Sunday, February 17, 2019

Women Supporting Women

If you want to learn about how Magnolia BMX got its start, and how Shred Girls, got their start. This is the post for you.  I worked with Molly Hurtford from Shred Girls over a series of weeks to put together this laid back, conversational style interview. To the young women out there looking to turn your cycling passion into a business, I hope this inspires you.

Molly: The let's-kick-this-off question: How did you get into cycling? Where did it all begin?

Bea: I first picked up a bike when I was around 7 I’m guessing, but being raised in Toronto, I was limited to riding my bike up and down the block in downtown Toronto, bumping into crowds and with TTC lines above my head. It wasn’t an ideal place to ride, but what did I know at that age.

When I was 14 or 15, I bought my first BMX with the money I had saved from working at a pizza store. I remember going into Main Cycle in Hamilton, and Adam Mrowka who owns Station BMX in Hamilton now, helped me pick out a yellow Haro complete. I remember it being like $300 and I bought the most stupid looking pegs to go with it, which I thought was acceptable at the time. LOL - I never used them.

So I started out riding park in probably the most cherished era of freestyle BMX for about 5 years until I stepped away for school and a career. During that gap without my bike, I was unaware of how miserable I was until I quit my job of 4 years, to then somehow be introduced to racing during my “discovery period", and it’s been a whirlwind since. Racing has brought a lot of meaning back into my life, and I’ve been grateful to have accomplished a lot, including representing Canada at Worlds in 2017. To supplement my training, I’ve also dabbled in downhill and track cycling. Riding downhill has brought me to amazing places like Whistler and New Hampshire, and it’s also introduced me to people with a more positive and relaxed mindset in cycling. Track cycling, on the other hand, provided me with the motivation to be more disciplined in my training in the gym.

How did you get your start Molly?

Molly: I rode bikes as a kid the way a kid does: just messing around. I had a neighbor who was my age, so the second his training wheels came off, mine absolutely HAD to. But as we got older, we stopped playing outside and my bike just collected dust in the shed. I was honestly the least athletic kid ever: I would even pretend to feel faint to get out of running the mile in gym class!

Then, I got to college and, surprise, I started to feel crappy eating all junky dining hall food and not getting any exercise. So, I started thinking about doing a triathlon, because that's how my dad got in shape when HE was in college. Weird, but I had no idea what else to do. I started on the stationary bike at the gym, and pulled out my old mountain bike from when I was a kid. Eventually, I bought a junky road bike, did my first few races, and fell in love.

Fast forward, I joined my college team (Rutgers Cycling!) to get faster at the bike leg during triathlons, and the guys on the team urged me to try cyclocross. I fell in love. After that, I dabbled in every type of biking: road, MTB, track, BMX, whatever was around. I've raced a ton over the years, but even more important for me, I shifted from being a wannabe-fashion journalist to someone who writes about fitness, nutrition and especially cycling. I still love triathlon and running, but the more skill-oriented cycling stuff like BMX is super fun for me!

How did Magnolia BMX come about?

Bea: A little after I started riding, I started my own clothing company -everyone was doing it, but I thought being female BMX centric would be worth doing since there wasn’t a lot of competition in the market - or any. I got bored of it really quick and man it was REALLY expensive to keep up, so I was looking for ways to grow without having to spend more money.

During this time, none of the BMX news sites covered female riders, and if they did, it was rare, and if you ever saw a girl on a BMX site, guaranteed 99% of the time it was a “model" with bike parts.

So, I decided to put out content myself! I’ve been covering female events to the best of my ability, but more importantly covering female riders and doing online interviews with them for the past 15 years. I’m oddly happy to say that other news sites are finally jumping on board - yea the “models” are still there but there’s quality female BMX coverage too. To stay competitive, I teamed up with Rebecca Pergentile for a few years, to cover flatland news, and recently in the past 5 years, I started covering racing on top of freestyle. It’s a lot of work these days for 1 person, but it’s rewarding.

What’s the origin story for Shred Girls?

Molly: We have super similar origin stories, honestly. I was writing for a bunch of bike publications and had put out a couple of nonfiction books (one for women, called "Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy"!). I was talking to a ton of female cyclists, and one common thread I was hearing when I did women's talks at bike shops was 'I wish I had gotten into this when I was younger.' I felt the same way: I wished I had started mountain biking much younger so that I would have learned the skills at an age when I was much less timid / less breakable! But when you're a young girl, you don't see yourself in cycling magazines, books, movies, or any media. So, being a writer, I tried to figure out a way to write to fix that problem... and Shred Girls was that solution. I wanted to write a series of books that would be similar to The Babysitter's Club — the books that inspired me to start babysitting as a preteen! — but with bikes, not babies. I wanted to start with three main characters who were all different from each other in how they looked, how they acted and how they found cycling because I wanted it to be clear that any girl can shred! The first book, Lindsay's Joyride, focuses on Lindsay, a shy bookworm who gets her first BMX bike from her cousin, meeting Ali and Jen in the process. And with those books coming out starting in May, I also wanted to have on online resource that highlighted real girls in all types of cycling, from track to MTB to BMX, at all skill levels, so that girls could see that other girls just like them are riding. And I wanted to have resources for how to get into riding, pick gear, find people to ride with, eat right, all the stuff that cycling magazines talk about, but for young girls!

