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Driven to Succeed: The Rico Bearman Interview

Intro and interview by Mike Vockenson with photos supplied by Rico.

That LUXBMX supports both freestyle and race is somewhat unique. The two formats are similar in many ways, and at the same time, equally distinct. One point of difference is the attitude between a professional racer to a professional freestyle biker - that a racer is generally resolute, highly focussed and determined. Further,  with an orientation for setting and chasing goals, a platform of training and a steely disposition, the professional racer exists in a landscape that appears to take itself more 'seriously' than a freestyle setting - perhaps motivated by different reasons. 

Where am I going with this? Having now wrapped up the following interview with LUXBMX and New Zealand based BMX racer Rico Bearman, the sense for what makes a successful racer is well and truly reinforced after getting to know the dude. Honestly, I fear for Rico's competitors, with such a considered approach to competition and an unmatched focus to win. Physicality, skills and toughness are certainly required to succeed, but edging out the other 7 racers takes a mental capacity that very few reach. 

The following discussion naturally weaves its way to this place, with Rico demonstrating that he has a drive, determination and focus which will take him places. After a scarily successful 2023, Rico is perfectly poised to ruffle some feathers when he ups his level to Elite Men (from under 23s) and pushes for an Olympic selection.

We're incredibly psyched to have Rico representing LUXBMX and look forward to following his journey through 2024 and beyond. To build on this partnership and show our race colleagues some love, we got in touch with Rico while he was in Argentina wrapping up the 2023 UCI season - the aim being to deliver an interview that gives the reader an engaging insight into who he is, his background and what feeds his determination to win and his will to live. 

Presenting, the Rico Bearman interview. 

Look at that position, poised and ready to catch the full backside

At the time of writing, we catch you in San Diego after a trip to Argentina back in October. What's happening in SD and how are you feeling the last couple days?

I'm stoked to be back in the states after a full on couple of weeks down in Argentina! Right now, I'm just chilling in SD, getting back into my training, and enjoying some time down at the beach! These last few days have been a wild ride, from celebrating the overall to losing my bags on the way home. But you know what, I'm in a good place, feeling pretty proud of my achievements, and super thankful for the amazing support from my crew – family, friends, and all my sponsors. It's good to be back stateside, getting ready for the next race!

We're a couple weeks post your UCI World Cup double and overall victory, a crazy achievement and an incredible way to lead into 2024 and the Paris olympics. What was your experience of this year's world cup and can you pinpoint a memorable moment from the 9 rounds?

This year marked the most enjoyable year of racing in my career. It wasn't just about the results, but the tremendous pressure and expectations that loomed over me throughout the season. Winning the first two rounds of the series added even more weight to my shoulders, pushing me to maintain that level of performance.
I embraced this challenge, and in the process, learned a great deal about myself and how to cope with such pressure.

However, the most memorable moment of the series was undoubtedly winning round 9 (technically round 8). In the preceding rounds (7 and 8), the local fans in Argentina didn't exactly embrace me; they were booing and hurling chants my way all day. So, emerging victorious in rounds 9 and 10, right in front of a crowd that initially showed animosity, felt incredibly satisfying. It was certainly a challenge to block out the external noise that had been lingering in the back of my mind, but overcoming those doubts and prevailing in such an environment was an amazing achievement!

Wild to hear about the hostility from the local Argentinians, that strikes me as unusual. Why do you think this kind of behaviour was aimed at you? Credit to you for absorbing the jab and turning it into an advantage. 

The reason I wasn't a fan favourite in Argentina can be traced back to an incident during the first day of racing. There was a whistle during the gate call that disrupted the race, and I shared a meme on my story along with a comment on my post. I mentioned something about the locals blowing the whistle, which didn't sit well with some people. I assume this incident played a role in the hostility I experienced. However, I tried my best to ignore the outside noise and refocus on my racing. Winning in front of a crowd that had chanted against me felt incredibly satisfying.

Top - screen time during a break at the UCI BMX Racing World Cup and bottom - victory number 6 becomes official as Rico crosses the line at the Argentinian UCI round earlier this year

I'm interested to find out about the culture amongst international BMX racing in 2023. I recall being almost overwhelmed by riders from the lesser known countries, like Switzerland and France and Brazil, the whole experience of being overseas and racing against dudes who seemed so mysterious, was potentially distracting. There was also cliques, a lot of the time around language barriers, i.e. I remember making friends with some of the NZ and US guys, but not so much the others. Can you comment on the culture amongst the Under 23 group and what goes on outside of the actual UCI race events?

