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Normally on a Sunday morning in Melbourne the roads, bike paths and single track are teaming with male cyclists. Female cyclists are overwhelmingly outnumbered. However, last Sunday in Victoria was not a normal day.
It was a day for female cyclists to make their presence felt as the first ever women’s specific mass-riding event in Victoria saw an influx of women joining large welcoming female bunches, meeting new riding buddies and exploring different ways of enjoying time on the bike.
Around 2000 women joined The Women’s Ride, taking part in the 53 rides and 13 events around the state put on by a wide range of clubs, bike shops and riding groups. The type of cycling included slow meanderings on bike paths, brisk rides along the peak-cycling route of Beach Road, climbing adventures in the hills and single track on the mountain bike. The biggest problem for many women was not finding a ride to suit but deciding on which one of the options to choose. And with choices like these, who could blame them.
Exploring with Fondo
One of the first events of the day, and among the biggest, was the Fondo ride. The group headed out of the suburbs and onto the quiet hilly roads north of Melbourne. It was not long before the riders were surrounded by bush instead of buildings.
“It is beautiful, it is challenging and it is off the beaten track,” said Anna Thomson, co-founder of cycling apparel group Fondo. “We wanted to get the girls out there and give them some tough hills and create that camaraderie that comes from it not being an everyday ride.”
The 55 riders gathered in Heidelberg at first light. Some arrived with a bunch of friends while others arrived solo, knowing they would not be short of company for long. The riders rolled out in three groups to take on the 80 kilometre loop, with more than 1000 metres of climbing.
The ride started with the popular short and punchy climbs of Mt Pleasant Road and then went on to explore the lesser-known riding gems of Clintons Road in Smiths Gully and the nearby Hilderbrand Road. The winding hilly roads of the Fondo loop weaved through small towns, where there is little more than a café or pub visible among the trees and rolling hills. The group headed back past the vineyards of Kangaroo Ground and onto Eltham for coffee to catch their breath and firm up new friendships before the final run home on the bike trails of Westerfolds Park.
A different side of Donna Buang with Ella CyclingTips
Our life at Ella CyclingTips revolves around women on bikes, so, when we had the opportunity to join The Women’s Ride by putting on our own climbing adventure, we couldn’t resist. Serial Everester and Hells 500 fixture, Sarah Hammond, was leading and planning our event, so it was never going to be a humdrum day on the bike. It was no surprise when we were served a leg-testing climb up the back of Mt Donna Buang with remote gravel roads and spectacular scenery to add to the sense of adventure.
The thirty women who met up at the Cog Bicycle Café in Warburton, about 70 kilometres from the centre of Melbourne, to join the ride were a diverse bunch. They ranged from riders on the Bicycle Superstore National Road Series team to those who never really tackled any long climbs or any gravel.
As we set off, the discussion and introductions were coming thick and fast, but the pace was relaxed as we warmed up our legs on the flat bike path, heading toward Don Valley. Then we hit the road, and the chatter slowed about as quickly as the gradient kicked up. There was around 25 kilometres of ascending ahead, and no one was willing to risk blowing up in the early stages. It wasn’t long before the group started to split. Every one found a pace that was comfortable for them and settled into a rhythm as they tapped their way up the climb.
By the time we hit the last ten kilometres of climbing and a long stretch on the dirt it was easy to make the excuse that you were just slowing down to ‘admire the scenery.’ Vibrant green ferns and striking Mountain Ash trees framed views which stretched all the way from the Yarra Ranges National Park to the skyscrapers of the city. However, the views disappeared into the mist for the last stretch of the climb to the top of the 1245 metre high Mt Donna Buang. When we made it to the top, no one wanted to stop for more than a couple of moments as the cloud shrouding the peak left a damp chill in the air. It didn’t take long to shoot down the 17 kilometre descent to a much warmer Warburton where we could defrost, grab a coffee, continue the conversations which were interrupted by that breathtaking climb and revel in the experience of having conquered something new.
“I had never ridden on gravel before and I was a little apprehensive about that,” said Lisa Rothfield, who read our article with gravel riding tips from Gracie Elvin and consulted her local bike shop to ease her concerns about taking her road bike onto the gravel. “It wasn’t an issue at all and it was just great to do something different.”
The ride was 58 kilometres long with over 1200 metres of climbing. Everyone made it and, judging by the smiling faces at the end, enjoyed doing it. Best of all many were wondering just how soon we could all meet up to do it again.
A skills session for the ‘cross curious with Dirty Deeds
Dirty Deeds Cyclocross has been putting on women’s skills sessions for four years and Sunday’s session at the Darebin Parklands was one of their biggest yet. The tie-in with The Women’s Ride brought in fresh faces and no doubt the presence of the affable Australian cyclocross champion Lisa Jacobs was an added drawcard.
There were 27 women and girls at the session, ranging from elite athletes curious to try out a new sport to pre-teen girls following in their mother’s footsteps. They were split into two groups of different levels and then taught skills such as cornering, how to get a fast start, how to quickly dismount from the bike to get over a barrier and then remount.
Some were a little nervous, particularly as the cyclocross remount style of throwing yourself onto the bike, with what may seem like reckless abandon to the first-timer, can be a pretty intimidating prospect. However, as the skills session progressed even the initially hesitant were getting into the mix, trying things out and picking up at least one new skill.
It doesn’t matter if you can fly over the barriers with ease or are more likely to eat dirt then gracefully launch yourself onto the seat when remounting. Even without super skills, you can still make it around a cyclocross course and have plenty of fun doing it.
“We want to make this a welcoming sport. We want to be approachable. We want this to be something you can easily come and try,” said Nik Cee of Dirty Deeds. “It starts with small building blocks, you don’t have to do everything right ….the point is you just come and do it.”
A cruise with Nagambie’s Pushy Girls
Many of the rides took a more relaxed approach to spending time on the bike in a bid to attract relatively new and lapsed riders. In the small town of Nagambie in central Victoria, 45 riders gathered to indulge in a 30 kilometre trip that was far more than just a bike ride. The Nagambie Pushy Girls ride, run by Breeze leader Sissy Hoskin, started next to the Nagambie Lakes and meandered its way along the roads near the Goulburn River, stopping regularly to take in wineries, historic structures, a café, and even a cruise along the river.
Lycra was present, but didn’t dominate. Children were prevalent. The bikes were varied, and there were plenty of new faces.
“The day was an easy ride with old friends and new friends. It was a lovely day … everyone that went on it was smiling and happy,” said Hoskin. “Most of these ladies were saying, ‘so when are we riding again?’”
She is hopeful it will be very soon. Hoskin runs regular rides through the Breeze women’s recreational riding programme. She became involved in Breeze after providing bike education to children and then deciding she would like to help get the parents out on bikes as well.