GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Emily Oppliger

Tuesday Toolbox: Emily Oppliger

Tuesday, April 13, 2021 | 1:40 PM
Tuesday, April 13, 2021 | 1:40 PM

Up until now my favorite person who lived in a van was Matt Foley; Motivational Speaker, the fictional character portrayed by Chris Farley, on Saturday Night Live in the 90’s. For those reading this under the age of 25, his catch phrase, “Hello my name is Matt Foley, I am a Motivational Speaker and I live in a van down by the river!” Anyway, back to reality.

Matt was my favorite! That was until I spoke with Emily. I didn’t catch Emily’s middle name, but I’d be shocked to find out it’s anything other than, “Adventure.”

Unlike my favorite fictional character, Matt Foley, Emily’s life is one of REAL motivation. Motivation she uses to help herself and others. And yes, she did in fact live in her van for a while. By choice! Why? Well, you’ll just have to keep reading…

Emily Oppliger racing in the 2020 General GNCC Specialized Turbo eMTB race. Photo: Ken Hill
Emily Oppliger racing in the 2020 General GNCC Specialized Turbo eMTB race. Photo: Ken Hill Emily, thanks for joining me today! This is a bit of a Special Edition Tuesday Toolbox. You have raced with us at GNCC, but your primary job is with our Presenting Sponsor, Specialized. To get started, tell us a little bit about you!

Emily Oppliger: Yeah, thanks for having me! I’m originally from Michigan. The most northern part of Michigan actually. I always say it’s in the middle of nowhere, on your way to nowhere. The nice thing about growing up there was all the amazing mountain biking trails we have. That was obviously a huge influence on my journey. I now live in Salt Lake City, Utah, and work for Specialized as a Specialized USA Turbo Technical Specialist.

What put things in place for you to be able to get hooked up with Specialized out in Salt Lake City?

I had started racing mountain bikes in college for the university. I graduated with an Engineering degree but after college I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I worked in the field for awhile but realized it really just wasn’t for me. So, I moved into my van and started racing on my own, professionally. It gave me the opportunity to travel all around the US and Canada. I started Coaching at the same time. Skills Coaching for Mountain Biking. After about a year of that I started to run out of money. Being a self-funded racer, as I’m sure many GNCC riders can appreciate, is very difficult. So after having some fun I realized it was time to do the adulting thing and get myself a real job. I had networked really well being in the industry and working in a bike shop for 10 years as a mechanic, then of course racing put my name out there too. I interview with several different manufacturers, one being Specialized. I really wanted to move into the mountains and obviously Salt Lake City is one of the top spots I wanted to live. So that’s really how I got here working for Specialized.

Emily on the podium at GNCC after finishing second in the Women's eMTB class at the 2020 General GNCC. 
Emily on the podium at GNCC after finishing second in the Women's eMTB class at the 2020 General GNCC. 

Love a good road-warrior story! I think we all, to some extent or another, envy that freedom found in adventure. So what are you doing for Specialized now?

I work with the Turbo side of things. E-Bike Service Specialist. So I travel my territory which is made up of Utah, Montana, Colorado, and Idaho teaching bike mechanics how to work on them. I love it! I get to use some of my teaching skills with the mechanics on diagnostics and just generally how to fix things. I really love working with the E-Bikes because they’re so technologically advanced. It makes me feel more connected to my Engineering roots.

It really has taken the industry by storm. This is my fifth season with GNCC, and I remember when I started you might see a few Specialized E-Bikes. It was few enough that they caught your eye as something unique. Fast forward to today and you’re more likely to be surprised to see someone pedaling the track on a bike that’s NOT an E-Bike. They’re everywhere. And obviously, since Specialized is our Presenting Sponsor we love seeing that! Obviously, I’m paid by my bosses at GNCC to promote sponsors throughout the race weekend, but I genuinely mean it when I talk about how helpful the folks at Specialized are at the track. They’re always willing to share their knowledge about the bikes and what it can do for a rider’s race program.

