Video: Joe Varndell On Being A Student at MTB University

Feb 29, 2024 at 9:14
by Starling Cycles  

Young Starling Cycles rider Joe Varndell has a cool story.

Not only is he super talented on a mountain bike, but he also actually studies mountain biking full-time at college. Yep - that really is a thing you can do now!

Joe joined the Starling Cycles team a few years back and went on to enrol into Mountain Bike University, AKA BASE College in Scotland. His racing was going well, the results were building and he knew that he wanted to just throw his energy 100% into mountain biking. He applied and before he knew it, Joe and his Starling Cycles Murmur were heading north to the Borders Academy of Sporting Excellence (BASE), in Peebles, Scotland.

Joe's time studying mountain biking isn't just about riding bikes. It's also learning race craft as well as sports science, psychology, coaching skills and everything you need to be an all-around expert two-wheel athlete. It's a three-year, full-time course and graduates gain a HND (Higher National Diploma) qualification at the end of it.

Because we think Joe is rad and we think the life he's living is rad, we decided it was time to tell his story.

And to add just a little extra element to the story, we recruited EWS racer, veteran rider, BASE tutor and filmmaker Innes Graham to tell the story. Who better to tell the story of the mountain bike student than one of his own teachers, right?

Look out for Joe racing UK Enduro Nationals and heap of other one-off UK events, including the Malverns Festival. Good luck, Joe!

Learn more about Starling Cycles at starlingcycles.com
Learn about the bike Joe is riding here: starlingcycles.com/bikes/murmur
Follow Joe on Insta at https://www.instagram.com/jvarndell63
And thanks to Innes: https://www.instagram.com/innesgrahamphoto

Joe Varndell riding his Starling Cycles Murmur. Innes Graham photo.


Author Info:
Starlingcycles avatar

Member since Mar 6, 2018
11 articles

72 Comments
  • 54 0
 I've been reading PB comments for 5 years which gave me indisputable academic knowledge in the field of engineering, business administration and medicine, specializing in what is wrong with bikes and their riders.
  • 2 0
 Keep it up for another 5 and you'll be ready to defend your PhD dissertation.
  • 1 1
 Do you know much about fork dampening?
  • 5 0
 @ryane: You mean like spraying them down with water?
  • 2 1
 @pmhobson: I think he’s talking about when people hit a big jump too fast, catch way too much air, and piss themselves in the air and it runs down onto their fork, thus dampening the fork.
  • 1 0
 @pmhobson: @WRCDH: I’m a suspension tech and you just made my day.
  • 1 0
 @nastynate711: Oh, well then I don’t even have to tell you to not point the pressure washer directly at the seals.
  • 1 0
 @pmhobson: Yes, towels work best for cleaning.
  • 24 4
 3 years and you only come out with an HND!
I have an HND in a very similar field ("Outdoor recreation Management") and its almost worthless.
That said it was a great 2 years in Devon and I would do it again, but also wouldn't recommend it- I still needed to get a load of qualifications to actually work in the Outdoor Adventure industry and that took a further 5 years of work based courses and accreditation.
  • 18 40
flag jimmyricard (Mar 3, 2024 at 3:01) (Below Threshold)
 I didn't go to school, sold pot to you and your friends and now they work for me lol
  • 17 0
 3 years at MTB University, I’d come out as a PhD.

