Hi.  My name is Karen Jarchow, and I’m addicted to mountain biking.

They say admitting you have a problem is the first step in to recovery. However, to my parent’s dismay I truly hope I never lose this addiction. I discovered mountain biking three years ago. This was the pivotal point of my life where I found the true definition of happiness, facilitated by two wheels, crammed into borrowed toe numbing shoes, all while ignoring a non-union fractured leg. I was hooked.

Fast forward to today, a million crashes, a handful of random races, hundreds of memorable miles, and countless cherished friendships; I sit here as a licensed “professional”.

I’ve been asked quite a few times how I progressed so quickly, and I’ve never really been able to give a swift answer. When you’re doing something you love, the steps taken to get where you are seem to be a blur. However, after thinking long and hard I’ve mustered up some sense to my crazy path.

Here are the top 10 contributing factors to a quick two wheeled progression.

  • Ride with the best. This was such a blessing when I was first learning to ride. Local “who’s who” of mountain biking like Kerry White, Gretchen Reeves, Dereck Fish, and John Klish are just a handful of the friends who stuck with me through long climbs, talking me through technical obstacles, and kindly dropping me when introducing me to “intervals”. When someone you think is way out of your league asks you to go for a ride with them, JUMP ON IT!
  • Learn on sweet trails. I didn’t quite get it until I moved away from Vail, Colorado and learned that not everywhere has miles and miles of great singletrack out the backdoor that is LEGAL. There’s nothing more motivating than knowing you’re going to see the sun rise after a long, cold climb and that you have at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted descending ahead of you.
  • Get on a bike that fits! I saw a considerable change in my riding when I was finally sized and fitted properly to a bike. Your bike should feel like a continuation of your body, not a constant battle of bike vs. rider. I couldn’t feel more comfortable on my Yeti ASRC size SM! Truly lives up to it’s name, “ninja”.
  •  Don’t be a sandbagger.  There is really nothing to be gained from blowing away the amateur field at every race. I knew early that I wanted to be racing alongside the best, so I dove into the lions den the first chance I could.
  • Start REALLY liking rice and beans. There is no money in mountain bike racing; that’s not why we do it. A lot of financial sacrifices need to be made to attain big life dreams. Live simply.
  • Rest! I’m still learning this one. Racing a little undertrained is far better than racing over trained. It puts your body in a downward spiral of colds, lack of energy and motivation. If you are as stubborn as me, getting a coach might be a good choice.
  •  Have a support system. Maybe it’s just being a female, but moving up the ranks so fast puts you through a circus of emotions. Having a solid support system around really helps to keep you focused and constantly moving forward.
  • Safety third. If I had $5 for every boo boo I have suffered from an over-the-bars dismount, sage bush fight (you’ll never win that one), or an improper braking technique… I probably wouldn’t have to come up with another race entry fee for the rest of my “career”. There’s definitely a fine line of “in control” and “slightly out of control”.  In order to really learn where your sweet spot is; you have to suffer some crashes.
  • Keep it fun. I’ve learned that once you lose the fun factor, things need to change. Riding a bike should feel like being a kid. If you’re not having fun you probably won’t do very well.
  • Learn from your mistakes. As much as it doesn’t work out, I try to really learn from my mistakes. Whether it’s as simple as taking a better line, starting a race at an easier pace, or knowing when to take a break. Learning from your poor races, crashes, or moments of just feeling flat will really help you push to that next level. 


This gives you a glimpse of what racing wisdom I’ve been fortunate enough to sponge, experience, and continue to be reminded of as I trudge through my personal goals on two wheels. Hopefully it provided some inspiration, maybe a little extra motivation, or even just a moment of entertainment. Regardless, I wish you the best in your bicycle life adventure!

Do you have any suggestions for improving mountain biking skills?

By Karen Jarchow – Team Yeti Beti – Vail, CO