, I'd like to present an ACTUAL list of great bikes for women in 2017 (not just a collection of budget-ass rigs thrown together by someone who doesn't think that equipment matters to female riders).

1: LITERALLY ANY FUCKING BIKE THAT FITS YOU CORRECTLY, REGARDLESS OF GENITALS.

The end.

No. But seriously. You don't need a 'women's specific bike'. You need a 'human specific bike'. After all, a bicycle built for an elephant will probably be too large and heavy and a bicycle built for a fish is superfluous because what need would a fish have for  bicycle?

I digress.

For me personally, here are a few bikes at different price points that I love because of their features. Try one on if you like it, dismiss my opinion entirely, or shout mean things at me while throwing slushies from the chairlift. You do you, love.

2: Anything from Transition
These folks are getting the first mention simply because of their new take on the 'specific' marketing inside of MTB, but they also happen to make damn fine mountain cycles. They're also rider-owned and run, they have kickass customer service, they truly give a damn about the MTB community and... Okay, I'll stop. But really. Go. Go now.


Transition Bikes: Human Specific Design from Transition Bikes on Vimeo.


3: Anything from Pivot Cycles.  

Now, this may come as a shock to most people here, but Pivot has been making 'womens-specific' bikes longer than anyone in the market. They've also been making 'men's specific' bikes forever because they make size-specific rigs. What a novel fucking concept. Their bikes range from XS to XL and, like the Mach 6 pictured below, are hard-charging as they come. Their bikes aren't designed for the wallflower, either: Pivot's athletes range from kickass XC racer Jen Hanks to World Cup rider Emilie Siegenthaler and they've supported female racers at every level since before it was en vogue to back up marketing lip service. Pivot has consistently support efforts to get more #girlsonbikes and to create actual parity within cycling by hiring women at their Phoenix HQ, sponsoring women across the spectrum, making great bikes that fit people of all sizes, and not skimping on the build specs. That's why they made my list.




4: 2017 GT Sanction: 

GT is getting my endorsement because not only do they make kickass bikes with killer geometry, but they make (comparatively) affordable bikes as well as sponsoring female riders and hiring some really smart and rad women. Tell me that isn't a company worth supporting.  






5: Anything From Kona Bikes

Kona did away with most of their 'womens specific' category a while back and instead, opted to expand the sizing range offered to fit a better section of riders who want a good rig from a good company. Kona also supports massive amounts of lady efforts from CycloCross to the new Kona Supremes, an all-female squad in the PNW. Like Pivot, Kona's bikes come in sizes ranging from XS to XL -- enough range to fit people from 4'11" to 6'4". While different companies will have different geometries to fit different people, the Process 143 below comes in at a seriously reasonable $2699 USD with components that don't skimp on efficacy.  






6. The Evils:

With lower standover height and high-end appeal, anything from Evil comes with the ability to rule entire underworlds. Whether it's the 27.5 Insurgent or the 29 Following, these bikes are made for major fun (the type that might get you arrested). Ranging from size S to XL, they have highly-capable handling for even the most discerning lady. Evil has also hired one of my favorite lady-shredders this year, Kathy Pruitt, as their most recent addition to the staff... Between badass bikes built for people and hiring based on radness, that's enough for me.  

Image result for Evil Insurgent



7 - 10: Anything not branded 'womens specific'.

Listen: there's a huge difference between a company claiming to be 'women's specific' and a company that, instead of marketing their way into female hearts, actually earns a spot in our stand.

There are plenty of companies out there willing to tell women what we want to hear but not as many who are actually walking the walk with what they're doing behind the scenes. The list above is in no way a comprehensive or complete rundown of what the industry has to offer. It's more of a sampling of the companies out there offering actual bikes for actual people.  

While 'women's specific' bikes might make us ladies feel as though we're finally being given our (over)due, being 'given' a pre-selected and carefully controlled place in the industry isn't equality. All of the shiny pink and purple paint in the world doesn't cover up the desperate need for parity and real equality within cycling, and buying into the notion that women deserve lesser components isn't going to help us get where we need to go. Our industry needs wider sizing range for people of all sizes. This industry needs actual diversity, not just advertising efforts that try to capture the female dollar. If you want a bike, please buy based on your needs as an individual.

