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Shifting Gears: The Artist

Story by Max Ritter

What does the rapper Kendrick Lamar have to do with mountain biking? Well, to be honest, not much, but Micayla Gatto made that connection when she broke the internet last summer with her Humble parody video. She wanted to make a statement, but not too seriously, about the state of women in the mountain biking industry. Now at nearly 1 million views, it has started to define an entire generation of female riders to take matters into their own hands and do it #ferdagirls.

Let’s step back a few years. Micayla Gatto has been a name in the mountain bike world for a while now, gracing podiums and event rosters since 2005. Her pro racing career started off with a bang, when she placed third as junior at the 2005 Livigno World Championships. But even before that, Gatto was into mountain bikes.

The Explorer

Gatto grew up on Vancouver’s North Shore in the early 1990’s, with at that point was already the mountain bike-crazed community it is today. “My upbringing was always very much focused on being outside,” she says, “I actually lived on a boat with my parents and brother every summer from the age of three until mountain biking fully took over.” Being in the middle of nowhere, in near-total isolation, gave her a real appreciation for nature, and she says, “I just can’t be inside for long periods of time!”

The summer boat life shaped her ambitions from early on, to the point where she wanted to become an Olympic sailor until she discovered mountain biking. Her brother, Trever, started riding bikes in the woods, and of course,

Gatto felt inclined to copy everything her brother did, and started riding when she was 12.“Of course, I wanted to do everything he did, but better,” she recalls.

A childhood spent in the outdoors—whether on her bike or sailboat—certainly influenced who she is today.

Of course, living on the North Shore, she immediately took a liking to riding her new mountain bike on stuff it was not intended for. Trever and her would go deep into the woods and build structures out of wood, rocks and dirt, often with help from their father, who was a woodworker and builder. “I was super cool in high school,” she recalls with a bit of a smirk, “I would hang out behind the school building with a group of about seven dudes, and we’d practice our wheelies and stuff.”

At the same time as discovering mountain biking, Gatto found her way into the world of art and creativity. Her grandparents were her first creative inspirations, a seamstress who sewed costumes for opera houses in France, and an architect who spent time painting and creating calligraphy. Growing up around this kind of family culture encouraged her to embrace her creative and artistic side. “I never thought that art would actually be a career option,” she says, “I didn’t understand that making art could actually pay me enough to make a living. Picasso didn’t get famous until after he died!” However, looking around, she realized that art could take many forms, and was especially inspired by the graphics on her snowboard, which ended up tying her worlds together: extreme sports and art.

Gatto's art can be found in many forms: apparel, murals, and even a tattoo for a friend.

After high school, she went to graphic design and illustration school at Vancouver’s Capilano University. Her time there taught her much more than how to paint, draw, and create beautiful images; it taught her how to market herself and make a career out of her passion. “It wasn’t just ‘paint your feelings!’ for your degree, they actually taught us how to do well in the world,” she says. Over the years, she has applied those skills to market herself to brands all over the spectrum and has had her designs featured on products from Lululemon, SuperFeet, and Retallack Lodge.

The Racer

While in art school, Gatto split her time between the classroom and racing UCI World Cup downhill. “I’m not entirely sure whether I would have called myself a privateer or not,” she says, referencing the riders who race at the elite level without support from a factory team, paying their own way. It was not until her last season, 2014, that she had an entire season paid for by Pivot Factory Racing. Over the years, she had bike sponsors like Commencal, but had to pay out of her own pocket to actually get to the race and feed herself while there.

Gatto did well as a racer, often placing high in the standings, especially for a female with no team support. She finally cracked the top five and podiumed at the Mont Sainte Anne in 2012. At age 24, it was a dream come true. “It was a life goal of mine,” she recalls fondly, and she harnessed that momentum to keep racing fast, but realized that balancing her professional life and racing life was definitely holding back her times. “Coming home after a day of work or school and being too exhausted to go to the gym was pretty common,” Gatto says, “but I really wanted to find a way to allow me to focus only on training to get even faster, it was almost selfish!”

For awhile Gatto found herself living a"split life", in which she had to balance her two passions: art and mountain biking. Now she's found her balance.

The Creator

With racing pretty much off the table after her Windham crash, Gatto re-embraced her passion of art and creation. In 2017, she was selected as an athlete in Crankworx Whistler’s annual video competition Dirt Diaries. Of course, she was super excited to have been chosen,

but was absolutely terrified of what lay ahead, and also noticed a bigger point of concern: she was the only girl selected as an athlete.

“I was like ohhhh man, I gotta represent for my girls,” she says, laughing, “but I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. I didn’t quite want to make a ‘shredit,’ because I’m allergic to those, and I knew that I’m not Brandon Semenuk, so my riding isn’t just going to be any crazy inspiration for anybody.” So, she approached IFHT, a Vancouver outfit who had started making a bunch of YouTube sketch comedy videos, many of them focused on mountain biking and ski culture, but all deep analyses of millennial culture.

Gatto knew that she anted to do something funny for Dirt Diaries, and saw that IFHT had exactly the flavor she wanted to give to her project. At first, IFHT declined, but after some nagging and perhaps some beer bribes, they finally said yes. “I really didn’t want to work with anyone else on this, so I knew it had to work out somehow,” says Gatto.

At first, the plan for the video was simply to do an all-women’s segment, but Gatto figured it was too boring with just that outline. “As soon as you hear all-women, I just picture these really cheesy, ‘yeah ladies! Let’s go chica!’ moments, and I think that’s really stupid,” she recalls. To her, all-female programs have their place, but it’s just not her style. For the video, however, she knew that she was in charge of how she portrayed herself, and trusted IFHT with their cinematic work, so she went in on it.

“I really wanted there to be Beyoncé vibes, with badass empowerment themes,” Gatto said about the video, “and IFHT came back and said, ‘why don’t we parody Kendrick Lamar’s Humble,’ and I was like shit, that’s my favorite song right now!” Gatto re-wrote the lyrics to her liking, considering just about everything that she or fellow females in the industry had struggled with for years. She took it all into account, including references to the Marzocchi Bomber girls of yore, a marketing play that included scantily clad porn stars to sell mountain bike suspension.

“I was actually sponsored by Marzocchi at one point, so I was representing this company that was using wet t-shirt contests to sell rear shocks,” Gatto says, “so I was thinking, ‘does that mean I need to do that kind of stuff?’” At the time, she noticed that to be a model for these brands either meant to be naked or you were the Missy Giove type, “full metal horns shredding,” as Gatto puts it, and she didn’t really relate to either. She wanted her Humble parody to include a call out of that, but also an affirmation of how far women have come in the mountain bike industry.

A merch design for Retallack Lodge. A place she refers to as her "second home".

Once production started, the creativity kept on flowing. In terms of the music, her team actually started from scratch, and recorded their own version of the beat, mostly to avoid copyright infringement.

In the end, Gatto says, “I really hope that Kendrick saw it, had a laugh, and thought damn, these white chicks are crazy.”

In terms of a reaction from her intended audience, Gatto was blown away. At Crankworx, she recalls women coming up to her in tears saying thank you and complimenting her on calling out and breaking down barriers in the industry. To her, it felt amazing. In reality, she doesn’t consider herself by any means a radical feminist, but rather saw that her message rang true and went a long way. More importantly, she was stoked to see that it was simply getting more people interested in the sport and sharing the same good times as her, boys included.