Luna Chix: A Vision For Women’s Cycling
By Tara R. McKee
How It All Began
As Lydia romped and played on the beach, her parents Gary and Kit watched over her and contemplated her future. It was 2001, the year Lance Armstrong would win the Tour for the third time, and Gary, who was an avid cyclist, wondered where the female athletic role models were for his young daughter. What if he could create an all-women cycling team and run it like the most professional men’s cycling teams of Europe? Men had an advantage in cycling for decades with well-funded teams, and he reasoned, if a female cycling team had the same resources, might they have the same success?
Gary Erickson was the founder of Clif Bar which had a lot of success with the launch of the Luna Bar, an energy bar for active women. Not long after his family’s trip to the beach, with encouragement from Kit, he started on his new project: the launch of a pro women’s mountain biking team, to be named the LUNA Chix. The team would have managers, coordinators, mechanics and a soigneur just like the men’s teams. (A “Soigneur” takes care of the racers; feeding and clothing them, escorting them on their rides and giving massages after hard workouts or races.) The LUNA Chix started their recruiting from mountain biking’s top women. One of the women they approached that year was Marla Streb, one of the best downhill racers in the world.
From Commuter to Pro Cyclist
Marla Streb once used her bicycle to get to her job as a research scientist. She enjoyed her rides to work so much that she started taking the long way home, and taking her bike out for a spin at lunch, riding through the woods when she could. She was getting so fit from her daily bike rides that she took the suggestion of a friend and entered a mountain bike race in Big Bear, CA. To her own surprise, she did well and she had a blast. After a year, she traded in the research science job for a new life as a pro mountain biker. There was still a learning curve though: “I quickly learned how to ride….not always very well because I crashed an awful lot but within a couple years, I was winning races, some pretty big races: national championships. I won the X-Games one year and the World Cup one year and a couple single-speed world championships.”
Marla’s specialty was racing the bike straight downhill. She claims that downhill racing isn’t just an adrenalin rush. “After a while it’s like making a cake, you just follow the recipe. You’re following the lines that you planned out. I used to draw everything on a map and I would write what gear I was in and which line I was taking, and where I was actually looking. It was so calculated that adrenalin really wasn’t an issue.”
In 2001, when Marla met representatives from LUNA Chix, she knew this was a team she really wanted to be on. In those early years, the team was recruiting mostly cross-country mountain bike racers, but Marla “strong-armed” her way on the team as a downhiller and was one of the first racers signed. She continued her winning ways on the LUNA team, enjoying a long career: “It has been an incredible ride. I consider the pinnacle of my career to be on a team as successful and professional as the LUNA Chix.”
For its first few years, the pro team specialized in mountain biking, eventually branching out to include multi-sport team members who were triathletes and XTERRA specialists and they were all good at climbing to the top of the podiums. The team now has Ironman winners and XTERRA National Championships in addition to World Cup Mountain Bike Winners. In fact, the team is the number one women’s mountain biking team in the world.
LUNA Chix didn’t stop there; they expanded their program across the country with branches of amateur and recreational racers including both cyclists and runners: about 270 ambassadors of the LUNA program. The word “ambassador” is one Marla uses because these women not only train together and support each other but host clinics to teach and inspire other women in their communities. Most importantly both the pro team and the local teams raise money for the Breast Cancer Fund.
Marla retired from her pro career last year and has settled nicely into a job as pro team manager working for LUNA Chix, as well as publicist for the team and for the LUNA Sports Gear clothing line which was launched in 2009. Marla is very involved with the clothing line. “It’s a natural extension of the Pro Team which inspired the clothing line as well as the 270 amateurs. It made sense to make something from scratch because it seemed like… they were using either men’s cycling clothes or men’s clothes that were changed into women’s clothes. We found that our pros demanded the custom clothing. Then we thought, why don’t we create something that everyone can buy so all women can have access to it? So we started the line from scratch; I say ‘from the ground up and the breast back down.’ It is incredible clothing. It’s for moderate to serious riders, but also any rider that wants to look good when getting on their bike…who want the most flattering fit and the best materials.”
LUNA continues to evolve. Their pro team signed Amy Dombroski, a young racer who does well in several disciplines: cyclo-cross, cross-country mountain biking and road biking. They also added to their multi-sport program by signing on Jane Kibii, a young Kenyan distance runner. The LUNA Sports Gear has expanded their clothing line for spring 2010 with more cycling clothing as well as several active wear pieces for running. LUNA Chix local teams are continuing to expand into other communities across the country. Both the pro team and the amateur teams have raised substantial money for Breast Cancer Fund and are truly becoming the athletic role models for young girls across the country as Gary Erickson once envisioned.