Sharjah Jonsson on chasing World Cup podiums, Pleasure Tax, Everesting, Trail Building & more

25 april 2024, cape town, south africa | interview with south african rider sharjah jonsson as published on bike network

A prodigious talent on any bike, Sharjah grew up racing Road, XC, Enduro and Downhill.

As a semi-professional, he trained with Greg Minnaar, rode with Kevin Benkenstein and competed in Europe and South America. Whilst the pandemic and resulting lockdowns decelerated what might have been a fruitful racing career, it’s not something he is particularly grumpy about. Sharjah is a guy who goes with the flow and after retiring from racing has created a new life as a Trail Builder and Tatoo Artist, living an endless-summer. Here’s Sharjah…

Where are you from and where do you live?

I grew up in Pietermaritzburg KZN and now spend half my year in Cape Town and half my year in Morzine, France.

What do you do for a living?

I build Mountain bike trails with Duran from Dirtlicious and tattoo from my home studio under the name Sorry Mom Tats.

Cortado or tea?

Actually I’m a flat white or espresso type of guy.

Who or what inspires you?

My list would be very long if I had to mention names but I am inspired by creatives. I think it’s a necessity as a human being to create and build stuff and people who are exploring these boundaries of creation really inspire me. People carving shapes on bikes, dirt into trails, art onto canvas (or people) and film and photography that makes me tick. I really look up to Josh Lewis. I think he really  has shown this to the mountain bike world that you don’t have to be defined to just be a rider.

25 april 2024, cape town, south africa | interview with south african rider sharjah jonsson as published on bike network
A Trail Building project in Morocco.

What hobbies do you have outside of biking?

I really enjoy my tattoo work. It’s rewarding doing permanent art on people. I also really like making films and edits and the whole process that goes along with it.

How did you get into riding?

My uncle took us riding in the Howick forests when I was 5 years old with my older sister and cousins.

Tell us the history of your racing experience.

I grew up racing Provincial and National Cross-country from 6 until 17 and raced my first world cup as a junior in cross country in Mankele. In between that time I raced National Road races and Time trials, I also everested with Kevin Benkenstein when I was 17, that was a big shift! When I was in Sub Junior (u/14) I was racing XC, Road and started Downhill and Enduro and was pretty happy racing it all but realized I had to focus on one for my Junior year and focused on DH and Enduro. I had some unlucky injuries both years putting me out of contention for World Champs downhill and ended up riding Enduro more.

My first year out of school (2018) I raced the Enduro World Series and had some good progression and learned a hell of a lot for a kid who had never left the country and was solo traveling South America and Europe on a shoestring budget. I headed back in 2019 and ended up 9th in the Enduro World Series with a best result of 7th and a stage win. I went over in 2020 and EWS was cancelled after 3 races due to Covid, so I raced DH World Cups and World Champs that year. During my last two years racing (2021-2022) I raced the EWS and Downhill World Cup, and I had a few really bad injuries breaking my shoulder, elbow and hand in separate crashes. I hung up my racing boots and went into making film projects for the past two years and aim to keep doing that for as long as I can.

Which of your racing results would you say is the one you cherish the most? Why?

That would have to be the 2019 Canazie EWS where I got 7th. I was in 4th dropping into the last stage and it was a long one where I knew I could pull back time and land my first World Cup podium. I ended up having a huge crash and got 7th, I was so gutted and took myself for a 2hour road pedal after and I was so disappointed in myself thinking I had failed but it ended up being my best race result. Hindsight is a beautiful thing!

Whether racing or riding, what is the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced on a bike?

That would have to be injury recoveries, season after season. It taught me if you just keep showing up and chipping away you can better yourself. Between 2019 and 2022 I broke my shoulder, hand twice, elbow in four places and severed the nerve in my injured shoulder and a few other sprains and tears along the way. Pleasure Tax, I guess.

In the professional ranks, who do you have the most respect for and why?

That has to be Greg Minnaar, he is just consistently dominant. I trained with him from when I was 15 and his consistency and professionalism of showing up no matter the conditions really showed me why he is the athlete that he is.

What triggered your love for Trail Building?

I just wanted to ride cool stuff and it was a no dig no ride community in Pietermaritzburg, all the older guys dug and we would help and then they moved on and we were the older guys and then the kids helped us. I think I just never really grew up and liked digging and creating trails that I liked.

Locally and internationally, Trail Builders are finally starting to receive support from riding communities and businesses. Why did the recognition of their craft take so long?

I think the growth of the sport has been exponential and with all the media it’s seen more. That has created a bigger funnel to get support for trail networks and parks.

In South Africa, what changes would you like to see with regards to trail building and trail advocacy, that would empower you to build more trails.

Less hustling of trail builders and parks, it’s a lot of work and knowledge that goes into it. A trail fee compared to a golf course fee is a fraction of the price but a set of golf clubs is a fraction of a bike’s price and I just don’t think that adds up.

What’s your favorite trail, all time. And why?

Sexy time on Plenny in Morzine. Steep and loamy and your brakes don’t stop you they just slow you down a bit. Madonna in Hogsback has to be my favorite South African trail, that whole network is unreal!

25 april 2024, cape town, south africa | interview with south african rider sharjah jonsson as published on bike network
The Alps!

Your dream destination for a bike ride is?

Squamish BC, Canada.

What one thing would you like all riders to remember and embrace?

Don’t take it too seriously, bikes are for fun. //

| IMAGES: Dan Milner, Sharjah Jonsson and Unknowns |

Watch Sharjah in Free Roaming

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