The pressure for female athletes to make their presence felt in a male-dominated sport can be overwhelming. Don’t tell that to Nicole Bradford. With her kind, personable manner and petite 5’8″ frame you might not even guess she’s an off-road rider for Stillwell Performance. But this 39-year old woman can beat the majority of men in local competitions and has earned a solid place on the top box and among the off-road community. She’s already winner of the first three events of the National Hare and Hound series, a multi-speed 40-45 mile double-loop course through rocky technical valleys and desert terrain. No, the only pressure that Nicole feels is to haul ass.Passionate about riding from a very young age, Nicole would rather have a dirt bike than go on a honeymoon. Thank goodness her husband Ben feels the same way! Her biggest supporter, Ben describes Nicole as having the “talent, passion and desire” to live her dream! With this type of earnest effort, uncompromising standard, yet generous spirit towards other riders, it won’t be long before off-road racing is perceived not as a man’s sport; but a sport.I had the pleasure of sitting down with Nicole earlier this week and talking to her about everything from how she got started, her family, and why she thinks Stillwell performance is smart for sponsoring women racers.SP: Jumping right in, how did you get your start riding dirt bikes?
Nicole: I was born and raised with dirt bikes. God gives all of us a passion and you have to follow it and motorcycles are my passion. My parents got divorced when I was 12, so I was unable to have a dirt bike after that because my dad moved to another town. When you have a passion, it never leaves you; when I got married to Ben at 23, he asked what I wanted to do for our honeymoon. I said I didn’t want to do anything, I want a dirt bike! He looked at me like ‘really, Ok!’ He wasn’t a dirt biker, he was a ranch kid. I always have to tell this story in conjunction, its pretty funny. Everyone knew that we were getting dirt bikes for our honeymoon, and the preachers wife actually pulled me aside and said, “Now is Ben pressuring you into buying these dirt bikes?” which was hilarious because he didn’t even know how to ride them. Today every time we ride it is like going on a mini honeymoon! My dad, Cliff McPherson was a competitor, we loved going to races, loved the people, [but] as soon as you start racing you’re a competitor and like everyone else I want to win. My stepmom has always said that my dad and I are so competitive but we’re not sore losers. I am thankful that she recognizes that. When I am racing, I am trying to win like everyone else, but when I am done even if my friend, such as Mandi Mastin, beats me she is still a friend and you support them in that. I am turning 40 this year and that passion hasn’t left me. You have to follow what your heart tells you to do! It’s hard not to get excited!SP: Off-road is definitely a family sport and I know that your husband helps you to get ready for the races. Can you elaborate on that?Nicole: My husband does everything! He’s very meticulous, so you know the bike is treated properly and ready to race. I love that he does the work on the bikes because he is good at it, however when it comes to the ISDE then it I have to step up to the plate since we are not allowed to have anyone but ourselves work on the bike.SP: Oooh, changing those tires so quickly on your own is insanely impressive!Nicole: Thank you! My husband has helped make me tools over the years and always makes me practice so that I can get faster. Before the Six Days he is always like, “Wife! Go change my tire!” That’s about the only time I do it. When you are actually at the Six Days and you have mechanical issues, there are people there that will help and tell you “OK, Nicole, You need to unscrew this, you need to do this you need to do that.” They are the brain and I am more a robot at that point. It’s sad to say, but I’m a kitchen designer and that’s what I am an expert at. I leave the mechanical stuff to Ben.
SP: How is working with Alan and Stillwell performance?Nicole: I appreciate that Alan sponsors us as women; honestly I think that sometimes people miss the boat there. When you take a 5’8″ 120lb girl that beats the majority of men in a local competition we’re drawing him more attention than a top 20 finish at an [outdoor] motocross race. Maria Forsberg-Hahn couldn’t be more talked about than anyone right now, so more people are looking at KTM’s, a lot of people. Maria is also a beautiful woman who happens to haul butt and beat a lot of men! I raced the Six Days with her in 2008 in Greece. This was her first ISDE and she knew I was capable of maintaining the pace and not dropping trail points therefore she would catch up to me in the transfer sections and ride with me. The girl is intelligent on top of it all. She is going to make an impression and go far in this sport. I think it’s great that Stillwell Performance, FMF and some other sponsors are helping out us women since we are so recognizable.SP: How do you think SP suspension has helped you be 3 for 3 in the H&H?Nicole: I will do my best to tell you and this probably drives Alan nuts, but [again] I am a kitchen designer not a mechanic. I don’t know much about the mechanics of suspensions, I just know when it rides good it is good! I have no clue what Alan is doing to make it good but I trust him. He loves those people that say “turn it one more click here and one click there” but I can’t tell the difference between one click and 5 clicks. My husband Ben can ride with me and gauge things better. He is the one setting it up, and then communicating back to Alan in English what I have communicated to him in Greek! (Laughs) The first valve Alan went off of what he thought my abilities were, height, weight and the courses we would be doing. Then, when my husband communicated to Alan where he had the settings set for the higher speeds Alan said, “Holy crap, she is going fast! We’re going to need to re-valve the whole suspension!” We sent him my other bike to get re-valved for the desert, and now its performing a lot better and allowing me to be at higher speeds and be more confident when I hit the big whoops and G-outs. While I am not a suspension guru, I know what he does for me and it’s amazing. If I ride a bike that doesn’t have his suspension, I generally tell them to take it back before I get hurt. His suspension is designed for going fast, when you see something nasty it is better to PIN it than to slow down!SP: It’s so great to see you doing so well, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to sit down with us! Good Luck at the next H&H!Nicole: Thanks!Keep up with Nicole and her race reports on her website here and also on www.stillwellperformance.com. Like us on Facebook!