Kat Sweet at the I5 Colonnade mountain bike park in Seattle. Photo by Meg Valliant.
Though mountain biking has been a male-dominated sport from the get go, there have always been a small contingent of women along for the ride. Jacquie Phelan, Juli Furtado, Rebecca Rusch, Marla Streb and many others all played pioneering roles in mountain biking’s development. Like them, Kat Sweet‘s mountain bike career has helped break down barriers for women and clear a path for today’s riders, especially in downhill where she was one of just a handful of women racing in those early days.
Sweet’s bike life has spanned nearly three decades of professional racing, freeride competitions, contest promotion, and coaching. These days her focus is on the latter two with her Sugar Showdown contest series for women freeriders and her Sweetlines Coaching business. Specializing in freeride coaching for women and kids, Sweet is working to foster the next generation of mountain biker rippers and grow the “sisterhood of shred.” I spoke with her about her long history in mountain biking, her unexpected foray into coaching, breaking down barriers to entry as a mentor for women riders, and much more.
In 1933, Horace Dall became the first man to cross Iceland by bicycle. Twenty years later, another group of Englishmen called the Rough Stuff Fellowship became the first group to cross Iceland by bicycle fully self supported. This short film combines footage from a modern day bikepacking expedition across Iceland and an interview with Dick Phillips, one of the members of the 1958 ride. The voiceover narration is pretty bad–it has the tone of a promo video (it was made by an Icelandic bike tour company, afterall) and lots of non sequitur superlatives about epic adventures. But, the interview with Phillips and the amazing footage of riding on Iceland’s admittedly-epic landscape, make it well worth a watch.
Casey Greene planning for an adventure. Photo courtesy Casey Greene.
There is a trend afoot in bike touring to get off-road and onto dirt. It is, in many ways, the logical conclusion of several years of exploding popularity of bikepacking races like the Tour Divide, gravel events like Almanzo 100, and the continued growth of on-road bike touring. And, after all, what’s not to love about riding quite forest and country roads, in beautiful settings, away from the noise and danger of cars and trucks?
Casey Greene is doing his part to help encourage this growth of dirt riding. He is Adventure Cycling Association’s cartographer and the man behind their newly created Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route, a 750-mile dirt road and singletrack ride that links over 50 natural hot springs. I spoke to Casey about what it means to be a cartographer in the digital age, creating the Idaho Hot Springs route, his own backcountry adventures, and much more.
Donnie Kolb at the Cowboy Dinner Tree, a restaurant along the Oregon Outback route with 30oz steaks. Photo by Gabriel Amadeus.
Simply stated, bikepacking is backpacking on a bike. Rather than using touring bikes with panniers, bikepackers use mountain bikes with frame and seat bags that allow them to maintain agility on singletrack trails. And though people have been using bikes to explore trails and dirt roads for about as long as bikes have existed, bikepacking’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past several years with new races and events popping up all over the country and long running events seeing record participation. In Oregon, Donnie Kolb is a central figure in the bikepacking world. In his own words he is, “spreading the gospel of dirt and gravel riding throughout the Pacific Northwest.” His website VeloDirt serves as a resource for bikepacking and gravel road routes throughout Oregon, a travel journal for Kolb’s adventure stories, and a hub for loosely-organized, semi-official bike events. In May, VeloDirt is putting on their largest ride yet, the Oregon Outback. It is a wild, 360-mile route tracing most of the distance of the state south to north. I spoke to Kolb about the history of VeloDirt, his love for bikepacking adventures, the unexpected popularity of the Oregon Outback, and the future of bikepacking in Oregon and beyond.
Photo from konaworld.com.
There’s something of an adoration–occasionally bordering on idolatry–for the working men and women of professional bike racing. We hold high racers such as Erik Tonkin, Tristan Schouten, and Mo Bruno-Roy who put in a full week’s work and still make it to the podium on the weekends. That esteem is, in part, a recognition of their serious dedication to the sports we love and their willingness to sacrifice time to compete at the highest levels. But it is also that we can see ourselves in working pros, unrealistic as that is. Few of us will actually spend the time training to compete at that level and even fewer have the genetics to do so. But their success feels just a little more within our grasp, a little more aspirational to those of us finding time to train and race in between all of life’s other commitments.
And though he eschews the notion that his full time job is a badge of honor or an excuse, Spencer Paxson falls squarely among that top tier of American working pros. He routinely places in the top 10 at national-level professional cross-country mountain bike races, placed 5th at the 2012 cross-country nationals, has made the US World Championships selection, and was on the 2012 Olympics long team. I spoke to Paxson about the challenges of balancing his office job with his bike racing job, what it means to have a career as a cross country racer in the ever evolving world of mountain bike racing, coming up under the mentorship of Erik Tonkin, and much more.
Posted in Bike Industry, Cyclocross, Interviews, Mountain Biking, Racing
Tagged barry wicks, bellingham mountain biking, cross country mountain biking, Cyclocross, erik tonkin, kona bicycles, spencer paxson, world cup