Chris Dabbs 1963-2024 | A tribute to legendary former MCN staffer

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Chris Dabbs was one of the best known and most respected motorcycle journalists in the industry, having worked at MCN for almost 37 years. But it was his lion-hearted spirit and absolute refusal to give up on life following a serious bike crash that inspired everyone who knew him. 

Chris’ life was changed forever in July of 1993 when a car pulled out in front of him as he was riding home from work. He broke his neck in the crash and was paralysed from the chest down: a T3 paraplegic. Chris was not at fault, and from day one he fought hard, determined to live a full and active life, despite being confined to a wheelchair. 

At the time, Chris – or ‘Dabbsy’ as he was affectionately known by his many friends – was assistant editor at MCN, having joined us in 1987 as a road tester. He had started out in bike journalism working as a staff writer for Which Bike? (later renamed Motorcycle International) and, prior to that, had worked in London as a bike courier. 

Chris Dabbs

An occasional racer in the 1980s and early ’90s, Chris crashed and broke his leg during a race at Brands Hatch just one day after accepting the job as Road Test Editor on MCN, so he didn’t actually start doing any work for four months when he was finally fit to join us! The highlight of Chris’ occasional racing career came in 1992, when he finished an impressive third in the Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster British Championship. 

After becoming accustomed to life in a wheelchair, Chris joined MCN’s sister title Bike magazine as editor in 1995, a post he held for just over a year before returning to MCN as Motorcycle Projects Editor in 1996. 

Helping others

Since 2001 Chris – born and raised in Send Marsh, Woking – had been an Agony Uncle at MCN, answering readers’ questions and helping to solve their problems, be they legal, technical, or just general queries about touring or trackdays. It was typical of Chris to focus on helping other people fix their problems rather than worrying about his own.

Chris Dabbs on the Beaujolais Run

Following his accident, Chris was treated and rehabilitated at Stoke Mandeville National Spinal Injuries Centre and, after retiring from MCN in 2023 – after an astonishing 36 years and 51 weeks – he took up a role as Patient Education Advisor at the centre where he himself had received so much care over a seven-month period following his crash.

He also played for, coached, and was chairman of the Northampton Phoenix Wheelchair Basketball Club and was a keen sailor and scuba diver, never allowing his disability to stop him doing anything he felt like doing. 

In 2012 Chris was awarded the honour of carrying the Olympic torch on its route through Market Harborough in Leicestershire and, never one to shy away from an adventure, he even took part in the sailing world championships in Portugal in 2023, his lust for life undiminished, his spirit undefeated. 

Chris Dabbs racing Harley-Davidson

Chris lived for bikes, both before and after his crash. A superfast, and extremely knowledgeable, road tester in his earlier years, he found a way to get back onto two wheels in later life, thanks to The Bike Experience – a charity that helps disabled riders get back onto two wheels. He also completed a 173-mile run from Lisbon to Faro on a Martin Conquest trike, which he could ride from his wheelchair. 

Chris owned a second home in Cessenon-Sur-Orb in southwest France and had just returned to the UK after spending a relaxing week there when he began to feel unwell. He passed away unexpectedly but peacefully in the late afternoon of Saturday, May 18. He was 61. 

MCN Editor, Richard Newland, paid his respects: “There was very little on Earth that Chris didn’t know about or have an opinion on; very few people in the industry he didn’t know personally; and (seemingly) very few people on the planet who didn’t have a story of either hilarity about some past event, or of thanks for his kindness and support. Chris was, above everything else, a lovely human being. The world is a poorer place for his passing.”

Chris Dabbs rides a Yamaha OW-01

Meanwhile MCN Chief Road Tester Michael Neeves added: “Chris was always a gent and generous with his time and advice when I was learning the ropes. His life-changing accident never slowed him down, and I always wish I could’ve ridden with him – I wouldn’t have seen which way he went. RIP Dabbsy.”

All of us here at MCN would like to pass on our deepest condolences to Chris’ family and friends – and we’re very proud to consider ourselves amongst the latter. Thanks for everything, Dabbsy. We’ll miss you terribly. Chris leaves a son George and sister Robin.

Dabbsy’s road test moments

The first decade of Chris’ 37 years with MCN was spent as Road Test Editor and saw the advent of liquid-cooling and turbos. He also covered the RD and RG500, anti-dive and 16-inch front wheels; wrestling around GSX-R1100s and EXUPs; wringing the neck of 250 and 400cc grey imports and sampling the delights of race-replicas like the sublime RC30, with the arrival of the FireBlade book-ending those hectic years.

Honda NR750 – MCN July 15, 1992

In an exclusive test of Honda’s ultra-exotic tech marvel, the NR750, Chris chose to surf the roundabouts of Hinckley (where else?!) and ended up incurring the ire of a local motorcycling magnate: “The guy in the Porsche was not amused. I could see him scowling in his wing mirror as I heeled past him up the inside of a roundabout… but then I’m not surprised – it was John Bloor, the boss of Triumph!”

Yamaha FZR750R OW-01 – MCN February 15, 1989

Chris Dabbs admires a Yamaha OW-01

Chris got the chance to ride one of the very first Yamaha OW-01s in the UK at Donington Park, during which he claimed the scalp of a double British Champion and TT winner on the £12,700 special. “I even outbraked Geoff Johnson into the chicane. OK, so he’d got a broken hip but when he thought about nipping back under me I let the brakes off, something I would never do normally. But the bike felt so right I knew I could get away with it. Sorry Geoff!”

Honda CBR900RR-N FireBlade launch – MCN February 26, 1992

Chris Dabbs Honda FireBlade review (1992)

Chris was one of the first to test the bike that would go on to define an era. After detecting some instability, Chris suggested to chief engineer Tadao Baba that a steering damper may be required. The legendary engineer replied: “No need, we’ve tested this bike flat-out on autobahns…” Basically, ‘man up!’

Honda VFR750R RC30 – MCN March 16, 1988 

Chris Dabbs Honda RC30 review (1988)

During the road test of Honda’s RC30 homologation special, which at £8499 cost more than the average salary in 1988, Chris got pulled for speeding but the exotic Pro-Arm rear got him off the hook: “‘That isn’t a motorcycle, it’s a missile,’ said the policeman, who then shook my hand!”

Stuart Barker

By Stuart Barker