Bespoken Word – The day I rode Rachel Atherton's World Cup winning MTB and other tales from my adventures in cycling journalism

Rachel Atherton, Jim Monro and Paul Brett riding at Dyfi MTB park
Chasing Rachel Atherton and Jim Monro at Dyfi Bike Park (Image credit: Moonhead Media)

I'm often told I have a very cool job, writing about and taking photos of some of the best mountain bikes on the planet, meeting some of the personalities within the cycling world and testing some of the best cycling apparel and technology. It sounds for a fan of mountain bikes and all things cycling in general like one of the greatest jobs you could wish for, and well to be fair it pretty much is. I count myself very lucky to have what is a privileged position, I've met, interviewed and hung out with World Champions, shared pizza with Olympians, drank beers on the side of a mountain with a Red Bull Hardline rider, and even ridden the very highly specced downhill mountain bike of a six-time World Champion. I've also been told that I should write a book on the many crazy and frankly "did that just happen" moments I've had over the years, maybe this can be a test chapter, for those who are interested these are just a couple of few highlights of my adventures in cycling journalism...

Gee Atherton petting a dog

Gee Atherton was in relaxed form when I met him Atherton HQ  (Image credit: Paul Brett)

One of the most memorable days I've had started when an email inviting me down to Wales and DyfiBike Park, to see the new downhill bikes being produced by the Athertons. The Atherton bikes project was at the time in its infancy and had just started taking orders on a newly launched website. Gill, who looks after the PR at Atherton during a phone call, had briefed me on the day, with a tour of the design and production procedures involved. I set off for the monster drive to Wales early morning a few weeks later, arriving in Llanrhaeadr Ym Mochnant mid-morning. I met Gill who was also just arriving and we went inside for coffee, where she told me Gee would be arriving soon, to chat over the bikes and anything else I'd like to chat about. I was about to meet a true legend of downhill and have a one to one chat...

She also casually dropped in some riding up at Dyfi in the afternoon. I then spent some time looking over the 3D printing (it's way more than that) that is the heart of the Atherton bike production and heard how the bikes are 'glued' together. Gee had now arrived and after some chat about travel and how his recovery was going, our chat was only a few months after his life-threatening crash whilst filming 'The Knife Edge', so he was still moving slowly, telling about the numerous bits of metal holding him together. 

Gee Atherton at Red Bull Hardline 2022

Gee racing again at Red Bull Hardline 2022 (Image credit: Paul Brett)

We spoke about numerous subjects from the launch of the new Atherton bikes, future models, bone-shattering crashes, plans for the future, and if he'd ever race again. Fast forwarding to the present, everything he spoke about has happened, his competitive comeback at Red Bull Hardline last year and the launch of the Atherton AM.170. His grit and determination to race again had been so obvious and admirable in our chat, and I was delighted to have the chance to take images of him racing at Hardline last year, knowing in detail the scale of his Knife Edge crash. After chatting we sat down for lunch with some of the team and Gill told me that Rachel would be waiting to ride around Dyfi with me... Rachel who? I said foolishly. Atherton, she added, adding she's back riding and happy to show you around.

Gee Atherton looking at an Atherton bike

Gee talked me over plans for Atherton Bikes (Image credit: Paul Brett)

As I followed Gill up to nearby Dyfi, I was feeling slightly anxious, about to ride with the six times Downhill Champion of the World. Rachel had alreaady arrived, her baby daughter Arna and her mum on babysitting duty too. As we chatted I greeted Arna in her car seat and she gave me a big smile, Rachel added, "Oh she must like you, she usually cries with strangers". Thanks, Arna I thought, I've made a good impression, impressed baby equals impressed mum. As we headed to the uplift, Rachel introduced another rider who would join us, just Jim Monro, who now rides for the Continental Atherton team. Even less pressure now I thought.

On the uplift, Rachel told me we would ride a load of the trails built by her brother Dan Atherton, including the 'Supa Swoopa', as she then proceeded to sing Super Trooper by ABBA, don't crash was all I was thinking, but felt slightly more relaxed as she belt out ABBA. At the top Rachel noted my shoes, which were flat-soled MTB shoes, and pointed out I had been given clipped pedals on the bike, a mix-up in comms had gone unnoticed until it was time to ride. "You ride my bike, the pedals are flat, we are around the same height" she said. So now if you'd imagine the scene, I'm at the top of Rachel Atherton's own bike park, on Rachel Atherton's own super specced Atherton bike, about to follow her and Jim Monro down the trails I never ridden before. To say the nerves came back tenfold, would be the biggest understatement ever.

