I first met Melanie Rojas last May when I was attending the NICA NJ MTB series and helping out with pre-ride. And Melanie SHREDDED! She was super rad—and I knew I wanted to feature her in this series. Then, when we hopped on the phone a couple weeks ago, I was absolutely blown away by how well-spoken this 14-year-old is… And how great her advice was! Let’s talk getting into riding, choosing bikes over soccer, and finding friends on the trails.
Have you been out on the bike since the season ended and it got cold?
I’ve been riding, but then the weather turned to 7 degrees and my mom said absolutely not!
Why did you start riding bikes?
The reason I started riding bikes… Well, I had done soccer for 9 years and I wanted to try something different. I didn’t know much about it, but I thought it would be interesting. I thought it was going to be normal biking on the road, but it turned out to be something MUCH greater, mountain biking. So, I stuck with it and I love it. But if I didn’t like it, I would have tried a different sport—but after the second practice, I was in.
What was your favorite part?
The first time I did it, we practiced going around cones and I absolutely hated it. But the minute I got on the trail at the next practice, it was exhilarating. For most sports, like soccer, you feel exhilaration when the ball is coming towards you. Other times, it’s just running one way or the other and you don’t feel that exhilaration, you just feel like you have something to do. On the mountain bike, you feel the exhilaration the whole time. You just go, go, go, go, go. It’s fun! It’s not like other sports and it just grew on me.
What was the hardest part?
The least fun part just comes from courses that have a lot of technical stuff. I have a lot of speed now, I can do swerving, I can go up hills… But if there’s an obstacle on the hill, that’s still harder for me. But I pretty much enjoy all things in mountain biking.
What made you choose to focus on MTB?
My mom and I try the road riding in groups sometimes, and I tried cyclocross a little, but you just get too close to people. One wrong move could crash you. What I love about mountain biking is that you have space between you, or even a small group can ride together and be a bit spread out, so you always feel like you can move or speed up or slow down. Plus, if you crash, you don’t take three people down with you.
What was the best tip or trick you’ve ever been told?
The best one had to come from all my coaches. They all remind me about what I have to do. I’m a stubborn person, I admit. I want to do things my own way. It takes a lot for me to try something new. Mountain biking skills were like that. When it came to changing gears, I found it easiest to be in the easiest gear in the front and the hardest in the back. And that was seriously off-setting my chain. They got me to do the middle gear in the front and that way, I could change without cross-chaining the gears. It wasn’t an easy adjustment, and they had to remind me over and over again! But I finally took their advice and now I do that.
I have two. One is silly. I’ll say the good one first: I ended up going through my first race and coming in second place. During the race, I felt like my body was burning. It was so tedious! I’m not good with pressure in competition. But I kept going and going. I ended up in second and I was SO proud in that moment. I did something, I stuck to it, and it paid off. I was going to use my hardest chain ring to go up a grassy mountain (it was a hill but I call it a mountain), but I took my coach’s advice and shifted down and made it through. The other moment is silly. We were at practice, my coach and a few of us on the team. We were biking and I was in the lead because I love the course that’s here, and I ended up going way ahead. When we got to a fork in the trail, I took the wrong way by accident! I did it all differently, and ended up on a course too hard for me, but I made it through… It took them a few minutes to find me, and when they did, I was through the trail and staring at a porcupine! At the end of the mountain biking season, my team recognized me as the best athlete for the season because of how much I grew. I started the season really shaky, but became a lot more comfortable, and now I can ride!
Goals in cycling?
I do love mountain biking and I do want to get better and become a pro… But I know it’s going to take a while! I’m still trying everything I can in mountain biking. I love everything about it, and I’ll continue. I want to be at a higher level than I am right now. I can ride well but not as good as other people. I want to work more before I consider myself trying to be a pro, because you can’t be a pro just by biking for a few years and calling yourself one. You have to show that you’re dedicated, and that’s what I want to do.
Advice for other younger girls interested in riding?
I said this to a little girl chasing some boys on a tricycle in the little kids ride at a race and no one was expecting her to be that fast. I just told her, “I believe in you.” Even when there are a ton of guys, there are other girls here. And even if you’re not into it at first, I know that I wanted to quit the first day. I was hurt, I was getting dropped, I felt tired… But I also felt exhilarated. At least try it out a few times first… And don’t underestimate how hard it it: You’ll regret it!
Have you made friends through riding? Advice for talking to other girls/guys if someone is super shy?
I’m definitely shy. But when it comes to making friends in new groups, I try to act excited and show that, “hey, I’m really excited to see you guys!” And that usually helps. I found that I made a lot of friends when I joined the teams. There weren’t that many girls around, but I found that the ones that were were great, and most of the guys were pretty chill as well! But just have fun and keep up a positive attitude and you’ll make a few friends!