FINDING A PATH FORWARD WITH GOLNOOSH NAMAZI
Words by Jason Hamborg | Photography by Christos Sagiorgis
I think my parents wanted to give me an opportunity to be whoever I wanted to be. They knew that if we stayed in Iran, those opportunities would be limited.”
Adventure rider Golnoosh Namazi is sitting in her backyard, looking out across the Skeena River toward her hometown of Terrace, British Columbia. She’s thinking back to when her family moved to Canada in 1996, and it’s obvious that motorcycles were the last thing on her family’s mind then. Instead, their focus was to improve the opportunities for their daughter.
As with most immigrant stories, Golnoosh’s parents had to give up everything to get to Canada. The move put a huge strain not only on their finances, but also
on their pride. “Back home, my father owned his own business, and my mother was the lead accountant at a major company,” Golnoosh explains. “When they got to Canada, they were forced to work whatever jobs they could get. My dad was answering phones at a restaurant even though he barely spoke English, and my mom found work at a local newspaper… it was hard on them to take such a large step backward socially.”
Ultimately, though, it was a worthy cause for her parents, who saw the way society in Iran shaped young women and limited their ability to experience life the way that her parents – in the same way most parents do – had wished for their children.
“I always do my best to remind myself what my parents have gone through to give me the opportunities I have,” she adds. “So much of what I’m able to experience is because of their sacrifice. It gives me so much motivation to push past my comfort zone, because I realize my parents did that exact thing for me back when we first came to Canada.” Although Golnoosh didn’t grow up riding motorcycles, she was always intrigued by them. Her uncle rode a Honda dual-sport from the late ’80s. When visiting the family, he would take Golnoosh for rides around the neighborhood. “My uncle still lives in Iran and still follows my adventures on Instagram. He always talks about coming to Canada and going for a ride with me.”
Over the years, as their transition began to settle down and her family found their place on Canadian soil, Golnoosh was able to capitalize on the opportunities that this new life granted her. She graduated from high school and attended Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, where she majored in art and social sciences, with a focus on philosophy.
Throughout her time at university, she met people with bikes, and she could feel that interest in bikes starting to creep back in, just like when she would ride with her uncle. “I had some friends who rode, mostly Harleys and
custom bikes,” she says. “I remember thinking not only did it look like a lot of fun to ride around on their big group rides, but I thought they just looked so damn cool.”
It wasn’t long before Golnoosh committed to picking up her first bike: a 250cc Honda Rebel. It was light, had a low seat height, and came with just enough power to get her around town without getting herself into trouble. “I remember that little Rebel represented so much more for me than just a bike,” she explains. “It was one of the first times in my adult life where I told myself I was going to do something, and then just did it. It taught me that it’s so worth it to follow through on those big ideas in your head. You don’t have to be perfectly prepared or ready – in the end, you’ll kind of just figure it out.”
It was around this time that Golnoosh also started to discover her love for the outdoors and what spending time outside did for her. “At some point during school, living down in the big city, I really was struggling with my mental health,” she says. “Going for walks was one way that I was able to help myself feel better. None of my friends were outdoorsy, so I kind of just figured things out on my own. I started walking on sidewalks, and then started to explore some of the trails near my house. Before I knew it, I was doing some pretty big hikes nearly every weekend.”
Unfortunately, access started to become an issue, as the next phase of hiking and exploring was out of reach for both her Rebel and her Volkswagen Golf. Luckily one of her “chopper friends” had recently made a big decision, selling his custom-built cruiser in exchange for a BMW 1200 adventure bike. “I remember when my ex-boyfriend, Andrew first showed me his new bike, I thought to myself how big and intimidating it seemed. I distinctly remember myself thinking, ‘There’s no way I could ever ride something like that.”
Andrew was actually the one who taught Golnoosh how to ride, and over the next year or so, they would complete several trips together: Andrew on his BMW, and Golnoosh in chase with her Rebel 250. With each passing trip, it became more evident that a new bike was in Golnoosh’s future. And after searching high and low, she finally found a BMW F650GS to call her own.
