A Few Good Questions returns this week with a lovely interview with Hagerty Cycling’s Melissa Ryba. The Traverse City native has improved more than any cyclist in the state in the past 18 months, and comes into 2012 with some serious potential for victory at every event. She’s also a huge factor in the development of Hagerty’s Youth Development ride. Ryba is getting more and more kids on bikes by being a wonderful person and a great role model for young bikers in TC. She turns her attention this week to the West Michigan Stage Race. 

1. First off, who are you? That’s asked in a philosophical sense, sure, but where are you from, what do you do, who do you care about and what do you enjoy? (Name, hometown, MTB/Road/Both, team, etc.)

I have lived in Traverse City for 4 ½ years, and Petoskey for 9 years before that. I hail from the small town of Fremont, known for farming and Gerber baby food. This year marks the 15th anniversary for my husband Russ and I, and we have two awesome kids. Gavin is 11 and Nora is 7. I am a social worker and was a foster care worker for a few years, and then decided to stay home with the kids for about 10 years. I just returned back to foster care as a home licensor last fall. Cycling is a huge stress reliever for me, which I need after working with foster kids and just dealing with life in general. I enjoy both mountain biking and road cycling; I am not ready to get into cyclocross or snow bikes just yet. This is my 2nd year on the Hagerty Cycling team. I also help with the Youth Development Team of Hagerty, and want to encourage more kids and women to get into the sport. I also enjoy gardening, reading, good food, and watching a movie now and then.

What got you into biking? What got you into racing? What is your proudest two-wheeled achievement?

Some of my earliest memories are proudly riding my tricycle down the block. What is it about a bike that just screams freedom and fun from the moment you figure out how to ride?  As kids we were always on bikes. After I graduated high school, I went to Mackinac Island to work at a bike rental – Ryba’s Bike Rental, in fact. I was introduced to trail riding that summer through Russ. I remember riding along with a group of guys and trying hard not to show how much I was gasping for air and trying not to die.  I saved my hard earned money and bought my first mountain bike the following summer, a Giant Rincon. It was the greatest shade of blue, and flew down the trails. I loved riding the trails on Mackinac, and started riding back at home too.  My Giant Rincon was tragically stolen a few years later and replaced by a Schwinn Mesa, which I never really accepted as my own, even with the “fancy” new shocks.  I did make it a goal to enter a mountain bike race someday about this time. Between getting married, getting a “real” job,  and having kids, my time to ride dropped a lot. I just got back into it about 4 years ago, when my friend Rebecca Galsterer invited me to go out riding with her, and her friend, Johanna Schmidt.  Needless to say, there was a lot of waiting up for me going on during that initial ride, but I vowed to keep at it and get my fitness back up. With the encouragement of another friend, Krista Nieto, I entered my first mountain bike race in 2009, the Ore to Shore in Marquette, Michigan.  Our families camped and raced together, and I rode my then 10 year old Schwinn Mesa and placed 5th in my age group.  I caught the racing bug and started entering more mountain bike races. Rebecca kept telling me I should buy a road bike, and I balked at the idea. Ride on the road? With cars? Seemed foolish to me, how could it beat riding in the woods? In the end I thought I would give it a try and bought a Jamis touring type bike and spent the summer of 2010 riding with the Cherry Capital Cycling Club. I liked riding with the group, sharing the work, and meeting so many new people. I rode a few times with Fern Spence, who prompted me to try out for Hagerty. So I jumped in, bought a racing bike and raced Cat 4 last summer and had a blast, and continued to do some mountain bike races as well.
My proudest 2 wheeled achievement was finishing 2nd at the Tour Da Mont Pleasant Road Race last summer. It was a long race for Cat 4 (55 miles) and I was really struggling at times. My team mate, Fern, worked with me to get through it, and I stayed with the pack and did well at the final sprint. The finish was awesome, because the other races had already finished and were there to watch and cheer the Cat 4’s comimg in.  It was the first podium I won as a Cat 4 and it felt fantastic!

3. What kind of bike(s) are you riding? Do they have names?

I have a Specialized Amira for Road riding and a Focus Black Forest 29er for trail riding. I have don’t have names, they were both just bought last summer, so maybe names will come to me this year. I still wonder where my Giant Rincon ended up. Bike thieves are despicable people.

4. What are your big goals for 2012? Who do you want to beat this year?

To move up to Cat 3 and be able to hang with the group. I am moving up to Expert in mountain bike races, so I hope I can keep a decent time in those races also. I would like to beat anyone who beat me last year! That includes a lot of very fast women, so that is quite an ambitious goal.

5. What is your favorite place to ride in the world? In Michigan?

While riding right here in Traverse I often look around and am amazed at the beauty we have right here on our doorstep. And we have it all, flats, hills, trails. I hope to do some cross country bike traveling someday, in the US and in Europe.

6. If you had to compare yourself to a pro, who would you pick?

Possibly Tom Boonen? Only because while watching him in the Paris-Roubaix the announcers said he doesn’t do the Tour because he can’t do hills. The not doing hills part is probably the only thing we have in common.

7. Who is your favorite person to ride with?

I really can’t pinpoint a favorite. I love all my riding buddies. It has been great to meet so many cool people since I got into cycling.

8. If you could design a bike race in Michigan, where would the finish line be? Who would you have as podium girls? (Celebrities are in play)

I think a race on the Old Mission Peninsula would be a blast, and you can’t beat the scenery. Finish line would be Front Street during Cherry Festival. I could pretend I was a Pro and all the people were lined up to see me finish (rather than waiting for the parade). My podium “boys” would be two anonymous pieces of eye candy,  as they should be.

9. Thank somebody:

Thanks to my husband, Russ, who is a great dad and husband and sacrifices a lot of his time so that I can go ride.

Any last words?

Always wear a helmet!