It's rare to find really rad and down to earth people in the world, let alone in the biking world. I am grateful and damn lucky to have found one such person, Josie Smith. With her secret ninja ways Josie has made a big cutthroat punch as an advocate for women's cycling. It's like she's a collector of all things female and badass on a bike.
From your everyday street rider to your DH Pros; she’s interviewed them all. Now it’s my turn. I am here to find out what makes this bike goddess tick; how she started it all and why she is much more than your average Jo-sie.
A Little Backstory
I grew up in Northeast Iowa on a dairy farm and now I live in a cute little house located in Decorah.
I've worn several hats over the years (farmer's daughter & cosmetologist). Now I’m a budding writer/blogger trying to make her mark in the cycling industry and am store manager at Decorah Bicycles (owned by my partner, Travis.)
I'm the proud "mom" of three wonderful kitties: Cordelia Joy, Phoebe Layne, and Sir Alistar Figaro Newton.
I bake the perfect frozen pizza and have a fondness of IPA and stouts. I love mountain biking.
When did you first start riding a bike?
This could be answered in two parts. I learned to ride a bicycle after a very traumatizing experience at school where they had a course set up for all the students to ride and earn a permit to ride a bike to school. I lived 10 miles outside of town= not happening. They didn't let me opt out and my entire class learned I couldn't ride a bike.
I eventually rode a bike, but not much since I lived on a gravel hill and was "allergic to exercise." Eventually I stopped riding and forgot about it. I didn't fall in love with riding until 2012 after I purchased my first bike as an adult.
What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I enjoyed the feeling of freedom that I hadn't never experienced before and it lets you see things from a different perspective- it stimulates the mind or helps to quiet it.
Riding was my therapy during some tough and emotional times; I found I benefit from physical activity on a regular basis and it has greatly improved my emotional/mental health.
What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
This is tough to answer as I've only done a handful of events so far! I've had an enjoyable time at all the events I've participated in thus far and each has their own story. I think Time Trials this year would've been my favorite as it was my first dirt event and there were 9 women total who rode, which was a pretty big deal as last year there was only two.
Competing is a mixed bag for me as I have a bad habit of putting pressure on myself which leaves me riddled with anxiety prior to events. When I start riding I get in a zone and the worries melt away.
Mostly I go because I want to up the number of women participants and I love meeting people! There is such a fun culture to experience when you participate in an event. That is a main reason I keep being drawn to events. Maybe the beer, too. ;)
Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
My first few mountain bike rides were traumatizing and I was a complete chicken. I didn't know how to get on and off a bike properly (not starting/stopping while seated.) It turned into a horribly embarrassing time of Travis having to teach me and explaining why what I had been doing wasn't safe. I was mortified.
I was extremely nervous of falling, potentially getting hurt, and/or any other calamity I could think of. The first few rides that I went on were not the smoothest and I felt like I retained very little. There were about 3 rides that year ('13), and those rides made me become bound and determined to become a better mountain biker.
If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I'm not entirely sure what helped me get over my nervousness other than my first few falls. I learned I was sturdier than I thought; tho my legs looked like they were riddled with cheetah spots. (Your first season will likely leave you riddled with bruises. They are badges of honor.)
I became addicted to accomplishing things that challenged me. I never thought I'd be mountain biking, and each obstacle I overcame made me feel like a queen of the mountain. I proved to myself I could not only ride a bike to work and on paved trails, I could ride technical dirt trails too.
To deal with nervousness if I'm somewhere that's on the more technical side, I will hum or do some sort of poor example of beat boxing to help me maintain focus.
Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
My first "real biff" knocked the air out of my lungs and bruised my ribs. I was coming down from a hill onto a wooden bridge, hit the planks wrong and wiped out.
This particular biff has made me leery of bridge structures- this is an ongoing thing that I'm working on.