“The first time I rode that thing, all I could think was, holy shit: I’m in over my head. It seemed so tall and heavy, and had so much power. But just like with the Rebel, I reminded myself that I didn’t need all the answers. As long as I was willing to embrace this new journey, I would be all right. Looking back on it, it’s kind of funny, that thing felt so huge when I first got it, but now it seems so small and manageable.”
Adventure riding (aka ADV) soon turned from an interest to a hobby – to an obsession. It was the path forward to combine her passion for riding and outdoor exploration. The more she researched, the more she fell in love with the idea of a purpose-built motorcycle and what was possible with an adventure bike. “With every mile you ride, you just keep learning and gaining confidence, and you realize how much you can actually accomplish.”
Although her discovery of adventure sport riding was mostly positive, one thing that stood out to Golnoosh was the lack of representation among riders. “I remember thinking, I don’t see anyone who looks like me. I think I read somewhere that about 20 percent of riders are female. In the adventure bike world, I’m willing to bet that number is way lower.”
Golnoosh did what she could to not let being a woman, a person of color, or even being shorter, hold her back. “I feel like I’ve always been pretty good at pushing away that little voice that says you can’t do something because you don’t look like the people doing it,” she explains. “I attribute that a lot to my mom and the way she carried herself and raised me. She’s a strong woman and gave me a lot of confidence in myself growing up.”
Looking back, Golnoosh says she can’t pinpoint any one time where those around her had their doubts That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Instead, it means it happened so frequently that she has lost track. “There seems to be a lot of gatekeeping in the adventure sport world, especially when I was first starting out. There were always snarky comments from people about my size or strength, and my ability to get to where we were going.”
In a lot of ways, the perceived limitations being put on Golnoosh were motivation for her, and they also allowed her to narrow her focus on whom she chose to ride with. As she got deeper into the world of ADV, she started to find the pockets of people who propped her up, rather than breaking her down. “I really focused on surrounding myself with positive people who were more concerned that we were all having fun rather than putting so much emphasis on the destination,” she says. “There’s room for all of us, and by surrounding myself with similar thinkers, I was able to find my people.”
Over the course of her seven years of riding, Golnoosh has continued to excel. Her riding has taken her to more than 80 percent of British Columbia, covering nearly 100,000 kilometers in that time and completing some prestigious trips, including the farthest accessible north road in Canada, Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. During her travels, Golnoosh has always documented and shared her experiences. “I realize I started riding pretty late in life, but I think of how transformative it has been for me,” she says. “If I can put the love of motorcycles into someone’s life, even one day sooner than myself, that would be worth it for me.”
As her confidence grew, her audience did, as well, and Golnoosh shifted from being the one asking questions to the one giving answers. “I get a lot of questions about how I have set up my Ténéré,” she adds. “There still aren’t a lot of people my size out there riding, so it’s lots of questions about lowering the bike, or getting it to fit a smaller rider.”
When asked about where she now fits into the riding community, Golnoosh is quick to credit those who shaped her with a desire to give back that energy. “I think about what my parents went through coming to Canada, and how my mom taught me to be fearless. I think about when Andrew was teaching me how to ride, and how patient he was with me. You never forget the person who introduced you to riding, so the thought of being that person to others is a really powerful idea to me.”
In 2018, Golnoosh knew she needed to get out of the big city, because it was limiting her ability to access the backcountry. She started applying to jobs throughout British Columbia, with her only self-imposed rule being that the towns had to have less than 20,000 people.
In the end, she accepted a position in the small town of Terrace, a small community located along the Skeena River in northwestern British Columbia with a population of about 15,000. “I first learned about Terrace a few years earlier, when we were on a ride through B.C. out to Haida Gwaii. I remember thinking how crazy it would be to live somewhere with such immediate access to the mountains. A couple years later, I jumped at the chance to live here.”
That immediate access to world-class terrain has given Golnoosh a playground outside her front door to hone her skills and prepare for the adventures that lie ahead. “I recently bought a WR250,” she says. “I wanted a dirt bike that I could use to practice and eventually bring those skills to my Ténéré. I love the process of getting better and really want to push myself off-road.”
In the more immediate future, the talented rider has several trips lined up, including Alaska, the Cariboo Chilcotin Region of B.C., and Northern Vancouver Island – which means Golnoosh has found her path forward just fine.