RJ THE RIPPER

Nepalese na­tional cham­pion Ra­jesh Ma­gar sets his sights on a world stage

Bike (USA) - - Contents - • BY BEN PAGE PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOEY SCHUSLER

From a thrown-to­gether frame sport­ing $3 ped­als to four-time na­tional cham­pion, Ra­jesh Ma­gar has risen from Kath­mandu’s rub­ble to great­ness—where will his tire­less de­vo­tion take him next?

The al­ley­ways are filled with throngs of peo­ple bustling around in the cool morn­ing air. In the dis­tance, be­yond the bro­ken ceil­ing of chipped con­crete and spaghetti elec­tri­cal wires, snow-capped peaks painted with am­ber brush strokes of the ris­ing sun reach for the sky. Bikes and peo­ple jos­tle for space in the scurry of traf­fic. Dirt and dust hang thickly in air mixed with heavy ex­haust fumes; it’s lit­tle sur­prise that Kath­mandu ranks among the world’s most pol­luted cities. This chaotic city is not some­where you’d ex­pect to find a moun­tain bike cham­pion. Then again, Ra­jesh ‘RJ’ Ma­gar’s story is any­thing but typ­i­cal.

Ma­gar was born and raised in the poor outer sub­urbs of Kath­mandu, a typ­i­cal set­ting for a Nepali boy to grow up, but a far cry from the world of recre­ational moun­tain bik­ing. His par­ents moved to the city from their ru­ral vil­lage 25 years ago in hopes of find­ing em­ploy­ment and ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren. They did con­struc­tion and house­work to make ends meet but the Ma­gars

Deepa Ma­gar, RJ’s mother, in a fit of ex­as­per­a­tion at this new­found dis­trac­tion, once sold his hard­earned bike for $0.90.

lived pay­check to pay­check, strug­gling to pay rent for a 12-by-12 room.

“I re­al­ized from an early age that I had to work hard,” Ma­gar says, “that I had to earn for my­self.” Start­ing at the age of 10, Ma­gar worked odd jobs be­fore and af­ter school, which en­abled him to give money to his fam­ily and save to buy his first bike. “Not many peo­ple ride bikes in Nepal, at least not for fun,” he says, “they are re­ally a tool for work and for trans­port.” Ma­gar found that he could in­crease the amount of work he could ac­com­plish in a day by own­ing a bike. Yet as the years passed, he be­came ob­sessed with rid­ing bikes, see­ing the ma­chine as a gate­way for fun and ex­plo­ration, not merely a tool. Ma­gar built jumps in a nearby area of un­used land and en­ter­tained lo­cal kids af­ter school by jump­ing higher, far­ther and faster. “I played a lot of other sports as a child, but none gave me the same feel­ing as rid­ing bikes,” he says. “I fell in love with my bike.”

And like kids the world over, the fas­ci­na­tion drew him away from school.

“Some­times I would just skip school to go and ride bikes, and then my mum would al­ways have to come look­ing for me.” Deepa Ma­gar, RJ’s mother, in a fit of ex­as­per­a­tion at this new­found dis­trac­tion, once sold his hard-earned bike for $0.90 in a bid to re­turn him to ed­u­ca­tion. “We can’t read or write, ” Deepa says of her­self and Ram, RJ’s dad, “and so we told Ra­jesh and his sis­ter that they must study hard to be suc­cess­ful.” Neigh­bors made dis­ap­prov­ing com­ments to Deepa about her son’s pri­or­i­ties—a path to suc­cess and se­cu­rity was, in their eyes, as­sured only through school­ing.

But, de­spite his mother’s dis­ap­proval, Ma­gar wasn’t de­terred, and saw his lack of a bike as an op­por­tu­nity rather than a hin­drance. This was a chance to make a bike that “looked like a proper down­hill bike.” YouTube videos and Google

With a beat-up steel frame, some plumber’s pip­ing and an old mo­tor­cy­cle shock, he be­gan forg­ing his own bike, and in the process be­gan forg­ing his dream.

images pro­vided in­spi­ra­tion, and Ma­gar re­mem­bers sit­ting at the back of class draw­ing and im­prov­ing new de­signs for his bike, ri­fling through junk­yard scraps to find the raw ma­te­ri­als he needed to build it. With a beat-up steel frame, some plumber’s pip­ing and an old mo­tor­cy­cle shock, he be­gan forg­ing his own bike, and in the process be­gan forg­ing his dream.

“At that time there weren’t re­ally many races in Nepal, there are now more, but it’s still a young sport,” he says. Af­ter hear­ing from friends about a race near where he lived, Ma­gar turned up at Hat­tiban, a forested hill south of Kath­mandu where lo­cals built a rough down­hill track. He ar­rived at the race wear­ing sneak­ers and a soc­cer shirt. He had no pads on and was rid­ing $3 ped­als, but still needed a hel­met and en­try fee in or­der to race. An­other rider of­fered to loan him a hel­met and cover the cost of his race.

