Ever wondered what its like to volunteer as a route marshal on the Great Vic Bike Ride? Four of our most dedicated marshals took the time recently to share their experiences and outline what a typical day looks like as a part of the team.
They’re a tough breed, the Route Marshall team!
If you prefer a relaxing lie-in, becoming a Route Marshall may not be the ideal volunteer role for you. Members of the team receive details of their allocated position on the course each day at a team briefing the evening before. Finding out where you will be positioned tomorrow is always a moment of great anticipation - “Will I be positioned just outside the camp exit, or will my position be 100km along the road?”
Regardless of where you are stationed each day, you have to make an early start to make sure you beat the young guns who ride the course as if it was a stage of the Tour De France.
After grabbing a hasty breakfast, courtesy of the early volunteer-only start at the meals tent, you set off on your bike to your designated spot. If the distance to your marshalling point is a little too far for comfort, you have the option of taking a Sag-wagon ride part of the way, with thanks to Frank and the rest of the Sag team.
Once you arrive at your spot, you don your luminous reflective Marshall’s jacket – so you can be easily spotted by approaching cyclists - and there you wait for the first cyclists to begin passing. Here, you are required to help all participants safely negotiate a difficult and potentially dangerous intersection or kink in the day’s cycle route. This usually involves shouting instructions such as “Slow down, right turn ahead”, “Slow down, stopping at T-Junction ahead”, and “Slow down, roundabout ahead”. You will have picked up from this the importance of safe cycling and our aim is to help every cyclist reach the finish line without incident.
It is at this point that the most gratifying part of the Route Marshall role takes shape. You are bombarded with literally thousands of cyclists yelling out “Thank you” to their trusty Route Marshalls and I’m sure it is this that keeps the team coming back year after year.
Standing beside the road, typically for many hours, requires you to have a degree of physical stamina but the thanks received from the passing hordes make that all worthwhile.
A Route Marshall must stand on duty regardless of what the weather throws at them. On one occasion, just outside Rutherglen camp over 100kms for the start line, I stood for over 6 hours. The day started in glorious sunshine where I was busily applying sunscreen and by the end of the day, myself and the slower participants were enjoying torrential rain. It is Victoria after all but remain at your station you must.
Relief is always provided by the superb Motor Marshall team who deliver lunch packs and make sure the Route Marshall’s have always got water to drink. The Motor Marshall will also advise when you are free to set off and complete your ride for the day as the last stragglers have already passed.
A Route Marshall must expect the unexpected, whether it’s taking over duty from professional road management teams whilst they take a bathroom break or helping a cyclist with mechanical problems – either on their bike or their legs 😊.
Having completed a day on the route, we enjoy a briefing from our fabulous team leader, Declan, who provides an update on the day and hands out details of tomorrow’s postings and the daily cycle begins again.
When I received the email to say I was accepted as a ride marshal I was really excited to not only be part of the Great Vic Bike Ride but also be able to ride some of the roads that I grew up near which I was really looking forward to. When I arrived in Robe and received my first briefing pack and met other marshals, I knew I was in for an awesome week with a great group of people. Although the 5am alarm sounded crazy my first day I jumped out of the tent eager to start my experience! Lucky for me some friendly marshals that had been around for years took me under their wing and off I went to my first marshal station which was the beautiful Beachport pier. Getting to support the thousands of riders coming in for their first lunch break was really fun and having such a stunning backdrop on a warmish November day made it a great start to the week.
After my first day I established my general routine of getting up at 5am, heading to breakfast, putting my bags in the truck, riding to my marshal point with a sneaky coffee stop along the way, (the coffee van was so good!) marshalling, directing riders and encouraging riders even despite some crazy weather days, riding to the campsite, showering, finding snacks, checking out my marshal location and how early I had to get out of camp to make the time to my station, socialising with other marshals, riders and volunteers, having dinner and then exploring the township. Each town was so different, with such friendly locals and it was good to stretch the bicycle legs and explore the township before it got too dark.
The day off halfway was especially great to be about to spend time in the beautiful township of Pt Fairy as well as take part in some water aerobics at the local pool to relieve the sore muscles as well as catch up with family. Getting to spend time with other volunteers at the Bowls Club was also a great evening to meet new people.
The thing I loved the most about being a ride marshal was getting out early to have the road to myself and just pedalling amongst nature. My favourite day was riding along Turton's Track where I had the entire road to myself as I wound down through the spectacular rainforest knowing the road was closed and no cars could interrupt the serenity. Then on arrival to my marshal point I was stationed out the front of the Forrest Brewery where I experienced sunshine and blue skies for the first time in a few days… just amazing to have warmth on my back!
Then of course to experience riding along the Great Ocean Road was also a highlight! Having then crossed the finish line on my final day was a great feeling to know I had conquered the Great Vic Bike Ride without any issues or SAG wagon support which was a great feeling! Am looking forward to the next Great Vic Bike Ride and getting involved in 2021!!
July 2019 – I’d recently returned to Australia after living overseas for many years. In many ways Australia felt like a new country to me and while I still had family and friends here gone were the days when friends and I could go cycling, camping or lie on a beach for a month or even a week.
Ever since late high school I had explored Australia by cycle touring with friends. Fast enough to move across our vast country at a respectable pace, but slow enough not to miss too much, cycling was a happy compromise between hiking and road trips in a car. It had also been a great way to explore parts of Europe and America. What better way to understand how much Australia had changed than organise another bike tour?