Pretty Heavy Drinker, that is =P
  • 9 7
 What do you expect, outdoor recreation is a nothing qualification, it’s like a degree in geography, all you need is an Atlas
  • 7 0
 @jimmythehat: yeah thats what I said
  • 5 0
 @jimmythehat: don't forget the colouring crayons too!
  • 5 1
 @jimmythehat: Geography degrees have moved on a bit since then mate
  • 1 1
 Hi There As a BASE student myself i disagree with your statement. The first year is a SCQF level 6 course, The second year is a HNC in sports coaching and development. The Third year is a HND in the same course. You can leave and come as you wish. It is a great way to make yourslf employable in the future while training to be a full time professional racer. I hope this clears things up.
  • 2 1
 Another former BASE student here. I went straight from school to BASE and it without a doubt developed me both academically and as a person. There’s not many places where you can go and get top level coaching in biking whilst also gaining a HND in an integrated manner. You can also come out with your Technical Trail Leader Qualification which means you can obtain work within the cycling industry and is a great starting point to become further qualified as a coach. It’s about much more than a HND as well: most (not all) students are straight out of school and this is a pretty good opportunity to grow up and develop alongside like-minded people who push you to be your best, especially on the bike Understand that the concept isn’t to everyone’s liking but it’s certainly not worthless and has most definitely prepared me for the degree I am currently doing better than school did.
  • 1 0
 You boys just copied that straight out of the prospectus huh lol

Fyi: you can get your tech leader much cheaper and easier away from “uni”.
And you’ll need more than that 1 qualification to make yourself employable. Add on climbing, mountaineering, kayaking etc and then you might scratch the surface.

That’s great you want to be a pro racer, but a uni course will not get you there. If it’s a decent course (engineering, law, business etc) there might be something to fall back on when you’re done with racing.

Name one pro who actually studied mtb. Not just a pro who went to uni.
  • 1 0
 @Jonesey23: Didn’t Reece Wilson go there? So not just a pro also World Cup winner and World Champ.
  • 1 0
 @jimmythehat: went there is very different to studying “mtb” there.
They have more than one course
  • 1 0
 @Jonesey23: can I suggest you put together a short presentation outlining his attendance, many thanks
  • 1 0
 @jimmythehat: You tell me mate. You're the one that's adamant he studied mtb there.
  • 1 0
 @Jonesey23: in full troll mode! great content !!!
  • 1 0
 @Jonesey23: yeah he did
  • 17 1
 At least with a degree in underwater basket weaving you can make baskets
  • 20 6
 I had a friend who attended snowboard university. 15 years later he is broke living with his parents in the Midwest
  • 7 0
 To be fair, there are plenty of people living that same life who went to proper universities.
  • 1 0
 @nastynate711: haha yeah lol
  • 8 0
 This is what you all are missing:

Guy already has industry connections and that mostly what you need to get a job in the industry. The school thing will help with some knowledge based stuff but he’s already got a foot in the door.
  • 1 0
 Agreed. I was just thinking that it would be more useful if this was an apprenticeship program where people attend college alongside of their role in the industry.
  • 9 1
 Fun fact the industry pays shit . Only bonus is perks . Hopefully you get most of what you spend your disposable income on for free of at cost ( bike parts ) . But overall they are low paying jobs . Honestly getting a degree in anything related to biking /skiing or extreme sport will probably have you waiting tables in the side
  • 14 1
 @mxmtb: fun fact, most of the time (not all the time) the industry pays shit if you’re a middle age dude with a family on pinkbike.

If you’re young and don’t mind housing up with roommates, and not being rich in exchange for cool bike shit and traveling then it’s a pretty f*cking fun lifestyle.

Theres plenty of people that make it work, don’t let comments like mxmtbs discourage you.
  • 8 0
 @everythingsucks: username does not check out.
  • 3 1
 @everythingsucks: ya live life and have fun . My advice is don’t waste time in jobs that take you know where , especially if your gonna take out a loan to pay for a worthless degree . Why cause when you knock up your woman and need to start making real money so you can move outta your roommates house , buy a car and support a family …you have no skills . I raced pro , owned a shop travelled the work cause of MTB . Don’t regret it . Just passing on some advice from a been there done that guy .
  • 2 0
 @mxmtb: Path to success:

Wear a condom ✓

Don't wear a condom ☓
  • 4 0
 @everythingsucks: got snipped years ago my friend haha
  • 2 0
 @AlexSplode:
Hi There
As a BASE student myself i disagree with your statement.
The first year is a SCQF level 6 course,
The second year is a HNC in sports coaching and development.
The Third year is a HND in the same course.
You can leave and come as you wish.
It is a great way to make yourslf employable in the future while training to be a full time professional racer.
I hope this clears things up.
  • 1 0
 @zeebobabc: thanks zeebobabc. Hope you're enjoying the program, I've always thought it an incredibly exciting opportunity.

