ADB chats with Robbie Maddison, a rider who has written himself into the record books several times over
ADB: When did you start riding? I’m told it was at an early age.
RM: I got a Honda QR50 for Christmas in 1985 when I was four. For Christmas last year I got another. My father went out and found one and fully restored it. I was stoked as I’ve kept all my jump bikes except one and now I have the model I started on.
ADB: That little Honda was the first step then?
I got interested in MX and rode with three different clubs, Wollongtong, Nowra and Oakdale, but I got very sick with meningitis at 16. After that I concentrated on doing my apprenticeship as an electrician and had about four or five years off bikes. I went to a Crusty Demons’ show and saw a few riders performing that I had been able to beat at MX so started wondering if I could do FMX. I got back into trailriding but found that I spent all of the ride time looking for things to jump and trying them over and over. Things just grew from there.
What titles/events have you won or records have you broken?
I won my fair share of state and national MX and flat track competitions as a kid. I raced and podiumed in a few supercross races as a junior (under 16).
The first FMX event I competed in I won; an amateur competition at Bacchus Marsh in Victoria. The second, the Pro class at King Of The Coast on the Gold Coast I won for the next three years. I won The King of FMX at Australia’s Wonderland in 2003, landing the first backflips in an FMX competition in Australia, this won me recognition and an invite to compete in Europe. That started a chain reaction of moves that I was orchestrating and led to a lot more achievements like X-Fighters wins, X-Games and Dew Tour medals and victories. I have broken the world-distance record over six times and I feel I’ve also set some records to chase with stepping up and stepping down, as in the Arc De Triomphe jump.
Does any particular jump stand out for you?
Jumping the Arc De Triomphe replica is the one I’d say stands out the most for me. It was a cool change from what had been done before and having the height involved strikes a note in those watching it. The jump over the Corinth Canal in Greece was the scariest though. I prefer the record jumps to FMX competition as the record is either broken or it’s not, whearas FMX judging is subjective.
A lot of thought must go into a jump.
A lot of thought for sure, you need a concrete plan and all variables have to be considered. I actually committed to the Las Vegas jump before testing out if it was possible or not. There was no rule book at the start of it all, we did things by trial and error and learnt from experience. I had a working algorithm in a basic program worked out and built by a physicist to sort out the speed and ramp angle needed for a given distance.
After my computer crashed a year later and the physicist retired I didn’t have that any more, but I gained a lot of knowledge from it. The bikes I jump have no speedo though, that is judged by feel, I have to trust my instincts.
I understand you can do a distance jump by building up to it, going faster and moving the landing ramp, but in the days before foam pits how did you practice a backflip?
I practiced on a BMX bike with my mate towing me on his road bike. We set up the ramp at Kiama Harbour, taped some empty soft drink bottles to the bike so it would float and jumped into the water. That gave me a feel for the rotation and spotting my landing before I tried it on land. We eventually drew a crowd as we did it over a few weekends and the council put a fence up to stop me. We just raised the ramp to clear the fence and kept practicing until they brought in a bylaw making it illegal.
You started on a Honda. What are you riding these days?
I rode a Honda for the world 125cc distance record and jumped 221 feet. The first Las Vegas jump was on my CR500, along with the Corinth Canal jump. The Arc was on a YZ250 and I jumped San Diego Bay on a YZ-F 450. I’m now with KTM purely by choice.
What’s next in your bag of tricks?
There are plenty of aquaplaning bike clips on YouTube these days but there is no world record for it, so I’m planning on setting one. I’ve been trying out different things and setting up the bike with flotation devices and one-way valves for fuel and oil so if things go splash we don’t lose the bike or cause any pollution.
What do you consider the best bike you have ever ridden, your personal favourite?
My new KTM450, it’s smooth and powerful, just the way I need it. At first I was a little dubious about the electronics and things on four-strokes bu the KTM has proven to be reliable. I’m so stoked to ride this bike, it’s weird how much I’m onto it.
You have a young family now and it must enter your head sometimes about what to do next. Would you go back to your trade?
No, I went back to it briefly and decided I didn’t like it anymore. I’d like to stay in the sport and give something back at a mentoring or administrative level perhaps. FMX can be a bit dog-eat-dog and could do with a solid organising body. I’ve saved over the years and I have an interest in property development and investing. I started at 18 and hope to continue with real estate long after my riding career finishes.
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