Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Raising the bar
Ranging in age from 28 to 58, these women ventured outside their everyday comfort zones to find out what they were made of
Once you've got a taste for bike riding, you might find yourself wanting to dip your toes in uncharted waters.
Whatever your motivation - to get more out of your travel experiences, to improve your fitness, or to test your limits and get a bit more competitive - you'd be surprised how far you can go just by setting small goals and building up.
There are so many different types of riding events to sample: it could be a gentle Rail Trail outing with your local BUG, a guided tour in another country, or a challenging endurance event. It's really all about you and your own personal goals.
Whatever your cup of tea, you'll be sure to meet new friends to ride with and have a memorable experience.
So what's stopping you?
These women enjoyed the challenge of pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones and have lived to tell their tales ... with relish.
Pip, age 28
Pip Vietz is a former director of Around the Bay in a Day and worked at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
What sort of riding do you do?
I do lots. I commute to work every day. I mountain bike and I also do a lot of road cycling. I like doing long distance challenges. I used to ride with the Cooma Cycling Club in NSW. About six years ago my Dad was actually trying to get my brother into cycling, and I said, well, how about me? Give me a go! The first time I got on a road bike I fell off. I was really wobbly, but I just loved it!
When I moved to Melbourne I didn't join a club because I was a daunted by it - on the websites they'd say you'd have to average 30km an hour. I thought 'Arrrgh!' - I probably could do it, but what if I couldn't?! My partner was active in bike riding, so I just used to go out and ride with all the boys. I did feel a bit self-conscious that I wasn't fast enough to hang on to the bunches, but they were all really good about it. The boys can look really intimidating - they've got beautiful bikes and they're all so fit, but a lot of them are so helpful. They'd keep me going and tow me back up the hills if I needed it. But I started meeting more girls and we'd go out and have our own rides or do mixed rides.
Had you ever ridden 200 km before riding Around the Bay in a Day?
I'd never ridden more than about 110km. I knew I could do 100km in hills, so I felt fit and strong enough. I knew it would be quite a mind battle staying on the bike for that length of time - about 8 to 10 hours was the challenge for me.
Was the backside sore?
It wasn't too bad - it was just everything else! Your back, fatigue in your legs and even your arms from just being on the handlebars for that long.
What was it like, blow by blow?
My Dad and I started off from Melbourne to Sorrento with the Cooma club, and we were starting and stopping a lot. Just after Mordialloc I got a puncture because someone had tacked the roads. Then we got straight into it and got to Sorrento after about 4 hours. After the ferry ride it was quite hard getting back on the bike because I'd cooled down and started getting a bit tired, but we cruised off. Coming out of Queenscliff, there was just a tiny little gradual uphill, but I really felt that.
From Geelong to Melbourne, I really started getting a bit tired. Some of the crew wanted to stop at each of the rest areas, but I knew I had to keep going, otherwise it would be just too hard to get back on the bike. I caught up with another bunch and then Dad ended up catching me up, so we kept each other going. Once we saw the Westgate Bridge I had my second wind. I remember sucking a melted Mars Bar out the wrapper and it was just enough sugar to spark me up to get me through the last 20km.
What was the high point of the ride for you?
For me, getting on top of the Westgate Bridge. I knew that signified that we were nearly home and it was the last big hurdle to get over. That was amazing. I was so exhilarated I got tingles all over my body with the adrenalin and endorphins buzzing around. I thought that's it, I know I've done it, and I can get back to Port Melbourne.
It was just fantastic to get off the bike at the end! I had the most amazing sense of relief and satisfaction. All up, riding time was 8 or 9 hours, averaging 20 to 25km an hour for the day.
Did you enjoy your surroundings?
Not really - it was pretty much head down! Even at the finish, I can hardly remember what that was like because I was so tired. It was probably two days after that what we'd done really sank in - that's when I got that great feeling!
Any tips for young players on riding in a bunch?