Really, all I wanted to suggest is that (admittedly as a father of a son who is about to leave school) I hope there's jobs out there for everyone. I've a wee bit of experience with degree apprenticeships, and I really only meant that a stronger proposition would be for industry to select and support candidates. This wouldn't necessarily change the content of the course, it might even sit alongside what's being done already, but given that there's a very limited pool of full-time professional racers, it might mean they have to widen the BASE approach to other HNC-level qualifications like photography, engineering, event mgt., etc.

best wishes to you and everyone on the course..
  • 10 1
 Bless
  • 2 0
 I think a program of study like this could be awesome. There’s a lot of potential content in coaching, psych, and sports science, and framing it all in terms of one sport your students are passionate about could be more motivating than a more generalized curriculum. The next question that comes up for me is are the faculty science educators who mountain bike or mountain bikers who think articles in Velo are like a text book and youtube fitness gurus are a source? Because the mountain bikers who make online content aren’t super sure how a spring works most days, and i wouldn’t turn to them for thorough and accurate knowledge of physiology and nutrition.
  • 7 0
 Yeah Joe, you the man
  • 2 0
 There seems to be an awful lot of people who try to make a living doing what they love, scraping by as professional bikers or directly in the industry. Seems like a hard life. I gotta believe you're better studying something only tangentially related (like mechanical engineering) our just working outside the industry and self-funding your love of biking. Or wait until much later in life when you're established and don't need as big as pay cheque...
  • 4 0
 This is so sick Joe! Amazing to see what BASE is doing for people - looking forward to watching you race this year!
  • 4 1
 My lad is planning to apply after his A levels, so we've looked into it a fair bit
  • 5 6
 tell him become a plumber and 5x his income potential
  • 7 0
 @tempnoo1: I don't tell him what to become mate, he's a big boy, he gets to have a say in his own decisions about what he does or doesn't do. I try to guide him of course, but i won't push him into something just so he can make more money. Life is all about letting kids make their own decisions and mistakes, while guiding from the sidelines.
  • 2 8
flag tempnoo1 FL (Mar 4, 2024 at 5:43) (Below Threshold)
 @weeksy59: Yeah huge cultural difference there no way I'd let my child piss away his life for no reason but I guess that's British parenting, and why immigrant families always do better in life.

End of the day one ACL tear or major injury and he's going to be wishing he took a CoL or trades job making at least 5x riding bikes for fun on the weekend.
  • 9 0
 @tempnoo1: lol I love your optimism. But without people chasing their dreams, why the hell are we here? Just to make money and die? Heck that's rubbish.
From what I can see, the BASE college doesn't just give you nothing, you get a HND as well as valuable life experience, you can if you choose use the hnd as credit towards university as well in the future.

As a parent you never know where your kids will end up, passions change, they grow up, you just do what you can to give them the best life possible.
At the moment to me that means spending countless hours driving, riding, racing. He loves it, I love it.
You can earn more, sure, but think of the smiles.
  • 1 9
flag tempnoo1 FL (Mar 4, 2024 at 6:16) (Below Threshold)
 @weeksy59: Fair enough. I forced my son to bring back 4 A*'s, he did, so he went to LSE. Now he has a cushy CoL job, 2 days a week at the office, a 3 bed detached in the commuter belt and drives a Ferrari (an absolute lemon, besides the point). Happiness in the UK has a price, it's about 6 figures after tax. And I couldn't be more proud.

