When FMX phenom Vicki Golden took home the MVC for best rookie on the Nitro Circus 2017 North America tour, it was just the latest in a long list of accolades the 25-year-old has accrued over the years. She’s a veteran racer with three X Games gold medals and a host of other wins and big finishes from her days in motocross, arenacross, and supercross. And though it’s only been a year since she started focusing exclusively on FMX, she’s no stranger to hitting ramps. In 2013 she was the first woman to compete in the X Games Best Whip event, where she earned a bronze medal. That appearance also made her the first woman to compete in any of the X Games FMX competitions. Now Vicki is focusing the discipline she developed in racing to progress in FMX, and the results speak for themselves. In less than 12 months she went from full-on racer to a coveted spot throwing down among the best FMXers in the world.
I caught up with Vicki in Medford, Oregon, just before the final show of the North America tour. Vicki is new at Nitro, so only fans who came out to our North America shows this summer have got to witness her riding in our shows. But those who did wouldn’t have known that she’s the rookie on tour. Vicki’s trick list after only one year is impressive and growing. She immediately took to the specific difficulties of riding FMX with Nitro. In addition to a wide range of tricks, riders on the FMX side have to have excellent bike control and spot-on timing to perform synchro tricks and all-ins — other riders’ safety is in your hands when you’re all up the air at the same time. The control and precision is natural to Vicki, having spent so much time racing.
Vicki grew up in San Diego and is now based in Temecula, California, a moto hot-bed with a dense selection of places to ride. She got into racing at a young age, she says, because her whole family raced moto. She did well, as mentioned. But the grueling training and travel schedule started to take its toll. She explains what a typical week would look like for her: “Monday: ride and train. Tuesday: ride and train. Wednesday: fly out to whatever race it was. Thursday: wake up at 4 a.m., do press. Friday: wake up at 4 a.m., do press. Try and race on Saturday with whatever energy I had left. And then fly home on Sunday.” Then wake up Monday and start all over again. She did that for months on end during racing season and then spent the off-season sick and trying to recover. “I realized I can’t keep doing that; I can’t keep tearing my body down,” she says. “It was time to transfer over to freestyle.”
She’d already had a taste of FMX — she credits Matt Buyten with introducing her to ramps. “He was like, ‘Hey, come hit some ramps,'” she recalls. “So I met pretty much everyone in So-Cal through Buyten.” At that time, she was still racing, but she found hitting ramps to be a great way to have fun on her bike again. “I realized that maybe down the road I could make something of it,” she says. And indeed she has. When she finally made the decision to leave supercross and go all-in on freestyle, she told herself, “It’s time to get serious and learn tricks and try and make an actual job of it.” And don’t get her wrong: FMX is also very, very hard work, she says. But it comes without the physical strain of the grueling schedule. “They’re both all about repetition,” she says. “But I would say freestyle is more mental — not that racing isn’t mental. I would just say racing is more physical and freestyle is more mental.”
And now, a year into focusing on FMX full-time, she’s already achieved one of her goals. “I didn’t really expect to be here in a year,” she says. She wanted to be a part of Nitro Circus, but she thought that would take at least two years. “I thought that was a pretty realistic goal, and didn’t expect this to happen this quickly.” She credits her quick progression to that work ethic she developed on the racing circuit, plus a little motivation from friend and fellow Nitro rider Javier Villegas. Javier, who also lives in the Temecula area, is known as one of the most dedicated FMXers out there, putting in hours and hours of work every single day, no matter what. Vicki shared that dedication. When Javier suggested they practice on the Nitro World Games qualifier setup in Southern California, Vicki was all in.
Cutting her teeth on the NWG ramps had some bonuses beyond just time on a world-class setup. “That opened up a lot more doors than I expected,” she says. “Just being around the whole Nitro Crew obviously benefitted me quite a bit.” That and the self-motivation that got her to where she was in racing combined to propel her into an elite status faster than many who have been working at it for longer. “I’ve taken my race mentality and brought it into freestyle,” she says. And she and Javier made a good practice team. Their shared drive to progress kept them both focused, Vicki says. If one of them wasn’t feeling it, they went and rode anyway, because they didn’t want to let each other down.
All that training paid off very quickly. Vicki was asked to join the Nitro Circus North America tour, with her first show being San Diego, one of the biggest shows of the tour. Next she rode Annapolis, which was Travis Pastrana’s first-ever hometown show, a date that had been circled on everyone’s calendar for a long time. She didn’t let the pressure get to her and immediately cemented her place in the show. “The first one I obviously wanted to come out and set the bar high for myself,” she says. Her favorite part of the show so far is the best whip segment. She has good memories of throwing whips from the days when she was racing and could just go out and hit dirt jumps for fun between training sessions. Now, interestingly, she hits the track to decompress. “It’s funny that things have flopped, and now anytime I’m kind of over ramps I get to go to the track and just have fun on that instead. And I don’t have to put in laps, I don’t have to worry about lap times. It’s an odd feeling.”
Up-and-coming riders could learn a lot from Vicki’s meteoric rise. But her choice advice is probably the easiest to follow in theory: “Make sure you keep it fun,” she says. “If you don’t have that, what’s the point of being on your dirtbike? Because there are things that are a hell of a lot safer that you can get paid a hell of a lot more money for, so just remember why you started.” Remember the name Vicki Golden. With what she’s already accomplished in her first year of FMX and her dedication to progression, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more from her in the future.