Niki Gudex, Downhill’s Rising Star
“Introducing Niki Gudex, a very talented young lady who just wants everybody to know how much fun mountain biking is...”
Australian downhill National Series Champion Niki Gudex boasts a resume that includes a first place in the 2001 Downhill National Series and just recently a second at Mt Buller in the National Championships. She has also qualified to join the Australian team for the Worlds in Vail. Not bad results for anyone at a top level, but extra impressive when you take into account the fact that Niki has only been mountain biking for a little over two years.
Niki’s passion for mountain biking is obvious. Riding has gone from something she initially looked at as a summer alternative to snowboarding, to the focus of her sporting life. She seems drawn to the addictive nature of the bike, describing it as “something that you have to keep doing all the time.”
Niki’s biking abilities are complemented by snowboarding skills, a flair for art and graphic design, and the looks to pursue a career as a model. On top of all this she comes across as friendly and intelligent, with perfect manners to match. Her strongest quality, though, is her obvious drive to pursue whatever she does to the highest level possible. This is what she means by “fun”.
Introducing Niki Gudex, a very talented young lady who just wants everybody to know how much fun mountain biking is.
Where are you originally from? I was born in England, but then moved to New Zealand with my parents. We then spent four years in the States, after which we moved to Australia. It was then that I was given an opportunity to go to Sweden to live and study snowboarding in a specialised snowboard school. This was awesome, but unfortunately in my first year there I broke my back, which of course meant I couldn’t board anymore. That was in 1997-1998, I travelled around a little after that but then came home to Australia.
That’s alot of travelling! Where are you living now? Sydney.
What have you been up to lately? I’ve been going to university mainly; I’m studying Graphic Design. I was racing alot up until four or five weeks ago. Been doing a few modelling jobs as well.
So how long have you been mountain biking for? Since January 1999.
How did you first get into it? In 1998 I did a season snowboarding at Thredbo. It was at the end of the season and a few of the guys were heading out to Pat’s Patch (just outside Jindabyne) to session the motocross track there. I wanted to go along and took a mountain bike with me. However soon I wanted to go home, but it was way too hot to ride the bike all the way back in to town. Someone pointed out a “short cut” to me, and I was off on what I called the “biggest adventure”. I finally made it home after a two and a half hour hell trip through bush and dirt with broken pedals. I was hot and exhausted but I was impressed as well, it was my first time riding this sort of terrain. When I got back to Sydney I went into Bike Bar, where I met Jesse, the owner. He asked me if I raced and then told me about all the different disciplines.
When did you first start to compete? After talking with Jesse I scored a bike with some money I had for an overseas snow trip. I got a hardtail, and my second time ever riding on dirt was in a cross-country race in the heat. I pulled out of this unprepared, I was wrongly dressed (I think I had two T-shirts on) and I had no water. The next weekend I went to Thredbo where I won the downhill in my category, and then the next weekend I did well in the Nationals. I rode the hardtail for another six months in both cross-country and downhill, until I finally bought a proper downhill bike off Katrina Miller. I find the smaller bike works well for me.
That’s a pretty impressive introduction into any sport. How did you get good so fast? Did you have an instant affinity with mountain bikes? To me that’s just how it happened. People have said stuff about me going really well so quickly, but to me it’s just about having fun. I just like bikes. If I’m relaxed and focused then I feel at one with the bike -I’m just there, doing it.
Did you get to a point where you thought, hey, I’m doing really well at this, I could be really good, and that drove you to get better and race more, or is it all just about having fun? I don’t know - I think that’s where I’m at now. I am doing it all for fun but now I’m trying to decide what to do. Maybe after uni I might take cross-country more seriously and use downhill purely for my skills.
What drives you? Why do you ride? I love being on a bike. I think that if you go on a bike ride with someone in one day you can get to know them better than someone you might have known for months. It shows people’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s not like the whole clubbing scene for example, it’s not fake. Riding is real, it’s true - it has to be. I also like the way that you can be out riding with a whole group of people and still be on your own.
What sort of training do you do? I really only started training about three months ago when I bought a road bike, and I do a little bit of work with weights. I’ve only had one race since, and I think it made a difference. Training teaches you to focus, that’s what was good for me.
