Business analyst Susan Clementson traded in her soccer cleats for a bicycle 15 years ago and has since found a happy balance of camaraderie and exercise on the trails.
Susan Clementson’s stress relief comes in the form of a good workout that includes plenty of socializing.
A project manager/senior business analyst at Panasonic Avionics Corporation in Bothell, the 50-year-old Clementson finds balance by getting outside, being competitive, and spending time with friends.
When she was in her 20s and 30s, soccer filled those needs. Outdoor action, teammates, and competition — the “beautiful game” had it all — except longevity for Clementson.
So at age 35, Clementson knew it was time to hang up the cleats and look for a new way to blow off that steam. It was at that point that she stumbled on mountain bike racing. Shortly thereafter, she did her first stage ride equipped with a run-of-the-mill bike from Costco.
She immediately fell in love with the sport. “It’s so dynamic,” she said. “You have to pick your lines. It’s a combination of skiing and biking.”
There are three common types of mountain bike stage racing: cross-country, downhill, and the fairly new enduro.
In a stage race, several races are performed consecutively, typically over a period of days. The rider with the lowest cumulative time wins.
Cross-country mountain biking is performed on rough forest paths and single-track, gravel roads, and other mountain trails. Downhill racing is done on steep terrain that can include jumps and other obstacles. Enduro is a mix of both cross-country and downhill. In enduro, ascents are untimed.
Clementson competes in cross-country and enduro racing.
“I’m a good solid average,” she said. “Most of the time, I can be found in the middle of the pack.”
But for Clementson, it’s not all about winning. Participating in the activity also is about socializing.
When Clementson began biking, she enjoyed almost every aspect of the sport. But at first, she was missing her soccer “peeps” — with whom she had bonded on and off the field — because mountain biking is an individual sport.
“Soccer is an amazing community,” she said. “I missed being around that. So I tried to re-create it in mountain biking.”
Naturally, Clementson’s first inclination was to reach out to her former teammates and recruit them to her new sport. It didn’t take long to realize she needed to find a whole new group of female friends if she was going to take on this new challenge.
“Way back then, there was a group called Backcountry Bike and Trail Club, which eventually became known as Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance,” she said.
While the club gave her the opportunity to go on group rides, she realized she didn’t “love” the idea of coed rides.
“So I started organizing women’s rides,” she said. “That’s how I found my women’s group to ride with and learn with.”
As her technical skills grew, so did her biking group.
She and a group of women found sponsorship for a team through a LUNA Bar ambassador program. They created the LUNA Chix Ambassador team. That core group of people put on women’s-only mountain bike rides.
After five years, Clementson and a few friends decided to undertake the seven-day BC Bike Race, which was far outside of their comfort zones.
“I like to take on some stupid thing and make this training plan and then do about 70 percent of the training. And then I suffer,” she said, chuckling. “So far, I lived through it.”
That’s when Clementson and some friends started a new race team, which offered women’s rides and training. The group still exists and has grown over the years, though Clementson has stepped back from her leadership role.
“There’s only so much you can give to something, then you need to move over and let someone else take it in a new direction,” she said. “They did take it in a new direction, and it’s really amazing.”
She still leads, however. For the last three years, Clementson has been a coach for the Lake Washington Composite Team, a middle and high school mountain bike team for students in the Lake Washington School District.
“I feel like I need to volunteer and contribute,” she said. “This is the next phase in my support of mountain bike racing.”
Clementson was successful in her goal of creating a strong social component for female mountain bike riders. She continues to ride on a small team with a group of four friends. They race four or five times a year. The group, called Fanatik Hot Flashes, also puts together beer-cruiser and cross-country rides just for fun. Those rides are not competitive. In fact, costumes are encouraged.
“We still have fun on our bikes,” she said. “We talk; half of it is social, half of it is a good workout. If there wasn’t a social workout, it just wouldn’t be as good.”