Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Delores Stafrace: volunteer WARBY on the Great Victorian Bike Ride
Supporting first-timers on the Great Victorian Bike Ride can be exhausting, but if, like Delores Stafrace, you love bikes and helping, it's also very rewarding
The WARBY (We Are Right Behind You) team is a group of 14 volunteer riders who support first timers in their preparation for the Great Victorian Bike Ride, and provide mechanical, physical and emotional support during the event.
Delores Stafrace is one of two women in the WARBY team and a passionate advocate for cycling. Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells caught up with Delores in the days before the Ride
What is the role of the WARBY team?
WARBYs are the people that motivate, encourage and assist riders along the ride. We look out for first-timers, the stragglers. We do things like fixing punctures, and chains that come off, teaching people to do the right pedal ratio up hills, talk about safety - some people come on the ride with very little preparation and, for example, we talk to them about hydration.
How did you become a WARBY?
My first Bicycle Network Victoria ride was the Great Ocean Road [in 2004]. I wasn't a WARBY then, but I really was like a WARBY because I was helping people all the time. My life has always been in the fitness industry, assisting people, motivating people, personal training, etc. So on the ride, I started helping people on the side of the road - it just came naturally. Then when I got the brochures for the next year's ride, I saw that you could volunteer to be a WARBY and ride as well.
I've always been a rider. I commute from Sunbury [an outer suburb of Melbourne] to Glenroy, which is around 37km. This year my husband and I took our bikes to Europe for the summer and spent time exploring there.
How much of the WARBY role is to provide emotional support?
Everyone would have a different opinion on this - it depends on who you are. Some WARBYs would be better at fixing a chain.
Is emotional support your forte?
It gives me great satisfaction to see people achieve and there are lots of people who haven't prepared, haven't planned enough for the ride. This year is going to have lots of hills and people will turn a corner and see a hill and say I can't do this. And our job is to say yes you can and to help them every step of the way. It's about knowing the path you need to take to get them to the end. My background has led me to being good at that - motivating people.
I'd say around ten or 15 per cent of riders on the Great Victorian Bike Ride really depend on the WARBYs - they need that encouragement and support. There are people on the ride who feel they'll never be able to do it, and you help them to take it one step at a time - just do the next ten k's and then just get to the lunch spot!
We work up a rapport with them so they know there's someone looking after them, watching out for them at the end of the day, saying “good on you". It's about getting to know your customers - and after around four days you know who your regular customers are.
We see a lot of women in their 50s, who are retired, or their children have left home, who do a bike ride for the first time, and it's life-changing for them. Our role is helping them through - it's a bit like personal training at times. We focus on teaching them how to help themselves, empowering them - if they have a puncture, we show them how to fix it. We might help them with the same thing three or four times, but by then, they're better at doing it themselves.
Even things like telling them to leave a light on in their tent when they go to the toilet in the middle of the night because there's thousands of tents! Because we do the ride with them, we get to face the same issues, the same conditions, and we've learned the little tricks of how to make it easier.
A lot of people are fair weather riders - and that's where the motivation comes in - they see it as all doom and gloom. The stragglers are the most entertaining. We carry plastic bags so when someone forgets their raincoat and you pull out a plastic bag, they think it's the best thing ever.
Are there issues for first-timers that come up again and again?
One of the issues is hydration: drinking enough water. And it's a pain - women don't like to drink because they're worried about having to go to the toilet and not being able to find one. In the beginning everyone is very discreet, but by the end they're just going behind a bush.
People are not prepared for every type of weather. They expect it to be sunny and they don't expect to get wet. But on every Great Vic, there are going to be wet days - or nights.
People don't know how to fix a puncture. That's something you'll need to do again and again if you keep riding. So that's why we try to teach people how to do it - and teach them to be prepared: carry a spare tube - or two.
They need to learn to enjoy every moment. Some newcomers are in such a strict routine in their lives and they have to settle for everyone being equal out there on the ride - by the second or third day, they relax - they either love it or hate it.
What are the pros and cons of being a WARBY?
It's great fun. It's very rewarding. But I have to say it's exhausting too - you're out all day, you're first out and you're last in. If it's a wet day, you're covered in oil and sometimes you miss the lunch because it's already finished by the time you come through. So you come back into the camp at the end of the day and you are wrecked.
You do sleep well at night! People can be snoring or anything, but you sleep! You're exhausted! You generally can't make it to the entertainment because you have to sleep. But your body gets used to it.
There's a good vibe in being a WARBY. You're helping people - and people always appreciate that. It doesn't matter if it's a first-timer or the guy with the $10,000 bike who thought he would never get a puncture - he's happy as Larry. The thing about being a WARBY is that the more you do it, the better you do it. And you learn more about maintenance.
It's great fun and we've got a great team. Many of them have been WARBYs before, I think we work really well together.
We've already been out a few times on training rides with some of our customers before the Ride, so we already know many of our customers before the Ride starts.
You see people on these Bicycle Network Victoria rides who enter every year, like there's this one woman who's been on a few and she is now looking fantastic - she's lost about 20 kilos. She still comes out on the WARBY training rides because that's where she started, but she doesn't need it any more - now she's much more confident, and she's helping other people.
It's quite a time commitment.
Yeah, it is, but if you love riding - doing this role is everything I love: riding bikes and helping people.
Being a WARBY is promoting bike riding - saying “you can do this". The way I see it is that everyone can ride to work and, by doing that, they would be helping the problems we're all facing with the environment, health - the obesity crisis and things like depression. If everybody rides, we'd have a healthier, happier nation - and no petrol crisis and greenhouse emissions.
What sort of person do you need to be to become a WARBY?
You need to have a positive attitude and be focussed on helping each person achieve what they set out that day to achieve. And to allow for all abilities on the ride.
Finally, what sort of bike do you have?
(Laughs) I've got every sort - I've got six bikes! My favourite is my Shogun Metro, but my Cannondale R900 is my nice bike - my sunny day bike. The Shogun is more of a sentimental bike because it fits me ergonomically, you can take it shopping, you don't have to worry about it so much. It doesn't matter if it gets a bit thrashed - it's hardy, it's very functional and it's not so attractive to steal.