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Bespoken Word – celebrate and emulate

Rab Wardell
(Image credit: Courtesy)

A day after the UK race and ride scene heard some dreadful news about a true individual who touched a huge amount of people - many of whom never even met him - I thought I’d touch on possibly the most awesome part of our sport. The people in it.

RIP Rab

Rab Wardell died of a sudden cardiac arrest at just 37 years old, literally days after finally winning the Scottish National XC championship. Completing a set of wins he started as a junior and continued as an under 23. I didn’t know Rab personally, but I do know how loved and liked he was by many people I do know and my heart and thoughts go out to those who were close to him at this terrible time. 

The one positive that can be taken from the news is that Rab’s short time certainly wasn’t wasted or limited. Because as much as he was a massively respected and hugely liked Cross Country and Marathon MTB racer his influence and seemingly endless enthusiasm radiated and resonated far beyond that scene. BMX, Road, Enduro, E-MTB, Rab rode it all not just for training but because he simply loved being on a bike. Learning, pushing himself, meeting new people, and making new friends. 

All those cliches that marketing copywriters throw at sports like mountain biking all too easily, but which are actually really hard to do. Properly turning up with an empty cup and no ego ready to learn and respect those who could teach. Sure Rab had a hell of a talent for turning pedals and tweaking through trees at speed, but it was his attitude that was exceptional. Watch his “Old enough to know better” series on YouTube and you’ll see him trying everything from training weeks with the Wahoo Le Col pro team or World Series E-Enduro races with equal humility and happiness to learn. Still bursting with enthusiasm at 37 years old, even after some serious race setbacks and long dark times along the way. Something he was brave and honest enough to talk about in his recent podcast with Chris from Downtime. The same podcast covers the insane hours he used to put in to make his job coaching for Dirt School work or his time inspiring, coaching and educating others for Scottish Cycling. Things I was aware of, but you really get a proper understanding for when you hear him talking so frankly but also passionately about them. Just the fact he was having his best year ever and had finally turned properly Pro at 37 years old was an inspiration in itself.

For most though it was the film of him blasting his Santa Cruz Blur to the Fastest Known Time for the West Highland Way trail that put him on the radar. Not just as someone who could shrink a several-day, 95-mile expedition for most into nine hours and 14 minutes of riding, including an hour of hike-a-bike. But as someone as determined to enjoy the whole experience of rider against wilderness as much as he was to hit the training numbers and section-by-section schedule. That awesome video has been watched over 175,000 times now and will no doubt go on to inspire thousands more people in the future. A very modern transcribing of the type of uplifting epic warrior saga that’s echoed around the mountains and lochs of Scotland for millennia.

Legendary status unlocked

But while the amount Rab packed into his unfairly short life and the number of people he made better bikers through his coaching or his example was exceptional it isn’t unique. You don’t have to look far to find other people doing awesome, inspiring things. Like 18-year-old Matt Fairbrother. The young Kiwi EWS racer who came to Europe planning to ride between all the Continental rounds of the already brutally hard Enduro World Series events. Not for a video series or to get sponsorship, but just because he was too skint to travel any other way than riding an average of 250km a day for days on end on a high pivot Deviate Enduro bike with DH tires and all his other kit in bags or on his back. News of his fabulous Enduro equivalent of Forrest Gump soon spread and he’s received support from Deviate and others in the industry to get him to the races in Canada and the US. Plus a GoFund Me page (opens in new tab) that’s put over £6,000 into his food and overnight stop budget. He’s not even the only kid riding between events either, there are several other rad lads out there mixing training, transport, and breadline economics into their best life.

Rab Wardell

Rab Wardell was an inspiration who encapsulated a huge amount of what's brilliant about mountain biking. Ride In Peace Rab. (Image credit: CHPR3)

Make the most of now

And while I’ve picked two people who are in the news right now there are fantastic people all through our weird world that make it the great place it is to be part of. Folk who generally don’t quite fit into conventional sport, thinking, or even community but add the color, inspiration, growth, and grins that make mountain biking awesome. Those who push themselves, or gently push other people. Uplifting through video, interviews, coaching, or just a word of mid-ride encouragement or day after catch up. Originators creating hugely successful events or the organizers who sort out the weekly ride on WhatsApp. Athletes winning races at the highest level, or just architects and IT professionals who are definitely old enough to know better going all in against each other on a random climb on a Tuesday night. Visionaries who’ve carved a huge complex of stunning trails and defibrillated the economic heart of a South Wales valley in the process - happy birthday Bike Park Wales (opens in new tab). Or just those who stop for a second mid ride to pick up some litter or move a log. They’re all bloody heroes who brighten a world that seems ever more dismal for a multitude of reasons.

So whether you’re riding, choosing a podcast, reading a feature, watching YouTube, or pledging online to help get Matt to his next race, let’s celebrate the community we’re part of and try and emulate the best people in it. Because as the tragic news about Rab proves, none of us know how long we’ve got left, so we should really make the most of it.

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg