From a girl who grew up roaming the Chathams on a dirt bike, Robin Goomes is now setting a new bar in the world of freeride mountain biking – especially with her revolutionary backflips.

Robin Goomes didn’t own a pair of shoes till she was 14. She didn’t need them.

Growing up in the Chatham Islands, everyone got around in gumboots.

And Goomes was always on two wheels. She remembers how much freedom she had, riding bikes in that weather-beaten outpost known as New Zealand’s last frontier.

“Everyone knows everyone, and it’s really chill. We’d just be riding our pushbikes down the street in the middle of the night and it didn’t matter,” she says.

When she was 10, Goomes graduated to a motorbike and hung out with the boys. There were no tracks on the island to ride on, so they’d spend hours roaring over farmland and across beaches.

“We just lived on our dirt bikes. We’d go into the hills and build our own tracks and jumps. It was so cool,” she says.

And it’s not a massive leap from those remote paddocks to where she is now: the former solider turned shuttlebus driver is taking the freeride mountain bike world by dust-storm.

That carefree childhood goes a long way to explaining why 25-year-old Goomes is virtually fearless. Four months ago, she became the first woman in the world to successfully land a backflip on a mountain bike in competition, at the Crankworx Innsbruck Speed & Style event in Austria.

And not just once. Six times. “Just because I knew I could,” she says.

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That performance signalled a change in the sport. The best female riders in the world saying they’ll now have to up their game to keep in step with the rookie Kiwi rider, who’s been paying her own way to competitions around the globe in her first year competing overseas.

Right now, Goomes is in Canada, after riding the final event of the Crankworx BC tour on Silver Star Mountain. She’ll be home later this week (she booked her MIQ spot well in advance).

Her timing so far has been perfect. She’s launched her international mountain bike career just as freeriding for women has started to soar.

In a brief six-week tour, Goomes also dashed across to Germany to the Audi Nines – a famed freeride event where women were invited to ride alongside men for the first time.

The Kiwi was one of nine top female mountain bikers chosen to ride in slopestyle and freeride – a creative rather than competitive event. And she really made an impact.

The riders voted Goomes “Ruler of the Week” – the most impressive woman to land her tricks in the moon-like setting of a stone quarry in Hunsrück-Nahe. On the biggest jumps Goomes had ever attacked, she also pulled off a new trick – a ‘backflip-can side saddle lander’.

The competition organisers called her “absolutely unstoppable” throughout that week.

Robin Goomes shows off her tricks in a jump-jam session at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Canada. Photo: Crankworx Photography. 

“It’s a big jam sesh, it’s epic,” Goomes says. “The highlight of my life, I think.”

And she’s already packed a lot of highlights into her 25 years. “I’ve been doing some living, eh?” she laughs.

From dirt to mountain

Generations of the Goomes’ family have lived on Rēkohu, the Chatham Islands (population 663). Her maternal grandparents are among her many relatives still living there, and she tries to go back to visit every couple of years.

Goomes was born in Christchurch and moved to the isolated islands when she was five. “It was a really cool place to grow up,” she says.

But with no high school on either of the main islands, she and her sister moved back to the mainland, living with their other grandmother in Christchurch for the school terms.

Missing her dirt bike, Goomes discovered a BMX track less than a kilometre from her grandmother’s house. “So the natural next best thing was to start riding a BMX,” she says.

She started racing at national level and continued right through high school, even after her family moved to Auckland and she finished her school years at Takapuna Grammar.

Robin Goomes has a laugh during slalom practice in Innsbruck. Photo: Crankworx Photography. 

Then she joined the NZ Army and had a “two-year lull” in her two-wheeled career. While based in Palmerston North, where she was a lance corporal in the engineering corps, a friend in the forces convinced her to go mountain biking on the local tracks.   

“I had the worst bike and he took me down the hardest track there was. It was so steep and so scary, but I was really hooked,” Goomes says. She bought a bike a week later, and every weekend travelled north to Rotorua to race in the forests.

