Interview with Clarissa Finks: Biker, Racer, & Mentor

With a contagious laughter and infectious personality, anyone who knows Clarissa Finks knows how much fun she is to be around. We recently had a chance to catch up with the Vermont-based rider to learn how she got into biking, racing, her advice for new riders, and how she balances it all.

  1. Where are you originally from and where are you residing currently?
    I’m originally from Maine and currently live in Waterbury, VT.
  2. When did you start biking and how did you get into the sport?
    I started riding bikes because my mom is a badass mountain biker and in college she finally talked me out of my soccer gear and onto a mountain bike. I didn’t have time to take on a new sport but after two torn ACLs, I found myself on a bike rehabbing my knee. After that first ride with my mom I was pretty hooked – it was the same sensation I got from snowboarding in the trees and I loved it from the start.
  3. How did you get into racing?
    I played soccer at the University of Vermont but 2 knee surgeries in 2 years made it really challenging to get back into a Division I sport. By my senior year, I hung up my cleats and joined the UVM Cycling Team, after some encouragement from a friend. I raced XC for a couple years after college but wasn’t much of an endurance athlete. I stopped racing and continued riding just for fun. A few years later, I entered my first enduro race at Highland Mountain Bike Park, after my ex got really into it. My first race was absolutely terrifying…but I also kind of liked it. The next season I set my sights on the Eastern States Cup Series and quickly discovered I had found my race format; a combination of technical riding, quick bursts of speed, and lots of fun with friends on bikes! It’s very competitive but it’s such a social experience. I love it!
  4. What do you find most challenging about cycling and how do you overcome those challenges?
    One of the most challenging things has been not getting frustrated or comparing myself to others. It’s so hard when you’re out on a ride with a crew and you’re just not feeling it. You’re the last one to roll up to the waiting group and your immediate response is, “I’m sorry, I’m slow and holding you up.” It can be really hard to set your ego aside and just ride but it makes it so much more enjoyable if you can! The way I deal with it is to think about if the roles were reversed and I was waiting for someone else. I realize I wouldn’t mind at all, I just like being out on my bike with friends and it immediately shifts my perspective on the situation.
  5. You’re pretty active in the coaching/mentoring world, what sort of things do you typically work on with people you coach?
    So many things, but it all comes down to one thing: confidence. Confidence in your skills, confidence in your ability to try something new, confidence to push yourself a little harder or farther than the last time. As a coach, it’s really important to listen and pay close attention to what each person needs to build that confidence. For some it requires big gestures and others it can be the most subtle support or recognition. Once you can build that confidence and some trust between you and the other person, tackling that new skill becomes that much more achievable.
  6. How do you balance your biking with everything else you’ve got going on?
    These days it is a little different than it used to be since I quit my job last summer! I am now working for myself as a consultant and have more control over my schedule. Prior to that massive life change, it was all about creating a routine that worked for me as well as planning ahead. I found that waking up an hour earlier, which at that time meant 5am, and getting my workout in before starting my day was my recipe for success. That way the rest of the day is free to get a fun ride in with friends or just relax and decompress after a long day at work. As far as training is concerned, it’s key for me to set a plan ahead of time. If I know what I’m doing before I go to bed it is so much easier to just get up and go. The less thinking the better!
  7. What do you love most about cycling?
    The people. Bike riders are the most welcoming group of humans I’ve ever met and I’m so happy to be part of that community. I also love that riding a bike is the sneakiest way to work out. I say that because it never feels like a work out to me it just feels like fun!
  8. What advice would you have for a female rider who is new to cycling or wants to take her riding to the next level?
    Two pieces of advice, both equally as important:
    1. Get the best bike you can for your budget. Having the right gear for you and your riding goals will help your progression tremendously. It’s easy to buy a cheap old bike or get a hand-me-down from a boyfriend but in the end you’re not doing yourself any favors. A bike that is well suited for you and the terrain you’ll be riding will help boost your confidence and abilities. There are times where there are features I shouldn’t make it through because I got off my line but because my bike is built to handle it, it gets me through rubber-side down!
    2. Take a clinic, go to a camp, get instruction. While your gear is important, this may be even more so. I had been riding for about 15 years before I was exposed to any type of real instruction and once I was, it absolutely blew my mind! About 5 years ago I attend the Women’s Freeride Fest at Highland and I am not exaggerating when I say that it absolutely changed my life!! Getting specific instruction on body position, bike handling, and the physics behind cornering was not something I ever got just trail riding with friends. It opened up a whole new world of riding to me. There are lots of options out there from camps like Ladies All Ride, Vida MTB, or personal coaches for hire; it is all well worth the money and I cannot recommend it enough!

Photos by Mike Hitelman (@instamikeagram)


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