Ryan Barnett, aka Ryno, was a fixture in the Atlanta cycling scene and the pro peloton for over two decades, and he earned his nickname (pronounced rhino) because of his proclivity to run roughshod over his competition. Ryno loved to ride his bike and the boy loved to race, simply put, and he raced like he lived—aggressive, attacking, always with his nose in the wind. There was a block of years in Georgia when Ryan Barnett was the dominant force in cycling, the center of our swirling cycling universe, and during this stretch he captured 3 state criterium championships, 1 state road race championship, and 1 Junior points race state championship to name only a few items on his palmarès. In fact, I’ve seen Ryno’s trophy closet and it looks like King Tut’s tomb before the spoils were removed. I checked in with Ryno recently for an update.
Humble Chronicler: How the hale are you, Ryno? Tell all your friends on this side of the water what you are doing these days.
Ryno: I live in Thailand and for the past 4 years I have been working in project development for The Redemptorist Foundation for People with Disabilities in Thailand. We are the disability side of the Father Ray Foundation in Pattaya Thailand (Fr-Ray.org). I am living in Nongkhai, which is in NE Thailand on the Mekong River across from Vientiane Laos. My job involved opening and directing a social enterprise that is on our Tech College for PWD campus here in Nonghai. The enterprise is a factory where I am manufacturing aluminum wheelchairs for a Swedish brand I am partnered with (TiArrow.com). I have an LLC in the USA and am the importer for North America as well. Our titanium chairs come from Sweden and aluminum from Thailand. As a social enterprise, the factory here teaches welding and fabrication to students and uses the OEM sales of the chairs to support the foundation.
H.C.: That’s incredible, you are teaching a skill and manufacturing a product with a lot of personal meaning to you.
Ryno: No doubt, not to mention that I also have recently added bicycle spoke manufacturing to our projects. The US owned Taiwanese factory that extrudes the aluminum for my frames is an OEM rim manufacturer and the company recently donated $500,000 worth of machinery so we can manufacture its newly patented spokes. We will be making 315 mm blanks (unthreaded) and OEM will be mainly marketing and selling to wheel builders and bike shops that have cutting / threading machines onsite. We are also currently working to bring titanium production to Atlanta over the next year, so it looks like I will be heading back to the ATL in the next year or so.
H.C.: What do you like about living in Thailand?
Ryno: The best parts of living here are the people, the food, the pace of life, the exchange rate and cost of living, the travel possibilities, and the experience of a culture that is much older and vastly different than that in the USA. The cost of living is one of the big reasons I love it here. For frame of reference, I pay $215 per month for rent. Domestic travel is amazing and the cycling culture is huge. Thailand has both amazing beaches and big mountains. The countryside has the most beautiful farmland I have ever seen and Thailand has around 7-10% of the world's biodiversity. The flora and the fauna are stunning and takes my breath daily. Many people believe that Thailand is third world country, but that isn't the case. Thailand is on the cusp of developed nation status and the middle class is large and growing—there is even a Starbucks in the small town I live in!
H.C.: How has the pandemic affected the area where you live?
Ryno: There are no Covid-19 cases in Nonghai where I live, which is north along the Mekong River, and there are very few cases nationwide. Travel domestically is open, and life is pretty much back to normal. It is a good time to travel around Thailand because there are no tourist mobs and the busiest areas have gotten a much-needed break.
H.C.: You had a life changing accident in 2008. For those that don’t know, can you tell us briefly what happened and a little about your recovery?
Ryno: In 2008, the week after the Athens Twilight Criterium, which I raced, I went out for a training ride. It was the day before the Roswell Criterium. My next memory is waking up in the hospital 4 days later, I don’t remember what happened but understand I was run over by a truck and trailer at a busy intersection in Norcross, breaking my T3 vertebrae, resulting in my paralysis—I went from a healthy racing cyclist to being a paraplegic in the wink of an eye. I spent the next two months at Shepherd Center in Atlanta recovering. Luckily, being a fit cyclist helps with all that is required to live life as a paraplegic. It took a couple of years for my body to get back to "normal" because spinal shock and swelling take a long time to heal. I had to learn new signals from my body, and I had to learn how to live again, how to get around, how to take care of myself, and that takes a time, but it’s an achievable goal, and it starts with a positive outlook. I’m a fighter at heart, and I was determined to live life on my terms, bottom line.
H.C.: You have an amazing attitude and a real zest for life. How and when did you acquire this?
