Our partner in podcasting, The Gravel Ride Podcast, got together recently with long time coach, fitter, and women’s cycling advocate Lorri Lee Lown. In this episode, Lorri and Craig discuss some of the roadblocks to growing participation in the sport and general tips and tricks for riding off-road.
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Automatic Transcription by The Gravel Ride (please excuse all errors)
Lorri, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Craig. I’m excited to be here today.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to our conversation. I’m always kind of excited to talk more about the women’s side of the sport and how we get more women into gravel cycling. But before we begin, I’d love to give the listener just a little bit of your background. So if you could talk about how you got into cycling and later how you discovered gravel cycling, that would be an awesome place to start.
Sounds good. I started writing in the nineties, which makes me feel really old. But the reality was it was 1999 so it’s not that old. And I had moved to California and I was not an athlete, but when I moved here, everybody was fit and healthy and rich and beautiful. And I was like, I might be just like them. And I got the fit part down. That was good. And the healthy part, I don’t know about the rich and beautiful. I participated in the California AIDS ride. I had signed up and had nine months to train. I didn’t even really have a bike. I had a 1980 something specialized hard rock that I was training on. And at the time I thought this event was for world class athletes and Olympians and I was none of those things. I was a drinking, smoking, non-athletic person.
And over the course of nine months training for the event, I realized, first of all, I was pretty good at riding a bike. I had never been good at sports, but in my mind all sports and bald, bald, you had to catch and you had to throw. And I couldn’t do either. But then I realized there’s this whole other area of sports that I was actually pretty good at, which were at sports. So things like skiing and skating and cycling. And because I have this pretty obsessive personality, I found that I really just wanted to ride my bike and ride my bike all the time and ride my bike fast and climb mountains and that kind of thing. So I started riding. And long story short, I was given the opportunity to change careers by my then employer. This was in 2001, Charles Schwab.
And when the Bailey basically imploded, I found myself with some time on my hands and a career change in sight and I decided I wanted to share my love of cycling with other people in particular women. I had found that there weren’t very many women who I saw riding bikes and I knew they were out there cause I’d see a big group of dudes and there would be one woman hanging on where their tongue hanging out at the back of the group. But I didn’t see them riding together in groups and I knew that that was something that women really enjoy. I have a MBA in gender relations, so I spent some time studying what motivates us and women are really motivated by community and being involved with other people supporting each other in a very different way than men are. So men will compete against each other, women will collaborate. And I couldn’t find an organization like that. I wanted to become a coach and I decided to start my own, even though my coach at the time said, who would want to ride with you? You’re not a pro racer. And so I started Velo girls
And that was back in 2002 right. Amazing. And Vela Vela girls, was it a road club or a mountain club?
Well, we started as a road club and I was pretty adamant in my mind of what I wanted to do with the organization. We were only going to ride road. I didn’t want to compete with Jackie felon who at the time was running wombat, and I don’t know if you know wombat, but it was probably one of the first women’s mountain bike organizations and we weren’t going to race. I was going to race, but I was going to race with a different club and I just felt that we needed an organization that was really founded on fitness and friendship and fun and being inclusive. And luckily I listened to members. So when members started saying, Hey, we’d like to have mountain bike rides, even though originally I was reluctant, I was like, okay, let’s try this. And I did not ride dirt at all when I started, I was strictly a roadie and I never intended to read dirt.
And then when we started having large groups of women who were fast, I thought, okay, I’m going to start a racing team even though I knew nothing about racing. So in our second year we had our first racing team, 40 women, 39 of whom had never raced a bike before. And I felt this social responsibility to teach them how to ride their bikes because most of them were pretty sloppy and I didn’t want them out there crashing out other racers. And so I developed a curriculum to teach folks how to ride their bikes and how to raise their bikes.