How often do you ride, and who with? Before I used to ride at races only, but now I’ll ride downhill at races and a lot on the road bike. I’ll sometimes do some cross-country riding, mainly around the Blue Mountains. Usually I’ll ride solo or just with whoever is around.
How often do you compete? It depends, every three weeks I’d say on average, but mid-season it can be back-to-back.
How do you see the whole race scene? Races are fun, really good. I get to catch up with everyone. It’s like a family - so many people will laugh if I say family, but I can’t think of another word. Everyone looks out for each other, it ties in with what I was saying before about biking showing people’s strengths. Everyone sees everyone else trying their hardest. I love that it’s a close-knit community. And it’s all fun, fun’s important. Also I think that riding alone is fun but it’s more fun with other people.
How do you view mountain biking in Australia at the moment? What changes would you make? (Niki being very contemplative) I think it’s strong, but very, very concentrated. I’d like to see the two-race series end, I’d like to see MTBA and Cycling Australia work something out - it’s doing nothing for the sport. The riders have to do twice as many races and travel twice as much. I’d also like to see more publicity and media involvement. Mountain biking generally needs more exposure and more sponsorship. More outside sponsorship would lead to more exposure, it would be cool if mountain biking got to be like tennis or golf. But at the same time I don’t want it to get any bigger. A bigger sport means more money and more advances in technology and equipment, but I really don’t want to lose the integrity of the sport.
Where are you hoping to go with biking yourself? Well I just became an Australian citizen (Niki already holds both a British and New Zealand passport). I hope to go to the Worlds at the end of the year, that should be a good experience. I feel that I’m getting stronger competitively. Over the next two years I plan to concentrate on uni, and then I’ll just see how I go. I might look at pursuing cross-country, at becoming more competitive in cross-country, I think that there’s alot to be done there. It’s basically a case of what I want to do most, how art and design are going for me, how biking is going, I’ll see.
Do you consider yourself a professional mountain biker, seeing as you compete in the pro division? No. You are not a professional unless you get paid. It has to be your sole focus, your career. It’s like with modelling, I do a modelling job once every one or two weeks, but I am still not a full-time model. I consider myself an athlete but certainly not a professional.
Do you ever get scared on your bike? What's your scariest moment? I get scared in traffic on my road bike. Some things are scary, like downhill can sometimes be off-putting, but you just have to work around them. I’ve had heaps of scary moments, probably the worst would be lying on a hospital bed in Sweden with a broken back.
Have you had any really memorable moments on your bike? With my most memorable moments I don’t even realise I’m having them. You never appreciate them at the time. I remember one time in Sweden; we were snowboarding at Riksgransen at 1 o’clock in the morning due to their 24 hours of sunshine. It didn’t seem all that extraordinary at the time, but now I’m always thinking about it and how incredible it was.
Where is some of your favourite terrain to ride? The tracks in New Zealand are great - really different terrain, really varied, one amazing landscape just leads to the next. They even have special mountain bike parks.
Do you see good and bad style in mountain biking? Everyone has their own style, whether they go with it or not.
What’s your style? I try to be smooth and fluid. I remember back at Mt Buller all week everyone had been saying I looked slow, but then my times came through and I’d done well so I couldn’t have been slow, it’s just the way that I ride. It’s more about consistency. I try to be focused and relaxed on my bike.
What riders do you look up to? I look at everyone for different reasons.
If you could teach one person to mountain bike who would it be? Angelina Jolie.
What bike set-up are you currently riding? A custom Foes DH Slammer Mono frame with Manitou 7-inch forks and Hayes disc brakes.
Who sponsors you? Sydney Radiology, Cremorne.
Who do you want to say thank you to? Family and friends.
What question haven’t I asked you that you wished I had? Umm, I always think that if I was interviewing people it would be good to ask them if they’re happy with who they are, because I think that is all that is important in the world, being happy with who you are as a person.
What’s Niki’s Final Thought? Believe in what you do and have fun.
Profile: Simon Cleary. Photographer: Martin Wielecki. "Niki Gudex, Downhill’s Rising Star" - Australian Mountain Bike Magazine, Spring 2001 Issue.