Ryno: I am not sure when or where I acquired it, but I think it starts with being kind to others. I enjoy engaging with a wide variety of people and I have always enjoyed the journey of life. Certainly, after my accident a positive attitude helped, and honestly, I felt fortunate not to be DEAD. In the end everyone’s time is limited, so I intend to enjoy mine, to be kind to others, and to effect the world in a positive way.
H.C.: Where are you from originally and how did you get into riding bikes?
Ryno: I was born in Atlanta and grew up around the Metro area. I was hooked on cycling on the last day of school my 8th grade year when my teacher showed the movie "Breaking Away" to our class and I was smitten—I was determined to start racing bicycles. Coincidentally, it was 1984 and that summer the Olympics were in LA and the USA cleaned house and I was TOTALLY hooked after that. I bought a bike and started pedaling and it went from there.
H.C.: What years did you race and what teams did you race for?
Ryno: My first race was a small criterium in Atlanta in the spring of 1985 when I was 14—I won, and my last race was the Athens Twilight in 2008, about one week before my accident. In 23 years of racing, I raced as a junior, collegiate, elite and pro on the road, track, mountain bike and cyclocross. I raced for various teams over the years and racing opportunities for my generation certainly were not as readily available as they would become later so we all struggled to find teams that would get us to the big races. I rode for Cycleworks when I was a junior and we had an amazing coach in Tony Chastain and tremendous mentors in the senior ranks with riders like Mike and Jay Osbourne and Phyllis Hines, an Olympian living in Atlanta. In college I raced for the Georgia State University team which produced a slew of good riders. In the domestic pro ranks I raced for Zaxby's, RealityBikes, and later CAICO out of Puerto Rico.
H.C.: Do you remember your first WBL rides? Who were some of the other riders?
Ryno: When I first started travelling to Athens for epic Saturday training rides, the WBL name wasn’t established yet. By the time the gods of cycling morphed the ride into the WBL that is known today the cast of characters included Big Jon Atkins, Larry Mineral Man Waters, Phil Southerland aka Junior the Punk, Steve Sevener, the Pics, you name it. All the big cycling names in the area traveled to Athens for the WBL. At the time I was excited and surprised there were so many other like-minded fools willing to suffer for five hours on a bike on a cold and blustery winter day!
H.C.: Did you have a favorite route in the WBL?
Ryno: My favorite ride was always Alto, a beautiful route and it is always an epic 6-hour adventure. I was always gently “persuaded” by my good friend Big Jon Atkins to work for him on Alto and he did win twice, in 2001 and 2003, so we did have a lot of success, and a lot of fun. I spent my WBL career focused on destroying myself in the name of training.
H.C.: What are a couple of your best moments on the bike?
Ryno: The first time I finished on the podium at a NORBA national race was huge because of the epic muddy conditions. Finishing the Tour of Cuba ranks up there because it was so difficult, and so epic, 15 stages in 14 days with no rest—hardest stage race I ever did. In the end, I would have to say the first time I raced USPRO in Philadelphia was the most memorable. Lining up with the current world champion (Lance) and all the big Pro Tour teams was huge in and of itself, not to mention the race itself was 155 miles. What really comes to mind, however, was the first time we climbed the Manayunk Wall. As we took the left from under the train trestle and onto the wall, I remember we raced into the sunlight and the roar of the crowd was so loud it gave me chill bumps. I have never felt so alive.
H.C.: Shifting gears, what is your favorite local dish?
Ryno: There is so much good food here it’s hard to say what my favorite dish is. There are so many different types of Thai noodle dishes you never see in the US., and we have a wide variety of amazing curries. There is also a long list of exotic fruits that we never see in the USA.
H.C.: Can you do any fly tricks in your wheelchair?
Ryno: Ha, I don't really know any tricks per se, but I have certainly learned to navigate some pretty big risks. I love pushing around Bangkok at night—it’s like urban assault mountain biking. I look for good lines, just like in cycling, and use the sidewalk, road, bike path, etc. to wheel around. Stair drops are certainly the biggest risk I take and I have wheelied down 9-10 steep steps, which can be white knuckle scary.
H.C.: Have you taken part in any wheelchair races? What is your favorite activity these days?
Ryno: I did. After my accident I did some wheelchair racing, distances of 5K, 10K, marathons with runners, handcycling, and cross-country ski / biathlon. Mostly I did sport to learn the life hacks of living with an SCI. I never had ambitions to race Paralympics, I knocked that out of my system on the bike. I think world travel is my favorite activity.
H.C.: It sounds like you are doing remarkable things in Thailand and it was great to catch up. Do you have any parting words of wisdom for newbies riding the WBL?
Ryno: That’s easy, question the wisdom of the Chronicler at your peril.
H.C.: Now that is great advice! Take care and we’ll see you soon.