At the start of last year, Rob Warner embarked on his most ambitious project to date. He spent four months travelling to six countries in four continents trying to find some of the best and remote riding on the planet. He did so accompanied by some of the world's fastest riders, taking them away from the competition courses and back onto real, raw mountains.
On the trip, he discovered some world-beating trails, met and rode with locals and reignited a love for riding he had lost since he quit racing in 2006. We sat down with Rob to discover more about the trip and how it changed his outlook on mountain biking.
What inspired this trip around the world?
Well, it was definitely the opportunity of a lifetime. I'd never been to any of those places before, the only place I'd been to weirdly was Lesotho. I didn't think it would be quite what it was to be honest, it was a bit weirder and wilder than I expected, but I was going to get to do stuff I’d never get to do again. That's the sad thing is that I'll never get to go back to any of those places really. It would be nice to go back and see all those people.
What made you pick those places?
A lot of it would have been for the riding really, for the trails. I had a list of where I wanted to go and [Red Bull] used their expertise to take us to those places and experience those things.
What was the most alien place?
Probably Africa. I'd say that the African continent is definitely the rawest place left on Earth from what I've seen of it.
We went with the Basotho tribe, in one of their mud huts and there were about 11 people in one of these huts, and that's where they sleep. The mud hut is pitch black so they have a fire, not for heat because it's quite warm there, but for light, so there's a smoky atmosphere. The bloke had a wooden step about 6 inches high and that was his pillow, they're hard as. It was a culture shock, they live completely different lives to what we do but I'd say they're just as happy it seems. Mad lifestyle. 47 kids he had, and 14 wives.
We were the first outsiders that had ever stayed there. It was miles and miles off the beaten track but they danced and took us up to the top of the village where the pub was and we got on the local drink. It was quite nice actually.
I bet they hadn't seen mountain bikes before either.
No, they were fascinated by the mountain bikes. It's a nice thing in Africa actually that even the equipment had a much bigger impact than anywhere else in the world. When we went to the pump track, me and Matt were there until well after dark, the kids were just riding me and Matt's bikes around, they loved them.
What was the moment you felt most scared?
The most scared was definitely the bloody abseil, without a doubt. I was fairly scared there, but I did just turn on the tears you know, like any actor would.
There was a lot of it that was uncomfortable. We were really in the middle of nowhere and some of the riding was quite gnarly because of that. The altitude was quite scary for me because I got it early on in Ecuador then three days later we went out to Cotopaxi and we slept higher than where I'd got altitude sickness so for me that was quite gnarly.
Even higher than that was Mount Kenya, the altitude was harder to deal with than I ever thought it would be. When we got dropped off on Mount Kenya we had three helicopters but only one of them was rated to go above 3,500m. We had to ditch two and then only one took us to the top. We landed on this ridge, just below the summit of Mt Kenya and I instantly felt pretty drunk, like really giddy and weird. He's like, "I can't land, I can't come back to get you because it's too steep, you're on your own." It was fully exposed and it was so steep that even with the back brake locked up you'd be picking up speed and then your head's light so I just basically skidded down it. It's alright when you're feeling sharp but when you're feeling a bit dozey and dopey like that, you've definitely got to take care.
I guess all the trails we ride back home are made for mountain bikes and all the corners are bermed and the jumps work, you know it can't be too bad. I guess they're like hiking trails out there which aren't really built for it?
Yeah, it's mountain biking, of course it is, but it's real mountain biking. You know, I only ever go to Bike Park Wales and it's a fairly nice environment down there, you know what's coming. I did have some near misses where I was going too quick.
You talk about the series reigniting your passion for mountain biking, why did that go in the first place?
Well, because of mountain bike racing. When I was about 15 I was doing motorbike trials but I got a Raleigh Maverick, the first commercial one after the Muddy Foxes that came into the UK. Me and my mate rode the Ridgeway for charity for school, so I started to get into mountain biking and then we'd just f*ck off on the mountain bikes all day every day, that's how it was.
It was a fun thing for me and the trials was my sport. Then the mountain biking got bigger and bigger and I was better at it than I was at trials and I got paid so then it changed. I did enjoy it for the first five years, probably from about ‘93 up to about '99 but then the crowds went and from then to quitting in about 2006 I f*cking hated mountain biking. I didn't train, I'd go to the races and not ride. I was over it, I was awkward, I was a twat, I just didn't want to be there. I was turning up because I wanted the money and then doing badly so it was a pretty shit cycle to be in really. After that, I got into commentary and I've enjoyed it more again just training a few times a week, nothing spectacular.
The discovery part was what mountain biking was for me in the first place, going on a mini adventure if you like. Well, this was that but for adults like on a much grander scale involving helicopters and film cameras. On the days of the ride it would just be me, the rider and the Parkins and we would just piss off, we'd have a nice day's ride, some of those trails were 30km long so obviously were under pressure to film a bit but there were big sections where we'd just f*cking ride and enjoy it.
I like going to a bike park as well but this was actual mountain biking. To me originally it was about adventures and discovery and being in nature and all those things came back to me on this trip so it was nice.
Where would you go if you could do a season 2?
I want to go to Iceland for some reason, it's a pretty wild place out there. I'd like to go to the Galapagos, I don't know what it's like for mountain biking there but our fixer crew did all the David Attenborough stuff and it blew my mind.
Obviously, to go back to Nepal would be incredible. I'd love to go back to the Himalayas. Our base for a week was at the foothills of Annapurna, one of the biggest mountains in the world. We were surrounded by the biggest peaks on earth with no heating, no hot water and a freezing hotel all week. It was rough, it was basically an army camp up there because it's right on the Chinese border but it was probably some of the best times of my life. I'll never forget being in Nepal.