Nine months before my 60th birthday was due to arrive on 17th March 2022, I decided to do something significant to mark the occasion. That was, to try to ride from Melbourne to Sydney and hopefully raise over $20,000 for two cycling-related charities I’ve long supported.
Well, my 60 or Bust! charity ride is now history. It has been a roller coaster few weeks. Even from the high of riding into the Sydney Opera House in brilliant sunshine, through to a week of home isolation due to a pretty bad case of covid six days later, from which I’m still recovering as I write this.
I’m not going to give you a ‘blow by blow’ account of all 30 weeks of training and 11 riding days of the event itself. Rather, here’s a highlights report, particularly in thanks to the many bike industry members who donated to the charities: World Bicycle Relief and We Ride Australia.
Making the decision to do this at all or not was actually one of my hardest steps. Not just because it was going to cost quite a lot of time, effort and money but also for safety, family and business responsibility considerations. Having now finished, I’m glad I did it.
I set a very basic 30-week training schedule, 100 km per week to start with, soon increasing to 200 km, then 300 km per week for the final two months.
I had intended to do a lot of training in local bunch rides to get that higher speed intensity, but La Nina had other ideas. In Wollongong, as with much of coastal NSW and Queensland, we had the wettest four months to April on record. The bunches disappeared and I did many solo rides in pouring rain, dodging floodwaters with hardly another cyclist in sight. You could call it the Strava effect. I’ve never been an indoor trainer person. My goal was just to get in the target kilometres, which I successfully achieved for 30 weeks in a row, even if it meant occasionally doing a U-turn a few kilometres from home because Strava showed I needed to do an extra five or 10 kilometres to meet that week’s target.
Meanwhile, Covid was having its Omicron encore, so I never allowed myself to think the ride would actually happen until the last week or so.
But the day finally arrived. To avoid logistical hassles of trains and planes, did a one-way car hire to Melbourne and arrived in Southbank, Melbourne in time for a briefing by All Trails owners Richard and Jo Marshall.
I was joining an organised ride that had already started in Adelaide over a week previously. Of the 20 riders in total heading to Sydney, only six were new riders like me, replacing others who were stopping in Melbourne. Even though I’ve been riding bikes for 50 years, I’d never actually ridden in an organised group ride like this before. I was a little surprised at the ages and gender mix. It was both older and more evenly spread than I’d anticipated – a great group of people.
It was cool to cold and overcast for our departure the next morning. After a group photo on the banks of the Yarra, we were off – slowly through the busy streets and bike lanes of inner-city Melbourne.
Our first brief stop was the Shane Warne statue at the MCG. His state memorial service had been held the previous evening and there were flowers surrounding the statue and morning TV crews still filming there.
Our route through the inner and northern suburbs of Melbourne includes some of the best cycling infrastructure in Australia. I was joined for the first hour by Melbourne local Andrew Talati of Bunchrides.
Soon some rain started. It got colder and I was cramping – not a great start. But once we got out of Melbourne and hit open roads, I warmed up.
When we hit the first hill, my competitive instincts kicked in. I was neither the fastest or the slowest in the group, but generally liked to finish in the first three to six riders each section. Most of the others could not care less. They were true cycle tourists, stopping to take a photo at a nice hilltop view and enjoying the countryside.
There’s a long-running American comic strip that I used to read when I was a teenager living in America called Tank McNamara. Tank is a retired pro football defensive line-backer who can’t help living in the past. For example, if a little kid dropped a ball in a shopping centre where Tank is sitting having a coffee, his eyes would glaze over and he would dive on the ball, spraying coffee, tables and people everywhere like skittles while shouting ‘fumble’.
Tank can’t help it. It’s what half a lifetime of coaches drilled into his consciousness to do if he saw a loose ball. I’m a bit like that when it comes to cycling. I knew this wasn’t a race. Most of the others had never raced in their lives. But I was always rolling off the front first at the start of each section or sitting on the best wheel.
Soon the rhythm of each day became established. We’d start together, string out and regroup for morning tea, lunch and, depending upon the length of the day, afternoon tea. All Trails certainly has its organisation down to a fine art with a lead vehicle, sag wagon bus and enough bike racks to transport everyone if need be.
Being part of an organised ride definitely suited me better than an unsupported tour which would require carrying panniers, tents and camping stoves … especially given the weather we were about to face.
We Ride Australia Executive Officer Peter Bourke joined us to ride into our overnight stop at the wine region of Miliwa and spoke to the group that evening.
So far, the weather in Victoria had been generally dry, cool but not too cold. We had crosswinds from the east virtually the entire ride.
