Wise Words | Isla Short.

Wise Words is our new interview series talking to some of mountain biking’s most switched on people.

We’ll ask our short list of questions to a heap of influential, inspiring and outspoken people that we feel are driving the direction of mountain biking today. Some will make you think, some will make you laugh, some will be plain dumb, some will inspire you to better yourself and your riding. We hope!

Wise Words this week comes to you from none other than Isla Short.

If you haven’t heard of Isla Short, then have you been living under a rock? Isla was the first young Scot to start a very fast ball rolling with similar humans at the World Champs in Leogang, coming in fifth and easily taking the title of World’s fastest privateer. Wise beyond her years, the future is bright for Isla Short.

Photo by SWPIX.

How would your closest riding buddies describe you to someone who has never met you?

I asked my best friend to answer this…

“Isla can only be described as a wee ginger bundle of energy with an infectious smile that will light up any dreich Scottish day. When joining her for a ride expect plenty of mid-trail screaming, deep chats and good banter… And don’t forget to bring along some decent riding snacks or you’ll be outclassed by the weird and wonderful creations she carries around in her back pockets.”

That’s the nicest thing she’s ever said about me, she mostly just insults me. It goes both ways though.

What thing or things have you bought in the last year that had the biggest effect on your life as a mountain biker / cyclist / person that works in the bike industry?

At the start of 2020 I invested in my own mechanic and it’s made a massive difference to the quality of my training, my knowledge about the bike itself and my setup at races. Euan has a unique attention to detail that I think is pretty essential for the level I’m racing at, so it’s pretty cool to work with somebody who wants to take the time to do everything in the best way and will stay up late researching obscure issues so that I can train and race optimally. Thanks pal.

What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?

I would say I’m your fairly standard self-involved, obsessive professional athlete. I don’t think my quirks are weird to other racers really. I stick quite religiously to my zones when training so riding with people who just like to have fun on a bike is not always successful, but I’m finding the balance between lonely, hard work and a social life.

Photo by Euan Camlin.

What piece of advice do you think every mountain bike rider should hear? And what piece should they ignore?

Discovering and accepting the areas of your bike riding that you’re most challenged by is really brave and also crucial for improvement. I spent my junior years rinsing everybody on the climbs and crashing my way down descents because I put too much focus on riding uphill fast, which I was already good at. I’ve worked so hard to descending just as fast in the last few years.

Anybody who suggests that carbs make you fat should be forbidden from interacting with athletes. The science is so misunderstood and is doing significant damage to the health and wellbeing of so many riders. It’s so much more complex than that, but it’s also really simple if people take the time to learn the basics. Stop it, please.

If you could go back and re-ride one day from your life so far, where/what/when/who would it be? Would you change anything?

From a racing point of view it would definitely be World Champs in October. On the really great days you sort of forget to be present. I look back on that day and don’t really remember having conscious thought processes about what was happening, so I’d love to experience it all again. The only thing I’d change about that day is the length of socks I had on. They were too short and I look lame in the photos. Other than that, everything went pretty well. Oh, I’d have liked my coach to have been there too actually. He gets real bad FOMO. I’d happily relive any epic day on the bike with friends though. I love being outdoors from breakfast until dinner. It’s my favourite thing.

Merida Ninety Six

What have you wasted the most time on in your life as a rider or bike industry career that you wished you’d given up years ago?

I don’t necessarily think I wasted my time trying to operate in the wrong racing environment because I learned so much about how I want to build my own support system around me during that time, but I definitely look back on some of the decisions I made as a young rider and know they were wrong. I had a great time on my first pro team, OMX, whom I stayed with for three years. The environment and relationships discovered there were exactly what I needed at that point in my career, but I started to create an idea in my head of how I wanted things to be and unfortunately, I ended up looking in the wrong places for this.

Deciding to leave professional teams and start my own project is not something I think I did too late, but something I absolutely needed to do when I did. I think it’s so easy to get sucked into shiny new opportunities and material things, exposure and associations without considering the impact they might have on your ultimate goals, which for me, is being the fastest. As an up-and-coming rider on the World Cup circuit, I have a lot more leverage now and have integrated back into a hybrid team setup with Orbea Factory Team, but my opportunities there are focused on media projects and adventures.

I’m very protective of my personal setup and the sponsors I currently work with, and so the racing side of things will primarily stay the same. I’m in a unique situation where I can continue to do it my way on the most important days whilst at the same time becoming more involved with Orbea, the bikes I’m genuinely happiest on, and I’m really excited about it.

Photo by Attention Builders.

How do you motivate yourself when you’re struggling or lacking inspiration?

Losing motivation is not really something I have to navigate very often. There are two sides to bike riding for me; training, which is my job, and riding, which is my passion. Most of the time these things overlap, and I never have to think too much about whether I feel like getting out or not on any given day. If training is a struggle though, I’ll switch my mindset into going for a bike ride instead. I’m still doing the work, but I may ignore my data that day and stop for more snack breaks. That doesn’t happen often though, I have a lot of focus for the specifics

What single and specific thing about riding bicycles do you gain the most happiness from?

Sharing unique adventures with people I’d otherwise never come across and developing friendships and relationships with multiple layers that all stem from a mutual love for bike riding. And winning. Not always because it feels good to be the best, but because every time I win (and that doesn’t always mean finishing 1st) I’m adding blocks to my own strength and taking them away from doubts, obstacles and fears.

Photo by Pete Scullion.

What single thing would you like to erase from cycling history from the last year?

That’s an easy one; COVID-19. My year is broken down clearly into season and offseason, coinciding with summer and winter. It was very weird navigating the passage of time without pinning on a number every few weeks, and the emotional summits and depths that are a byproduct of the racing. I’d erase that not just for me personally, but for everyone who’s as passionate about the sport as I am and whoever depends on it for income. I cannot wait to painfully chase my heroes up a spectator-lined World Cup climb again, whenever that will be.

What single thing would you like to make happen in the cycling world in the next year?

I would like to turn a little bit of my own focus onto something a little bigger than my own self-indulgent goals in the sport, which will probably just begin with talking about opportunity and discrimination in sport more than I ever have before. I’m aware that my personal goals on the bike do require all of my energy if I want to achieve them and that I’ll be better placed to turn more attention to this much bigger topic when I have a louder voice and more resources, so I’ll begin by having conversations.

Who else should we ask these questions to?

Huw Oliver. He rides mountain bikes real fast for long periods of time and sleeps out in the hills often.

Keep tabs on Isla’s adventures on his Instagram feed here.


You can catch all our previous Wise Words interviews with the likes of Sven Martin, Manon Carpenter, Ric McLaughlin and plenty more here.