In case you were wondering, “Berger” is pronounced just the same as the meal I had while I interviewed Simone. Now that we have that out of the way, let me introduce to you to this phenomenal woman who burst onto the cycling scene in Florida after just beginning her riding career five years ago. Recently, I (Jemma) got to sit down with Simone Berger and learn all about her cycling experiences and expertise – I contacted her after seeing her inspiring video compilation of learning how to mountain bike on Facebook. I just had to know more about how she went from newbie to expert and get to know her spirit.
The first thing I wanted to know of course, was how she got started. “In college I was part of the salsa club and the people in the beginning of the video were in my salsa club, and they were like, ‘Hey, on the weekends, we go biking!’ and I was like, that sounds fun… why not try something different, so I went and the first day, I fell in love with it.”
Simone tells the story of riding her childhood bike, pictured above (“probably not a safe bike to ride, now that I know…”) and borrowing a friend’s camelbak for her first foray into mountain biking. Still, it seems she’s always been brave, if not totally successful from the beginning. She did eventually upgrade from the childhood bike to a Giant downhill bike with coil suspension (it’s coming back now, y’all!), to a Specialized Epic, and then to her current ride, which we’ll talk more about later.
Once she realized she needed and purchased a better bike (pictured left, above), Simone hit it hard from the start. “I went to Amelia and I tried every obstacle, and I totally failed. I didn’t make it up any of the big hills, it amazed me that people got over logs and up giant climbs, I didn’t get it. It motivated me to want to figure out how to do that and accomplish that goal. I don’t like failing.”
Simone ended up buying the camelbak from her friend that day, just knowing that she was going to do this thing. She shares it was the first step that showed her commitment to invest time and money into this new passion. After riding those first trails, Simone says she knew she could eventually defeat the obstacles she faced that day and she wasn’t going to give up until she conquered them.
Simone isn’t superwoman though, she is realistic about what she can and cannot conquer and especially if there are alligators at the bottom of a drop, she’ll walk it until she’s comfortable riding it. As for what she loves the most about riding, she loves to show that women can be fast too, the thrill of it, beating up on the boys (cue eye roll from Julian), the feeling of getting a good workout, and being in good shape. Growing up playing competitive tennis at the state and national level, this is a familiar and welcome sensation for Simone. Being in nature and riding with friends plus the fun of exploring new places also rank up there for Simone’s top reasons to ride.
Switching over to how she got started racing, Simone shares, “When I was riding at Virginia Key, I had some friends who I’d ride with every week. I would get better and better and they suggested that I enter a race – a couple years ago, Eric Norris put on a short track race at Amelia and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m fast, I’ve already got the competitiveness in me, let me try it,’ and I won my first race. Just like riding the first time, when I knew I was going to love it, right then too, I knew I was going to love racing.”
Simone says that she experiences a high while racing that keeps her going after podiums. “I can never push myself as hard as I can as when I’m in a race. There is something special about the adrenaline rush and being in that moment when it matters most.” She next did races at Markham, who has charity races 3x a year, including Rumble in the Jungle, which she did as a team with other women and got second place. She then went after the Florida State Series after working hard all summer to improve her skills and endurance. She enjoyed traveling every weekend all around the state, trying new trails. She made a ton of new friends and won the series that year in base.
Simone shares about some of the obstacles to riding, chief among them finding time in her schedule to get out and ride. Just starting her first job after college, living alone, and managing her household, it was hard to balance everything and factor in riding. “I didn’t really train, I guess. I didn’t know any better. I just rode a lot. I just rode as much as I could and it was trying to find time to ride and finding people to ride with because I wasn’t comfortable enough at that point to ride by myself.”
We laugh about the phase every rider goes through between learning to ride and trusting in your skills enough to risk riding alone. Even with a Strava Beacon on, there’s always the potential of wrecking back in the woods and bonking your head with only the hope that someone will ride along and find you.
Speaking of crashing, Simone shares she had plenty when she was starting out, the worst being the endo you see in her video going down a pretty steep descent. Even so, she ended up mostly with just a few scrapes and a new strategy on falling, tuck and roll! Another top lesson she learned was conservation of energy, “You have to know how hard you can go in the beginning to save enough to get to the end.” Looking back, Simone’s advice to herself would have been to get a coach, since she decided to race and improvement was so important to her, the efficiency and speed of growth with a trainer is well worth it.