In the Under 23 group, I try to blend competitive drive with camaraderie. Some adopt assertive personas, possibly because they see me as the one to beat. I prefer a low-key approach on race days, focusing on chatting with my boys and enjoying the moment. There's a small group of guys in the U23 class that I hang out with outside of the track, but my crew, including Izaac and a few others, are all older and racing in the Elite class. It's a balance between competition and companionship that defines our culture, making it both competitive and enjoyable.

Love to hear about the balance between competitive drive and camaraderie between the boys. I can almost feel the atmosphere, where everyone is immersed in their competitiveness and focus to win, but not taking it so seriously that you can't have a light chat. It's game face time.

Absolutely, BMX is indeed a bit different from some other sports like downhill. In BMX, with eight people on the gate, it's very easy for someone else's actions to impact your race, and that can add an extra layer of competitiveness and intensity. Whereas with downhill, they do their run solo, meaning no one can ruin your flow. It's also important to maintain a balance and have those friends you can chat with on race days. It's about understanding when your fellow riders are focussed and respecting that, not getting in their way, and allowing them to stay in their zone. Finding the balance between competition and camaraderie is what makes the BMX atmosphere so unique.

The duality of Rico, although a well-oiled machine in both circumstances

What else have you got in-store for 2023 and what are your goals for 2024? On this, can you talk a little about how you approach goal-setting given its importance in offering focus and mental discipline.

Currently, I'm in the United States, gearing up for the upcoming Rock Hill race, which is part of the USA BMX circuit. After that, I'll head back home before returning to the states to wrap up the 2023 season with the Grands in Tulsa at the end of November. My main goal for 2024 is to secure a spot on the Olympic starting gate. It's been a dream of mine since I first started, and I'm determined to make it happen!

Setting goals plays a significant role in my journey. It keeps me focused and on the right path. I make sure my goals are clear, challenging but achievable, and I divide them into short-term and long-term objectives. Then, I create a plan to reach these goals and track my progress. Sometimes, I need to adjust my plans when things don't go as expected. Positive thinking and self-encouragement help me push through even when things get tough. It's vital to stay committed to the plan, even when motivation wanes. Sharing my goals with trusted individuals provides crucial support and accountability. This way, I can maintain my concentration and discipline, whether I'm racing or working toward other life goals. Trusting the process, having self-belief, and putting faith in my coach are all fundamental to this journey.

Your approach to goal setting is pretty impressive. Having the mental support and the opportunity to talk through stresses and thoughts would be crucial. It's almost like therapy, with such articulate and focussed structure around goals, and the pressure surrounding them, it would be so important to have someone (or a team) to lean on and get certain things 'off your back', relieving stress and providing clarity. On this, can you talk to the approach of your coach (Kurt Pickard) and why he is so helpful to your success?

Absolutely, Kurt has been a crucial part of my journey, and his experience in the sport makes him incredibly helpful. He's been through a similar path, likely had comparable goals when he was my age, and understands the day-to-day challenges of pursuing those ambitions. He genuinely wants the best for me, and discussing my goals with him is beneficial because he can relate to what I'm going through and has the knowledge to guide me in achieving those goals.

In addition to Kurt, my Dad is another vital source of support. We can sit down and go over my goals, examining how to reach them, what steps need to be taken, and which races are essential to get there. He provides valuable insights. Moreover, Derek, the team manager at Speedco, has also been an invaluable resource. He's been through it all and can offer his knowledge and perspectives. All three of them are honest with me, telling me what they believe is the best course of action. I feel fortunate to have this supportive team behind me, and while there are more people behind the scenes, these three are my primary go-to individuals for discussing my goals and what's needed to achieve them.

Rico leading the Under 23 pack out of the 2023 UCI round in Papendal (Netherlands)

Let's rewind a little. I want to talk about your upbringing and the influence of your parents. Clearly they've assumed an important role in your career and development as a professional and well-rounded adult. I too am lucky to be in this situation, with my parents ultimately dedicating their lives to support my brother and I as we pursued racing for around 15 years. Can you talk to this topic? 

