by Bettina Freese

I met Heather DeManigold, or, Heather Dangerous, as she’s known, waiting tables in a tiny vegetarian restaurant downtown Asheville. She rode her 1972 Pugeot road bike in to town every day to work and school, huffing those ten gears over the hills from Leicester. “If you’re gonna’ ride bikes, ride bikes,” she says. “It’s silly to say you love bikes and then not commute on one into town.”
It’s exactly this mentality that began Heather Dangerous’ passion for two wheels, which has been beautiful to watch grow from lust to love, her living room now a parking lot for her road bike, mountain bike, as well as a motorcycle and custom chopper.
In the lust stage she would get fresh with my mountain bike-staring at it, caressing it, riding it around the block and off the curb to feel the suspension. I’d have to keep an eye on her. It was fun to see someone so excited about bikes. So I took her to the woods, putting her on the old Rockhopper. It wasn’t the nicest thing to do, putting a first-timer on a 30-pound bike with only about two inches of front travel and sketchy front brakes. “I don’t need front brakes,” she said. So we went.
I was expecting this to be a gentle day with long waits as she tentatively approached roots and rocks. My theory dissipated in her dust as she tore off through the woods like she’d been set fire. If someone in front of her rode through a rock bed, she was riding through it, too, even if it resulted in a bloody crash. I had to work to keep her off my back wheel. She wrecked…hard…but it didn’t slow her down. She lost it at Bent Creek over the handlebars, down the waterbars to the feet of a group of strangers with twisted expressions: “LADY! Are you ok?”
“Very painful,” she said, before jumping back on the bike to catch up with the others.
“You instantly get style points for being a girl, and you get even more style points for crashing,” she says.
After two months of riding fast and crashing hard, she said, “I’m really looking forward to not crashing any more.” Two months later she changed her theory with a grin: “If you don’t crash, you’re not going fast enough.”
She befriended mountain bikers all over town, ensuring herself a bike and a riding buddy several times a week, getting good before she even got her own bike.
By the time she got her bike she was ready for a bigger ride. It took her a few rides to learn about pacing. At first she let her ego pedal for her, trying to stay on the wheel of the fastest rider. Although this mentality impressed us, and her brute strength frightened us, it ceased a bit when she learned about bonking. It was only once that I had to lie down mid-trail with her to feed her peanuts and gel shots. Experience taught her how much to push herself, and trail time taught her what to expect in a day’s ride.
She shows up at the trailhead in a 1920’s dress and changes into her riding gear-whatever shorts she has, and a pair of jeans for the downhills to protect her dented and scabby shins…and a helmet. She’s been known to lecture the professionals who tool around helmet-free. She’s not worried about an image. She’s concerned about her soul being light and free.
The boys immediately tested her on the gnarliest downhills in Pisgah National Forest, but could not break her resolve for more than the five minutes it took her to descend. She bled and cussed, but never stopped smiling. She was just happy to be in the woods, which is her first love. I’ve gone back to find her communicating with the fauna, petting baby fungus and hugging trees. She stops to let the wind blow in her smiling face and the sunshine to warm her. Mountain biking just meant she would be outside all the more-if she wasn’t on the river learning to open boat.
“Biking is an awesome life tool,” she says. “It’s the most direct way to improve your quality of life. It gives back a lot more than you give to it.”