Paul Brett chatting with Rachel Atherton and Jim Monro

"So Rachel I think this is what you're doing wrong..." Chewin' the fat with the champ (Image credit: Paul Brett)

We set off the first run pretty slow as I just tried to get down without damaging her stunning bike or myself, again pinching myself as I followed Rachel, obviously taking it easy for me in her bright Orange jacket, and Red Bull World Champs helmet, looking super smooth as she flowed down the ‘Supa Swoopa’ trail. We spent a few hours going up and down, chatting about her plans for coming back, motherhood and when the time was up, we had a coffee at the Dyfi Bike Park cafe before I headed to my hotel for an evening of telling everyone I knew, who I'd spent the afternoon riding with.

I've since met and spoken to Rachel several times, most recently interviewing her for Bike Perfect as she hinted at a possible World Champs return at Fort William, and after her win at Lenzerheide last weekend, and the confirmation she will head to Leogang this weekend, it's almost a certainty she'll be at the World Championships, I for one will be roaring her on at Fort 'Bill in August.

Beth Shreiver in the rainbow jersey riding her BMX in Manchester

The shot of the day at a memorable day with World Champion Beth Shreiver (Image credit: Paul Brett)

I'll admit BMX hasn't always been on my radar for coverage and it certainly doesn't get the coverage it deserves. At the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2022, Beth Shreiver won Gold for Great Britain in incredible scenes as she was carried by her teammate Kye Whyte, unable to walk at the end in a combination of exhaustion and adrenaline. Her live interview went out on the BBC full of swear words. I remember thinking at the time, I'm going to try and interview her. Beth then went on to win the BMX Worlds later that year, and after some digging around, I secured a day's access with Beth at the Manchester BMX training facility.

Arriving in Manchester, I hung around at reception as arranged and the doors swung open, it was Beth in her rainbow jersey, and in her London accent greeted me, "Alright mate, you the guy that's here for some pics and a chat?". She was so down to earth, saying I had around two hours, and just to tell her what I needed for images, as we went into the amazing BMX facility. Beth then proceeded to ride around the track several times, doing start gate practice, powering down the track, and putting on an impressive display of BMX riding. I remember at the time looking at one shot thinking that is a cover image, with no plans to put BMX on the cover of the magazine I was editor of at the time, and having met some of the other riders in the Team GB BMX set up, I decided on the way home to put her on the cover and make her story the lead article.

Beth Shreiver holding her Prophecy BMX bike

Its not every day a World Champion will hold their bike for a photo (Image credit: Paul Brett)

When the issue was published, I sent her lots of copies and she was very pleased with the resulting article. Inviting me to a Glasgow training camp at the same time. I took her up on that invite a few months later and had two days of just me and the Team GB BMX squad, getting to know the other riders like Kye Whyte, Ross Cullen and Paddy Sharrock, who have all continued to develop and are all aiming for World Champs glory in Glasgow this year. I also shot her latest Prophecy BMX bike with the World Champion holding the bike in place, thinking as I shot, “this shit just doesn't happen every day”.

Beth also contacted me a few weeks after the Glasgow shoot, asking if she could put my images in her biography. Of course, I agreed and I'm proud to have my name in her biography The Power of Belief, which was also shortlisted for the Sunday Times Sports Book Awards in 2023.

Paul Brett and Beth Shreiver pose for a photo

My images of Beth ended up in her biography which was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Sports Book Awards (Image credit: Paul Brett)

Just a few pinch-myself moments that I've experienced over the years in the incredible world of cycling, plenty more I have but they'll keep for the book – Paul Brett, Adventures of a Cycling Journalist. 

Paul Brett
Staff writer

Based in Edinburgh, Paul Brett is a staff writer for BikePerfect.com. He has been an avid cyclist for as long as he can remember, initially catching the mountain biking bug in the 1990s, and raced mountain bikes for over a decade before injury cut short a glittering career. He’s since developed an obsession for gravel riding and recently has dabbled in the dark art of cyclocross. A fan of the idea of bikepacking he has occasionally got involved and has ridden routes like the North Coast 500, Scotland and the Via Francigena (Pilgrim Route), Italy.


Current rides: Marin Alpine Trail 2, Ribble 725, Cube Stereo 160

Height: 175cm