Phew. That was the shortest I could go there!

When you started Magnolia BMX, what was the reception like? Were people excited to see more women's options for clothing, and later, when you shifted to news?

Bea: It’s funny how close we are, the first time an article of mine went on a BMX website it was one of the best days ever because something I wrote got published and funny enough, I always wanted to illustrate a book, but that hasn’t happened yet.

When Magnolia BMX started, the feedback was overall good, the only people that were negative were people that I considered “friends” at the time. As I got better with designing shirts, the demand increased, but it was really when I introduced our BMX and MTB jewelry that the line really exploded. Having content on the website, including interviews and videos allowed me to build a consistent flow of visitors to the website and established us as the destination for news. Unfortunately, there’s been some life moments that got in the way and now I’m trying to rebuild that.

What was the process like to write a book and published?

Molly: Long and hard!! With my other books, I've done a few different things: had a small publisher, self-published and had a bigger publisher. For Shred Girls, the first book took about a year to write — the idea hit me and I started working on it, but at the same time, I was finishing the updated edition of Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy, plus all of my other work! So it took a while. When I got the draft finished, I decided to self-publish it, because I really wanted to get it out into the world, and didn't want to wait for the publishing process. Honestly, looking back, I think I was also struck with imposter syndrome ('who am I to be writing fiction?') and was afraid of dealing with rejection.

But it gets a little fairy-tale-ish here, and even writing it out feels too good to be true sometimes! To make a long story short, I had self-published "Shred Girls: Lindsay's Joyride" back in 2017, but almost immediately, Rodale Kids (now Random House) offered me a contract for the series, if I was willing to pull the self-published version off of the Amazon shelves. I was.

Now, two years after I originally launched the idea of the Shred Girls series, Lindsay's Joyride is out May 7 (preorder link is here) and has a ton of awesome illustrations and updates, which I'm obviously crazy-excited about—and it's awesome to have it coming out with a bigger publisher since now, hopefully, it'll be able to reach even more young girls outside of the cycling community and convert more new riders! (I wrote about the whole concept / why I started the series over here a couple weeks ago).

Why women's BMX? What drew you to that — and what made you realize that there was a need for women's BMX news?

Bea: That’s awesome and I’m super excited to see your launch!

I chose to focus on Women’s BMX, naturally because I was/am riding BMX. The issue around 2004 -09 was that I knew female worthy news existed, it just wasn’t enough for big news sites to post up for some reason. Back in the day, the focus was always on two female riders (they were amazing) but I made an effort to find those underground girls and interview them too, just to show the world there’s more than “these number of girls” who ride in the world.

During this time, the ladies weren’t as keen to post up clips of their riding either and to be honest, it wasn’t that easy as it is now. “Back in the day” you kinda needed to know a videographer to get your stuff edited, now you can easily do it all on your phone. Not to toot my own horn, but I swear back then, the only time you saw a ton of BMX edits by girls was when I was holding my online Magnolia BMX edit contest. I did it for a few years, I had awesome sponsors who donated prizes, I gave the ladies a super long time to make the edit (like I’d post the contest up in the Spring and have it close in December) and eventually I stopped because girls were doing it on their own.

Now, it’s trying to not follow trends and being creative. There are a few BMX sites that are starting to sensationalize their headings in hopes of causing drama for more clicks - I’m not about that, but I am about asking real questions.

What’s your 5 year plan after the books and where do you want to take Shred Girls? When or what will be your “made it” moment?

Molly: Love that—isn't it funny how technology has made what we used to do so easily? I remember trying to figure out video back around 2006-2007 and trying to do a VERY short-lived web show called 1 Drifter back in the early 2010s with a Flip Cam and a super old GoPro and the oldest version of iMovie around. It was ... not great. Now, iPhone could do a better job with 10 minutes of work!

OK, 5 year plan. Ha, I better start making one! Honestly, it is a little nebulous at the moment, only because a lot rides on how the first book, Lindsay's Joyride, does when it's out in May. I'm doing all that I can to prep for a successful launch and making as many book talk/ride plans as possible. The hope is that it does well and actually reach a wide audience beyond the cycling community. After all, not only people who babysat bought Babysitters Club books, and not only girls who rode horses read The Magic Saddle Club (or whatever that horse-y series was called!). If it grows like that, my hope is to keep writing the series and growing it from the literary side of things, so that there are dozens of books in the Shred Girls series! While writing them, though, I'd love to expand the website more so that girls interested in riding have more resources to look to as they try to get into the sport—a lot more training and nutrition content, since I think that's lacking for young girls. And I would love to start running more camps/rides/talks/clinics for that younger female audience!

So really, the 5-year plan is to try to expand the Shred Girls books, the site, and the events. But until I see what the initial launch looks like, it's hard to make any real numbers-based goals and predictions about where it's going. So I'm sure by August of this year, I'll have a much better handle on where we can realistically go with Shred Girls.

