Change can be scary. We resist the risk and uncertainty of it. Instead, we seek security and comfort in routine – sometimes long after it stops serving us. Elladee Brown has spent more than 30 years working in the bike industry but she has never let her singular passion for bikes hold her back. Throughout her career, she has trusted her gut, embraced the unknown, and celebrated change in a way that few of us are able. This (unofficial) National Treasure has held the Canadian National title in both DH and XC (many times and at the same time), was on the frontlines of the freeride movement, and has organized a shop ride with nearly every bike shop in British Columbia. She’s been a sponsored racer, media athlete, a coach, and a rep. And at 47, this shapeshifter is changing her focus once again, reconnecting with her adventurous roots and sharing stories from a fresh new perspective in our industry.
It was the summer of 1987 when Elladee placed dead last in her first mountain bike race. She had no idea at that moment that by the end of the season she would have an offer to join the Specialized Team. But their training camp was in Colorado and she still had another year of high school in Pemberton to complete before she could join. The day after her grade 12 graduations, she moved down to train with the team. “I was super nervous because now there was some expectation,” she says. Elladee spent the next ten years competing in everything from cross-country to downhill and dual slalom to trials – often in the same weekend.
After a decade of success racing and travelling, her passion for competition began to wane and for the first time since starting her mountain bike career, Elladee had to think about what was next. She had to answer the question of what biking looked like in her life if she no longer identified as a racer. Her answer came with the emerging freeride movement and the K2 Zero Gravity team. The freedom of this new sport brought her back to her first ever experience on a mountain bike. “I rode to check out this lake. And that whole experience of just travelling in the forest like that, self-propelled, it was so intriguing to me. And the racing was kind of a by-product of that. And it showed me what I think I was capable of and what the possibilities were. But then, after that decade, I circled back to possibilities outside of the race course.”
At the same time, she began diversifying further, looking for other opportunities within the sport to sustain her. She completed her coaching certification and began teaching with the West Coast School of Mountain Biking. And also wrote a regular column called Gravity Girl for Pedal magazine.
Then, in 2001 a sub rep position opened up in British Columbia with a sales agency that represented Shimano, Canada. Elladee grasped the chance to try something new. But during her sales training, one of the instructors asked her if she was ready to trade her helmet for a briefcase – and it didn’t take long for Elladee to realized how right he was. “When you go to the bike shops as a rep, they don't necessarily care about your riding or your racing history. They care about how you are going to help them grow their business. But the cool thing with having a riding history and getting into that role as a rep was that it was something really relatable to the dealers. They knew that I understood that passion piece.” And Elladee understood how inundated shops owners are with their business. She made it a personal goal to get the owners, managers, and other employees out riding whenever she came to town. “We all needed to remember why we were in the business,” she says.
For 18 years Elladee travelled the province solely as a rep and you’d still be hard pressed to find a shop in British Columbia where they don’t know her name. In that time she started her own company, bringing on additional brands that she felt passionate about and grew her business. But a few years ago she started to feel the need for change again. “I think a lot of people at this sort of 40 to 50 age range can attest to this feeling – you're coming up on 50, you're coming up on the back side of life, right? You start to ask questions about what really drives and motivates you. And about the things that you want to either accomplish or dive deeper into.” Instead of making choices based on fear of change, choices that kept her in the status quo despite what her gut was telling her, she leapt.
Always passionate about sharing experiences Elladee has set her sights on pursuing content creation through travel and storytelling while spending half her time continuing to rep for Swagman Racks and Bravo Sports. In the process of pursuing her new goals, she has also partnered with Shimano and Evil Bikes as a ride ambassador. “When the new year rolls around and you kind of do that – ‘Okay, what's my resolution and what am I going to bring forward when I dig super deep into myself?’ I realized that the one thing that I love to do is make people laugh. It's as simple as that. Going back to some of those really core things that drive me and that's one of them. Life's hard enough and it has enough struggle. So, what kind of content can I create that brings light to this fairly dark world that we live in?”
Since changing focus, Elladee has travelled to Costa Rica, Peru, Tibet, and other countries. But it was a recent trip to Nepal with friends Leslie Kehmeier, Kelli Sherbinin, and Jaime Hill that really connected the dots for her “After the trip and after collecting all the memories from journaling along the way and looking at all the photos and videos, it just made me realize how much story there is to tell from a trip like this,” she says. “Obviously, it's a personal experience with your group but I think back to the reactions of other people seeing a group of four females on their route. I think it was mostly disbelief that we were going to do this route on our own. And it was really cool to connect with the local women, we had so many high fives. In a place like Nepal, it's not that common to see a group of four women on mountain bikes tackling what we were doing.”
“We’re far from the raddest adventurers out there. But I think it made me realize too how many opportunities there are instead of being the subject of content, to actually be the creator of it. And that I realized that these trips have so many different tentacles. So many tangents that you can go off on and tell a really unique story. We presented the trip at the Vancouver International Film Festival and the other night I did a small presentation for 14 to 18-year-old young girls who were field hockey players. Just seeing their enthusiasm and having them ask questions and be so inquisitive about it was inspiring.” Elladee has also written about her trip in a 3-part series here.
“It’s this collective sharing of experiences that has me fired up right now.”
At a time in her life when it’s more common to be erring on the side of caution and a regular paycheque, Elladee is proving that the opportunities for personal growth and development within the industry she loves are only as limited as our own imaginations. Up next, Elladee and Leslie are off to tackle the Adriatic Crest Trail from Slovenia to Croatia – keep an eye out for more from this talented athlete and storyteller in the near future.