Shred Girls: Lindsay's Joy Ride
Words & Interview by Addie Levinsky | Photos by Molly Hurford and cover art by Rich Mitchelson
Molly Hurford is not only a badass cyclist (and athlete in general, as she is ever-so casually training for an Iron Man), writer, podcaster, and so much more - but she's also a huge comic book nerd. And I mean that in the absolute best way possible. Molly has channeled her lifelong stoke for superheroes and bikes to write a series of books empowering young women to find their inner superhero.
The first book in the Shred Girls Series is available now - Lindsay's Joy Ride. While it may be "intended" for the middle school demographic, I seriously recommend reading Shred Girls to anyone. I absolutely loved it.
I caught up with Molly and we talked about the inspiration behind Shred Girls (which you can now order on Amazon!). Our conversation went all over the place, talking about everything from superpowers (which, spoiler: we all have 'em!), the parallels of comics and cycling (spandex, anyone?), the gaps in representing women in both media and on bikes, mad BMX skillz, and so much more. I hope you enjoy this interview with Molly as much as I do! Then go order Lindsay's Joy Ride on Amazon!
First thing's first - how did the idea of Shred Girls come to fruition?
Oh man! Since I read the first Babysitter’s Club book I found at the Bookmobile rolling library the summer I was seven, I was hooked on middle-grade and YA fiction. And even before that, I knew I was going to be a writer. Obviously, I’ve written a ton of nonfiction about cycling, but my original novel that sat languishing in an abandoned Word doc for years was about a young girl who desperately wanted to be a superhero in a world where superpowers just aren’t a thing. I didn’t want to go scifi and have her actually gain powers, and so the first chapter sat, begging to be worked on, for ages. Then, after going to a bike park and seeing a few young girls doing these amazing jumps—like they were flying—I had this lightbulb moment that maybe Lindsay didn’t have to actually learn to fly, she could learn to jump. Then, it kind of exploded from there, this idea for a series of books following a group of rad young girls as they navigate being preteens but also start learning how to ride all different types of bikes and go to these cool places to do so. I figure if I wanted to start babysitting after reading BSC, hopefully, I can inspire at least a few girls to want to try out cycling after reading Shred Girls!
With each book in the series, we'll meet a new rad chick. For the first in the series, tell us about Lindsay! I mean, without giving it away, do bicycles aid Lindsay in finding her super power?
It’s a little corny, but her superpower was in her all along—and also, she’s really rad at jumping, as it turns out. (And surprises everyone, including herself, at the end—but I won’t give too much away!). Really, for me, the most fun part is the relationship she forms between herself and her cousin, who she thought was a super-villain, and Jen and Ali, the other two Shred Girls. Obviously, to some extent, you write what you know, so Lindsay’s painful shyness and desperate wish to be “super” at something is something I grew up with, so helping her kind of find herself and realize she doesn’t need to shoot lasers with her eyes to be a superhero was weirdly cathartic for me! But really—she gets super rad on the bike.
Which brings me to: bicycles! Physical capability is not generally something that is celebrated for young women outside the realm of superheroes (and that's male dominant, too). Is this something you're trying to promote?
You hit the nail on the head! I remember the series' when I was young—almost all of them were passive activities. The Sweet Valley series never had the girls out doing extreme sports, nor did Nancy Drew or the Babysitter’s Club, or those Magic Diamond Pony Secret whatever books… Not that they were bad (OK, the pony ones kind of were), but they just didn’t paint a picture that girls could get outside and be doing really rad stuff on trails, on the bike, climbing, camping, et cetera. So I’m 100 percent trying to promote bikes to younger girls. I know that most little girls learn to ride, but there’s a steep drop-off around 9 to 12 years old where they stop riding, and that’s the age I’d love keep excited about riding. Boys often stay on bikes, and ultimately, that means the skills they have by the age of 18 are so much more developed than most girls, and I’d love to see more girls gaining those skills earlier on. I think that will make the talent pool for women’s cycling even deeper than it is now!
