Nicole’s Story | “We can’t let the boys have all the fun!”

Usually when I say “I race bikes” to someone they reply with an “Oh! Motorcycles! I’ve always wanted to try that!” And then you say “No, bicycles… like pedaling bikes.” And they’ll just say “Oh…”

I promise you bike racing is as far from boring as it gets. My name is Nicole, I am sixteen years old. I live in southeastern Pennsylvania where there is a good mix of rocky and flowy trails. It’s very mountainous out here and my favorite trail to ride is French Creek because it’s so gnarly and fast.

Mountain Bike World Cup Festival, Windham 2015: Manon, Missy, Tahnee and me!
Mountain Bike World Cup Festival, Windham 2015: Manon, Missy, Tahnee and me!

Surprisingly, I learned to ride a four wheeler and a dirt bike before a bicycle. I started riding bikes when I was five years old, skipped the training wheels, put on all my bulky motorcycle gear and flew down the hill in my front yard. My brother raced hare scrambles and motocross on the weekends and I would go along to all of the races. When my family would pre-ride the course on our mountain bikes, and pick out race lines, I would trail behind soaking all the information, and eventually it just became natural for me to pick out the best lines.

My brother raced hare scrambles and motocross on the weekends and I would go along to all of the races.
My brother raced hare scrambles and motocross on the weekends and I would go along to all of the races.

When I found out there were bike races, I begged my parents to let me race. Eventually, my parents let me race cross country. That summer I competed in two races. My first race was a rocky Bear Creek in Cat 3 13-16 juniors. Racing with almost all boys was pretty intimidating at first. I finished 15th (last) but I was really just excited to finish my first mountain bike race. Next, I raced a night race with my dad’s lights taped to my helmet. I ended up fifth, which I believe was also last. It could be frustrating, but I refused to give up.

At the races, and especially the Enduros that I’ve raced so far, the majority there are guys. I try to encourage girls to ride and race because it’s such a fun sport! We can’t let the boys have all the fun!

I’ve met some of my best friends through mountain bike racing

After a lot of hard work my technical skills improved and I had a good season the next year when I won my age group in XC for the Mid-Atlantic Super Series (MASS). I also had the honor of racing cross country nationals. The good results from that season motivated me to keep riding and racing. Racing Cat 3 is not as competitive as Cat 2 and 1+, but it’s an amazing experience racing in a relaxed environment. Everyone encourages you on the trail no matter how fast you are, so if you’re contemplating the sport I definitely encourage you to try it because trail riding’s not just fun, it’s also a great workout and you meet some awesome people. You would think that competing against someone time and time again would make you enemies, but I’ve met some of my best friends through mountain bike racing.

My first Super D-Cup race on dad’s TREK XC bike.
My first Super D-Cup race on dad’s TREK XC bike.

Soon, racing cross country wasn’t enough for me. I tried downhilling at Launch Bike Park and Blue Mountain’s Bike Park on my dad’s Trek full suspension cross-country bike. Watching all these people jump off big jumps and rocks blew my mind, so I decided to give it a try.

Watching all these people jump off big jumps and rocks blew my mind.
Watching all these people jump off big jumps and rocks blew my mind.

This summer I did my first downhill race at Windham and got to watch the Pro World Cup racers. It was a motivating experience for me and I know that I want to do this for the rest of my life. I moved up to Cat 2 in XC to experience harder competition and longer races. Cross-country is fun but I really like technical sections like rocks and drop-offs that usually aren’t in a typical XC course. And DH has a ton of gnarly jumps and uncontrollable sections that I’m just not comfortable in yet.

My brother, his friend and me at Mountain Creek bike park, Vernon, New Jersey.
It can be intimidating, surrounded by a bunch of guys on bikes, but Enduro has grown on me and I love it.

Torn between XC and DH racing? Hello Enduro!

There are some weekends where I have to choose between a DH race and a XC race and I’m torn. During cross-country I’ll fly down the hills but when we need to go back up I usually get passed. But in downhill I’m sometimes too nervous that it takes the fun from it. This is something that I am sure I will get over in the future, just like racing against the boys.

I try to encourage girls to ride and race because it’s such a fun sport!
Rock garden at the Duryea race: In downhill I’m sometimes too nervous that it takes the fun from it.

When MASS added Enduro races to the schedule this year, I was stoked. First, I had to google what Enduro was because I honestly had no idea. I decided to give it a try, and raced by myself in the cat 2/3 women open class on a GT Force (which I love) trail bike. Despite the lack of competitors in my age group, Enduro racing has easily been some of my favorite times out on the trails because it’s a perfect mix of fun, rocky downhill, and the endurance and climbing of cross country. While I’ll usually get passed uphill for cross country races, I can go my own pace in Enduro and catch my breath. I love riding Enduro because of the chill atmosphere and the fast, fun courses.

In downhill I’m sometimes too nervous that it takes the fun from it.
I try to encourage girls to ride and race because it’s such a fun sport!
Coming home from an enduro race.
Coming home from an enduro race.

Being the only girl on the trail most of the times is interesting. It can be intimidating, surrounded by a bunch of guys on bikes, but Enduro has grown on me and I love it.

Words & Photos: Nicole Rusden