I admit it took many years before I got down and dirty on the singletrack trails – I mean building them, not just riding them. I always found a way to avoid local trail work outings with my mountain bike club. I believed I was giving back to the community in other ways, like writing about bicycling! Finally, the time was right: I had to help build a trail in order to give back to the sport I love.
On a sunny Saturday morning in Santa Cruz, California, I put on a hardhat and gloves, raked debris and shovelled dirt for a new trail. Guess what? It was fun! I got a great workout, pizza lunch, and strong sense of community.
Best of all, I made a new cycling gal pal, Jessica Klodnicki. When we met, Jessica was pushing a big wheelbarrow of dirt up a steep hill.
“Don’t tell my husband I can do this kind of hard labour,” she grinned. She had recruited a group of fellow riders from her office to volunteer that day. Only later did I discover that Jessica is the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Bell and Blackburn brands (formerly Easton Bell).
In fall 2014, Jessica was invited to be keynote speaker at the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition annual awards presentation held at Interbike in Las Vegas.
I interviewed Jessica and learned about her role as an executive in the bicycling industry and her passion for bicycling. Here’s an excerpt from our talk.
KK: You were invited to speak at Interbike. What did you talk about?
JK: My talk was called, “The Chicken or the Egg: Hatching a Plan to Grow the Cycling Industry.” It’s about the need to build women’s participation in cycling… I also pointed out that effective ways to do that include things as seemingly simple as making women feel welcome in bike shops. I also challenged our industry to keep a more open mind about who and how we hire to ensure that we get a more diverse pool of candidates.
KK: You are a woman executive in a male-dominated industry. How’s that for you?
JK: I can bring a new perspective to the industry. Not just because I am a woman, but also because I came from outside the bike industry. Prior to BRG, I worked at Mizuno on golf, running, baseball, softball and volleyball. Before that, I worked in consumer products outside the sporting goods industry entirely.
KK: Comment on any changes you have observed in the bike industry for women.
JK: I am seeing more brands make big commitments to women’s bicycling. I love what Santa Cruz Bicycles is doing with the Juliana brand — they are offering amazing, high-end product specifically for women. And, they are using strong female role models and imagery in their marketing. In the past, I think there was a perception that women didn’t need or want top-end product, but I think there is a stronger demand from women for product that is not just ‘shrink and pink.’ We want product that is just as good as what the guys get.
KK: What challenges do you face at the job?
JK: My team members and I all face challenges in design, research and development, product management, marketing, digital and sales — no different than in any other business. We just have to stay on top of the pace of innovation all the time and I think we do a good job.
KK: How was it to attend Interbike this year?
JK: I am impressed by what I saw. It was fun to represent Santa Cruz. When people hear we are from Santa Cruz, they get a smile on their face. Many people have had the opportunity to ride or visit Santa Cruz and love what we have to offer from a cycling standpoint.
KK: Let’s talk about your background.
JK: I moved here from Atlanta with my husband Dave. I’ve been at BRG — formerly known as Easton-Bell Sports — two-and-a-half years ago. It has been a lot of fun to work on Bell, which is a 60-year-old brand this year, and Blackburn, which will turn 40 next year. I love uncovering opportunities to bring exciting new products to consumers.
KK: Where did you grow up?
JK: I have a complicated answer for where I grew up. I was born just outside Philadelphia then moved to Southern California as an infant. My dad was in the Navy and I moved all over as a military brat… Maryland, Guam, back to Maryland, Spain, Florida. I had a short stint as an intern for the US Olympic Bobsled team in Lake Placid, NY. Then I got my first real job out of college in Atlanta. I was there for 15 years. My two years in Paris, France were super fun – I used to ride my mountain bike rogue in the Bois de Boulogne, which is like the French equivalent of Central Park and then back to Georgia. My husband and I moved here in February 2012 and hope to stay forever!
KK: You said you mountain bike every weekend, and ride your road bike, cargo bike and commute to work and ride with the women’s group you launched. What do you love about cycling?
JK: I feel like a kid again when I ride my bike. It is rejuvenating for me. When I ride my bike to the office in the mornings, my day is better — breathing in the air and getting my blood pumping before I start my day. I love the grind and the workout of climbing, but especially love the payoff riding downhill.
Karen Kefauver is a freelance writer and avid mountain biker based in Santa Cruz, California. For more stories and photos, visit http://www.karenkefauver.com