Not only did the coach help with riding skills, but nutritional insight made a big difference for Simone. “They tell you what to eat, when to eat, give guidance for weight loss, energy, and recovery.” Simone admits it’s a bit more work to prep, but the health benefits were really worth it. She lost 15 pounds mostly doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIIT) and now she can indulge every now and then without the guilt.
This season, thanks to all that hard work and coaching, Simone took home the State Championship in Category 1 for mountain biking. For the rest of the year, Simone’s focusing a little more on road races, which require an emphasis on fitness and strategy rather than skill and will be picking and choosing some races for the rest of the year. She just won the Category 3 Crit State Championship this past season as well and is really enjoying the different kind of challenge road racing offers. Simone’s next big goal is winning Nationals this year in West Virginia for mountain biking.
Adventurous trails with a variety of terrain and obstacles are Simone’s favorite kinds of riding, her top two being Markham in Sunrise and Virginia Key, where she first learned how to ride. Dream places to ride include Colorado, “I’m dying to go there and ride, it’s the biking capital!” Simone has been to DuPont, Coldwater, Oak Mountain, Blankets Creek, Rope Mills, and Racoon Mountain, all were beautiful places to enjoy the trails.
Now for the equipment: Her mountain bike is a Santa Cruz Highball 27.5 hardtail. “I’m short,” Simone explains when I raise an eyebrow at the non-29er she’s using to beat the competition in Category 1. Simone goes on to add, “It’s a smaller frame, lighter because it’s less material, and a shorter wheel is easier to accelerate which enables me to be more aggressive.” The cockpit is all Shimano, including the drool-worthy Di2 electronic shifting system. Atomik carbon wheels are at the top of the list of her favorite features of the bike, with their strength, durability, and low weight.
The road bike is a Colnago CLD with women’s specific geometry. “This bike is also fully Di2, including the programmable synchro shift. I paired Kogel Bearings ceramic pulleys and a Kogel bottom bracket, which have noticeably less friction, and are more durable. A fit at Racer’s Edge proved I also needed shorter reach handlebars for added confidence and aggressiveness.” This also has an Atomik carbon wheelset, which she adds, are a reasonable price for how good they are.
I asked Simone about her bike maintenance skills and she sheepishly admitted she relies on her guys at Racers Edge as well as Julian for most of it, but can detail the heck out of a bike and change a flat if needed. These days Simone strives to maintain a balance between work life and riding. Simone gets up at around 5am most days to get in her 120-130 miles a week and has discovered that she was able to make the transition to beginning a morning person. “Now I love getting up early! It feels good to start my day with a ride.” Simone does her road rides during the week and saves mountain biking for the weekend. How does she keep it interesting? Simone shares, “You have to ride with a purpose, either skills work or HIIT.” Her favorite riding buddy is her Garmin, ha! Simone admits she’s a total data nerd and loves her activity tracker.
In real life, Simone works 45-55 hours a week as a photographer, videographer, and producer for a marketing team. She also has her own business and video blog. You can also see more of her work here, including the famous Fakawi film from 2016. Simone loves yoga, “It’s great in conjunction with riding and helps with recovery. It’s fun and another challenge – relaxing and rewarding.”
Simone also is fueled by her passions for filmmaking and cycling for the greater good. Simone says about this next film, “The adaptive trails at Markham Park were created for our friend Falco who lost his leg in a work accident, but still wanted to ride a mountain bike. I created the video with the mission to bring awareness to the amazing work the trail builders did to create a trail especially for him, and to help encourage others around the country to create trails that meet the needs for these unique riders.” How cool is that? (Warning: you might cry.)
You can follow Simone on Facebook, Instagram, and Strava to keep up with her cycling life plus a few cat photos. Simone couldn’t say enough good things about her sponsors: The Racer’s Edge Bicycle Shop, Atomik Carbon, Kogel Bearings, Santa Cruz (who she is an ambassador for), Shimano, Fast Gear USA custom clothing, Sword Nutrition, Custom ESI engraved grips, and her coach, Pinnacle Coaching….. go check them out and get out and ride a bit more inspired!