First things first: Dylan Conte is faster than you. Way faster. But that’s not what makes Dylan such an interesting dude: his speed on a bike is matched only by his humility off the bike. He’s a kid that understands the value of working hard to get what he wants out of life instead of sitting around waiting for someone to do it for him. He’s got a DIY ethos that trickles into many other facets of his life (if you’ve seen his “truck” you’ll know what I mean). And in spite of a few not-so-minor setbacks, he always seems to have smile on his mustachio’d face.
Dylan’s been a Stowe MTB team rider for a few seasons now and he’s just about the best ambassador we could ask for. But he’s had a rough go of it lately, suffering a pretty major knee injury last year, and now a broken neck. But fear not, Stowe’s fastest shredder will be back on his bike and schooling the competition again before we know it. In an effort to help preserve Dylan’s sanity during the recovery process, we put him to work answering some questions about being a privateer racer, what the future holds, and what makes him tick.
Name: Dylan Conte
Occupation: Bicycle Racer
Hometown: Stowe, Vermont
Number of years riding: 9
Favorite local trail: Tony’s
Favorite non-local trail: Bennet’s Gap (Pisgah National Forest)
Smooth and groomed or rough and rooty: Rough and rooty every time!
Weapon(s) of choice:
DH: SantaCruz V10
Hardtail: Deity Cryptkeeper
Trail Bike: While I don’t own a Nomad (yet), I recently rode the Santa Cruz Nomad and that is now my most favorite trail bike I’ve ever ridden, hands down, second to none!
To Strava or not to Strava: It’s a guilty pleasure I do partake in every once in a while…when I’m all alone.
Post ride beverage of choice: Always ready for a Heady! Heady Topper!
Alright, let’s get down to brass tacks. Tell us how you got into MTB?
I remember when I went into middle school they told us one of the prerequisites to graduating was getting 40 hours of community service. I had big plans to procrastinate on this, but when my father found out he pushed me to do it early and steered me towards working with the bike club and going to a dig day for the new bike park in town. Honestly I wasn’t really too excited about going, but after that first day and after meeting the cast of characters that have since become some of my best friends, I was hooked! I got my dad to help buy me a cheap dirt jump bike and in the following years I spent almost every day at that park. Without that first experience I’m certain I would be a very different person today; and we certainly wouldn’t be having this Q&A.
What’s your most memorable ride?
Jeeez! That’s a hard one! I would probably have to go back to my first or second year really riding. I was probably 14 or 15 and the Stowe dirt jumps had just been built. We had a fall jump jam coming up that I had been anticipating all year. All the east coast local dirt jump legends showed up and we rode the morning in Stowe and the afternoon in Johnson. It was a dream day for me riding with all the old Sinister and Doberman team and watching the guys do things I had only seen in videos prior to then. At this time all I knew was dirt jumps, no trail bike or trail riding; dirt jumping and riding my hardtail was my life, so this was a day that stoked me out for a really long time!
Describe your riding style:
I would love to just say smooth but I’m pretty sure the pile of broken wheels in my garage and the long list of broken frames probably ruins the validity of that. I think I have a jump and pump track style that I bring to my trail and downhill bike.
You’ve raced a few World Cups. Doesn’t that theoretically make you one of the fastest 180 or so dudes on the planet?
Haha I wish it was that easy! I’ve done three World Cups and qualified for only one (Mont Saint-Anne, 61st place). They take top 80 at the World Cups so yeah I guess on that one day, you could have said I was top 62 in the world. Unfortunately you are only as good as your last race in this sport. Since 2014 I’ve had a couple serious injuries and haven’t had the chance to be fully healthy and go for more World Cups but I plan to do a lot more in the coming years so don’t count me out, that’s for sure!
Dylan doing his thing for an SMBC promo video from last season (Dylan’s riding starts at about the 55 second mark). Video courtesy Jake Goss.
What are your goals as a racer?
I would like to become a full time World Cup racer. Of course I want to win a World Cup, but that’s a goal I’ll have to grow into over time. For now just being able to go to every World Cup and put points on the board at all of them would be a dream come true!
Tell us about your sponsorship program this year?
At the end of last year I decided I wanted to change how I went about my sponsorship program. I scaled back a lot and looked closer to home to not only get support from friends and people that have been in my corner since day one, but to also help support and promote those same friends and businesses. I’m super happy to continue working with the Stowe MTB Club, Deity Components, Fly Racing, The Alchemist, and Stowe Hardware for 2016 as they had backed me in years past and all both great friends and sponsors.
New for this year was the addition of both iRide and Piecasso. The guys at iRide are great friends and build the sickest bikes so when they were interested in helping me it was a no brainer! Piecasso has been my favorite since I was a grom so the opportunity to have them on board is a dream come true. Awesome people and great food? Hell yeah!