But things got seriously cold and wet as we rode into Corryong for lunch, approaching the Snowy Mountains.
The next day was the one that had been top of my mind in all 30 weeks of training. Khancoban to Thredbo via Dead Horse Gap. It was the shortest day distance-wise but with 2,700 metres total climbing and the final climb over the Great Divide to 1,580 metres before descending into Thredbo, this was going to be the toughest – or so I thought.
The forecast maximum was seven degrees, cloudy, with a strong chance of rain. Fortunately, it stayed dry. Only seven of the 20 riders tackled the final section after lunch, including the 18 km climb to the top of Dead Horse Gap. I certainly didn’t break any speed limits but was very happy to ride all with way, including the steepest sections, which I think were around 14% gradient.
After a rest day in Thredbo, the rain just held off during our relatively easy day to Cooma, but each day was drawing us closer to east coast of NSW and La Nina.
Thursday 7th April turned out to be the toughest day of all. It was a day of more flooding and record rainfalls in various parts of NSW.
Heading north from Cooma on the Monaro Highway was never going to be one of the riding highlights. It’s a busy, high-speed road with a lot of trucks. Unfortunately, there’s no alternative route until the potential Canberra to Bombala rail trail is ever built.
Less than half of our group even started the day, in the cold rain. If I was doing it just as a cycling holiday, there’s no way I would have ridden. But I’d set a fundraising goal and told all the donors I’d be riding all the way – on a bike, not in a bus.
Please indulge me for a moment while I describe the riding experience on this particular stretch. In addition to the cold and heavy rain, the crosswind from the east meant spray from both passing and oncoming cars and trucks would blow into your face.
After so much rain, the road shoulder was littered with potholes, gravel and mud. It also had a grey, unmarked ‘rumble strip’ about 300 mm to the left of the white lane edge line, which meant the shoulder was often not safe to ride on. But riding in the traffic lane was also problematic because the raised white edge line formed a never-ending mini dam that banked up a continuous puddle to its right.
To avoid this, you needed to ride well into the traffic lane, which was only safe to do when there was no traffic coming. So there was a lot of jumping across the rumble strip from shoulder to traffic lane and back to the shoulder, dodging potholes, gravel, puddles, dead wombats and the like.
After morning tea, we were down to just two riders. I had two punctures, which were graciously fixed by our support driver / mechanic Doug, because my hands were way too numb by then to hold a tyre lever.
When we stopped for lunch at an old two-storey corner café in Queanbeyan I thought: “At last, a warm fire!” But we were led to an outdoor marquee! Even with a towel down and five layers of clothing, it took me about 20 minutes to stop shaking.
We Ride’s Canberra-based Government Relations Manager, Stephen Hodge, joined us for lunch, and spoke to the group about what We Ride Australia was doing to advance cycling throughout Australia.
All Trails founders Phil and Susan McDonald also joined us. They happened to be on holidays and said it was the first time in the years since they’d sold All Trails that their paths had crossed. Phil spoke about early days of All Trails and how this Melbourne to Sydney ride was first held as part of a partnership I formed with them to run a charity fundraising ride for Teen Challenge, so it was a lovely tie-in and great to see them again with photos and hugs all around.
When I got going again, my sole riding companion had wisely decided to call it a day, so I was the last rider left.
There was plenty of climbing between Queanbeyan and the day’s finish in Bungendore. But at least it warmed me up and I was riding stronger each day. In total, my Strava recorded 1,581 metres of climbing that day over 137 km of riding distance. At the finish, most of the others spontaneously decided to form a tunnel and cheer me home, which was slightly embarrassing, but gratifying.
That evening, Richard gave me the opportunity to speak about World Bicycle Relief at dinner and some of the group later made donations, which was greatly appreciated. What began as another regular day turned out to be both the hardest and a highlight.
But the next day was a day of reckoning. I had tired legs. There was more rain and possibly more potholes than I’ve ever seen in a single day.
We rode through several flooded creeks that soaked our feet. I took my shoes and socks off trying to dry things by the fire at the Nerriga Hotel, a busy bush pub where we stopped for lunch.
Not long after our next stop at the thundering Tianjara Falls, Richard decided the last stretch into Nowra was too dangerous due to fog and wet roads. He stopped the ride and everyone was car lifted into Nowra.
The next day, from Nowra to Wollongong, we were progressively getting onto more familiar training roads and trails for me, eventually riding almost within sight of my house. We had another three or four torrential downpours – our fourth day straight of heavy rain. Everyone was over it!
On the morning of our final day, we could actually see the sun. No rain! The roads and trails were still wet, but it was warmer too.
