Heather Rizzi sat on a stool in the cafe area of Plaine and Son, a local bike shop in Schenectady, and recalled one of the most memorable rides she’s organized, a ride that began at 5 a.m. at the Lowe’s in Clifton Park.
Dressed comfortably in a green T-shirt, khaki board shorts, and green Crocs, Rizzi said, “We didn’t think anyone would come and then this guy and his two sons, who had to be in like sixth grade, cruised up. We rode at their pace and it was pretty epic, a lot of fun.”
Rizzi’s favorite word seems to be “epic.” She used it six times in the course of a 30-minute interview. Considering the source, however, it makes perfect sense. Rizzi’s life is pretty “epic,” though she calls it “pretty normal.”
She is a 30-year old professional mountain biker and bike activist born, raised, and still living in Niskayuna. She rides in 24-hour races and 100-mile centuries, organizes community rides, and cleans up local bike paths, in addition to being a wife, raising a 13-month-old daughter, working at a local bike shop, running a cleaning business part-time, and holding down a sponsorship from GT bikes. Epic.
Rizzi started riding seriously when she was in high school. Her father brought her to Plaine and Son and bought the family bikes. “It was what we did as a family on weekends,” Rizzi said. Her passion for biking quickly took hold and soon progressed from riding the Central Park Trails in Schenectady to mountain biking in the same area.
Rizzi graduated from Niskayuna High School in 1997 and then attended Schenectady County Community College to study hotel and restaurant management. She spent the next few years living in Saratoga Springs and worked in various restaurants and hotels including the Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid. In 2001 she moved back to Niskayuna. “I needed to ride,” she said. “I missed the trails.”
Soon after her return, Rizzi went pro. She was working at Plaine and Son when a co-worker urged her to create a race resume. Rizzi had been racing on the side and had won quite a few races. “I sent my resume out to a bunch of bike companies and I heard back from Specialized Bikes so I started racing for them,” Rizzi said.
At the same time she was working closely with her father, Kurt Mason, and other local bike activists to clean up the Central Park trails because they needed a place to ride. She and her team would pick up trash, rake and clear the trails. “We wanted to get the bad news people out,” she said. “We really improved the trails, and now I see tons of people using them.”
She contacted the city to secure insurance for the trails. “They said, as long as the public is not complaining, you are okay. Oh, and could you pick up litter and stuff if you’re in there,” she remembers. “No one is responsible for these trails. It is a love effort from a collection of folks.”
Rizzi also set up a “Safe Route Program” in Niskayuna where students can bike to school safely without the hazards of busy roads. She teaches bicycle safety, too.
She holds rides at the new and improved trails every Thursday at 6 p.m. and has an open house afterward with burgers and beers for a nominal donation. She also organizes races and rides throughout the Capital Region mostly around the holidays including Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as two “centuries” (100-mile treks) in the summer, one in the spring and one in the fall.
When Rizzi was with Specialized she was ranked eighth in the world for mountain biking. She decided then that she would focus on biking exclusively. She left the restaurant industry behind and took on more responsibilities at Plaine and Son where she not only sold bikes but taught spin classes as well.
Rizzi took two years off after she lost her sponsorship with Specialized during her pregnancy with daughter Addison, who is already pushing around a kiddie tricycle. She’s back though, with a new sponsorship from GT and more local events than ever. She rides her bike everyday and loves getting new people into the sport.
“This area, I would say, has the largest biking community in the northeast,” Rizzi said. “It’s a huge community and I’ve seen a huge growth. I’ve seen everyday people turn into lovers of the sport.”
This sense of community is what Rizzi loves most about biking and what she hopes to accomplish with her local events. “I have about 700 people in my email and that’s the best part about riding, the places I’ve gone and the people I’ve met.” Her rides, races, and centuries in Clifton Park and elsewhere in the Capital Region have attracted people from all over New England and the northeast. “I love how involved everyone is,” said Rizzi.
Rizzi invites anyone and everyone to ride with her. Information on all her events, rides, and races can be found through her blog: http://heatherrizzi.blogspot.com.