Dirt it More: Interview with Magda Szczekutek
Some time ago I managed to address my shyness and get in touch a lady that I was following for a while. As some of you might know I come from Poland and Magda Szczekutek is a girl from my home turf that some of you will know as a Dirt it More rider. She travels around Europe shredding trails that I am definitely envious of during the winter. I wanted to find out how she became a rider and what her life on the road is really like. If you speak Polish, you can find a translation here.
Cranky Betty: Where did the interest in bikes come from?
Magda Szekutek: Before I even knew mountainbiking I had a different passion, climbing. This was back in the 90s when i was still in college and I found myself amongst a community that loved being in the mountains. Unfortunately this hobby ended badly for me after few years, I had a serious spine injury that still affects me today. That excluded me from ‘normal life’ for few months and after that I never went back to climbing. The love I had for climbing, and the illness after the injury, shaped me in my later life. I used to be much braver in everything I did, many people thought of me as a crazy girl that can do anything and it kind of was like that. The injury “taught me a lesson” and turned my life upside down.
These days I think about things a few times when I am trying to overcome challenging sections on a bike. I am fully aware that something that would look like a harmless fall can finish up much worse, perhaps something that we avoid discussing in mountainbiking too much. Four years ago I had another fall on a straight section of a trail which hurt my kidneys, it hurt a lot and it took a long time to heal. Like many people I think that the fear of getting hurt is what seriously stops my development on a bike. I never had much of a plan to take part in races, but I know that I could ride much better and faster than I do now. My technique is quite good, but the only thing that stops me is my head.
Coming back to the question; after my adventures in climbing and being resigned to staying at home I started playing computer games. That was the beginning of online gaming and forums. I have co-founded many websites about online gaming, went to meetups and I met lots of interesting people. One of those people was a guy that told me all about mountain biking. As we were both from Warsaw, he took me to a hill called Kazurka (currently Kazoora Bike Park) where there was (and it still is) a 4X track. In 2005 I met Jan Killinski there for the first time. You could say that it was fate, we didn’t talk much the first time we met but after a few months we were dating, and remain together to this day.
At the beginning I didn’t want to get into the extreme downhill riding. After about two years of going to races together, Janek first was racing 4X and then dirt, I got my first mountain bike, mainly because I needed a form of transport. It stopped me being left behind as everyone was on bikes and I was the only one that wasn’t. It was a Kona Scrap that Janek won in the Czech Republic.
During a bike festival in Szklarska Poreba Janek suggested that we should try going down the ski slope to see if I liked downhill mountain biking. I only had a helmet, no pads and only a rear brake. I didn’t know that I shouldn’t be breaking all the time and after about 300 meters, my brake stopped working. I am sure that it was the fastest I have ever gone on a bike. By the time I made it to flat ground I managed to stop and yell loudly that it was not for me. We still kept going to the mountains together, but it was four years ago when I realised I was into mountain biking enough to start calling it my passion. This was in part due to riding bikes with two brakes.
CB: How did you become part of Dartmoor/DirtItMore/Foxhead Polska team?
MS: Dirt it More it is a project that Janek and me created together. The goal is to make mountain biking popular in Poland, building bike tracks and putting on festivals or parties. Currently we also offer marketing work for the biking sector and provide assistance with bike tourism and training. As well as me and Janek there are few more people in the “crew” who love cycling as well.
With Dartmoor bikes it is a bit different. At the beginning, when the company was very young, they started sponsoring a few people including Janek. That was a time of very intensive development for dirt jumping in Poland. Unfortunately Janek had 2 serious injuries that excluded him from professional racing at the time, but it opened a route for him as a designer of bike parts. Dartmoor was developing fast and at the beginning I gave him a few ideas for the names of the products that are still used now.
Two years later Dartmoor were looking for a person to handle their social media. As marketing is my hobby and some time profession I thought it would be a great time to mix biking and work. Apart from taking care of Social media I also take care of marketing and contact with team members, I also film most of the product films and some of the ‘action videos’ too.
Collaboration with Fox head Polska came quite naturally as I was a fan of the brand for a long time. Because we travel so much we can offer high quality and very unique photos and videos. The Polish distributor for Fox has had a big impact on the biking scene in Poland and I am very proud that I can continue to work with such a professional and influential brand.
CB: How do you deal with long travels around Europe? What is your favourite place and why?
MS: I love travelling and that is one of my favourite activities. I quickly assimilate myself into a new place. I like that sometimes I would write on my social media where I would be and people would reach out to me who live there or have been there, they would give advice on where it is worth riding, what to see or most importantly what to eat. I am so happy that I have friends all over the world. Wherever we go, there would be a person to help or hang out with. Our van is customised for long rides and we have a very comfy bed and a large kitchen, so we are not worried about all the time on the road.
