“One of the best rides of my life”

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We were talking about the essence of what made a great ride, what would be the pinnacle for us…exactly what would it take to get us there. It wasn’t tough criteria and actually it was unanimous about what was needed to tick the boxes. In fact, in many ways it seemed that we all agreed on something that was just so simple.

It’s a conversation I’ve had with a few close friends recently. Just exactly what does it take to excite the senses, ignite the fire in the belly, get the endorphins pumping and put that smile on the face that doesn’t go away for a long time. I was interested to know because I’ve struggled with having to re-think my riding plans for a little while now. My injuries are classified as ‘chronic’ now and if I’m to keep moving until I’m old, then I need to re-assess what will put that fire in the belly.

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Our riders Left to Right: Dianne feeling pumped to finish, Sharyn wonders why no more hills, Elisabeth wants to kill me, Danika was just smiling the whole way!

 

I was super intrigued though when I kept finding the same answers from those I asked. Running a women’s cycling group whose mission is to get more women riding means we start at a base level. But for those who advance through the ranks and build up to achieving bigger and longer rides means the goal posts shift on a pretty regular basis – and that’s a good thing. What was once something that was exciting can become dull and uninteresting as the fitness grows. Challenges loom ahead of you like bucket lists dangling before you on a Facebook feed…we can get so sucked into the vortex of comparing what WE do, to what others do!

But the reality is that we all do what we can manage…is that 5km to the shop, 2 laps of the oval, or 100km on a road? It doesn’t matter…but what does matter is that we set the criteria for what makes a GREAT ride as something realistsic. Not criteria a magazine or a Facebook feed tells us is the pinnacle of great riding, not criteria that others have told you, not criteria that we see others achieve, but simply what it is that makes you LOVE riding your bike.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here, some of the achievements we see of riders doing massive distances on rides are to be admired and applauded. But yesterday I had one of the best rides I have ever had in my cycling career – it fell well short of epic distances and scaling lofty vertical metres. It also lacked in the hard-core conditions to make any of us qualify as heroes, and it certainly wouldn’t be considered something worthy of a medal, a trophy or even a blog post by most. But I beg to differ. Yesterday I saw magic happen before my eyes and that 30km will go down as one of the most exciting rides I’ve ever had.

But hang on, HANG ON! I’m the person who thinks nothing of 100km…or more, on a any ride. I’ve never been much of a climber, so for me it’s always been the distance that makes me happy. I’ve also figured that facing some of the distances and climbs in appalling conditions has been the trophy I can carry within to know I braved ridiculous conditions to ‘get there in the end’. Hypothermia, dehydration, nursing exhausted riders, nursing my own injuries,…it’s all the ‘pinnacle’. Until yesterday.

So what was it about yesterday that was so incredible…was it just me in a moment of euphoria? No, I don’t think so! It seems everyone who was there felt the magic…

Our Coach Natasha offered her perspective:

“Yesterday I had one of the best rides of my life. I’ve done a lot of different rides in the past from the shortest couple of kms to some really long ones (250+kms), I’ve raced and I’ve commuted.

One of the things that attracted me to riding and coaching with Wheel Women was the sense of community. It seemed to be the only group out there that wasn’t pushing women to ride further, faster. They accept anyone – big or small, fast or slow; and they help women with little confidence and ability grow into safe, skilled bike handlers. The great thing is these women usually continue to ride after they get back on, or begin for the first time.

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Coach Natasha puts this down as one of her best rides ever!

 

I was personally a little sick of the idea that the only fun you can have on a bike involved speed (racing), long distances or steep hills. I was sick of being too slow, too weak, too ‘lazy’ to make it to every training ride, and sick of busting my gut to stay at the base level of fitness required to race in the lower grades.

So why was yesterday’s 30km Amy’s Ride so good? Firstly it was just long enough to be fun but also a challenge if you wanted it to be and were willing to push yourself a little bit harder here and there….