Two weeks after that I had my second biff, which would be the most traumatizing due to a concussion & chin stitches. It happened on a Sunday evening when Travis, our friend, and I were going out street riding. We went thru a basketball court that had a curb that curved, which launched me upward vs. straight out. I had gone off it pretty fast and wasn't paying attention. The front wheel came down and I launched off the bike, pounding my chin into the cement. I was lucky I had a Vice helmet on (bolted on visor) otherwise I'm positive I would've broken my nose and broken my front teeth. The majority of the injury was my chin (8 stitches) and a concussion.
I barely remember being in the truck, hospital, or visiting a friend; I had a week off work and two weeks off the bike. The first few days I was stuck in a repetitive rut- I remember waking up in the early morning hours that Monday and obsessively looking at my phone at the day/time/reading texts. It hadn't helped I had recently had an accident- I seriously thought I had been in a coma.
I wasn't afraid of riding my bike after the accident but it gave me an eye-opener to brain injuries, handling skills, and helmets.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
With mountain biking I would say pretty much everything! I can't say there was one thing that came naturally to me when I first started out riding mountain bike trails. Lots of hours sessioning and practicing- also learning when to say "Try again another day."
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Getting my front wheel up and off the ground when getting over logs. I'm okay at it, but my technique needs improvement.
There are some super steep climbs which require you to be pretty much squatting as you pedal up the trail, sometimes I get it and other times I don't. It takes practice and the right amount of balance/maneuvering.
I remind myself that building/practicing skills are part of learning and that doesn't go away after a couple seasons. I desire to become better and remind myself that perfection isn't attainable; give yourself a break when learning and don't be so hard on yourself.
What do you love about riding your bike?
Absolutely love how free it makes me feel as well as how physically strong I’ve become because of riding. I still find myself thinking "Wow! Last year I struggled to clean this trail..."
I appreciate that I got over my nervousness and found love with something that challenges me mentally, emotionally, and physically. Overall I feel my best and most confident when I'm on a bike.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them? Does working in a bike shop give you access to other bikes that you may have never known about? What are those bikes?
N+1 is my life! I have a heavy duty list of bikes which you can see if you click here. I'll talk of the ones I'm riding the most right now- I have a total of 11, or you could say 10 1/2 as the 11th is a work in progress.
I have two Surly Karate Monkeys, one is a "summer" bike for commuting and rare gravel rides named Nikita. She's also known as the "Engagement Ring" bike because Travis built her up with a nice spec. She was my first, legitimately expensive bike. Athena is her blacked out counterpart who is now primarily a winter commuter. She's "Semi-Fat" as we swapped her original fork for one that holds a fatbike wheel/tire.
Erza- a Trek Cali Carbon SLX, I feel confident and stable on this bike and she's my go-to for most races. I started learning to ride clipped in on this bike during some of the dry season. Next season we'll be putting the fastest rolling tires she's had yet along with clipless pedals so I can really rip around!
Trixie Firecracker- a Trek Lush Carbon with 27.5 wheels and also my first full suspension bike. We had to tweak the reach with a longer stem as I live in a more climb-intensive area. The stock stem size made it fit short and swapping helped with the twitchy handling, too. This is a very playful, nimble bike and it lets me rip down sections I was more apprehensive of. She's my go-to bike for exploring new trails.
Snow Queen- a custom painted Specialized Fatboy who is my winter trail bike. She gets a ton of fan mail (kidding!) I'm experimenting with Vanhelga tires on her this season and so far I have to say they get 2 thumbs up! She doesn't get ridden much outside of the winter/spring/thaw. She's not the lightest bike in the world, but she's purpose built and I like how she rolls.
Jem- In progress! Salsa Beargrease X7 that is being turned into a 27.5+ with front suspension. I rode the Beargrease X01 at SaddleDrive and was instantly in love with the geometry. There wasn't any "first date" jitters with this bike...so once we saw the purple frame I pretty much fell in love instantly. I won't be riding this bike until next season- it'll be the bike I'll use for those days where I just want to roll over things/have more stability for slippery conditions. Who knows? Maybe it will be my go to machine for the whole season!
A relationship with Travis and working at the shop definitely opened doors to bikes I may not have ever owned. I know with 100% certainty I wouldn't choose to live with just one bike, I'd always have at least 2. One would be a fatbike as I enjoy riding trails year-round and I wouldn't want snow to limit me. Without riding the 27.5+ I feel that I can't answer for the second bike quite yet, but for now I'll say a carbon hardtail 29'er as my second.
