I'm A Bike Rider First
"There has been a lot of press on Australia's Niki Gudex in the past few years and it is fair to say some of it has focused on more than just her riding. So we caught up with Niki in Santa Monica, California and spoke to her on why she would much rather be known as a bike rider first."
While Niki is an Australian citizen and her accent has that certain Australian way about it, asking Niki where she is from is not necessarily a simple question.
While her family is originally from New Zealand, Niki Gudex was actually born in England. She became an Australian citizen in 2001 after living there for most of her life (about 15 years). She went to University in Sydney, studying graphic design, but her first ever years of school were actually in America (she began school in Rochester, upstate NY).
Niki began riding at a relatively late age of 20 after a terrible snowboard injury where she broke her back while practicing back flips in Sweden.
Cycling seemed to be a practical way to get back into shape, plus it seemed like a whole bunch of fun to her. With nothing but a two day old bike and not a soul that she could call to find out about the sport, she rang up the bicycling federation, who told her that there was a race on that weekend. Unsure of how to find trails and people to ride with any other way, she took up the adventure. Armed with a new bike and no real riding experience, she took a train out to the middle of nowhere and entered the race. Thus begins the story of a successful mountain bike career on the road back from injury.
Did you start riding first or modelling? Well, I started modelling first. I started riding relatively late which wasn’t really a conscious choice, it was just how it turned out. I had never heard about mountain biking until I was 20. I used to think that I had a disadvantage against some of my competitors. But I actually believe that having done so many different sports when I was growing up, most of them involving balance, actually gives me a wider range of experience to draw on. So now I just need to be patient and work on building up my strength to complement that.
How did you get your start in modelling? I started out when I was 16 and did that for a few years while I was at school. When I graduated from school I travelled to Sweden and went to snowboard school intending to stay there for a few years. In the far north of Sweden, modelling was certainly not something that I pursued. It was all snowboarding and skateboarding and taking in the Swedish culture. Although, when I found myself back in Australia after only 12 months I got back into it. It was a good way to earn some extra money and it was actually something that I had missed.
So how did you start riding? One day towards the end of the snow season when the snow wasn’t very good, I ended up taking a bike for a ride. I decided to take a short cut through the bush on the way back instead of the road and it was actually pretty fun. It ended up being a real ordeal. I was alone, the pedal broke and I was partially lost for a few hours, but it was a great experience. I went into a bike shop to get a replacement pedal and the guy working there asked if I raced bikes. That was the first I had heard of mountain biking and within a week I spent the money I had been saving for a snowboard trip on a nice hardtail.
You just went to your first race with no training or preparation? How did you do? I didn’t know anyone that rode bikes, nor did I know where any trails were, so I decided that going to a bike race would be the best way to find both. It is actually very comical when I look back on it. I was definitely a bit naïve. It was a really hot day (over 40 degrees Celcius) and with my limited experience I didn’t know that you carried water and food with you. So dressed in skate shoes, cargo shorts and a t-shirt with no food or water bottle, I started my first XC race. I actually think I started hallucinating half way through because it was so hot. That was my second time out on a mountain bike on the dirt. I gave everything I had, it hurt but it was fun.
From there I went to a National DH round that was on that next weekend. I had spent so many years around the snow, so at first the crazy idea of going back to the same mountain in the summer actually sounded like a really fun thing to do once someone explained the idea of taking the chairlift to the top of the mountain. This time I raced DH and I ended up winning the beginner class. I was then was convinced by some friendly riders to go to the National Championships that were on that next weekend. I came third in Sport women which actually made me the fastest girl in Hardtail class. The organizers had selected the parts that most suited each person that won. I had been using SPD pedals with normal skate shoes, so I won some flat pedals and some different tires. I think it is the little things like that where people help each other out that makes mountain biking such a great sport. 6 years later I still remember getting those pedals and the difference they made! Within about six months I had decided to upgrade. I spent everything I had on a proper DH bike.
What made you transition from downhill to XC? In 2000 when the Sydney Olympics were on, it was not far from where I live. It was so amazing to see all of the World’s best mountain bikers racing. I still remember the pass that Paola made on Marga that caused the crash and gave Paola the lead, it happened right in front of us. But at the time I never even considered that I would be racing cross country. Two years later, in about 2002 I started to consider trying cross country and then slowly began the changeover. I never really planned to transition; I planned to do both. But the more that I do XC the more I realize it’s not realistic to try and do both. I found that I could do alright doing both, but if I want to achieve my objectives and become competitive at the highest level in XC, I really do have to focus. I honestly don’t know how people in the past like John Tomac were successful at both. You give everything when you do an XC race and it makes it tough to race downhill the next day.
What North American events have you been in thus far? This Park City NORBA race will be the first of the season for me this year. The Australian National Championships conflicted with the dates of the 1st NORBA round. I had so wanted to win the Nationals so that I could race in the green and gold, but after a 2 hour battle with Emma Colson I missed out by half a minute…
What races this year will we see you in? I will be racing the middle 4 races of the NORBA series this year and the Mt. Ste. Anne World Cup and the Angel Fire World Cup. From there I am going to Germany in August and I’ll possibly race some European events such as a SwissPower Cup leading up to the World Championships in Italy. I am actually really disappointed to be missing the NORBA finals in Mt Snow because I love the track there so much, so much sweet single track, but it is the weekend before World’s so I think it is a bit too tight to squeeze it in.
