Self-taught Nepali mountain biker is Asia's fastest

KATHMANDU: 21-year-old Rajesh Magar has become a National Geographic 2018 Adventurer of the Year, the National Geographic reported.

“He is not just a fast Nepali,” said Joey Schusler, a mountain biker and filmmaker who nominated Magar for the honour. “He is truly a professional.”

Magar started racing on a “Franken-bike” he built himself. Now he is one of Asia’s top mountain bikers, poised to make a name on the world stage.

Though his parents are from Solukhumbu, he and his sister were born and raised in the outskirts of Kathmandu. Like many Nepalis, they struggled to make ends meet. Magar grew up lending a hand to his father, a bricklayer, and his mother, a housekeeper.

Magar was quoted in National Geographic as saying, “I used to ask my mum repeatedly to buy me a bicycle, she would give me hope, saying we did not have any money right then, but she would buy me one when we did.”

When he was about 10 years old, he came to understand generosity for the first time. An employer of his mother gave him a BMX bike. Though he did not know how to ride, he threw himself into practice.

Eventually, Magar bought a rigid mountain bike from a friend at school. While teaching himself how to ride by devouring YouTube videos of famous bikers, he started thinking about not just the athletes’ techniques but their gears as well — the frames’ angles, the head, the nuts and bolts.

Magar sketched modifications, found spare parts, and talked a neighbour through how to weld everything together. He swapped in a softer motorcycle suspension, adjusted the head angle, replaced the sprocket, and fit in some nicer cranks that became Franken-bike.

It was Magar’s first racing machine. The then 17-year-old rode the Franken-bike in his first race, the 2013 Nepal National Championship, where he placed sixth.

In 2014, Mandil Pradhan came across Magar getting in some practice on a trail outside Kathmandu a few days before the Nationals. Pradhan, a racer, bike distributor, and owner of bike tour company Himalayan Rides, was amazed by his talent and loaned him a high-quality bike to compete on. When Magar came in fourth place despite riding a new bike with a chain that broke midway through the course, Pradhan offered him a job.

When asked about his success, Magar was quick to share gratitude. Along with Pradhan and Schusler, he has received support from fellow mountain bikers Euan Wilson, Jared Connell, and Chris Conroy.

Out of school, with a good job, riding top-of-the-line bikes, Magar — with Pradhan’s mentorship — has been able to attract more sponsors. Last year, he won his third consecutive National title. He’s also snagged trophies from downhill races in India, Singapore, Thailand, and China.

A proud Nepali, Magar hopes to be not just the first from his country, but also the first Asian to take a title of global competition.