Mikayla Parton is the latest in a fresh wave of fast ladies coming out of Fort William taking on the World’s fastest riders.
Pete sat down for a chat with Fort William-based shredder Mikayla Parton to talk about finding bikes fairly late, being a crazy cat lady and stepping it up from regionals to nationals and to the big stage of World Cup racing.
Photos by Ross Bell.
Who is Mikayla Parton?
My name is Mikayla Parton and I’m 22 years old.
Born and bred in sunny Fort William. Crazy cat lady, lover of all types of chocolate, professional faffer, small in height and often mistaken for being in junior category.
I work as a ski instructor in the winter months and I’m also a soap scientist around that. (I make handmade soap and skincare products for The Highland Soap Company). Often found covered in mud in the woods on my bike or doing gondy laps at Nevis Range.
What’s your background in cycling?
People do always assume because I’m from Fort William that I’ve grown up riding bikes but that’s definitely not the case.
I was introduced to the world of bikes in 2015, I didn’t have any experience in cycling prior to this. I had always been a skier growing up so was slightly sporty and dabbled in running and sailing but never mountain biking. It surprises me now that it took so long for me to be involved since its so popular in Fort William, I’m not sure how I avoided it.
After riding for a year I then got my first downhill bike in 2016 and did my first race a week after getting the bike. Flash forward to now and I’m completing in World Cups, not quite sure if I’m super keen or stupid.
How would you sum up your 2019 so far?
2019 has been a big learning curve for me, completing in my first race abroad… then my first World Cup… then two more.
It’s all been quite sudden and sometimes I don’t feel like I’ve sat down since March but I like that, I love being busy and I can’t sit still. With the help from my new sponsor this year GreenPower, being able to travel to the World Cups has very quickly pushed me as a rider and as a person. I feel much more confident in myself recently, although the results haven’t quite got there yet. I think my results at World Cups will take time, it’s not been easy going into these races alone and have had many ups and downs, but mainly good times.
Fort William was awesome and I was buzzing all week after the race. It was very bittersweet being 0.7 off qualifying, happy to be on pace but frustrated that I had a big mistake at the top section, but that’s racing.
Leogang was an incredible place, the race for me unfortunately was a stressful one with many logistics going wrong and finding myself very stressed going into my qualifying run. With so many factors outside the actual riding part of the weekend, it was hard to concentrate and learn a new track, get up to speed and feel ready for a race. I didn’t even get lunch on qualifying day.. hunger doesn’t help a race run.
Coming back from it, I’ve learnt so much. It was never going to be easy travelling and racing World Cups after not even completing a full British Series, I can’t expect to come in and do well against women who have raced World Cups longer than I’ve sat on a bike, they’ve earned there place. I’m so keen to learn more, ride and race better and basically make sure I’m always enjoying it because as cheesy as it sounds, that really was the start goal and I hope to keep that one.
What kind of stuff do you like riding?
I like a bit of everything, but I guess one of my favourites would be jumps. I love the progression in jumps and always keen to try learn small tricks. I love riding at skateparks but definitely don’t do it enough, its hard to justify a two hour drive to our closest one if its nice outside (nice outside in Fort William being not blowin’ a hoolie).
I also love Fort Williams classic slippy, tight, gnadgery trails, this is what I mainly ride. I’m on my trail bike way more than my downhill bike purely down to the fact we only have one trail for downhill bikes around Fort William, therefore through the winter I barely touch my race bike which isn’t ideal.
Of course, riding the World Cup track at Nevis Range is up there with my favourites, there always something to work on or change up which I love, I don’t get bored of it.
What’s your favourite place to ride?
That’s a tough one, I personally don’t have a favourite place I think it really depends on the day and who you are with. Can’t beat an evening with friends on the dual slalom, or laps on the downhill track with local hero Al Maclennan.
I love the bike parks down in Wales, Black Mountains is so much fun as its basically just jump lines that get bigger and bigger.
I also love the mix of trails at Inverness there’s steep, techy ones and flowy jumps, could easily spend all weekend there one day riding the trails and the next sessioning the jumps.
How did you gravitate towards downhill?
I definitely started out racing both enduro and downhill but really took to downhill riding. I think I love the adrenaline in downhill, I love riding new features and everyone likes to go fast. Since getting my Trek Session last year I started to focus much more on downhill and my riding improved a lot on my new bike.
I think if I improved my fitness more I would start to love enduro more too and ride the way I know I can, sometimes I feel so tired by the race I’m just super sketchy on the way down. I’ve been working a lot on my fitness though so keen to get back to an enduro race soon. So long story short I’ve gone more towards downhill purely as that’s the type of riding that I love therefore I feel I’ll race best and have the most fun doing it.
What does your training setup look like?