Again, with working in a bike shop you are exposed to a variety of clothing/bike accessories, What do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I have favorites from the bike shop, Shebeest, and Dirty Jane- You can read my product reviews here.
I love my liner shorts and the Century shorts from Shebeest.
Winter specific- Craft Stormshell (25 degrees on down) or Shebeest WeatherPro tights (20-32 degrees)
I've fallen in love with thermal jerseys! I'm still getting the hang of this layering thing and they work great.
Cobrafist Pogies from 45NRTH- super excellent.
Lights- NiteRider Lumina 650 for commuting and Light & Motion Seca 2000 Race for night riding.
Gloves- Specialized Deflect and Race Face DIY
Shoes- Five Ten Freerider and Freerider Contact...lovelovelove. Best shoes for riding flats, hands down and comfortable enough to wear all day at the shop.
SockGuy socks are awesome!
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I feel that the fear of getting hurt and fear of the unknown are huge factors, especially for those starting out as adults. Mountain biking isn't riding a smooth paved trail or straight stretch of road, it's unpredictable and can change rapidly when you are new to the trails. You also get an introduction to handling skills you probably didn't know about if you primarily ride paved trails/roads.
You WILL FALL, but those falls have hurt a lot less than the falls I've taken on pavement. You really surprise yourself with what you CAN do when you start mountain biking. I was challenged a lot during my first season and it wasn't toward the end that I felt pretty confident with my abilities.
I'm STILL nervous with some areas- and that's okay!
With biking in general: money for accessories, the amount of accessories one may need, potentially realizing you need another bike, and time. Lack of fellow riders to ride with and being worried about being "slow" and having others wait up. Start slow and work your way to where you want to be- don't get down on yourself if you're not commuting to work every day or biking all winter long. Know that there are people who would love to ride with you! (Such as myself.) We've all been there.
What prompted you start a blog about female cyclists and what inspired you to get other women riding??
I wanted inspiration. I was on my indoor trainer watching "If She Can Do It" and thought "These women are SO rad!" At first I started with a few local women and then quickly expanded to women from all over. Why stay small when you could potentially go big?
I have tried to get as many riding disciplines covered as possible. Mountain biking is favored, but you'll find there are commuters, road riders, triathletes, bmx, DH, and many others that have been featured! I want all women to find someone that inspires them to get on a bike.
Inspiring others to ride happened naturally as I had a couple friends who became interested in having me lead them on off-road rides. Thus we came up with the idea of offering me up as a ride guide. For those new to riding, you'll find that riding with multiple people can be helpful- sometimes one has a different technique or method that helps make something click.
Often women learn from their significant other and sometimes it doesn't go smoothly. I can't praise Travis enough for his knowledge and skills, but there were times that learning from another woman would've proven helpful for me. I want women to know they have options and we want to support them so it's a positive experience!
You have done interviews with rad ladies like Amanda Batty who DHs and others like ultra-endurance racer Andrea Cohen along with many more. You also just had an article published in the Woodinville newspaper with your interview with Shannon Leigh Kehoe. Did you think your blog would take off like this? What’s next?
I never, ever expected my blog to take off like it has and I'm still humbled by how recognized it has become. Writing is something I enjoy and being able to combine two passions of mine and create a hub is so exciting! Admittedly, my own posts are sporadic and I'll be adding more of them in the future- especially next year.
The future of my blog- I'd love to keep it going as it is, but hopefully grow it as well- I'm still trying to figure that part out! Maybe more travels/adventures and other opportunities to meet women I've interviewed, go to clinics, etc.
I definitely want to keep the interviews as a regular feature- I just need willing participants! I'm always open to suggestions and love making connections.
I enjoyed seeing the dynamic between you and Travis (your partner) on my recent visit to Decorah. How is it working with him? Riding with him? Is there competition or pressures? Do you have any advice for women who want to ride with their partners?