And, if so - what made you take that route? Was it an experience you had growing up, or how you see young women now, a combination of both, none of the above?
Seeing young girls drop out of cycling now was definitely an impetus, but it’s mainly selfish: I wrote a book that I wish I could have read when I was that age so that I would have gotten into bikes earlier! I didn’t really discover cycling until my early 20s, and it quickly became my main passion in life. My only regret is that I missed out on those early years where it’s a lot easier to master skills, thanks to the fearlessness of youth and the easier commitment to muscle memory. (My parents really tried to get me outside more, but I just wanted to stay inside and read, to be totally honest. But I started babysitting after reading BSC, so who knows what I would have done if Shred Girls had fallen into my lap?)
What's your take on women featured in comic books? Does that parallel the way you see women in the cycling industry at all? And how has that view changed over the years (as I imagine you were probably into superheroes first, then cycling, and then had the brilliant idea of combining the two).
You are guessing exactly right! I’m a comic nerd first and foremost. Obviously, it depends on the comic book: there are tons where women are the ultimate in badassitude, but of course, tons where they’re tertiary characters at best, and… well, there’s no limit to how offensive comics can get about women, sadly. Going to Comic Con in LA last year (I know, total dork!), I realized that there are hilarious parallels between comics and cycling: I was walking through a crowd of people dressed in spandex with weird headgear, almost all of them were dudes, and the conversations were amazingly one-dimensional about comic books the same way bike racers can get about wattage and gear. It was a surreal experience! I think both industries are starting to get a lot more welcoming to women, though. I just hope to see more women ‘characters’ getting pushed into prominence in comic books and cycling in the near future!
The cover looks like the girls are rocking BMX bikes. Please tell me you have some mad BMX skills.
I… Do not. But I’m working on it! So, actually, writing the book was wicked fun because I got to do a lot more skills practice and work with my amazing and talented husband, who happens to be a bike skills coach. I wanted to have enough real advice and info written in that a girl could read it, and then actually go out and navigate a pump track and maybe do a bit of bunny-hopping. So… I won’t win any competitions, but my shredding skills are getting way better.
Are you living vicariously through Lindsay et al? Because I sure as heck am! Seriously, reading it (and full disclosure: whether it is meant for a younger crowd or not, I absolutely loved it. It's something I will read whenever I need a push to let out my inner superhero).
First, thank you!! And OMG yes. I’m working on the second book right now, and it’s so much fun to decide (or let them decide, really) what they’re going to do next. I think it’s made my practice on the bike a lot more intentional as well, because it’s reminding me constantly that, even on my grumpiest days, it’s pretty rad that I can get out and ride my bike. It’s also made me “go first” with a lot more female friendships—yourself included!—and start to reach out and really work on making new friends, nurturing the ones I have, and always making time for girl talk. It’s something I didn’t do enough of as a kid, and writing about three girls figuring that out is helping me figure out the same.
That said, do you think everyone has an inner superhero? What's your advice for girls who might not feel super confident, etc?
I absolutely do! I’m a huge fan of that TED talk about Power Posing, Wonder Woman-style. (I think it’s been shown that it isn’t backed up by science, but I dare you to stand like Wonder Woman and not feel a little tougher!) Power posing aside… My best advice for girls who don’t feel super confident—and that’s still me on a daily basis, I just got my butt kicked on the pump track by one of Peter’s amazing teammates, Soren, earlier today!—is to recognize that you don’t need to immediately be amazing at everything. And it’s OK to not be as good as someone else at one thing: we each have vastly different talents! That’s one of the major themes in the book, actually: it’s not like Lindsay gets on a bike and can immediately tackle the hardest jump line. It takes a lot of practice (ahem, montages) for her to see improvements. But she keeps doing the small things that will help her, she keeps practicing, and it does pay off. So I guess the best advice I have is to chill and realize that it’s not about being perfect at something immediately, it’s about enjoying the process to get there… And when you do start catching air on a jump line, you absolutely will feel like a superhero.