For some the 30km ride was a massive challenge and it was great to be there for these riders and experience the camaraderie as we cheered each other on. Some of the more social people in our group spent more time meeting fellow riders, some of us rode a little faster here and there so we could take photos of our friends and cheer them as they rode by. There were mums who were riding with their kids, there was at least one couple where the fitter partner was there to support their other half (and how amazing that they stayed with them and didn’t just do a longer ride on their own). There was gorgeous scenery and the strong scent of eucalyptus, and the descents were a blast!

The volunteers were really supportive and at one point there were a few local ladies camped out by the side of the road to cheer! When we finished there were people to cheer us, and then we cheered others in kind, not like at other longer events I’ve done where most people have gone home by the time you cross the finish line!”

Coach Alicia also felt the same way…so what was going on here?

“Yesterday was one of my best days of riding. If you  think that means I completed a challenging ride or achieved a new personal best, you’d be wrong. I rode 30km! Yes there was some lovely scenery and an awesome downhill, but what made it a great day was being able to talk with and help so many other riders.

As I came to the first hill I could see riders ahead of me struggling, so I rode beside them and distracted them by chatting or offered them advice and generally encouraged them to keep going.  All of them were appreciative.

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Alicia spent so much time chatting with riders she didn’t even know she was exhausted afterwards…but pumped knowing she had inspired so many!

 

After my ride, I stood on the side line with my Wheel Women buddies, cheering on every rider as they came to the finish line. I was touched to have some of the riders whom I’d helped during the ride, take the time to thank me for talking with them.

I felt a wonderful sense of community, that none of us was alone, we were here supporting each other.  That’s what made it one of my best rides.”

But what was it for me that made it incredible?

The air was still and the salt air of the beach permeated the bush smells. We rolled up the hills, puffing, sweating, laughing, chasing, and we screamed down the hills flying as we screamed with glee at the freedom. We’d regroup at the top, cheer as the Wheel Women riders rode past laughing at us, snapped photos of them, cheered riders we didn’t even know, then we’d take off again and chase the group until we could do it all again.

We chatted with riders we didn’t know, we made friends and most of all…we smiled and laughed the whole way. A few of our riders were finding the hills a little tough after my promise of a ‘flat ride’ (yeah sorry…you’ve heard that one before right?) and even they were laughing! Despite the threats to kill me at the finish line, and the promise to drown me at the end, they were laughing and finding the funny side to their moments of misery…they were awesome! We were dripping with sweat and loving it.

One by one our riders rolled in and each one received hugs and high fives. But it was only 30km (some did do 60km) yet watching the girls you’d think it was the end of an epic all day ride…the friendships, the support, the smiles for each other. I wanted to cry as I watched it. I have never felt so proud to be a part of such an amazing group of women. They weren’t out there just supporting our group, they were also cheering every other rider!

I felt like the luckiest person alive to be a part of this!

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There they are (well, a few of them): what an amazing group of women. I am so proud to be a part of this group!

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Playing Ambassador, riding with besties, laughing with the gang who make my day…everyday!

 

NOTE: Thanks to the Amy Gillett Foundation for inviting me to be an Ambassador for the 30km Family Ride at the RACV Great Otway and Ocean Classic Ride by SME360, to Martin Wells of the Amy Gillett Foundation for being so supportive of the group on the day and getting me through a stressful start to the day…and to all those riders who said THANK YOU!

#AMetreMatters #ShareTheRoad

I’d like to get home for Christmas please! (or When a van hits a bike).

I needed to just get a few things off my chest…that van driver who nearly wiped me out was a rude bastard in a place he should never have been. I don’t wish him any malice, I just want him to know he that he nearly ruined Christmas for a whole bunch of people…not least himself, but he didn’t care. In fact he was just angry – was he angry because he was late, or angry because he just lost his job, or was he angry because he got a fright?

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Can a cycling event change attitudes?

