Aleiah Martin, a GRiT Ambassador for North Carolina Interscholastic Cycling League, found mountain biking a couple of years ago, and really ran with it, getting super involved in her local cycling scene as well as with the NICA Girls Riding Together (GRiT) program. What I loved about talking to her is that she knows that you can start riding mountain bikes without a fancy bike—and that going over the handlebars on occasion isn’t a bad thing!
(Psst… you can follow along with Aleiah’s adventures here on Instagram!)
How did you get into mountain biking?
I first got into mountain biking when my godmother actually bought me a mountain bike. And then, you know, I just learned how to ride it, you know, things like that. And then I actually went to the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. And that was like my first time ever riding like an actual mountain biking trail. I went down like a really big heel. I was like, ‘Oh, that was fun. I like that.’
So you got on these mountain bike trails, and then how did you end up finding NICA and starting to race?
My mom signed me up for the local team, Rowan Rockhounds, and I went to the first practice there. I totally flew over the handlebars and got back up like nothing happened. After that, I was like, “Yeah, I actually really liked that.” Everybody thought that I was gonna quit after I crashed, but I loved it. When the first race came, of course, I was scared, and I came in last place. But I was totally fine with that. I didn’t care if I came in last place. I just wanted to ride my bike.
What was the scariest part of getting started?
For some reason, I was not scared. I just thought it was going to be so much fun. I wasn’t worried about it. The racing series was maybe a little scary, because I was not expecting the first event I did to be that big. There were like, 500 people there. I was like, “hold on.” But it was a race with one of those starts where they call you up by name, and I was way in the back.
Did you do other sports before this or is this your first organized sport?
I did soccer and gymnastics, and I even did dance, mostly ballet.
Do you feel like any of those played into being able to ride a bike well?
Probably the gymnastics for balancing.
How was joining the team at first?
I would say, at first it was intimidating because it felt like everybody was better than me. And it was all boys. I’m like, do I even belong here? But eventually I got used to it.
Are there are there more girls around now?
So I actually still don’t have any girls on my team. But the GRiT clinics have helped me meet other girls who are riding.
Advice for another girl who was trying to get onto her local mountain bike team and was surrounded by boys?
I would say to try to interact with them and talk to them because they’re actually really good at giving advice on how to start mountain biking. And if you don’t feel comfortable, let your coach know, let somebody that you trust know, and U’m pretty sure they can figure something out for you. Especially if you’re a part of NICA, they will definitely figure something out for you.
What does your week of like training and riding look like?
Over quarantine, I got no practice at all. But I’m with school going on, I’ve been riding my bike to school. And sometimes I go to the community park to ride.
Any tips for for getting started riding to school?
As far as getting to school, ask before you start riding your bike to school: ask the administrators if there are places where you can put your bike, because that’s really crucial so your bike doesn’t get stolen. And if you have to wear a uniform, what I do is I get the “active” khaki pants so like it’s easier to ride in and stretchy, but it still abides with the school uniform policy.
What is the best tip or trick that you have learned since you got started?
Probably to pick your line. Just watch where you’re going, don’t look back because that’s when you’re gonna fall.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before you started riding?
Make sure you’re wearing the right attire! (It’s not about fashion, it’s about comfort.) And make sure you protect your eyes, especially in muddy races.
What are your goals in cycling?
My long term goal is to become a professional, and maybe have my own organization where I can get more females on bikes or more people of color in general on bikes. I know there are many people who don’t even know how to ride a bike, and that’s really crucial. My other long term goal is to inspire people to ride their bikes more often, especially with climate change happening. That’s really important to me, because I’ve been researching climate change more often in the past few years and I just want to help to try to stop the increase of climate change.