Amazing, amazing. And I mean, obviously you, you, you set the intention to invite any woman who wanted to throw a leg over the bike to kind of give them the tools and the community to join in, which is amazing.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And we’ve taken on many different iterations over the years. We had a protein for awhile that raised all over the U S we continue to have a road racing team and a development program for 12 years. And I finally got tired. It’s hard to keep developing and recruiting and developing and recruiting and developing and churning out racers, many who have gone on to raise on proteins and we’ve had national champions on. So we during those years as well, we started mountain bike racing. We really had a multi multidisciplinary team. So we had four aspects. We had road racers, mountain bike racers, cyclocross racers, and then endurance road riders. So women who just wanted to train together with some structure and participate in events together. So go do the Cinderella classic or ride a century and have continued that model. So as I slowly retired the racing aspect of the club, we’ve continued the riding training, recreational aspect of the club.
Okay. And I know we’re going to circle back to some more of those elements and details around the training and clinics and skills that you, you helped build. When did gravel cycling start to come into your life?
I was thinking about that. I so I was, I started cyclocross racing in 2003, which is kind of interesting cause I had intended a road race first and it didn’t happen and I was okay from a fitness point of view, but I couldn’t ride on the dirt. So then I decided, okay, I better mountain bike. And I worked at a bike shop at the time, so I borrowed a mountain bike and it was a disaster. I was terrified of the dirt. I didn’t understand. I had the roadie mentality of right around things, not over things. I overinflated my tires. I didn’t understand suspension, including my own body suspension. And so it took a long time for me to start to feel really comfortable with the dirt. I had started road racing and then I was coaching high school mountain bike team through the shop I worked at and this was back in 2005.
And the high school league was pretty new and it was a bunch of boys who were BMX riders and we had an agreement that when we went out and trained I would do anything that they did and it really up to my bar from a skill point of view. And then I continued to, I really believe in lifelong learning. That’s a part of me. I’ve been a teacher throughout my career before I was teaching bikes and so I continued to take clinics and I continued to learn. And mountain bike clinics have been super fun for me because it really pushes my envelope and I’m pretty conservative as a, as a person, as an athlete. So being on the dirt, I’m not the shredder type who’s going to go and do crazy stuff. I am very practiced and measured in my writing, which is probably my detriment, but you know, I’m 54 years old, so I want to keep the skin on my knees in general.
I continue to ride and race, cross and mountain bike and I guess the gravel thing really it happened when my relationship happened. Truthfully we, so I was mostly a roadie who I often joke owned mountain bike and I started dating someone who is mostly a mountain biker and a cyclocross or who owned a road bike. Actually he didn’t even own a road bike at the time. He owned a cyclocross likely he would ride on the road and somehow those two worlds converged and we started doing an awful lot of road riding but going off road as well on a road bike. So hashtag gripping center and that continued and then we’d ride our class bikes under. But as you know, a cyclocross bike is not the most awesome gravel bike in the world. There are definitely some geometrical differences and some handling differences. So I would say probably in the last five years or so, really seeing an uptick. And spending time on the dirt as well.
Yeah, I think the, you know that timeline exactly coincides with this acceleration of gravel specific equipment and enabling technologies such as tubeless tires and hydraulic disc brakes.
It’s definitely a confidence booster and having the right tool I think is super important. I know we’ll talk about that a little bit with bike fit and how that plays into it, but having a gravel bike that’s awesome and super fun and joy inducing has made the sport very different. So you know, riding, when I started riding road we wrote on 19 millimeter tires and eventually went to 20 ones and 2325 I, my standard now is 30 and every time I ride my bike I’m on the dirt. I just, I, I guess after so many years of writing the same roads over and over and over again, you’re just looking for something new and different and challenging and intellectually challenging as well.
Yeah, I think that’s pretty common, particularly in the Bay area because we’ve got great road riding. It’s such a fun community to be a part of, but every road you ride on, you start to see these dirt paths and trails and little cut throughs that you could be riding if you had a little bit wider tire and a little bit more of a spirit of adventure. I would agree. Yes. So you obviously are more fun. Yeah, I mean that’s,
You know, you go out and you hammer for four hours on the road bike and you go out on the gravel bike and it’s an all day adventure and you bring a sandwich and you can have a handlebar bag and it’s all fun and cool and, and it’s a very different culture. It’s Rudy’s, I always joke that Rudy’s, we’ll have a beer at the end of the season and a mountain biker, we’ll have the beer at the end of the race and cyclocross or we’ll have a beer during the race. It’s very, the dirt culture is very different. And I think it’s interesting now that we’re seeing a lot of, of road riders and road racers making that transition into the more fun events and they can still be competitive.