It's really important to be comfortable on your bike and feel you've got some skills before you get into a bunch. Don't look at the back wheel of the person in front of you because you're just going to get mesmerised by it. You have to be really aware of your surroundings and not just look at one thing. Keep a safe distance until you feel more confident with sitting closer and closer to the rear wheel.
Communication is a really big thing - if you want to stop or if you need to go to the toilet or if you can't handle your turn in front any more, let people know what you're doing by saying you're stopping or whatever, or through hand signals. It's really important to let other people know what's going on with you and how you're feeling.
Norma, age 38
As a massage therapist, Norma Malouf knows the benefits of exercise and encourages her patients to be more active. Norma is no slouch herself, having ridden Around the Bay in a Day, as well as travelling the length of Vietnam by bicycle in the Tour for a Cure to raise money for cancer research.
Do you do much riding?
Yes, I integrate my cycling and my social things. That's the wonderful thing - you can ride down to Melbourne and do 70km, have a nice lunch with a bit of sunshine down at St Kilda and ride back, and you really feel like you've had a lovely day. If you can integrate cycling with social aspects of your life it doesn't seem like a chore.
Tell us about your experience riding Around the Bay in a Day.
We all nearly ended up with hypothermia - we got rained on, hailed on, shined on and blown from one end of the place to the other! But I was determined to get round. When the rain hit, people were falling off bikes everywhere ... it was like a domino effect! I think what kept us going was knowing that the sun was coming out in Geelong. Our little team was just hanging in there together. When we got off the ferry and the cold wind hit us it was horrible. But getting in to Geelong was like seventh heaven! The sun came out, we had a tail wind behind us, and we were sitting on about 45km an hour scooting straight down the Melbourne road. When we saw the Westgate Bridge it was like "Yeeeeess! We've made it!"
There were times when I was thinking 'What the hell am I doing here?' I live in Dromana, so when I cycled through Dromana I could've just gone home. But when I say I'm going to do something, I do it. I think it's one of those wonderful things about being a human being. We all have choices. And you can choose to be a gunner or you can choose to be a doer. I choose to be a doer.
You raised $6700 for your first Tour for a Cure for Cancer Council Victoria. How did you do it?
It's hard work, fundraising. You've got to be self-motivated, but I think anyone can be if they believe in what they're doing. It's also just having the maturity... you may not be quite sure how to do these things, but as you get older you can get out there a little bit more and be less self-conscious about getting people moving and grooving along.
What's so good about a cycling tour compared to other ways of seeing a country?
Mobility - on a bike you can go anywhere. As long as you've got the right tyres for the terrain, it's a wonderful way to see a country. You're exposed to the elements, you can smell everything as you're going through. There were lots of children running along saying "Xin Chau!" (hello) and doing high fives in the middle of the road. And people from villages would come out and laugh and point, or sometimes they would be quite shy and not sure how to take us. It was just a beautiful way to experience it and you would never have had that same response travelling in a vehicle.
What were your impressions of Vietnam when you arrived?
Oh, hectic, manic in the cities... in the country it wasn't so bad. We rode mostly on highways, but you had to be very careful of the trucks. They travel close to you very fast and have these hideous, loud honking horns.
What did you eat and drink as you went along?
I took my Sustain powder with me, and kept that with my vitamin C powder and some Musashi L-Glutamine. I also took a lot of peanut bars and snack bars. We'd stop every 20km for a rest so everyone could catch up. I love Vietnamese food, and the beer's great. They also had wine with pickled snakes and lizards in it, but I wasn't crazy or brave enough to try it.
What did the locals think of you?
Vietnam has only been opened to tourism for the last 7 to 9 years. So for them we were like the circus that came to town, with all our different shapes and sizes in bright lycra colours on our bicycles.
There was some pretty hilly terrain, wasn't there?
Yes, the Hai Van Pass, which was a 90km ride. I took my cycling shoes and my pedals. I really would've struggled up some of those hills just riding with flat pedals. There were some people who'd hardly cycled anything, so that to me was quite impressive. The line of us would sometimes stretch out for 5km, but everybody worked hard and no one piked. The longest day was about 120km. The rest of the days were between 50 and 90km. I was really proud of everybody.
