Few riders on the World Cup circuit stir the emotions of the sport’s hardcore fan base quite like Connor Fearon. Known for a ruthlessly aggressive riding style, breakneck corner speeds and flat pedals - three elements that hark back to a time when such setups, and indeed riding styles, were synonymous with Australian downhill. For those familiar with the epoch of Rennie, Kovarik and Hill, it's easy to see the connection. While that era of the sport has passed, Connor at only 28-years old is firmly in the mix today as one of the sport's most recognized and respected gravity athletes. Driven by a passion for mountain biking and indeed downhill racing that surpasses the usual metrics for success, Connor’s always blazed his own path, prioritizing authenticity and making him who he is today. Softly spoken off the bike and a certified savage on it, we could not be more delighted to welcome Connor to Forbidden and the world of high pivot witchcraft.
FORBIDDEN: In your own words, who is Connor Fearon?
CONNOR: I’m a 28-year-old kid who is happiest when balancing on two wheels.
Did you always want to be a professional athlete, and do you recall the moment you knew that a career [racing mountain bikes] was a possibility?
To be honest, it was never really a goal or a vision of mine to make a career out of mountain biking. I always thought you had to be ‘superhuman’ to become a pro rider, but the penny dropped the moment I received a contract where I was going to get paid to ride my bike - I couldn't believe it!
What is the worst and the best thing about being a pro bike racer?
The best thing is being able to ride my bike all day long and chalk it down as work! There aren’t many bad things about my job, but I suppose getting injured is sometimes part of the game and that’s never good.
What’s the worst injury you’ve had and what was the recovery like?
I don’t know what happened, but I face planted a rock garden quite badly at the Hafjell (Norway) World Champs in 2014, snapping my full face in half. I had to get some plates put in my face and it took me months to recover from the concussion.
What’s the secret to a fruitful career as a professional bike racer and what are your plans, after bikes?
Focusing on doing the best that I can and not getting hung up on a bad weekend’s efforts are a big part of it. After racing [bikes], I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do and I’m not one to plan too far ahead, I just march forward with enthusiasm and always seem to land on my feet!
Beyond the confines of the race tape, what kind of riding do you enjoy the most?
Riding endless downhill trails is what I love to do. If I could teleport anywhere in the world, I would be to a European bike park, with all my buddies, and shredding chair lift laps in the Alps somewhere.
Away from mountain bikes, what else floats your boat?
I like to ride and race a bit of Motocross and Enduro [Motocross] in the off-season, and a bit of surfing here and there too.
Of all the unique riding styles on the circuit, who’s do you admire the most?
I know he’s not racing anymore, but Josh Bryceland had the most impressive style in my opinion. He would look like he was just cruising in his race run, never pedalling that hard and somehow finding time to sit down between sections, yet still winning the race.
Let’s talk about pedals; you’re one of the only top riders still running flats at the World Cups, yet if you look back a decade, they were more prevalent. How have you continued to remain competitive, relying on a setup many of your competitors have deemed obsolete in the racing world?
I’ve been a lifelong flat pedal rider, so I think for me, the gains of a clip-in pedal are minimal. But that said, if you’re a confident clips rider, it helps with efficiency on the bike because you’re not having to constantly ride with your weight going through your feet, just to keep them stuck to the pedals. Riding flat pedals is just something I prefer doing and I've never second-guessed my choice or thought of it as a disadvantage.
From steep and tech to bike park, we’ve seen a lot of ebbs and flow with regards to track styles at the World Cups, but where would you like to see racetracks go?
I’d like to see some fresh and raw downhill tracks as we saw in Les Gets (France) last year. That track was by far the best event of the year and all the racers loved it. But once a track like that is worn in, everybody rides the same line and there's not much to separate people so building fresh tracks, or at least new sections on old tracks, is something the venues can do to keep the sport awesome.
Rob Warner often refers to you as one of the best turners on the circuit; how has your technique developed and what advice would you give someone looking to improve their own?
I think this comes down to the type of trails I grew up riding. There’s not a lot of vertical drop around Adelaide so the tracks can be quite flat, so keeping your speed around corners - on these types of tracks - is the aim of the game. I also set up my bike to handle corners more than say, plow in a straight line. My advice for someone looking to improve their corner speed is to play around with your bar height and fork pressure. This will change the amount of weight you have over the front wheel, which will make a huge difference when you hit the sweet spot in a corner.
With most of the race season taking place in the Northern Hemisphere and home being a considerable time difference away, how have you adapted to long stints away?
I’ve always said racing World Cups is a different game for us living in the Southern Hemisphere. Spending almost half the year away from home is all I've ever known and for someone that loves time at home, I'm very jealous of the Europeans who can be home in a matter of hours after most of the races!
The move to Forbidden this season has presented a big change for you...
Yeah, I was on my previous team for 11 years, but as soon as I heard that there was a chance for a Forbidden deal, I wholeheartedly wanted it to happen! The Forbidden bikes work completely different from what I was previously been on and I’ve spent a lot of time already dialling in the bikes and can see my style and consistency improving already.
What was the first thing you noticed about your new bikes, how they rode and how did things progress from your first ride, to now?
The first thing that stood out was how well the bike handled square-edge hits and how confidence-inspiring it is on the gnarlier tracks. I’m also really impressed at just how capable the Dreadnaught is. I’ve just raced the Australian Open Downhill race in Thredbo (Australia), on a stock Dreadnaught with a 180mm travel RockShox BoXXer fork and was blown away by how well it handled the inherently rough track with only 154mm travel in the rear!
*Connor went on to win the Australian National DH title, on this very same setup, two weeks after this interview was conducted and despite having access to a custom long travel link for the Dreadnought, is intending to bring this bike to the World Cups. The team will be on a new DH prototype in the Spring.
What’s been your all-time favourite race venue?
Cairns in tropical Far North Queensland (Australia) has been my favourite World Cup/World Champs venue. The track is super fun, in a rainforest, and the vibe is always good next to the beach too. Not to mention it’s a World Cup in my home country which is a rare occasion,
What events are you most excited about this season and why?
I’m keen to get back to the World Cups with a fresh team and motivation and to see what I can do.
You’ve been working with Matt Dupelle (Forbidden Synthesis Team Manager) for a long time now. What’s the secret to a long and successful working relationship like this?
I don’t know if there is a secret, we’re just a couple of friends that can work well together and separate the fun from the business. We trust each other and always seem to want the same thing so that helps a lot.
What advice would you give your teenage self if you could go back in time?
I would say keep doing what you’re doing! I’m really happy with my career, what I've achieved and the good times I've had along the way and can honestly say, I wouldn’t want to change any of it.
Can you tell us about your charity work, how it started and what you do?
I’ve been helping with the Lighthouse Youth Projects in Adelaide for a few years now, working with underprivileged and at-risk youths using bikes as a tool to mentor and support them onto a positive life pathway. I volunteer and help where I can, mainly coaching kids and teenagers with on-bike skills. Bikes have given me so much in my life and this is a way to give back to people less fortunate than me.
That’s awesome Connor! Thanks and good luck at the races this year, we can’t wait to see what you can do on your new bikes…