Yup. Yeah. It’s almost like gravel has given road athletes permission to have a little bit of fun. Well, and what you talked about earlier, I think, you know, on a road ride, once the separation happens in a group ride and you’re off the back or in the middle or trailing or chasing, you know, it stops being as fun. But I find gravel has some similarities to the mountain bike in that, you know, once you complete a section you kind of stop and wait for that high five and you kind of laugh about how you skidded out or Bumble the particular section. And it really, it just gives people the opportunity to talk more during the rides, which tends to lead to a lot of fun.
Right. And I think in racing the same is true. And you, and the other interesting aspect I think is, and road riding, a lot of it is about fitness and leanness. And especially here in Northern California where you can’t go out of your driveway without a Hill. So there is huge fitness split, gender split and age split when we ride on the road versus gravel, you may find that you have somebody who really good fitness and they have no skills to descend. So yeah, they’re the first up the Hill and they’re the last down and, and now it makes up every time. There’s that transition point and so it becomes a much more social interactive group versus the road ride, which you know, tends to be kind of stuffy and serious and we’re just going to go hammer. And if you’re not with the group, it’s over. And that was one of the interesting challenges in road racing. I think especially years ago when the women’s field was, are larger, if you weren’t in the group, it was over. And if, you know, once you’ve done that for a number of years, why keep doing it? And with gravel and with cross and mountain bike because of the type of courses that we’re riding, it allows people to still be in the game. And to ride their own ride or race their own race, which is a little different than the road racing world.
Yeah, exactly. So, you know, five years ago, according your timeline, you started riding a little bit more gravel and as you started to present yourself to this large community of female athletes through Vela girls that you were doing this new segment of the sport, what were women starting to ask you about
How to do it? And it seemed at the time a lot of women felt, wow, that’s for other people. That’s not for me. And especially because we, well, we refer to it as gravel and I think more accurately, we should probably refer to it as mixed terrain because a lot of gravel events have a hundred percent gravel or 90% gravel, but there are a lot of gravel events that have 50% gravel or 25% gravel. You go and do the grasshoppers and maybe it’s 50 50 or maybe you’ve got an event that’s you know, 80% road, but there’s this one little fun dirt stretch. So it’s going to challenge you as far as your equipment choice and your tire choice. And so I think for women it’s the question of how do I get started and is this actually do. And what I found is if I convince people, I feel like the pied Piper many times, right? If I convince people to just come try it and make it fun, then they’re going to keep doing it.
But it takes, it definitely takes an evangelist to encourage people to get out there and do it. And the same was true in every aspect of the sport. When I decided to race cross, I ended up with 25 women from below girls who were racing cross with me because I made it sound fun. And I think we have some public figures that do that. You know, you look at the Ali Tetrick and Ahmedi and stormy and this whole crew of women who are so inspirational. But at the same time, when I look at them as a mere mortal, I’m like, okay, there’s a separation there. And for me, I’m cool with it cause I work with these women. But for someone who’s just a recreational rider and they’re like, Oh, I could never do Belgium waffle ride because you know, people like Ellie Tetrick are doing it.
So it’s the idea that we have to get someone out, give them a positive experience. And I think promoters are starting to learn a little more about that. You know, how do we, how do we create events that are not just for the pro women and all the dudes? And that’s what I always think about, right? So when we look at the longer versions of events and many of these events, when they started including the low key series like grasshopper, they had one distance, one race mass start and a late master, you know, dress up or start at 10:00 AM. And it’s like, okay, well this is great. But if you have the women who are not the pros and maybe they’re, you know, not even as fast as the recreational gentlemen, then they’re going to be out there longer. They’re going to be, you know, rest ups or are cleared out of cookies.
There’s no more cookies. The rest app has gone, the finish line has gone. So we have to make people feel like, okay, this is an event for you too. And I’ve spent a lot of time talking to promoters about that. How do we do that? How do we retain women? Well, maybe do a staggered start and make it voluntary. So if you feel that you’re on the slower end but you want to do the longer routes, you’re, they’re going to do an official start an hour earlier for those writers. And it’s not just women. I mean there’s lots of dudes who are hanging out out there for hours and hours and hours offering multiple distance options. And I think that’s a real key. Just like with a century, once you’ve done a century or a dozen or a hundred or whatever, you’re like, Ugh, whatever, it’s a hundred miles.