That's the only way we'll ever get bikes that fit.










I'm currently trying to raise the bar on my content production, race previews and recaps, free clinic offerings and media creation. If you enjoyed this post, perhaps you'll consider supporting my Patreon -- it's a labor of love, but it doesn't always pay the bills. 


Friday, April 28, 2017

Getting Older And The Fires That Cleanse


I went to Moab this week to celebrate my thirtieth birthday.

As I'd been planning a trip to Sea Otter and then a detour through Yosemite to hike the falls, it was a last minute trip change due to a combination of some unforeseen circumstances and some undesirable outcomes. I wasn't thrilled at first, but it culminated in what I feel is probably an important series of lessons as I start this new decade. 

My twenties weren't easy. I don't think anyone's are, to be fair, but mine were particularly rocky as I battled my own willful stubbornness, social anxiety, traumatic brain injuries and a rapid (and completely unintentional) ascension towards sports infamy. While reflecting on these challenges, however, I was startled to start feeling grateful -- my severely-ADHD brain often moves too quickly to process more than brief bouts of gratitude, so my sudden onset of overwhelming thankfulness surprised me.

Mostly, I'm thankful I survived it. Literally. I'm lucky to be alive, have a roof over my head and have pickles in my fridge. Through no work of my own I've stumbled into some of the best friendships and situations to ever exist and whether it's fate or circumstance that has led me to where I'm sitting right this moment, I'm not about to look a gift horse in the mouth... Except I am. Because that's what I do. I'm introspective and curious to a fault, which often leads to much eye-rolling from my better counterparts. So as I critically examined the last twelve to fifteen years of my life, I figure that I'm either the luckiest person alive (no, I'm not kidding) or the universe has some ulterior motive in keeping me alive, mostly sane, housed and sort of well-fed. 

Don't ask me what it is.

After three life flights, two drawn-out medical sagas, one kidney down and more concussions than modern medicine needs to declare 'potato status', I am, very literally, incredibly lucky to be here. I've put myself in some very stupid situations, some very careless positions and a few needlessly ridiculous predicaments. And yet.

Here I sit. 30 years old and still punching back. Hard

At what point do I just point at the sky and kind of giggle? Is this the  right time to feel completely indestructible and go about thwarting evil (a la Bruce Willis in Unbreakable)? Or do I count my blessingsand simply walk away from further risk, content with the fires I've started? I'm not sure I can answer that. But what I do know is that while my neural plasticity exists, I'm going to try to suck everything I possibly can out of this situation called 'life'. What can I say? I'm kind of an opportunist. 

In keeping with my thirty-year streak of damn fine luck, this week has been no different. We rolled into Moab Tuesday afternoon to beautiful spring temperatures of 65F and nothing on the calendar but moderate sunshine and time on two wheels. A spin through town  proved it was still standing despite my emotional departure a month ago and a warm up wheel spin in the cool evening air of Klondike Bluffs ensured that we were ensnared with the possibility of more fun to come. You know the rides where everything works and your legs feel right while the smile just won't go away? Tuesday's quick ride was one of those, despite a loose rotor on my rear wheel, and as Brian and I got back to the car, I spread my arms wide and spun in circles as the sky brightened in the most beautiful sunset I've seen this spring. I've been #blessed to see so many sunsets. Seriously, though. Absolutely blessed.

  

It was quite the welcome.

Afterwards, we wandered to North Klondike to meet up with Isaac Miller and his fur son Rico who were posted up at their Airstream basecamp. As we chatted about the road life and tossed tennis balls  in the light of a halogen lamp, it struck me again: what a life. To be able to stand there in the chalky white moon dust and firelight reflecting on my travels and laughs with good people who loved me... That was a gift. And as suddenly as it had appeared, the thought spun off into the dark night under a blanket of stars as Rico approached with his second tennis ball.

