Share the Road: Arley Kemmerer and Rachel Rubino
Arley and Rachel have officially taken the phrase “relationship goals” to a new level. Not only are they both fixtures in elite cyclocross competition, they ride for the same team--a team they started themselves with the plans to develop up-and-coming women in cyclocross. Many people either know them as members of the Fearless Femme racing team, or from the cyclocross clinics they host and help with, or from their beaming smiles that can be seen clear across a race course. I’ve known Rachel for over a decade and Arley for a couple of years now, and I’ve loved watching them grow from two cycling contemporaries to two people who genuinely care for each other and their community. It’s rare to find two people who have so much passion for the same things and make it work in such harmony, while also making it look fun at the same time. With the hard work they put in on and off the bike, they have cemented themselves as one of Philadelphia’s most beloved couples. Not to mention fastest, too.
Interviewed here by Krista Ciminera
1. I got into cycling because...I did a lot of mountain biking with my family as a kid, but didn't get into riding again until college. I was a downhill skier and used to run a lot in the off-season. I developed a stress fracture, and was forced to ride to keep fit. I decided I liked that a lot more, so after my skiing career ended, I joined the cycling team while at the University of New Hampshire to give bike racing a try and I totally loved it. Haven't stopped since!
2. What’s the best part about riding with Rachel? It's been really nice to have a built-in training partner. Rachel has improved so much in every aspect in the last two years, and is always looking to push harder to make more gains, which pushes me too, especially on the days that I might be a little lacking in motivation. It's also really fun to be able to spend a bunch of hours riding with friends on the weekend and to be able to share those experiences with my partner. We've also been working together to grow the cyclocross team I started it in 2014, which we merged into the Fearless Femme program this season. The team's growth and success are definitely attributed to our ability to divide and conquer all the work that goes into it. Cycling is such a huge part of my life and who I am, so I really value that Rachel and I can share all the aspects of that and truly understand that about one another.
3. What have you learned from riding with Rachel? Rachel has a pretty Type-B personality, and I'm pretty Type-A, so I think that combination has been really good for both of us. She has definitely introduced a lot more "chill" to my race and training processes, which totally helps to lower the overall stress level!
4. Favorite cycling destination? Anywhere in the woods, on road or off.
5. When we aren't cycling together we are...working! I know...boring. At home, we're watching tv on the internet (and maybe falling asleep), walking the dog, or drinking coffee somewhere. Rachel worked really hard to make me a coffee drinker, she finally broke me this past Spring. It was a good decision, I didn't know what I was missing!
6. My ultimate goal is to...in cycling, specifically, is to build a sustainable women's cyclocross program that can support elite and development riders. There are so many "privateer" operations in women's cyclocross right now. It's great to see pro women venturing out on their own and building their dreams, but it is REALLY hard to pull together. It also doesn't give up-and-coming women much to look forward to when becoming "pro" means you have to go forage for funding, equipment sponsors and mechanical support on your own and hope you have enough to make it to all the big races all season. It doesn't set women up for their best chance at success, so I'd really like to lay some groundwork to help change that.
7. What are some of the unique challenges you've faced in cycling and how have you tried to overcome them? I think the biggest challenge for me has been financial support. Bike racing can be so cost-preclusive between travel, race entries, and the endless amount of necessary equipment, so I had to be really creative, especially early on in my career when I was in law school. I've also had the support of a handful of amazing friends who saw potential in me and were willing to help me out along the way. It took a lot of selling used equipment, recycling prize money, and good planning to rise up the ranks over the years. Finances are still a concern at the beginning of each season, but I'm fortunate enough to have the support of so many great sponsors who backed me for a long time and are also willing to extend their support beyond me to the development program I've been organizing under Fearless Femme.
8. What have you learned most about yourself through cycling? I'm constantly surprised by how much I've learned to push myself. I've been an athlete all my life, but I've definitely suffered the most as a bike racer, both mentally and physically. Your limit isn't an absolute, and I feel like I'm reminded of that almost all the time, despite having been doing this for ten years. There have been so many times where the workout I'm given for the day seems impossible based on how sore and tired I am, but I somehow manage to get it done, sometimes much better than I expect. I think that's a really good lesson that is very valuable in all aspects of life, and I'm really grateful to have picked that up from cycling.
9. What would you like to see more of in the cycling community? There have been major improvements in the push toward equalization between the men and women with prize money, events, and team support. It is so different now as compared to when I first started racing. Racers and promoters have been much more supportive of women, and I feel like I have personally been shown a great deal of respect and deference for my experience and ability in the racing community.
However, there's still more work to be done. I'd like to see more racing development programs for women at the regional elite level to help cultivate and mentor women with the raw talent and ability. Mentorship from experienced and successful riders is critical to keeping the sport alive. There are a few road programs in the Mid-Atlantic region that are doing this - Brittlee Bowman with Stan's NoTubes, Amy Cutler with Fearless Femme, and Sarah Iepson with Team EPS/CSS. These teams have gotten so strong over the last couple of years and have produced great riders and results, which gives women that are newer to the sport something to aspire toward. I'm trying to apply that same model to cyclocross, and am hopeful that we can bring a similar momentum in the coming seasons under Fearless Femme.
1. I got into cycling because...
I fell in love with bikes at a young age, zipping around the suburbs on my sweet chrome Mongoose Menace. The town I grew up in has this huge amazing state park and some local kids built two pump tracks that I left a lot of smiles and blood on. I later rode skateboards and mountain bikes around town so I could get to the woods to hang out with the cool teens. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I started to ride bikes again for fun and fitness.