I could get just as much fun out of the metric. How did the 60 and a lot of folks will opt for that? And then you’ll get the other folks who are like, no, whatever event I do, I’m going to do the longest, hardest version. But from a timing and a logistics point of view, it doesn’t always work. If I’m there with my male partner and he finishes two hours before me, he has to sit around and wait. That doesn’t do a lot for our relationship. So so creating multiple options and it’s not dumbing down the event, it’s just opening up the events and my opinion, they’re still hard and they’re still fun and you still get that experience, but you don’t feel like, wow, the event is really not for me. It’s just for the fast riders. It’s for everybody.
Yeah. And I think, I think it’s, you know, intelligent course design leads itself to having multiple different options. And I think we have been fortunate and gravel that we’ve had a lot of strong women in leadership positions at these top events that have made inclusion and parody a big part of their messaging, which I hope is sort of just sending that invitation out to women to say, come join us. We’re, we’re thinking about everyone. We’re not just thinking about the hammerheads. You want to ride 200 miles
And other pieces of that play into that, you know, have age group awards and sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. And sometimes that age group starts at 35 which is very interesting cause you have a lot of women who start riding a bike later. You have a lot of women from the pro level who are still racing at 35 so 35 is not necessarily a good split for masters. Maybe have a 35 and a 45 or a 35 and a 55 and so you can acknowledge the effort of the other athletes as well. Having a women’s t-shirt, I know that sounds silly, but when you have an event shirt and you only offer it in what they call a unisex shirt, it’s really a men’s shirt. Have happily one shirt. Yeah. Maybe it costs a little more. Probably it doesn’t when you’re doing that volume, but have something to acknowledge that we’re there too.
Yeah. I imagine when you see a unisex shirt, you’re, it’s reading does not fit women well at all.
Right. I won’t take them. I’m, I’m one of those people. I’m like, yeah, I don’t want them to insure. Thank you. I won’t wear it. You keep it and it’s too bad because sometimes I really want, sure.
Well it sounds like, you know, you’ve sort of been through a little bit of this journey before as someone who’s sort of founded a largely road oriented program and then started mountain biking and inviting women to the mountain bike side of things. Now as you’re inviting women and giving them permission to join us in gravel cycling or mixed terrain cycling, what are the sort of fundamental skills that you begin to teach as you’re trying to get someone comfortable with what they might encounter on a grasshopper route or something similar?
Right. It’s, it’s not unlike road in general in that most people on the road don’t know how to ride their bike. I’ll be honest with you, they don’t understand the physics of how to ride a bike and what makes it stay up. Right. What makes it go forward and how not to fall down. I basically teach people not to fall down. And so what are we looking at? We’re looking at balance and weight distribution. Weight distribution is huge on gravel. If you don’t have the right weight distribution on the bike, you’re not going to get up the short sheet stuff. You’re going to slide out. You won’t have traction on the downhills and on the corners. And so really understanding and even the technical aspects of you take a roadie and you put them on a gravel bike and teaching them that it’s okay to have 15 PSI, that your bike is going to handle better and you’re going to be faster and you’re not going to fall down.
Because again, that roadie mentality of Oh my God, I have to pump to 110 PSI and we’re starting to learn, I think in the road world we’re starting to have a little better education about that all around. But, but it’s interesting, a lot of shops are still teaching people things that I feel are not correct. So what do I want to teach someone I need to teach them? Like I said, balance and weight distribution, how to move around on the bike. A lot of roadies feel like, okay, this is my throne and I’m never going to move my position at all. The saddle is my seat. Versus being a balanced point. How to properly use your brakes. I think that’s huge. Understanding that breaking eliminates traction and so how and why and how can I use my brace to help me and how can I not overuse my brakes? And those are all things that we do on the road as well. But I’m the dirt. You can’t fake it. I think that’s the biggest difference is we get away with a lot on the road until we don’t, until you have that day when you crash, but on the dirt, if you make a mistake, you’re going to go down.
