Becoming a skilled technical rider doesn’t just happen — it takes hard work and dedication. Professional MTB racer Sparky Moir Sears shares how she developed her technical riding skills and continues to grow those skills on a weekly basis to be a faster and more capable XC racer.
For Sparky’s full interview check out the Successful Athletes Podcast Ep 16
Sparky is a professional XC mountain bike racer and a former Enduro racer. She lives in Fruita, Colorado with her husband Noah, a fellow mountain biker, working full time at BikeFlights and part-time as a yoga instructor.
Before she was ripping down Fruita single track and winning fifty-mile off-road races, Sparky was a professionally trained classical ballerina. Sparky began dancing when she was just three and didn’t stop until she had danced professionally in college. After she retired from ballet, Sparky felt she was ready for new challenges — which eventually led her to mountain biking.
Sparky began mountain biking sometime after she met Noah, who introduced her to the sport, but within a year of starting, she probably only rode ten times or so. It wasn’t until she raced her first enduro that she really got fired up to do some riding.
Sparky’s First Race
Sparky’s first race happened by mere chance. Noah had a registration for the Big Mountain Enduro in Winter Park, Colorado but a scheduling conflict left him unable to race. With the whole race weekend set up and planned out, he encouraged Sparky to take his registration and ride the race for fun. With no expectations around racing and the whole weekend set up, Sparky thought, why not?
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From that day forward, there was no looking back. She loved the camaraderie of the cycling community, and even with her fair share of crashes and scrapes, thoroughly enjoyed the racing too. At the end of the day, Sparky found herself on the podium — stoked on the experience and ready to take on more races.
Breaking Down Barriers
Right away, Sparky knew she needed to overcome some skill barriers if she wanted to continue racing enduros. She had crashed a few times during the race and walked a few sections she didn’t think she could ride. So after the race, Sparky told Noah she wanted to be thrown into “the deep end of skills training.”
Since then, Sparky has spent countless hours sessioning trail with Noah, doing organized skills clinics, and even working to receive her PMBIA Level One coaching certification. Amid all the different skills work shes done, Sparky says some of the most valuable experiences had happened when she was following a skilled rider down the trail. Seeing someone else position themself on the bike while riding has helped her reinforce good body position which in turn has made way for more skills. “When I’m focused on correct body position, the other skill elements flow naturally,” she says.
- Sparky’s Technical Tip: If you want to improve your technical skills, Sparky suggests following a skilled rider down the trail so you can mirror their body position. Mimicking the body position of a capable athlete will reinforce your own muscle memory and give you an opportunity to test lines you may not have tried otherwise. She says that once you can master body position, you can focus on riding that trail faster and more confidently.
Taking on New Challenges
Though Sparky thoroughly enjoyed racing enduros, there came a point in her career where the technical demands of the racing didn’t align with her personal goals. Racing had always been about building a lifelong relationship with the sport, and the increasingly risky enduro courses weren’t what she wanted to dedicate her development to. With that, she thought she’d give something else a shot — cross country racing.
For Sparky’s first cross country race, she went all in and raced the Grand Junction Off-Road. The Grand Junction Off-Road is a long-distance mountain bike race known for being a particularly technical XC race. Sparky raced the forty-mile category and experienced a similar sense of newfound joy. In conjunction with her love for technical riding, she found she also shared a love for pedaling.
In a matter of a few years, she progressed from being a beginner XC racer to winning the amateur category of the Grand Junction Off-Road to her current status, professional XC racer.
- Sparky’s Racing Tip: When you start racing, don’t be afraid to try different disciplines and types of riding. It’s easy to get pigeonholed into the first thing you try, but if you try something new, you might surprise yourself and find something you enjoy even more.
Current Training and Skills Work
Now, as a professional XC racer, fitness is an equally important aspect of her training. Sparky does a mid-volume TrainerRoad plan, with indoor workouts during the workweek and outdoor workouts on the weekend or when she’s not pressed for time. Sparky’s primary focus is the Epic Ride series, so she structures most of her training around those events. But she’s also got plans to take on the fastest known time on the White Rim trail in Utah.
With that said, Sparky doesn’t just focus on fitness and let her skills fall by the wayside. With technical goals like Grand Junction and the White Rim trail on her Calendar, her skills work is still just as crucial. Here’s what Sparky does to progress her skills on a a weekly basis, and what she recommends for any athlete looking to do the same.
Sparky’s Technical Training Tips
- Dedicate Time to Skills Work: On Sunday evenings Sparky dedicates time to technical training with her husband. This evening time slot is completely dedicated to working on challenging trails and confronting difficult terrain. This gives her more time to focus on the things she wants to work on without having to worry about her workout or her training at the same time.
- Communicate With Your Riding Buddy: Before Sparky and Noah leave for training rides or skills work, they communicate the objective for that ride with one another. This allows them to support one another in their skills work and help where it’s needed. This can be especially useful when you’re trying to help someone who isn’t as skilled as you, or receiving help from a rider with more skills.
- Envision Your Success: When working on technical features, it’s normal to feel some nerves or jitters. Sparky says fear can even help you decide when you’re too far out of your comfort zone versus when you’re appropriately challenging your boundaries. To combat fear productively, Sparky says she tries to maintain a positive internal dialogue and focus on what she knows she can do. If she gears her thoughts towards how well something can go and not how something can go wrong, more often then not, she overcomes the feeling of fear and rides through the tricky section.
- If You Want to Get Better at Something, Practice it! All-around riding isn’t necessarily going to improve all of your abilities equally. If you want to get better at something specific, you’ll need to seek that challenge out and work on it. This season Sparky wanted to improve her ability to jump, so she’s been focusing on progressing on drops and jumps. She says she’s made a ton of progress just in this season, simply by focusing on that aspect of riding.
- Ride With Athletes Who Challenge You: Someone who has better technical abilities can show you how to ride challenging sections of trail and even push you out of your comfort zone when the time is right.
- Try it Three Times: When Sparky sessions, something challenging her only rule is that she needs to give it an honest effort three times. Three tries can be enough to realize that something isn’t as hard as you thought it might be. If she doesn’t get it after three attempts, she moves on and saves it for another day.
From the outside looking in, it’s easy to forget that every pro athlete was a beginner once too. Sparky reminds us that anyone can watch someone else win a race and think that they naturally ride that way. In reality there’s a lot of hard focused work that goes into every effort.
Sparky didn’t become an amazing technical rider overnight. She worked hard to earn her skills and continues to work hard to maintain them. Which you can do as well! Try and add some skills work to your training regimen, or maybe get out with an athlete who has more experience then you. You might be surprised at how quickly you can progress.
For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.
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