Like many people, Nicole Duke sees clothing as an extension of personality—what separates Nicole from the rest is that she’s turned this idea into a personal ethos. Her clothing isn’t just a projection of her personality, it’s part of who she is. I’ve never encountered a woman more true to herself; it’s impossible not to feel inspired after talking with her. Nicole lives her life with determination and passion—she knows what she wants and never does anything half-assed.
Nicole Duke took the racing world by storm and continues to make an impact by mentoring fledgling riders, commentating races, and designing new cycling apparel. I am so excited to see what’s in store for Nicole, especially with the release of her new line of cycling apparel on the horizon.
Zoe: Who is your favorite clothing designer?
Nicole: Without a doubt, my favorite designer is Alexander McQueen. I admired his ability to go to the extreme. Creative genius takes a different kind of sensitivity to the world/universe, and a lot of times it’s too much to take. I’ve always felt stifled by acceptable standards of dress in society. This is why I also admire indigenous tribes and their customs around dress and adornment. Their personal decor tells a story, comes from the soul, is inspired by nature, and seems to have very little barriers. Bones, feathers, war paint, leather, plants, elaborate jewelry, tattoos: all natural, all expressions of self.
I believe our dress has become more and more stifled and dull as time has passed. Personal style is a way to tell your own story to the world and if you feel bold and strong one day then show it, soft and feminine the next then show it again. I don’t believe in being locked into one style, I love it all, just like my music. My own style has a strong connection to the Native Americans, masculine and feminine, and is deeply rooted through my beliefs and nature. Many days I will protect myself in black, armor myself with leather, and am always tempted to wear my feather mohawk. I admire others who show a style that gives me a glimpse into who they really are.
I like when people push limits, go obscure and can make something their own. My other favorite designer would be Hunter King, he’s currently helping me with my #DirtDuchess clothing line and shares a lot of the same aesthetics and beliefs on style as I do. He’s also just an amazing human being—well rounded and very in tune.
Zoe: What made you choose cycling?
Nicole: Literally, I did choose cycling and more specifically professional cycling. I grew up riding dirt bikes, surfing, skating, and competing at a high level in soccer. I received a college scholarship as a striker, and after the first year I was completely burnt out I vividly remember the moment in 1992 when I thought to myself, “I want to be a professional athlete, but soccer is no longer for me—so what is it going to be?” Growing up, I couldn’t remember a day going by when I wasn’t on my bike or a motorcycle. Naturally my next thought was, “Mountain biking it is!” I had never done it professionally, but decided at that moment that it’s what I was going to do. It was definitive.
The early to mid 90’s were the heyday of mountain biking and it was considered all the rage. Growing up in Florida, there wasn’t much mountain biking to be had, but I had always twisted a throttle on a motorcycle, which mimicked the speed of flying down mountains on a mountain bike. That summer after my first year of college I returned home, walked into a local bike shop and declared to the staff that I was going to be a professional mountain biker and needed to put a bike on layaway! I chose a Cannondale Delta V and put down what I had from savings and bonds that my grandparents had given me over the years. I can only imagine the remarks that went on after I left the shop that day, “Yeah right, she’s gonna be a pro, OKAY, whatever.” I then proceeded to get a job as a hostess for the summer at my favorite Mexican restaurant and applied every check to my new pride and joy. I visited the shop and got to know the guys, eventually paid off my bike and started riding with them. I actually slept with my new bike by my bed for the first week.
The beginning was not pretty—bruises, scrapes, etc.—but I was fully determined and would ride sections over and over until I mastered them. I then started to gain the respect of the boys, started working at the shop, and then racing and winning everything I entered. It was blind determination that lead me through that time. After a year of cross country racing I moved to Atlanta and discovered downhill and dual-slalom racing. What the hell was I doing for the past year? This was certainly my thing! The adrenaline rush, the execution of skill, all of these things I had become accustomed to on my motorcycle since the age of 7.
A year later after winning the overall on the National NORBA circuit as an expert, I turned pro and got invited to my first pro event: the Kamikaze at Mammoth Mountain. Years later, I would walk back into that shop where I bought my first mountain bike, see my posters on their wall and we would laugh about the day when that crazy girl walked in the shop thinking she was going to turn pro.
Zoe: Are there any websites you check everyday?
Nicole: Really, I would love to come up with something prolific for you but mostly I only have time for email, social media, Pinterest, some Youtube, and Cycling News. My children take up most of my time, they are my real-life website.
Zoe: Who are your style icons?
Nicole: I really love Daphne Guinness’ style. I dream of having the kind of money that can buy a wardrobe such as hers. If I did I’d be labeled a freak for sure. I love her sleek warrior vibe and her ability to live life as a piece of art. She’s an elegant badass.
Other that that I look to the indigenous people of North, Central and South America, I love the textiles they create and their ability to blend simple with elaborate details to create a cohesive look
Lastly my biggest influence is the Ocean. I live for the water and it is a big part of my creative soul and connectedness to this earth. Every time I’m near the Ocean I feel alive and begin to create more… of everything.
Zoe: What is your favorite cycling kit?
Nicole: I’m envious of the old Paola Pezzo kits; really it’s just about that gold and silver she used to wear. I’ve begged and pleaded with clothing companies to find something like this but it’s just not available. Could you imagine a gold lamay snakeskin skin suit!?