After the final morning tea stop at the famous Bald Hill lookout – no hang gliders flying at that moment unfortunately – it was time for a hilly, scenic stretch through the Royal National Park to Audley Weir.
I gave this stretch a push. It was our last country section of riding and I was pretty certain it was the last time I would be this fit.
The weir was flooded, so after lunch we backtracked via another car lift into to suburbs of Sydney.
On the final route through Sydney, it was interesting to contrast how much worse the cycling infrastructure is in Sydney compared to Melbourne.
We finally reached the city centre. We rode down Macquarie St, past the famous landmarks including Hyde Park Barracks, NSW Parliament House and the Botanical Gardens. Then we rolled onto the forecourt of the most famous landmark of all, the Sydney Opera House.
There was brilliant sunshine, tourists everywhere, the Harbour Bridge in the background. It was like riding into a postcard.
Gathering for a group photo on the Opera House steps felt surreal – a bit like how you feel at a wedding or funeral when you know you’re there but it just doesn’t feel real after so much anticipation.
My family was going to meet me there but everyone had caught covid while I’d been away riding. Instead, it was selfies, phone calls and texts.
Then it was a short ride to our final hotel, the Rydges Sydney Harbour at The Rocks, which surely has one of the best roof top swimming pool views in the world.
After a lovely farewell dinner by the harbour at Walsh Bay, everyone went their separate ways early the next morning, back to whatever ‘normal’ life they led.
Many of the riders had done multiple rides like this before, both in Australia and overseas, and have more planned for this year. But for me, this was a one-off. I’ll be spending most of my spare time for the rest of 2022 focused on helping to launch the Micromobility Conference and Expo.
It may sound ridiculously basic, but a key revelation I got from this ride was that you really can ride a bike from Melbourne to Sydney or any other vast distance. It just takes a bit longer!
Thanks To All Donors and Supporters!
As you can see from the photos that accompany this story, the kit that I wore was covered with the logos of donors. Between these and many smaller private donations, I’m thrilled to say we exceeded the $20,000 fundraising target. All of this money is going directly to the two charities.
Specifically, I’d like to thank the following major donors:
Jason Pye of Trek and Trek Wollongong for help with the bike and servicing. It didn’t miss a beat but the drivetrain certainly took a hammering from all the rain, mud and grit.
Drew Johnson of Cuore for donating the custom kit and more. Many times I was wearing every layer. It certainly made a difference having comfortable, well-fitting gear.
John Dunnachie of Bikecorp for Gold sponsorship and supplying Michelin Tyres. Despite a few punctures the tyres were great in very tough conditions. Who would have thought 10 years ago that 32c tyres inflated to just 60 psi would be the fastest way to roll?
Shane and Jeannie Wolki of Pushys for Gold sponsorship.
Darren Rutherford and Martin Clucas of Giant for Gold sponsorship.
Mark Watkin of BikeExchange for Silver sponsorship.
Simon Burke of GPI Apollo for Silver sponsorship.
Guy Thompson and Mark Waldron of Groupe Sportif for Silver sponsorship and supplying a pair of Look pedals which were dunked in creeks, filled with mud and grit, but kept working.
Andrew McEwin of Bicycle Parts Wholesale for Silver sponsorship
Chris Langdon of Echelon Sports for Silver Sponsorship, Castelli gloves and training kit and the most vital support of all… Aussie Butt Cream! I’m pleased to report a saddle sore free training and event experience!
Manfred Otto and Matthias Mueller of Velo Vita for Bronze sponsorship and supplying Clif Bars. We thought 24 bars would be plenty for 11 stages, but I ended up buying more along the way and still running out – definitely welcome on those long, cold stages.
Matt Turner of 99 Bikes and Advance Traders for two Bronze sponsorships.
Graeme Moffett of Pon.bike for Bronze sponsorship.
Eamon Thompson of KWT for Bronze sponsorship.
Thanks to all those individuals who made donations.
A big thanks to my family and work team for their support, including Dave and Fyona at PipeWolf Media for making promotional videos, Tim Nightingale for logo design, clothing design and more, Pat Delahunty for the lift back to Wollongong from Sydney when my family was sick with covid, the trains were stopped by flooding, the buses were on strike and every hire car was booked out!
Thanks to Linda Brown for creating the web page, managing the social media posts while I was riding, plus 101 other tasks along the way and the rest to Ed and Scott for filling the gaps when I was slacking off training instead of working.
Finally and most importantly to my wife Catie for her support both through this ride and 41 years of periodic cycling-related absences.
If anyone of the major sponsors has not yet made their donations or if anyone else has still been intending to make one, we’ll be keeping our sponsor page live until the end of May. You can visit it here.