Bicycle Network: Bupa Around the Bay
From humble beginnings in 1993, Bicycle Network's Bupa Around the Bay has grown to become Australia’s largest mass participation bike ride.
The story so far
Celebrating its 21st year in 2013, Bupa Around the Bay has firmly established itself as Australia’s premier mass participation one-day ride, which last year had 17,000 participants from around the world.
Around the Bay has come a long way from what was initially envisaged for Sunday, 17 October, 1993. The Bicycle Victoria plan at the time was to test out the demand for an ambitious new event that would hopefully attract about 500 riders to take on a 210km route around Port Phillip Bay, from Melbourne to Queenscliff via the Westgate Bridge, a ferry ride to Sorrento, then back up to Melbourne again via Beach Road.
The interest from riders was immediate and immense, with thousands wanting to take part. A change in plans was necessary, as there were not enough ferries to cater for all entrants. Organisers decided to split riders up, with one half doing the route as originally proposed, the other starting in the opposite direction and heading for Sorrento first, crossing by ferry to Queenscliff, then riding back up to Melbourne. There were eventually 2,700 riders entered, with another 1,000 knocked back due to lack of ferry capacity. With 100 volunteers lending vital support, the first Around the Bay in a Day got underway at 5.30am from JL Murphy Reserve in Port Melbourne, and despite the long distance and hard riding involved, with many riders finishing in the dark, it was deemed an overwhelming success.
The Age newspaper ran a front page photo the following morning highlighting the positive response, and a new classic riding event was born.
Knowing what to expect in 1994, Bicycle Victoria entered a partnership with The Smith Family charity, and signed up a major sponsor, The Superior Quilt Company. With the addition of a new ferry, the Peninsula Princess, capacity increased to 3,000 riders. The event quickly sold out again, and hundreds were turned away. Training seminars to help riders began, and were immediately popular, and teams signed on to compete for the inaugural The Smith Family Corporate Trophy.
For 1995, extra ferries were lined up, and over 4,000 riders signed up to take part. With 140 volunteers forming the backbone of the event, a report at the time praised their efforts, saying, “their unbridled enthusiasm enabled them to sustain their energies throughout the day”.
Known as Operation Dunkirk, there was a big squeeze on some of the smaller ferries, where pedals had to be removed to make room for all the bikes. One distracted rider reportedly popped his pedals into his helmet, and subsequently when swinging his lid about, accidentally flung the pedals into the sea.
In 1996 4,300 riders took part, which included 52 company teams, a quarter of all entrants. Two extra start positions were included for the 1997 event, Frankston and Geelong.
By 2001 the ride had grown even further, and a record 5,000 riders took part. After securing another ferry in 2002, that number increased to 7,000 participants. The event start and finish location was relocated from Port Melbourne to Catani Gardens in St Kilda that year, and 272 teams participated. On the international front, a 43-strong Irish team came over especially for the event, as did others from Singapore, New Zealand and Texas.
The weather increased the challenge for 2003 when a number of riders were caught out; after a warm morning start, it turned out to be the coldest and wettest event ever!
There were over 10,000 riders for the first time in 2005, and by 2006, Around the Bay in a Day had gained huge momentum, with more than 14,000 riders across four ride distances (42km, 100km, 210km and 250km), helped on their way by over 400 volunteers. This was the first year that the 250km distance, named The Legend, was offered and it was a hit with the riders.
From 2004 to 2006 the start/finish site was located within the Melbourne Docklands precinct, but it was decided that a greener space was needed. From 2007, a partnership with the City of Melbourne began, with the event moving to a new location, the Alexandra Gardens. Joining forces with the GO Bike Expo, Around the Bay in a Day became part of the Melbourne Cycling Festival, involving a whole weekend's activities at the Gardens Precinct in Melbourne.
The hottest ride on record was the same year, 2007, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees and hot northerly winds making for some very unpleasant conditions. In 2008, the 250km route returned to the anti-clockwise direction, which was favoured by riders, and the 210km ride in the same direction sold out in just 10 days from sales opening, a record.
An 80km School Challenge ride option began in 2008, which helped swell total rider numbers to over 16,000, and there were over 20,000 visitors to the Go Bike Expo over the weekend.
As part of the Melbourne Cycling Festival, the Scody Twilight Criterium was run in 2009 along Boathouse Drive in front of the Yarra River, with men and women racing for prize money. A record 525 volunteers helped out on the ride, with 15,609 riders taking part, and $1,000,000 was raised for The Smith Family.
In 2010 the day was wet and one of the ferries was cancelled the night before, but this didn't deter over 16,000 riders from taking part. The team was sodden over the festival long weekend at Alexandra Gardens but warmly welcomed riders home.
2011 saw the return of the medal for each rider to celebrate either achievement of completing Bupa Around the Bay.
In it's 20th year, Bupa Around the Bay hit a new participation record with 17,000 riders taking their place in cycling history.
Bicycle Network’s Bupa Around the Bay is considered as one of Melbourne's major sporting events, sitting in between the AFL Grand Final and the Spring Racing Carnival.