After five years in the army, Goomes decided she wanted to pursue riding seriously, and left last year to move to Rotorua. She got a job driving the shuttlebuses for a mountain bike rental company into the Whakarewarewa Forest. 

“I’d work three days a week, then just ride and train,” Goomes says. Last summer, she headed to the South Island to make the most of the national mountain bike race season.

There she was invited to an all-women mountain bike progression camp in Queenstown – the first of its kind – where 10 riders were given help to progress their tricks and techniques. It was also about how to treat female mountain bikers in a more professional and empowering way.

It set me on the path I’m now on,” Goomes says.  “There were such good vibes, all the girls were pushing each other to learn new tricks.”

That’s when she decided to take her riding career offshore. “I was doing well in New Zealand, but you never know how that compares to the rest of the world,” she says. “I could be the world’s worst rider, but I’ll never know unless I go do it. So I had to take that risk.”

So, Goomes got her Covid-19 vaccinations and in June, went to Formation, a ground-breaking event for women’s freeride mountain biking, in Virgin, Utah.

She was invited as a digger – a reserve rider who, armed with a shovel, digs the lines and builds the jumps for their team rider.

Robin Goomes learned so much as a digger at the Formation women’s freeride event in Utah this year. Photo: supplied. 

“It was a door opener,” Goomes says. “I got some riding in, too, and from that I should definitely have a spot as a rider next year.” She also crashed trying to complete a backflip – and knocked herself out.

The backflip

Fortunately with no signs of concussion, Goomes went on to race in Austria, where she met up with her Kiwi partner, Kieran Watkins.

“He rides, he doesn’t really race, but he came over just to support me,” she says. “Crankworx is full-on – I had three bikes, and it was event after event. There’s only a 30-minute gap between races, so I was really under the pump. He was there with food, water, bikes, and got everything sorted. It was so good.”

His support did the trick. Goomes won her first international event – the Crankworx Innsbruck whip-off (turning the bike sideways mid-air in a jump), which doubled as the European championships.

Then she set the mountain bike world abuzz, pulling off the trailblazing backflip in the speed & style event.

“I learned them two years ago to an airbag, and never did anything with it,” Goomes says. “That was until last summer in Queenstown, where there were good jumps and I started doing heaps of them.

“I wanted to do it in Innsbruck, but I knew it wouldn’t score well – it wasn’t even on our scoresheet. I just wanted to get it done, because I knew I could. It was cool, it got so much hype. I’ve had no broken bones yet, touch wood.”

Goomes made a quick trip home to New Zealand, then left again in August for events in Germany and Canada, where she’s racked up a handful of top five placings in the pro women’s events.

Robin Goomes competes in the downhill race at Crankworx Innsbruck. Photo: Crankworx Photography. 

While Goomes is also talented in downhill racing she’s decided to pursue freeriding.

“It’s quite funny though – a year ago I was doing tricks because it was fun. I didn’t really know what freeride was, because it was pretty much non-existent for women. It’s only really getting to a point where we could make a career out of it,” she says.

Goomes has been digging deep into her savings to pay for her trips so far (although she also won the $10,000 Mark Dunlop Memorial Scholarship – to help Kiwi mountain bikers launch onto the global stage, and received a £1000 donation from English riders Bex Baraona and Martha Gill to help her get to the Audi Nines).

“With the army, you earn a lot of money and don’t get to spend much, so I’d got myself to a point where I could do this stuff. Now I’ve blown the budget,” she laughs. “This year was my shot to do something good and get picked up by sponsors for next year.

“I want to go to the top. There’s so much room for this sport to grow for women, and I’m pretty keen to help push it as far as I can. I have a full list of tricks I want to learn and keep pushing the sport. And ideally make a job of it as well.”

Once she’s out of MIQ, she will be straight into the New Zealand leg of the Crankworx world circuit, at home in Rotorua on November 3. Then she’ll be behind the wheel of the shuttlebus again.

Goomes hopes to return to the Chatham Islands when she can.

“One day I’d like to go back and take my bike and build a track for the kids over there,” she says. “It’s the dream.”

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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