Spend a week at the Tour Down Under and cycling around the glorious city of churches, and you’ll understand quickly what I mean when I say I LOVE cycling in Adelaide! Contrast this with the experience we had just four days after returning to our beloved Melbourne!

“Get off the f%$#&n’ road ya f$%#&n’ dickhead lycra sh&ts”

And that was a woman who yelled, and granted, she was on the other side of the road to us…okay admittedly we were in an area where perhaps grasp of vocabulary may be questionable, and to our uninitiated ears the term’ ‘fuckin’ may indeed be a term of endearment. But then again…maybe not!

Just over a week ago the South Australian government announced alongside members from the Amy Gillett Foundation, including Amy’s Mum Mary Safe, that a whole raft of new measures surrounding road users and bike riding were to be introduced.

Photograph from Amy Gillett Foundation: L to R, CEO Tracey Gaudry, Patron Simon Gillett, Premier Jay Weatherill and Amy's parents Mary and Denis Safe

Photograph from Amy Gillett Foundation: L to R, CEO Tracey Gaudry, Patron Simon Gillett, Premier Jay Weatherill and Amy’s parents Mary and Denis Safe. Photo from Amy Gillett Foundation

Included in the list were some extraordinary measures that to my way of thinking perhaps have been fueled by the effect an international cycling race has on their city. Every time I visit Adelaide I wonder if perhaps the city has become so full of respect for what bike riding brings that they just can’t help but look out for the riders, nurture the event, treasure the tourists and welcome every single person into their fold for the week. I seriously question every time I am there, could it be that if we held a cycling event of he magnitude of Tour Down Under in every city, could we elicit such attitudinal change in every state?

In order to preserve what they have, why wouldn’t they be one of the first states to introduce such widespread measures that will only be great for bike riders and ALL road users? It’s exciting to think what the future will be like for a city such as Adelaide when they are prepared to recognize the measures needed to really make them a true ‘cycling city’. We talked lots about this notion of the ‘cycling city’ at Velo City Global earlier in the year, and Adelaide really is on the way.

I wrote in article then, and tweeted, we shouldn’t be taking baby steps in the changes needed to improve conditions for bike riders and motorists. We need to just do it….as Micheal Colville Anderson suggested. We are not Europe, so we can’t yet ride with the perfect notion of being Copenhagen cyclists, but we can take steps to improve what we do have.

Great advice from Michael Colville-Anderson, keynote speaker at Velo City Global in Adelaide 2014

Great advice from Michael Colville-Anderson, keynote speaker at Velo City Global in Adelaide 2014

So just exactly what are those measures that Adelaide has been bold enough to introduce? Well, here’s just some of what it will take to become a ‘cycling city’ friendly to it’s users.

The 1 Metre Passing Rule

As part of an ongoing campaign by Amy Gillett Foundation, along with recommendations from the South Australian Citizen’s Jury, the need to introduce the minimum 1 metre overtaking rule when drivers pass cyclists has been recommended as legislative change and will be introduced later this year in South Australia.

Providing more space when passing cyclists protects everyone…if you’ve ever been in the situation of a car, bus or truck passing too close, you’ll know that we simply need this as law. Though we did experience a few drivers in Adelaide not adhering to the recommendations all that well, as a general rule, the South Aussie drivers were generous in their allowances made while we were on the road. Respect.

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Amend L Plate Learner Drivers Test

In an important move to bring cycling into the common vernacular of the next generation, the recommendation has been made to include questions on the Learner Drivers tests to include questions about cycling. A minimum of two questions about cyclists will be placed on the test…though let’s hope it’s more than just two!

If we can approach this from a ‘ground up’ approach and treat questions about cycling and cyclists’ use of the road as ‘normal’ and expected, then perhaps we can break the barrier of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality so often referred to between drivers and cyclists. We all share the road, so let’s treat that as the norm!

