Out of the Blue | Melissa Harten | Presented by Schrader’s

By Jensen Amyotte

Presented by Schrader’s

Name: Melissa Harten

Date of Birth: March 25, 1984

Hometown:  Ottawa, Ont.

School/Grade or Occupation: Calgary Firefighter

Race Number:  53

Bike: Beta 350rr

Race Club: AMSA off-road

Classes: Ladies Expert

This week, we feature Off-Road Pro, Melissa Harten. | Mary Rinell photo

Who got you into the sport?         

 It was 2008 at the age of 24, I was new to Calgary and a friend I met collected 80’s bikes and I asked if I could try it. So away we went to Mclean Creek on a 1984 XR200 and I was hooked. I immediately started looking for my own bike and bought a 1996 XR 250. From there I didn’t know a lot of people, but I really wanted to keep riding.So I got on the old Google machine and found The Rocky Mountain Dirt Riders Club and Sportsmans rides. I met so many awesome people that took me under their wing and helped me navigate the sport of off-road and single-track.  

When not on a dirt bike, how do you keep yourself busy?    

I’m really not that interesting, dirt biking consumes most of my free time. I have two dogs, I enjoy home renovations, and crossfit. We’re usually so busy racing in the summer that come winter I like to stay home and hibernate. I wanted to give back to the sport so I joined the AMSA Off-road Board of Directors in 2015 and that has turned into a part-time job. There’s a lot of work that happens behind the scenes that people don’t realize is all done by volunteers.

As someone who has raced, are there any obstacles you feel a female racer has to deal with that maybe a male racer does not?       

That’s a tricky question. I feel like there have been difficulties, but so many women are laying down the groundwork for change. We’ve always had really skilled women racers that competed at high levels, we just didn’t always have the numbers that justified creating separate classes.

In the last 5 years, AMSA Off-road has established 4 women’s classes – Beginner, Junior, Intermediate, and Expert – and I’m really proud that we have a place for every skill set. We still struggle to get payouts for the highest level of women’s racing.

I also think a lack of information is an obstacle. I don’t think many people realize the caliber of riders we have here in Alberta. In 2019 we had a true Canadian National where everyone competed at the Corduroy Enduro in Ontario, and it was Shelby Turner, Myself, Lexi Pechout, Jannie Devin Lamontagne, and Kristen Broderick that were your top 5 Women’s Pro podium and we are all from Alberta. How can you not take pride in the level of riding that is being set by these riders?!

Melissa got into the sport late at 24, but has more than made up for lost time. | Ashleigh Kaliszuk photo

Who is your all-time favourite rider?        

Purely speaking about women in the sport, a Canadian Champion I met a few years ago, Chantelle Prochnau. She’s a beast on a bike, very supportive, and we quickly became friends. She’s taken some time off to start a family, but I’m sure you’ll see them around the B.C off-road events.

On a larger world-over scale there are so many talented women crushing goals in off-road. I like to keep an eye on Laia Sanz, Sandra Gomez, Kirsten Landman, Shelby Turner, Rachelle Gutish, Louise Forsely, Becca Sheets, Brandy Richards, Tayla Jones, Emma Bristow. There are so many to watch in all disciplines.

Considering all the different terrains you ride on, which do you feel you excel at the most and why?

100% off-road single-track. I’ve been working on speed the last couple of years, but I’m my most comfortable when it’s technical. I really like Endurocross and Extreme Enduro, all the races that really push you and your technical skill set. We are really lucky to have had Red Bull Rocks & Logs in the past and we still have a great track to practice on at the Wild Rose Motocross Park in Calgary.  You can find us down there practicing drills. We also have some of the best single-track, being so close to the mountains. 

Now a firefighter in Calgary, Melissa is close to the mountains and some of the best terrain found anywhere. | Ashleigh Kaliszuk photo

Is there an event you look forward to most every year?