Yeah. I feel like on the, on the road there’s, there was a lot of room for error. So obviously you can lean a road bike really, really deep, much deeper than, than most people would think you can. And your tires are still gonna hold so you don’t get people kind of tripping that error potential. But as you, as you sort of alluded to in gravel, you know, if you brake too hard in a loose corner, your wheel is going to slide out.
Right. And, and I think it’s very interesting. So I, so I’ve been fitting bikes since 2001 and I’ve always had someone else fit my road bikes for me. Whenever I get one just cause I like to learn, I like to have someone who is not biased look at me and my bike and I’ve had a number of interesting injuries over the years that have impacted my ability to ride. And when I got my, my thesis graveled like I decided I wasn’t going to have anyone fit it and I was going to go through this iterative process, which I think fits on gravel is much more iterative than road and road. We have a position that is ideal for us based on our morphology and our strengths, our fitness, our weaknesses and all of that. But on gravel, your fit really has a lot to do with how your bike handles.
And so I went through a process on my own bike of dialing in the fit but then riding and tweaking and sometimes you change your fit based on the terrain even. And that’s where, I mean droppers are awesome, although I think women don’t need them as much as men cause our bodies are a little different and our weight distribution is different. But yeah, so looking at STEM links and rise and, and where is the ideal position that’s going to be comfortable and is going to be powerful and efficient but still allow me to ride in a technical way. And that’s the, I think greatest challenge is the technical aspects. You have to find the hardest part of the course and make sure that you can ride that.
Yeah, that’s an interesting point you’re bringing up there. In terms of sort of building your equipment or your position around the most difficult or most challenging to you, part of the course. Are you sort of advising women to kind of tweak their setup to help them in the areas where they feel like they might be deficient or less skilled?
I don’t typically advise anybody to tweak their own setup. And the reason for that, I mean, in my case I’m a professional, so doing it was in a very educated way and I was taking notes and I was comparing times and that kind of thing. But I do encourage people to consider the terrain they’re going to ride before they’re fit and spend some time thinking about what’s the hardest thing and be honest with your fitter. I mean a good fit is going to be a conversation that really is based on the rider and Hey, I’m riding mountain town and I feel great except I can’t get up the short steep stuff. So then we have to figure out, is that a gearing issue? Is it a fitness issue? Is it a weight distribution issue? And many times it is weight distribution. Hopefully they’ve purchased the right bike and they have the good fitness.
Right? So w where it’s going to be very different. And I, I’ll share a couple of examples. So I raced last year in North Carolina at the Croatan buck 50 and it was a course that the version I did was the a hundred mile version. It had 500 feet of climbing. That was it. And in many places in the country, these gravel races are pretty flat. So that was super flat, which had, which had its own unique challenge. Let me tell you, when you’re pounding, the pedal was four hours of stopping flat pavement. There is no break. Your, your saddle better be really good and your Shammy better be really good. Yeah. But then you contrast that with you know, in California we have old growth. Classic was phenomenal. It’s total reverse of that, right? 50 miles, 8,000 feet of climbing. Interestingly enough, the only podiums I got last year in gravel were my first race proton, but 50. I got this and then I raised old-growth classic and I got fifth. Then I was like, Oh, this is great. I bookend with two races. That couldn’t be any more different, but they worked for me I guess. You know. And then I raced in Oregon where we were looking at stage racing. So you’re racing day after day after day, which has its own unique challenges too. But Oregon was, I don’t know how much you’ve spent talking to the folks about their race or did you do the risk?
I did not do that, but I had Chad, Chad Sperry on talking about the event. Oh yeah, yeah
It was. It was Epic. And of course I’m the kind of woman that goes in and I say, Oh yeah, I’ve got great fitness and I’m going to go do the longest versions of because offered a longer and a shorter, a more Epic and a less Epic. And after the first day, and I was one of the last writers to make the time cut off on the long route. I was like, what was I thinking? That was when I made the decision that, you know, the long routes maybe really are for the pro women and all the dudes and maybe I should be doing, because it was super varied. For one thing. You’re in the mountains, there was tons of sand, tons of technical stuff and just a ton of climbing as well. So it was definitely a really hard event and it was a first year event and they were definitely working out some challenges with promoting and organizing and you know, how do we manage rest stops and how do we manage the timing and the location of our steps so they make sense on the course and they’re at the right points.