I woke up the following morning in order to pee in sync with the tittering of sand pipers as the sun rose to highlight the blooming Sego lilies. With the grey clouds outlined in gold and the sky turning pink, it seemed an appropriate sunrise for the first day of my third decade. Shortly after climbing back into the tend, Rico puppy offered an excited jump on the walls of our temporary shelter demanding that we rise and start the day. 

We set off from camp with coffee in hand and a Porcupine shuttle booked. Our preparations didn't clue us into the hilarity that would  be the day, however. If they had, I'd have worn a bubble suit and carried a flask of tequila. We met up with The Jeffs* to grab a shuttle to the top of Kokopelli and after some hot-coffee-down-the-pants-and-into-the-shoes action, I was on my way! We bullshitted the entire shuttle ride up, chatting about racing, laughing at dumb jokes and mostly trying not to touch each other in a packed van. Upon  arriving at the drop-off point and finding it twenty degrees cooler, we all realized that an extra layer would have been prudent and bitched for a few minutes while swinging our arms and pretending we knew the finer points of human thermodynamics. 

Then we dropped in. 

This is where I think I'm supposed to start lying. I should probably tell you what fun Porcupine is. I'll explain the different stages, how I crushed them all, then how we all ate lunch at the overlook at sang Kumbaya.

But I won't. Instead, I'll tell it how it really happened: we dropped in, I almost ate shit in the first turn, sucked wind on the fire road pedal, then had to stop to check Trailforks to make sure we hadn't missed  the turn onto UPS. After that, we took some pictures, rode some rocks, had intermittent bike weirdness and then met a friend. This was the cool part, because what had been four was now five. Me, Brian, Jeff Richards and Jeff Skalla had to stop because Brian's bike  was a bitch and blew a shock. Somewhere along the way, Skalla's friendliness had extended to a solo rider and this rider rolled up on us to chat and compliment me on the weird staircase that I had rolled, clipped in halfway. As I stood eating my strawberry M&Ms, we exchanged some chit chat about where this rider was from, what the hell we all were doing, etc etc etc. And then came the question: "Do you mind if I tag along?" 

FUCK NO WE DO NOT, ROMAN FROM MONTREAL!

As it turns out, Roman would become a fixture in our trip and despite having recently started riding in June of 2016, is a total badass on two wheels and a whole lot of fun to hang out with. Go figure. Trail friends, amirite?

I should probably lie to you all a bit more about how I stole the QOM on Porcupine and rode triumphantly to the finish in a cactus confetti shower with music and cold beers and back slaps.

But I didn't. I crashed 1/3 of the way down on one of the easiest drops, broke a couple of ribs, couldn't breathe, got back up, whined a bit, and then whined the rest of the ride while alternating between mad sprints and struggle-bus seated pedaling. I finished it off by angrily hiking the bottom portion of Porcupine rim and mutter-shouting "who puts a fucking trials course at the bottom of a 20-mile-plus descent?! ASSHOLES! That's who!" 

Good times.

Then we pedaled into town and wheezed over to Milt's where Brian treated my already sizeable ass to a double Santa Fe burger and large peach milkshake as we all sat around and commiserated about the ridiculousness of the day and how we'd likely not do that again. 

The perfect birthday.

In all reality, it taught me a few things about not expecting situations to be enjoyable because they're overhyped and that my sort of 'fun' is still consistent with what psychiatrists call 'type 1.5' fun. In other words, I don't want to struggle. There are struggle riders and there are struggle fun riders and then there is me. If it's not immediately threatening my life while being totally enjoyable at the same time, I'm unlikely to avoid whining. 

These are good lessons to know when one is entering the hallowed temple of thirty when everyone else seems to be a grown up and one still has Cocoa Puffs debris stuck to one's shirt.

I am Jack's milk-saturated cocoa puff. 

Of course, Wednesday culminated in birthday cake and ice cream courtesy of both the hilarious waiter at Moab Brewery and Brian, who orchestrated the most obscene public birthday spectacle known to man: the restaurant-staff birthday song. My fellow bike compadres were deaf to my pleas as they laughed their asses off in the corners of the booth (I will get you both, Jeff and Roman), so I was left to sit and blush furiously over the remnants of our nachos and a delicious brownie cake thing. 

Yum.

