VSAnberra cycling prodigy Harriet Burbidge-Smith had been on her BMX bike for nearly two decades, since she was four. “My parents realized that even at that age I really liked cycling,” she recalls. “They looked for 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 an early age, I was going to compete abroad,” she says. The Australian has won two amateur world championships and eight national crowns. A future of success lay ahead – Olympic and world titles were within reach. And then she stopped.
“I loved [BMX racing] until around 21, 22,” the 25-year-old explains. “I was doing elite races, World Cups – not too bad. But I slowly started getting invited to mountain bike events. Despite a bright future looming in BMX, a parallel universe has quickly opened up. “I tried to do both for a while,” she says. “And I realized that I was enjoying mountain biking a lot more – and that I had found a scene that better matched my personality. It was more creative and fulfilling for me, I felt like I was expressing myself much more.
And so, in his early twenties, having spent his entire childhood on the BMX bike, collecting titles, sponsors and followers, Burbidge-Smith took a leap of faith. Just as today the rider could launch into the air for a vertical maneuver, she did the same with her career. “Leaving BMX, all the sponsors and support I had, and starting from scratch in mountain biking – where I was really starting from the bottom,” she says, “it’s [personality fit] was an important factor.
Immediately, “Haz” realized she had found her tribe. “Right away I found connections in the sport in a way that I had never found in BMX,” she says. “Mountain biking is about having fun and riding. Everyone’s ride is different – your personality shows in the way you ride, it’s about being creative.
The sport also places great importance on content – video footage and images – beyond the competitive scene. “Filmmaking, 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. It’s great, but it didn’t satisfy me.
Burbidge-Smith is back home for Crankworx in Cairns, Australia’s first-ever stop in a global mountain bike competition. On Thursday she won gold in the speed and style final; more events are yet to come over the weekend. “Crankworx is the leading mountain bike series in the world outside of the World Cup series,” she explains. “It’s great to have Crankworx here – it’s special when it’s in your home country.”
Despite her last medal, it hasn’t been easy since she changed sports. “I think it took longer than it looks [to adapt],” she says. After competing in a few events in 2019, Burbidge-Smith had a big accident and ended up in hospital. Covid-19 then ruled out much of the 2020 season, meaning that 2021 was his first full season in the sport.
“It’s been long, but also short – and the last two years have been pretty much non-stop,” she says. “I’ve been overseas virtually 24/7. I just got back to Australia this week and it’s the first time I’ve been home since March.”
Beyond her competitive ambitions, the Redbull-sponsored athlete is also passionate about making her sport more accessible to women. Although the data varies, estimates indicate that women make up only about 20% of mountain bikers. “It’s a male-dominated sport,” Burbidge-Smith said. “It’s hard to break into that – if you don’t have anyone to ride with, you don’t ride. It’s hard to go to events if it’s literally just guys.
Burbidge-Smith is doing his best to change that. Earlier this year, she organized a “progress camp” to provide opportunities for women to ride free-ride mountain bikes. “Things like that do a huge push,” she says. “And it’s starting to show.” It also encourages greater participation of women at the local level. “Having an environment where people are comfortable trying [is important],” she says. “Before, people didn’t have the opportunity or didn’t know how to get into it. When you provide those opportunities, that’s where people feel comfortable.
Between racing, creating content for her popular social media channels, and promoting more female participation in mountain biking, Burbidge-Smith has taken to her new sport. She has no regrets. “If I can keep doing all of this and enjoy it, then that’s what I want to keep doing.”