It’s been really nice for the first time ever to have really good relationships with each and every one of my sponsors. Being close with them, both personally and geographically, also really allows me to make sure that they get their money’s worth out of the bargain as well. Instead of having a lot of far-away companies that can sometimes be tough to coordinate with, I have good friends that are always excited to see me swing by and say “hey.” It’s something I can say won’t be changing any time soon.
Let’s talk about that Santa Cruz V10 you’re on for a minute. Good lord that’s one handsome bike.
Man I don’t even know what to say! iRide built up one of the damn-near-sexiest bikes I’ve ever seen. I can’t thank them enough. Back when I was a grom working at iRide I had a V10 and since then I’ve ridden for a new downhill brand each year. That’s six different bikes!
This V10 really sets the bar for downhill bikes so obviously I’m happy to be on a bike I already know is proven and capable. Plus I can’t tell you how happy I am just to get back on the same bike next year! Having that at-home feeling on a bike you’ve been riding for years is something I’ve missed so I’m excited to finally get that with this bike.
How’s the van working out? That’s gotta be the envy of every other privateer out there. (Dylan travels to domestic races in a Dodge Sprinter van he customized himself)
The van has made my life racing bikes so much easier these past few years. It was a case of the right place right price right time when I bought that thing and I’m so happy I found it. Each year it gets a little better too. It’s pretty well set up for what I need now but I’m always scheming!
Do you ever park your van by a river just so you can say, “I live in a van down by the river”?
Haha not yet but I’ll add that to the to do list. I did park it in front of my friends’ house in Asheville, NC and live in it this past winter!
I heard you’re a pretty mechanically handy dude—did most of the work on your van, overhauled some motos, etc.?
Yeah I try to take care of most of my own stuff, not to sure how it happened really, haha. I grew up working at iRide at a young age and I guess that really helped me have a logical way of problem solving and fixing all sorts of mechanical things. Growing up and still even now I figure if I want something and couldn’t afford it, the best way to get it was to buy a broken one and fix it.
Tell us about your crash. Sounds like a not-so-minor miracle that you’re walking today.
The injury is really where the story is, the crash definitely does not live up to the magnitude of the injury. Honestly 80% of the people reading this have probably crashed harder than how I did when I broke my neck. It was just a freak over the bars that put me perfectly on the top of my head and broke my C7 vertebra. It was definitely scary hearing those words and thinking about the repercussions; and that a couple millimeter movement of that sharp broken piece could have meant paralysis.
All in all I’m extremely lucky and unlucky all at the same time, while it was a super unlucky odd ball crash I’m very lucky to be walking again. It’s been fused to the C6 and there is a complete and full recovery in my future. This type of injury only makes me want to ride my bike and live my life with even more passion because it reminds you that if you don’t enjoy each day you get, you run the risk of living with a lot of regret.
I’ve learned life can change in the blink of an eye from the smallest of things, and I want to be sure that if I find myself in that situation I want to be looking forward ,content and ready, and not regretting the past.
There’s some conflicting opinion on the efficacy of neck braces. Do you think a neck brace like a Leatt would have helped?
Even in hindsight I find it hard to believe it would have helped due to the impact being directly from the top. With that being said I’m interested in neck braces as it’s a risk that is absolutely worth minimizing. I used to wear one back in the day but ditched it due to it’s cumbersome feel and high chance of collarbone injuries from non-neck threatening falls. I’m not sold just yet but I plan to try some more on and make that decision before I ride again.
How about your goals long term, what’s next after racing bikes around the world?
With the current neck injury I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. Because let’s face it, nothing makes you re-evaluate your life quite like breaking your neck. Honestly right now I don’t have a solid answer for you. I have a lot of passions and dreams and once I’ve finished chasing this dream I’ll already have another one lined up. Eventually my focus will turn towards creating a career I enjoy but I can guarantee you that no matter what It is, I will still be riding my bike, moto, snowboard, et cetera, every day!
You have a pretty cool youth coaching initiative in the works, what’s the story there?
I got to where I am now thanks to the positive role models and good friends I’ve had in the Stowe MTB community over the years. I’d like to be that same kind of mentor; if that’s something I can do for the next generation of kids it would be a dream come true!
I had a blast during my childhood by riding and racing bikes with people of all ages that were just as passionate as I am now. So If I can even have one young kid now look back in five or ten years and say “I couldn’t have had a more fun childhood thanks to bicycles and the people that ride them,” then I would consider this whole thing a huge success!
You’ve ridden all over North America and spend a lot of time each spring down south (North Carolina). What keeps you coming back to Stowe to ride?
How do I even answer that without putting everyone to sleep with a long boring essay. There are literally too many factors to list. The people, trails, terrain, weather, dirt, so much of our area is so unique and it’s really the best mix of everything around. If Stowe Mountain Resort ever stopped teasing us with its yearly rumors of downhill and finally built a bike park, I would never have to answer this question again because I would never leave!
Dylan, we can’t thank you enough for taking the time to answer all of these questions and give us a bit more insight into what makes you tick. On behalf of the entire Stowe MTB community, we wish you a full and speedy recovery!