And so yeah, so back to fit for gravel, whether it’s a man or a woman, we definitely have to look at our course and what is the predominant terrain we’re riding here in Northern California because most people aren’t traveling too much. But then if I’m looking at a different type of race, what’s going to help me there from a gearing point of view, from a handling point of view. And my assumption to that would be okay, if there’s something really tricky and it’s a very small percentage of the course or a small percentage of the type of writing you’re doing. Yeah, maybe I want address that. If it would have a detriment to how I would fit for something else.
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think a common theme we’ve had on the podcast and you know, we’ve got listeners all over the world, you really do need to have an eye towards your local terrain because as you noted, you know, being here in the Bay area, we’ve got a lot of steep terrain that many people in many parts of the country may call mountain biking. Whereas whereas whereas gravel in in the Southeast, you know, as you said, you did a 500 foot climbing ride over 80 or a hundred miles, which is just insane when you know, you know, in your neck of the woods down a little bit South of me, you probably can’t do an hour long lunch ride without hitting, you know, 800 to a thousand feet of climbing.
Correct. Correct. And it’s, the technical aspects are different too. We know this from the mountain bike world. I mean, and the East coast you have roots and rocks and ruts and swaps. I mean the race I did in North Carolina had a three mile long section of swamp called Savage road. And you have to navigate through this very wet swamp, which is something we don’t see here in Northern California very often. You know, we have water crossing in, it’s a puddle and we’re all excited about that. We’re like, Ooh, mud. No, you know, and it’s also unique and other things and it’s like cyclocross, we have a hot dry cyclocross season versus everyone else has snow and rain and ice and mud. So it’s definitely, we have to look at, there is not one size fits all. And I think that’s super important in gearing as well.
When we look at what the manufacturers are providing for us having all of our options, which the smaller bike builders are allowing you to do it, being able to spec out my bike in advance of purchasing it is super important. I think, and I’ll use an example, I bought a cyclocross like from a big manufacturer who happens to be in Morgan Hill and I knew buying this bike that I would have to change the bar with STEM, the seat post, the saddle, the tires, the crank and the cassette and the rear trailer. So what did I buy? I bought a frame basically and I had it basically changed everything else. So that’s just, it’s a waste of money. It’s consumerism is why we are not able to spec out our bikes and I think that’s why brands like open and thesis and allied who are allowing you to pre fit, pre spec are following a model that makes a lot more sense.
Yeah. Yeah. One of the things you touched on sort of brought me back to the journey I had as a mountain biker and later as a gravel rider, when you’re riding off road, the first time you see a Rocky section or the first time you see a Sandy section or the first time you see a muddy section, these are all learning curves that we can’t really teach you in advance. How your bike’s going to feel, how it’s going to move. Right? When you, when you advise people on how to ride sand the first time they do it, they may ignore you and put all their weight on the front handlebar and get stopped immediately. So I think it’s important to note, and I’d be curious, since you’ve coached many athletes and advised many athletes, you know, how do you kind of encourage them that it’s okay that we’re all scared the first time we do do something. And then once you have it in your, your physical, visible, visible, and physical memory, the next time you see sand you’re like, Oh, that’s sand. I understand how this works.
And, and it may not be the next time. And the same is true on the road. And I’ll, I’ll share the analogy that I use, which is everything that we do the first time is awkward and oftentimes we’re resistant, especially here in Silicon Valley where everyone is so darn intelligent telling someone that they don’t know how to ride a bike is a real challenge. And we all rode bikes as kids. So, of course we know, but we don’t know in an intellectual sense, we just did. So now we’re trying to teach people to know, know how the bike works, the physics of the bike. And so the analogy I typically use in my clinics is but everything is awkward, including things like your first kiss. But somehow you decided or society decided that it was okay that this was worth it. We’re going to try again until we perfect it.
