How I Fell in Love With Mountain Biking

A few years back I believed soccer was the most exciting sport in the world. I was immersed in it, with a college soccer scholarship and hopes of playing professionally. But that was before I found mountain biking.

Cindy Abbott

I started to ride in 2007 on my dad’s clunker that you could hardly call a mountain bike. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college and I was honestly falling out of love with the game that I had loved my whole life. I was a bit bored and looking for something more skillful and challenging, more extreme and adventurous. Growing up in Austin, Texas, we had miles of rocky trails on the ranch behind my house, and that’s where it began.

After leaving my college soccer career, I wanted to fill that competitive void with mountain bike racing.  My first race was an off-road triathlon. I finished quite well, and earned a Regional Champion designation along with an invitation to compete in Xterra Nationals. I continued to race in the series, but wanted to try out a dedicated mountain bike race. So, on a whim, I entered the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado.

To train for this, I did miles of road rides with my friend and trainer on some of the most grueling hills the Texas Hill Country had to offer. I woke early before work to ride my mountain bike upwards of 150 miles a week on my home trail. As anyone might imagine, no amount of Texas Hill Country training could prepare a Texan for a race with nearly 16,000 feet of vertical climbing, and I was proud to just finish. Regardless, I had no idea that mountain biking would truly elevate my life in the most incredible ways.

Cindy Abbott

I found myself enjoying the racing aspect of mountain biking so much that I entered into the Texas State XC Championship Series and got a coach to help me take my training more seriously. Mountain biking led me to many amateur pro podium finishes in the Texas State XC Championship series, second- and third-place State Championship series overall finishes, and ultimately, a 2014 USA Cycling XC Category 1 National Championship.

Racing was and still is an important part of my life, but what I enjoy more is sharing my passion for mountain biking with others through teaching. I felt it was important to take my teaching to the next level and ensure that I teach accurately, so I became certified as an International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) Level 2 Instructor. This has proved very helpful in my new career

IMBA instructional programs teach many fundamental skills needed to become a better mountain biker. Even the most advanced riders are surprised at how much more they can accomplish from practicing and breaking down the most basic skills. Professional certifications like this are important for our outdoor industry because they provide valuable teaching methods and standards that ultimately improve the safety of outdoor adventure sports like mountain biking.

Cindy Abbott

In addition to my full-time role as senior instructor for the REI Outdoor School in Austin, I am currently the director of a women-only instructional ride program called Ride Like a Girl. RLAG, as we call it, provides free ride clinics at various Austin trails once a week for the summer, and has introduced hundreds of women to mountain biking through successful teaching methods and of course, fun. Riding groups such as RLAG get people outside and help break down the barriers of an intimidating sport like mountain biking. It’s encouraging to see women of all ages (especially those in their late seventies) learn how to ride and overcome their fears. If you’re looking to join the mountain bike community or improve your skills, take an REI mountain biking class or check out your local mountain bike club for weekly and monthly rides.

I have to say that mountain biking has added much excitement to my life. It has brought me together with many wonderful people, and has helped me stay fit, healthy and happy. Ultimately, all of this has helped cultivate me into who I am today. Through my role with REI and the Ride Like a Girl program, I am excited to introduce more folks to mountain biking and to continue to see the sport grow. It’s amazing where two wheels can take you—find your own adventure and ride on!

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