And so the sport of mountain biking has lost another pioneer, who, though never being a racer or builder, still did more for the sport than no amount of words could ever accommodate. Following the passing of Durango’s Ed Zink (founder of the 1990 UCI World Championships) last fall, Dr. Al Farrell, who was responsible for the early funding of both NORBA, IMBA, and the MBHoF lost his life in a motorcycle accident outside of Palm Springs, California, where he lived.
Though his name, as well as the acronym organizations he supported, may mean little to modern day mountain bikers, it was Farrell’s unabashed enthusiasm for mountain bikes that made their existence, as well as so much of the sport’s history and progress possible. As IMBA president (and former NORBA National XC champ Dave Wiens) said, “If it wasn’t for his generosity and passion in helping IMBA get started, we probably wouldn’t have the amount of trails to ride that we do.”
As any photo would indicate, Al Farrell never fit the mold of a singletrack-loving, big-air jumping mountain biker. But what his big body may not have permitted in terms of off-road agility, it more than made up for as a home for his outsized heart. For those of us lucky enough to know Al, there was never any shortage of laughter that followed every conversation. He was a gregarious soul, who while never diminishing his success in life as a finance guy, never gloated over it either. Rich in life, he was always “one of us” and left everyone richer in life for having his acquaintance.
Of the many stories of Al that have circulated in these recent days following his accident, the best came from Yeti Cycles founder John Parker who related a typical act of Al’s kindness that occurred at the 1989 NORBA Finals at Big Bear.
“Oh, yeah, that was the night at the dual slalom when some idiot AP reporter was shooting photos using a big flash that was blinding the riders. Well, Jimmy Deaton came down the hill and sure enough, the guy’s flash blinded him and down he went with a broken leg. So while Jimmy D is down in the lodge with no ambulance to take him to a hospital, I ran into Al and said, “Hey, Doc, you gotta go help out Deaton,” at which point he said, “John, I’m not that kind of doctor – I have a doctorate in finance – but I can help out in other way.s” And so what he did was to go put Deaton in the back of his Rolls Royce and drive him down the hill to Loma Linda Hospital where the broken rider had surgery and got casted.”
Not only did Al taxi Jimmy down the hill, but days later he returned to pick him up and then let him recuperate at his home in Beverly Hills. As Deaton recalls, “Yeah, I slept on his couch for a few days and then he bought me a plane ticket so I could get home. The thing to remember, is that Dr. Al didn’t just take care of me, he took care of all of us back then.”
No truer words could be spoken as Farrell was also the guy who used his own money to pump up the pro purses at the NORBA races when the top riders were making very little in payback.
Hearing that Al lost his life on a motorcycle, I couldn’t help but think back to the tragic day in 1996 when GT Bicycles co-founder Richard Long was similarly lost to us on his way to the Big Bear NORBA National. Al was always more than happy to tell me about all of his motorcycle purchases – he liked them fast & loud. I know it sounds cliché, but my sadness at the news is softened by knowing how much he loved riding motorcycles.
For every good reason, in 1991 Al was inducted into Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Our condolences go to his wife Shirley, their two children, Patricia and Richard.
Here is the original story that MBA ran on Al that was written by early contributor Dan Koeppel.