Image: Creative Photo
For most of his childhood, Farid Noori had to bike ride in secret. His family escaped from Afghanistan to Pakistan when he was two and his parents were against riding because they thought it was too dangerous. Undeterred, Farid developed some pretty clever schemes to get access to a bike. When he was eight, he would go stand in line every night for bread for his family. “My friend had a bike and I would beg him to let me practice while we waited,” he says. “That’s how I learned.” In middle school, his job was to take classroom attendance. “If somebody didn’t show up I would mark them as present if they’d let me use their bike,” he explains. “Not a good thing for schooling, but that’s how I fulfilled my satisfaction.”
At 16, Farid came to the U.S. for high school, through the State Department’s Youth Exchange and Study program. “The total freedom to ride came to me when I came to the U.S. to study,” he says. “I’ve always loved riding but it just doesn’t become a priority when you’re concerned about finding a safe place to live.” After his exchange program in Maine ended, Farid moved on to a boarding school in New Mexico. While most of his friends would take a bus to town to get groceries, he opted to use the school’s cruiser bike instead, coaster brakes and all. He was chased by dogs and once had a pumpkin thrown at him, but nothing could keep him away from his favorite pastime.
It wasn’t until he graduated from high school and spent a summer in Taos that Farid discovered mountain biking. His host parents’ son was a professional enduro racer, and after watching him race Farid asked to borrow his bike. “I went up the mountain, came down and fell in love with it,” he says. “I knew this was something I wanted to do in college.” Farid connected with the cycling club when he started at Middlebury College in Vermont and in his second year one of the club’s members gave him his spare mountain bike. “That was the beginning of things” he explains, “I started riding it every day.”
Image: Farid Noori
Farid spent the following summer in Boulder, Colorado. In the mornings, he worked on a project to develop entrepreneurial courses for Afghan youth, in the afternoons, he would ride. That was when it occurred to him that he could make a difference back home through mountain biking. “I was thinking about the people and the situation in Afghanistan and how we collect our strength as a nation,” he says. “You find the things that give you hope and peace of mind. Cycling has done that for me and I wanted to share that with young people back home.”
Racing professionally under Afghanistan’s flag is one of Farid’s goals, and he’s training harder than ever to achieve it. “My whole goal is to make mountain biking popular back home,” he explains. “One way to do that is to race for your country. It gets the youth excited and they want to try it too.” Farid is working toward a Category 1 racing license and is training with Middlebury’s Nordic skiing coach. Despite coming to the sport late, Farid is having success. He finished second in a race during his first-ever collegiate race series and quickly moved up from beginner to intermediate.
Image: Farid Noori
He’s also developing a project that he hopes will simultaneously support a bike club in the Bamyan province of Afghanistan and help develop mountain bike trails. Farid saw photos of the club on Facebook, and noticed that many of the youth were riding without helmets. Farid explains that it’s very hard to acquire basic gear in Afghanistan, even as demand for it grows, but that clubs potentially have the resources to build trails. With this in mind, he got an outdoor shop in Vermont to donate eight helmets. Farid’s plan is to get more donations of bikes and gear, and have the club agree to match the monetary value of each donation in trail development. “That way the donors have a return, trails get built and riders would own the trails,” he says. There are a lot of questions to answer and details to figure out, but Farid is up for the challenge.
In the short term, Farid hopes to continue his training in the U.S. “I like it here and I can’t really train back home,” he explains. “The trails don’t exist and it’s a risky environment.” Beyond that, he’s focused on growing his favorite sport in Afghanistan. “I see myself working on building trails and supporting the community,” he says. “That’s what I consider my career to become.” Farid knows that riding bikes won’t solve every problem, but it’s done so much for him and he just wants to provide that opportunity to others. “I come from a place that is not safe and every week there’s some terrible news,” he says. “I go on my bike, collect my strength again, and am reminded that we can strive to create a beautiful world around us. Cycling gave me that perspective.”
To follow Farid’s journey, visit his blog.