Yeah seeing the transition to E-Bikes has been pretty amazing. When I was racing full-time, they weren’t quite as popular as they are now. They were out, but just hadn’t really gained much popularity. Now looking back I really wish I’d had one to train on. Both for down-hill racing and Enduro racing. They make you such a better rider. How you ride them too, you’re a little more cautious about your cadence and your power. All those things I didn’t really focus much on before. I was just focused on sprinting. They’ve most the sport forward so much too. Even on a rest day, they allow you to get a little seat time in and train without over-working yourself. It’s been fascinating watching how people have come to understand them better too. When they first came out there was this perception that it was like a toned-down motorcycle. Is it a motorcycle? Is it a bike? Now a lot more people are coming to an understanding of what they are. This has helped us get them onto more public trails where they weren’t allowed before. I know there are people who have health issues and really can’t ride a standard bicycle. So things like the Specialized E-Bikes allow them to keep riding when they otherwise couldn’t. Then from a racing perspective, Enduro, Cross Country, Down Hill and then GNCC is so special in itself. I raced one last season in Georgia, and it was absolutely EYE-OPENING. It’s unlike any other bike race I’ve been to.

Emily coaching at one of her many women's clinics. She has also coached in Switzerland at a Women’s Global Summit.
Emily coaching at one of her many women's clinics. She has also coached in Switzerland at a Women’s Global Summit.

You’ve raced all over the place. What was the GNCC like for you?

It was unbelievably fun! It was so cool; I’ve never had such an adrenaline rush on a bike before. You’re all out the entire time you’re racing. Going 20MPH the whole time. Any other race I’ve done you’re mentally planning during the race on when you’re going to take a break, looking for the section where you can take your hands off the bars to recover and loosen up a little bit. But GNCC, nope, you don’t get time for that. It’s full out and flat out the entire time. I loved it!

You run some rider clinics. Tell us about those!

Yes! Thank you so much for bringing that up. It’s kind of my job in-between my normal job and racing. It’s something I love to do. I’ve been coaching nearly as long as I’ve been racing. They’re generally Women’s Clinics. I coached in Switzerland at a Women’s Global Summit which was amazing. I’ve been able to meet some amazing people doing this. I’ve coached everyone from beginners to advanced riders. I run a full clinic back in Michigan. I travel back there from Salt Lake every year to be a part of it. It’s a bit of a fund-raiser for the Copper Harbor Trails Club and Copper Harbor Women’s Weekend, which is in Michigan. It sells out really quick! There’s a waiting list of around 200 people. For the ladies it can be difficult, honestly a lot of them get involved because their husband or boyfriend asked them to join. But the ladies start enjoying it and want to make it as much their thing as their significant other’s. They want to change their story and make it their own and build the tools they need so that mountain biking can be their thing and not just something they’re tagging along for. It’s very special to me! I don’t do it as much as I used to, but I still get to be involved and I’m thankful for that.

We’re only one round into the season for the GNCC eMTB Season. Are we going to get to see you at any of the rounds this year?

I hope so! It’s looking good! I got my vaccine and I’ve been talking to Dave Richard and I’d really like to come back down for one! It’s nice to come back to the east coast!

Anything else you wanted to add?

Everyone should at least try out an E-Bike! They open so many opportunities for riders. More communities and trails are opening up to them which is good for everyone! Legislation is being passed that helps our sport and we need to take advantage of that. I’m thrilled to see how GNCC has embraced the E-Bikes. We need more of that! I work for Specialized so obviously I highly recommend them being your brand, but honestly, even if it’s not a Specialized start riding and start learning about them. We all gotta come together and work together. Anything that moves us toward more E-Bike trails and opportunities.

One last thing, any sponsors you’d like thank? I know you’re not racing professionally anymore but I’m sure there someone. If not, where can folks find you in the world of Social Media?

Yeah, I don’t have the sponsorships like I used to when I was racing but obviously, I want to give a huge thanks to Specialized! They’ve been great to me and I’m proud to be a part of them! And people can find me on Instagram, @emily_oppliger.

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