I quickly realised that this was easier said than done. Many of my old cycle touring friends had other commitments and I didn’t just want to ride. I wanted to meet new people and make new friends. Then a solution presented itself – volunteer as a Road Safety Marshal on the Great Victorian Bike. I’d be helping people to do something I loved, I could make new friends, I could escape the office, get outside and get over winter.
I’d never ridden on a Great Vic before, but the Network staff quickly put my fears to rest. When I got to Robe my own excitement grew as I met the staff and as the other volunteers and riders arrived. There were people of all ages, from all walks of life. People from America, Europe and Asia mixed with Indigenous teenagers from Alice Springs, New Zealanders and, of course, lots of Melbournians. Over the course of the ride I got to know lots of them, taught more about road safety, worked with the police to keep people safe and used my ‘outside’ voice without being reprimanded. The days were similar without being the same, there were always new people to meet, new landscapes and towns to explore and (literally and figuratively) new mountains to climb.
If you’re thinking about volunteering this is taste of a typical day:
Wake up, pack up, resolve not to thrown everything around the tent next time.
Find the bag drop site (very important).
Go to breakfast and convince the catering volunteers and staff that I need an extra banana or apple for the road (tip: make friends and help out the other volunteers, BN staff and the people running the bike repair shop)
Meet up with the other marshals assigned to the same location. People who push you a bit are very useful if you’re running late or have a fair distance to go!
At your assigned location
Arrive at your assigned location. Look over the route and hazard notes. Coordinate with other marshals, traffic wardens or police officers in your area.
Give clear hand and vocal directions to cyclists (marshals can’t direct other road users such as cars or trucks). It’s especially important to watch for build ups of cars and cyclists, as well as people who might be tired or not paying attention.
Sometimes people will get a bit annoyed. Don’t take it personally, they’re probably exhausted and will often thank you later!
After the cyclists have passed through
Once the cyclists passed through, you’ll find yourself riding through and past groups of GVBR cyclists. Some days you might ride as hard as you possibly can, on others it’s a great chance to meet interesting people along the way. Since you’ve been a marshal almost everyone will recognise you and usually be more than happy to have a chat.
Sometimes I came across people who were struggling and needed a bit of encouragement or just something to take their mind off the road ahead. It’s amazing how much a little conversation can help people. I’ve seen people go from 9 kms an hour to over 20 just because I gave them something else to think about. I’ve also had some amazingly interesting conversations along the way.
Once you get into camp and have found the tent site find the generators and charge your phone. All the rest will be pretty obvious – you’ll get your assignment, eat, explore the town or find some new people to talk to. Then sleep and start again.
Being a marshal is a privilege. You’ll be keeping people safe while still enjoying the whole ride. You’ll meet a huge range of people. The more seasoned volunteers will always be there to give you advice or help you. The Bicycle Network staff are wonderful, responsive and full of enthusiasm.
Whether it’s a perfect day or raining it’s always a bonding experience and you have 5000 new people to meet.
Do you know what it takes to be a Riding Marshal at the Great Vic? Well, you need to be organized and disciplined to be one… just kidding; you don’t really have to be that tough. All you need is a smile and a lot of enthusiasm to cheer fellow riders and ensure that they enjoy their ride. Let me give you a sneak-peak of what a typical day as a Riding Marshal Volunteer looks like:
5:30am: It is time to wake up and have some breaky. (Fun Fact: No waiting in the line as you are the first one in the queue!)
6:00am: It’s an early start to the day but with pleasantly empty roads; and most early morning rides are accompanied by a blissful view of the sunrise. This is the time to start riding to your assigned spots.
Consider yourself lucky if you are positioned at the start; you get to have breakfast and some bonus time to sleep. But if you are posted near the Rest Area 2, you will have to brace yourself and get rolling till the end…haha hopefully before the first rider passes by you. But don’t worry, we keep trading places which means at least on one of the days, we will be rewarded with some extra sleep!
We ride to our assigned spot before the first riders get there so that we can guide them correctly and be present if they need any assistance. Just a gist of how our timeline looks like throughout day.
Rest area 1 (approx. 25-30km from the starting point): the first rider may get there as early as 8-8:30am.
Lunch stop (marks approx. 50-60km from the starting point): the first/fastest rider may get there around 11-11:30am.
Rest area 2 (75km mark): the fastest rider may probably reach here by 1pm.
Campsite: (approximate 80-90km from the starting point and the final point for the day): the riders may start reaching this spot around 3pm.
Note: These are approximate times and may vary depending on the riders. We may be positioned at spots in between these points along the riding route to cheer and guide the riders. There can be incidents and hazards which we need to keep in mind and make sure they are dealt immediately by informing Team Leader, Event Control Team, SAG team & Route Marshal Team. As a Riding Marshal, we reach the spot before the first rider gets there and stay there until the last rider has crossed it.
Let’s get back to our journey. While riding to our assigned spot, we can enjoy the route and beautiful scenery. Once we reach our designated spot, then the real thing begins. We tend to appear energetic and enthusiastic, so that we pass that vibes to all our riders and encourage them.
This is how I usually try to cheer the riders:
Look at that speed machine, vroom vroom vroom you go!
Coming back to our schedule:
4:00pm – 5:00pm: Yayy, you made it! Time to freshen up and get ready to relax.
6:00pm – 6:30pm: Meeting and ref assigning for next day’s journey.
6:30pm: Dinner time! Unfortunately, you wouldn’t get an upper hand at the queue this time and will have to join the line with the others in the group.
8:00pm – 10:00pm: Time to destress and unwind – listen to live music and have fun watching the events planned for everyone. If time permits, checkout the nearby places and explore the town.
10pm: Lights out, time to sleep and rejuvenate for another exciting day!