Wise Words is our 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 come to you this weekend from your 2021 Elite National Downhill Champion, KJ Sharp.
Not only is KJ Sharp your 2021 Elite British National Downhill Champion and current British National Downhill Series leader, she’s raced the Enduro World Series, UK-based enduros, she’s also got a degree in Sports Science and a Masters in Sport and Excercise Nutrition, running her own company, Nutrition Savvy.
How would your closest riding buddies describe you to someone who has never met you?
I asked a few of my closest friends/family to briefly describe me and these are words that popped up, ‘not normal, unique, loyal, modest, fair, hard-working, independent, dribbling dribbler, open-minded’. I’m not too sure if they are all compliments.
I also decided to ask my mum, I figure if anyone is going to know me, it’ll be her. She just turned around and said, ‘You don’t suffer fools gladly’. Which again, I can’t decide it that’s a compliment or not.
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?
Top of the range chest/back protector and helmet. My family have had a lot of injuries in the past, my brother broke his back and my dad suffered many head injuries. I may have picked a dangerous sport, but I’m careful with my riding and I’ve learnt to stick to my true riding abilities. If there’s a line too big/technical for my skill levels, I’ll be the first to admit it and I won’t come back until I know I’m ready.
What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?
Hmmmm, well most people that sit on my bike always comment on how stiff my suspension is set up. I’ve been trying to soften it up, but every time I do a run at 100%, everything feels too soft and I’m instantly upping the PSI in my forks. At the end of most my rides I always hopefully think ‘one day, one day I’ll get it right’. Probably naïve, wishful thinking.
What piece of advice do you think every mountain bike rider should hear? And what piece should they ignore?
I think the best advice I’ve ever been given is, ‘unless you are racing, you don’t have to ride fast.’ Previous to hearing this, I was crashing every time I rode. Due to the slow build-up of minor injuries, I started to miss out on weekend rides, post-work strength sessions and felt mentally more and more drained. It soon dawned on me that continuously riding at or below 80-90% was going to get me closer to the top women faster than continuously trying to ride at 100%.
In terms of what to ignore. I don’t know if other people have experienced this too, but leading up to the bigger races this year, World Cups, National Champs, I’ve had my fair share of questionable supporting comments. For example, ‘those women are in a different league to you, don’t expect to win, she’s very experienced, she’s faster than you, etc.’ and even after taking a win ‘2nd and 3rd place were injured, so and so wasn’t racing, etc.’. I sometimes can’t make my mind up if these people are trying to prepare me in case I lose at a race, or if they’re simply trying to put me in my place.
I guess it’s not advice but I figure these comments can happily be ignored. The pre-race comments, I occasionally use to fuel my motivation, but it’s not my preferred mental race day plan. The post-race comments, I take as a pinch of salt. At the end of the day, a win is a win. And, if you see your performance as a loss, then I’d also call that a win. Whilst you can take away a huge amount of love and self-satisfaction from a win, you can definitely learn a lot from a loss.
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?
Morzine main line (I think that’s the track’s name?). Back end of 2020 when we’d been given the green light to travel, a group of us headed out to France for 5 days. On the last day, we rode Morzine main line, and oh my goodness, I had too much fun. There was one run where I felt like I was riding at 100000%. The guys I was riding with will know the exact run. Even now, it puts a huge grin on my face. I wouldn’t have changed a single thing.
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 started riding August 2016, and went straight into the EWS in 2017. At the time, I raced for a local company, and for my level of skill/ability/marketing, the set-up I received was too good to reject. Looking back, from the off, the dream was DH. There were too many leading people/factors in my life that kept encouraging me to race EWS.
Then 2018, I finally placed myself as the leading person/factor in my life. I started emailing other companies to support me as a DH racer. I’m not going to lie, it was a struggle. To type up an email/CV asking for a DH bike, with no DH race experience, in fact, zero time spent on a DH bike, it was tough. Even today, I’m still surprised that Pivot UK and DMR bikes took a chance on me, thank goodness they did.
One year of EWS was enough, I didn’t need to do it for a 2nd year running. I enjoyed my enduro years, but, I should have factored my own feelings/motives into my decisions. I guess, when you’re replaying the DH World Cups on TV almost every evening, it’s a fairly big sign that DH is where I wanted to be.
How do you motivate yourself when you’re struggling or lacking inspiration?
Hmm, a lacking of motivation is rare for me. The only time I’ve lost my motivation to ride was the back end of the 2018 EWS season. I was tired, I was constantly crashing and as I said earlier, I just wanted to race DH. I got home from Finale, and took 4 weeks off from all types of training/riding. I spent every weekend drinking with friends, BBQs, family gatherings, girl’s night in, etc. After 4-weeks of living for the weekend, I soon started to crave routine and I didn’t half crave training/riding again. I think a lack of motivation is a good indicator that a break is needed.
In terms of inspiration, with the number of insanely talented riders/athletes, we are very much spoilt for choice in the biking world.
What single and specific thing about riding bicycles do you gain the most happiness from?
It’s a close call between the social side of the sport and that exciting adrenaline feeling you get at the end of a run. I don’t think I could choose between the two. If I didn’t get that adrenaline at the end of a run, I probably wouldn’t choose to ride bikes. If I didn’t get a social kick and the laughs, I’d also be tempted to switch to a different sport.
What single thing would you like to erase from cycling history from the last year?
With the pandemic and where I live, I was hardly able to ride throughout 2020 into 2021. Due to restrictions, I barely rode more than 10 times from March 2020 through to May 2021. Luckily, I managed to get one DH day in a week prior to the first race of this season. I think I’d have struggled at that race if not! I figure most people would be likely to say the same in regards to riding, rather than erase anything, I’d like to add to it.
What single thing would you like to make happen in the cycling world in the next year?
I know it’s a subject that’s been continuously discussed and pushed over the past 5-10years, but my oh my, thank goodness for the brave DH women in the early days of mountain biking. It’s these women that opened and created more opportunities for both the professional and recreational female MTB athletes all over the world.
Without these females, both in the past and currently surrounding the sport, I’d struggle to get the sponsorship I need to race, and I guess I’d even struggle to be a part of the sport. In regards to the future, let’s hope this progression continues, for all riding disciplines, and both males and females. It’s a treat and a dream to know that I am and will be a part of the mountain biking world over the next 10 years.
Who else should we ask these questions to?
If you haven’t already, Joe Breeden and/or Becci Skelton.
You can keep tabs on KJ’s racing exploits on her 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.