Dylan Sherrard found the question odd. Before dropping in on a local trail near his home in Kamloops, B.C., a fellow rider asked him, “What’s your PR on this descent?” Sherrard, in his emphatically Canadian manner, politely responded that he wasn’t sure; he doesn’t use Strava or care for tracking time on his rides. Astonished, the other rider added, “Wait, aren’t you a pro?”
It’s a fair question. The vast majority of elite and pro riders have embraced the fitness app as a way to track workouts, prove their mettle, and see how they stack up against the field. As a sponsored mountain biker, Sherrard’s answer is telling. He believes biking should be fun, creative, and inclusive, not competitive. This perspective goes all the way back to his childhood.
Sherrard got his first bike at age 10 and has spent the last two decades honing his craft. As a pro for Specialized, he’s known for a smooth style, stout beard, and genuine enthusiasm for everything on two wheels. Sherrard spends his summers coaching Shred Hard bike camps, lapping the park with friends, and has been spending more time behind the camera as a talented photographer, too. There aren’t many days that pass without his tires finding some time on a singletrack.
With the dramatic increase in biking of all kinds during the COVID-19 pandemic, I called Sherrard to catch up and to ask for a few tips that can benefit new mountain bikers and casual riders alike. Here’s his top six.
Embrace your local bike shop. They are almost always owned and operated by passionate local riders. These riders spend an abundance of time on the trails you’ll be riding, and a wealth of expert knowledge allows them to facilitate the best experience for you. They’ll offer advice on gear that’s worth investing in—and trails that fit your experience and style of riding. Skip the internet forums and just hang at your local shop if you want the best info.
Skip Strava and just ride for the love of it. Metrics don’t measure the important things—laughs, unweighted moments, and fun lines that aren’t the fastest. I’ve seen a lot of new riders get obsessed with Strava and burn out. Start by learning to enjoy the ride before making a sport out of it. There’s nothing to prove and you’re missing the best parts if you make it a race.
Don’t rush the progression. I see a lot of high performers from other sports jump into mountain biking and try difficult things too fast. Most of the time, hockey or basketball skills don’t translate well and there is a lot of friction. Instead, take small steps and celebrate little victories. Learning the fundamentals of handling a bike takes a lot of time, but is key to a wonderful experience. Start with easy and fun flow trails: Learn how to carve a berm, tackle a tabletop, and pump through little rollers first.
Fundamentals are everything. This starts with being able to identify the center of gravity of the bike: how to move around it and back to it. Next, how to look through a corner and lean your bike. Last, how to work your bike through technical terrain, which comes down to how to weight and unweight, when to brake or apply traction, and choosing the right line. I call this talking to the trail.
Learn how your bike works. You don’t necessarily need much mechanical understanding, but learning how your bike works with a trail is key. You need to work with your bike, not against it. It’s an extension of your motion. The goal is to find a flow state on the trail, fully engaged with the terrain, without thinking about your bike. To achieve this you need to learn how our suspension, brakes, and contact points work. It can take a bit of tinkering time, but this leads to so much control and the ultimate feelings of flow.
Appreciate the Moment. We’re a bit crazy when you think about it, aren’t we? Mountain bikers, like most outdoor athletes, are always looking for the next cool trail or rad adventure or fancy bike, but always looking forward means we’re silently robbing ourselves of little slivers of joy we could be experiencing on every ride. I like to take a moment to recognize how beautiful the places I’m pedaling truly are, and to feel thankful for the chance to be there in that moment, before returning to dreaming of whatever tomorrow’s ride may bring.
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