The 18-year-old downhill legacy opens up about finding his love for racing
When the brand new RockShox Trek Race Team was announced, one name may have felt familiar. Ethan Shandro is the son of downhill racing icon Andrew Shandro, who also serves as a team manager for both Trek Factory Racing Downhill and RockShox Trek. Ethan also recently raced under the Trek umbrella, getting on the podium three times as a junior racer for TFR in 2019, including a silver medal at the World Cup race in Maribor.
At not-quite 19 years old, Shandro speaks like a wisened veteran already. He is already attempting his first career comeback after an accident in late 2019 that left him with lingering concussion symptoms. In 2020, he took a break from racing and gained a new perspective on the sport.
“I was just enjoying riding my bike with friends and not putting too much pressure on it at all, while also doing other things I love,” Shandro said. “It was definitely a unique 2020 for me, just with the injury and my riding situation, but overall I felt like I learned a lot about myself.”
Shandro is approaching 2021 with a relaxed mindset. He’s hoping to clear out the last dregs of his injury and, more importantly, enjoy the process of racing again. With a new team comes the possibility of reinvention, and Shandro sees RockShox Trek as an opportunity to become a better mentor and creative in addition to a racer.
In the following interview, he opens up about his season goals, working with his dad and favorite moments of a burgeoning downhill career. This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
What’s your origin story with cycling? When did you first pick up a bike, and when did you first realize that you wanted to race?
Ethan Shandro: When I first started my parents were super into biking, and obviously my dad raced. I think I remember my parents telling me I was riding down the street with no training wheels at the age of two. And then from there it was like, I spent the winters ski racing and the summers biking. And in the end I picked biking.
It was something that brought me a lot of joy on and off the bike just in day to day life. And I think I really started to be motivated to race around 13 or 14; that’s when I started to go into the gym, and started riding with the faster guys. And I’m super competitive so it’s kind of a natural step to just keep pushing myself and see where it could take me.
How well do you know your new teammates? And what have your interactions been since this team has come together?
Shandro: The team coming together was super awesome. After last year, being injured and just being able to have a solid team like this — you work super hard to race at the highest level, and when a team gives you an opportunity like this, it’s one in a million. So I’m super stoked. And the team’s great, there’s lots of young motivated people, so we’ll definitely be all pushing each other to get where we want to be.
You work super hard to race at the highest level, and when a team gives you an opportunity like this, it's one in a million.
Tegan Cruz, your teammate and fellow Canadian, mentioned that you’ve ridden together and that you’ve been a good resource for him. Is that something you’re trying to do going forward, to continue to be a good example for younger riders?
Shandro: Tegan is a two-hour drive away from me, and I used to be on the same team as his brother [Lucas Cruz], and our families are close. So for him and I to be able to ride is a great thing. It’s like when I used to ride with the older guys when I was his age, it’s pushing you to be a better rider, and yeah I think it’s a great tool for him to become the racer that he wants to be one day.
You mentioned that your families are close, how far back do you guys go?
Shandro: We go back to when Lucas and I were on a team together — actually even before that. At Whistler Bike Park we used to do summer camps for biking. It’s basically a weekly camp every Tuesday and Thursday, and Lucas and I were in that every week together.
So we slowly got to know each other, and we’re going to the races, it was when we were probably 14 or so. So we’re going to the races, and our parents met, and then Lucas and I were on the Trek Development Team together for two years. So we went to New Zealand together, to Europe together. We spent a bunch of time, and now I go up to his place and we work on my truck together. It’s a close relationship for sure.
Obviously you’re still really young rider yourself. How are you looking to develop as a rider through RockShox Trek? How do you want to get better physically, mentally?
Shandro: For me, being on this team and having these amazing resources, I’m really just looking to improve myself as a racer, like my race craft, just coming to the races in a stable place and not worrying about people around me, just myself and my goals. And also this opportunity is super unique for me, too, because it’s giving me the chance to not only race, but if I want to do some photo stuff, or a video project, that’s also up in the air. So, yeah, I want to overall become a better person and biker, and if I’m racing, just put all my focus into that.
