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“Lady Shredder” Amanda Schaper Talks All Things Bike

An interview with a Santa Cruz-based avid cyclist

There are few aspects of Amanda Schaper’s life that remain untouched by two wheels. She pedals and competes on trails and roads. On a tandem, she gets to know her better half better than most. By day, she works as the Marketing and Events Director for Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz in California. In her spare time, she volunteers to help maintain the trails she rides.

So, how did Amanda’s bike life begin? “Mine is the stereotypical story of boy introduces girl to bike, relationship with boy doesn’t stick, but relationship with bike does,” says Amanda. Her college boyfriend took her out on a ride, and like so many first-time riders, she sucked and had a couple of meltdowns. To her, advanced bikers with their matching spandex shirts were legit superheroes. “I wanted in,” she recalls.

Amanda found the bike community in Santa Barbara, where she lived at the time, super welcoming. Soon after, she started XC racing and was “hooked,” finding her fellow riders like family. Then she tried cyclocross, which she loves for its silly streak, and dabbles in other races from gravel to enduro.

We chatted with Amanda to get the story on how biking defines her life, her fave female rider, and her go-to rides around Santa Cruz.

Backcountry: What role have female riding buddies played in your growth as a rider?

Amanda Schaper: My lady riding friends inspire the heck out of me! They are serious shredders. The cool thing about riding with gals compared to guys is that it’s easier to convince yourself that you can ride a technical feature when you see your gal pal crush it. I’ve followed my lady friends through sketchy rock gardens with no issues, whereas I’d walk those same sections when I’m out riding with dudes. My female riding buddies have helped me become a better mountain biker and a stronger racer, with a ton of fun along the way.

Which female cyclist do you most admire and why?

I’d have to say Katerina Nash. She’s had an amazing career in both mountain bike racing and cyclocross, and even in her early 40s, she’s one of the best in the world. I’m in my mid-30s, so she inspires me to keep racing against the ripping fast 20-somethings that line up at cyclocross races with me. More importantly, she’s just a rad person. At events, she doesn’t act any differently than the rest of us, even though she’s a multi-time Olympian and a bronze medalist in the Cyclocross World Championships. It’s nice when you get a chance to hang out with the top pros and realize they’re just normal people who love bikes, too!

What have you learned from your husband as a cyclist, and what have you taught him in return?

“Just let go of the brakes and let it roll!” The number of times I’ve heard him say that on a ride … Ha! But Scott has pushed me to have more confidence in my abilities, which has helped me become a more skilled technical rider than I ever thought possible. Mountain biking doesn’t come naturally because of that fear gene. The first time Scott took me to Downieville, I looked at those rocky trails and couldn’t even imagine how they were rideable. A couple years later, after a few trips to Downieville and recovering from a bad shoulder injury resulting from a crash there, I won the Downieville XC race, and got second in the Downieville Downhill race, which made me the winner of the All Mountain event! That was so huge for me, and I credit Scott for helping me figure out the art of smashing rocks.

Scott says I helped him realize that bikes aren’t just about racing. He’s a ridiculously fast racer, and before we started riding together, he’d feel stressed if he wasn’t going 110% on a ride. I’ve helped him find that balance where you can be training and pushing it, but also slow down and enjoy the full experience.

How did you get into working in the bike industry? What do you love about it?

Once I started racing, bikes became a huge part of my life, and even resulted in a career change after a few years. I went from working as an environmental planner to starting a marketing career in the bike industry in 2010. At the time, I wanted a career that aligned with my passion for bikes, and I realized that marketing was a natural fit with what I enjoyed doing in my spare time (organizing teams, planning races, building sponsorship relationships, etc.). Within a few months of setting my sights on a career change, I made it happen, and almost 10 years later, I’m still doing marketing and brand management in the bike industry!

I love working in the bike industry because it becomes your community. It’s not like an average job where you go home at the end of the day and leave work behind. Typically, your coworkers and other people in the industry become your closest friends because there’s that shared love of riding that brought you to the industry in the first place. You build really meaningful relationships, and that makes your work feel even more meaningful.

You’ve done a lot of work on trails in Santa Cruz. Why is working on trails so important to you?

I’ve been involved with trail work since I started riding when I lived in Santa Barbara. Back then I helped build some new trails in Santa Ynez, and I helped rebuild one of my favorite trails, Jesusita, after wildfires. It’s important to work on the trails you ride because otherwise there wouldn’t be any trail to ride. Most trails are maintained by volunteer organizations because land managers are typically underfunded and don’t have the resources to build and maintain trails. When the riding community comes together to give back, we can get a lot of work done.

If you had to choose, what’s your favorite ride in the Santa Cruz area?

On my mountain bike, it’s the trails in Soquel Demonstration State Forest. If we’re really motivated, we’ll ride from our house on the Westside first thing in the morning, up Aptos Creek Fire Road in Nisene Marks, and drop into Demo from there. After a couple laps in Demo, it’s back up to the top, drop back down into town through Nisene, then home along the coast. Usually the ride back is at sunset because that’s a huge day! If I’m on my gravel bike, the riding in Big Basin Redwoods State Park is unreal.

What’s your favorite post-ride stop to fuel up?

We finish most rides at the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery for a beer and pretzel. They make the best German-style pretzels and serve them warm with mustard and pub cheese. There’s a nice outdoor beer garden, and on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll see a bunch of mountain bikes piled out front, with loads of people still in their riding gear swapping stories from a great day out on the trails. If we don’t land at the brewery, then we’re heading to West Cliff for a drink on the cliffs by the lighthouse at sunset while watching the surfers. Hard to beat that!

Which trails/areas are on your bike bucket list?

Scott and I traveled to New Zealand for our honeymoon and did some amazing riding there, but we barely scratched the surface. We brought our hardtails with us and did a bike-packing trip to connect Old Ghost Road and Heaphy Track. I’d love to go back with our full suspension bikes (aka fun bikes!) and check out more of the trails in New Zealand.

If you could get a message out to other female riders, what would you say?

Just let go of the brakes and let it roll! Haha, just kidding. I encourage all ladies to give racing a try. You don’t need to be competitive or fast or even skilled to enjoy the community that racing gives you. Often as a female rider, you might be the only gal in big crew of guys. It can be intimidating or isolating. When you get involved with racing, you connect with other ladies who ride at your level and love the same things you do. You instantly are a part of the best community out there! I have this photo from my wedding that has about 20 of my closest lady friends in it, and every single person in that photo is in my life because of bikes. Without my involvement in bike racing, I might not have ever met this awesome tribe of amazing gals.

Want Amanda’s look? She’s wearing the new Backcountry Mountain Bike Collection around her local trails in Santa Cruz.