Ma­gar was the youngest com­peti­tor there.

“I was scared to go down that track to be­gin with—the or­ga­niz­ers didn’t want me to race as they thought that my bike was too dan­ger­ous. But with some luck and false courage I man­aged to make it down and hit all the jumps and berms. The bike was amaz­ing, it didn’t break!” This early suc­cess caught the eye of the oth­ers rac­ers, in par­tic­u­lar Mandil Prad­han, a lo­cal moun­tain bike tour op­er­a­tor.

“You wouldn’t be­lieve what he was able to do on that bike” Prad­han says. “I saw this kid rip­ping on this home­made bike and thought, ‘I’ve got to meet him.’ I pretty much of­fered him a job straight away.”

Prad­han hired Ma­gar as a guide, but their re­la­tion­ship soon blos­somed be­yond that of an em­ployer and an em­ployee. He saw Ma­gar’s po­ten­tial, and re­al­ized that he could help this “poor kid in torn-up soc­cer cloth­ing” make a name for him­self as a racer.

Prad­han lent him bikes from his rental fleet and be­gan tak­ing Ma­gar to the hand­ful of races that were held in Nepal. By the time he was 16, Ma­gar was the down­hill na­tional cham­pion. Since then, he’s seen a me­te­oric rise in his rac­ing ca­reer, win­ning three more na­tional ti­tles, plus gar­ner­ing a string of other re­sults through­out Asia, and was named as one of the 2018 Na­tional Ge­o­graphic

Ad­ven­tur­ers of the Year. But it wasn’t his rac­ing suc­cess that caught the at­ten­tion of cur­rent spon­sors Yeti Cy­cles and Fox Shox, it was Ma­gar’s passion for the sport and his skill as a moun­tain bike guide.

Ma­gar met Yeti’s Chris Conroy and Fox’s Jared Con­nell the same way he meets many for­eign­ers: guid­ing them on nat­u­ral sin­gle­track that rib­bons its way across peaks high in Nepal’s Mus­tang Val­ley. With tow­er­ing 8,000-me­ter (26,000-foot) peaks, white-washed vil­lages and desert-like lower el­e­va­tions, the ‘world’s high­est play­ground’ at­tracts riders from around the globe. When Conroy and Con­nell hired Ma­gar to lead them to the best trails, they saw him as not only a guide, but an in­cred­i­bly ta­lented, de­ter­mined and pas­sion­ate young rider. They knew they could help him suc­ceed.

With their sup­port, Ma­gar now sports the lat­est gear, cut­ting a pro­fes­sional im­age on the lo­cal rac­ing cir­cuit, and at races across the con­ti­nent. But Ma­gar knows that he needs to line up against the world’s fastest riders at the En­duro World Se­ries to re­ally prove him­self. “That is my dream—to race a full cal­en­dar in the EWS,” Ma­gar says. But it’s not his abil­i­ties lim­it­ing him, it’s the dif­fi­culty of ob­tain­ing a travel visa to en­ter Europe and the U.S. Right now, Ma­gar’s rac­ing fu­ture lies in the hands of an em­bassy of­fi­cial be­hind a desk.

Now 21, Ma­gar is the bread­win­ner for his fam­ily.

Even if his in­ter­na­tional rac­ing dreams aren’t re­al­ized, Ma­gar has al­ready made a last­ing im­pact—his story is an in­spi­ra­tion to kids in Kath­mandu and be­yond. “He has shown peo­ple that with a lot of passion and hard work you can make a change,” Prad­han says. “Of course luck plays a cer­tain part, but he is ex­tremely fast, and hard­work­ing and that doesn’t come down to luck; he’s earned this.”

Now 21, Ma­gar is the bread­win­ner for his fam­ily. Although there are few foot­steps to fol­low as he pur­sues a life of cy­cling and tries to break into the EWS, Ma­gar is carv­ing out his own path to suc­cess, and in the process in­spir­ing oth­ers to pur­sue their dreams with both hu­mil­ity and de­ter­mi­na­tion. “I want to make my fam­ily happy, to make them proud, that is the plan,” Ma­gar says, “and I want to prove that there are great moun­tain bike riders all around the world, par­tic­u­larly in Nepal.”

From sim­ple to com­plex: RJ has more than earned the right to ride Switch In­fin­ity, he’s di­rectly proven its ef­fec­tive­ness over some of the world’s most de­mand­ing ter­rain.

Edi­tor’s Note: Joey Schusler’s “RJ Ripper” film chron­i­cling Ra­jesh Ma­gar’s rise to rid­ing great­ness from hum­ble Kath­mandu beginnings will be avail­able for view­ing on Vimeo start­ing June 25.

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