You mentioned not worrying about people around you. What do you mean by that? Is that something you feel you’ve struggled with before?
Shandro: Yeah, like, I heard this quote a couple of days ago, and it was about how comparison is the evil of happiness. And that definitely resonated with me a lot because I think when you compare yourself to people around you, either at a mountain bike race, or just in day to day life, you’re kind of taking away that attention from yourself. I feel like it’s definitely important to just focus on yourself. You can’t control the things around you, but you can control what you’re doing. So that’s definitely a huge focus for me as I get back into racing.
What about specific racing goals this season? Are there races that you’re targeting, or are you still, maybe for right now, focused on just getting back to full health?
Shandro: My goals for racing this year are just to come back healthy and enjoy the process of it all. I’m actually not putting too much pressure on myself. I’m not really setting any goals just quite yet just because I want to get healthy first. That’s kind of where I’m at: Get healthy and then just take it step by step.
I heard this quote a couple of days ago, and it was about how comparison is the evil of happiness. And that definitely resonated with me.
What was 2020 like for you? Did you use it to spend time off the bike? Or conversely, did you spend more time just riding for enjoyment?
Shandro: I felt like at the end of 2019, obviously I had my injury. I came back from Europe and then I was having to deal with my injury, and I kind of lost the love for a bit. And then as we all went into quarantine, the restrictions weren’t too strict around here, and I was just riding by myself in the hills and no one was around and I definitely think I found the love for it a little more. So, yeah, it was great for me. Like, through 2020, I was just enjoying riding my bike with friends and not putting too much pressure on it at all, while also doing other things I love. It was definitely a unique 2020 for me, just with the injury and my riding situation, but overall I felt like I learned a lot about myself. I’d say it was a successful year.
How is your dad sort of guiding you through a lot of this, both in terms of the last year and as a rider overall? Would you say that his approach is hands on or hands off?
Shandro: I feel like anyone who is around my dad and I know that we spend a lot of time together. And I would say he’s pretty hands on, but he’s also hands off at the same time. I know that he knows that I like to do things my own way. And it’s probably been detrimental to me in lots of situations, but to be honest I feel like my whole life I’ve kind of tried to take a different path than my dad. That’s kind of ironic, since I’m mountain bike racing like he is, but when I’m at the races I’m just trying to do my own thing.
But he’s super supportive with everything I do, so if I want to mountain bike race, he’s supportive, or if I want to pursue something else, he’ll be there for me. So yeah, it’s a good relationship.
You’re hopping on a new team and getting back towards racing. This is sort of a reintroduction of yourself to a lot of people following that great 2019 season. So how would you describe yourself to people who don’t know you yet, both as a person and as a rider?
Shandro: I think, me as a person is really just someone who appreciates what I have. And who just tries to give back. I’ve been very privileged in my situation, growing up with parents who are super supportive, so I really can’t express how grateful I am for everything I have. And for people who don’t know me, I’m just an easygoing guy who loves riding his bike.
What is your favorite moment ever on a bike? This could be racing, this could be not racing, but just a moment that you feel was your happiest time on two wheels?
Shandro: There’s just so many. If I was to pin it down to one moment, it would probably be coming second in my first World Cup. Just like a moment that just puts a huge smile on my face when I think about it. It’s just like you put so much work and dedication into something, and then when you get the result, it’s like you’re on this high. So yeah definitely, definitely that moment.
Tell me a little bit more about that. Was that a race where you were expecting — I mean, you said it was your first World Cup — were you expecting to do as well as you did? Were you surprised by the effort that you gave?
Shandro: Yeah, like the week before we were at iXS in Maribor and I got second, and it was the same kind of people who were racing the World Cup. But then the week before the World Cup, it was kind of when my injury was getting really bad, and it was hard because I knew that I could do well in the race, but there was also in the back of my mind this injury. So it was hard, but in the end I pulled through and I stayed focused and I definitely learned a lot about just being resilient through that time. It was a moment I’ll never forget.