After a bit of tequila and more cake and ice cream, I settled into the $29 hotel room like a bear preparing for hibernation: with full intent on not coming out for a few months. Unfortunately, I had to wake up the next morning, despite a sugar hangover and a pounding head. While an interesting experience at a bike shop didn't dull my headache or the pain from my broken ribs, it made for a funny story and provided a fascinating Twitter saga that would unfold as the day progressed, as well as an interesting look into why I still fight so heavily for an inclusive sport. It was also narratively consistent with me turning 30: nothing says "I ain't changing" quite like keeping up  my usual antics. Who said brain function doesn't improve with age?! 

We met Skalla and Roman for a quick jaunt up Hymasa to ride the massively-overhyped Captain Ahab (I'm sensing a theme here) and after Brian and I bailed at the upper intersection, we ran into the third  faith-restoring character of the week: Rob from Tahoe. Now, Brian has been looking at new bikes recently as he jumps back into MTB (pun intended) and after the horrific demo experience Thursday morning, needed a bit of a pick-up and some positivity that I couldn't really provide. Enter Rob, the YT Capra-riding patron saint of size-small MTB riders everywhere. As we pulled over to yield to uphill traffic, Rob pedaled towards us before inadvertently catching a pedal and swinging off his bike to hike the rest of the rocky corner. Brian, upon seeing the YT logo on the frame, immediately asked "hey, which model is that?" This wonderful, beautiful dude of a man grinned and said "The Capra" before handing Brian the bike. He really did. He smiled at two strangers he didn't know from Adam and then proceeded to hand over his BRAND NEW RIG that had TWO FUCKING RIDES ON IT for Brian to inspect. As B asked what size it was and then ogled the ride and began asking if he could maaaaaybe just swing a leg over, Rob gestured to the trail and says "Hop on, man. Take it for a spin. Seriously. Great bike."

Now, I'm going to stop right here because I've suddenly started leaking from the eyes and my keyboard is covered in some weird, viscous nasal slime. I wanted to blubber like a goddamn baby yesterday and right now as I write this, the reality of what happened on that trail is hitting me again. This random rider, not knowing a  thing about the two goobers descending Hymasa, saw the look on my friend's face and without pause, handed his brand new bike to a stranger so that the stranger could see if it fits.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANT TO US?! I mean, I may as well have been hit by lightning as I stood there with my stupid mouth agape and nearing a full on emotional monsoon.

I've had a crisis of faith for so long, thinking that the spirit of mountain biking has slowly died off. I have cried into my hands at the lack of respect on our trails, in the forums, at the way we portray other riders and disciplines and each other. It has slowly killed me and eaten at my core to see the very thing that saved my life and my soul turn into something ugly and cruel. The disrespect, the pettiness, the lack of sustainability... It's wrecked me.

But then along comes Moab with its strangers and incredible examples of the very best parts of this sport and it destroys the hope-sucking monster that is disappointment. These people inside of this thing, outside of this thing, just getting into this thing.

These people.  

Three days, three experiences, three prime examples that the soul of everything I love still exists. 

And now I'm crying again.

Because this is what matters. The fringe bullshit, the constant turnover of technology, the hype, the nonsense, even the bad attitudes (like my own) can all disappear in the face of what is still the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Bikes saved my damn life. Bikes gave me back everything I thought I had lost, everything I never had, everything I'll ever become. The goodness that lives inside of me exists because of what I've learned on two wheels and what they've taught me about the world. My perspective and undying hope were created by the balance struck between where I've been and where I'm going, and the eternal lessons of forward momentum. Who I am and what I bring to any situation have been irrevocably and unfalteringly built by the bicycle and the people who also love two wheels.

Everything I am is because of experiences like those of the past week and these experiences have been shaped by the people in them.  

May I always strive to be that person for someone else. 












*Jeff Skalla and Jeff Richards, two of the best people to play bikes with.









I'm currently trying to raise the bar on my content production, race previews and recaps, free clinic offerings and media creation. If you enjoyed this post, perhaps you'll consider supporting my Patreon -- it's a labor of love, but it doesn't always pay the bills.