I've been incredibly fortunate with the unwavering support of my parents from a young age. They've dedicated everything to my BMX journey, taking steps like sending me to America at a young age to gain experience and exposure to potential sponsors. They've paved the way for me, and their support continues to this day. Even as I've gained financial independence through team sponsorship, they're still there to book flights and accommodation, providing support in every aspect of my career. I'm immensely grateful for everything they've done for me. My parents are deeply passionate about my journey, and they find fulfilment in witnessing my success. I feel extremely lucky to have them behind me, propelling me toward my goals with their dedication and love. It's a true blessing to have such a strong support system in my parents, and their role in my journey is immeasurable.

A champion at age 5 and a precursor of what was to come

There is nothing more important in life than the stability, love and support of your Mum and Dad. With your mothers great attitude and your dads knowledge of bikes and coaching, it must be hard not to feel super grateful about where you now find yourself?

Absolutely, building on what I mentioned earlier, my Mum has always been an unwavering source of moral support, and her positive attitude is a constant inspiration. On the other hand, my dad's extensive knowledge of bike mechanics and coaching has been pivotal in my technical development and has also fuelled my deep passion for the sport. It's truly a remarkable advantage to have parents who both excelled in the world of track and road cycling at the highest levels. They comprehend what it takes to succeed in this sport, and their insights have been invaluable in understanding the details of what happens behind the scenes.

To say that I'm incredibly grateful for where I find myself today would be an understatement. I wholeheartedly believe that without their love, support, and the wisdom they've shared, I wouldn't have achieved what I have.

Let's talk about your relationship with LUXBMXs pro racer, Izaac Kennedy. It sounds like a well-balanced, respectful setup where you both legitimately enjoy each other's company and learn from one another. How did you guys become acquainted and what keeps the magnetism alive?

Izaac and I have a genuine friendship that extends beyond the track, and it's always been a natural connection between us. We've known each other since we were kids, and even though we lived in different countries and didn't hang out as much growing up, when we were together, it was evident that we were good friends. Last year we found ourselves on the same team, which allowed us to strengthen our bond even further. What keeps our connection strong is our mutual desire for each other's success. We understand how to push each other during training and provide support when dealing with the mental challenges of race days and life outside the track. Having a friend like Izaac on the race circuit is invaluable. We genuinely care about each other and constantly motivate one another to be the best we can be.

The ANZAC spirit is alive with the LUXBMX boys, Izaac and Rico in Louisville KY 2022

Great to hear about you and Izaac. I'm interested to understand how this relationship works once you enter the Elite class and match up against each other?

I believe that the relationship between Izaac and myself will remain much the same, even as we both enter the Elite class. While it might become more competitive as we battle at the front, our current dynamic won't deteriorate. Izaac is a bit ahead of me at the moment, but as I continue to improve, I think our relationship will naturally evolve to become more competitive, while maintaining our genuine friendship both on and off the track. We'll continue to enjoy off-track moments, share positive energy, and have a healthy rivalry when we race against each other.

I've heard you highlight the importance of balance, insofar as of course you need to be focussed, train hard, race hard, all these things. But, you also need to find joy in other aspects of life, to share the mental load and allow yourself the opportunity to not take racing too seriously. Where do you think this philosophy came from and how do you go about prioritising this?

Going from winning amateur world titles to facing challenges like a late puberty and struggling to make finals, I quickly realised the importance of finding joy in what you do rather than fixating solely on results. By embracing this approach, I learned to genuinely enjoy the process, knowing that the results would come with hard work and dedication. I've always believed that if you're having fun, surrounded by a positive environment, and not too hard on yourself, there's a balance that allows you to excel. I prioritise enjoying the training and the company of the group I'm with, and not taking race day too seriously. Of course, I understand that this approach might not work for everyone, but personally, it has been a game-changer for me. When I'm having fun, I tend to perform at my best.

Evidence of balance, couple of big boys on the hook

Outside of bikes, my biggest love is music. I love everything about it, listening to it, reading about it, searching for it, the characters involved, etc. What have you been listening to lately and does music play any role for you in training, racing, motivation?

I have quite an eclectic taste, and I enjoy different genres, so I don't have a specific favourite. My friends and I enjoy reggae, especially when we're camping at the beach or out fishing. It just sets the right vibe for us, and it's something we can all relate to and appreciate. So, whether it's a few beers, a barbecue, or a fishing trip, reggae is always a great addition to our nights, and it's a shared favourite within our friend group.

