Isabella Naughton learned how to go fast early in life via our good old friend gravity, and gas powered motors. Now as a member of the 2020 Liv Racing Team, she is ready for this year’s EWS season. Isabella tells us how she transitioned from skiing to mountain biking, highlights from her 2019 season, and more.
Follow Isabella on Instagram @isabella.naughton
MTBK: Talk about growing up and how bikes became a part of your life.
Isabella: Both my parents raced professionally, downhill mountain bikes. My dad was actually in the first X Games and he won the downhill. I kind of grew up around racing. When I learned how to ride a bike, my parents put me in moto gear and just sent me down a hill. That’s how I figured out how to ride a bike – but I didn’t like to ride bikes at all, I just never wanted to. I grew up ski racing and I feel like “Why would I want to pedal up a hill?” So, I didn’t really like riding bikes until about four years ago.
MTBK: That’s common with younger people, but you were almost 16 years old.
Isabella: My sophomore year of high school was when I was actually started to like it.
MTBK: How did that happen?
Isabella: My mom took me to an enduro race, and I enjoyed it. Then I raced NICA because of people wanting me to, and then I just began to like it. I mean, my ski racing was kind of ending just because it’s hard to be a professional ski racer out of Arizona.
MTBK: Other than skiing, tell me about the other sports and activities that contributed to your biking abilities.
Isabella: I raced off-road modified trophy karts with the Lucas Oil off road racing series.
MTBK: How old were you when you got into the mod-kart discipline?
Isabella: I started driving Go-karts when I was probably five or six on the pavement. And when I was eight, I was able to start doing the karts and I started in Junior I and then went up to Junior II and then I think I was probably 14 or 15 when I went into the modified karts.
MTBK: So, were there any other girls in the races?
Isabella: Yeah. There was a few of us. We were we were all pretty close in the racing because there was only three or four of us racing ever. But I was actually the first girl to podium in the Modified Karts in the 2014 national series. So, that was cool.
MTBK: Some athletes say motor sports cancel out some of the risk or fear in mountain biking. Can you expand on that based on your background?
Isabella: It was skiing for me more than motor sports. Specifically ski racing – racing downhill you go fast: 60, 65, 70 miles per hour. You’re on these two boards and then you’re in a skin suit just going straight down the hill as fast as you can. I think that just doing that and having that being like, “I can do this” has contributed to me thinking, “Well, if I can do that I can go fast downhill on a bicycle” because you’re never going that fast on the bicycle. There’s no way you can go 70 miles per hour in a downhill or enduro race. I raced ski cross also for a little bit which is like BMX just on skis. Just having to conquer those fears on skis contributed to being able to do the same on a bike.
MTBK: Do people fear being in a car with you because you’ve been going fast your entire life?
Isabella: Actually, I’ve had my friends tell me they trust me way more than anybody else. So, I feel like that’s a good thing.
MTBK: Where is your favorite place to mountain bike?
Isabella: Definitely Revelstoke. It was the best riding I’ve ever done. Ever. We rode up this road or you could shuttle up the road. The trails were just super fun. It’s like Whistler, but without all the people. I don’t even know how to explain it. It was just really fun.
MTBK: You are on the American Trophy of Nations team last year. Tell me a bit about that and riding with Lauren Bingham and Anna Newkirk.
Isabella: That experience was really cool for me. It’s different, being able to ride with two other people at the same time and your times are the same as their times pretty much it all gets combined together. Racing by yourself is different, because you’re racing with a clock, but racing with somebody in front of you, it’s like, just try and keep up with them kind of thing. And that was really cool to have Anna in front of me, and try and keep up with her. And then have Lauren behind me making sure she doesn’t catch up to me. It was a really cool experience being able to ride with people the whole time and not just ride for yourself, but ride for others.
MTBK: How did you figure out the sequence of who would go first, who would be in the middle and who would play the role of caboose?
Isabella: It definitely depended on the trail because there were some stages that required more pedaling, and Lauren is really good at that. We tried different things when we were pre-riding. And then we determined our order based on how we felt on each day.
MTBK: What were stages like? Was it just as nerve racking as any other race as far as being at the bottom and watching other times come in or knowing where you stood, and what you had to do in order to move up in the ranks?
Isabella: Yeah. It was definitely nerve racking. That was the last race of the year for me and I was definitely on the more tired side. I knew I wasn’t performing. I mean, I was trying to. I was definitely giving it the best that I could give it. But I went to Zermatt, Switzerland the week before and I could just tell I was tired because I wasn’t expecting to travel to Europe for these last few races. I mean, that’s not an excuse or anything but it was definitely nerve racking because I just wanted to perform well for me and then for my team. Just being the trails in Europe are so much different than riding here. A lot of it is hiking trails that have tight switchback corners and I wasn’t very good at that. It was stressful having to figure out how to ride different terrain in a short amount of time.
MTBK: Do you have any favorite athletes past or present that have inspired you or continue to inspire you?
Isabella: All the women on Liv-racing are incredible people. They inspire me every day to work harder. The women on Liv-racing are definitely my favorite athletes right now.
MTBK: Tell me about your first mountain bike coaches – who were your coaches and what you recall doing to improve your skills?
Isabella: Definitely my parents and my NICA coach was Dustin Philips. He started the NICA team at our high school and he really did a lot to make me better and help the other athletes and team members get better.
MTBK: So, was it just physical training or was he a good sports psychologist as well?
Isabella: He got me just stop overthinking things and just ride my bike. Now, I’m being coached by Jared Becker and he raced professional BMX and now he races XC. He’s super strong and so he’s my fitness coach and then he also helps me work on skills.
MTBK: What did you focus on during winter training? Because you’re in Arizona, you get to ride all year round. And so, I imagine you don’t spend a lot of time off the bike.