ALL THE RACING. I just love racing. I believe it takes all your hard work and practice on the bike and quantifies your progression. Racing sets a uniform standard for what’s expected, the course doesn’t care if you’re a man or woman. It’s about a skill set and I love taking that challenge. Racing is a craft, it takes time and hard work, and it’s just different than trail riding with your friends. Finishing is such a HIGH and the sense of accomplishment is like no other. Outside of yourself, it introduces you to many different riding areas and an amazing group of like-minded people.

Who has been your biggest inspiration/hero on and off the track?      

I don’t think she knows this, but Suzanne Pelletier was the top Ladies Expert rider when I got into the sport in 2008. She worked at Blackfoot Motorsports and took people for guided rides (myself included). I had the biggest girl crush and I used to say to myself, “I want to be like Suzanne, sponsored and a Champion.”

It’s weird to think back on that thought, because it’s all come true. I ride for Beta Canada and I’ve won several championships. I still ride with Suzanne today and I think the biggest inspiration comes from everyone around you. You see what they are doing and it makes me want to keep pushing myself. 

Tell us about your 2020 season and your plans for 2021. 

My fiancé, Stephen Foord, was in a bad rollover accident coming home from a ride in Mclean in August 2019 and broke his neck. He loves racing and it was going to be hard getting him to focus solely on his recovery. So COVID took care of that for me, when everything was canceled for 2020.

It was actually nice having the time to connect with friends and just trail ride. We’re typically pounding the pavement every weekend going from event to event.

2021 is here and he’s still not 100% recovered, so we’ll just have to see what happens and if there are any races. If all goes to plan I’ll be racing Ladies Expert in AMSA and following the CXCC-West Championship. They finally created a Women’s Pro class in the AMA Extreme Championship and I would love to get down to the US to compete, but I doubt the borders will be opened in time.

Melissa representing Canada at the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE). | Mary Rinell photo

What are your biggest accomplishments to date?

I would have to say representing Canada on the Women’s World Trophy ISDE team. For those of you who don’t know the International Six Day Enduro is like the Olympics of Off-road dirt biking, each country sends teams to compete. The rider has to do all of their own maintenance, everything is timed, and you have to finish on the same bike you started after 6 days of racing.

When I was asked to sub in for an injured rider in 2017, I had my doubts that I was skilled enough, I started riding so late in life compared to most other people. I never dreamed I would be good enough, so my only goal was to finish.

I had so many things go wrong at that race and the pace was so much faster than I was comfortable with. I came home feeling proud that I finished, but defeated in the sense that I performed so poorly. Racing these women on the world stage is no joke, they are fast and fierce.

So I set a goal that I would try it one more time and I wanted to finish with a Silver. I hit the MX track to train and get my speed up. I raced everything off-road I could, but there’s still always a little insecurity that says, “Am I good enough?

2019 ISDE was in Portugal and I rode my ass off all days to not lose a single trail minute in the transfer sections. The tests were out of my comfort zone, still just so fast. In the end I finished 17th /27 and I have so much work to do to ever be as fast as the world’s top females, but I came home with a Silver and that was the best feeling ever!

What is the biggest lesson that being involved in motorsports has taught you so far?

Pure grit and determination gets you everywhere. Things don’t always go to plan, but if you keep pushing you’ll come out the other side better. 

Watch for her burning up a trail near you in 2021. | Ashleigh Kaliszuk photo

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?                    

Hmmm, good question. I think we’ll still be racing and hosting another Tombstone event as a promoter. I would like to become a better technical rider and pursue the extreme races.

Are there any sponsors or people you would like to thank?

There are people that have supported Stephen and I the last 5 years. We use all the products and it’s what’s helped us get the job done. We would like to thank Beta Canada, we just love these bikes! BFD moto, Pro-Action Suspension, Funnel Web Filters, Liqui Molly Canada, 100%, Bullet Proof Designs, M7Designs, AXP racing, FXR racing, Rekluse Canada.  

Give Rick Bradshaw a call. He misses you!