What kind of problems do we encounter whilst travelling for a long time?
Sometimes it is really hard to find a good shower! Both of us work remotely so the internet is a necessity and sometimes we would lose lots of time trying to find a place where we could work peacefully.
It is really hard to pick a favourite place. I do not like cities that much. I do enjoy great architecture, however like many mountain bikers it is nature and the outdoors that I am drawn to. I would love to go back to Croatia, I love the coast but also the countryside, it really differs so much from the popular holiday destinations and I enjoy riding in the wide open spaces that are are sparsely populated.
During our month long trips around Europe we chose back roads and stayed away from motorways. Travelling from Livigno to Chatel we decided to go through the Swiss mountains. Driving by huge drops and near snowy peaks, breathing in fresh cold air. We kept on stopping all the time just to have a look. That was the most beautiful mountainous landscapes that I can remember and despite the fact we could have done this journey much faster, I don’t regret taking our time.
It is very easy to say which is my favourite bike park; that would be Chatel. There are tracks for everyone; beginners and the more advanced bikers. The bike park is being rebuilt and new tracks are being made and the old ones are being revamped. I can’t wait to ride Chatel again.
CB: Are you planning to find other places to visit in the future? How about England?
MS: Every year we go to new places and there are many bike parks in Europe which we still haven’t been to yet or are yet to discover. At the moment we have no plans to go to England, but we will be travelling a lot this season. In the Autumn we are planning a longer trip to Asia, taking in Taiwan and the Philippines. We want to mix sightseeing with riding. My other bike-related dream is to go to Whistler, but so far it’s not on the cards. Maybe next year we will make it over to Canada or South America, we will see.
CB: How is it to work so closely with a bike manufacturer? Does that help with aiming the products towards female audiences?
MS: Dartmoor bikes is not a huge company and it isn’t hiring lots of people. We are a brand very close to riders and we listen to their needs. We read the comments and analyse the market. You can meet us in the mountains, ride with us, talk to us and tell us your opinion. When testing the prototype 2017 Dartmoor Hornet we received a number of constructive comments from testers, and as a result we made changes to the design of the bike before mass production.
I am personally very engaged in creating and introducing new products to the market. I personally test, rate and provide feedback. At the moment, apart from tech-tees, there are no specific Dartmoor products for women, but the sizing of Darmoor bikes should work for most women.
CB: How popular is downhill/enduro in Poland? What part of it do you think are women?
MS: Downhill continues to be a niche discipline in Poland. Enduro, like in the rest of Europe, is growing dynamically and brings in more riders from other disciplines like XC and DH. Lots of people start or move over to riding enduro because it is a ‘gravity’ discipline so there is the adrenaline rush but also the bikes are lighter and more agile than downhill rights and you can generally use them both on bike park tracks or some natural terrain out in the forests.
I regularly see more women on bikes these days. Enduro is more popular amongst women from what I have seen, whereas Downhill is very specific, injury-prone discipline and the number of girls riding DH increases slowly in Poland. Another reason why DH continues to have a limited appeal in Poland might be the number of tracks to practice on. Until recently in Poland there have been hardly any good quality DH tracks, particularly in comparison to countries like France, Germany and the UK.
CB: What are the obstacles for women wanting to start out in mountainbiking? How have they changed? Were there any obstacles/difficulties for you?
MS: In my opinion the obstacles and barriers are only in our heads, no matter the gender. We create our own goals and we achieve them on our own. If our dream is to ride a bike, the only person that can stop us is ourselves. In many bike parks I often see whole families riding bikes. None of them wondering if it was a ‘female’ or ‘male’ sport. I really like that approach and I would love it if mountain biking was treated just like skiing or snowboarding in the winter, where gender appears to be less of an issue. My biggest obstacle remains the fear of serious injuries and I am trying to fight that one everyday.
CB: Where is it best to go biking in Poland?
MS: The greatest riding spot all year round in Poland is Zar Mountain (near Zywiec). This year there will be a family track that will allow even beginner riders to enjoy the mountain. I would also recommend the bike park in Kluszkowce, because that is where I lived with Janek for a while. It is a great place for beginners to advanced riders and there are brilliant enduro trails in Bielsko nearby. If anyone is thinking of coming to visit Poland for a riding session then just get in touch and I would be happy to recommend the best places to ride, and maybe even see you out on the trails!
March 22, 2017