bikekitz: Women's cycling matters and here's why.
Recently I sat down with Jen Barden from bikekitz.com, a new women’s cycling resource, to try and sift through some of the reasons why the growing (but still small) genre of cycling is the way it is. She unveiled some nuggets of information and I hope that you enjoy!
1.) Where did you grow up and what got you into cycling?
I grew up in Claremont, NH, a small town south of The Upper Valley and located on the Connecticut River, just across from Ascutney, VT. My brother and sister taught me to ride a bike. I can remember it like it was yesterday, and I must have been around five years old. It was one of those with the banana seat and streamers coming off the handlebars. I thought of a bicycle the way most kids did back then...as a toy. Once I outgrew playing outside with neighborhood kids, so too did my interest in the bicycle.
As a young adult, my fiancé had an interest in mountain biking. He coaxed me into buying one at the local bike shop. I learned how to ride that thing in Boston Lot (I kid you not). It had a steel frame and no shock. I can’t say I was great at it, but I enjoyed the woods and improving my skills. It was new and adventurous and I liked that too. A few years later, after getting married and having my first child, I took the next natural step and bought a road bike. This was more conducive to my new lifestyle. Although I enjoyed my time on the bike, I didn’t spend a lot of time doing it. I remember riding the Five and Dime, which is about 21 miles and 900 feet of elevation, and saying to my husband, “That was the most strenuous ride I’ve ever done!”
In 2014, my life took a drastic turn. My husband and I divorced. It was an extremely difficult time in my life and coping with this devastating change was practically incapacitating. This is when I started to ride my bike more. I quickly discovered the many benefits of cycling, not just on my own, but in a supportive peer group. I spent more time on the bike and made more cycling friends, integrating into the local cycling community. Once experiencing the mental, physical, and spiritual benefits of cycling, I was hooked. I could see nothing negative about this activity. The more I rode, the better I felt. Even during my lowest low, I always felt good while I was riding. It took my mind off things and my troubles didn’t seem as troublesome after a ride.
This much riding actually made me a decent cyclist. By the following year, I was doing some bigger events, like The Prouty Ultimate, The Vermont Overland Grand Prix, and The Dirty 40. I also became involved in The Upper Valley Women’s Cycling Club which is still very active today and growing.
2.) How do you think cycling, or sport in general, has changed you?
I have learned the benefits of hard work and going outside your comfort zone in order to improve. We can improve at nothing unless we get a little uncomfortable. Next thing you know, what was once uncomfortable now seems easy. So do the next uncomfortable thing so that it too will one day seem easy. This is true of all things, and cycling, or any sport, shows you that the more time you spend doing something and the more you reach, the better you get. It also shows you that you have to persevere. You can’t just put it down and forget about it, you have to stick with it or you will go backwards. Going backwards is not good.
3.) bikekitz…. What made you want to start it? Was there anyone or thing in particular that gave you the motivation?
I had the idea while riding my bike solo...go figure! This is when I do my best thinking. It seemed to keep coming up in my head every time I rode solo. I kept trying to think about why it wouldn’t work, and I couldn’t come up with anything. After about two years of ruminating, I mentioned it to Jen Duby. She loved the idea and this made me feel more confident about it, because she is a dear friend (also known as “Smart Jen” when being distinguished by the boys at Drummond Custom Cycles from “Fun Jen,” that’s me). Turned out Smart Jen is also a writer and a darn good one. She had recently made a career change. In other words, she quit her job and decided to focus on freelance writing. It was as though the universe had moved people, circumstances, and events to bring us together to birth this project. When I asked her to do it with me, she enthusiastically accepted. It’s a good thing too because there’s no way I could have done it on my own. I just don’t have the time between being a mother, working a full-time job as a Dental Hygienist, maintaining a home, and riding my bike.
My motivation for this website is simple. I love how cycling has improved every aspect of my life, and I want other women to experience the same. I am intimately familiar with the power of a positive women’s peer group with the Upper Valley Women’s Cycling Club. bikekitz is similar to that but on a broader scale. This website is not meant to exclude men, in fact, we have many male subscribers. There is value to both men and women in the context of this website. But it is designed from a female perspective and in a way that will (hopefully) be of interest to women in particular. There are still more men riding bikes than women, and I’d like to bend the curve.
4.) What’s your goal for bikekitz.com? What audience do you hope to reach?
We are hoping to see this website evolve into something great. We’d like to build a supportive community for women of all cycling abilities. There is no cyclist who isn’t good enough or fast enough. If you ride a bike, we want you. And as I said before, it’s not to exclude men. I know many male cyclists who are very supportive of women’s cycling, I have experienced it myself. But the focus of the site is on women who ride, or want to ride or want to ride more.