On race days, the choice of music depends on the atmosphere, I try to read the room and play the right tunes. Lately, I've been particularly drawn to country music, but reggae is definitely a favourite genre of mine at the moment. I don't always need to have my headphones in, but like I mentioned earlier, I like to keep things relaxed and light. So, there's usually a speaker playing some music to set the atmosphere and put me in the right headspace. Music certainly plays a role in my training and racing, helping to create the right mood and mindset for each moment.

Let's talk about Speedco, your main sponsor. For the uninitiated, can you give a rundown of the brand, what they're about and who is involved in making it happen? Further, how does it feel to be a part of the brand and have you got anything planned for the coming years?

Talking about Speedco is a bit like reliving a fantastic journey. Derek Betcher (ex-racer), who serves as the team manager and bike designer, is a significant driving force behind the brand.

My connection with Speedco started when my coach, Kurt Pickard, introduced me to Derek. That initial meeting led to a trip to the United States, where I met Derek in person. He liked what he saw, not just in my riding but in my approach to the sport. Since I was just 14 at the time, winning wasn't exactly my strong suit, but Derek saw potential beyond that. We built a strong relationship both on and off the track, and his support has been invaluable. What I love about Derek is that, like me, he's not solely focused on results; he values the journey and the rider behind the wins and losses.

Speedco is more than just a brand; it's a team and a family. I'm extremely proud to be a part of it and grateful to Kirk and Delaney (the owners), for their unwavering support. Without them, none of this would be possible, especially when it comes to the financial aspects that often remain behind the scenes. They've been fantastic with me, and I couldn't ask for a better team. While other opportunities have come my way for next year, I've chosen to stick with Speedco. It's not about the money; it's about the incredible team and the synergy we've developed. We've got some exciting plans in the pipeline for the coming year, and I'm thrilled to continue working with Derek and the Speedco team. 

You want to win? Maybe it's all about enjoying yourself, Rico has this down pat

I get the feel that you still have a youthful excitement around bikes and parts, which I truly understand. I remember buying various magazines back in the day and memorising all the coolest parts and then seeking them out once I had the money. The feeling of when they arrived in the post and holding them for the first time was incredible. Let alone putting a whole new bike together, I think I used to keep my bike in my room and look at it as I went to sleep haha. Do you get that feeling in your 20s and what role do you think the advancement of bike technology will play in the success of modern champions? I.E. is there an advantage to riding the best quality parts?

Absolutely, I still get that youthful excitement every time I get a new bike, especially with the Speedco 'Evo'. It's a dream bike, and everything about it is just fantastic. When I build one up, it's like being a little kid getting their first bike. You're absolutely right; there's a unique joy in it.

Regarding the advancement of bike technology, it plays an enormous role in our performance. Having the best quality and the latest technology is crucial. Today's technology contributes to the stiffness of the bikes, the geometry, aerodynamics, and the lightness, among other factors. We're constantly striving to achieve the best power-to-weight ratio in our sport, and having top-notch equipment is a significant advantage. In a sport where every fraction of a second matters, having the best parts can make a significant difference. So, yes, having the best of the best is a substantial advantage in a sport that's continuously evolving and reaching new levels of competitiveness.

I understand that you were hand selected by our race guru, Bruce Morris, to be a part of the LUX crew. From your perspective, can you give any background to how you first met Bruce and your initial thoughts on the guy?

I first crossed paths with Bruce when we were both at Kirk and Delaney's house in Florida. Bruce had come over with some younger Australian riders to do some races. We found ourselves out by the pool, chilling, with a few beers in hand. It was a great time. As I got to know more about LUX and saw that Izaac had signed with them, I was immediately drawn to what the guys were creating. The whole concept and the vibe that LUX had going on resonated with me. I wanted to be a part of it and help expand the brand in New Zealand. The energy around LUX and the crew behind it was exactly what I was looking for. What made it even better was that Bruce and I had pretty similar visions, and I had a feeling that we would work well together. It's been a great journey so far, and I'm excited about what the future holds.

You have found yourself in a marvellous position come end of 2023, you seem calm, driven, measured and incredibly resolute about who you are and where you're going. From your perspective, does this feel coincidental, or controlled? Put another way, how much is luck and how much comes down to you and your decision making and drive?

A lot of it comes down to how much you want it and the effort you put into your training. While there's an element of luck involved in how things play out on race day, it's all the dedication and hard work leading up to that moment that really counts. So, where I find myself now feels like a fortunate culmination of my unwavering determination and effort. I'm calm, but I'm still highly motivated to continue pushing myself in training and striving to become a better version of myself every day, both on and off the track.