I got my first bike when I was 12, and promptly fell off it going down our gravel driveway too fast. I limped home with a bloodied knee, but this accident did not deter me. Once my tears had dried, I got back on the bike.
The bike was blue, gearless, and it spelled freedom. I lived on a farm 5 miles out of town, but with the bike, I suddenly had mobility. Once I’d mastered the art of riding downhill, I explored the farm by bike. I rode to visit my cousins in one direction, my auntie and uncle in another, and the river where we used to swim, in yet another.
One day, without permission, I rode all 5 miles into town, hung out with a friend for a couple of hours, and then rode back. I got into trouble, but it was worth it.
Fast forward to age 19, and my first real boyfriend, the Hippie. I was hugely impressed that he had bicycled right around Australia – even across the Nullarbor Plain. When he asked me to tour Tasmania with him by bike, I said yes.
On our first day in Tassie, peddling up a hill that seemed to go on forever, I realised that I just may have overestimated my cycling abilities a teensy bit. I honestly don’t know how the Hippie put up with my complaints and tantrums over the next few weeks – true love, I guess.
In spite of the discomfort of bush camps, sore thighs, and on some occasions bucketing rain, that trip was pivotal in my life. It instilled a love of the bush, of road trips and adventure. Neither of us had a camera in that bygone pre-mobile phone era, so there are no pictures that I can share, but I still have a stack of high resolution images in my head.
Eating bread and locally produced cheese in a farm’s shady driveway … swimming in an icy rock pool in a mountain creek … eating blackberries from bushes at the side of the road … meeting up with the Hippie’s friends who had a car … after which we ditched the bikes, what bliss.
Arriving back in Sydney, I got back on the bike.
For the next five or six years, I was a committed cycling commuter. I rode to work, to Uni, to the beach, to visit friends, to nightclubs. I learned how to fix a puncture, but only on the front wheel; the back one, with gear cogs and all, was too daunting.
I loved the independence of cycling and I was exhilarated by the cool breeze on my skin, but I hated struggling against headwinds and having to lug my bike up and down stairs and into the tight corridors of the terrace houses I lived in. I also became increasingly scared of the traffic and gradually rode less and less. I stopped commuting when a driver opened their car door right in front of me and I fell off the bike. It wasn’t serious; I just decided to catch the train instead, the next time I went out.
By this time the Hippie was long gone. He cycled the Birdsville track after we broke up. When I heard this, I felt perhaps I’d make a mistake in separating from him, and put that adventure on my own bucket list.
I was still riding occasionally when I met DadaK in 1989, but when we moved in together there was nowhere to keep the bike, so I gave it away. Was this a sign that the relationship was doomed from the start?
For a few years, riding was no longer part of my life – until our son AM came along.
AM started with a tricycle, then moved on to a small bike with training wheels. From when he was 3, he’d ride his bike to daycare. By the time he was 4, he could ride without the training wheels. I vividly remember the day this happened. We were hanging out with a group of friends and their children. AM climbed onto a bike that was twice his size and just took off, riding in big circles around the playground with me running behind in case he fell off. He didn’t.
It was clearly time to get back on my own bike.
Since then, there have been a lot of bike rides. Not only with AM but with his half-siblings as each one of them grew to bike-riding age and hopped onto one of AM’s hand-me-downs. My brother Mark and I taught all of them to ride, mostly along the Cooks River cycleway.
One by one, they’ve graduated from the orange bike, to the green bike, to the blue bike. The boys now all need adult-sized bikes. AM, who needs a man-shed and has to make do with the garage instead, is complaining to me about the number of bikes that are clogging up that prime piece of real estate – 7 at last count, not all of them functional.
We don’t usually ride much in summer, but the children have been agitating for a ride as the cooler weather approaches, so I’m making sure the bikes are all in good riding order – and for once in my life, I’m not reliant on the bike store mechanics! A couple of weekends ago, I did my first ever a bike maintenance workshop. I finally know more about looking after bike, than how to fix a front tyre puncture. I haven’t become an overnight expert, but I have become more confident – I even managed to fix a puncture on the back tyre of one of the bikes.
The bike workshop was run by Bicycle NSW and Omafiets bike shop to help participants prepare for a big fundraising bike ride: Gear Up Girl, which takes place tomorrow, 13 March. And yes, I’m doing the ride.
My 40 kilometre ride will start at Olympic Park, head east along the Cooks River, and end at Cronulla via Botany Bay. I’ve been in training for it since a friend casually mentioned she was doing it and I jumped at the chance to get involved.
I jumped mainly because I liked the idea of a challenge, but the cause, the National Heart Foundation, is certainly one I’m happy to support, having been personally affected by heart disease. Two of my nephews died as infants due to (non-genetic) heart conditions. I think if they were born today, they would have lived, medical science has advanced so much. Research supported by organisations such as the Heart Foundation certainly makes it more likely.
On top of that, my Dad scared the whole family with several heart attacks during his 80s. When he had a successful heart bypass at 86, Dad was the oldest person to to have that operation in the hospital he was in. He lived another 11 years.
Dad’s experience, plus cousins with heart disease, plus finding out I had high cholesterol last year (all back to normal now, phew) reminds me that I have to keep an eye on my own heart health, especially now that I know that heart disease is the number one cause of death for women in Australia.
But back to bikes.
My preparation for Gear Up Girl has been a fantastic experience. Setting the goal of riding 40 Ks, the longest ride I will have done since I was in my 20s, has got me back on my bike.
I’ve been riding more, doing more yoga (to stretch out those tired muscles), learning how to look after my bike and even training myself to wake up earlier in the mornings, so that I’m not totally shattered when I catch the 6.21 to the start of the ride tomorrow morning. This has all been most satisfying and enjoyable – even the early rising (which has enabled me to spend a couple of precious hours writing this post).
A few days after I signed up, I found out that the WOMADelaide music festival is also on this weekend. Several friends are going so even though I’m a bit broke, it would have been very tempting to go. WOMAD would have been fun, but I’ve been to lots of music festivals, and I’m sure I’ll go to many more. So instead I will be getting up at dawn to fulfil my promise to my sponsors that I will ride 40 Ks to support the Heart Foundation – and that will be fun too.
Will you support my ride?