Working together has challenging moments because you can't work with your partner and have it be rainbows and sunshine 24/7. As a team I feel we have accomplished a lot of good things in a short period of time; Decorah Bicycles is Travis' pride and joy and I'm thankful that I can be part of what he's passionate about. I feel fortunate that I can be involved with the industry that has given me so much.
With Travis and riding I feel much closer to being in the same chapter now as I've grown with my abilities. Travis was my cheerleader and coach when it came to my riding the paved trail; many times I wondered if I'd ever be able to ride with him vs. him riding at my level. I put a lot of pressure on myself in my learning stages of riding, and there are times I still do. Travis was a natural and I was not; I hated embarrassing myself by flubbing in front of Travis- especially if it was in an area I had become proficient at. (Still do.)
I love that I have a partner to ride with! It's fun to be able to go on mountain bike adventures and do an activity with someone who enjoys it as much as I do.
In terms of advice for riding with partners: every relationship is different, but I feel communication is very important from both parties. Both need to listen and be open to critiques.
Express what you need- if you need to have visuals, session an area, etc.
When you get feedback on how to do something better try to not shut down! Travis gave me feedback in order to better my skills and keep me safe- there were times I got defensive for no good reason.
The partner/instructor must also be open to critiques on teaching methods- what worked for them may not work for you, etc.
Don't be afraid to ask questions!
Be sure that you are doing this for yourself and not just because your partner thinks it's a good idea. The learning process will go much smoother if you have the desire to ride mountain bike trails yourself.
What is Fearless Women of Dirt? How did this come about?
Fearless Women of Dirt aka FWD (Forward) came about because I thought it would be awesome to have a recognized group of women mountain bikers in Decorah. Fearless Women of Dirt is the first (to my knowledge) women's off-road group in Decorah. I wanted local and area riders to be able to connect, join our organized rides, and perhaps meet up with each other for rides. It's open to women who are experienced, intermediate, beginner, or mountain bike curious- don't be afraid to join, ask questions, or inquire on rides!
What advice would you give to others who want to get more women into cycling?
Patience is key. Depending on your area, it'll take time to create a solid base of riders so make connections, have a women's ride option, and spread the stoke!
With taking new riders out- remember what may be easy for you may not be easy for the next person. Being able to tone it down is important and helps a new rider feel less intimidated. Be open to hearing how they would like to be guided- one of my friends asked for me to not tell her anything that was coming up as it psyched her out too much. She felt better watching and mimicking what I did vs. hearing verbal cues. Others liked having a heads up on what was coming up. Variety is the spice of life!
If you could interview ANYONE, dead or alive, who would it be and why.
This is a very tough question...
My grandma Gert (deceased)- I loved hearing her stories of her younger years...she was also divorced during a time when it wasn't common to do so and ran a gas station- which wasn't a common job for a woman, either! It would be great to get those stories down.
Gary Fischer and Tom Ritchey- Beer or coffee, they could choose. Decorah Bicycles featured Klunkers during a past Oneota Film Festival and it was such a neat movie. These two are iconic- I'd love to hear about the past and their thoughts on today.
Juli Furtado-how she transitioned from rider to creating Juliana would be really epic to learn. I'd love her take on being involved in the industry and how she feels it has changed from when she first started to now.
Anna Schwinn- To learn about all the radness she's doing for women riders and her experiences in the industry. I think it would be great to take her out for a ride on the Decorah local trails!
There are many more- this is just a very, very short list.
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm ambidextrous- many things (besides writing) I do as a "lefty"
I loved dipping Hardee's Curly Fries into a chocolate or strawberry milkshake.
I had my appendix taken out when I was 5- that was back when they stapled you shut. Imagine how that went.
Casey- "Wow, 11 bikes….that’s super rad! What great advice for newbies; I loved getting a bit of a look into the mastermind of such a supportive, strong rider. Thank you Josie for letting me take things over for a day and for allowing me to take you to the place you have taken all of us, into the (un)comfort(able) zone."
15 Minutes of Fame
If you know of someone that would like to be interviewed by Josie or if you want to have your deepest darkest bike secrets told than please contact Josie through Facebook!!!