The first time I really thought about bringing something new into kit design was when I saw local clothing company Panache bring out houndstooth and make it theirs. I loved the simple but effective design. There are so many amazing kits out there now, it would be hard to choose just one.
Sites/Brands I pay attention to are Ten Speed Hero, Black Sheep, Cadence, Panache, WTFKits, Manual for Speed, and Squid Bikes. I want to bring out a line of kits with optional accessories… you know fringe, tails, high collars, lace inserts, shoulder pads, etc., you get the idea. So, the long answer, hopefully mine is my favorite, the next one I create!
Zoe: What are you most grateful for?
Nicole: Without a doubt I am most grateful for my children, my family, and friends. My close friends are my constant. I can’t imagine surviving in this crazy world without close friends.
Zoe: Who are your cycling heroes?
Nicole: When I first started, Missy Giove was very gracious and helped me so much. I had no idea what I was doing with my bike. I looked up to her for her freedom of expression, not only in her personal style but also her passionate way of racing and riding. She was fiery, always putting it all out there and was not afraid. She is also a very sweet and loving person. I admired that juxtaposition.
Another person I would also say is a hero, friend, and has championed my career is SRAM’s Alex Wassmann. We’ve known each other since I started in ’95 and he’s always supported me and has let me be exactly who I am. Being in and out of the industry as long as I have, I’ve come to learn that people like Alex don’t come along that often. He scares the shit out of me on downhills on a road bike—I have never seen anything like it. For a man of his stature he climbs like a freak. He is a man that also pays attention to style due to his degree in fine arts.
Zoe: Favorite place to ride?
Nicole: I’ve ridden so many amazing places around the world but I will choose to stay more local. Crested Butte Colorado, Phil’s World in Cortez, Co, and Santa Cruz. I’m over the days of riding ‘the gnar.’ I want fast flow. I was always best at cornering so I really enjoy being able to rail the turns. On the road, I love California… from mountains to coastline, it’s my place.
Zoe: Is there a fabric or pattern that you like most?
Nicole: The chevron pattern always gets me. It’s classic and just works in so many different ways. I’m also creating a kit with snakeskin right now and am totally obsessed. Black lace, I always seem to come back to… Hmm, now I’m thinking black lace skin suit… Yeah, that’s on the radar. Most days you will find me wrapped in my Mexican blanket… boy if that thing could talk. Well, I guess that’s a lot but I’m kind of obsessed with textiles. In my next life I might be a textile designer and curator.
Zoe: What can you not live without?
Nicole: Even though I have tried, right now the answer is my boyfriend Ben Berden. OH!… and La Croix sparkling water.
Zoe: What song gets you pumped up to ride?
Nicole: I used to have to listen to music before every race. In my downhill days it was stuff like Pantera, The Cult, Helmet, Fugazi, Ministry, etc. Early in my ‘cross career it was Volbeat, Madonna (ha), Rhianna, Jack White, Arctic Monkeys. I’m really inspired by Jack White: his music, his style, and his process. I eat up what ever he puts out: music, interviews, and documentaries. I love how he choses to make everything hard on himself, he goes for the guts, the roots. He’s passionate, articulate, insanely talented, and real. To me he’s the World Champion of music.
Zoe: What are you working on? Currently, what has you the most excited?
Nicole: I’ve recently come to the end of my professional racing career so it is a huge transition time for me. I’ve been working on building my coaching business and will hopefully be working more with Rebecca Rush and SRAM next year. I have a dream of having my own event here in Boulder next summer, or the next so that’s on the plate. It scares the shit out of me and at the same time fires me up.
I’ve been working with designer Hunter King on my clothing line and have been out promoting it by racing in the kits at various national events. I am hoping to have them available for purchase soon at Dirtduchess.com, and a new company I will be working with in early spring. I’m working on refining the brand, logo, designs, etc. before I make a big launch. I’m so intrigued by this process that I have started to learn Adobe illustrator. I have to say it’s a big challenge for me and I’m enjoying the process, although it’s sometimes slow and painful. Where is that blind determination that I had when I started mountain biking!?
Being a hairstylist since 2002, I’ve used the profession to supplement my cycling career. I am starting to open myself up to more clients; this also fuels my creative passion.
My largest body of work is my children. I’ve found since I stopped training I’ve been able to open up to them so much more and facilitate their growth in different areas. As a single mom I sometimes get very overwhelmed and wish that I had more time to cultivate their every dream. To be honest, my son has been an ongoing project for years as he struggles in life in big ways. It’s hard as a parent to watch your own child being tortured by internal conflict. Most recently, I was able to dedicate more time to him at the races because I was not as concerned with my results, and it enabled him to start racing. He’s changing because of this sport and finding greater self-confidence in it.
Amazing how the bike has come back around for me. It’s given me so much and now it’s returning once again for my children. It’s all about them for now. I do what I can to make ends meet for them in the best way I know how. I will always be passionate and pursue the things I love and hopefully this will rub off on them. My daughter, she will be the rock star she dreams of being, and my son will be the artist he already is, as the universe touches him at a deeper level than most.
And lastly, it’s about getting my resume out there and networking. I’m looking for a job in the industry to utilize the years of experience and knowledge I’ve accumulated. Life: It’s an ever evolving journey.
[Title image by Ben Duke of Duke Media Solutions]