In 1993, Bicycle Victoria (as Bicycle Network was then known) decided to test out the demand for an ambitious new event that would hopefully attract about 500 riders. The route would take the Westgate Bridge from Port Melbourne, continue through Geelong to Queenscliff, cross the water by ferry to Sorrento, and then back up to Melbourne again via Beach Road.
The date was set for Sunday 17 October 1993. 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.
Melbourne was amazed at the success of the event and The Age newspaper ran a front page photo the following morning highlighting the positive response.
A classic Melbourne cycling event is born
Knowing what to expect in 1994, Bicycle Victoria entered a partnership with The Smith Family charity. 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 more than 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.
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. The ride even became an international event, a 43-strong Irish team came over especially, as did others from Singapore, New Zealand and the USA.
Wet weather pushes riders to the limit
The weather increased the challenge for the 2003 running. Riders were caught out by a very warm morning start, broken at 7am by a torrential downpour and a drastic drop in temperature. Riders sheltered under bridges before continuing sodden to the ferries to wait shivering for a reprieve from the rain and cold wind. By 3pm the sun had returned and riders were warmed and mostly dried out, but this year remains the most dramatic for the weather.
By 2005, Around the Bay jerseys of different vintages were a common sight on riders around Melbourne. It seemed that every bike rider was either an Around the Bay veteran or training for their first circuit. This year the ride hosted over 10,000 riders for the first time.
For 2006, the event offered four ride distances for the first time: 42km, 100km, 210km and 250km. More than 14,000 riders rolled out, helped on their way by over 400 volunteers. The 250km distance was named The Legend, and it proved a hit with the riders.
A new site and record rider numbers
From 2007, a partnership with the City of Melbourne began, with the event start–finish site moving to 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. This year’s ride was also the hottest on record, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees and hot northerly winds making for some very unpleasant conditions.
In 2009, as part of the Melbourne Cycling Festival, 15,609 riders took part with a record 525 volunteers assisting. In this year $1,000,000 was raised for The Smith Family for the first time.
For 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, which was a new record for participation.
In 2012 the ride fell short of the target of attracting 20,000 riders for the 20th event but since then has consistently catered for more than 10,000 riders every year, including 2016 when strong winds pushed riders and challenged 2003 as the most difficult ride to date.
So what have we learned from 24 years of Around the Bay?
- The challenge is still compelling – what distance can you ride?
- The weather is always a factor, but never a detractor.
- Around the Bay is a rite of passage for Australian bike riders, so much so that there are 10 legends who have ridden every single year.
- There can never be too many ferries!
Now with nine ride options and seven ride distances, there’s an Around the Bay ride for everyone.
It’s an iconic Australian riding experience, and a great day out. Come and experience it for yourself.
Enter now at aroundthebay.com.au.