Pro Chat: Karen Eller

Right in time for the start of the mountain bike season, we caught up with long time Scott pro and race veteran Karen Eller (who is also a personal hero of ours since she thought us how to race down the Berninapass in Switzerland, the story of which was told in issue 30) to chat enduro racing, getting your bike fixed for Spring and how the female bike scene is about to explode

Interview by Anna Langer, photos by Markus Greber 

Hey Karen, with the bike season ready to go, have you had much time in the saddle yet?
Not that much to be honest, I spent the last weeks on skis actually… But I’ve already been biking in Laax for a week in March and now at the Lake Garda since last week, where we offered some touring and skill courses at the Bike Festival Riva. After that I trained a bit for myself the last three days and tomorrow I’m off to Innsbruck for the Contessa Riding Day with 50 girls.

Wow, that’s quite a lot!
Yeah, it really is! It’s the first time ever we have that many girls on one day. But we’re also six Contessas from the international and the new Austrian Contessa Team, so it’s going to be a fun day with a lot of Scott bikes for testing, touring and technique training.

Do you have some advise on what to watch out for at the beginning of the season?
I noticed myself this year that when I swap skis for my bike, I have to get my base back. Basics like looking the gaze far ahead, the feeling for the terrain, the feeling for the bike. And that’s the same no matter if you’re beginner or expert, everyone benefits from a little skills training at the beginning of the season to get back in the saddle. Practicing bike handling is something really essential, especially when you start into a new season, and is often disregarded when the focus is only on getting in shape physically. If you have a chance to keep up your form through winter with alternative sports like spinning, cross country skiing or ski touring, the start is going to be a lot easier of course. But when you’re only starting in Spring, you should build up the basics in the flat first, maybe even road cycling, and don’t take a chance with the long passes yet but train a bit before tackling steeper ascents.

What about the gear?
That’s vital too of course! Since bikes are most likely left in the cellar over the winter, you’ll need a little check up before you start off. Most skill trainings incorporate that anyway, but if you do it yourself you should check tire profiles, break pads, screws etc and just go through everything from top to bottom and check if everything is there and still working. Or you take the easy way out and hand it in a garage or shop for a professional check up.

Is there something you can do to make that easier in future?
You should thoroughly clean the bike when you know you had the last ride of the season and waterproof the paint, there are some really cool sprays for that nowadays. And grease the chain and suspension forks.

What are you up to this Summer?
I’m doing a lot of women camps again; the Contessa Ridings Days, which used to be in the Engadin and have now moved to Flims-Laax; and then there is a new Bike Women Festival in the Ötztal and the Bike Festival Willing, where we’ll offer some more touring and skill trainings for women. And for myself I also hope to be able to do some enduro races again, as with all these events there won’t be time for a big tour…

Photo: Maria Knoll

Enduro racing sounds pretty cool!
Yeah and it’s something you don’t a need a lot of training for, but loads of technical skills. It’s a very modern discipline that is absolutely booming in Germany, Italy and Austria these days, mixing marathon, freeride and downhill racing. It’s mainly downhill, but there are also always some ascents with a couple of vertical meters. That means you don’t need a downhill bike but rather a light enduro one that has a lot of suspension travel but is still easy to cycle uphill. These kind of races also don’t just last ten minutes but over an hour, so you need to ride very technical and have a lot of stamina and power.

Do you have a specific one in mind?
I’d love to do the enduro race in Finale Ligure. That’s in nice forest terrain, which is totally my thing so I’d really like to do that.

Is there anything else you’d like to get off your chest?
Yes! I think it’s amazing how much the number of women on bikes has increased; I just noticed that again at the Bike Festival Riva. And they’ve almost overtaken the industry, there are so many different types of female bikers now, freeride, enduro marathon. So much has happened over the last three years and the industry needs to catch up with that, especially the more radical disciplines like freeride need to come with and develop some lighter models for women. Brands used to be very cautious with that, claiming such bikes aren’t being sold but taking a look around they should realise how much things are shifting right now and how many females are swarming into that sport. I mean, 50 girls in Innsbruck tomorrow, that’s quite a statement – now it’s up to the industry!


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