Kevin ‘K-Rob’ Robinson: BMX freestyle star who soared heights and motivated underprivileged youths

Christine Manby
The freestyle rider held several titles during his life, including for landing a double flair and the longest power-assisted bicycle flip: Getty

“My whole life has been spent outside my comfort zone,” said Kevin “K-Rob” Robinson in his 2016 TEDx Talk.

Robinson was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the youngest of Howard Robinson and Carole Forsmark’s seven children. He took on board his family’s strong work ethic at a young age. He had a paper round at the age of eight and learned to sew as a teenager while working for his big brother’s upholstery company. However, BMX was always his passion.

The rider retired from competition in 2013 and, among other things, became a motivational speaker (Vimeo)

The small, gear-less street bike immortalised by the film ET was no passing fad for Robinson. For a generation who grew up in the Eighties, the BMX represents teenage years and bygone days – but Robinson just rode and rode. Of his own debut on these wheels, he said: “First time I got on my bike, the first time I put my hand on those grips… I wanted my bike in my life for the rest of my life.”

But it wasn’t easy to become a BMX star in New England. The weather in the north-east of America was set very much against Robinson’s early ambitions, with the local bike parks often covered in snow and unusable. Neither was there much encouragement at East Providence High School, where a careers advisor told Robinson that riding his bike was a “waste of time”. Nevertheless, Robinson persevered, often driving three hours to find a ramp clear of snow on which to practice.

It was worth it. Robinson – now nicknamed K-Rob – became a professional rider in the early Nineties, when he joined the pro team Hoffman Bikes, let by BMX legend Mat Hoffman. Then began the career that would net him 10 gold medals at ESPN’s X Games, and several world records along the way.

For Robinson himself, the highlight of his career came in 2006 when he became the first known BMX rider to succeed at landing a “double flair” – an aerial move launched from a ramp encompassing two back flips and a half twist. That success came at the end of three years of obsessive practice.

Robinson said: “It was more than the gold medal – it was the fact of pulling the double flair. To feel my tyres hit that ramp and knowing I was rolling away with all that hard work from years of trying ... That moment is what people live for, you know what I mean? When you have that moment, that moment of success, that moment of accomplishing something you’re trying to do, there’s nothing else like it – no amount of money, no award, no medal.”

He held his double flair record for nine years.

Robinson officially retired from competition in 2013 and became a commentator for ESPN. He continued to cultivate his K-Rob Foundation, which he set up to support athletes from underprivileged backgrounds; and became a sought-after motivational speaker. Robinson built the first free public skatepark in his home turf of East Providence – fulfilling a key dream.

Together with his wife Robin, he created the Grindz brand – a range of protective sportswear for kids. And in 2016 he came out of retirement to add one more world record to his list when he achieved the longest power-assisted bicycle flip.

Robinson’s death from a stroke was completely unexpected. He leaves behind three children – two boys and a girl – and a large circle of friends and mentees, including fellow BMX rider Anthony Napoletano, who characterised K-Rob’s quiet generosity in a Twitter post. “He... would pay me way too much money to do simple things around his house just so I could keep my head above water and my dreams rolling.”

Keeping dreams rolling was the secret of K-Rob’s success. Summing up his philosophy, he once wrote: “NO EXCUSES. We all have set backs but you just have to persevere through those challenges.”

And the easiest way to find something worth persevering at? Robinson’s TedX mantra: “Find your fun”... just as he found his.

Kevin Robinson, BMX rider, born 19 December 1971, died 9 December 2017