Most of us here at Pinkbike know CJ best for her role as the FiveTen Global Team Manager but there's more to her than a corporate job title and a desk job. In February she made the trip down to South Africa to join in with the DarkFest event with the sole goal of hitting the huge step up that forms the centerpiece of the course.
She isn't the first woman to ride a Fest event, that honour goes to Casey Brown who rode at HoffFest in 2016, but she's certainly turned a few heads with her appearance. We caught up with CJ just after the event to talk about her experience riding the course, how she's helping female freeride on and off the track and what her plans are for the future.
First of all, could you introduce yourself?
My name is CJ Selig, I’m from the US, most recently California. These days I live in Germany where I work for Five Ten.
When did you start riding and what got you into it, and most importantly, what kept you hooked?
I was 24 when I got a job at a bike shop; I knew nothing about mountain biking. My first ride was enough to get me hooked, though, and I will never forget how fun it was. I instantly decided mountain biking was the most badass sport ever and what I needed in my life. I don’t have a moto or BMX background, so I was really starting from zero, but I think that just made me love it more.
Where did you learn to ride?
Big Bear Lake, California. It’s a beautiful place and there are tons of trails to explore. I would bring a paper map into the forest with me and highlight trails as I rode them until I knew the area by heart.
Where is your favourite place to ride?
That’s such a difficult question to answer! Rampage is my favorite time of the year when everyone heads out to the original site and camps out. I’ve gone the last five years and it keeps getting better. It’s like a straight week of bikes, bonfires and beer- what more could you want?
What is your job role with Five Ten?
I’m the Global Team Manager. I look after a pretty large team of riders, but it’s a very sweet gig. I end up traveling a lot, which I love, and my riders are great people to work with. I’m basically the interface between the riders and the company, making sure their feedback goes into the shoes and making sure the ad campaigns use the right rider, stuff like that.
How did your role with Five Ten evolve into what you do now?
I was working for Five Ten on product until we moved to Adidas HQ in Germany. I was surprised to be offered the team manager position because I didn’t have any experience in marketing. They weren’t looking for someone with a marketing degree, however, they wanted someone who knew the sport inside and out; that was me. I’ve always been a huge fan, I buy every bike film that comes out, I watch every World Cup, I even watch the live timing. Now it’s my job to be at all these events, and even though it gets hectic at times it’s worth it when I get sent to rad events like DarkFest.
Did you think about hitting the step up before you came to DarkFest?
I dreamt about it! I talked to Sam a bit at Audi Nines so I knew that he would be open to letting me ride if I felt confident in myself. But I also knew just how much bigger it was gonna be in real life, so I tried to keep my expectations realistic.
What was the biggest jump you’d hit prior to DarkFest?
Hmmm, nothing that compares. Besides being big, the lip is so steep it’s like riding into a massive wall and trying to convince yourself everything is going to work out.
How did you build yourself up to it?
I spent two days doing run-ins. I was worried about going fast enough. I’d heard of people not making it to the top and hitting the face of the landing, which - no thanks. On my run-ins, I’d follow one of the guys down the road gap and once I matched speed with them on the straight, I would slam the brakes. At some point I realized I was reaching that courage moment where my speed wasn’t the issue, my fear was the thing holding me back and it was time to go for it; luckily the vibe from riding with freeriders is awesome because you can feel how badly they want it. The conditions are never perfect, there’s no race clock, it’s easy to make up excuses not to ride so when you see how much they’re pushing themselves; you know it’s all coming from within. It’s a great environment to hype yourself up in.
What did it feel like when you did it for the first time?
It was bigger than I was expecting! Tom Van Steenbergen towed me in on my first go and I was so worried about going fast enough that it came as a bit of a shock when it worked. Suddenly I was so high up in the air! The guys are so talented they make it look easy and smooth because it’s a step up, but it took a lot of physical strength to control the bike through the lip and the landing was a lot rougher than I expected. I landed heavy and slid out into the next berm, but once the shock wore off and the adrenaline kicked in, I was screaming and hugging people and just wanted to go again.
Do you prefer hitting big jumps or bombing down steep techy stuff?
Can’t I have both? I’m better at riding steep and technical terrain, jumps scare me a lot more but I absolutely love them. This whole sport is addicting.
What is your experience of the women’s community in the sport?
I don’t think you can make a blanket statement about women in mountain biking anymore and that alone is a sign of how much the sport has thrived.
I’ve had the most amazing experiences with the mountain biking community as a whole; male and female mountain bikers tend to be an easy bunch to get along with and are a big part of why my enthusiasm for the sport is so strong.
When I look specifically at what women are accomplishing, I see a lot of positivity, a lot of steps in the right direction, and a lot more potential for growth. When it comes to freeride, I think the level of riding is improving very rapidly. As it once happened with the men, there are a few women right now knocking off new tricks and opening the floodgates for everyone else.
I also think when you look at trail riding, just classic mountain biking, female participation is very strong. What’s especially encouraging to me is how many co-ed groups you see at trailheads around the world. I think most mountain bikers are looking for friends at a similar level, who prefer the same style of riding or even people who have a good sense of humor to ride with. These are the important pillars to a good riding companion in my book, male or female.
The big question for me, then, is why don’t more women compete? I get asked this a lot by event directors who want to support and grow women’s biking but who struggle to get women’s entries over 5%. I don’t have an answer. I’ve always loved racing, even if I’m not going home with a gold medal I’m having a great time and enjoy the experience. I wish I knew how to turn those figures around because it bums me out, but I only have ideas, no answers.
You have been involved in helping out on numerous recent film productions within the MTB industry, most noticeably Vision movie, what was that like to be a part of?
Yeah, so while hitting the DarkFest step up has been a huge personal accomplishment, some of the things I’ve achieved through work with Five Ten have meant the world to me, and the top of that list is Vision. I spent months working with Vero Sandler and the production team to get the concept of Vision realized. It was a long process, especially since we (Five Ten) fully funded the film and it was unknown terrain for the whole team. In the end, I think Vero successfully told her story, the story of a freeride athlete, and I think we knocked down a few more barriers in the process.
What would you be doing in the future? (I.e would you like to ride full time, still work in the industry, have a change of job role?)
I would love to ride full time, sign me up!
Until I sign those big-money contracts, though, my love of riding isn’t going anywhere; I’m gonna keep working in the bike industry, traveling everywhere and riding everything.