Humanoids of Surly: Rachel Olzer
This week we’re kicking off a semi-regular blog series we’re calling Humanoids of Surly. The purpose of this series is two-fold. First, we want to give you a break from having to just hear us talk all the time. Second, we want to showcase all the people that are doing incredible things on/with/because of our bikes and give them a chance to share their stories with the world.
To kick things off, we have Rachel from our home turf. Rachel’s a certified badass on and off the bike and does just about everything imaginable on her Straggler so she was an obvious choice to get this series started off on the right foot.
Take it away, Rachel!
Name: Rachel Olzer
Location: North Minneapolis, MN
Who do you think you are anyway?
Hey, I’m Rachel and my life revolves around sex. Seriously! I’m a Ph.D. student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Minnesota and I study the evolution of sex and sexual signaling in animals. That’s a mouthful, I know. In essence, I sit around and think about how and why animals have sex. I’m also an adjunct professor at UMN this semester teaching a class on the Biology and Evolution of Sex. So when I’m not thinking about animal genitalia, I’m encouraging others to think about it.
As you’ve probably gleaned from the above paragraph, I’m a little weird. I was born and raised in the capital of weird - Las Vegas Nevada. No, I did not live in a casino growing up, but full-disclosure, it wasn’t until I went off to college that I saw a movie theater that wasn’t inside of a casino. But the other side of Vegas that people so often forget about are all those gorgeous mountains that surround it! Nevadan’s like to brag that we’re the most mountainous state in the Union. We have the most mountain ranges and the most mountains over 10,000 feet - take that Colorado! We also have the most public lands as a percentage of the state - Alaska has every state beat if we’re talking square feet. Growing up near mountains really shaped my interests. My first love is rock climbing. Climbing has taken me to so many beautiful places and has introduced me to so many wonderful people. Growing up in the desert southwest also sparked my interest in bikes, especially the off-road kind.
How’d you get into bikes?
For most of my life, I lived near a place called Bootleg Canyon. If you’re familiar with Bootleg, then you know exactly why I was hesitant about mountain biking at first. If you’re not familiar with it, then I’ll just say that some speculate that it’s the hardest downhill mountain biking in the world! It’s quite literally bone-crushing. So maybe hesitant is a gross understatement. But like I said, Vegas is a crazy place and the desert is likely to inspire anyone to do some pretty insane things.
By the time I was heading off to college in Arizona, I was ready for a taste of the extreme. That’s when I started to take mountain biking and rock climbing seriously. Arizona has some of the most amazing rock formations you’ll every encounter and it’s hard not to be motivated by that. I was never really into road biking. I don’t like form fitting clothes so the idea of dressing head-to-toe in spandex sounded like something out of an afro-futuristic sci-fi special on FX. I remember when I started to take road biking seriously though. Two words: Mount Lemmon. This mountain is a local favorite for road bikers. We’re talking nearly 6,000 feet of elevation gain in less than 30 miles. You’re just spinning in your lowest gear for so long. All the while the sun is mercilessly beating down on you. It’s a riot!
I started to really get into mountain biking while in college. My partner built me a Frankenstein mountain bike by putting a 29er wheelset on a Gary Fisher hybrid frame. It was love at first sight (the mountain bike I mean). Black Beauty, as I called her, was the perfect size for me and it didn’t cost a fortune - a real win for someone who’s 5’1” and has been a student for what seems like forever.
Shortly thereafter, I decided to build a touring bike. I made it from an old Trek mountain bike frame. It was the most frustrating project I’ve ever worked on. Nothing worked the first time I put it on the bike. Everything was old and rusty and needed lots of work to repair. It was my first real taste of bike building and I hated it! But by the end I had a bike that I was pretty proud of and I rode the crap out of that thing!
It wasn’t until I moved to Minnesota that I really got into biking. The climbing in the Midwest is less than spectacular; you can blame glaciation for that! But there’s so much to love about the riding here! The thing about biking in the desert is that it’s really harsh! Crashes are painful and dirty, there are cacti everywhere (again, painful crashes), and the infrastructure is still pretty lacking. Moving to Minnesota really helped me see that biking can and should be accessible for people! The infrastructure is incredible, the community is huge, and there are mountain bike trails within the city that are just spectacular! There’s still so much to be done here with regard to accessibility and representation (I mean cycling is still pretty dominated by white men), but I’m so grateful to be in a place that values bikes, and I’m really excited for the future of cycling in Minneapolis.
Tell us about your Surly.
The first time I tried to ride over 50 miles on the road it was horrendous! I rode a bike that was WAY too big - we’re talking 8-10cm too big - and it was awful! I thought I hated biking after that! I figured biking was just painful and your crotch was just supposed to go numb. I was pretty resigned to never really enjoying the ride. It wasn’t until I got my Straggler that I truly fell in love with biking again. I finally had a bike that fit so perfectly!
I ride a 650b Surly Straggler. Her name is Apollonia, after Prince’s love interest in Purple Rain.
She’s pretty and sparkly and purple and most importantly she rides like a champ! What’s great about the bike is that it’s easy to switch from geared to single-speed. As a winter commuter, riding with gears requires a commitment to bike maintenance that I just don’t have. So to be able to switch my bike to single-speed during the cold months is perfect!
In the winter, I’m rocking studs and I’m primarily commuting. In the spring, I’ve got the Knards and I’m riding gravel. In the summer I throw on slicks and ride road; and in the fall, it’s cyclocross season!
Favorite bike-related memory.
Most-definitely bikepacking in the North Woods last Fall. Touring is somewhat familiar, but bikepacking has always been on another level to me. I mean getting lost is par for the course, but it’s intimidating being in the middle of the woods and relying on your bike to get you around for a few days. We went when the leaves were just right for peeping and it was magical!
And my Straggler looked damn sexy all loaded up with gear!
If you could ride anywhere in the world, where would it be?
To be honest, I’d go back to Bootleg Canyon! With any sport, I think it can be hard to judge progress because you’re always trying harder things and getting shut-down in new ways. But the greatest feeling in the world is accomplishing something that you once deemed “impossible” for you! I want to go back to those trails at Bootleg that used to scare the living crap out of me and tear it up!
Where can people follow along with you?