And usually people just giggle it, that which is great and it breaks the ice and people realize it’s okay. I don’t have to be perfect. And I think an important point too, and another analogy I used, I was a keynote speaker at the first women’s coaching conferences at USA cycling at the Olympic training center. And my topic was how to develop a women’s program. And when I started, I really had this idea that I had to have everything perfected before I even started. I built this huge website by myself and I had created all of these resources and routes and made it look like a finished product before we had even begun. And my analogy for that was you don’t have to give birth to an 18 year old. You can allow yourself as an organization. Oh good. I got to laugh to go through that process.
Right. And, and I think that’s super important. Allowing yourself to have, and this is a very yoga philosophy, but have a beginner’s mind. I think that’s super important to go into something new and be open and know that you don’t have to be perfect. I’ll share that. I started running five months ago and part of it was I was starting to feel burnt out on writing. And another part of it was I’m involved with an organization called the mermaid series, which is a women series of primarily running events. Although they do one triathlon and duathlon, which is how I’ve always been involved with them. And I felt like at 54 years old, I felt like I wasn’t happy with my fitness. I wasn’t happy with my weight, I felt stuck and I felt kind of bored. So I was like, wonder what would happen if I just trained to run?
Because every year I do this to ask on, I never trained to run for whatever reason I intend to. And then I don’t. And I go out and I have the fastest bike split of the day and pretty much the slowest run, split it a day and it’s miserable. And then I can’t walk for a week. And so I decided I was going to run and I bought a training plan and I have been following this training plan to the T for the last five months and now I can bust out a half marathon with like no thought. It’s crazy to think, Oh, I’m going to go run 10 miles. And what’s been really fun for me and stimulating is the fact that it is all new. I’m training with power, which is what we do on the bikes. And so I’m using that expertise to learn a new application of it.
I’m learning all about nutrition and fueling and painting and how it’s so different than the bike and then just still drawing on this, you know, 20 year aerobic base that I have, which has allowed me to be pretty okay at running just as a beginner. And I think if we could all go into cycling and gravel in particular that way and say, yeah, I’ve been riding a road bike for 10 years, but I’m a beginner at this and it’s okay. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to win. I don’t have to even be really good at it yet. I have the, the ability to learn and to go through this process. And I think there’s a lot of growth that happens when we allow ourselves to be a beginner.
Yeah, there’s lot, there’s a lot to be said for that. And I think gravel slash adventure riding, whether it’s your own route or an event that someone’s put on, there’s always going to be new things thrown at you. And you could, it could be the same ride, the same course, but the nature of the earth, the nature of dirt, it’s going to change the nature of weather. Everything is going to be thrown at you. And I think the more you try to control it and, and sort of manage it, the less fun you’re going to have because you have to accept that it’s ever changing. And I love that sort of approaching it with the beginner’s mind.
Right. And I think that, and it’s interesting, I’ll use the example of Allie Tetricks since everyone knows her and I’ve known her since she started road racing and one year she came out and she raised cyclocross. Now she was a pro at the time racing internationally and came out and raised the seas at Kennedy point. I remember that. And I was like, why should she be racing in the siege? She, you know, and I remember the same thing when Lance came out to golden gate park Chris corner corner came out to golden gate park. You know, I’m here they are with these huge engines, pro racers and falling all over themselves. And I was like, okay, I guess it is okay. They really are a beginner. But then if you start winning everything, you can’t be a beginner anymore. And I think I’ve watched Aly also make that transition and to get gravel the same way with this idea. This was fun and I’m going to find my niche and I may not be perfect. I may not win everything. And once in a while I’m going to win. And that’s awesome. And she’s built this great community around herself and build some longevity in the sport, which I think is super important. She’s been a really great ambassador for a lot of women. She’s very personable, she’s very humble and I think a lot of women are drawn to that
Definitely. And I think we’re, we’re sort of in a heyday of great women to model the gravel lifestyle after which is, which is awesome. I think to your point, many of the top, top female athletes, they just have this sense of irreverence, irreverence and humility in their public personas. Where they show themselves falling down. They, you know, they’re just showing what we all experience when we choose a challenge like riding off road.
