PERSONALITY: RISING UP THROUGH GRAVITY RIDING
NATIONAL DOWNHILL CHAMPION 2016 SYLVIA TAN
The wrapping up of the Natchamps 2016 saw a new female National Downhill champion – Sylvia Tan. A few years back, we started noticing this young rider popping up at notable gravity events with good results. Her steady progress up the race ranking chart reflects the result of some hard training and gained experience as a gravity mountain biker. Such are the qualities and strengths we applaud. We met up with Sylvia on a long overdue coffee session and got her to share some ride life experience with us.
9 THINGS ABOUT SYLVIA
Real Name: Sylvia Tan
The Other REAL Name: Sealus
Current Rig: Evil Insurgent
Sponsors: Deity Components, Unsprung SG (#unsprungsg)
Favourite Trail in the World: Top of the world! (Whistler, BC Canada)
Years Riding: 3 years (maybe a bit more …)
Pet’s Name: Oryo – he’s a Border Collie that’s terrified of bikes
Favourite Food: Sushi!
Bike Idols she secretly wished for an Autograph: Rachel Atherton, Stevie Smith
How did you first get introduced to downhill biking? Why downhill, as compared to other disciplines like BMX, XC, or even road biking? Do you participate in any of these other biking disciplines?
When I was first introduced to mountain biking three years ago, I had zero knowledge of the various disciplines in mountain biking at all. I was basically thrown a Lapierre Zesty for a ride at BT with a couple of friends from Unsprung. That was my first ride on a mountain bike and I was hooked!
After that amazing experience, I got myself an enduro bike and joined the Unsprung family in their trips to neighbouring countries to compete in downhill races. Downhill biking is fast-paced, technical and gut-wrenching at times and I enjoy the feeling of just having to worry about getting down safely.
Most of the local XC trails are good fun too, and these are what I usually ride apart from the overseas DH tracks.
So we understand that you’ve just returned from Whistler. What are some of the new skills and insights that you’ve gained from your trip? Tell us about some of the interesting takeaways you’ve brought back with you.
That was one awesome trip! Well, I was there to participate in the Trek Dirt Series Mountain Bike Camp for Women, the first that I’ve ever attended. The coaching was excellent and the coaches gave structured feedback that were very helpful for participants. It was exciting to have so many other ladies to interact and talk about bikes with, exchanging tips on how to better our riding skills and clearing daunting technical sections.
I spent two weeks riding at Whistler Bike Park and also in their local XC trails. The trails were much longer and dotted with much larger features so it was a fantastic opportunity to work on getting comfortable with faster speeds on the trail, high speed cornering around their perfectly-sculpted berms and rolling off huge rock faces.
During my stay in Whistler, I met and rode the bike park with many like-minded women who love mountain biking. It was so encouraging to see women participating in this sport, across all age groups – there was a fellow participant in the mountain bike camp who is 62 years young! Such is the active aging lifestyle in a place with supportive infrastructure that predisposes people to outdoor sports and adventure.
When did you take part in your first ever race? Compared to then, how do you feel you’ve grown in terms of your skills and mindset? What are some other areas of improvement you’d like to achieve?
My first race was back in 2013 at the old Tampines Trail. It was absolutely nerve-wrecking as I did not know what to expect. It was almost nauseating! The individual flag off format was intimidating as all eyes will naturally be on that single rider. After a few races, the nerves are in better control with more experience and improvements in my bike handling skills. Of course, there are many areas for improvements and working on. Basics such as body positioning, core strength and fitness are some areas that I continually look into.
What were your preparations leading up to the National Championships?
Working up to the National Championships, I was training on my fitness and strengthening my core which should help prevent injuries as much as possible. I was also spending more time working on technical skills such as cornering and taking on drops. Besides these, it was equally important to work on bike setup and tune-ups so the race steed is in tip-top condition on race day!
What was it like winning the championship this year? Was there any support?
It certainly means a lot to me especially when it was my first time winning the Championship. It is awesome knowing that the preparations worked out somehow! I’m always so, so thankful for the huge support from Unsprung and Deity Components over the years, for providing top-notch equipment from when I first started mountain biking! Not forgetting my friends and family for the immense support they’ve given me, especially to the family for tolerating my muddy bikes at home. Last but not least, this win is dedicated to my greatest supporter, Ros Chan, whom always believed that this would be possible! Thank you guys!
What are some of the other local or overseas races you’ve taken part in? Which do you consider your most memorable one, and why? We’d love to hear about your experiences!
Some of the races include the Red Bull DownMall, Red Bull Dark Knights, Urban Wheels, Kuantan DH race, Bandar Seri Alam DH race and the National DH Championships in 2014 and 2016.
The most memorable race would definitely be this year’s National DH Championship where I took the win! It was my first time taking the top step on the podium in DH racing.
Downhill riding requires a good amount of brawn and guts.What good advice or personal mantra do you have for beginners on overcoming fear? What do you do when faced with new, intimidating challenges?
Keep it simple, know what you are in for and just handle what you are comfortable with. =)
We’ve seen you most often on the cycling front. But besides biking, what other hobbies or passion do you pursue on a normal day?
I do enjoy a good read or two, mostly fiction and planning for more biking trips!
Women biking is a hot topic lately, although it is not something new to the sport- maybe just a spiked-up emphasis lately. But we see this as a boost to the sport. What are your views to this?
There are certainly more women taking up cycling and this trend is supported by the increase in the number of women-specific products being pushed out by bike manufacturers. It is definitely an encouraging sign and we do see a number of active cycling groups that are created by women to assimilate newcomers to the local trail networks and community!
How does it feel to be participating in this sport that is mainly male-dominated?
I think the perception of mountain biking as a male-dominated sport will gradually shift as the common misconceptions and stereotypes of mountain biking are overcome. It is indeed daunting for me initially to be participating in this sport and even racing against men in races where there are lack of women for organizers to start a women’s category. However, it is generally good fun to be learning alongside these experienced riders and to constantly challenge myself to improve and catch up with the guys. With the influx of more women into this sport, it would not be long before it becomes a norm to see women shredding the trails, like how it is in Canada for example.
What's in ther pipeline for you next?
Possibly some enduro races and conducting skill clinics for women!
To end off on an informal note, just a quick trivia â˜º Tell us the first answer that comes to mind.
If you were a new addition to the crayon box, what colour would you be, and why?
Purple – It’s my favourite colour haha!
Photos by Sylvia Tan and Unsprung