I got really into riding in college with some self-proclaimed bikepunks, but wouldn’t find the sport of cycling until my late 20s. I lived in Brooklyn and worked as a courier when I wasn’t on tour with the bands I played in. I raced a few alleycats, and road races in Central Park but didn’t love either. I was introduced to cyclocross and asked to join the shop team while I was working part time as a mechanic at King Kog without ever even trying the sport! My first season was confusing but fun! I wasn’t sure if I liked it, getting up super early to race in the cold in a field in the middle of nowhere. I did kinda well at a few races though and that was enough encouragement to try a second season. That year I tried a few of the bigger races and did well in the larger fields so I kept going with it and got way sucked in! I loved the feeling of camaraderie among competitors. I was blown away by the women’s Pro race every week and just felt it in my bones, the desire to be that good at bikes! Nothing really compares.
2. What’s the best part about riding with Arley?
She has the best sense of direction and I’m pretty sure we will never get lost anywhere ever. And she got a cute butt. Can I say that?!
3. What have you learned from riding with Arley?
SO MUCH! EVERYTHING!
I could compare it to the honor of being asked by the best drummer you know, to be in a band with them. There’s no way you can play music with someone way beyond your level and not improve exponentially. Every time you do, you open yourself up to a whole new set of creative patterns and processes, you’re likely to absorb and adopt some of it. It’s like that with cycling too. I learned what it meant to train, like actually, for real. To ride hard, but to ride deliberately. To build strength and skill. Riding with Arley taught me a level of discipline that is very unnatural for me, but probably the most valuable tool of all. I learned how to suffer politely, graciously, and to be proud of what I could accomplish
4. Favorite cycling destination?
We haven’t done a ton of travel together outside of racing, but I would say so far Vermont might be my top pick at the moment. The mountain biking is super fun and the road riding is gorgeous!
5. When we aren't cycling together we are...
Walking the dog in the woods, cooking some awesome pile of food, crushing cookies and cappuccinos at the nearest coffee shop, struggling to stay awake late to see some rad bands, doing some kind of Tim Allen home improvement projects, sitting by a wood stove half asleep on the couch watching Netflix.
6. Favorite local bike shop?
This one is a bit biased for me, but I currently work at Bicycle Therapy in downtown Philadelphia and it has been my most positive shop experience to date. We make a very sincere effort to support many local teams and clubs. We very proudly offer a women's demo bike program in partnership with Team Laser Cats. We love bikes and want to promote the joy it brings to all of us!
7. My ultimate cycling goal is to…
...challenge myself to find new limits and through that inspire some future generations of rad shredders who don’t see constructs of gender or social/economic status as limits on their infinite potential. I love a personal challenge, but I really love to challenge the way people think about what they are seeing or what they are doing. I've always felt this way, especially while playing music, I didn't want to just be "pretty good, for a girl." I wanted to be "the best guitar player you know." I worked hard to feel myself improve over time, but I also want that to be visible and inspiring to someone else who may have felt doubt for their own abilities. You can't just want to get better at bikes, or guitar, or whatever. You have to study it. Immerse yourself in it. Eat sleep and breathe it. Fall in love with it and let everything else melt away for a bit. It becomes you and you become it.
My heart swells every time I meet a woman or a young girl who tells me or Arley that we have inspired/influenced their riding in a positive way. A recent highlight though was from a young boy who attended the Summer CX clinic Arley and I did with Jeremy Powers in DC. We overheard him say "the women's race is my favorite, they're so strong!" as he and his friends were cheering for us in our Fearless Femme kits. I couldn't stop smiling. Unaffected by gender, we were his heroes that day.
8. What are some of the unique challenges you've faced in cycling and how have you tried to overcome them?
I would have to say some of the biggest challenge I’ve faced revolve around the male ego. In racing, or just through working in the industry, I’ve had to fight to find ways to affirm my worth and my value, even when others have made me feel like I should shut up and go home. I am thankful and all the more appreciative of the support I have received along the way. I'm lucky to be surrounded by a community of strong women who have helped remind me that it is important for me to be here, for that alone I will push forward. I'm trying to learn as much as I can in hopes to share it in a supportive way with others.
9. What have you learned most about yourself through cycling?
I would say I've learned that my actual capacity is far beyond what I perceived to be my limits. There are specific moments I can reference, in a race or training or just a ride where I pushed past what was comfortable or safe and found success through it. It's something I can carry into any hard situation and apply.
10. What would you like to see more of in the cycling community?
I would love to see more inclusion. There's a ton of great work being done in our community whether it be for aspiring racers, new riders, or aspiring mechanics, but I still think we have a long way to go.
We are super stoked to have some programs already in place in Philly like the Women Bike PHL Devo going into it's 3rd season and now includes MTB! Cadence Youth Cycling coaches a team of high school aged kids! There are several regional elite teams for road that focus on bringing women from the amateur to elite level. I think it's this mentorship that is keeping the racing scene alive, and that's been our hope for the future of our cyclocross program with Fearless Femme. We've been working hard to create a program that can adequately support its riders and give thorough mentorship and coaching, because we know we wouldn't have come this far without it. It's only our first year with Fearless Femme, but with that extra support we were able to add one developement rider to the team and are incredibly proud and honored to be be a part of her growth and success. We hope to expand on that in the coming years, and would love to see more funding for programs like all those listed above!