Being a part of the bikekitz community can mean subscribing to the website and interacting through the “leave a comment” function. It can mean emailing us directly with questions or suggestions for the website. It can mean following us on Facebook and/or Instagram. It can mean telling us a story about how cycling has changed or improved your life. We are all ears!
As our audience grows and traffic to the site increases, we hope to eventually have a shop. I’d love to be able to offer our readers some serious swag. I have no idea how to do this, but I also have no doubt that when the time comes, we’ll be able to figure it out. In other words, it’s out of our comfort zone...for now ;-).
5.) Let’s talk about Aquariana. What is it and why do you want to throw the event? What does the event schedule look like?
Aquariana is a Women’s Winter Retreat at Pierce’s Inn in Etna, NH. Jen Duby came up with the name...she’s brilliant! (Smart Jen, remember)? When we were sitting down to plan it with our friend Jane LeMasurier, a total badass mountain biker and instructor with Kingdom Cycling Experiences, I noted that both Jen and I are Aquarians and that this event takes places during our Astrology sign, when the sun is in Aquarius. I thought, “How fun would it be to channel some of that energy?” The answer...super fun! (Fun Jen, remember)?
With that in mind, we’ve arranged some activities for our participants that include yoga, mindful meditation, massage, tarot card reading, and energy work. The “biking” part of this event includes fat tire and gravel biking. We will also offer cross country skiing and snowshoeing. This is not a hammerfest.
The schedule looks something like this:
Cocktail hour from 5:00-6:00 (BYOB)
Dinner at 6:00
Fireside chat 7:00
Jane’s Dance Party
Night time snowshoe
Breakfast 7:30 - 8:30
9:00 - 12:00 Choice activity (bike/snowshoe/ski)
12:30 - 1:30 Lunch
2:00 - 5:00 Block
Choice activity (bike/snowshoe/ski)
Other activities such as massage, tarot card readings, and other (this is a work in progress)
Dinner 6:00 - 7:00
7:00 Comedy with Cindy Pierce
Breakfast 7:30 - 8:30
9:00 - 11:00 Group event
Departure, gift bags, hugs
This is a rough schedule and is subject to change, but you get the gist. A relaxing weekend to connect with other women and recharge your battery. We are at the will of Mother Nature, so we will go with the flow and do whatever the weather dictates...no problem!
6.) Gravel... I’ve seen you at many events now. Can you sum up why you enjoy gravel riding and racing? Which do you like better? Racing or riding?
Gravel, what’s not to like? One of the greatest draws to cycling is the places it takes you. Without a doubt, gravel riding in the northeast will take you on the most beautiful, scenic roads with the lightest traffic. You will find yourself surrounded by trees and/or farmland with breathtaking views. You will climb your steepest hills and have your most gnarly descents. You’ll truly experience the benefits of being in nature. Sure, road riding takes you outside too, and here in the northeast, it’s nice. But gravel...gravel is special. It feels more natural and the benefits of being outdoors seems greater. Even in a group, the pace is a little slower, you can spread out a little more, and have a grand ol’ social time.
The races are fun! I love the energy at a gravel race because they are not just races they are “events.” You can ride, you can race, or you can sort of do both. I am the “do both” type. I know I’m not making the podium, but I like to go into these events with a goal. I don’t worry too much about my final time, but I set a goal for my average pace and let Garmin/Strava tell me how I did. When I get to a particularly difficult section of the ride, I just think of how great the after party is going to be, not to mention the bragging rights, and it motivates me to push through it. Then at the end, when I’ve changed out of my sweaty, dirty kit and put on some clean clothes, I can imbibe on the beer (I’m not even a beer drinker, but it tastes better at an event), eat a ton of good food, and talk with all my friends about the ride, sharing stories and having a few laughs.
Participating in these events is also a GREAT way to see some new roads and learn a few new routes. Gravel is my favorite.
7.) What’s on your calendar for 2019 as far as gravel events? Is there anything that you’re particularly excited about?
I’ll most likely do my usual, The Muddy Onion, which is not a race but an event. This one is always fun. Laid back, great SAG stops, and a fun after party. I’ll do the Peacham Fall Fondo again (also an event, not a race). But there are a few on my bucket list I’ve never done that I want to do this year. 1) The Vermont Overland Maple Adventure Ride, 2) The Ranger, and 3) The Overland.
