Rab Wardell – Old Enough to Know Better Series & FKT’s meet Responsible Access
Glentress was built in the late 90’s and has proven to be an iconic destination for riders from around the world. From those just starting, to the cross country racers who use the Black route as a training benchmark. Rab Wardell decides to tackle the Black route, and assess if he really is faster than he used to be. We caught up with him for a chat...
Old enough to know better? Can you let us know what this is? And, what you are hoping to achieve?
Old Enough To Know Better is my new video series presented by Wahoo, and it’s a follow-up to my West Highland Way Record Attempt film from 2020. The title is a bit of lighthearted fun, but essentially I’m trying to make a comeback at Elite Cross Country racing at an age where most other pro racers are getting ready to retire from racing. It’s given me an opportunity to share my story as a mountain biker in Scotland, and it’s been great!
You have been riding for quite a few years now – what is inspiring you to take on this challenge now?
I’m really enjoying the process of training and I feel fitter than ever before. I take a lot of enjoyment in setting goals and working towards them, ticking boxes, and following the process. A lot of the fun for me is in the journey, not just the outcome or result.
What are your hopes for the 2022 season? And beyond?
2022 is a little up in the air for now. I plan to continue racing both Olympic XC and Marathon XC, and I may even ride some enduro and gravel events too. I’m hoping to have everything tied up soon. As it stands there is a lot of background work going on, as well as training and developing my coaching business too.
Your latest video in your series is focussed on Glentress, why is it so special for you?
Glentress is a really special place to me. I’ve ridden there for 20 years and it was my full-time workplace for 4 or 5 years when I was part of the coaching team at Dirt School. I believe that Glentress is a key part of the history of Scottish Mountain Biking. It was one of the first purpose-built venues for riding, it played host to events and races, and it grew to become a destination people wanted to travel to, to ride. The trail network in the Tweed Valley is fantastic now, but the riding community that has built and developed these trails over the years wouldn’t exist without Glentress.
Your ride at Glentress gave you a Fastest Known Time (FKT). What did you consider when you were preparing for the ride?
There are a few things that I consider before any mountain bike ride. Things like ‘am I prepared for mechanical issues?’, ‘can I contact people for help if something goes wrong?’, ‘am I riding in a safe and responsible way?’, and ‘do I have the necessary food, drinks and supplies for the ride?’. If I’m going out to train, or to test myself on a trail, I also consider the time of day and time of week that I am doing so. I aim for times when I think it will be most quiet, and when I am less likely to encounter other trail users.
Glentress, and the black route, is a trail centre, so it is reasonable to expect any walkers to be ready to give way, but what about other riders on the trail? Did you meet any? And how do you approach that when going for an FKT?
The first thing worth mentioning is that when riding for an FKT, or just riding fast, you are not in a race. The trails are open to the public and you have to respect other trail users. It can be intimidating for others if you approach another trail user, including another rider, at speed from behind. I didn’t meet any other riders on singletrack sections, but I did pass a few on the gravel roads. I try to make sure I say hello, please and thank you when riding, if I’m out for a social or riding fast. It’s nice to be nice and manners cost you nothing as they say.
You mention your gratefulness of the investment into Scottish MTB that we have helped generate since 2010 (we had nothing to do with 7stanes) – how excited are you about the next wave of investment into Scottish MTB and our strategic projects?
I’m really excited to see the future plans for Scottish mountain bike facilities through DMBINs strategic projects. The sport of mountain biking evolves rapidly and participation in Scotland has grown quickly too. To meet the demand of this growing audience it’s important that venues have the resources they need. This strategy is a great step forwards and I’m really looking forward to seeing the development and riding the new trails too.
The OETKB series features Scotland & it makes it look amazing - what are your other favourite locations for riding in Scotland?
It’s hard to pick favourites as I change my mind a lot! A lot of the riding I do is from my house in Glasgow, and a local loop for me involves riding through local parks linked with sections of road. Cathkin Braes is a real blessing for me and it’s probably the place I ride my mountain bike most. I really enjoy riding big mountains too, so I often venture up Munros like Ben Lomond and Ben Lawers. And I really enjoy riding my trail bike at Dunkeld.
How amazing does Scotland look on that ride?
I seem to get lucky with the weather! Scotland really does look fantastic and that’s a day I’ll remember forever. It’s how I picture Scotland when I think of it.
What were your highlights of riding the route?
The best thing about that day was sharing the ride with my friends. We had a really small crew to make the film, and I feel really lucky to have been able to make a film about the ride. A stand out memory is descending Conic Hill into the cloud inversion, and then enjoying the singletrack along Loch Lomond.
How did you plan for your FKT?
I spent time riding the route in sections to familiarise myself with the route, and I also looked at maps a fair bit too. I made sure that I had the necessary food, water and supplies to be self-sufficient, so that I wouldn’t be stranded.
Did you consider responsible access when going for the FKT?
It is really important to me to abide by the outdoor access code at all times. I’ve been mountain biking for a long time, and I’m a qualified mountain bike guide and coach, so I’m familiar with the code. I learned it a long time ago when riding my bike with older riders. The beauty of challenges like FKT’s is that anyone can set their own time, whenever they want to, and there aren’t really any hard and fast rules. However, all riders attempting to set an FKT should know the Scottish Outdoors Access Code well. As I’ve said before, the outdoors isn’t a race track, and you should act in a safe and responsible manner, even if you are trying to challenge yourself and go fast. You should give way to other users, be prepared and organised, and not put anyone else or yourself in danger.
What would be your advice for riders considering FKT’s on WHW or other routes?
My advice would be to enjoy it, be suitably organised, know and understand the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, and ride within your own ability level. It’s great to set yourself challenges but remember that the outdoors isn’t a race track, even when you’re riding on purpose-built mountain bike tracks.
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