What differences do you see between the Australian and NORBA’s and World Cup racing circuits? All three are completely different, but I enjoy them all for what they are. In Australia we still have a strong field, so the competition is good but it is a much more relaxed environment. The courses are more technical than many of the NORBA courses with much more single track. We also have many other elements such as logs that you have to hop over. If you can’t log hop, you would lose a lot of time in an Australian race.
The NORBA series is much bigger, with bigger teams and much more support from the product manufacturers. The field is much stronger and the courses are generally at altitude which can be a bit of a shock to the system when the highest point in Australia is only about 6000’.
But the World Cups are what I absolutely love. The courses are challenging, the competition is fierce and you truly know that you are competing at the highest level when you are at a World Cup. It is the World Cup that I would most love to do well at.
Would you say there is a big talent difference? Definitely. The World Cup attracts the fastest riders, riders that are strong, have great skills and race hard. Without taking anything away from the individual riders that make up the other events, as there are great riders at all of them, all things considered it would be fair to say that the Australian competition would rank 3rd in this list and the NORBA competition somewhere in the middle.
Give me a brief description of home life. Being on the road so much I assume you are rarely home. Tell me what that is like for you. When I am home, mostly I spend a lot of my time training; I train pretty hard because I’m trying to build up strength and endurance which is going to take a few seasons for me to get to where I want to be. So I train and I rest, I train and I rest, and I answer email and I do work stuff. I spend time with my friends and my cat, I love my cat! I love my friends too!
Talk me about your cat Pushka. Pushka is a Burmese and I am pretty sure he thinks he’s a dog. He loves to go for rides in the car. If you open the car door you have to be careful or he will jump in and make himself comfortable on the passenger seat. He just loves to go on an adventure, if you open a back pack he will jump in. You can pick up the back pack and go for a walk, a small ride, what ever. He doesn’t jump out, he just loves an adventure. I like to think that he gets that from me….. I miss him when I’m gone. Often when I head out for training he will follow me up the drive, then sit and see me off.
How would you market Niki Gudex to the sponsors out there? I am not sure how to answer that question. What I have tried to do is pursue those areas of my life that I enjoy, and I do believe that at times they can feed off and complement each other. As far as marketing to sponsors, I do try to understand what a sponsor’s objectives are and I do attempt to help those that support me to meet their own objectives in every way that I can. But above all I want to be a successful cyclist. I am focused on improving as a rider and to continue making incremental improvements. But I also want to have fun along the way. I think that sponsors like to know that you are going to be around for the longer term before they invest in someone. If I can continue to improve, the long term picture should be more stable. So it is clear what my focus needs to be and I believe that I am on track.
What percentage of your time do you spend modelling versus racing? I do a lot more racing than modelling. I’m a bike rider for sure.
Does either one concern or conflict injury-wise? If you were to ever not race anymore would you fall back on the model career? Does one take away from the other? I guess they could potentially take away from each other? But life is complicated and dangerous anyway. If you think about things too much you might end up wrapped in cotton wool safe in the comfort of home, but where is the fun in that? Pursuing a cycling career at the same time as a modelling career was not part of a long term plan. It is simply how things have evolved and I have been lucky that they have not conflicted with each other. If there comes a time where I have to choose, I will choose cycling. If I was to no longer race, I think that I would become more involved in a creative pursuit of some kind. Whether modelling would complement that I have no idea, but no, I would not become a full time model. Modelling in isolation to me doesn’t sound as fun and to be honest, I am not tall enough for it to completely pay the bills.
You’d show up to a photo shoot with a huge shiner? (Laughs) I’ve actually been pretty lucky, I really actually don’t like crashing at all if I can help it. (laughs)
Gee, you’re one of the few! (laughs) I see people crashing all the time and I think they must like it. Because you can see someone crash and sometimes you think they could have actually saved it.
I think Josh Bender does… That guy is insane! He’s crazy! I rode horses as well for 6 years when I was young and there were times when I was whipped on the horse and I thought, I don’t have to fall off. I knew that I could try to stay on. On my bike I’ll do anything to stay on and it happens quite often people where people will say “wow, that was a good save.” I think “well yeah, I didn’t want to fall off you know!” After I broke my back I realized I can’t really afford to go down. I’m not any more susceptible to bigger injury now, but I am much more aware. I want to go as fast as I can and injuries just set you back.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Racing my bike!
Top of the World Cup podium? Hopefully! That’s definitely where I’d like to be.
List your sponsors… Oakley, SRM, Intense Cycles, Roeckl gloves, Ritchey
Give me a closing quote… Have fun on your bike, that’s what it all comes down to.
Thanks to my sponsors, my family, my friends, and everyone else who makes it possible to ride.
Throughout our conversation, Niki had many stories to tell. This one had to take the cake of all that I have ever heard.
One thing about traveling and training is that it can be hard to find suitable places to train. One day I had a particularly long road ride to do and so I found a road similar to the roads I train on at home, unlimited miles with no cross traffic or traffic lights so I was good to go. After about 30 minutes I heard a car siren coming up along side me, it was actually a police car and he asked me what I was doing. Well, back in Australia you can train on basically any road out there as long as you are out of the way, on the side in the shoulder. So I was unsure why he had stopped me. Luckily he heard my Aussie accent and realized that I honestly didn’t know I shouldn’t be training there. He sort of chuckled and told me that those roads were only for motor driven cars and definitely not bicycles. So I no longer train on the interstates in the US.
Profile: Mike McFayden. "I'm A Bike Rider First" Mountain Biking Magazine (USA), October 2005 Issue.