So yeah tell your son to stop being regarded and look for money. Sorry to gloat but he's the one thing I've done right in this life.
  • 11 0
 @tempnoo1: I have no words... but your post saddens me.
  • 3 9
flag tempnoo1 FL (Mar 4, 2024 at 7:50) (Below Threshold)
 @weeksy59: I'd be more sad if my son was doing a f*cking MTB degree lmfao
  • 1 0
 @weeksy59: >> Life is all about letting kids make their own decisions and mistakes


I get the sentiment and agree, but as a parent it's a little more nuanced IMO:
"Make lots of small mistakes but please don't repeat them or make any fatal* mistakes"


*young males typically do a bad job at recoqnizing and evaluating this category and need help.
  • 2 1
 Don't let him do it, I can tell you with actual experience (as someone who went to Uni and got a pretty pointless degree), it's not a good idea. Do a college course or apprenticeship in an actual skill than can be used in the future - engineering, electrician, mechanic.. etc.
  • 9 1
 As someone that's actually completed the course, it's a fantastic opportunity to develop yourself and your riding. The tweed valley is such a good location to be based from and there is a reason so many stay long after they've finished college. Don't listen to these NPCs - there's more to life than driving a Ferrari.
  • 7 0
 @tempnoo1: hahaha no one cares about how much money your son makes if he's as arrogant as you come across then I'd rather be broke. Not everyone is cut out for standard 9-5 jobs so if someone else wants to go to Base then your opinion is irrelevant, unless you're their parents.
  • 2 1
 @tempnoo1:
Hi There
As a BASE student myself i disagree with your statement.
The first year is a SCQF level 6 course,
The second year is a HNC in sports coaching and development.
The Third year is a HND in the same course.
You can leave and come as you wish.
It is a great way to make yourslf employable in the future while training to be a full time professional racer.
I hope this clears things up.
  • 2 1
 @ronanwhitts:
I love this Ronan, People could learn a lot from it.
Look at you, Pro racer and part time DJ living the life.
I think more people should actually read about things before chatting shit online!!!!!
  • 1 0
 @tempnoo1: sounds like you and your son are douchebags
  • 2 0
 Riding bikes is expensive enough, imagine paying even more money to continue riding bikes just to come out with a worthless qualification
  • 3 0
 What do you even learn?
  • 16 0
 Our 3rd year students have also just went through their Mountain Bike Coaching UK (MBCUK) Technical Trail Leader (TTL) award, so are now qualified to lead and coach groups themselves.

Over the last ten years, we’ve had 100+ students come through the course with a number of them going on to be professional riders. Greg Williamson, Lewis Buchanan, Luke Cryer and Reece Wilson are just a few of the students that have been through BASE. Others have gone on to further their education at universities, or traveled to places like Canada, New Zealand and the Alps. Some of them now run businesses in rope access and media, and all of them are better developed adults as a result of applying the BASE attitude and culture to the rest of their lives.
  • 20 1
 @weeksy59: I was skeptical of this BASE school but hearing that Reece Wilson is a graduate totally changes my mind. Turning out trained pilots is no joke!
  • 1 10
flag warmerdamj FL (Mar 3, 2024 at 11:54) (Below Threshold)
 @mtbthe603: his last name is Wallace.
  • 3 1
 @weeksy59: don’t be too defensive, every one of us would love to have the experience of studying at BASE, but most of us are middle aged family guys working a desk job.

The nice thing about choices, you can always make a different choice down the road .
  • 2 0
 @sanchofula: I wasn't being defensive, i just happen to know a little bit about the course and what it entails. I'm not trying to sit here and say it's the greatest career known on the planet, we're all aware that MTB isn't necessarily the best paying thing, so i do understand that it's not everyones perfect job. However that said, as another guy pointed out, it's not just about earnings, it's about opportunites and doors it can open too. Both in terms of racing and in terms of 'places'.
My lad is starting this year working as a shadow for a top UK coach to learn the coaching trade, along then with the plan to do BASE in the future, it should give him a decent chance of 'something' should the racing not pan-out like he/we hope.
  • 1 0
 @warmerdamj: no his first name is Mark
  • 2 0
 Critics are easy, Art is difficult. Godspeed you buddy.
  • 2 0
 The waterbottle continues to roll to this day
  • 2 0
 Cool lad this guy
  • 1 0
 @tempnoo1: you couldn't be 'more' sad.
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