More Green Boxes

Though a slap of paint is hardly a groundbreaking improvement in badly needed bicycle infrastructure, it does at least take a step forward in making bike riders visible. The boxes are certainly no panacea to what we really need but at least when we know there is no quick fix to our myriad of problems, being able to make yourself more visible at the front of the traffic queue is preferable than being squished out into the gutter.

If you’ve used the bike boxes, you’ll probably agree they are at least a step in the right direction.DSCF8782

Riding On The Footpath

Okay, I hear all the objectors arching up already, but as a teacher of women who want to ride I know this is a biggy! Too often are we placed in situations where the option is simply too dangerous to contemplate being on the road. In South Australia, you will now have that option if there is no safe alternative.

Law states that anyone in Victoria over the age of 13 must be on the road or use the designated bike paths. In other words, not footpath riding. If you’re like me and seen your own 13 year old ride on the road, despite all the education in the world, they simply don’t have the capacity to judge the consequences of their actions. Get them off the road and onto the footpath, and that goes not just for the kids, but any rider who is unpredictable!

I think this change is one of the most significant from my perspective. I just couldn’t even count how many times I have been asked by participants in our women’s cycling programs why they can’t ride on the footpath. But you know what, I say go for it…if you feel unsafe on the road, get off it! When you feel nervous, you become unpredictable, and an unpredictable rider is a seriously vulnerable road user. Though riding on the footpath comes with it’s own risks, in many cases, it is the safer option!

I’d also hasten to add that I was advised by our own Victoria Police on one occasion to get off the road and use the footpath. They didn’t like seeing the uncertainty I was placed in as a cyclist and gave me full permission to ride on…on the footpath! Thanks!

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Formal Cycling Education in Schools

As an accredited AustCycle coach this is really an incredible start to behaviour change. Not only will education mean we are teaching our children right from the outset what the expectations are of them as road users, but also we teach them that bike riding is the norm. Okay, I can hear those people yelling that as soon as we mention the word ‘safety’ we imply that riding is not safe…to the contrary. When we talk about safety it’s the same as teaching our children to not stick a knife in the toaster! There is a risk, we know about it, but we won’t stop cooking the toast!

Cycling education is something I’d certainly like to see as standard in ALL schools, in every state. But not just school – we sure have some catch up to do. What about providing easy access to bike riding education programs for adults? It brings to mind our current situation where we have 12 women on a waiting list to do one of our programs, yet we don’t have the funding to run it. These women miss out on important education that can make them life long riders, educated riders and skilled bike handlers. But because we rely on funding to run our FREE programs for the community, if we don’t get the funding, we can’t run the program.

The multitudes of woman who have said to us at our Wheel Women programs ‘why don’t they teach this everywhere?’, and ‘why don’t our kids learn this in school?’ is just a given…we hear it in every program! Education is really one of the keys to creating better riders who actually know how to use the infrastructure, roads and paths. When we have educated riders, as well as other road users, we reduce the risks. Simple!

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Conclusion

South Australian riders will be better off with these changes. Sure, there will be so many who slam my opinions in this, but I can’t help but see that these are certainly FANTASTIC steps in the right direction. I applaud the South Australian Government and Amy Gillett Foundation for working together to instigate real change that will make a difference.

If we can take example from South Australia, there is no doubt that other states need to follow the lead and act now…bring it on for Victoria PLEASE! I long for the day when I can see a child ride to school, aged 15, safely on the footpath. Or see a woman who is trying desperately to get back into riding but too terrified to use the road, ride on the footpath until she gains confidence to be a regular rider. I look forward to the day that my own son , who is due to take a Learner Driver test in 2 years will just simply know and understand his obligations as a road user as both a rider and a driver.

Clearly we have a way to go before every city in Australia becomes a ‘cycling city’, but at least it’s a start! Perhaps we need a Tour Down Under in every state…now that would be FUN!

For now, I’ll steer clear of the crazy lady who screamed at us about our lycra…just in case she has a bus license as well!