JRA with the Angry Asian: On finding two-wheeled inspiration

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Just yesterday, a co-worker of mine in Melbourne, Simone Giuliani, shared a video (see above) on our company Slack channel about Rajesh “RJ” Magar, a 21-year-old man in Kathmandu, Nepal, who had big dreams. He grew up with his family sharing a single 12x12ft room. His uneducated parents earned meager wages — his father as a construction worker, his mother cleaning houses — and he recognized early on that there was a good chance a similar life lay before him.

No question: that’s an awfully bleak backdrop, and far too many people getting that sort of start in life are doomed to continue that cycle. But RJ discovered mountain bikes as a kid, and unsurprisingly, they consumed his every waking minute. He worked hard, saved his money, and bought a beater from a friend of his for $25, which he proceeded to thrash with reckless abandon.

And then he got pretty damned good at it. Maybe a little too good.

He started riding his bike instead of going to school, and as many other well-intentioned mothers would do in response, she sold the wretched thing to a scrap collector so that RJ could refocus on his studies. Knowing full well how a lack of education would doom a young person’s life, such a move must have seemed more than logical at the time.

But that only further motivated RJ. Instead of giving up, he welded up his own frame and built another bike from scrap parts and other junked bicycles in the vague profile of the proper downhill bikes he lusted after. Needless to say, what resulted was seriously sketchy.

Would you dare ride this jalopy on anything even remotely resembling a downhill mountain bike course? No, you would not. But this kid did.

But again, he rode the hell out of it. And he got even better.

Enough that he now drew the attention of local mountain bike guide Mandil Pradhan of H&I Adventures, who took him under his wing and hired him to work as a guide. In his first few days on the job, he earned $200 — more than double what his parents earned in a month. His riding got better still, and the old beater was gradually replaced with a more legitimate (and safer) machine.

He started racing, and started winning. Medals and titles started accumulating on the wall. Life was getting better. Slowly. But like all people born with that telltale yearning for something bigger, RJ felt the world surely had more to offer.

RJ is clearly a kid with ambition, and potential, not to mention skill and athleticism. He dreams of racing on the big stage, in the hotly contested Enduro World Series (EWS), but money is obviously a barrier. International airfares are expensive, as are food and lodging. In RJ’s case, there is also the additional issue of visas. Videographer Joey Schusler has started a GoFundMe campaign for RJ, which is currently approaching US$6,000 and growing.

I don’t necessarily want this column to come off as a call to arms for people to band around him in support (although I understand that’s the likely outcome), and I also don’t necessarily think our community should automatically feel obligated to financially back someone who just happens to be fast on a bike. That’s one of the core issues with sponsorship in general in my opinion, although that’s a topic for another day. And it’s perhaps worth noting that although RJ originally earned a name for himself riding that home-built beater, he’s since landed equipment support from Yeti, Enve Composites, Fox, Smith Optics, and others.

However, this situation is clearly different. For one, RJ still shares a room with his sister. Life is indeed better, but that’s all relative.

I obviously don’t know anything about RJ as a person, but I’d like to think that whatever money is raised will be going to a genuinely good person who is respectful of other people, maintains a positive outlook on life, and is generally grateful for what little life has given him. And I think it’s safe to say that someone who pulled himself up by the bootstraps like this is likely a little more appreciative of the little things in life than most of us.

Bikes are what keep many of us sane and happy, and even though there’s a good chance RJ will get soundly trounced by the likes of Richie Rude, Sam Hill, Robin Wallner, and other far more experienced racers on the EWS circuit, the fact of the matter is that we’re still talking about a case where a bike — a bike! — is actually changing someone’s life for the better.

I think it’s also fair to say that the vast majority of people reading CyclingTips were born into a better situation than RJ was. Personally, I certainly consider myself very fortunate. I’m happily married, my wife and I have a beautiful little girl, there’s a cuddly dog on the couch, a firm roof over all of our heads, and plentiful food in the cupboard. I ride bikes that are far beyond what my skill level and fitness deserve, I have an endless array of tarmac, dirt roads, and trails at my doorstep, and earn a good living doing exactly what I love. Life is good.

But I also try to never lose sight of the fact that it isn’t good for everyone.

We talk a lot about “The Beauty of Cycling” here on CyclingTips. Truth be told, much of that ends up revolving around the beauty of the sport of cycling, but it’s important to keep in mind that riding a bike and racing a bike are not always necessarily intertwined. Whether or not RJ actually is able to get to a single EWS event doesn’t matter a ton in the grand scheme of things. As far as I’m concerned, he’s already an inspiration.

There’s unquestionable power and beauty in bicycles in general. How they make people feel. What they allow people to do. What they have allowed this person to do. What they could potentially allow other people to do.

If RJ’s story doesn’t embody that message perfectly, then the message has clearly been lost on all of us. Ride hard, kid, and do us all proud. I’ll be rooting for you. Someday I hope to shake your hand.

JRA is an acronym well known to bike shop employees, usually applied to customers submitting warranty claims that are clearly invalid (“I was just riding along when my top tube dented!“). It’s in part an homage to James Huang’s long tenure as a shop mechanic, but also the title we’ve given to the collection of random musings that will regularly be published here on CyclingTips. Most — but not all — of them will tech-related, but either way, they’ll reflect what’s been on his mind and what he’s been thinking about when he’s just riding along.

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