Rider Profile: Rachel Weaver
Photos by Gabriella Marks, Interviewed by Anna Maria Diaz-Balart
Rachel Weaver never imagined herself being a Cat 1 downhill racer. But action sports was in her blood and a lifetime of discipline from dance made for a quick transition from road to gravity riding. From coaching beginner riders, to starting one of only two domestic all female gravity teams, Rachel is giving back so much to the sport. She shares insights on training, kitting up, and relentlessly practicing skills. Most importantly she shares the transformative power of gaining confidence through downhill riding.
What type of cycling/ sports did you do growing up?
I actually first fell in love with ballet, and studied it up until college. Although I was accepted to a highly competitive program college program, my heart just wasn’t in it as a career. However, I credit dance with giving me discipline in sports. And I’m sure it lead to my enjoyment of practicing technique- as a dancer technique is the basis of your art. I believe this is true of mountain biking, too.
I do come from a legacy of action sports in my family, as my father raced Moto before I was born. I’m sure that’s where my love of downhill racing came from. I started riding mountain bikes with my Dad in high school. We lived in Alaska, and there were many cross country ski trails that mountain bikers used in the summer. I had an old steel fully-rigid bike that I adored. I recall more than one temper tantrum while slogging through the muddy marshes of Anchorage while mosquitos ate me alive. Good times…
You mentioned never imagining yourself doing something like Downhill MTB. How did you get in to it?
The truth is, if it weren't for my husband, Daniel, it might have never happened. Shortly after we met, we bought road bikes. We started with road racing, and competing in Century rides. Then he wanted a mountain bike, and I reluctantly got a Gary Fisher hardtail. It didn't take long for me to decide to sell the road bike and start racing xc mountain bikes.
One day we were driving past Angel Fire Mountain Bike Park in northern New Mexico (where they have lift access riding), and Daniel said he wanted to ride there. My response: “No way in hell.” Of course, I ride there every weekend now on double-black runs for fun. I have since learned to “never say never!”
After one particularly grueling xc race, where I lapped the dual slalom course and everyone looked like they were having a blast, I tried a dual slalom race and loved it. At that point, we just ended up on the slippery slope to DH bikes and gravity racing and riding. For me, as my skills increased and my confidence grew, I found the challenge of DH to be incredibly fun.
Daniel definitely coaxed and coached me along the path to DH. I am thankful for his patience in teaching me skills, and the years of waiting for me on technical trails as I rode at a snails pace. I feel like I’m kind of paying it forward now in my work coaching beginners.
What do you wish more women knew about MTB?
I wish more women had a chance to try mountain biking in a safe, fun environment. I see so many women who get introduced to mountain biking (especially gravity riding) by their husband, brother or partner, who just aren't the best teachers. Beginner women might go on a couple rides and think it’s just not for them. When the truth is they just needed a more experienced and patient coach to show them the ropes. When you are on the bike, and you are having fun, you are going to be able to learn and progress. As soon as it gets scary or stressful, the learning stops. I feel that too many women have been turned off of mountain biking by one bad experience.
I want them to know that gravity riding can be one of the most intense ways to discover yourself. You quickly learn how much your own head-trip gets in your way in life, how to build true confidence and take that out into the non-biking world. There is nothing in my life besides my marriage that has developed me as a person more than downhill racing and riding. There is so much to gain- and it’s just amazingly fun!
What unique barriers exist in getting more women involved in the sport? And just doing downhill riding as an activity?
The two largest barriers for downhill mountain biking is access and money. I hate to say it, but downhill racing is a very expensive sport. You pretty much have to have a very specific, high-tech bike. You need body armor, shoes, full-face helmet, expensive race tires, entry fees and money for travel to events. And not everyone is lucky enough to live close to a mountain that has lift-access trails.
That said, enduro has brought some gravity riding to the masses- you can simply ride your all-mountain bike at resorts on the blue and green runs, or pedal up a trail or shuttle. You can ride enduro with just the gear you already have (I would recommend knee pads) and there are so many great epic trails all over the country.
There are also great dirt jump, pump track and skills parks popping up nationwide. Getout there on whatever bike you own, slam the seat post down and practice jumping, cornering and berms. A whole lot of fun can be had at these kind of bike parks, and you can build mad skills that translate perfectly when riding DH.
As far as community barriers, I find that there is an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards female riders at the bike parks and races. Truth be told, most of the men would love to see more women out there shredding!
What other types of riding do you do?
I ride downhill as much as possible in the summer. We are lucky to have a very long season at Angel Fire Bike Park- almost six months of amazing gravity riding. I also ride trail, jumps and pump track. Santa Fe is very special in the sense that there is a huge variety of riding available here. You can shuttle an epic enduro trail, ride slalom and jumps, or head up to Angel Fire and ride world class DH race tracks all in the same
I also love practicing skills, I’m kind of a geek that way. I’d rather jump the same small jump perfectly every time, than look like a hack off an even larger one. As they say in DH, “skills pay the bills.”
What bikes do you own?
I have a Specialized Demo for DH racing, and a Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Carbon for trail and jumps.
Can you tell us a little about the team you started?
When I started racing downhill, I was on a team where I was one of two women. Even though my teammates were awesome, I was dissatisfied with our representation on the team. I played around with the idea of my own team for a few months in the fall of 2013 and just decided to jump in. At the time, I knew all the fast female riders in the race community, and so I just gathered them up, rallied sponsors and had jerseys made. We are only the second all-female gravity race team in the country (there is one in Canada.)
Pin it Girls is a race team with a strong emphasis on advocacy and supporting women in gravity sports. Our team hosts Women’s Ride Days at Angel Fire Bike Park four times a summer for women who might be new to lift access riding, or who want to ride with the ladies. Our ride day’s include a little bit of coaching, but are mostly social events to take the fear out of trying gravity riding for the first time. We have had great success and turn-out, and are seeing a lot more ladies taking runs at the park even on a regular weekend.
There are nine women on the team and we race downhill, dual slalom and enduro. For 2015, we are sponsored by Angel Fire Mountain Bike Park, Specialized Bikes, Sombrio, Schwalbe, Five/Ten, Honey Stinger, Smith Optics, and MTB Racing Solutions.
What are your main competitive goals for the next year?
My main goal for the next year on the bike is to be an ambassador for the sport, and create a community where women can thrive in gravity riding. I want to host more events like the Women’s Ride Days, and local Women's Wednesdays at the skills park. I want to share the sport I love, and the sport that has massively enriched my life.
As far as a competitive goal, there are rumors of a new DH race series here in New Mexico next season, and with that in mind, I’d like to win the overall in my category (Cat 1) and gather enough results and speed to upgrade to Pro. I hope to make it to Gravity Nationals again next year, and of course it would be awesome to end up on the podium.
I have a couple skills goals as well for this next year, and they are to learn how to manual through rollers, and how to whip over jumps. I want to gain a little bit of style on the bike, since as a racer, I often think of the clock as my only gauge, but sometimes focusing on style might be a bit more fun!
What is the best way for total beginners to get into mountain biking?
Besides what I suggest above- grabbing your bike and slamming the saddle down and heading over to the local skills park or pump track, I would suggest finding a skills clinic or group ride. IMBA often has local women’s trail rides, and there are a couple of women’s only skills clinics that travel the country. Starting out in one of these clinics is such a great advantage- you will learn the best way to ride in a supportive, fun environment.
Most of the gravity bike parks offer lessons with a rental package- this is a great way to try out that aspect of mountain biking. You could also ask at your local bike shop if they know of a women’s MTB club in the area- the community is quickly growing.
Tell us about women’s mountain bike clothing. Why do some riders wear baggies and other are in full lycra kit?
So generally in MTB, xc racers are the only ones who wear full lycra kits. They are looking for pedal performance and these sleek kits allow for that. They don’t need as much coverage since they are racing pretty non-technical courses.
In enduro, trail and DH most riders wear baggy shorts and three quarter or long sleeve jerseys. This is for more coverage in crashes and better fit over body armor. Longer shorts cover the gap where your knee/shin guards end. Many gravity riders including myself use flat pedals and sticky shoes like those from Five/Ten, who just put out a great women’s version of the Freerider. Flat pedals allow for a correct body position on the bike, and create a lot more confidence for beginners since they can easily pull their foot off the pedal. They aren't just for beginners, though- Sam Hill has won many a race on flat pedals.
Mountain bike clothing has come a long way for women recently. My favorite company is Sombrio. Their ladies line is both stylish and functional, which is what I'm always looking for. So many of the offerings in mountain bike clothing are either horribly frumpy and ill-fitting, or are made for xc racers and don’t offer any true gravity-oriented functionality. The worst mistake I see at the bike park is when riders show up in above the knee shorts and a tank top to ride DH. So much skin exposed if you crash! Sombrio has a number of jerseys that are three quarter sleeve, but slim-fitting and cut for the ladies. They have four-way stretch shorts that are not “baggy.” You certainly don't have to sacrifice looking like a girl to get properly kitted up for gravity riding.