Isabella: I got home from Italy and I took about a month off probably. Then, I started in the gym. Being in Flagstaff, it still makes it kind of hard sometimes during the week to ride. I did spend a little bit of time on the trainer or I just bundled up because I want to solely sit on the trainer. So, I’d go ride in the cold and then on the weekends or halfway through the week, I’d drive down the Phoenix and ride. This offseason has been really good. It’s only been my first offseason where I’ve had a structured plan right off the start and knew what I was doing in October versus trying to start training in January.
MTBK: What about skiing? how many times have you gone skiing in the last few months?
Isabella: Zero. It’s weird for me and this is what I say to everyone but I don’t want to. There’s just too many people coming up and skiing and it’s kind of scary. There’s hundreds of people and you don’t want to get ran over by people who don’t know what they’re doing.
MTBK: So, it’s more of a risk management issue than anything?
Isabella: Yeah. And then it’s just weird. Growing up ski racing I was up there four to five days a week training. And I would get up there some mornings I’d be on the trail at 7am when the trail got open to the public at 9am and we would just be doing training runs. And it’s weird for me to go up and just ski groomers. If there was a good powder day, I probably go up there. But again, it’s just weird. I don’t really have a ton of interest in skiing groomers.
MTBK: What are your biggest events on the schedule for this year?
Isabella: The Enduro World Series races. I am not going to the first two in South America, but I’m hoping to do the rest. I’m hoping to do the rest of that series and try and win that overall for my last year in U21 women.
MTBK: Are you going to the remaining Crankworx events?
Isabella: Just Whistler, which is an EWS race, but it’s during Crankworx. I’d like maybe to do some more of those in the future. I think those will be fun.
MTBK: It seems like your skill set seems well suited for the Queen of Crankworx. Can you get around on the pump track well?
Isabella: I’ve raced BMX in the past, and it’s something I like to do. But it’s definitely something I want to get better at before I try and go race it. But I really like Dual Slalom. I want to start doing that more.
MTBK: What about Formation? Do you have any interest in doing that?
Isabella: They’re all crazy. It would take a lot to get me to do that. It’s something that I would think would be so cool to participate in but I need to work on some stuff first.
MTBK: What are some highlights from last season and a couple things that you’d want to improve on that may have slipped through the spokes based on experience from last year?
Isabella: My highlight was winning the EWS Continental U21 overall. And then getting to to three of the EWS events: Whistler, Northstar and Vermont. I was second in Whistler and Northstar. And then being able to go to Europe for the first time.
MTBK: Northstar looked crazy last year. Was it as gnarly as it looked on screen?
Isabella: It was crazy. I like that riding because it’s pretty similar to Flagstaff. Chunky and rocky.
MTBK: Talk about representing the Liv-Racing Team this year.
Isabella: It’s been a dream come true because I don’t think I’d be necessarily getting to do what I was doing if I wasn’t a part of the team. Just being able to represent women, women’s cycling, and just women in sports in general. And in an environment that really wants to improve women’s cycling. That’s all Liv-Racing is about. They make their bikes. They’re not painted with Liv from a Giant Bike. It’s a completely different mold and frame. Everything’s different from the Giant bike to the Liv bike and I think that’s cool because you don’t see that in anybody else’s women’s branded bikes. They’re just painted for the most part. It’s cool to be a part of something that is really focused on getting women more involved in the sport.
MTBK: What bikes are you riding this season?
Isabella: My enduro bike is the Liv Hail. That’s 170mm front and 160mm rear 27.5 inch wheels. My trail bike is the Intrigue Liv in three which is 160mm travel in the front and 140mm in the rear. I also have the cross country bike. It’s the Peak. That is 131mm front and 120mm rear travel. Last, I have the Envy, one of Liv’s road bikes. I’ve got it all covered.
MTBK: What’s the extent of your bike mechanic skills? I mean, being around the vehicles at such a young age and stuff and having your parents into bikes, are you mechanically inclined?
Isabella: I’m not awesome at it. But I can do things like change a tire, take my bike apart, put it in the bike bag, fly somewhere, put it back together, I can do those kind of things.
MTBK: Do you coach when you have the time?
Isabella: I’m helping coach with NICA teams when I can. I’m a Level 1 coach for them. I like to go ride with my local Flagstaff high team and then I’ll come down to Phoenix and ride with the Boulder Creek team.
MTBK: Are you in school now?
Isabella: I’m taking two online classes through the community college right now. I’m taking biology and nutrition, just the pre-reqs that you need for the nursing degree. I would like to get my nursing degree eventually.
MTBK: Do you have any advice for parents who have kids who are getting into racing?
Isabella: Just don’t make your kid ride their bike if they don’t want to ride kind. This is funny because I didn’t want to ride and now here we are. I love riding now, though. Just don’t force it because then they just get burnt out and then they really don’t want to do it. Just allow your kids to progress at their own pave. Avoid pushing them too hard, too fast.
MTBK: What do you want to earn this year?
Isabella: I definitely want to win the EWS Continental overall again this year. And then I’d like to try and win the EWS U21 overall for my last year in U21 before I move to pro.
MTBK: Thank you very much for talking with us. Any shout outs?
Isabella: Obviously, both my parents – Amber and Robert. And then coaches Jared Becker, Dustin Phillips and the Flagstaff high mountain bike team and Boulder Creek mountain bike team. My sponsors are the Giant Factory Off Road Team, Liv Cycling, Fox Suspension, Shimano, HT Components, 100%, Jaybird, Maxxis Tires, Park Tool, Go Pro, MRP, ODI Grips, and Honey Stinger. And my uncle, he calls himself the mayor of Naughville.