In a lot of ways, I've already had a few 'made it' moments: I've heard from a few parents of cyclists who got early editions of the book when I first put it out, who've told me that their young cyclist isn't really a reader, but she read Shred Girls over and over; and on the other side, I've heard from parents who've told me that their bookworm read Shred Girls and now she rides with her dad every week! (But I wouldn't say no to a New York Times Bestseller designation either…)

What about you, from a longer-term perspective? Do you want to keep Magnolia BMX solo, or are you hoping to expand into hiring people, or get it rolled into another BMX publication? With the way the media landscape is shifting like crazy, I'm sure you're dealing with the same question marks as I am about that kind of thing!

Bea: I can definitely agree there are some gaps in knowledge when it comes to nutrition in cycling, in BMX specifically. BMX freestyle, in particular, good nutrition is still in its infancy stage, most riders are still hammering down a big mac before a session - so I think your idea is great and in fact, when I interview BMX racers I always ask a few questions relating to nutrition to help the reader.

I’d love to actually hire for Magnolia BMX and expand into MTB, but it’s not in the plans any time soon. I really enjoy interviewing people and getting to the nitty-gritty things, and if I can do that full time even for someone else, that would be a dream. Right now I’m waiting to see where media goes next, very curious to see the shift too, and hoping to get it on early.

What’s a normal week for you like these days with a book coming out and I’m sure you have a “normal” job?

Molly: I don't actually have a 'normal' job, per se! But I do have a ton of work stuff outside of writing the Shred Girls series and running the website. I do a lot of freelance writing for places like Outside, MapMyRun, Bicycling, and a few others, so doing a few articles a week is pretty standard for me. But a normal week is tricky because we travel a ton to coach different camps and clinics as well. For example, right now I'm in California, where we just coached a 2-week camp, so most days, I was riding a few hours with the campers and then coming home and catching up on work (and getting up super early to get assignments in on Eastern Standard Time!), then I went to a training camp I was covering for an assignment. This week, the camps are over and we're in a small studio apartment in Ventura, CA, so I could catch up on assignments and get a head start on the Shred Girls book #3 draft before I go to another camp that I'm coaching in February. I have a pretty strict schedule for myself in terms of when we record and upload our Consummate Athlete Podcast, when I write posts for my personal site,, when I work on book stuff and when I do the stuff, so every day looks super different but always involves a lot of writing and hopefully some training!

What was the first BMX trick you nailed? Can you remember how you felt when you 'got it' and what a turning point in 'hey, I could be good at this' was?

Bea: You’re truly living my dream right now. My freestyle career was pretty long but short-lived, I gave it up to pursue a “normal” career and ended up putting all my eggs in college and growing in a job. I did nail a trick but it was just a roll-back, nothing fancy. It was really racing that I actually had that “I could be good at this” moment. The first inclination was when I peddled down the first straight without any fear or reservations. That said, freestyle with its ramps and shit like that, really help develop what control I have right now on my bike, so it wasn’t like a waste of time. Looking back, I wish I stuck with it - because I would have probably had enough tricks by now to compete for the 2020 Olympics in Freestyle, but when you don’t have the heart for it anymore like you can’t force it.

I guess my last question is, what advice would you have for someone to do what you’re doing right now. What skills do they need to pick up, may it be in education or life skills? Being your own boss and all?

Molly: So many people talk about the hustle, so it seems cheesy... but it's totally true. The whole freelance writing life is awesome, but there were a ton of no-sleep nights when I started (and there still are, though thankfully not quite as many!). I was waking up at 3AM to watch World Cup races happening in Europe while in California, trying to live stream and write the race report via a sketchy pirated feed being announced in French, a language that I decidedly do not speak well. I once sat in a donut shop until 4AM with my then-boss as we furiously edited a magazine that was due to the printers at 7AM, and I've driven across the country more often than I care to count. It's been awesome, but it's really hard work—especially when you're trying to get your name out there. The biggest advice? Put yourself out there and if you want to be a writer, look at smaller publications (like ours!) rather than going for someplace like Outside when you've never been published. And in terms of being your own boss and keeping it all together... You don't have anyone to blame when stuff goes wrong or plans get screwed up, so be meticulous with planning and organization. Every deadline, flight, travel plan, training ride — have it on your Calendar, in your planner, wherever you'll actually see it, and follow through. It sucks to have to fire yourself!

Last Q for you: How does the women's freestyle addition for 2020 change the BMX landscape for women? Any big predictions? (And how might it affect Magnolia? It seems like all eyes will be on women's BMX in the next year!)

Bea: One word, HUGE. This is a huge opportunity for representation, and what I’m hoping will change is the addition of a female division in other competitions like at x-games - they still don’t have a women’s division, it’s crazy!

Also hoping that Simple Session brings back Sister Session, which was something I looked forward to watching until they stopped doing it. In terms of predictions, USA is going to be on the podium for sure, in what capacity I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if two Americans landed on the podium. For Magnolia BMX not sure... more news, hopefully, enough coffee for me to keep up with the action.

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