Truth be told, I have done The Overland twice, but not the new route. I’ve had a scheduling conflict these past 2 years. This is a great goal because one cannot do The Overland off-the-couch, or even with just “some” training. It’s tough, and I’ll need to be in top shape. The Ranger has also presented a scheduling conflict for me in the past, but I should be good to go this year. I’ve heard it’s a ton of fun with one of the best after-parties. Fun Jen likes a good after-party. VOMAR, it’s just so darn cold out and I’m kind of a baby in the cold, but this year I’m going to put my big girl pants on and bite the bullet. Since VOMAR is in March, it will keep me accountable through the winter, so it’s a good goal, even though it’s not super long. With 2 Pavé sectors and lots of climbing, it’s nothing to sneeze at.
Incidentally, bikekitz has created a calendar of must-do events for 2019 that we hope will ease the event selection process. Check it out and sync it with your Google calendar.
8.) Racing aside, what is your all-time favorite gravel cycling route in the Upper Valley?
Harland dirt, without a doubt. This is a perfect example of how participating in events teaches you new routes. This was a race I did, the Dirty Road-a-Coaster, a few years ago. It’s not extremely long, but perfect for a half day ride. The views are spectacular year round. The only problem with this route is you want to keep getting off your bike to take pictures, which is what Jen Duby and I do whenever we do this ride. There’s beauty around every corner, and the hills are challenging.
9.) Is there anything in the realm of cycling gear that you’ve purchased that has changed the game for you? Anything in particular that could help other female riders?
For sure, Velocio Apparel. When you spend a lot of time on your bike, comfort is extremely important. The first year I did The Overland I wore a horrible pair of cycling shorts that left a huge blister on my ass. I discovered this as soon as I hopped into my glorious post-event shower...ouch! It wasn’t as glorious as I had hoped. Having the right chamois and bibs have made all the difference. Women are often reluctant to wear bibs because of the way the straps come down over their chests, but Velocio has solved this problem in their female-friendly design. In a bib, your diaphragm is not restricted, making it easier to breathe. Not to mention, that momma belly doesn’t need to be “tucked into” your shorts. What I really want now are a pair of their Signature Fly Bibs...I think this will be a game changer. It solves the gigantic pain-in-the-ass problem of having to literally disrobe in a port-a-potty in order to pee. I’m saving up my coins for a pair of these bibs. They are expensive, but I think they’ll be worth it.
10.) By no means am I speaking for everyone, but why do you think some women are intimidated to get out and ride? What creates that intimidation factor? And what is the path to solving it?
I think that as women, we have a tendency to be very hard on ourselves. We often think we’re not good enough, or that we’re slowing others down. This creates negative self-talk and an intimidation to ride with others. Sometimes this is enough to prevent women from even trying. I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. It’s okay to go out of your comfort zone, in fact it’s good. It’s okay if you’re not the fastest because there’s always going to be someone faster, and that’s good too because it gives you something to strive toward. It’s okay to do something new because eventually it won’t be new anymore and you will have learned a new skill. Yes, you should have some experience riding a bike before you join a group, but make this a goal. I hear from women through UVWCC a lot who are working on their skills so that they may be able to ride with us in 2019. I love this! They are self-aware. They know they have to put in some work to join the group, and they’re doing it! They’re excited about it! And they know that once they get there, they will be in a supportive and positive peer group. Wherever you live, find a buddy. Talk to your local bike shop. They are familiar with the community and are likely able to match you up with someone of similar ability.
I also think that many women are afraid to ride on the roads for fear of being hit by a car. This is indeed a legitimate concern. Personally, I have a problem with letting fear dictate my decisions, so I guess my advice would be, don’t let fear dictate your decisions. Ride in places you are familiar with where you feel safe. Gravel roads have less traffic. Also, consider group riding. Learn the proper etiquette and do it. You’re safer in a group, more visible to drivers. Lastly, if you really don’t like the idea of riding on the road, consider a mountain bike. This is a wonderful, fun way to ride and spend time in the woods. It is also very social and fantastic exercise!
11.) If you were to give other women cyclists or anyone new to cycling a piece of advice, what would it be?
Subscribe to bikekitz.com :-) Seriously though, find a buddy, an accountability partner. I often hear women say, “I like to ride alone.” This translates to, “I’m intimidated to ride with others.” Trust me, you’re fine. The first time I showed up for a group ride, I thought for sure I’d be the slowest. I wasn’t. And I honestly can’t recall who was, because it didn’t matter. You need to find the right partner or the right group, but there’s a group for everyone. Talk to your local bike shop owner, he/she will direct you. Things in life are better when they are shared.
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