Right. And I think the sad reality of it is women have to work harder in the sport to gain sponsorship to encourage each other. They have to, in addition to their day job and their sporting job, they have to do social media. They have, and the men don’t have to do that. I mean, some of them do, some of them hustle, but women have to hustle more. And I think the smart promoters and the smart companies have learned that you know, this specific female athlete can be the sweetheart of America in this sport and we need to support her. And that’s a good thing. So whether they’re doing it for philanthropic reasons or for smart marketing reasons, they’re doing it. And I think that’s important.
Yeah. I personally find it more enjoyable to kind of watch that part of the sport because the male side of the sport, you’re going to start to get a faster flood of former pro road athletes jumping into the sport. And I kind of worry about what that means. But every great woman athlete that I’ve seen, the join the sport has been really super additive to the sort of fun elements of the community that I love so much.
Oh yeah. Oh yeah, I would absolutely agree. And granted there are some men who are doing the same thing. I mean, URI and Ted King, and I mean even so Gaiman with all of his social media stuff and the cookie challenge and you know, going through the KLM. Yeah. We’re learning how to use social media to endure for a longer period of time. I mean, in the past road, raters would retire and they were done and they maybe would go on to be a DS or a coach or maybe they’d leave the sport altogether. But we’re transitioning. And I think that’s important. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about the bicycle is I can ride the bike in a lot of different ways. And I have, I’ve toured all over the world. I piloted a tandem for the Paralympics, for the blind writer.
I’ve raced every discipline except BMX and downhill. I have commuted. I’ve done all these different things and they’re already on a bicycle and they’re all beautiful to me. And sometimes I have one bike that hangs in the garage and collect stuff for awhile and then I come back to it and come back to that part of the sport. So it will always be there. And when folks stress about where they are with their fitness or, wow, my life is so busy right now, my kids go going to college and I can’t get a manage my time. I always tell them the bike will still be there for you. Whenever you’re ready, you can come back. It’s an easy sport to come back to and try not to stress. It shouldn’t be stress inducing. I mean racing can be stress-inducing but the rest of the sport shouldn’t.
Yeah, absolutely. So as we’re winding down our time, if there’s some women out there listening who are thinking about getting into gravel, what would you say to them?
Well, I would say don’t hesitate and I would find a mentor or a group mentor. You don’t even have to start with a fancy expensive bike. And I’ll throw some wider tires on your road bike if you can. Or hop on your mountain bike if you have it or your cross bike. And just when you see that dirt road turn down it and see where it goes, you’re not going to get lost. We all have the ability to not get lost these days with smartphones and navigation and don’t feel that you have to be perfect right away. I think that’s super important. Like keep it fun and go exploring because I think there’s nothing more like being a child and hopping on your bike and riding down the road that you don’t know where it goes.
Absolutely. And are there any, keeps us young and healthy for sure. And are there any resources that you’d point people to, any of your web properties that women can get information about the sport or how to approach it?
Okay, that’s a really good question. We have offered a number of gravel clinics in the past who’ve done some lectures. We’ve and one of the things that I’m putting together for this year is dirt skills for the roadie. Because I think what we’re finding is a lot of people who are road riders, they look at the bike and they’re like, Oh, it looks just like road bike. It should bride like a road bike. And what they don’t realize is differences the terrain. And so if we can pick out those key skills to help a roadie like jumpstart into hopping on the dirt and not falling down and breaking things whether it’s bikes or body parts. So I would say definitely look to your local bike shops. Many of them are offering group rides, especially at gravel roads right now because it’s so popular and this new segment of bikes has been introduced to the market. They’re trying to sell them. So they’re out there, they’re doing demo rides, they’re offering group rides on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis. Don’t feel that you don’t belong. I think that’s really important. We, the bike industry wants women to ride bikes and it may not feel that way, but insert yourself into this segment of the market and look for groups that are offering rides. And there’s a couple of really good podcasts, including one by my friend Craig Dalton, where you can get all kinds of gravel information.
Thanks for that Laurie. Well, I enjoyed the conversation it gave me, it gave me some good perspective on the women’s market and kudos to you for kind of back in 2002 starting Velo girls and, and sort of given women that permission and the space to enjoy cycling, highlighting the things that make them excited to go do sports. So it’s awesome. I appreciate all the work that you’ve done over the years and it was great talking to you and learning a bit more.
Well, thank you for having me on.