I was an athlete. I played competitive basketball and tennis during my freshman year in college, and after I stopped playing team sports, I continued to stay in shape by running, hiking , cycling and lifting weights. And then, in an all-too-familiar story, work and life took the kind of twists that pushed back time for exercise. I had two children. I took several jobs to allow me to live in the Bay Area. And boom – suddenly a decade has passed without my regular, daily commitment to exercise. I was not sedentary at all. I was still hiking on the weekends sometimes, and sometimes doing commuter biking around town. I ate well, I took my vitamins. But between 45 and 55, I stopped being an athlete. And I started to feel not only the loss of my flexibility, strength, and lung capacity – I also started to feel like I wasn’t myself anymore. It’s no coincidence that I had gained 15 pounds, I didn’t like the way I looked and I had lost confidence in my body. Vanity aside, I wanted to feel better about myself, and more importantly, I wanted to regain my sense of myself as someone who does some kind of sport – any sport – every day.
The pandemic, terrible as it has been and continues to be, has created opportunities for change that anyone open and willing could try to measure. Many people have changed their relationship to work; others have changed their relationships with friends and family; and some changed their relationship to alcohol (some drank more, some less). The mental health of almost everyone, of all ages and genders, has been affected in one way or another, and usually not for the better. During the lockdown, in particular, new stressors have emerged, and old stressors have reminded us of their presence. It became clear to me that I needed to change my relationship to my body and that exercise was the main missing element in my life. But even if the desire was there, the memory of enjoyment, how could I have made time and space?
And then my son quit gymnastics. He had been a competitive gymnast for six years. He had a room full of medals, trained 16 hours a week at age 11, and grew to 20 the following year when it became clear to our whole family that the sport was no longer good for his mental and physical health. , that the culture of gymnastics, with its emphasis on perfection, was not a space we wanted to inhabit. And because of the pandemic and the need to be outdoors more, he chose to take up mountain biking. Little did I know that his decision would be my own ticket back to health. I got myself a bike and decided to join him in his new adventure.
My son, of course, got very good at mountain biking, very quickly. He joined two teams, went out three times a week on different trails, from steep single-tracks to long cross-country stretches with big climbs. He ran, he jumped, he crashed. And he taught me to ride a horse.
A friend had introduced me to the Liv Cycling brand, a bicycle manufacturing company exclusively dedicated to women’s bicycles. I thought the concept was cool, but I didn’t really understand why it was important for Liv to just focus on women. Isn’t a bicycle a bicycle? Well, it turns out that’s not the case. Not only is the frame geometry different from bikes designed for male bodies, but mountain biking culture, like so many sports, is male dominated. Liv was founded to change that, to empower women (and girls) to confidently participate in sport, whether casually or competitively, with gear specifically designed for their body type and riding style.
When I first jumped into the saddle of the Liv Intrigue Advanced bike — which had been dialed in for me by a local shop, Berkeley Cycle Works — I felt like I had just gotten a Tesla after learning how to drive in a 1970s station wagon. When I took it out on a nearby trail, I felt like I was riding on a puffy cloud of air, and while I steered effortlessly over rocks and roots, I wasn’t sure I had control.
The bike had everything I needed and more: customizable full suspension, Shimano SLX shifters and high-end Shimano hydraulic brakes, an ultra-lightweight carbon frame (about 28 pounds, total), and bells and whistles that I had never even heard. of at the time. And I still can’t tell you about the game-changing frame geometry—designed by women, for women. All I can tell you is that this bike fits my body like no other bike I’ve ever had before. It was clear this was going to be a commitment, and I was up for the challenge. But obviously I needed a few lessons to do this amazing bike justice.
I called Lindsey Richter, who founded Ladies AllRide in 2010 to help all women approach sport with confidence. A lifelong athlete, Richter took up mountain biking after losing her fitness in college and battling depression. Riding a mountain bike was a major turning point in her life, and she now devotes her career to helping women and girls “create themselves,” as she puts it. Richter is interested in the emotional aspect of cycling, a subject rarely discussed in sport. For her, because mountain biking requires us to be fully in the present, it allows us to face our fears and our challenges, whether physical or psychological. Richter says, “Instead of wondering where all the women in sports were, I would go out and find them.”
Ladies AllRide offers skills camps for women and girls, and in 2014 Liv partnered with Ladies AllRide to sponsor these events as part of a shared mission. Richter says, “Partnering with Liv is important to us because we have the same mission and are stronger together: we both want to see more women on bikes and help them feel welcome, seen and heard in the bicycle industry. The Ladies AllRide Mountain Bike Skills YouTube channel helped me understand body position, climbing efficiency, and other basic skills that kept me going until I could join the one of these camps in person.
Is it easy? No. Is it worth it ? Yes. And having companies like Liv putting their money where their mouth is is so important to welcoming more women into this awesome sport.
I’m not a racer and my goals remain personal rather than competitive, but I’m now someone who feels competent on an intermediate trail – confident enough to join my son’s bike team as a rookie trainer. Because it’s really about spreading the joy of being in the woods on a bike. Learn more about the importance of women-specific bike design here.