I’ve never been able to ‘train’ full time as I worked all winter and I can’t afford any time of trainer or coaching, I’d love to be able to dedicate more time to this and feel like I’ve had time to show my full potential and go into the races feeling more prepared. I pretty much use all my spare time I have riding and training around my day to day life. I don’t really do many normal things that twenty-one year olds do, I guess you could say I’m pretty boring.
I spent most of my time on my trail bike as I mentioned before, I’ve really focused on getting my endurance up and trying more long rides. I’ve also been working on my strength as I knew this was a downfall for me. Not having a coach it can be quite confusing trying to go to the gym or train but I’ve put a lot of time and effort in.
I’ve been lucky enough to have good friends who are also cycling athletes who have helped me out a lot with advice and giving me ideas of how to train. The help from them has made a big difference to me and I’m so grateful, you know who you are.
What bike do you race on and do you have any weird setup preferences?
My main race bike is my Trek Session 8 downhill bike and for enduro my Trek Remedy 9.7. I don’t think I have any weird preferences to be honest, I think I’m scared of change and that’s probably quite common. I can do the basics on my bike but I’m certainly not a mechanic so changing settings isn’t really something I dabble in. Maybe that will be my next project. I do always get told I run my forks far too hard so I guess that could be a weird setup or maybe its just me being terrible at set up…
I do have to run Shimano brakes on my bikes as the levers are small and suits my mouse-sized hands, not ideal if you cant reach the brakes.
How big a difference has the Greenpower privateer support made?
This support has really changed my season as there’s no way I would have been able to fund going myself, words can’t describe how grateful I am for this help and for the belief in me from Rob and Julie at GreenPower. I was really taken back and touched that I was chosen for this support, I do put all my time and money into riding and racing my bike so it was nice to be noticed for my efforts.
Being able to travel and race the World Cups has really changed how my season has gone, I was only planning on doing Fort William and possibly one other that I could afford so now having the chance to complete in most its helped me learn so much and improve myself.
Have you found a massive difference in pace between SDAs, Nationals and World Cups?
Yes definitely, the pace is much different and qualifying is very tight, it will take some time for me to learn the tricks of racing but as I said before, each race I’ve done I’m taking huge amounts away from mistakes and learning.
The format of the whole weekend is so different and is taking time to get used too. The small practice time is something I’ve struggled with and I find it hard to learn a new track and ride it at race speed in such a short time. Usually having an entire day at SDA/National races to practice, it was a bit of a shock to have just a couple hours at a World Cup.
What are your plans for the rest of 2019?
Racing aside, I’d love to learn some more tricks on my bike and I need to get better at wheelies. Been practising a bit outside my house in Fort William, the neighbours probably think I’m slightly mental.
I want to complete a full World Cup series, travelling and riding in new places is improving my riding huge amounts. I’ve met so many great people over the past few months, rode my bike in amazing places and have become a better racer at each event.
Simply put I want to get faster on my bike, better at dealing with stress at races and hopefully finish my season knowing I did my best and feel confident to start training for next.
I really can’t wait to see what else this season brings.
What are you most looking forward to next year?
I’m looking forward to seeing progress and more exciting opportunities occurring, I’m putting so much effort in and hope it will pay off.
It will be nice to start next season racing World Cups not being such a newbie and having a better idea what I’m doing. I would love to gain more support for while I’m racing as it has been hard and I’m sure everyone has this at the start. If that doesn’t happen I guess I better take a course in bike mechanics.
I’d like to try have enough spare time around work in winter to train properly and potentially get some coaching. It would be great to go into the 2020 season feeling like I’ve had the chance to show my full potential and feel strong and fit on my bike.
Of course what I’m most looking forward to next year is hopefully getting to ride my bike in more cool places and ride new tracks.
Any pleases and thank yous?
I have so many people that I would like to thank for all the support I’ve had over the past 2 years getting into racing but this list would be enormous. Whether is been incredible sponsorship help or some advice at a race or a helping hand in Nevis Cycles from their amazing staff, it all means so much to me.
I obviously am so thankful to every single sponsor who believes in me and supports me, people always say “I wouldn’t be able to do it without them” but this really is the case for me. As previously mentioned GreenPower’s support is a huge deal and they know how much I am grateful for it, I can’t thank Dave Munro from SDA for helping so much with this too.
A special mention for Nikki at Nevis Range, she has been incredibly helpful and kind over the past year being sponsored by them.
Taj and Jules at Flotec Suspension were my first ever sponsor but are also my good friends. They were the first ones to believed in me just as I started out and its been great having my friends behind me.
I think I would be disowned as a girlfriend if I didn’t mention the help I get from Miles, thanks for always fixing my bike and putting up with my silly questions.
Thanks to every single amazing member of the West Highland Wheelers for the constant encouragement and support, especially Alastair Maclennan for all the downhill laps.
Lastly, my awesome mum who supports me in all the decisions I make, believes in what I’m doing even when it goes wrong and introduced me to the wonderful world of mountain biking.