anberra cycling prodigy Harriet Burbidge-Smith had been on her BMX bike for almost two decades, ever since she was a four-year-old. “My parents realised even at that age I was really enjoying the bike,” she recalls. “They looked up local activities and the BMX club was one of them. They took me there and I couldn’t stay away.”
Burbidge-Smith, known simply as “Haz” in the BMX community, was an instant hit. “From a very young age I was going overseas to compete,” she says. The Australian won two amateur world championships and eight national crowns. A future of success beckoned – Olympic and world titles were within her grasp. And then she stopped.
“I enjoyed [BMX racing] until about 21, 22,” says the now 25-year-old. “I was doing elite races, World Cups – not doing too badly. But I slowly started getting invited to mountain bike events.” Despite a bright future looming in BMX, a parallel universe soon opened. “I tried to do both for a while,” she says. “And I realised I was enjoying the mountain biking a lot more – and had found a scene that fit my personality better. It was more creative and fulfilling for me, I felt like I was expressing myself much more.”
And so, in her early 20s, having spent her entire childhood on the BMX bike, collecting titles, sponsors and a following, Burbidge-Smith took a leap of faith. Just as today the rider might launch herself into the air for a vertical manoeuvre, she did the same with her career. “To leave BMX, all the sponsors and support I had, and start fresh in mountain biking – where I was really starting from the bottom,” she says, “that [personality fit] was a big factor.”
Immediately, “Haz” realised she had found her tribe. “Straight away I found connections in the sport in a way I never found in BMX,” she says. “Mountain biking is all about having fun and riding. Everyone’s riding is different – your personality shows in how you ride, it’s all about being creative.”
The sport also puts a premium on content – video footage and images – beyond the competitive scene. “The film-making, the content creation, is a big thing – it’s not just racing,” she adds. “With BMX it was very strict – schedule, training, gym, who was the strongest, who could squat the most. That’s great, but it didn’t fulfil me.”