Did you ever get to a point where you were just really tired?
Absolutely, every day! More in the last few days of our cycling, we were all very very tired.
But the whole team keeps you going... it's really the support of the people that you're with that keeps everyone together when you really want to get off your bike and say "Put me on the bus!"
On the last day we were soooo happy. We were exhausted, but so happy to have completed our task. We were all very proud of our achievements. We went there together as a team. We worked as a team. We finished as a team. It was wonderful.
Thanks to Michelle Dawson (pictured here ascending the Hai Van Pass) for these photographs from Vietnam.
Trish, age 58
In her work as a GP, Trish Greenwood-Smith was always telling her patients to do more exercise. So when she turned 50, she decided to practise what she preached and to take up cycling as a form of exercise that she would enjoy. Taking part in the Great Tasmanian Bike Ride made her realise just how much she was capable of.
Had you done much cycling before you did the Great Tasmanian Bike Ride?
I could ride a bike, but that was about it. For my fiftieth birthday my husband bought two bikes, one for me and one for him, and we started riding on the rail trails and bike paths. My very favourite ride is the Lilydale to Warburton rail trail - that's about 80km and we can do that up and back in a day.
I'm not heavily into the lycra. On the Tassie bike ride we wore flannies and Blundstones. We became known as the Blundie people - there was an article in the morning newspaper about the pros and cons of Blundies and there were all pros and no cons! Not only are they good enough for riding, but they're very good for walking up hills - we did a lot of that in Tassie.
What sort of bike do you ride?
A mountain bike with tyres that are smooth in the middle with knobs on the side, so if you get into a bit of gravel you've still got a bit of safety. It's a lot easier on the roads with the smooth part in the middle of your tyre.
Did you do any preparation for Tasmania?
We did the 100km half Around the Bay in a Day as training. The only difference was that when we had to do the couple of days that were around 100km in Tassie they were up and down hills. There were a couple of rather heavy days in there, but we did get there and the big aim was to stay out of the sag wagon. We managed to do that and we're very proud of ourselves.
How long was the Tassie ride?
About 570km, with eight days in the saddle and a rest day in the middle. I thought that my problem would be that I wouldn't be able to put my bottom back on the saddle day after day, but prior to the ride I'd worked out the answers to being comfortable on a bike.
There are four tricks, in this order:
You get someone to help you with your setup - someone who really knows what they're talking about, like your friendly bike shop person. So your bike's the right size, your saddle and handlebars are the right height - that's really important.
My very favourite bit of cycling equipment in the whole world - and this will never change - is my leather split seat. The first time I tried it for one day I took it back to my bike shop. But the bike shop man said try it again - he'd fixed my setup by then, and after that it was brilliant.
Get yourself some good padded cycling knicks...
...and don't wear underwear!
How did you deal with problems like fatigue?
Oh, fatigue... you just keep going. I had other problems that I hadn't anticipated - my knees gave out - the physio strapped them for three days. It got me through. The other advantage of that was that I found it was harder to walk up hills than to stay in the saddle, so I actually got better at getting up hills because it was hurting more to walk than to ride.
Did you use your granny gears up hills?
Certainly did. I've got extensions on my handlebars and they're fantastic for pulling yourself up hills. Once you've gone through all the gears, the last thing I do is move my hands to the bar ends and then I've got something to pull on. It's almost like having another gear. The Tassie bike ride certainly changed my attitude to hills because suddenly I knew I could get up them instead of giving up early. One thing we did enjoy in Tassie were the downhills - they were superb.
Do you think you could do a 200km event if you had time to train?
Absolutely not. I couldn't do it and I wouldn't aim to do it. Because I can do 100 occasionally I'm pretty proud of myself. And, normally, if we can do 50 or 70 in a day just riding around on the trails we're pretty pleased with ourselves.