I used to be an athlete. I played competitive basketball and tennis my freshman year of college, and after I stopped playing team sports, I continued to stay in shape by running, hiking, biking, and lifting weights. And then, in a story all too familiar, work and life took turns that pushed out time for exercise. I had two children. I took multiple jobs to afford to live in the Bay Area. And boom — suddenly, a decade had gone by without my regular, daily commitment to exercise. I was not sedentary, by any means. I still hiked on the weekends, sometimes, and sometimes rode my commuter bike into town. I ate well, took my vitamins. But in the years between 45 and 55, I stopped being an athlete. And I started to feel not only the loss of flexibility, strength and lung capacity – I also started to feel like I wasn’t myself anymore. Not by accident, I had gained 15 kilos, I didn’t like the way I looked in the clothes and I no longer felt confident about my body. Vanity aside, I wanted to feel better in my own skin, and I especially wanted to get back to feeling like someone who plays some kind of sport — any sport — every day.
The pandemic, as terrible as it was and continues to be, created some opportunities for change that anyone open and willing could try on for size. Many people changed their relationship to work. others changed their relationships with friends and family. and some changed their relationship with alcohol (some drank more, others less). The mental health of almost everyone, of all ages and genders, has been affected in some way, and usually not for the better. During the lockdown, in particular, new stressors appeared and old stressors reminded us of their presence. It became clear to me that I needed to change my relationship with my body and that exercise was the main element missing from my life. But even though the desire was there, the memory of the pleasure, how could I make time and space?
And then my son quit gymnastics. He was a competitive gymnast for six years. He had a room full of medals, trained 16 hours a week at the age of 11 and was up to 20 the following year when it became crystal clear to our whole family that the sport was no longer good for his mental and physical health, the culture of fitness, with its emphasis on perfection, it was not a space we wanted to inhabit. And because of the pandemic and the need to be outside more, he chose to start mountain biking. Little did I know that his decision would be my ticket to health. I got myself a bike and decided to join him on his new adventure.
My son, of course, became very good at mountain biking, very quickly. He joined two teams, going out three times a week on different trails, from steep trails to long cross-country runs with big climbs. Run, jump, crash. And he taught me how to ride.
A friend had introduced me to the Liv Cycling brand, a bike manufacturer dedicated exclusively to women’s bikes. I thought the concept was cool, but I didn’t really understand why it was important that Liv only focused on women. Isn’t a bike a bike? Well, it turns out, it’s not. Not only is the frame geometry different from bikes built for men’s bodies, but the culture of mountain biking, as with so many sports, is male-dominated. Liv was founded to change that, to empower women (and girls) to confidently participate in the sport, whether casually or competitively, with gear built specifically for their body types and riding styles.
When I first jumped into the saddle of the Liv Intrigue Advanced bike—which a local shop, Berkeley Cycle Works, had called me—I felt like I’d just gotten a Tesla after learning to drive in a 1970s station wagon. pulled out onto a nearby trail, it felt like I was riding on a puffy cloud of air, and while I was effortlessly riding over rocks and roots, I wasn’t sure if I was in control.
The bike had everything I needed, and then some: adjustable full suspension, Shimano SLX shifters and high-quality Shimano hydraulic brakes, an ultralight carbon frame (about 28 pounds, all told), and bells and whistles I’d never even heard of back then. . And I still can’t tell you what a game-changer the frame geometry — designed by women, for women — is. All I can tell you is that this bike fits my body like no other bike I’ve ever owned before. It was clear that this was going to be a commitment, and I was up for the challenge. But obviously I needed some lessons to ride this incredible bike.
I caught up with Lindsey Richter, who founded Ladies AllRide in 2010 to help all women approach the sport with confidence. A lifelong athlete, Richter took up mountain biking after falling out of shape in college and struggling with depression. Mountain biking was a turning point in her life, and she has now dedicated her career to helping women and girls “create themselves,” as she says. Richter is interested in the emotional aspect of cycling, something rarely discussed in sports. For her, because mountain biking requires us to be fully present, it provides opportunities to face our fears and challenges, whether physical or psychological. Richter says, “Instead of wondering where all the women in the sport were, I went out and found them.”
Ladies AllRide offers skills camps for women and girls and in 2014, Liv partnered with Ladies AllRide to sponsor these events as a shared mission. Richter says, “Partnering with Liv is important to us because we share 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 industry bicycles”. The Ladies AllRide Mountain Bike Skills YouTube channel helped me understand body position, climbing efficiency, and other key skills that pushed me until I was able to participate in one of these camps in person.
It’s easy? No. 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 runner, and my goals remain personal rather than competitive, but I’m now someone who feels competent on an intermediate path — confident enough to join my son’s bike team as a beginner coach. Because this is really all about spreading the joy of being out in the woods on a bike. Read more about the importance of designing bikes specifically for women here.