Introducing Allan Shaw
A perfectly imperfect person
By Tom Owen
It’s clear within a few minutes of talking to Allan Shaw that he does not subscribe to the idea of easily codified identities.
“I’m happy wearing a bunch of different hats. I don’t hard-define my identity down these lines.”
He is someone who is variously described – depending who you ask – as a bike messenger, a free spirit, an eternal optimist, an ultra-distance racer, so it’s no surprise that Shaw puts movement and invention as key to his ethos.
“I’m extremely adaptable to places, like a chameleon wherever I go. I think that skill in and of itself has allowed me to slot in to loads of different geographical locations in a way, and make myself at home, despite the uniqueness of the surroundings.”
Capable of fitting in across a broad spectrum of places and cycling disciplines, but leery of conforming too rigidly to any one of these, Shaw likes to keep the lines blurred.
Since joining the Brooks family in 2021 when he tackled the Silk Road Mountain Race for the first time, the 34-year-old Scot has had a couple of tumultuous years, including an ultra-racing season heavily derailed by a crash with a truck driver in Mexico, his adopted home.
In 2023 he competed in four ultra-distance events, including notching up a second Silk Road completion, this time on a cargo bike. He also rode Bright Midnight in Norway, the Tour de Frankie in Mexico and Morocco’s Atlas Mountain Race.
Next year, he plans to move to Copenhagen, but his affection for Mexico remains clear and undimmed, describing the 4,000m climbs near Mexico City as, “nether, other-planetary, gorgeous-land.”
When viewed from the sidelines, the distances and number of hours in the saddle involved in long-distance bikepacking racing can seem super-human, but Shaw insists that ultras can be for everyone; that while physical preparation is important, there are also mental requirements that virtually anyone can adopt and hone in themselves. Chief among these is what he calls “intentional amnesia”.
“I’ve talked about this a lot in the past, the goldfish theory, where you just immediately forget everything that happens to you as soon as it’s over and just shake it off.
“That’s one of the proper, poignant life lessons that I’ve taken from it as well. ‘If it’s shit right now, you know, it can’t rain forever.’ Just put your head down, keep on turning the pedals and it’ll get better. And on the flip side, if it’s really good right now, enjoy it because it’s probably going to be shit later!”
He also cites an ability to just keep going as far more important to his own aptitude for ultra than his average speeds.
“The consistency game definitely has a huge mental component. To be able to pull yourself out of your sleeping bag after three hours sleep for the seventh day in a row, make your food, get on your bike and start riding.
“What I lack in speed and power, I make up for in consistency. Part of that is having been a messenger for 11 years, like being used to getting on your bike early doors and be on your bike all day.”
As Shaw has gained notoriety as an ultra-racer, he’s also had the opportunity to work with high-quality equipment suppliers as his partners. It’s quite a contrast from the esoteric, cobbled-together setups you often see on the messenger scene. And a departure for Shaw, too.
“One thing that has made my ultra-game as smooth sailing as possible this year is that I’ve been very lucky to work with really, really good brand sponsors. All of my kit has been at a very high level, especially compared to things I’ve used in the past. I appreciate good products that have been intentionally thought out.”
When it comes to what cycling has given him, it’s clear that Shaw’s life has been shaped significantly by the bicycle. From 11 years as a messenger, plus some phenomenal experiences racing around the world, to the courier company he helped to run and the life lessons he has taken from the sport. But what about what he has given back to the bike world?
“I think at this point I’m proud of much more confidently exuding my anti-elitism and anti-perfectionism. It’s something that I was very embarrassed about and very timid about for many years at the beginning of being a full time cyclist, because everything [in cycling] lends itself towards perfectionism.”
If Shaw’s own adventures on the bike inspire others, he believes it is not because of how impressive they might be, but how imperfectly he has pursued them.
“To have done so much stuff on bikes – while relying on imperfect setups, and as an imperfect person – and to have had a pretty great time doing it. Realising that actually, none of that stuff mattered as much as everyone makes out. Now I feel like people see the things I do with bikes and I have this opportunity to inspire others, I’m very deliberate in my desire to do it from an imperfect, ‘anyone-can-do-it’ place. I’m not necessarily anything special.”
Allan’s Adventure Essentials
C17 Carved Special
“For extremely long, arduous days in the saddle, back-to-back, the carved element of the comfortable C17 is a life saver for taking care of your toosh!”DISCOVER MORE
Scape Full Frame Bag
“I’m fortunate to be tall enough that my bike frame fits the full frame bag and still has room for a water bottle on the down tube!”DISCOVER MORE
Scape Handlebar Roll
“Simply the product I have gotten the most use out of. Reliable, durable, simple.”DISCOVER MORE
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