The cycle of your life
If you have an aversion to thousands of riders in brightly coloured lycra, it’s not for you. If, however, you are a keen recreational cyclist who delights in an outdoor adventure, the Great Victorian Bike Ride is one of the ‘must do’ events in life.
First conducted in 1984, when 2,100 people cycled from Wodonga to Melbourne, it has grown into one of the great cycle touring events in the world. Last week, 5,000 people rode from Portland in the west of the State, via Cape Bridgewater, along the iconic Great Ocean Road to Geelong.
Averaging 70 kilometres a day, the huge peleton spread for kilometres along the coastal road. There was every shape and size of human imaginable, battling headwinds from Port Fairy to Port Campbell one day, and then the long climbs to Laver’s Hill and over the Otways the next.
From the students at Clifton Hill Primary School to cyclists in their seventies and eighties, the eight day ride attracted people of all ages. More than a thousand school students, from Penola in the west, Deniliquin in the north, East Gippsland in the east, and everywhere in between, participated.
For many schools such as Parkwood, Genazzano, and Frankston, the Ride has become an annual event: an end of year class-bonding adventure. A group of indigenous students from Alice Springs also enjoyed the event.
Earlier in the year my wife and I decided to participate as a 30th wedding anniversary present to ourselves. We were joined by our youngest son, a keen cyclist, who relished the idea of riding his bike while his mates were still at school! It was a great adventure (even though I had to take a few days away for unexpected work commitments).
The organisation was superb. Each day a convoy of 50 trucks carried a makeshift village from one town to the next. In the space of a few hours, a local park or recreation oval was transformed into a canvas village for the night. Had the census been taken the evening the riders spent in Macarthur, the population of the hamlet would have multiplied 20 fold.
Semi trailers carried tents, clothes and camping equipment for the riders. Large shower trucks catered for weary cyclists after kilometres in the saddle. Huge marquees were erected where hot meals were served for dinner and breakfast. There was even a bar and entertainment for the riders each evening.
However most were in their sleeping bags by 9.30 pm. From 5.30 am each morning the camp would awake, as riders packed up their tents and equipment, loaded it onto the waiting trucks before eating breakfast and cycling off to the next destination.
The bikes ranged from dusty old machines that had spent many years in the garage to slick carbon fibre models that would do a Tour de France rider proud. Most were sensible hybrids or comfortable road bikes, designed for many hours in the saddle each day.
The pace of the day varied greatly. Some people would leave at the crack of dawn, intent on a fast ride to the lunch stop – usually arriving about two hours later! For others, it was an opportunity to enjoy the scenery, visit local attractions such as Tower Hill or the Twelve Apostles, or stop for a leisurely coffee in a country town along the route.
Some reached their destination by midday, while others arrived later in the afternoon, having enjoyed the attractions along the way.
The ride along the Great Ocean Road from Apollo Bay to Anglesea is one of the great cycling experiences in the world. More than 8,000 people participated in the last ride along the coast in 2004, leading the organisers, Bicycle Victoria, to limit the numbers to a more manageable 5,000 this year.
Dubbed ‘a week in another world’, the Great Victorian Bike Ride quickly developed into a dynamic and cohesive community. As people found a space on a table for breakfast or dinner, the conversation quickly turned to the experiences of the ride. Most of the participants were from Victoria, but there were also many from interstate and some from overseas. One man had flown from Columbus, Ohio, for the event.
The jerseys and t-shirts told of other rides that people had participated in: Albany to Perth, the Great New Zealand Bike Ride, Brisbane to the Gold Coast; the Tasmanian West Coast.
Camaraderie quickly develops: The loan of a pump to inflate a mattress; help with a puncture; assistance to carry bags to the transport van; an encouraging word on a hill; the offer of a windbreak on an open stretch of road. Each afternoon, dozens of riders gathered to unload the bags from the semi-trailers so that the participants could erect their tents for the night.
Special mention should be made of another 500 people who spent the week as volunteers, doing everything from marshalling riders to serving the meals each day. One evening, we chatted to a couple in their sixties. He was riding, while she had volunteered to help serving meals. As they shared an ice cream in a park overlooking the bay at Queenscliff, they told us how much they were enjoying the week.
The event became a microcosm of the world we yearn for – people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds sharing a mutual cause with friendliness, generosity and good humour. By the end of ‘a week in another world’ we went home much enriched by the experience.
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