Other than learning to bike on the side of a mountain, I’m not technically a mountain biker. I had an old single speed with coaster brakes that I rode on our steep, washed-out gravel road. A far cry from smooth, level pavement, these conditions required concentration and a touch of grit. The consequence of failure was extreme. Get it right, or walk away with scraped-up hands and knees. Unlike the neighbor boy, speed and stunts were never goals of mine. However, I fondly recall the time my cousin and I rode nearly a mile to the end of our road carrying kittens tucked into our sports bras. Why? Who knows. But that is about as daring as I get on two wheels.
I recently had the opportunity to photograph and interview a good friend and super brave biker, Brittani Marquand of Whitefish, Montana. This lady is much bolder than I’ll ever be. Read her story below:
How long have you been mountain biking, and how did you get introduced to it?
I started biking without training wheels when I was three. After that, I was glued to it. For my tenth birthday I got a new Free Agent BMX bike. That’s probably when I started to get really into becoming a better rider. I did a few training camps at a local BMX track in Queencreek, AZ and then started competitively racing. A year later I won 1st place in the Arizona State Championship for BMX in my age group. That was pretty cool. We started to move around after that though, so I stopped racing and just rode around casually. When I was nineteen I bought my first dirt bike and really enjoyed the terrain that came with that. Hitting jumps though, that was a little out of my wheel box. When I was about 23 I bought my first full suspension trail bike—I was in love. The rush you get when you’re riding down a mountain at mock speeds is just a feeling that can’t be explained.
I’ve been on two wheels my whole life—from the three-wheeled big wheel, to the BMX bike, to the dirt bike, then the trial bike, and finally to the downhill bike.
My uncle raced cross country bikes when I was about 10, so I think after watching him race, it made me want to get into the scene. He bought me my first BMX bike, the FreeAgent.
Dirt bikes always looked fun so that was sort of an off the whim purchase, no really introduction at all for that one, just sorta bought it and went with it.
When I was 23 I met this guy, Sean, and he was pretty into biking. He has taught me more things about bikes than one can probably understand, including myself sometimes haha—from taking them all fully apart and putting them back to together, to how the suspension really works (still trying to grasp that one), and how to fix things in case he wasn’t there to help. He not only taught me about the mechanics of biking, but also how to really ride. He was there day after day going down the same part of a trail with me till I got it down. I’m pretty sure he and I went up and down Maple about 100 times in a summer just so I could learn the right techniques. He’s the reason I’ve been so successful in riding.
Explain the process of gaining proficiency and skill.
I think the process of learning is so extremely important. There is so much to learn and if you skip steps, that’s when you can hurt yourself. I mean you wouldn’t take the biggest ladder drop on the first day, would you? You’d start small then work your way up. Learning how to ride is like that. You want to start small with the basics of how to shift, brake, ride berms, go over roots, drop curbs and log drops, and then you can move up from there. When you get to the bigger stuff you want to think about the speeds you need to take, if you need to pull up on your handlebars, what kind of landing it is, and so on.
I can’t tell you how stoked I was when I got to the point when I could look at something big and just go for it without hesitation. That’s when things started getting really fun!
Explain the feeling of riding. What is the sensation?
Man I think that’s a feeling that I can’t really describe or explain. I’d say I’m sort of an adrenaline junkie so riding fast is like getting my fix. It’s euphoric.
When you hit something you’ve been scared of and you actually land it, well that’s just the cherry on top!
How do you tackle a challenging course?
Take 3. Ride slow to get a feel. Ride faster. Ride full speed.
If I come across a section that looks super intimidating I get off my bike and roll it down the route I think is the smoothest and fastest to see how my tires will roll through. I also look at where I can gap things because that usually increases speeds. Then I’ll ride slowly, hike back up, ride faster, hike back up, and then ride at full speeds.
Do you exercise outside of mountain biking? If so, what does that look like?
Yes! Oh man where do I start…the things I do: trail running, skiing, fly fishing, skinning up the mountain, cycling indoors, weightlifting, HIIT, outdoor rock climbing, swimming…
In the winter months I like to stay in shape by working out 5-6 days a week while eating healthy pre-made meals.
My schedule last winter was similar to the following:
Circuit Sunday which involved skinning up Big Mountain and skiing down, cycling 23 miles, and going for a 5k trail run
HIIT days were two/three days which involved a heavy circuit routine
Weightlifting days were the other two/three days which involved working out our legs/arms/shoulders/backs/forearms
Then one day we would do NOTHING! And eat whatever we wanted!!
In the summer months I am outside whenever I get a chance! You can usually find me on Big Mountain riding the bike park. If it’s a weekend, I may be in Fernie, Kellogg, Big Sky, or some other place that I can ride my bike. And if I’m not riding my bike, I can be found on the rivers fly fishing, out on open rocks trying to climb up them, or maybe in the gym lifting weights.
Do you currently compete? If so, explain what your first experience was like, and how it has evolved.
Currently I’m competing in the race of nursing school, haha!
Unfortunately, the biking season starts before school is out so I literally can’t do both, or else believe me I would!
My first bike race was in Kellogg, ID at Silver Mountain in 2015. I had been to Kellogg, ID the week or two before with Sean and rode up the gondola and saw a poster for the series and thought, “what the heck, I’m gunna go for it and compete again!” I was nervous, but went into it with a positive attitude and confidence. It was such a rush, pushing my body to the limit, sprinting like a bear was chasing me (which is what Sean said to picture), and seeing what I could overcome if I put my mind to it. It was a pretty rad feeling, just to make it to the finish line.
I’d say I take riskier lines than I did in the beginning.
I still am nervous when I get to the race on race day and have to wait till it’s my turn. But, when I’m at the line, everything fades to black and I jump into the moment and have fun with it.
Are you ever afraid? If so, do you listen to that fear and back off, or do you challenge yourself?
Of course. When I ride up to a feature that’s new and way bigger, sometimes I say that I’m not feeling it or I pawn it off on doing it the next time we’re there. But really, it’s just the fear talking.
The mind is a crazy thing, even though I know I can physically do it with no problem, sometimes fear sets in and I literally can’t do it. I will say though, what does help in these moments is watching people hit it and seeing the speed they’re taking. Usually when I can watch a few people do it first, I take the bait and end up going for it.
On the other hand, when I am in the mood and feeling the trails, I may not look twice at something the same size and just do it.
Have you ever been seriously injured?
I’ve (knock on wood) never broke a bone while riding, but I have had a couple concussions and dislocated ribs.
In Summer 2016, my first race of the year was in Spokane, WA and I clipped a pedal and got flung from my bike straight onto my head. I got back up, was a little dizzy but ignored everyone saying that I should just stop, and ended up riding the whole course to the bottom of the Cat1 course. I got to the bottom and could not remember any of the course, any of the drops, gaps, or rock rolls. I was taken to the urgent care and decided not to compete the next day because I was really sore and still had a headache. After getting back home I went to the doctor and was told that I couldn’t work or ride my bike for a couple weeks, I was to sit in a dark room with no loud music or tv. This is when I learned about concussions. I knew about them beforehand but, I didn’t know how bad they could be and the effects they may have on your body. Concussions don’t heal like bones do and are something not to shrug off. Multiple concussions in a short amount of time can result in brain damage, and that you can’t come back from. So, I decided to take the season off and focus on getting better.
Dislocated ribs suck! You can’t cough, sneeze, or laugh too hard or else you’ve got a pain that feels like a knife jabbing your side. I just happened to be going too fast over a jump and I shot over the landing and my suspension kicked me over my handlebars and I landed on an off-kilter mound of dirt up on Big Mountain. This left me with a dislocated rib and pretty bad road rash that lasted for a good couple of months. Not to say I was off my bike for a couple months, that lasted a couple days….I just had to be careful of the whoops.
What's your best technique to avoid injury?
Staying on the bike.
What do you love about mountain biking?
Everything. Being outside. Being free. Going fast. Riding with friends. Riding alone.
Do you participate in any other activities that you love as much as mountain biking?
I don’t think so. Biking takes the cake.
If you could compare yourself to a fictional or historical character - even an animal, what would it be and why?
I have no clue.
Do you listen to music when you ride? What's your favorite?
Not usually, just for safety reasons. But occasionally I will throw in one pod to zone out on the up hills and get me into a cadence.
I like listening to a wide variety of things: Rage Against the Machine, Cardi B, Janelle Monáe, Childish Gamino, Avicii, Odesza, Rafferty, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Jax Jones just to name a few.
Any parting thoughts?
I love biking!
Do you mountain bike? What’s your favorite trail to ride? Leave your comments below and share this post with your fellow bikers.
Decorate your home with your brave adventures, purchase The Mountain Biker print here.