May 11, 2021
#WomensWednesday stories throughout May
As part of this year’s ‘International Women in Mountain Biking Day’, IMBA Europe decided that one day wasn’t enough to celebrate all the amazing women in mountain biking. So every Wednesday throughout May we will be sharing a #WomensWednesday story from some of the women doing great things in the mountain biking community.
Who is Lissa Breugelmans?
I am a 31-year old biologist from Belgium with a huge passion for riding bikes, and a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the natural areas and landscapes we get to ride them in.
How did you first get in to mountain biking?
I had seen an ad for a beginners technical mountainbike clinic organised in cooperation with a local mountainbike shop. I always thought mountainbiking looked so cool but I had no idea how to get started, and no friends that were into it who could show me. I literally mustered all my courage and asked the instructor if he could arrange a bike for me to loan for that first clinic. Needless to say I had a blast and even though I wasn’t exactly great, I could just feel that this was something I could and wanted to do. I bought my first mountainbike and started learning and absorbing everything I could like a sponge. I made some friends through that mountainbike shop who showed me the basics. After a few months I signed up for mountainbike marathons in the Ardennes without knowing if I could do these distances and although you could argue it was crazy to sign up without experience or the fitness needed for these kind of endeavours, I finished them all and my technical skills really improved. Mountainbiking brought a lot of fun into my life, and it also really helped build my confidence, for which I am eternally grateful.
Favourite local trails to ride?
I love the technical loop built on the Sint-Pietersberg close to Maastricht. It really adresses the need for more challenging trails where you can perfect your skills. The whole loop is only 5k, but it’s 100% singletrack with not a single flat stretch and you’re breathing heavy all the way. What makes it even more special to me, is that this route is the result of a cooperation between the nature organisation Natuurmonumenten who manages the area, and local mountainbike organizations (MOZL). The area is a Natura 2000 habitat directive site and has some of the most species-rich, calcareous grasslands with a special microclimate and many rare butterfly species associated with them. Yet with good communication between all parties, it was possible to develop a great mountainbike trail here that meets the needs of riders but also minimizes the impact on the surrounding grasslands. I find that a great example of what is possible when landmanagers and recreational users listen to each others needs and work together when desiging infrastructure in valuable natural areas.
You’re quite the adventurer- How did you get in to the adventure/ bike packing style of riding?
I’ve always loved to go on multiple-day hiking trips in the mountains, packing light because of necessity, carrying all the dehydrated meals for the entire trip with me, and bivying in the middle of nowhere. When I started riding, it just naturally progressed to doing the same on a bike really. The biggest advantage when compared to backpacking is that you can cover much more ground in a day, which also makes food and water supply a little easier. You don’t have to calculate exactly the amount of calories you will burn and make sure you have that amount on you from the start. In that sense, it’s a bit more easier to ‘wing it’ a little compared to backpacking in the mountains – and I kinda like that freedom. I also love that because you are travelling further, you get exposed to such a high density of impressions because you move through so many totally different landscapes – it is awe-inspiring, humbling, and even a bit overwhelming sometimes.
What is the most epic adventure you have been on?
I’d say my try at Badlands, a bike-packing race in Andalusia (Spain) last year was for sure one of the trips where I smashed some of the walls of my comfort-zone. I’ve built up enough experience over the years that I generally don’t get nervous anymore when doing these kind of things because I know that even if some things go wrong, I always manage to fix it or find a solution and get myself out of trouble. However, Badlands was the first ride I did where the conditions and terrain were a big unknown to me and to be honest, scared the hell out of me. Long stretches of up to 100k where you basically had no opportunities to refuel or top up your water, extreme heat, deserts with no shade for miles and miles, an actual good chance of encountering snakes and scorpions,.. I’ve never been so nervous for something bike-related in my life. In the end it was probably a good thing I was intimidated by the terrain, because it made me prepare my set-up really well so I could always carry 3 liters of water and I really only ran out once, after crossing the desert at noon under a burning sun. It was an incredible ride through the most mesmerizing landscapes, brutally steep climbs, very warm encounters with locals, and on the last day a humbling offroad ascent of the highest peak of the Sierra Nevada, the Pico Veleta.
Do you prefer to travel alone, or with someone when you plan these trips?
Even before I started riding, I often went on solo hiking trips and this was actually my preferred way of spending a vacation. I have always just been really comfortable spending time alone I guess, and I find it really tops up my energy levels to have that quiet time, especially while walking or riding. I also never got lonely on these trips, because you get to meet a lot more of the locals that start asking about what you are doing when you’re hiking or riding solo, and those interactions are often really enriching. It’s also a great learning school to learn to be independent and get yourself out of trouble when you’re in the outdoors, and it does wonders for your self-confidence when you acquire these skills.
In general, I find it a lot easier to do these kind of adventures alone, because inevitably there will come a point when you get tired and frustrated, and in that state it’s not always easy to stay calm and constructive when negotiating your next steps with your riding partner. I know of more than one friend bond that broke up that way, so I would advice to pick your bikepacking partners wisely 🙂 Of course, riding with likeminded people can be super fun too. I’m very lucky that I have a partner who also enjoys bikepacking and we’ve done quite some trips together – it took a couple of tries but we’re so tuned in by now that we very rarely have arguments anymore and it’s awesome to be able to share the experience.
What tips do you have for other women who want to plan their first solo adventure?
DO IT! If the idea gets you excited, there’s nothing that should stop you. If you’re nervous, just start local and plan an overnighter in an area you know pretty well – that should get you used to bivying without adding too much ‘unknowns’ at once. If you have any questions or uncertainties, reach out to other women (and men) who have done something similar and don’t be afraid to ask – you’ll find that they love to help you out. In general, the ‘potential negatives’ are strongly exaggerated and while it’s good to be cautious, most women who do solo adventures will tell you they had very little or no negative experiences.
How do you think we can get more women on mountain bikes?
In my experience, women are often more ‘intimated’ by the idea of trying something they never done while men often don’t think so much and just do it if they want to. I think women-specific clinics or informational sessions might help to overcome this first hurdle. I think that if women feel comfortable and not judged while they are going through the learning curve, that’s really all that’s needed for them to enjoy it and stick with it. I also hope that highlighting stories of women that just went for it, will make other women realize there is really nothing that should be stopping them from doing the same.
What are your adventure plans for 2021/2022?
Like for all of us, most of my plans have been postponed.. rescheduled.. and rescheduled again. To cope with that new reality we’ve been mainly exploring locally, which has actually been super fun and definitely led to us seeing our home area through new eyes. If the restrictions in place at the time will allow it, and if it’s responsible to travel, I will be taking on the Bohemian Border Bash race (a 1300km gravel race through Poland, Germany and the Czech republic) this year which is now scheduled for September. That’s a part of Europe I have not visited before, and I think it’s incredibly beautiful. For summer I have a number of quite extreme one-day, self-supported mountainbike challenges I’d like to tick off. And then there’s of course the neverending list with potential adventure ideas.. let’s say the chances I get bored are pretty slim.